Martin Is Making His Move

SONOMA, Calif. - Now that Mark Martin and his No. 6 Ford team have begun to turn the corner, all they may need is a victory to put all back together.

Martin figures Sears Point Raceway – a place where he’s enjoyed a fair amount of success through the years – is as good a place as any to get it. He’ll try to do just that Sunday in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at the 10-turn, 1.949-mile track in the first of two road-course events this year for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

In 12 previous Winston Cup starts in Sonoma, Martin has fashioned 10 top-10 finishes, as well as seven Top 5s. Martin was the last driver other than Jeff Gordon to win at Sears Point, taking the checkered flag in 1997.

“We’ve had a lot of good luck (at Sears Point),” Martin said. “That is a good track for us. We had a shot at the win last year, but had to settle for third place. We took four tires on our last pit stop when most teams took only took two. That put us back to seventh place, so we had to make up some ground before we could challenge for the win. By the time we got back up front, there wasn’t enough time left to make a move.”

Martin is known for his prowess as a road racer in the Winston Cup Series. He has finished third or better at Sonoma seven times during his career and has finished second there four times.

At Watkins Glen, the series’ other road course, Martin has three victories (including three straight from 1993 to 1995) and has 11 top-five finishes in 12 starts at the 2.45-mile upstate New York venue.

After a horrendous start to the 2001 Winston Cup season, Martin has begun to make a move upward in the standings the past few weeks. After being mired in the 20s for a good portion of the early season, he has scratched his way to 13th, within striking distance of the Top 10.

The past five races, Martin hasn’t finished lower than 16th. Previous to that, he had finished 20th or lower seven times.

It’s been more than a year since Martin won a race. The last time he and the No. 6 team visited victory lane was at Martinsville in the spring of 2000.

“We’re only 93 points out of the Top 10 now, and that’s saying something from where we were before,” Martin said. “A win this weekend (at Sears Point) sure would help us make that jump into where we need to be.

“I like the car we’re racing and we’ve got a good shot at it. We’ve had some good races this month to help turn our program around. I hope we can end the month on a high note with a win and another jump in the points.”

If Martin is going to have any chance at winning, he’ll have to contend with Gordon, who’ll be looking for his fourth straight victory at Sears Point and his third victory in the past four races overall.

Gordon has become the “king of the road” in recent years, knocking Martin from that perch.

“He and that team have definitely become the ones to beat at Sonoma,” Martin said of Gordon. “Even though there’s only two a year, he and his team put a great deal of emphasis on the road-course races, as do we.

“Watkins Glen seems like it’s been a better track for us than Sears Point, but we’re definitely going to be a contender to win this race. If we can win this race, then maybe we’ll start making some noise the second half of the year and put ourselves in a respectable position by the end of the season.”

Qualifying for Sunday’s race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. (ET) Friday, and the event is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

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