Martin Title Hope Short

Mark Martin can still be proud of the effort he put forth in 2002, despite coming up only 38 points short of a Winston Cup title. The veteran driver fought down the wire only to lose the championship to Tony Stewart.

"We really fought for it and you can't say that we ever gave up. I don't know how close it was, but it was pretty close; I'm proud of this team," said Mark Martin moments after climbing out of his car after finishing fourth in Sunday's Ford 400.

"We realized back in May that we might have a shot at winning this championship and it just never went away for us. It kept on being a reality all the way down to the end. I'm glad it's over. We gained points the last three races every race, so, in a way, I wish it wasn't over. This team is great. They put me in race cars the last three weeks that have been incredible."

Martin and the Viagra Racing team concluded their 2002 season with their third straight top-10 run and their fifth top-10 finish in as many weeks. The fourth place finish marked Martin's 12th-top five run of the season and the 22nd time the ViagraĆ¢ Racing Team finished inside the field's top-10.

Martin, who went into the race 89 points outside of first place in the Winston Cup point's race, pulled to within 38 of eventually champion Tony Stewart, but was unable to overcome the deficit. Still, the season marks a remarkable turnaround for Martin who finished 12th in the points a year ago, while posting only three top-five finishes in all of 2001.

As promised, Martin and the No. 6 team fought to the last checker flag dropped, picking up three in the final 10 laps of the race to move inside the field's top five.

"We said we would fight until the very end and we did," said Martin after the race. " We never gave up and we made a point's race out of it. I just wasn't able to score quite enough points in the end. I wish we could have scored about 100 more points, but we did all we could do. We fought as hard as we could from the first green flag in February until the checkered dropped today and nobody can take that away from us."

The team struggled with the car on Friday and qualified a disappointing 34th. With second place locked up coming into the race, Martin wasted little time moving up the field. By lap 12 the veteran driver had the No. 6 Ford Taurus running 25th. Martin broke into the field's top 20 by lap 49. Martin ran the next 100 laps in the middle of the field before making his move forward. By lap 148 he was running in 15th place when the field began green flag pitting. The No. 6 team came in for four tires and a wedge adjustment to help tighten the car's handling. After an excellent stop of 14.589 seconds, Martin found himself in 13th place once the filed had cycled through.

Martin broke into the field's top 10 by lap 180. He was running in 11th place when the day's fourth caution was called on lap 195. The team came into the pits for four tires and more wedge adjustment. Another fast stop of 14.95 seconds sent Martin back out in sixth place when the field went green on lap 204.

With the car still loose Martin dropped back to ninth place by lap 220 and was running in eighth when the day's fifth caution was called on lap 226. Crew chief Ben Leslie and the No. 6 team opted for a two-tire stop and Martin returned to the field in sixth place when the race went green on lap 233 with only 35 laps remaining.

Caution was again called for the sixth and final time of the day on lap 236, but the team opted to stay out running in sixth when the field went green with only 24 laps remaining. Martin struggled with the car, dropping back to eighth place by lap 257, but the veteran mounted a late run, gaining three spots to fourth place when the checkered flag dropped on the race and the 2002 season.

"We came from the back of the pack and wrestled with an ill-handling car all day and we got it right at the end and the car was really, really good," said Martin. "We worked our way up all day."

"We made it close," added Martin. "We gained points on a guy (Stewart) that's incredibly hard to beat for three races in a row. I'm as proud of that as anything we did all year long. We beat him the last three races in a row and I'm telling you that's a tall order."

"We fought hard until the very end and we never gave up. Nobody can ever take that away from us and I'll never forget the effort that these guys on this team made. I feel like they rejuvenated my career."

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