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Martin Ready for Strong Chase Finish

From Associated Press

A lot of the so-called Young Guns in NASCAR could do worse than to model their careers on that of Mark Martin.

The longtime stock car star, who may or may not be in his final year of Nextel Cup competition -- depending on which driver team owner Jack Roush can get to fill the seat in the No. 6 Ford for 2006 -- is showing the kids a thing or two as he nears the end of a stellar career.

After finishing second in the points in 2002 -- the fourth time he has been the series runner-up -- it appeared Martin, then 44, lost his focus and drive in 2003. He failed to win a race and finished 17th in the standings, by far his worst showing since coming to the Cup series with Roush in 1988.

But, last year, a rejuvenated Martin made it into the inaugural 10-man, 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, coming in eighth after the first 26 races and winding up fourth in the playoff-style finish.

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Now, with just four races remaining until the field is set for the second Chase, Martin is a solid fifth in the standings, 189 points ahead of 10th-place Carl Edwards -- one of those Young Guns.

Martin is considerably better off than some of the newer stars in Cup, including Elliott Sadler, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, all currently outside the top 10.

It’s a comfortable position to be in for Martin, and he really appreciates it, especially after having to post four top-five finishes in the last five races last year just to make it into the Chase.

“I said it then and it still holds true: Making that Chase was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” Martin said. “We got ourselves so far behind because of all the crazy things that happened, that we found ourselves in a do-or-die situation that allowed little to no room for anything to go wrong. To say we were behind the eight ball would be an understatement.

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“We just couldn’t get ahead. Every time we tried, something else happened. It says a lot about [crew chief] Pat Tryson and this racing team that we were able to run well enough and do what we needed to do to break into the Chase.”

Heading into today’s race at Michigan International Speedway, Martin and the team hope to avoid last year’s drama and quietly secure a position in the top 10.

“We had to put so much emphasis on getting into the top 10 that we didn’t have near as much left once we got there,” said Martin. “This time, we hope to save up some of our tests and really concentrate on winning that championship.”

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Carl Edwards is doing double duty this season, racing full-time in both Cup and the Busch Series after finishing fourth last year in the Craftsman Truck Series.

In his first full season in Cup, Edwards, who turned 26 last Monday, has won twice and is battling for a spot in the Chase. In Busch, he’s been even stronger, winning three times and sitting fourth in the standings heading into Saturday’s race at Michigan.

The hard work has not worn Edwards down, though. He is still excited about getting all the seat time in stock cars this season and still has his eye on winning a title in Busch, despite trailing leader and defending champion Martin Truex by a daunting 356 points with 11 events remaining.

“It’s going to be tough, but it’s not completely out of the question yet,” Edwards said. “Our job as a team is to eliminate mistakes, finish all of the races and capitalize on any of the mistakes those guys in front of us make.”

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This year, Edwards moved into the No. 60 Roush Racing Ford driven last season to third place by teammate Greg Biffle, but he said that isn’t as simple as it appears.

“Although many believe this is the same No. 60 team Greg Biffle had last year, it’s not,” Edwards explained. “Most of the guys were new to this team at the beginning of the season and it’s hard for a first-year team to compete for a championship.

“I’m extremely proud of the progress [crew chief] Brad [Parrott] and the guys have made and I’m very excited about the rest of the season. Everything and everyone is starting to come together, and I feel like all of the mistakes and bad luck are behind us. Now we just have to go out there and win more races and keep ourselves in this thing.”


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