The Frontstretch: Martin Hoping To Sneak Up On Johnson a Second Time by Thomas Bowles -- Saturday May 27, 2006

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Martin Hoping To Sneak Up On Johnson a Second Time

Thomas Bowles · Saturday May 27, 2006

 

Most everyone knows Jimmie Johnson is going for his fourth straight Coca-Cola 600. What people tend not to remember is what life was like here before the 48 car’s domination.

Mark Martin can tell you all about it.

The last driver to win the 600 besides Johnson, Martin’s 2002 trophy could have easily been Johnson’s that year, too. A Nextel Cup rookie at the time, Johnson went out and led 263 of 400 laps, and the driver’s first Cup win seemed a foregone conclusion until a couple of costly mistakes. Johnson overshot his pit box while pitting during the ninth and final caution, one he brought out after tangling with a lapped car with 41 laps remaining.

Mired back in traffic, Johnson never recovered, allowing Martin to outduel teammate Matt Kenseth for his first career 600 win.

“That was huge,” claimed Martin of ending what was at the time a 73 race victory drought. “After a year and a half of not winning, it was big for me.”

Four years later, Martin is strong again, posting the second fastest time in both Saturday practice sessions. With the hard tire compound still causing problems for everyone, Martin thinks Sunday could be unpredictable.

“We really haven’t gotten much practice,” said Martin. “You spend so much time scuffing the tires (that) I don’t think we know what’s going to happen.”

The best guess coming from anyone’s part is that the 600 will become a race of simply survival, something that would appear to favor a veteran like Martin should pre-race favorite Johnson falter. Still, Martin fears the strategy many drivers have claimed of sitting back and playing it conservative early could backfire.

“That guy that’s not pushing it could get caught up in somebody else’s wreck, and that didn’t do him any good,” said Martin. “We’re just going to go racing and figure it out as we go.”

Knocking on the door of Victory Lane for some time now, don’t be surprised if it’s Martin who breaks down the door on Sunday.

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