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Martin poised to make the Chase

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Earlier this year, Mark Martin was looking to shrug off a series of misfortunes, as he sat 34th in points following the spring race at Atlanta.

Since then, the 50-year-old driver has moved up to eighth in the rankings after picking up his third win of the season in dramatic fashion.

While Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle ran out of gas in the final laps, Martin had just enough fuel to win the LifeLock 400 at Michigan. Martin also overcame a battery problem that occurred just before the halfway point and forced him to turn off his cooling fans in the car.

"We had a great racecar, but for me, I always, always come up short on the gas mileage thing," Martin said. "If you look at the stats, I've lost 25 and won two probably on it. I just don't have the luck for it."

Mark Martin has moved up to eighth in the rankings.
In 1993 at Michigan, Martin led 141 laps, but had the victory elude him when he ran out of gas before making his final pit stop. He ended up finishing sixth.

He got payback on Sunday.

Despite a 32nd starting spot, Martin and crew chief Alan Gustafson gambled on fuel at the end in hopes of finishing at least in the top-five and gaining much-needed points. The strategy paid off, with Martin advancing five positions in the standings.

Martin, in his first year driving the No.5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, is currently 61 points ahead of 13th-place David Reutimann, with 11 races remaining before the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship begins in September.

"I'd like to see us make the Chase because this race team deserves it and because you never know," he said. "It would be an honor to be a part of that elite group again. We have got the equipment to do it, but we've just encountered so many setbacks."

After hooking up with owner Rick Hendrick and pairing with Gustafson, Martin is now gearing up for what could be his biggest championship campaign.

Gustafson helped Kyle Busch qualify twice for the Chase (2006 and '07) before Busch left Hendrick to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

"If we were fortunate enough, God willing, to win a championship with Mark, to me there's nothing more professionally I could accomplish than that," Gustafson said.

The early season did not live up to Martin and Gustafson's expectations. Martin suffered engine failure at California and Las Vegas and ended up with a pair of 40th-place finishes. He also finished 31st at Atlanta after cutting a tire and crashing late in the race.

Martin has steadily moved up in points since Atlanta. His third victory in 2009 placed him in a tie with Busch for most Sprint Cup wins so far this year. It's also the most victories he has recorded in a season since 1998, when he won a career-high seven races while driving for Roush Racing.

"If we don't win another race this year, we still did good," Martin said. "I'm not gonna deal with expectations that cut my legs out from under me again ever in my career."

Martin qualified for the Chase in each of the format's first three years (2004-06). Now, he's prepared to do whatever it takes to get in it for the fourth time.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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