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Mark Martin, from ‘broken man’ to Hall of Famer

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In 1983, Mark Martin was a “broken man” in every sense of the word.

“Physically and emotionally both … Economically,” Martin said in a teleconference last week.

He was only 24.

At the time, the young man from Batesville, Arkansas, had endured three seasons with 51 starts in NASCAR’s Cup Series with five different owners, including Bud Reeder and Jim Stacy.

But after five starts in ’83, a $50,000 sponsorship deal Martin had fell through when the company failed to pay.

After finishing 33rd at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, Martin returned to Arkansas. He soon moved to Wisconsin to revive his career in the American Speed Association Series, where he’d won three previous championships.

With his NASCAR dream in shambles, Martin never thought he would return to the Cup level.

“I had no intention of doing anything but making a living short-track racing the rest of my career,” he said.

THE ROAD BACK

21 Jul 1995: Rusty Wallace (left) and Mark Martin look on during the qualifying heats for the NASCAR Diehard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport
Rusty Wallace (left) and Mark Martin in the garage at Talladega Superspeedway in 1995. (Jamie Squire /Allsport)

The rest of Martin’s career lasted 30 years.

Within three years, Martin was on his way to his fourth ASA title. That’s when NASCAR came calling in the form of a ride in the Busch Series (now Xfinity).

“I had an offer to go race the Busch Series that had potential to be a better financial situation than what I was in ASA,” he said. “That really mattered to me at the time because I was just two-and-a-half years into going from a bachelor to a married man with four kids. It did make a difference.”

Martin returned to NASCAR in 1987 driving the No. 31 Fat Boys Bar-B-Q Ford for Bruce Lawmaster.

But Martin, then 28, still didn’t anticipate rising to the Cup level, seeing the Busch ride as “a step up from a lateral move.”

Nine races into the season, Martin claimed his first NASCAR win in the Budweiser 200 at Dover International Speedway. Two races later, he won from the pole at Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, North Carolina.

He had people’s attention.

“The phones starting ringing for Cup,” said Martin, who won three times and finished eighth in the standings.

One person calling was Jack Roush, who had been pointed in Martin’s direction by Bobby Allison. But before Roush would take chance on the resurging driver, Martin had to do one thing. He had to stop drinking.

During his first NASCAR stint, Martin had started down a beer-fueled path in part to peer pressure.

“Everybody always picked on me and teased me because I drank so little,” Martin said in the 1997 Bob Zeller book “Mark Martin: Driven to Race.” “I went from drinking so little I couldn’t even keep from being teased about it, to where I almost enjoyed it a little bit, to having some fun once in awhile like a normal drinker does, to drinking in excess.”

Alcohol became a bigger issue for Martin in his three years away from NASCAR, just as it had for his father, Julian Martin, before he became sober in the mid-1980s.

“Genetically speaking, a son of an alcoholic is five times the risk of becoming one than not,” Martin told ESPN in 2009. “My dad had problems all through my childhood. I said I would never be like that.

“At some point, I had to look at myself and say, ‘Either I am like that or I’m not going to be like that.’ That’s a hard thing.”

Though Roush said Martin’s problem “did manifest itself “ in their first year together, Martin’s last drink came in 1988 when his sponsor was, of all things, Stroh’s Light beer. It was still Martin’s sponsor in 1989 when he won his first Cup race, at Rockingham Speedway.

Instead of the bottle, Martin refocused his energy on his physical fitness. The pursuit helped prolong his career well into the 21st Century after most of his peers of the 1980s and 1990s had disappeared from the circuit.

“With my time freed up once I got with Jack, I had the opportunity to gain an advantage,” Martin said last week. “If nobody else was doing it and I was, it’s a clear opportunity to gain an advantage on the competition. Just like the guys working on the cars were staying nights and gave everything that they could give, I viewed it as an opportunity to do the same thing. To give more than the competition. Basically a lot of the success that I had throughout my early years was to outworking the competition.”

By the end of his career, at 54, Martin was one of the most physically fit and respected drivers in the garage.

CROWN JEWEL

CONCORD, NC - MAY 21: Mark Martin, driver of the #6 Viagra Ford, celebrates winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway on May 21, 2005 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
Mark Martin celebrates his win in the 2005 All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his second win in the event. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)

What Martin accomplished in the three decades between his Wisconsin exile and his 882nd and final start in 2013 has led to his induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame at 8 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN.

As part of the Hall’s eighth class, Martin will be inducted with team owners Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, driver Benny Parsons and early NASCAR team owner Raymond Parks.

“I don’t know how to put it, it’s the last big deal or the big win,” Martin said. “It is the crown jewel of my career for sure.”

Martin has 40 wins the Cup Series, 49 in the Xfinity Series and five runner-up finishes in the Cup standings. But Martin hasn’t quite come to terms with having his name and career immortalized alongside fellow legends of the sport.

“Don’t forget the people in that Hall of Fame are my heroes,” Martin said. “The founders of the sport. The real men that did it with their bare hands, and I’m a little bit uncomfortable going in there to be honest with you, because I don’t feel like I belong in that kind of company.”

The fact that Martin never won a championship is not an issue for him, at least not anymore.

“(It) robbed me of an enormous amount of joy,” Martins said of past regrets. “Something that I let go of in 2006. Refused to allow it to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful for. And a lot to be grateful for. And I am proud of what I accomplished with my career, and I’m not sour about the things I didn’t accomplish.

Martin’s lack of a title doesn’t diminish his career to Clint Bowyer, who was a teammate of Martin’s at Michael Waltrip Racing from 2012-13.

“Mark Martin, that guy is everything,” Bowyer said earlier this week. “He’s such a humble champion. I know he never was a champion, but he is a damn champion. He is a champion in every sense of the word. He’s represented this sport for so many years, so professional and so perfect as a race car driver. I’m glad to see him in there.”

Among Martin’s accomplishments are wins in two Southern 500s, a Coke 600 and two All-Star Races. But his greatest pride isn’t in any single race, trophy or moment. It’s in the totality of what he accomplished with his second chance.

“Fell on my face and had to go home and start my career all over again,” Martin said. “So I would say the perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word.”

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Winners and losers from Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”