Out of all those starts, none has been quite like what he'll confront on Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the site of what very well may be -- hyperbole alert! -- the most important race of Martin's Hall of Fame career. Why will Sunday be so seminal for the 50-year-old? Because if Martin, who has been the runner-up in points more times (four) than any other driver in NASCAR history, is going to have a chance to catch
As I wrote in
Martin, better than anyone, knows that Johnson has won five of the past six races at Martinsville, which obviously makes JJ the favorite on Sunday. But if he slips up -- and trust me, this is a very real possibility -- then Martin should be poised to challenge for the checkers. Why? Because Hendrick Motorsports absolutely dominates this place. Since the fall of 2004, when the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragically crashed en route to Martinsville, killing all 10 on board (including
So Martin, who's in his first year at Hendrick, will be in the best equipment of his career at Martinsville on Sunday. He'll be piloting a spanking new car, chassis No.5-561. Crew chief
In the spring race at the track, Martin started 31st after rain wiped out qualifying, because he was 31st in points at the time. By displaying his unmistakable smoothness through the turns, he impressively -- and patiently -- weaved his way through the field to finish seventh. I talked to several spotters last week at Charlotte, and they all pretty much said the same thing: Martin is driving better now than at any other point in his career. It's hard to disagree.
I'm picking Martin to take the checkers and -- at least for a week -- to make the Chase interesting again. Remember: This championship is not over yet. We're only halfway to Homestead.