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MOTOR RACING COMMENTARY

Daytona needs stimulus of a Mark Martin victory

He has never won NASCAR's premier race, and in these troubled times, a triumph by a 50-year-old with whom everyday Americans can identify would be an elixir for a struggling sport and industry.

February 15, 2009|Mike Bianchi

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — With the car companies failing, this is a sport that desperately needs some positive news.

With corporate sponsorships falling, this is a sport that could use an uplifting story.

With ticket sales floundering, this is a sport that yearns for something to feel good about.

Now more than ever, the Daytona 500 needs Mark Martin to win today.

He is what working America should strive to be in these dreadful economic times. The world is moving faster, the competition is getting younger, the jobs are getting fewer. And so, Mark Martin just works a little harder, a little longer and a little smarter.

He's 50 years old and today will race in his 25th Daytona 500. He knows he'll be racing against kids less than half his age, and he knows deep down that all of us weekend warriors will be pulling for him.

"I feel like I'm carrying that banner right now," says Martin, a Daytona Beach resident who will start on the outside pole today.

"Some of the race fans are aging themselves and they love the idea of being able to still hold their own against a 25-year-old, whether it's playing softball or whatever it is."

If you're not rooting for Mark Martin to win the 500, you're probably the same person who rooted against Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" and rooted for the shark in "Jaws." There is no driver in today's race who deserves to win it more than Martin does.

What -- do you want Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win? If his last name were Finkelstein, he'd be driving the Demolition Derby at the Okeechobee County Fairgrounds this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson? Only if you inject Starbucks directly into your eyelids to stay awake during his post-race news conference.

Joey Logano? He's 18, for crying out loud. The only dues he ever paid was a turnstile token to get into the gaming area at Chuck E. Cheese.

And why would you want a kid such as Logano winning the 500 in his first start, anyway? Isn't that the essence of what's wrong with America today? We've had it too easy. We want too much, too soon. You want a huge house? Just borrow the money even though you can't afford to pay it back. You want a new pool? Take out a home equity loan even though you can't afford to pay that back either. You want new furniture? Buy it now and the payments don't start for six months.

Mark Martin has never been about too much, too soon. He has always been too little, too late. He has always paid his dues, but has never gotten his reward. He has always waited in line but never gotten to the front.

He has been retired, semi-retired, you name it. And always he comes back for one more lap, one more race, one more chance.

"I love this sport -- this is my whole life," he says. "This is what I think about all the time."

At long last maybe he will finally get what's coming to him. He is now driving for the Mother Ship of Motorsports, better known as Rick Hendrick -- the slickest, most successful team owner in NASCAR. Martin's teammates are Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt -- all former Daytona 500 winners.

Martin has always been a workout warrior who keeps his body in arguably the best shape of any driver on the circuit. Now he'll have some of the best equipment and best drafting partners too.

If he doesn't win the 500 now, he probably never will. And even though he says he doesn't obsess over his 0-for-Daytona drought, you know it must bother him. This is, after all, a guy who bleeds motor oil, sweats wiper fluid and lives a few miles from Daytona International Speedway.

"This is the crown jewel of stock car racing," Martin says. "Everything else I've done in my career would fit around this."

If there are truly any racing gods up there in That Big Trioval in the Sky, Old Man Martin will win the Daytona 500 today.

The Great American Race needs a Great American Dream.

Now more than ever.

--

mike.bianchi@orlando-

sentinel.com

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