Martin a class act at Bristol
Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While Kyle Busch was busy making a celebratory bow in front of 160,000 fans either booing or cheering him after winning the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Mark Martin was feeling satisfaction with his second-place finish, despite having an opportunity to steal the win from Busch.
After a late-race caution which set up a green-white-checkered finish, Busch and Martin raced each other cleanly in the final two-lap sprint. For both drivers, it wasn't so much about winning, but obtaining enough points to keep their championship Chase hopes alive. That fact may have prevented Martin from trying to win the race at Busch's expense.
Bristol's August nighttime race has become well-known for its dramatic finishes over the years. From Dale Earnhardt's 1999 victory after bumping Terry Labonte out of the way on the final lap, to Carl Edwards nudging Busch aside with 31 laps remaining to take last year's race, Bristol has seen its share of on-track fireworks.
Saturday's race could have ended in the same confrontational fashion, but it didn't, thanks in part to Martin.
Mark Martin was feeling satisfaction with his second-place finish.
"If somebody abused me enough to really irritate me, I might use that bumper," Martin said. "Kyle gave me all the room in the world. It's a good thing, because I was over my head when I went in that corner and I got loose. If he'd have been crowding me, we both would have went up to the wall."
Busch called Martin, who finished one car length behind, a "class act" and said he deserved the victory. The 24-year-old Busch doesn't typically say something like that about a fellow competitor at the conclusion of a race. Had Martin crossed the finish line first, he would have been the oldest Bristol winner at age 50.
"It's fun when you're able to race around the guys that respect you and that you respect back, and Mark is one of those guys," Busch said. "I go up to Mark all the time, and I talk to him all the time. I look up to him a lot. He wasn't the guy that I always looked up to when I was growing up as a kid. But since I've gotten here, he's been one of the closest drivers I've been able to spend time with."
Busch's good mood was likely prompted in part by his improved position in the Chase, and Martin's second-place finish helped him as well.
With two races to go before the playoffs begin, Busch moved to within 34 points of 12th-place Matt Kenseth. Martin is currently 60 points ahead of Busch.
That said, there is plenty of reason to believe that Busch's respect for Martin is genuine. Busch giving Martin plenty of room to make a pass during the final laps at Bristol is something we generally wouldn't see from the often arrogant driver.
In July at Daytona, Tony Stewart attempted to pass Busch heading out of the final turn of the last lap, but Busch tried to block him twice, with the second block resulting in his rear bumper hitting Stewart's front end. Busch spun around and slammed hard into the wall.
Busch has been in his share of feuds with other drivers, most recently with Brian Vickers earlier this month in the Nationwide Series race at Michigan. But no quarrel was sparked between Busch and Martin at Bristol, as both drivers have expressed their equal respect for each other.
"Kyle's driving personality isn't that different than a number of others that I was racing with," Martin said. "We're racing, going for it. I expect Kyle to race me hard, and I expect him to race me clean. He has and he can expect the same from me."
Whether Martin makes the Chase or not, he continues to be a class act, as shown in his performance at Bristol.
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