Sunday, May 22, 2005
Martin captures Challenge million
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Martin passed Elliott Sadler with 19 laps to go to win his second all-star race and collect a paycheck for more than $1.1 million. Sadler finished second and made $248,825. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson completed the top five. "Thank you guys, man, thank you!" Martin yelled on his radio after winning the 20-lap final segment. "Oh man, thank you! I love you guys. Now we'll go get the points race, (next week's Coca-Cola) 600."
Martin, who has hinted at running in the Craftsman Truck series next year as his career winds down, plans to make at least one Cup start next year.
"I'll be back next year if you give me a ride," the 46-year-old Martin radioed his crew about this race.
While Martin and his crew sprayed champagne after the 90-lap event, Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek were among those who left Lowe's Motor Speedway upset. Both were involved in the night's major crash and Harvick slapped Nemechek.
The lap 36 wreck started when Tony Stewart made contact with Nemechek's car, turning Nemechek into Harvick's car along the frontstretch. Cars then slid, spun and slammed the wall. Nine suffered damage.
"Coming off [turn] 4 behind Nemechek and I was running the same speed as he was and all of a sudden I'm in the back of him," Stewart said. "There was nowhere for me to go."
Harvick slapped Nemechek on the helmet after both exited their cars in the frontstretch grass. They pointed at each other before Harvick turned, removed his helmet and continued yelling at Nemechek. Members of both crews headed for the infield grass but NASCAR officials stopped them.
"I'm tired of Joe Nemechek acting like he doesn't do nothing," Harvick said. "It might not be his fault. He can take that and shove it where the sun don't shine."
Said Nemechek: "As far as Kevin Harvick is concerned, he can do what he wants to do. He's just being an idiot. He's just being Kevin."
Their issues go back to Daytona in February when Harvick was blamed for a crash during a qualifying race that collected Nemechek and several others. After both exited the infield care center that day, Harvick tossed a water bottle at Nemechek, who fired it back at Harvick.
With the 22-car field thinned, Martin won that opening 40-lap segment. Sadler placed second and Greg Biffle third. Their advantage disappeared when a draw determined that the top six cars would be inverted. That put Vickers, who was sixth, into the lead to start the second segment.
Vickers made his way into the all-star racing by winning the Nextel Open after he tapped Mike Bliss out of the lead on the last lap. Bliss questioned Vickers' driving but Vickers said Bliss blocked and there was nothing he could do.
Ryan Newman cruised to an easy victory in the second segment, finishing ahead of Sadler and Vickers.
Newman's chances for winning ended on the second lap of the final segment. Running under Gordon, Newman's car wobbled and he spun up the track in turn 2, hitting the wall. Wallace, his teammate, couldn't avoid Newman and hit him.
"Newman just lost it," said Wallace, embroiled in a feud with his teammate since last year.
Martin passed Sadler for the lead on the restart with 19 laps to go. Both cars, running side-by-side, touched as they took the green flag before Martin surged ahead in turns 1 and 2. Johnson followed, dropping Sadler to third. He returned to second a few laps later with a strong pass on the outside of Johnson off turn 4.
"I'm very disappointed," Sadler said of his runner-up finish. "I think we had the class of the field. (The team) gave me the tools to win the race. I let them down at the end.
"This isn't an ordinary race. There's so much emotion poured into it. You put your heart, blood and sweat into these (final) 20 laps. It's not everyday you get to run for one million bucks."
And Martin doesn't have many more chances. This time, he collected.