[media-credit name=”Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]For much of the second half of Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas it appeared veteran Mark Martin had things under control and was heading toward a likely victory.
Martin led for a total of 44 laps and was leading when the race’s sixth yellow flag flew. The leaders all came down pit road for their final stops and by just inches Martin was beaten to the exist by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., would end up being the difference.
Stenhouse went on to lead the final 55 laps and drove away from Martin at one point for a five second lead. He went on to win his third career race as Martin cruised home behind him.
“That was one serious beat down he put on me that last run, just a beat down,” Martin said afterwards.
“I kept up with him for while and about wrecked five times and that’s it. The run before that was no problem, I could stay ahead of him. And anytime he would close in on me I could get up on the wheel and pull back out. But that last run he seemed to be stronger, I didn’t feel my car was off he just had that thing rolling. I’m not ashamed to say it wasn’t even close.”
Last season Martin lost the title he had held for so long, being the Nationwide Series all-time win leader. The man who took it, Kyle Busch, did so in the car that Martin drove on Saturday, the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Had Martin won on Saturday it would have been his 50th career NNS victory. It also would have been his second straight at Las Vegas, he won the race last year while driving for Turner Motorsports.
“Thanks to Joe Gibbs and everybody at JGR and Interstate Batteries,” Martin said. “This Toyota was awesome and they were awesome. I needed to run a race to see if I could find a few things that maybe we could work on to improve. I got a few ideas, but that was one serious beat down Ricky Stenhouse just put on me there at the end. It was just like I can’t do it – man he was gone.”
It’s well known the 2012 season isn’t about championship of any kind for Martin; he’s not running a full schedule in Sprint Cup and would like to do more NNS races. He just wants to have fun and win, accomplishing one of the two goals on Saturday.
“I did, I’d like to start by saying what a special treat it was to be able to join the Joe Gibbs organization, JGR, it’s something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time and the stars didn’t line up until now to do it,” Martin said about having fun.
“J.D. [Gibbs] and I had a little fun with it for sure. It’s a real privilege – I would like to do more of it, but there’s no sponsorship for that right now. I have six more on the schedule, if we could stir something up. It sure was fun to work with Adam [Stevens, crew chief] and all those guys.”
Yet, for as dominant and easy as Martin made things seem, he wasn’t completely satisfied on Saturday. Not because it hadn’t won but with the car he was driving. Going from the NNS from the NSCS garage threw him for a loop.
“I’m going to tell you something, my Cup car drives way better than this car,” he said. “I – whew, I don’t know – you saw me almost wreck I don’t know how many times. Man I can’t wait to get back in that Cup car. I didn’t think it was so slick [Friday], but today it was a handful. I never was real comfortable out there.”
Being behind the wheel of an accomplished JGR car though, will have any driver wanting to come back. Martin is no different and will wait for the call for the next time that he’ll get to take a nice Saturday drive.
“This was so much fun – it was such a great racecar,” Martin said. “It’s so fun to be a part of Joe Gibbs Racing. I’d like to do some more of these. We have some on the schedule, but no sponsorship so far.
“Heck, I don’t know, I enjoy watching these things on TV, but that was a good view I had right there. I enjoyed it.”