Its amazing how quickly the TV folks can drop their fave and jump aboard the bandwagon of the "hot new thang". But its also doubly amazing when the fave is Junebug Jr. as he faded late in the Phoenix race and the "hot new thang" is 50 year old, thrice-retired Mark Martin.
I don't dislike Mark. But I'm not a big fan either. Just call me ambivalent. I do believe, however, his victory was generally popular with the fans, fellow competitors, sponsors, NASCAR, and the media.
What has me conflicted a bit, however, is a comment Mark made in victory lane Saturday night. He made the comparison of his victory (his first since 2005) to Tim Richmond's comeback victory at Pocono in 1987.
I'm glad 50 year-old Martin remembers Tim and mentioned his name in victory lane. With Kyle Petty and Ken Schrader sidelined and Bill Elliott only barely around anymore, only Mark is left to remember what it was like racing in Tim's era.
Mark also knows his place at Hendrick. Even though the car is #5, the team is from the lineage of Tim's #25 team. The FOX TV guys referenced how special the #5 is to Rick Hendrick because that's the number he used from the beginning with Geoff Bodine. They've already forgotten the true 5 team (Shrub's old ride) was re-numbered to 88 when the Double Joonyurs were hired, and the 25 team was re-numbered to 5 (piloted previously by Casey Mears and now Martin). I think Mark was honestly trying to give props to Tim for setting a high mark for the 25 (then) / 5 (now) team that hasn't been matched since.
Source: Ray Lamm
I also recognize Mark's win meant a lot to him. Even when he was winning regularly in Roush's #6 Ford, he often said the victories were special because you never knew if it was his last one.
But to compare winning a race - after a four-year drought...in top physical condition...as a fan-favorite...and embraced by NASCAR - to a comeback victory by a driver...with "pneumonia like symptoms"...having AIDS as a death sentence...not being trusted by your fellow competitors...and having your character attacked by NASCAR, well I think that's a stretch for me.
In the end, I'll likely give Mark a pass. He was excited about the win, he and the team have pulled themselves off the mat to go from 35th in points to 13th, and he didn't have a lot of time in victory lane to arrange his words perfectly about Tim. The bottom line is he at least he did mention Tim's relevance, and in the end that was a pretty classy thing to do.