By Mike Harris
AP Auto Racing Writer
HAMPTON, Ga. — Even Mark Martin is feeling optimistic these days.
The longtime NASCAR star heads into Sunday’s Nextel Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway seventh in the season standings, 96 points behind leader Matt Kenseth with four races remaining in the Chase for the championship.
“If you look at it historically — last year and the year before — we were about twice as far back as we are and we finished fourth in both of those,” Martin said Friday as a steady rain washed out Cup qualifying. “So, certainly you can look at it from a lot of directions and still find the positive in it.”
If Martin, NASCAR’s resident pessimist, can find a silver lining in being seventh at this point, it truly still is a wide-open championship.
Because of Friday’s rain, the lineup was determined by season points and all 10 drivers in the Chase will start at the front of the field. As close as it is, under the right circumstances, any one of the top nine could be leading the points after Sunday’s Bass Pro Shops 500.
Ninth-place Jeff Gordon trails Kenseth by 141 points and it is mathematically possible — though unlikely — to gain 156 points in a single race.
Still, with four races left in the 10-race Chase, that seems like plenty of time to make up the deficit — if the other drivers run into some bad luck.
“We’re not out of the championship hunt like I originally thought after Charlotte,” said Gordon, who found himself 10th, 216 points behind then-leader Jeff Burton after an engine failure relegated him to a 24th-place finish two weeks ago.
“But it’s still going to be tough,” he added. “We’re only 141 out of the lead, which is manageable. What’s tough is the fact there are eight guys ahead of us in the standings and it will be difficult to leapfrog them with only four races remaining. We can’t control what they do, so we’ll just focus on trying to win races.”
By Mike Harris
- Auto Racing
Terry Labonte: The Ice Man goeth
By Mike Harris
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Stewart needs to practice what he preaches
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Childress team is surging
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Stewart suddenly in Chase trouble
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5 ways to make The Chase better
By Jenna Fryer
AP Auto Racing Writer
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NASCAR format to be changed
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