lead changed hands four times — between four different drivers — over
the final 17 laps Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway, but after all
the rubbin’, it was veteran Mark Martin who took the checkered flag for his series-leading fourth Sprint Cup victory of the season.
Jeff Gordon crossed the line second, just 0.415 seconds behind Martin, while Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Martin led 195 of the 267 laps, but it took a brief tie-up between Hamlin and Brian Vickers for Martin to reclaim the lead with 15 laps remaining.
“Man, I don’t even remember all the things that happened toward the
end of the race,” said Martin. “But with 15 to go, I thought we were
going to win the race if nothing else happened, but I knew it was going
to be a long way. And boy, it was. It was a lot longer than I thought
it was going to be, and eventful.”
After a restart on lap 250, Hamlin traded paint with then-leader Jimmie Johnson, dropping the reigning series champ to fourth and boosting Vickers to a narrow lead.
On the next lap, Hamlin and Vickers got together, and that allowed Martin to take over.
“I said we can win a championship with Mark Martin this year,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “We said that before we started.”
But despite Martin’s four victories on the season, the road ahead
won’t be easy. He currently sits 11th in the Sprint Cup standings, just
a single point ahead of 12th-place Matt Kenseth and 11 points clear of No. 13 Greg Biffle, with seven races remaining before the Race for the Chase.