Originally created 04/10/00

Martin steals one in winning Goody's 500



MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Of all places, Martinsville?

Mark Martin shocked even himself Sunday, emerging almost unscathed from near-constant hazards brought by a track record-tying 17 cautions and making a late gamble on old tires pay off as he won the Goody's 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"We stole one today," he said after his second victory on the tight, .526-mile oval in 29 career starts. His only other victory came in this race in 1992.

"For my race team to win at Martinsville with me is the biggest victory that they could ever have, because I'm terrible here and I know it," he said.

Martin, a non-factor as Rusty Wallace dominated the first 436 laps, went ahead for the first time when he stayed on the track during a caution with 64 laps to go. He never let teammate Jeff Burton get close during the run to the finish.

"Once we got to the lead man, I just ran like a dog, you know, ran like a dog," Martin said after his 32nd career victory. He became the eighth different winner in as many races, a record for the start of a season, and the fourth Ford.

"I figured Rusty would be coming for sure. I never saw the lead, but I thought he was the man all day and I figured he'd bounce right up through there," he said.

Instead, Martin pulled away to a victory he shared with many.

"There's so much to say here," he said in Victory Lane. "Special thanks to Jeff Burton and (Burton's crew chief) Frank Stoddard. We ran so pitiful in practice yesterday that we went to 'em begging to help us and they did."

Martin said he never considered pitting for tires after going in front.

"I was hoping to get a top 10 finish, and nobody came and nobody came and nobody came," he said. "Right now this feels like the biggest win of my career."

Burton, Martin's teammate with Jack Roush Racing, finished second, followed by Michael Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and defending points champion Dale Jarrett.

It was the first 1-2 finish for Roush drivers since August 1998 at Bristol.

"Me finishing second today is borderline a felony," said Burton, a native of South Boston, about 60 miles from the track. "We might need to spend a few hours in jail before we go home, because we didn't deserve to finish second."

Wallace, who led 343 laps, wound up 10th in his 500th career start.

Defending race champion John Andretti, third when the race went to green for a six-lap dash to the finish, was hit from behind by Waltrip in a pileup in the first turn, wound up on the strip of grass in the turn and finished 14th.

"There's no excuse for it," said Andretti, who ran to Waltrip's car after the race and appeared to be screaming at him. "It's just real upsetting to get spun our for no reason."

Waltrip said the mishap "hurt my heart."

"I would rather finish 15th than have happen what did," he said.

The bizarre finish was set up when Jerry Nadeau hit the wall in turns three and four on the 436th lap. Wallace and the rest of the leaders, including No. 2 Dale Earnhardt and No. 3 Ward Burton, pitted for tires, putting Martin in front.

Wallace, who routinely pulled away from his challengers all day, was 10th after the stops, nowhere near as strong and never got back into contention.

"I just couldn't believe it when I'm sitting there running 15th and 13th and going, `Man, how in the hell did this happen?"' Wallace said. "But it was all track position. ... With 50 and 60 laps to go, I should never have pitted."

Wallace led 230 of the first 253 laps when brake heat melted the seal around his right front tire, causing him to nearly crash in turn two before limping around the track and into the pits under a green flag. He got four tires, but was two laps down in 31st position when he got back onto the track.

He needed only 73 laps to get both of them back, one by blazing through the field and the other thanks to an opportune caution with the leaders in the pits, but he couldn't duplicate the run on fresh tires after Martin went ahead.

"I thought we had the best car out there all day," said Wallace, who started from the pole. "It was red-hot and it's unfortunate. That's all I can say."

He just couldn't duplicate the performance on new tires at the end.

The 17 cautions slowed the race for 112 laps, tying the record set in 1980. The race also featured 14 lead changes among eight drivers, and Martin's victory moved him to just 36 points behind points leader Bobby Labonte, who was 12th.