HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Roush Racing's appeal of a 25-point penalty may have a dramatic effect on the race for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship, but it won't change the way Mark Martin approaches the season-finale.
Martin has been "racing his guts out" for months and he doesn't plan to change his strategy in the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
If the National Stock Car Commission agrees Saturday with car owner Jack Roush that the 25-point reduction for an illegal spring at Rockingham, N.C., on Nov. 3 was too severe, then Martin will enter the race only 64 points behind series leader Tony Stewart. If not, he will be 89 points behind.
"We haven't been holding back," Martin said. "And we haven't been holding back all year, so the reason we're in striking distance of this thing is because we have raced hard and we have raced smart."
"I look forward to going to Homestead, especially with the way we've been running."
As it currently stands, the championship belongs to Stewart if he finishes no worse than 22nd or if Martin finishes out of the top 14. In short, Martin needs a miracle.
"I do have better things to do than deal with this, and some of those might have to do with trying to score points at Homestead," Martin said of Saturday's hearing. "But I can't change it, can't change the fact I'm not worried about it. I'm focused on what I've been focused on ever since the middle of summer. I don't waste a lot of time about what-ifs. I have to deal with what's in front of us, and we'll take it all straight on between now and Sunday (1 p.m., NBC-Ch. 26). We'll take it straight on."
No matter what happens, Martin said 2002 was the season that saved his career. After finishing in the top five in points for seven consecutive years, he slipped to eighth in 2000 and 12th in 2001.
He won the Coca-Cola 600 at Concord, N.C., in May to end a 73-race winless streak. Since that victory, Martin has posted six top-five finishes and 13 top 10s in a span of 23 races.
"It's my hope, obviously, that something wonderful will happen at Homestead," Martin said. "And then if it doesn't, it doesn't. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished this year, and I don't want it to change the outcome. It doesn't bother me that much, this whole situation (with the appeal) doesn't bother me that much unless we go down to Homestead and something happens and we wind up falling into that area between the 25 (points) where it really makes a difference. Then I might really have a problem. ."
"I'm really incredibly grateful, on the other hand, to my team and to the opportunities that I've had. They've revived my career."
They've also given the 43-year-old driver, whom some considered washed up a year ago, an positive outlook for the future.
"I'm real optimistic looking into 2003 knowing what we have," Martin said. "A year ago right now we were upside down. Our whole thing had turned upside down and we were starting over, and I feel like we have a great starting point right now for next year."
Regardless of what happens at Homestead.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.