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Martin outsmarts Sadler in final restart
CONCORD, N.C. -- Mark Martin had no intention of taking a nostalgic ride around the track in his final All-Star race. He wanted to win it.
Martin pulled it off Saturday night, winning the Nextel All-Star Challenge and its $1 million prize in what is supposed to be his final appearance in the dash-for-cash race.
But after crossing the finish line at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Martin told his Roush Racing crew he's willing to come back for more.
"Thank you guys! Thank you!" Martin screamed over his radio. "I'll be back next year if you give me a ride!"
As an All-Star race winner, Martin is forever eligible to enter the race regardless of whether he competes the rest of the year.
It was a popular victory -- Martin is the most respected driver in the garage -- and his rivals enjoyed seeing him lead laps in a No. 6 Ford painted in a retro scheme similar to the car he raced in 1993.
"I had a great time racing Mark Martin," runner-up Elliott Sadler said. "I had some flashbacks watching him run up there, with that paint scheme."
Drivers stopped on the track to salute Martin as he passed on the cool-down lap and teammate Kurt Busch ran to Victory Lane to hug him.
"I've got to give Mark Martin props," fifth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson said. "I hope that I can grow up to be like him someday."
Martin was in second place, lined up next Sadler, on a restart with 19 laps left in the race. But Sadler bumped into the side of Martin on the restart and the contact knocked Sadler out of line. Martin then darted into the lead.
"I think we both knew whoever got to turn one on the outside first was going to win the race," Sadler said. "I didn't want to give up my real estate and we got into each other and it dropped me back.
"But with 19 laps to go and $1 million bucks on the line, you are going to use every trick in the trade. Mark just outsmarted me."
Martin never looked back after getting ahead of Sadler and was never challenged in winning his second All-Star race. Martin also won the 1998 event, but picked up a paltry $257,500 for that victory.
Brian Vickers, who raced his way into the event by winning a qualifying heat right before the All-Star Challenge, finished third. Vickers spun out Mike Bliss right before the finish line to win the qualifier and was somewhat apologetic after.
"I hate that it ended like that," he said.
Jeff Gordon was fourth and was followed by Johnson, Dale Jarrett, Kurt Busch and Jeremy Mayfield. Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.
The 90-lap race was broken into three segments, and there were accidents in two of them.
The first was an 11-car wreck that led to an angry confrontation between Kevin Harvick and Joe Nemechek.
It was clear that Tony Stewart ran into the back of Nemechek, who turned inside and hit Harvick. They then collected all the cars behind them. What wasn't so clear was who was to blame for the initial contact between Stewart and Nemechek.
Harvick firmly believed Nemechek was at fault, hopping out of his mangled car and darting over to Nemechek's. He threw his restraint system on Nemechek's window and followed it with a flurry of gestures.
Nemechek jumped out of his car and charged after Harvick, who answered with a light shove to Nemechek's helmet. NASCAR officials had to separate them, and warn crew members from both teams to back down after they ran into the infield to protect their drivers.