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Mark Martin takes Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway

Hot car: Michael Waltrip’s Toyota catches fire after the engine blew in Saturday’s Southern 500. Waltrip was unhurt.

Associated Press

Hot car: Michael Waltrip’s Toyota catches fire after the engine blew in Saturday’s Southern 500. Waltrip was unhurt.

DARLINGTON, S.C. — If Mark Martin keeps winning like this, even he might have to concede that he's racing for a Sprint Cup title.

Martin, 50, won for the second time in four races, outlasting Jimmie Johnson in a wreck-filled Southern 500 on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway.

"Once we got out front, man, it was just easy. The car was awesome," Martin said.

Martin's only other Darlington win was in 1993 Southern 500, a 16-year stretch.

Martin's victory ended a long, hot day for NASCAR that began with the sobering news of Jeremy Mayfield's failed drug test and indefinite suspension, which was announced about two hours before the start of the race.

The garage buzzed most of the afternoon about who was snagged by NASCAR's beefed up testing system.

"I don't know much about it," Johnson said. "There's a policy in place, and it's there for a reason."

NASCAR also announced the suspension of two other crew members for failed drug tests under its new policy, which calls for weekly random testing. NASCAR does not reveal the banned drugs found in the positive tests.

"There is no place for substance abuse in our sport," NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said.

Seems like there's always a place for Martin, who considered driving away for good a few years ago. But he's back full time now, and last week he re-upped with Hendrick Motorsports for 2010.

Friday, Martin was adamant the extra year wasn't about seeking a title, simply manifesting the joy he feels these days each time he steps on the gas.

And Martin's doing it as well as he ever has.

"Hey, man, I'm loving it," Martin said.

He ended a 97-race winless streak last month in Phoenix and proved there's no age limit on mastering the track "Too Tough To Tame."

Martin led the final 46 laps in his 37th Sprint Cup victory.

Besides his two Darlington wins in NASCAR's top series, Martin has won a record eight Nationwide series races at this track.

This time, Martin had to show as much patience as speed, handling a record 17 cautions on Darlington's 2-year-old pavement.

The wrecks surpassed the 15 set in Darlington's spring race 14 years ago and more than doubled the eight of last year after the track was freshly paved.

Johnson wrecked in qualifying and started 42nd. He made it all the way to Martin's bumper before settling for second.

"This is one of the most difficult places we run," said Tony Stewart, who finished third.

Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, was fourth, followed by points leader Jeff Gordon.

One by one, the slick surface knocked out top contenders.

Kyle Busch, the defending race champ and last week's Richmond winner, saw his chance to repeat disappear when he slammed the wall on Lap 274.

Not long after, Carl Edwards was tapped by teammate Greg Biffle, hit the wall and was hemmed in as the field moved around him. Edwards then was hit with a one-lap penalty after he drove right instead of left to make it into the pits.

Next came Biffle. He hit the Turn 4 wall and missed out on his third Darlington victory in the last five races.

Mark Martin takes Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway 05/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 10, 2009 4:08pm]
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