By David FerroniApril 16, 2008
AVONDALE, Ariz. (Army News Service, April 16, 2008) - "We were really spectacular this weekend and it's a shame we finished fifth," said Mark Martin, who saw victory slip away after he was called into the pits for fuel with 10 laps remaining in Saturday night's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway.
At the time of his final pit stop on Lap 302 of 312, Martin was enjoying a comfortable lead on the one-mile oval after passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 273. But unfortunately for Martin, his No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet, which was paying tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Army Reserve, was in need of fuel to make it to the checkered flag.
"First of all I have to say how proud I am of this U.S. Army team and everyone at Dale Earnhardt Inc.," said Martin. "Their hearts are broken because we just about pulled this one off tonight. We had a great race car and thought we could make it on fuel. However, this is a team effort. When I drive the car into the wall they (crew) have to stand behind me, just like I am standing behind them right now.
"You hate to see it come down that way," added Martin, who led a total of 68 laps. "But you also don't want to run out of fuel with one lap to go and finish 20th in a race that you've been up front the entire time. Again, it was a great run and this is a great race team. It won't be our last chance to win."
When the race was restarted for the final time there were 80 laps remaining, and the initial thought was the No. 8 car would fall one lap short of fuel. To compensate for the shortage, Martin delicately conserved fuel as the race was winding down.
"I thought I saved plenty of fuel -- probably saved five laps," explained Martin. "We had such a spectacular car at the end of the race I didn't have to run it hard. There were a lot of laps I didn't get the throttle wide open on the straightaways.
"A handful of teams did take a gamble on fuel and opted to stay out, including Jimmie Johnson's race-winning team.
Martin, who started the race fourth, was in contention for the entire race. He took the lead for the first time on Lap 164.
The fifth-place result was the second consecutive top-10 for Martin, who finished eighth in Texas last week. It was also Martin's third top 10 of the season and the team's fourth top 10 in the last five races. Aric Almirola, who shares the No. 8 ride with Martin, finished eighth in Bristol last month.
With the finish, the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team moved into 14th place in Sprint Cup owner points, only 13 points outside the Chase's coveted top 12.
As part of his limited driving schedule, Martin will take off the next Sprint Cup race -- April 27 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. His next scheduled race in the No. 8 Army Chevy is May 3 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Almirola will pilot the No. 8 in Talladega, his third race of the season.