- Matt Willis, NASCAR
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Mark Martin's career is far from over, and the best may be yet to come.
Earlier this season at Bristol, Mark Martin hit a milestone that only two other NASCAR drivers have reached, making his 1,000th career start in the NASCAR National Touring Series.
Martin's grand accomplishment might be overshadowed by his Chase run, but his career is worth revisiting, even in the midst of the Chase drama.
Here are my picks for the 10 most memorable moments of Mark Martin's career, just 1 percent of his total races. These capture the highs and lows of his NASCAR journey.
10. Going truckin'
Start No. 462
Sept. 26, 1996 -- North Wilkesboro Speedway
The Truck Series was in its second season, and Martin, who had long made a career of winning races in a secondary series while running a full-time Cup Series schedule, was making his second career start.
Martin started second, driving for Jack Roush, with Johnny Benson on the pole. Martin took the lead on Lap 178 and didn't look back, leading the final 73 laps to give him his first Truck Series win. It also made him part of a select group to win in the Cup, Nationwide and Trucks series.
9. Four-time heartbreak
Start No. 732
Nov. 17, 2002 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway
Much like the Olympics, it happened every four years. In 1990, 1994 and 1998, Mark Martin had finished runner-up in the Cup Series points. And despite just one win on the season, Martin went into the season finale 89 points behind leader Tony Stewart.
Martin led in the race, got his five bonus points and finished fourth, seeing his teammate Matt Kenseth take the checkers. But not far behind him was Stewart's orange car, giving Stewart plenty of cushion and his first career title, leaving Martin as a four-time runner-up.
8. Saying goodbye
Start No. 911
Nov. 19, 2006 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway
Throughout NASCAR history, some drivers became synonymous with the cars they drove. Jeff Gordon's DuPont 24, Richard Petty's STP 43. Martin driving the 6 car for Jack Roush had become one of those icons, identifiable just by the number he drove.
An era ended at the end of the 2006 season, Martin was cutting back to a part-time schedule and leaving Roush after 19 years. Martin didn't win in his final season for Roush, but earned yet another Chase berth and finished ninth in the points.
His finale at Homestead was as unspectacular as his whole season, Martin finishing 18th.
7. Another shot
Start No. 983
April 18, 2009 -- Phoenix International Raceway
You never thought you'd see it. Mark Martin driving a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, the team he battled for so many years and had so many championship dreams crushed by.
But there he was in the No. 5 car, starting from the pole and leading nearly half the laps in getting his first win in his eighth Cup start for his new boss, Rick Hendrick.
Martin announced his championship intentions and became just the fourth driver in Cup Series history to win after turning 50.
6. He's in heaven
Start No. 320
Sept. 10, 1993 -- Richmond International Raceway
In one of Martin's finest seasons, he went on a tear few drivers ever experience. As the NFL season began, NASCAR's hardest hitter was Martin.
Martin won a whopping seven consecutive starts, four in the Cup Series and three in the Nationwide Series, culminated by a dominating win at Richmond in the Nationwide Series.
Martin started 14 Nationwide Series races that season, winning half of them, including five consecutive starts.
5. The start of something great
Start No. 1
April 5, 1981 -- North Wilkesboro
Petty won yet another race, and Darrell Waltrip finished third on his way to a championship, but the story of the race was a 22-year-old driver who finished 27th of the 31 starters.
It was Martin's first NASCAR Cup Series race, and even though he retired with a rear-end problem, it didn't take Martin long to get going. In his third career race, he finished 11th. Then in his next race he was seventh, and in his final start of the season, Martin finished third.
4. It's about time
Start No. 171
Oct. 22, 1989 -- Rockingham Speedway
After running just five races in 1981, Martin ran the entire 1982 season but fell short of Geoffrey Bodine in the rookie of the year battle. Martin then ran half a season in 1983 and didn't pop up full-time in the series again until 1988.
The next year, Martin cemented his status as a championship contender, finishing third in points behind Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt. In the third-to-last race of the season, Martin finally got win No. 1, both for him and owner Jack Roush. Martin dominated the end of the race in the win.
3. A photo finish
Start No. 913
Feb. 18, 2007 -- Daytona International Speedway
Martin had left the rigors of a full-time schedule behind, choosing to no longer chase that elusive championship, and settled into a part-time role, driving 24 of 36 races.
The first of those races was the Daytona 500, another white whale that Martin had failed to capture during his career.
Martin led going to the white flag, and then chaos ensued. Kevin Harvick got a big push from Martin's protege, Matt Kenseth, on the top line, while Martin continued to get pushed by Kyle Busch, in the car he'd drive in two years.
Harvick edged ahead as the Big One took place behind him. Martin, without a push from behind, lost his momentum and was edged out at the line by two-hundreths of a second.
2. Alone at the top
Start No. 513
Oct. 25, 1997 -- Rockingham
Martin only ran the entire Nationwide Series schedule once, back in 1987, when he won his first three races in the series and finished eighth in points.
But every season, Martin would run 14 or 15 races, and win more than his fair share of them, slowly accumulating wins. Another one of those seasons was 1997: 15 starts, six wins. But one win stood out.
No championships, no problem.
1. Points lost
Start No. 176
Feb. 25, 1990 -- Richmond
We wouldn't be talking about how close Martin's come or how amazing his career has been despite his never winning a championship had it not been for one incident at the beginning of the 1990 season.
Martin won the season's second race at Richmond, but was later penalized 46 points for using an illegal part. Dale Earnhardt, who finished second, three seconds back, went on to win his fourth championship by just 26 points over Martin.
The penalty was controversial, to say the least, and Martin finished the season with a series-best average finish of 6.6.
Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN. He can be reached at ESPNMattWillis@yahoo.com