(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Mark Martin could have won the Sharpie 500. Easily. With one hand. And his eyes closed.
With a league-leading fifth win, he could have made himself the clear favorite to be the top seed in the Chase if he makes it. And he'd have upped his chances for the 12-driver Chase by moving to ninth instead of 10th in the standings with two regular-season races to go.
But you know Martin.
Winning easily would have meant winning roughly Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
And that just wasn't going to happen, even with the opportunity so blatantly there that ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett, calling Martin's race-ending duel with Kyle Busch, exclaimed, "I think he's gonna have to hit him, guys, if he's gonna win this thing!"
More succinct if less entertaining would have been the truth of the moment: "Kyle Busch has this thing won."
"I didn't need to use the bumper," Martin told reporters afterward. "Kyle gave me all the room in the world to make that pass, and I didn't make it."
But the "need" has been in the heart of the beholder (i.e. the hunter) ever since Dale Earnhardt established the rules of engagement at Bristol in this race exactly a decade ago, when he wrecked leader Terry Labonte on the last lap to win.
Saturday night, Busch was indeed giving Martin a lot of room, but he also was giving Martin plenty of close looks at his left-rear quarter panel and bumper, so the slightest tap, the slightest "oops!" from Martin would have won him the race within the brutal etiquette of Bristol.
Edwards last year had cited some obscure offense by Busch at a Nationwide race in Milwaukee as justification for payback to make the Bristol bump-and-win OK.
Martin expressed no such grievances against Busch, adding, "I can't say how he might race someone else on the racetrack because they may have a different history."
In the future, "When he's behind me, I will be comfortable that he will race me the same way that I raced him," Martin said.
Knee-jerk reaction might be "Whoa, that's the Wild Thing, Kyle Busch, you're talking about."
But when you think about it, not even Busch, who seems to be undergoing a transformation to mannerly anyway, would be calloused enough to beat on Martin if the circumstances are ever reversed from Saturday night.
Not that Martin was tiptoeing. "Anybody who thinks that I was soft out there on the racetrack wasn't watching," he said. "I raced my guts out."
But his latest illustration that he's the fairest racer in NASCAR begged the question that came from veteran NASCAR journalist Dustin Long after the race: "How do you not go back and wonder about all the races you could have won had you used your bumper?"
Martin said living his life in good conscience is more important than the wins total.
"I feel really, really good at night when I go to bed," he said. "I have managed to win a race or two [actually 39 Cup races in his career], and [in] none of them did I have to pull something dirty."
That comes pretty close to making Martin unique among all NASCAR winners, ever.
Nationwide Series: Rookie's miscue costly for Busch
This whole Monday Rundown came within one rookie error of being all about Kyle Busch's sweep of Bristol's Truck, Nationwide and Cup races.
Busch had just gone from 15th to first in the first 52 laps, just taken the lead from Kevin Harvick, and surely appeared -- though only for a second -- ready to check out and run away with Friday night's Food City 250.
Then, in an eyeblink, came the mistake.
Rookie Chase Austin, 19 years old and making his first appearance at Bristol, came from the high side down into the middle of the track just as the leaders were coming past him. Austin's car hit Busch's and sent Busch head-on into the wall, snuffing his shot at a win.
Austin said a tire blew, and the steering wheel "jerked out of my hands." Then he tried to stick his hand out the window to signal the onrushing traffic that he was coming down.
Better had he used that hand to grab the wheel back and obey a cardinal rule of all oval-track racing everywhere, anytime: When in trouble against the outside wall, crank the wheel hard right and STAY against the outside wall until the onrushing traffic passes.
Or, as his spotter should have yelled instantaneously but didn't: "Stay high! Stay high! Stay high!"
Give Bush credit for a classy response, after he'd spent a few minutes inside his hauler to gather his thoughts.
"I've made mistakes, too," Busch told ESPN reporters. "Chase, I guess, didn't have the spotter tell him that the leaders were bearing down."
But some veterans joined in the outbreak of brain fade to help make the race look like amateur night.
Brad Keselowski, reportedly on his way to a ride with Penske Racing in Cup next year, wrecked his teammate-to-be, Penske's Justin Allgaier. Just after Allgaier had taken the lead from him, Keselowski let his car drift high and shredded Allgaier's left-rear tire.
Harvick, leading just past the halfway point, got too impatient following Trevor Bayne. In-car camera replays show clearly that Bayne was doing all he could to get out of Harvick's way, but was being blocked by another car from moving over. Harvick rammed him out of the way and wrecked him.
Finally, teammates David Ragan and Carl Edwards put a thoroughly professional finish on amateur night, with Ragan winning. Edwards raced Ragan hard but cleanly, then climbed out and said, "We didn't come here to finish second, but he [Ragan] is a good guy and a great teammate."
Camping World Truck Series: Busch halts Hornaday's record run
For Busch, the win was his first in any of NASCAR's top three series since a Nationwide race at St. Louis on July 18. For Hornaday, the third-place finish stopped his record winning streak at five straight Truck races.
So why was Hornaday relieved? "I'm sort of glad it's over so I can quit talking about it and go racing again," Hornaday told reporters at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 51-year-old Californian has always been more of a nuts-and-bolts racer who has cared little for the limelight.
For Busch, a win-or-else driver who'd been down in the mouth lately, the win "just gets the momentum going; it just tells you that you can do it," he said.
"For some reason I've really taken to this new surface," Busch said of the track that was widened and recovered with concrete in 2007.
Busch took the lead from Jason White on the 124th of the 200 laps and then easily drove away from second-place Matt Crafton and Hornaday. But Hornaday maintained a 211-point cushion over Crafton in the standings, and 305 over third-place Mike Skinner.
Hornaday remains far and away the biggest winner on the Truck tour this season with six victories. Busch is next with three, and the only other multiple winner in Trucks this year is Todd Bodine with two.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Racing Resources SaysSprint Cup Series
- Kyle Busch won the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
- Busch moved to ninth all time in combined NASCAR wins, tying Rusty Wallace with 55.
- Busch scored his fourth win in 2009, tying Mark Martin for the most this season. His last win came at Richmond, 14 races ago.
- Busch scored his third Cup win in 10 races at Bristol. It was his 16th career victory in his 174th start.
- Busch scored his 12th win for Joe Gibbs Racing. His other four wins came with Hendrick Motorsports. This is Joe Gibbs Racing's sixth victory in 2009.
- Busch has finished first or second in five of the past seven races at Bristol.
- Busch climbed from 15th to 13th in the point standings. He is 34 points out of the Chase, behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth. Busch gained 36 points on 12th. He went into the race 70 points behind.
- Any driver with a 391-point lead or more over 13th-place Busch is mathematically locked into the 2009 Chase. Tony Stewart locked at Michigan, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon locked at Bristol. Any driver more than 391 points behind 12th-place Kenseth has been eliminated from the Chase (19th on back).
- This marked the second win by Toyota at Bristol, both in 2009.
- Chevrolet has scored 12 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has eight, while Dodge and Ford each have two.
- Mark Martin (second) posted his 250th career top-5 finish.
- Denny Hamlin (fifth) has scored four straight top-10 finishes.
- Crew chief Chad Knaus made his 300th Cup start in the race. His driver, Jimmie Johnson, finished eighth. Johnson has led at least one lap in 20 of the 24 races in 2009, the most by any driver.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (ninth) scored his fifth top-10 finish of the season.
- Brian Vickers (12th) extended a seven-race streak of top-15 finishes that began at Daytona in July.
- Scott Speed (15th) was the highest-finishing Rookie of the Year contender.
- Jeff Burton (18th) has finished 16th or worse in the past 10 races.
- Ryan Newman and Martin are the only drivers to score top-10 finishes in all four short-track races in 2009.
- Tony Stewart (33rd) ended an 18-race streak of lead-lap finishes that began at Martinsville in March.
- Kevin Harvick (38th) has scored just one top-10 finish in the past 20 races.
- Stewart (33rd) and Elliott Sadler (26th) have each been running at the finish in the past 47 races, the longest current streak.
- The top 10 consisted of three Toyotas, four Chevrolets, two Fords and one Dodge.
- David Ragan won the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway. He became the 39th different race winner in 55 series races at Bristol. Ragan scored his second career Nationwide victory in 92 career races. It marked his second victory in 2009 -- he also won at Talladega.
- Ragan became the ninth different race winner in the past nine races at Bristol.
- Ragan led once for the final 56 laps. Kevin Harvick led a race-high 91 laps.
- This was the 105th series victory for Roush Fenway Racing.
- Kyle Busch (28th) ended an 11-race streak of finishing first, second or third that dated to Nashville in June. With his lead on Lap 52, Busch has led in 21 consecutive races, the most by a driver in series history. Busch has led in 23 of the 24 races in 2009.
- Busch has a 228-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards in the Nationwide standings. Busch lost 91 points off his cushion with his 28th-place finish.
- Brad Keselowski (third) scored his sixth straight top-10 finish.
- Kevin Harvick (fourth) has scored top-10 finishes in 12 of his past 13 races at Bristol.
- Keselowski has been running at the finish in his past 57 series races, the longest current streak. His last DNF came for an accident at Las Vegas in March 2008, when he finished 23rd.
- Jason Leffler (sixth) has finished in the top 15 in 22 of the 24 races this season.
- Michael McDowell (10th) was the highest-finishing Rookie of the Year contender.
- Derrike Cope finished 26th in his 150th series race.
- This was the fourth green-white-checkered finish at Bristol and sixth in 2009.
- Kyle Busch won the O'Reilly 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was his 12th series victory in his 63rd start.
- Busch's victory ended a five-race winning streak for Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished third. Hornaday did not lead in the race, ending a streak of 12 straight races led. Busch led twice for 82 laps, including the final 77. Jason White led a race-high 86 laps, the most of the evening. White had led only 17 laps prior.
- Busch tied Lee Petty for 10th place in combined NASCAR wins with 54.
- Nine of Busch's wins came with crew chief Richie Wauters. It was Busch's first race back with Wauters since 2008.
- Hornaday has a 211-point lead over Matt Crafton in the series standings.
- Billy Ballew Motorsports scored its 13th series win.
- Toyota scored its fourth series win at Bristol and seventh of 2009, tying Chevrolet.
- Matt Crafton (second) scored his seventh top-5 finish in 15 races in 2009. It marked Crafton's 100th career top-10 finish.
- J.R. Fitzpatrick (11th) was the best of the six Rookie of the Year contenders in the race.
- The race was slowed five times, the fewest number of cautions in the 12 races at Bristol.
- The top 10 consisted of seven Toyotas and three Chevrolets.