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Published: 2/18/2006

Martin gets a lucky break

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Mark Martin was a sitting duck with two laps to go in last night's GM FlexFuel 250, but a lucky break allowed him to coast to victory in the Craftsman Truck Series race.

Martin, who had sometimes struggled at Daytona International Speedway throughout his career, started from the pole and bounced in and out of the lead in his Ford while sparring with a number of Toyotas.

With five laps to go Martin had Toyota teammates Todd Bodine and Ted Musgrave breathing down his neck and setting him up for a pass. But a crash behind the lead pack on a restart with two laps left gave Martin the win, since NASCAR allows just one shot at a green-white-checkered finish after late cautions.

"I think we had him," Bodine said. "There's no doubt in my mind we had him. But those are the rules, and Mark's sitting there in victory lane and we're here second. It's their ballpark and their ball, so we've got to play by their rules."

Martin, who took the lead for good with 13 laps left in the race, said he expected a dogfight with Bodine and Musgrave after the restart.

"I knew we had our work cut out for us," Martin said. The Nextel Cup veteran expects to run seven races in the Craftsman Truck Series this year before driving full-time in the series in 2007.

BUSCH QUALIFYING: J.J. Yeley won the pole for today's Busch Series Hershey's Kissables 300 with a fast lap of 48.155 seconds at Daytona International Speedway in yesterday's qualifying.

Yeley averaged 183.094 miles per hour to win his first pole in 53 starts in the Busch Series. Yeley will be joined on the front row by Aaron Fike who posted the second-fastest time of 49.198 seconds.

Clint Bowyer and Johnny Sauter start in row two. Tony Stewart, the winner of last year's Busch race here, qualified 11th, while Greg Biffle starts 10th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will go from the 20th position.

Two-time Busch Series defending champion Martin Truex Jr. is not entered in the event.

CHICKEN OR EGG: Whenever a cloud hangs over NASCAR, look for Robby Gordon to put things into perspective and clear the air.

The outspoken and independent Gordon has weighed in on the recent bump drafting controversy, and given his unique take.

Nextel Cup champ Tony Stewart sounded the alarm following last Sunday's Bud Shootout, when the bumping became banging and stretched beyond the straightaways into the corners. Stewart said the abuse of the technique, which involves a 190-mile an hour smack in the rear which is intended to give both cars a boost of speed, was going to get someone killed.

After Stewart squawked, the clamor spread throughout the barn yard.

"Tony got everybody started and bam, they all ran," Gordon said. "You know how it goes. You got one egg, and before you know it, you've got chickens everywhere. The Shootout doesn't matter. It's not for points. It's all for fun and for show."

TOUGH TALK: In a scene reminiscent of misbehaving students called into the principal's office to be chastised, NASCAR president Mike Helton gave his Nextel Cup drivers a good tongue lashing on the bump-drafting issue, and threatened punishment if things get out of hand in tomorrow's Daytona 500.

"It's a gray area where we can not prove to anybody that we made the right decision," Helton said. "But if we have to, we'll get into it. So, today's your warning - we're getting into it."

NASCAR has put orange markings on the inside of the track to designate areas where bump drafting will be seriously scrutinized.

"That does not mean the rest of the race track will be ignored," Helton said. "You can argue all you want to when you come in after the race is over with, but it's too bad. It is what it is."

NOT FUNNY: Penske driver Ryan Newman is steamed over NASCAR's position on bump drafting, and wants to see dangerous drivers seriously punished.

"It's a joke, because NASCAR's job is to control the races, not control the drivers," Newman said. "We've got some drivers that are ruining it for everybody.''



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