Martin could join elite circle with victory in Southern 500


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If Mark Martin can take the Southern 500 Sunday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, he will become the third driver in as many years to win four NASCAR Winston Cup races in a row.

Harry Gant was "Mr. September" in 1991 for the Leo Jackson-owned team. And Bill Elliott was "Mr. March" last year in his first season with car owner Junior Johnson, sweeping four starts that month.

Martin can't be a "Mr. Month" should he win the Labor Day weekend classic on the historic track, because his streak would stretch from August into September. There's not much of a ring to "Mr. August-And-First-Week-In-September."

Nevertheless, winning consecutively at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Michigan International Speedway, Bristol (Tenn.) Raceway and devious ol' Darlington would be a fantastic feat.

Such a "slam" would encompass a road course, a superspeedway, a short track and an intermediate-sized track. The latter -- Darlington -- is a 1.366-mile layout that happens to be the most revered raceway in NASCAR, dating to 1950 when it became the first big track in Dixie.

What are the chances for Ford driver Martin and his Jack Roush Racing team, led by crew chief Steve Hmiel, at "The Track Too Tough To Tame"? They're excellent, judging from Martin's record in Winston Cup events at Darlington.

Although Martin never has captured a checkered flag at the speedway, he has done the next best thing four times.

Martin has been a runner-up in the Southern 500s of 1989 and '92 and in the spring TranSouth 500s of '90 and last March. His overall Darlington record lists 15 starts, eight top-five finishes and 11 top 10s. The Arkansas native who lives near Greensboro won the TranSouth 500 pole in '89 and will be among the favorites Friday when time trials begin for the 500, sponsored by Mountain Dew.

Martin, who made a sensational pass of Rusty Wallace with 13 laps to go to win the Bud 500 on Saturday night in Bristol, Tenn., had an ominous thought about Darlington for his rivals.

"We should run even better than we ran at Bristol," said Martin.

But he tempered the prospect with this: "The more races you win in a row, the more likely you are not to be as fortunate. We'll go down there and give them all we've got."

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