There's no doubt that Mark Martin earned his spot in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. With a total of 40 wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, the now-64-year-old Batesville, Arkansas native is considered to be among the most consistent drivers in NASCAR history, as he accumulated 453 top-10 finishes out of a total 882 races run. Of those top-10s, 271 were top-fives and 61 were second-place finishes. But, despite his impressive resume, there are two major milestones Martin never accomplished as a NASCAR driver: a Cup Series championship and a Daytona 500 win.
Martin came painfully close to achieving both feats throughout his career. He was a runner-up five times in the Cup standings. It's like he could almost taste the title. As for the Daytona 500, he'd have his fair share of heartbreak there, too. In fact, coming into the 2007 Daytona 500, which would mark his 23rd running of the "Great American Race," Martin had raced to seven top-seven finishes at the inaugural NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway. That day on February 18, 2007 in Daytona Beach, Florida, Martin had the victory right in his grasp. It was the closest he would come to winning the Harley J. Earl trophy. Unfortunately for Martin, a wild last-lap wreck and a historic (and controversial) finish that was nearly 50 years in the making took things in a different direction.
WATCH: Full Race Recap of 2007 Daytona 500
The Daytona 500 is always a chaotic race (just look up "Big One at Daytona," and you'll see what we mean), and the 2007 running was no different than previous years. But, Mark Martin had managed to impressively survive the chaos late into the race. Following a number of caution flags throughout the event that forced the likes of Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. to bow out early, Martin ended up being race's late leader and looked to be well on his way to his first Daytona 500 win.
However, on the final lap, Kevin Harvick made a late surge, putting him neck-and-neck with Martin. As Kyle Busch attempted to pass them, he got loose and spun out, and it started a chain reaction that caused a host of other drivers to wreck. Clint Bowyer flipped and skidded across the finish line on his roof, while Jeff Gordon also wrecked. It was complete craziness.
Surprisingly, the caution flag didn't come out, and Harvick just edged out Martin's No. 1 Chevrolet to the finish line by .002 seconds for what would be Harvick's first Daytona 500 win. It marked the closest finish since the first-ever Daytona 500 in 1959, when it took NASCAR officials THREE DAYS to finally declare Lee Petty the winner. Though, the 2007 race, much like the one in '59, would become shrouded in serious controversy.
Now, if this had all happened prior to 2003, it would've been treated like any other finish, as NASCAR had typically allowed cars to race to the finish line if a caution-causing event happened on the last lap. But, following an incident between Casey Mears and Dale Jarrett at the 2003 Sylvania 300 in New Hampshire International Speedway, NASCAR instituted a "freezing the field" rule, which brought out a legitimate caution period. Had officials followed through with the mandate, it would have probably held off Harvick's late race-winning surge. Unfortunately for Martin, and to the chagrin of many NASCAR fans, that rule was never initiated at the 2007 Daytona 500.
Martin would go on to race at six more Daytona 500s, but he was never able to see the checkered flag. He would finish third in his final appearance at Daytona in 2012. If Martin had won the Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing, that triumph would've been celebratory alongside the likes of Dale Earnhardt's victory in 1998 and Darrell Waltrip's win in 1989, as both drivers won after years of defeat (Earnhardt in his 20th start, and Waltrip in his 17th). That streak-ending win never came for Mark Martin. Still, he has nothing to hang his head about, as he did enough in his career to cement his legacy as one of NASCAR's greats.
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