Loudon, N.H. — When young drivers aren’t sure how to approach an on-track situation, they often ask themselves “What would Mark Martin do?”
With a championship on the line, Martin fooled the competition and won.
The 50-year-old driver held off Juan Pablo Montoya on a three-lap sprint to the finish Sunday to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. After, Montoya accused Martin of holding him up at the start of the second lap.
“What he did, not cool at all,” Montoya radioed his crew. “I could have wrecked him.”
But Martin insisted the move, which clearly surprised Montoya, was within bounds.
“I fought for that race,” Martin said. “But I wouldn’t do anything. I still won’t.”
Whether Martin did anything wrong at all will be debated by many, but it won’t change the record books: Martin won his Sprint Cup Series-best fifth race of the season and extended his lead in the standings to 35 points over runner-up Denny Hamlin and three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
“Pinch me. I am sure I’m sleeping. I am sure I am dreaming,” Martin said.
Martin crew chief Alan Gustafson used mid-race pit strategy to get the No. 5 into contention. He didn’t bring Martin in for a pit stop under yellow that was outside their fuel window, knowing they’d get a chance to stop later in the race.
It put Martin out front at the end, in position to spoil what was shaping up to be a blockbuster day for Montoya.
Making his 100th career start on his 34th birthday, Montoya won the pole in record-breaking speed and led every practice session while setting the stage for just his second career Sprint Cup Series victory.
Instead, he found himself slicing through the field at the end of the race. He went from fifth to second on a restart with 13 laps to go and was on the inside of Martin on the restart with three laps to go.
Hamlin slipped past Montoya for second place as the three cars split AJ Allmendinger on the way to the finish line.
McClenathan, Hight win
Concord, N.C. — Cory McClenathan and Robert Hight shot up the playoff rankings by winning their first races of 2009 Sunday at the NHRA Carolinas Nationals at zMax Dragway.
McClenathan won Top Fuel with a pass of 3.857 seconds at 312.64 mph. Hight flew from 10th place to third by beating another rookie, outpacing Matt Hagan in 4.097 seconds at 307.02 mph in his Funny Car.
Renault awaits fate
Paris — The Renault Formula One team will learn its fate today at a hearing into how its former driver Nelson Piquet Jr. was ordered by management to crash his car deliberately, a life-threatening move that further tarnishes a sport rocked by scandals and cheating.
Crede to have 3rd surgery
Minneapolis — Minnesota Twins third baseman Joe Crede plans to have another surgery on his injured back. Crede, out for the season, said the procedure by Dr. Andrew Dossett, a Dallas orthopedist, will remove fluid from a herniated disk that is impeding on a nerve. Crede expects to have the operation Friday.
Giants prospect a suspect
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — A Dominican baseball prospect for the San Francisco Giants is the main suspect in the killing of a 25-year-old man, police said Sunday.
Angel Villalona turned himself in 12 hours after the man was shot at a bar in the southern coastal city of La Romana, Coronel Adrian Urbaez told the Associated Press.
Millwood making start
Arlington, Texas — Texas right-hander Kevin Millwood expects to make his scheduled start tonight and have a chance to pitch the 41⁄3 innings needed to guarantee a $12 million contract next season.
Cubs suspend Bradley
St. Louis — The Chicago Cubs have suspended volatile outfielder Milton Bradley for the rest of the season, one day after he criticized the team in a newspaper interview.
Bradley was disciplined Sunday for conduct detrimental to the team. General manager Jim Hendry says he decided to send Bradley home after learning of the player’s remarks in the Daily Herald of suburban Arlington Heights. Bradley, scratched from Saturday’s lineup due to left knee soreness, was quoted as saying “you understand why they haven’t won in 100 years here.”
Lohse gets 3 more starts
St. Louis — St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse, who’s struggled to recover from a forearm injury, gets three starts to dial everything in beginning tonight in Houston. The Cardinals are trying to decide what to do with the right-hander, who could lose his spot in the postseason rotation to John Smoltz.
NU plans sellout mural
Lincoln, Neb. — A new piece of artwork in the lobby of the Nebraska athletic department office building will commemorate the Cornhuskers’ 300 consecutive football sellouts and serve as a conversation piece for visitors and prospective recruits.
The mural, to be revealed Thursday, measures 22-by-28 feet and is made up of 616 mosaic tiles depicting a full stadium with players celebrating and red balloons taking flight to signal the Huskers’ first touchdown of a game.
USF’s Grothe has ACL tear
Tampa, Fla. — South Florida senior quarterback Matt Grothe will miss the rest of the 2009 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Cabrera-Bello cards 60
Oberwal Tersdorf, Austria — Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain shot an 11-under 60 to win his first European Tour title by one stroke over Benn Barham on Sunday at the Austrian Open.
Haas sets record in victory
Conover, N.C. — Jay Haas overcame a slow start to shoot a 7-under 65 on Sunday, winning his second Greater Hickory Classic by two shots over Russ Cochran and Andy Bean.
Haas, who also won the Champions Tour event in 2005, set a tournament-record of 18-under 198.
Choi sneaks out victorious
San Diego — Na Yeon Choi of South Korea lost her seven-stroke lead, then rallied to shoot 1-under 71 Sunday to win the Samsung World Championship, her first LPGA Tour victory.
Quinn prevails late
Boise, Idaho — Fran Quinn beat Blake Adams after knocking an 8-iron to within four feet on the 18th hole and sinking the birdie putt to win the Albertsons Boise Open on Sunday.
Czink best at Bell
Quebec City — Melinda Czink won her first career singles title on the WTA Tour, beating Lucie Safarova, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, Sunday at the Bell Challenge.
Valverde nets signature win
Madrid, Spain — Alejandro Valverde finally has a signature win.
The 29-year-old Spaniard claimed the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday by being the most consistent rider during the 21-stage race that began Aug. 29 in Assen, Netherlands.
Sharpe honored in Denver
Denver — Parachuting into the stadium proved to be the easy part for Shannon Sharpe.
Delivering a speech in front of fans, former teammates and his family — now that was nerve-racking. The former tight end was inducted into the Denver Broncos’ Ring of Fame at halftime of Sunday’s game against Cleveland, choking up as he tried to talk.
Miami extends Morris
Coral Gables, Fla. — Miami Hurricanes baseball coach Jim Morris has signed a contract extension through 2015.
Morris has led the Hurricanes to the College World Series 11 times in 16 years, including national championship seasons in 1999 and 2001. The Hurricanes have made the NCAA Tournament 37 years in a row.
The extension for Morris was announced Sunday by athletics director Kirby Hocutt.