Martin hoping for some old magic at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, NY (Sporting News) - It appears that Mark Martin's Sprint Cup-career hourglass could be down to its final few grains of sand. And unless Martin can pull off something dramatic between now and the time the Chase starts on Sept. 18, his career may be one which is forever remembered for its near misses.

History -- albeit not recent history -- suggests that Sunday's Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen could be the time and race to launch those dramatics as the Watkins Glen International road course has been a Martin favorite, and a Martin comfort zone, over the years.

Asked about the track this week, Martin beamed, "I love it."

The 52-year-old Martin is currently on ground that is shaky as gelatin when it comes to making the Chase in what is his final season with Hendrick Motorsports and, perhaps, his final full-time season in Cup.

With five races left until the start of the playoffs, he is 15th in driver points -- 74 out of the 10th and final regular Chase berth.

"We've performed better over the last few weeks and have gotten better finishes, but to get inside the top 10 we're going to need solid top-10 and even top-five finishes every week," Martin said.

And with zero wins, his chances at getting one of two wild-card berths would require a storybook string of dashes to Victory Lane.

Martin is well aware of the grim nature of the numbers he is facing.

"We have to win [in order to make the Chase]," Martin said. "And really, with Brad [Keselowski] getting his second win at Pocono last weekend, we need to win twice. Climbing to 10th in points would be ideal, but we have a big deficit to make up and that's going to be very difficult to do with this point system. Is it possible? Yes. But it's not going to be easy."

Martin has 40 victories in his career. Four of those have come at road courses. There are the three he got at Watkins Glen's historic seven-turn, 2.45-mile track in upstate New York, and one at Infineon Raceway in California.

His average finish is 8.3 at Watkins Glen and 11.9 at Infineon. Those averages are better than those of all but two current drivers who have five or more starts at Watkins Glen (Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart), and four (Jeff Gordon, Juan Montoya, Clint Bowyer and Stewart) at Infineon.

So Martin is a road racer. And the track he will be at this weekend is his favorite road track.

"We couldn't race at two more different types of road courses," Martin said. "Infineon is more of a short-track style of road course where Watkins Glen is like the superspeedway of road courses. I've run better here over the course of my career, so I've always kind of enjoyed it more. This track has more of an open feel to it and carries a lot more speed than Infineon does."

Unfortunately, Martin's victories at the Glen all came in the 1990s. Since then, Martin has been good -- he has nine top-10 finishes since his last victory -- but not consistent.

"We haven't had the best runs on road courses here lately, but I'm hoping that turns around this weekend and we can get a good solid finish," said Martin, whose post-Hendrick NASCAR future remains unsettled.

If Martin, who has been runner-up in Cup points races five times, can summon up five more good, solid finishes in his next five starts, he just might head into that future on a very high note.