This is why I love Mark Martin…

Today, the NASCAR Nextel Cup points leader participated in a news conference with Regan Smith and Ricky Carmichael. Mark’s taking his first “day off” in more than 20 years. Regan — a Cup rookie — steps into the 01 Army car with the points lead. Ricky Carmichael climbs into a stock car for the first time Saturday night, racing with Mark’s son Matt. And Mark will coach Carmichael.

In 4 races this season, Mark’s finished in the top 5 three times, and a 10th place finish at Atlanta. He and Ryan Pemberton have given the U.S. Army lots to cheer about.

In today’s teleconference, the Batesville, Arkansas native was asked about the worst day of his career. This made me cry. I remember the Michigan race. It’s the day I went from casual Mark fan to true admirer.

MARK MARTIN: The worst time of my career was Sunday night after Watkins Glen, when I walked into the hangar and my wife said that my dad had been in a plane crash. And my dad’s nickname was Cat, and he was called that because he had to have had nine lives. When she told me that I thought, oh that one probably really hurt. Never dreaming that he could not survive anything.

And we were in a championship battle that year with Jeff Gordon. And we did our deal and buried my dad in a hurry so that I could hurry and get to the racetrack on Thursday at Michigan.

And I raced my Busch car in Michigan and raced the Cup car in Michigan and I led the race and led the race a whole lot and the caution came out. We had the race in the bag. And a caution came out late in the race and, I don’t know, whatever exchange in the pit stops that happened, I got passed right at the end.

And the emotion just was more than I could take. And I felt some different about it ever since. I don’t know if I should have took a sick day that day or what. But that was the worst day of my career.

And the best day of my career has been so many days of the realization of the incredible respect that has been given to me by the competitors and the fans. And especially all the cheers on every driver introduction for the last year, that’s what’s the best day — those are the best days of my career.

Source: Motorsport.com: News channel

What Mark didn’t mention is that he finished second at Michigan. He asked for a few minutes of privacy after the race, then faced reporters. He talked about how desperately he wanted to dedicate a win to his dad and vowed to try again at Bristol the next weekend.

He drove his heart out in Thunder Valley — straight to victory lane.

I never thought I could respect Mark Martin more than I did the day he pulled himself together and won Bristol that year.

I was wrong. I respect him even more because he’s so excited about sitting Bristol out this year. With the points lead.

Waytago, Mark!

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