Martin claims victory in Charlotte

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

The non-points Nextel All-Star Challenge for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series started with controversy and ended with a popular victory for one of the sport's veterans.

Mark Martin, competing in his last full Nextel Cup season, led 24 of 90 laps to win the All-Star Challenge for the second time, having done so in 1998.

Martin took the lead from Elliott Sadler on the 72nd lap of the race, and never looked back, defeating Sadler by over half a second.

The Nextel All-Star Challenge is an non-points race that invites Nextel Cup race winners from the previous edition of this race to the upcoming edition, as well as former Nextel Cup Series champions, and former winners of this race. There is a last-chance transfer race, the 30-lap Nextel Open, with the winner advancing to the main event, and a second driver getting in through a fan vote, though the fan vote winner must finish on the same lap as the winner. The Nextel Open is for drivers who have never won a race, or haven't won a points-paying race in a long period of time.

Brian Vickers won the Open with a move that rubbed some fans-as well as the driver he beat-the wrong way.

Just over 200 yards from the finish line, Vickers tapped Open pole-sitter Mike Bliss from behind, causing him to slide across the grass and end up second. Vickers got into the All-Star Challenge itself, but Bliss, who set the track record with his pole-winning lap, was none too happy with what transpired, saying afterward, "He spun me out. The only thing, I wish I would have turned right and wrecked (him)." 2004 Busch Series champion Martin Truex, Jr. finished tenth in the Open, but won the fan vote to get into the All-Star Challenge.

A lap 35 crash in the All-Star Challenge itself eliminated seven drivers alone, with Truex being one of them. It started when Tony Stewart tagged Joe Nemechek, who in turn hit Kevin Harvick. Kasey Kahne, Terry Labonte, and Michael Waltrip were involved as well.

Harvick was upset to be involved, but he ended up taking his frustrations out on Nemechek, not on Stewart. Nemechek fired back, saying, "Kevin thinks he owns the world, and he ain't squat....He was just being an idiot, just being Kevin." The accident brought out the red flag. Only one other caution took place, this being displayed on lap 71, when pole-sitter Ryan Newman spun and crashed in turn two, with teammate Rusty Wallace eventually becoming involved.

The All-Star Challenge itself is divided into three segments. The first segment is 40 laps long, the second 30, and the third and final segment 20. Mark Martin won the first segment, with Newman winning the second. Of course, Martin won the third and final segment to claim the race.

For his efforts, Martin won $1,101,325. He said over the radio that he will race in this event next year, as long as current car owner Jack Roush gives him a car. This was marked as Martin's first Nascar Nextel Cup victory since Dover on June 6, 2004.