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Top 20 countdown: No. 6 Mark Martin

Jay Hart
Yahoo Sports

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(Photos: Getty Images)

2008 statistics
Finish Poles Wins Top 5 Top 10
28 0 0 4 11
The countdown
No. 20: Martin Truex Jr.
No. 19: Juan Pablo Montoya
No. 18: Kurt Busch
No. 17: Kasey Kahne
No. 16: Brian Vickers
No. 15: Tony Stewart
No. 14: Jamie McMurray
No. 13: Clint Bowyer
No. 12: David Ragan
No. 11: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
No. 10: Denny Hamlin
No. 9: Matt Kenseth
No. 8: Jeff Burton
No. 7: Greg Biffle
No. 6: Mark Martin
No. 5: Revealed Tuesday

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports is counting down the Top 20 drivers going into the 2009 season. The order was determined by a survey, which asked six NASCAR journalists – Ricky Craven, Jay Busbee and Jay Hart (Yahoo! Sports); Jenna Fryer (Associated Press); David Poole (Charlotte Observer); and Nate Ryan (USA Today) – to predict the final standings for the 2009 season. The countdown will conclude on Feb. 6 with the unveiling of the No. 1 driver.

2008 finish: 28th

2009 outlook: Call him the sentimental favorite, the wild card, whatever, but Mark Martin is back full time, which absolutely means one thing, but realistically nothing more: He'll take up a spot in the Chase, thus taking one away from someone else.

However, to go beyond this (i.e. Martin winning the Cup championship) would be a reach. Yes, he's among the best ever; yes, he's driving for NASCAR's most dominant team (Hendrick Motorsports); and yes, he's still got it, even at 50.

But that's just it. Why now?

Why, after 26 years of falling short, would this be Martin's year to finally win that elusive first Cup title?

This isn't to rain on Martin's coming out of part-time retirement parade. It's just being realistic.

Martin is as consistent as they come, finishing in the top 10 in the points standings in 16 of his 19 full Cup seasons. That's what makes him a predictable lock to make the Chase.

But while clicking off top 10s is more than enough to make the Chase, that's not enough to win it once you're in it.

En route to the last three titles, Jimmie Johnson won eight Chase races. Martin hasn't won eight races combined in his last eight full seasons.

So unless Martin suddenly changes his "finish near the front" style, the same one that led him to five runner-up finishes, he'll probably wind up somewhere in the top 10, but finish the season still in search of that first Cup championship.

What you need to know: In 2008, Martin earned an average of 126 points per race in the 24 events in which he competed. Multiplying that out over a full, 36-race schedule, Martin would have finished the regular season ninth in the standings and would have finished eighth in the Chase.