DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If you'd lost a Daytona 500 the way Mark Martin did above, missing out by three feet to Kevin Harvick in 2007, you could be expected to have a little bitterness. But to hear Martin tell it as he gears up for his 28th tilt at the Great American Race, he's cool with the fact that he's never won here. Totally. Seriously. Really. No fooling.
"No, it doesn't bother me at all," he said. "None. Why should it? ... I have not lost one ounce of sleep over it, other than when I missed it by three feet in 2007."
Martin's runner-up status at Daytona mirrors his perennial runner-up status in the Sprint Cup, but to hear him talk, he seems to have reached peace with it ... or at least, he's trying very hard to convince himself of that.
"Nobody ever told me I was going to be the greatest of all time," he said. "I figure I'm darn lucky to have been able to be in this sport, stumble around and win a few things. I'm not owed anything ... I've been lucky enough to win a few races. You don't get to choose which ones they are."
For Martin, true strength is getting back up again after you've been knocked down. "When I was a teenager, I thought I was going to win the Daytona 500," he said. "Ain't happened. But it hasn't stopped me from trying."
And he expressed some understanding about what Carl Edwards, he of the tie-breaking loss to Tony Stewart last season, must be going through.
"Look out Carl, that's all I've got to say," he said. "It looks like he's going to win a bunch, but you never know. At least I didn't tie!"
This year, Martin will run a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, picking and choosing the races he wants to run. And he's insisted that he'll stick to that schedule no matter what happens in his races. Martin is following in the steps of Cale Yarborough and David Pearson, he noted, running the races where he feels most comfortable.
And he's pleased with MWR, which he believes is "poised to make a move toward the dominators in the sport," Martin said. "It's an exciting time there. They have a lot of great sponsors, and not a lot of people can say that ... Michael is funny, and he is fun, but he is no goof. He's a smart guy. I didn't realize how smart he was until I started working with him."
Back in 1982, Martin showed up at his first Daytona 500 with his own car and no sponsor and left here broke. He's in a little better shape now ... and maybe, just maybe, he can get that win that's eluded him for so long. At this point, he's got as good a chance as anyone ... but even if he doesn't close the deal, he's doing just fine.
"I'm so fortunate to still be doing what I love with all my heart," he finished, "and have people to support that."