KANSAS CITY, Kan. Mark Martin is probably NASCAR's best known pessimist.
As Martin raced toward a victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway that would keep his slim championship hopes alive, he couldn't shake the feeling that something would keep him from Victory Lane.
''We got the lead in the first half of the race and just stayed out front and that's a formula for heartbreak in my world because, more often than not, something goes wrong,'' Martin said.
Not this time.
Teammate Greg Biffle did give the 46-year-old Martin a late scare, but the veteran racer remained out front for the 35th victory of his career. It was Martin's first points victory he did win an exhibition event in Charlotte in May since June 2004 at Dover.
To do it, Martin had to hold off his Roush Racing teammates a lot of them.
Martin and Biffle led a team sweep of the top three spots and another Roush driver, Matt Kenseth, finished fifth.
But the last laugh might belong to Tony Stewart, who finished fourth and extended his Chase lead from four points to 75. It was Stewart's 15th top 10-finish in the last 16 races and, more important, his third in the first four events of this year's 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.
Biffle, another of the 10 drivers in the Chase, passed Stewart for second place 30 laps from the end of the 267-lap Banquet 400 and went after Martin, cutting a lead of about 20 car-lengths to less than half of that.
But Martin was able to hold on, leading Biffle and Carl Edwards to the finish line. Martin jumped from ninth to seventh in the standings, 113 points behind Stewart with six races left in the Chase.
''That's too far back,'' said Martin, that pessimism showing up again. ''We can go and win us some more and you never now. But it's going to be a lot harder now than it was going to be if we could have finished in the top 10 at Talladega.''
Martin's crash early in the race Oct. 2 at Talladega Superspeedway relegated him to a 41st-place finish and, worse, cost him valuable points, sending the four-time series runner-up tumbling to ninth place, 138 points out of first. Sunday's race was a bit of redemption for Martin, who took the lead for the first time with a two-tire stop on lap 122 and wound up leading three times for 139 laps, including the final 48 trips around the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval.
Crew chief Pat Tryson knows what it is going to take to get his driver back into the title battle.
''I said after last week that we've got to try to make up 20 points a race,'' Tryson said. ''I think we made up 20 points today, so we just have to keep doing that.''
Asked if he was worried when Biffle began to catch him in the waning laps, Martin said he was determined not to let that happen.
''I don't want to lose,'' he said. ''I always tell these guys, 'You give me the lead and four fresh tires with the end in sight, and you'll never get a fight like you'll get from me.' I had the race car to do it.
''I ran as hard as I could run there, in the beginning maybe saved a little bit, and then when Greg started coming I stepped it up. I could have drove maybe a little harder, but I might have wrecked. That's as fast as I could go and keep him behind me.''
Biffle won five of the first 15 races this season but has not visited Victory Lane since. Yet he said he was not really frustrated by finishing second to his revered teammate.
''Don't get me wrong,'' Biffle said. ''I was going to pass him if I could. But you have a lot of time to think around here and I was just picturing him buckled down in that race car giving it all he's got, just thinking about him winning. I'm probably as happy as he is that he won today.''
Raikkonen wins Japanese GP on last lap
SUZUKA, Japan Kimi Raikkonen passed Giancarlo Fisichella entering the final lap Sunday to claim a stunning win at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Raikkonen charged from the back of the starting grid in his McLaren to take his seventh victory of the season and ninth of his career with a daring move just before the first turn on the Suzuka circuit.
''Just before my last pit stop I was able to go fast,'' Raikkonen said. ''I wasn't too far behind and I thought I could get him.
''I was able to overtake him on the main straight. Luckily, I made it through,'' he said.
In the constructors' race, Renault reclaimed the lead over McLaren with new world champion Fernando Alonso coming in third. Renault takes a 176-174 lead into the final race of the season at Shanghai next week.
Bright sun and near-cloudless skies greeted the race in sharp contrast to Saturday's qualifying, when rain in the final 10 minutes marred the top drivers' qualifying laps.
Alonso, Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya who among them had won the last eight races were in the final three rows on the grid.
Despite the near-perfect conditions Sunday, a safety car slowed the field for six laps at the start after Montoya, who had won two of the last three races, crashed out at the end of the first lap, ending McLaren's hopes of possibly clinching the title at Japan.
Fisichella took over the lead on the 13th lap after pole sitter Ralf Schumacher went in for fuel.
Raikkonen, who started in 17th, made his way through the field and was in sixth place by that time and passed Michael Schumacher by the 30th lap to go into fourth.
Ahead of him were Fisichella, Jenson Button and Mark Webber. All three pitted to give Raikkonen the lead briefly at lap 41.
Raikkonen stayed out longer and went in for fuel with eight laps to go at lap 45. When he came out he was only seconds behind Fisichella with a faster car.
With five laps to go, Fisichella's lead was 3.0 seconds and shrinking and with only two remaining, Raikkonen was within a few car lengths.
Entering the final lap, Raikkonen moved alongside Fisichella, almost touching cars. He maintained the momentum and made a darting move just before the first turn to take the lead.
''It was a much more difficult win than any other. It is much nicer when you have to really fight for it,'' Raikkonen said.
''In the main straight he was much quicker than me,'' Fisichella said.
Fisichella finished 1.6 seconds behind Raikkonen with Alonso 17.4 seconds back.
Webber, in a Williams, was fourth, with Button fifth in a BAR-Honda.
David Coulthard of Red Bull was seventh, while seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari was seventh, ahead of his brother Ralf.
Montoya, who didn't post a qualifying time because of the rain, slid off and crashed into the wall on the final turn of the first lap while attempting to get around Sauber's Felipe Massa.
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