In reality Mark Martin has not changed much during his 25-plus year in the Sprint Cup Series, but one thing that has changed is his attitude.
My first full season covering NASCAR was 1998, when Jeff Gordon won the championship and had 13 wins. Close behind was Martin, with seven wins. You talk about predictable outcomes? Together those two accounted for nearly two-thirds of the wins that season.
Back then, though, Martin seemed to have a pessimistic slant to his interviews. He often wondered aloud when he won if he would ever get the chance to experience that feeling again. For a guy who was so good, it was hard to understand if he was genuine. I have no doubt that he was.
Fast forward to 2009. Martin joins Hendrick Motorsports for the first time in his career and after a two-year break from fulltime competition in the series, returns to run all 36 races.
He won his first race in the spring at Phoenix and it was one of the most memorable post-race interviews I've been a part of because of Martin's genuine enthusiasm and humble outlook as he returned to Victory Lane - a place he sincerely believed he might not see again.
As the season wore on, he got better. Win after win and suddenly Martin became a top contender for the Cup title - an honor which has escaped him during his stellar career. He was excited, almost in child-like amazement of what was unfolding.
Martin's visits to the media center are marked by his optimism, his genuine enthusiasm to be back to a point in his career where success comes weekly rather than fleetingly.
Even with Jimmie Johnson's 38th-place finish last weekend at Texas, Martin still has a big challenge in the final two races if he is going to win his first Cup title. I don't know if he can do it.
One thing I can tell you: it's inspiring to watch him try.
Truex, team penalized for rule violation
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team co-owner Teresa Earnhardt and driver Martin Truex Jr. were penalized 50 points each and crew chief Kevin Manion was fined $50,000 after Truex's No. 1 Chevrolet was found too low in post-race inspection following Sunday's race at Texas.
The loss of 50 points dropped Truex from 24th to 26th in the driver standings. Manion is on NASCAR probation through Dec. 31.
Braun Racing expanding
Braun Racing will field four Nationwide Series teams next season, including a new entry for current Truck series driver Brian Scott.
Team owner Todd Braun has fielded three teams this season - the Nos. 38, 10 and 32. Jason Leffler drives the 38 while several drivers share the 10 and 32. All three of those teams will use multiple drivers in 2010.
Carmichael joins Turner Motorsports
After spending much of the season working with Kevin Harvick Inc.'s Truck team, former AMA champion Ricky Carmichael has moved to Turner Motorsports.
Carmichael will compete in the final two Truck races of 2009 for Turner, run a full Truck schedule in 2010 as well as compete in 10 Automobile Racing Club of America races next season.