The final 85 miles of Sunday's MBNA 400 were less auto race than farcical demolition derby.
The dominant driver, Tony Stewart, missed pit road when his wheels locked up and he fell nearly a lap behind. A new leader, Ryan Newman, quickly spun into the wall on pit road, inverting the rear of his No. 12 Dodge. A massive 19-car wreck sidetracked pole sitter Jeremy Mayfield and contender Jimmie Johnson, leaving a field of ghastly, shredded vehicles. Mayfield's teammate, Kasey Kahne, was poised to record his first win before an oil slick sent the rookie slamming into the outside wall and collecting three more cars in his wake.
Mark Martin didn't win so much as survive the Monster Mile. The veteran was the rare driver to avoid trouble around the mile-long concrete oval and was rewarded with his first win in more than two years and his fourth at Dover International Speedway.
"Everything worked out in our favor, and believe me, we were due," said Martin, who took home $271,900 of a $5.5 million purse. "It was either lose or get it done, and I didn't want to lose."
Stewart recovered from the mayhem to finish second, just ahead of Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr., who never contended until the leaders began to fall.
Martin started seventh and led just once, over the final 19 miles. But his No. 6 Ford got stronger as the bizarre race went on, and the 45-year-old was a fixture near the front of the pack for most of the afternoon.
He finally took the lead when Kahne's Dodge crumpled after careening around Turn 4 and into the wall. On the final restart, with 10 miles to go, Martin easily separated from Stewart and Earnhardt, winning by 1.7 seconds.
"He's a racer, one of the pure racers out there," Earnhardt said of the winner, who claimed his 34th career Cup victory. "He doesn't care about fame, money, nothing but running good."
A series of malfunctions have plagued Martin's season; last week, an ignition problem dropped Martin to 36th at the Coca-Cola 600. Sunday's win broke a 73-race winless streak for Martin, who moved up to 13th in the Cup standings.
"I've dedicated my whole life to racing, and winning is why I race. When you don't win, it's pretty difficult," said Martin, who eschewed the post-race spinout that has become typical among the younger generation.
"I don't know how to do a burnout and I wasn't going to. I'm gonna leave that for the young'uns."
Five drivers -- including Newman, Johnson and Kahne -- were treated and released from the infield care center, and 17 of 43 drivers ended the race parked in the garage.
There were 11 cautions -- lasting 90 miles -- and two red flags -- each consuming more than 19 minutes. The average speed of 97.042 mph was the slowest in Dover history by more than 3 mph.
Only five cars finished on the lead lap, and the entire affair lasted nearly five hours. But the few drivers who were left relatively intact had no complaints.
"It seemed like a pretty cool race to me," said Earnhardt, who has been first in the Cup standings since April 18. "It's unfortunate we had so many cautions, but that's what the sport's about. . . . It's unfortunate some people don't have the same opinion."
After 25 miles under caution, several lapped drivers remained in front of the leaders on the restart. Predictably, trouble ensued immediately. With cars stacked three-wide coming out of Turn 3, Michael Waltrip touched the wall and then ran into Dave Blaney, sending Blaney spinning and setting off the 19-car get-together.
"Everybody got hittin' everybody," Sterling Marlin observed.
The wreck, which involved more than half the cars still on the track, ended the chances of Mayfield and Johnson, who likely would have moved into first place in the Cup standings with a clean finish but instead remained second, 98 points back of Earnhardt.
"You race all day long and think people could use their heads," a frustrated Johnson said. "Running three or four wide, like a bunch of idiots -- just ridiculous."