They were still side by side coming out of Turn 2 and they raced down the back straightaway. Neither driver could shake the other and they entered Turn 3 door to door, just inches apart. Martin dipped to the bottom of the track while Biffle went up high, taking a slight lead. Martin charged back in Turn 4 and they raced to the finish line. Biffle crossed the line 0.17 seconds ahead of Martin to win the race.
I don't think I've ever seen such an exciting finish to a sporting event. The funny thing was, I didn't know who many of the drivers were and I didn't understand racing strategy or what it meant to race a competitor clean.
NASCAR was new to me. A few months prior, a publisher came to me with an idea for a sports book. The editor told me which sports he wanted me to write about and one of them was NASCAR. I told him I had never followed the sport so writing about it wasn't going to be easy. But I had some time, so I began to research it.
Once I had an understanding of the points system and a basic grasp of the lingo used in the sport, I decided to watch the last three races of the 2005 season, not having any idea what was about to happen. I didn't have a favorite driver in mind as I watched the first two races and I didn't have one in mind as I watched the Ford 400. But my heart was racing after the exciting finish in Miami.
Then Martin got out of his car for his post-race interview.
"Man, it was close," Martin said. "I thought we were going to pull it off. We were just inches short. I guess maybe we needed another lap -- or maybe I'd have crashed trying. I raced Greg hard and I raced him clean and vice versa. And he was in front when it was over."
I was fascinated by a sport that provided such high drama while also honoring a code of racing each other cleanly. Of course, I learned later that not every driver adheres to the code quite so strictly, but I had an instant respect for Martin. At that moment I became a NASCAR and a Mark Martin fan and I've been following both ever since.
The more I read about Martin, the more I learned that what happened that night in Miami is the norm for him. He has finished second in the overall standings five times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career that dates back to 1981. He also finished third three times -- all of which often prompts analysts to refer to him as the best driver to never win a championship.
If you asked his competitors to sum up how they feel about him, the vast majority would simply say "respect." Although now that he's driving for Hendrick Motorsports, he might just end up with both respect and a championship. But I imagine that having the respect of his fellow competitors means more to him.
That's why I'm proud to consider myself one of his fans.