The Frontstretch: One More Season With Mark Martin Is A Good Thing by Tommy Thompson -- Thursday May 7, 2009

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One More Season With Mark Martin Is A Good Thing

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Thursday May 7, 2009


Yesterday’s news that popular veteran Mark Martin has agreed to compete full-time at least through 2010 in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet — instead of his originally announced part-time, 26-race schedule next season — did not come as a complete surprise. Martin had previously hinted that he very well might be interested in another full season of Sprint Cup competition, even as he looks at celebrating his 51st birthday in January.

But don’t let the age fool you on this one, as the 20+-year veteran has looked every bit as good behind the wheel than most 20-somethings on the circuit this decade. In 2007 and 2008, he had opted for part-time driving schedules while employed by Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. While driving for both organizations, Martin’s on-track results far outshined that of his protégés, Regan Smith and Aric Almirola, two young drivers that the Batesville, Arkansas native had actively mentored. This season, despite a rash of both mechanical failures and accidents not necessarily of his making, Martin presently sits 15th in the driver’s championship standings — only 61 points out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup-eligible 12th position.

For team owner Rick Hendrick, inking Martin to another full-time season seems to have left him thrilled. “Week in and week out, Mark continues to be one of the best race car drivers in the world,” he said Wednesday. “He’s already made an incredible contribution to Hendrick Motorsports, and our entire company is excited about running another full season and winning races with him in 2010.”

Hendrick, whose racing stable also includes Jeff Gordon (four-time Cup Champ), Jimmie Johnson (winner of the last three Cup Championships) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (two-time Busch Series Champion and the sport’s Most Popular Driver), clearly has already seen enough this season to know that Martin is also a “keeper.” On track, the veteran’s performance has been nothing short of championship-worthy. Throwing out the engine failures at Fontana and Las Vegas, as well as accidents in Atlanta and Talladega, the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet has been a contender everywhere we’ve been this season. Martin’s collected two top 5 finishes, including a win at Phoenix, to go along with five top 10s in the six races where he hasn’t run into trouble.

Mark Martin signed a deal Wednesday with Hendrick Motorsports to continue driving the No. 5 car through the end of the 2010 season.

Perhaps an underreported part of the story is how Martin’s signing helps Hendrick’s financial stability. Without a signed sponsor for the No. 5 team for 2010, having Martin in the car for the entire season will without a doubt be a huge benefit to their marketing department. The task of recruiting a multi-million dollar primary sponsor is considerably easier when you have a driver of Martin’s abilities and reputation to sell, instead of a convoluted ride-sharing arrangement that would have had Martin and, in all probability, Brad Keselowski doing a 26/10 race split. Now, they don’t have to worry about Keselowski, who, by the way, is now officially on the outside looking in at Hendrick’s Cup program unless he’s content to wait around until 2011.

But even that’s a risky proposition, as the man ahead of him on the depth chart shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Notorious for his intense workout routine, Martin leaves no doubt that he is, in spite of his age, more than physically fit enough to endure the rigors of wrestling stock cars at high speeds for three to four hours during a typical race. Despite being four years older than the next oldest full-time competitor — and double the age of drivers like 24-year-old Kyle Busch — Martin seems to have no qualms concerning the wear and tear provided by a full, 36-race schedule.

“I’m in the best condition of my life, I’m recharged, and I’m motivated,” he said Wednesday. “Going to the racetrack every weekend is still really fun, and that’s the key. There’s more gas in my tank.”

Of course, anytime someone extends a career there’s a risk of hanging on too long. But unlike many star athletes that overstay their time in a sport and tarnish their legacy, there is no reason to believe that will be the case with Mark Martin. Over the past three years, his on-track success has demonstrated that he has lost little in his ability to race competitively. Any dropoff that he may have suffered through the natural aging process has more than been compensated for by his wealth of experience, gained by over two decades of racing at the highest level of competition. Combine that with a cool, calm, and calculating demeanor behind the wheel, and you still have a winner — even possibly a title contender under the right circumstances.

In the end, it is nearly impossible to second guess Martin’s decision to extend his career, especially when being offered the top-level equipment he’s got at Hendrick Motorsports. Martin already had an opportunity to cutback on his driving duties the past two seasons and get a glimpse at what retirement might be like. Obviously, he decided that the view was not to his liking… at least not for now.

Besides, wouldn’t it be great to see one of the most likable and respected drivers in the sport, now eligible for AARP membership, challenge for a championship… or, dare I say, win the championship? To be sure, it’s a scenario that in no way is beyond the realm of possibility. And should it happen, it’s a fairy tale story that would captivate not only NASCAR fans, but the general public, as well.

Can Martin really do it? Well, he’s just bought himself another shot should he not succeed this season… and with some of the best resources in the series available to help him out, there’s no reason not to expect the grizzly veteran won’t be in position to at least make the Chase once he’s fully settled into the ride in 2010.

But regardless of whether Martin finally does win the championship that has alluded him so many times or not, he will still be at the track — and that, in itself, is a win for all. For it is a cinch that, win or lose, Martin will grace the sport with his gentlemanly ways and extraordinary talent each and every time he slides behind the wheel.

So, having Mark Martin on the track for another full season of racing is — any way you slice it — a win–win for everybody!

And… that’s my view from Turn 5.

Contact Tommy Thompson

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05/07/2009 07:52 AM

Mark Martin needs to find a rocking chair and watch the races on TV, digger and all!

He is milking the cow, and stealing money away from the drivers of the future! Of course throughout his career, he has shown no shame at running even the junior series events to pad his bank account!

He “claims” he likes to help the younger drivers, BUT he takes their money and their rides away from them!

Mark!! I am sick of you!!

Enough is enough!

Go home!

05/07/2009 09:59 AM

Nothing against MM, but the only way he would have a serious shot at challenging for a championship would be if Hendrick were to give him Chad. What do you think his chance of that is?

05/07/2009 01:23 PM

Wow! Talk about age discrimination! Douglas,
how many drivers can say they have won a race this year? I don’t think MM won from his “rocking chair”. As far as running and winning in Busch, he’s certainly not the only Cup driver to do that. (Even Sr. ran
and won in the junior league). Maybe he’ll quit now that he knows you think he’s too old. Stealing $ away from future drivers? If some young gun was faster and a better racer don’t you think he’d be under contract and competing? Man, I cannot believe I’m sticking up for MM, he has never been one of my favorites, but give the man some respect. He’s earned it.

Doug Scholl
05/07/2009 01:31 PM

I personally hope that Mark Martin is voted most popular driver this year. then what can Jr nation fall on?

Max Fan
05/07/2009 04:07 PM

What happened to all the money from the souvenir sales from the “Salut to you” tour of Mark’s last season. The people that bought into Mark’s retirement must feel robbed.

I used to really respect Mark, I think he’s a great guy and a great driver. Then again, I also used to respect Brett Favre and Michael Jordon. But how do you respect a guy that makes such a big deal about his final year in his sport, only to return for several more attempts (for other teams no less).

It seems like their cheating their fans and it kinda taints their legacies. I have way more respect for guys that know when it’s time to hang up the helmet and make room for the next generation.

05/07/2009 04:24 PM



MM was an item maybe four (4) or five (5) years ago, along with his “farewell tour”, or was that “farewell suckers tour”?

Enough is enough! But I guess NA$CRAP can use all the hype it can get!

And how about that you Jr. Nation fanatics? An “OLD” man outrunning your beloved Jr.!

Just how neat is that?

(mmm, maybe I do like MM)

Vito Pugliese - FS Staff
05/07/2009 05:13 PM

It’s good that Mark is coming back in 2010, to defend his 2009 title.

Douglas – Mark never said he was retiring in 2004. 2005. Or 2006. He was stepping back from a full-time schedule originally, then came back to bail out a friend who gave him a 2nd chance at a carrer. Brett Farve keeps coming back out of spite because the Packers would not take him back when he decided he didn’t want to retire.

How is he stealing money from younger drivers? It looks to me like he’s earning it.

05/07/2009 06:42 PM

Mark’s one of the few real drivers left on the circuit, who tells it like it is, doesn’t drive like a dick, and still performs. Douglas, you’re seriously saying you’d rather have a useless never-was like Casey Mears, or a rushed-into-the-spotlight overhyped kid like Joey Logano in place of Mark Martin?

Remember in the 80s, when the best racing in NASCAR happened? The stars were guys like Dale Earnhardt and Darrel Waltrip… And they weren’t 20.

I’d rather see Brad Keselowski run a year or two more in Nationwide where he belongs, and where he can get the experience he needs, then to dump a proven winner like Mark in favour of an unproven rookie.

05/07/2009 07:39 PM

I never liked him when he drove for Rousch and don’t like him now.

He’s so nice.


M.B. Voelker
05/08/2009 08:10 AM

Go Mark!

The naysayers are just jealous that Mark Martin is outrunning their favorites.

I would dearly love to see my first favorite, Mark Martin, competing against my young favorite, Kyle Busch for the championship.

05/08/2009 01:09 PM

I’m glad. He’s a great guy and can still get the job done. And isn’t that what it’s all about in racing?

He races better than half the field of men half his age.

As long as he can race that way he can stay as long as he wants. It’s good for the sport.

05/08/2009 09:12 PM

Jeesh Douglas, it’s time for your Prozac. Why are you always so venomous?
In a time when everyone begs for a true champion driver, not Milk Toast (48) or a Wise A$$ Punk (18), Mark Martin gives it all. Win or lose,like it or not, he is a real Ambassador to this sport. Suppose you would think more of him if he did retire and started living the life like “OLE DW”. Sucking the life out of the sport that gave it all to him in the first place. Start an “MM Store” and market a cartoon to make more?
I think not. And I think if there was a survey of the people who bought the farewell gear, my bet is most would say they’re happier having Mark on the track. He’s far from done, so get over it.

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