Mark Martin announced his retirement in 2004. He said 2005 would be his last season in Cup. He and Rusty Wallace did all of the commensurate glad handing. They accepted rocking chairs and art work and all of the assorted paraphernalia that is associated with a farewell tour. Then Jack Roush got into a bind. Kurt Busch bailed early on his contract and Jack was without someone to take over the No. 6 ride. He had planned on Jamie McMurray, but he had to stick him in Busch’s vacant ride.
So Jack played the loyalty card and asked Mark to stick around for one more year. Martin is loyal to a fault and agreed, even though it appeared to be against his wishes, because Roush had done so much for Mark throughout his career.
Fast forward to 2006 and it appears to be a much different tune now. Martin isn’t talking about retirement anymore. He has confirmed that he will not be in the No. 6 car next year, but that is it. Martin was supposed to be moving into a Roush truck next year, away from the grueling schedule of the Cup Series, allowing him to spend more time with his son Matt and his fledgling racing career. However, at this point in time, there is no contract signed to drive a truck for Roush next year. Instead we are being bombarded with the rumor that Martin is going to drive ANOTHER full season in Cup for Robert Yates Racing.
While it seems like the fans are being strung along in this whole process, there must be some explanation. Mark is loyal to his fans, as well as to his team. So what could it be that is causing this change of heart? A friend put forth a very plausible theory that is worth a little examination.
Mark’s focus going forward is his son Matt Martin‘s racing career. Martin wants to make sure that the way is paved for Matt so that he does not have to audition for rides with different teams. Martin wants to steer his son’s career from the owner’s seat. Here is where the theory comes into play. Mark approached Roush about buying into Roush Racing so that he could be hands-on in the development of Matt as a racer and ensure that his son had a path that he could control, all the way to the Cup Series.
Ever the capitalist, Jack balked at the idea and didn’t want to give Mark a more controlling interest in the organization. This leaves Martin in the unenviable position of having to build a Cup-caliber racing organization from the ground up.
Enter the potential of becoming a part of Robert Yates Racing. It is common knowledge that Robby Gordon all but bought part ownership of RYR, but at the last minute the deal fell through. Could it be that Martin worked out a deal to buy into RYR in exchange for Mark taking the wheel of the No. 88 Ford for a year and acting as a mentor for the young drivers that Yates is bringing along in his organization? When you think about it, the idea doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Ownership will give Martin the position and influence to bring Matt along at a pace that Mark dictates, assuring him that his son gets everything that he wants him to so that he can develop into the racecar driver that Mark envisions.
Mind you, this is a theory. There is no inside information or anonymous source that has shared this story, but it makes perfect sense. It explains why the rug was pulled out from under Gordon at the last minute when he thought he had a deal done. It gives credence to the experienced driver that Yates has been touting will be placed in the seat of the No. 88 next year. And most of all, it gives the fans a reason to give Martin yet another pass on his retirement plans for one more year.
Keep your eyes open for the Salute to You III shirts, coming to a RYR souvenir hauler near you in the very near future.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.