2006 Ride: No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion
2006 Owner: Jack Roush
2006 Crew Chief: Pat Tryson
Stats: 36 races, zero wins, seven top fives, 15 top 10s, ninth in points.
High Point: A ninth-place finish in the final points standings in what looks to be your last legitimate season for a championship might bring many drivers down. In past years, it may have brought down the spirits of Martin. However, while there wasn’t one specific racing event that will define Martin’s 2006 season, having a strong car, a strong team and legions of fans supporting him with every turn seemed to give Martin a new upbeat attitude. For once, Mark really seemed to be having fun, with every race seemingly a high point for him.
Low Point: After making the Chase, Martin was third in the point standings with just six races to go, and it looked as if that elusive championship might be within his grasp. That all changed with one wrong move; not a wrong move on Martin’s part, but on the part of JJ Yeley at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. While several drivers were making pit stops during the race, Yeley made a sudden move to the bottom of the racetrack to pit – a move that caught Martin by surprise. When all was said and done, not only was Martin’s car destroyed, but so were his chances of being the 2006 champion. A 30th-place finish moved him from third to fourth in points, and it was all downhill from there.
Summary: Although he never found Victory Lane in 2006, Martin’s solid performances earned him a spot in the Chase for the third consecutive season. He started the playoffs with three top 10s and moved to within 10 points of the lead with six races left. That’s when he hit his low point – LMS. After finishing 30th at Lowe’s, Martin was never able to recover and quickly fell to ninth place, earning only one top-five finish the rest of the season. While many drivers would consider that a miserable year, Martin seemed surprisingly upbeat and happy in what would become the last of his 19 seasons with Roush Racing.
2007 Outlook: For the first time since 1987, Martin will be driving for someone other than Roush in 2007 when he takes over the No. 01 Army Chevrolet for a part-time schedule. Many have questioned his decision, but Martin seems extremely happy with his choice and more relaxed than he has been in years. However, after being a contender for at least the last half of his career, it will be a struggle for Martin to rise to the same level of success he’s accustomed to. Although the team will be running full-time – 20 races with Martin and 16 races with Regan Smith – teams with multiple drivers usually struggle to find an identity and are rarely successful in finding Victory Lane. Along with his ride in the Army Chevy, Martin is also planning on competing in multiple Craftsman Truck Series races driving for the Wood Brothers, and word is that Martin may be running some Busch Series races for Hendrick Motorsports, although neither side will confirm that.