NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Mark Martin

Mark Martin

2011 Ride: No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsors: GoDaddy.com, CarQuest, Farmers Insurance Group
2011 Owner: Rick Hendrick
2011 Crew Chief: Lance McGrew
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 2 top fives, 10 top 10s, 3 DNFs, 2 poles, 22nd in points

High Point: Pole positions at the July event at Daytona as well as Talladega in the fall were the highest statistical marks for Martin and the No. 5 team this season. A runner-up performance at Dover was as close as the Batesville, Ark. native would come to notching his 41st victory, though he did make a landmark 800th start fittingly enough at Martinsville in the spring, placing him fifth on the all-time starts list.

Martin was party to the April race at Talladega that saw the ending decided amongst the four Hendrick drivers, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle that had a margin of victory of .002 seconds. Martin was also in contention with Paul Menard at the Brickyard 400 until the final few laps when fuel ran dry and a few positions were surrendered. A fourth-place finish at Michigan in August and 46 laps led at Loudon during the middle stages were as good as it would get for Martin in his final season driving the green machine at HMS.

Low Point: 2011 was a challenging year at best for Martin. Statistically, it was his worst since a dismal 2003 season that produced just five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, serving as the initial catalyst to the “retirement” rumors that seem a generation ago. This season’s pair of top fives and top 10s was less than even his part-time seasons of 2007 and 2008, also coming just two years after being consistently the fastest car on the track.

The 2011 season saw Martin caught up in a number of crashes late in races, ones that ruined any sort of momentum building during the year. Texas, Richmond and Charlotte at the Coca-Cola 600 come to mind during the first half of the season, while the back half saw incidents at Daytona, Bristol and Talladega. A failed front hub spoiled any shot at a win at Charlotte in the fall, while pit strategy was quite often proven not to be one of the strong suits of the team. At least there weren’t any engine failures.

Summary: Martin was essentially a placeholder for Kasey Kahne this year, while their worst-kept secret and best-known weapon – Alan Gustafson – was moved from Martin and paired with Jeff Gordon. That pairing had an immediate, positive effect, winning in just their second race together. Martin? He inherited Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sleds, failing to make the Chase while Gordon was once considered the 2011 title favorite. The results speak for themselves.

In a way, it was an unceremonious and unfortunate final season in the No. 5 car for the driver whose career revival was the story of the 2009 season, then helped put the ball in motion to retain the services of 2012 addition Kahne. Throughout the year, however, Martin maintained an upbeat and positive attitude, and was as supportive and complimentary of his team as always.

Atop the pit box, Lance McGrew is out as crew chief of the No. 5 as well, focusing on research and development ahead of the new 2013 car while working with Chase Elliott on the side. That makes way for Kenny Francis and company, as Kahne tries to revive the five in 2012.

Team Ranking: Fourth of four. Just two years removed from winning five races and challenging for a championship, Martin found out firsthand why Earnhardt Jr. had appeared despondent, distant and suicidal the previous two seasons driving for what was the former No. 88 team. He could do no better than Junior with the equipment and direction provided by Lance McGrew, finishing fourth among the four HMS entries.

2012 Outlook: Martin will move to the No. 55 Toyotas of Michael Waltrip Racing for next season, reverting to the limited schedule that he ran for 2007-2008 while replacing David Reutimann. He will be paired with past DEI teammate Martin Truex Jr. and new addition Bowyer, with sponsorship coming from Aaron’s. Martin will split time with Michael Waltrip, with Martin doing duty in 25 events and Waltrip in five. The balance of the schedule will be a mix of drivers and sponsors to fill out the docket.

Much of this season and last it was rumored that Martin would be buying into the Hendrick-supplied James Finch organization (the No. 51 machine driven by Landon Cassill), but Martin strongly denied those reports, as well as those that he would be buying into the Red Bull Racing team that had been seeking investors since midway through 2011. Martin had a very negative experience with team ownership in the early 1980s that nearly destroyed him financially, professionally and personally – so it’s understandable why in today’s unstable economy why he’d shy away from such a pursuit.

Little-Known Fact: Of the top-20 drivers on the All-Time Wins list, only three do not have a championship: Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts and Mark Martin. Only Richard Petty has more runner-up championships than Martin’s five, with six second-place finishes.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: B+
2007 Grade: B+
2008 Grade: B+
2009 Grade: A
2010 Grade: B-
2011 Grade: C+

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