Since his last race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet in 2013, Mark Martin has not attended a Sprint Cup Series race since.
However, that streak will come to an end in this Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Martin will sport his NASCAR Hall of Fame shirt after being inducted this Wednesday alongside Rick Hendrick, Benny Parsons, Raymond Parks and Richard Childress.
Following the biggest honor of his career, the 57-year-old received countless amounts of hand shakes and letters of congratulations, as well as a ‘Welcome Back’ here and there along the way.
“There was quite a few that stood out to me,” said Martin as he attempted to pick out one that held special above them all. “I got a text from Jimmie Johnson that is incredible.”
During Martin’s three-year time with Hendrick Motorsports from 2009-’11, teammate Johnson was at the prime of his title-winning excellence, taking the Sprint Cup crown from ’06- ‘10. Battling Johnson for the championship in ’09, Martin has clearly not lost an ounce of respect for Six-Time.
“I would love to share it but it was sent to me in private and that is what it is,” he said. “But it was unbelievable.”
Before HMS, Martin spent the first 18 years of his Cup career with Jack Roush, as there was a young kid named Matt Kenseth who joined the camp in 2000.
“I got one from Matt Kenseth that was pretty unbelievable as well,” Martin said. “Those two I screenshot for life that will be preserved forever for me.
Congrats to one of my all time hero's @markmartin . True wheelman 👍🏼
— Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) May 26, 2016
“There are a lot of others. There have been some people that I have missed – it’s been pretty much a whirlwind since Wednesday afternoon, so I’ve been a few. There has been some pretty cool stuff. Those were really special because of the people that they are and what they’ve accomplished. It meant a lot coming from them.”
More than two years, 84 races and thousands of on-track laps missed since he hung up the helmet, Martin simply felt out of place. Without a car to drive or a wrench to turn, the Arkansas native sensed a level of awkwardness at the very thought of going back to the track.
With the induction bringing the 40-time Sprint Cup winner back in the NASCAR community, Martin will also attend the 100th Indianapolis 500 before flying back to Charlotte to drive the pace car on Sunday afternoon.
“The longer it’s gone, the more I’ve missed the people,” Martin said. “In the last two months, I’ve really noticed that I’ve missed the fans, I’ve missed the competitors and I’ve missed the members of the media and the journalists and all who were at the racetrack that were my family. I do miss that.
“Yet, I didn’t really feel like I had a place. When I drove, there was a place for me here. I felt kind of awkward about attending a race being I don’t work on a car or drive a racecar anymore. This is a really cool opportunity for me to get back and connect with what was my family for 30 years.”