Martin’s Future Uncertain, But Don’t Be Surprised If He Gets What
With only four races left in the 2011 Sprint Cup season, changes for 2012 are already being discussed by drivers, team owners and members.
Now that the Chase has been narrowed down to only a few of the original 12 eligible for the title, discussions concerning shortcomings, and ways to fix them, are very much in play.
One of those changes concerns Mark Martin, presently the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Even in 2010, it was common knowledge that Martin would vacate the ride after the Nov. 20 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway to make way for Kasey Kahne, who will begin his multi-year tenure with the Concord, N.C.-based organization.
As far as Martin’s future plans, many questions remain. For whom will he drive? Will he remain in the Cup series? Will he form his own Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series team? Or will he retire from driving and move into a new role in the world of auto racing?
Martin is in his 29th year of NASCAR racing and has had plans to retire in years past. But he changed his mind when good opportunities became available.
The 52-year old from Batesville, Ark. touched on the question at Talladega Superspeedway.
Martin was asked if Sunday’s race at Talladega was going to be his last at the track.
“Don’t start that ‘Last, last, it could be last,’ please don’t even go there,” Martin said. “I don’t know about that and we do not need to touch on the Talladega part.“
Martin came clean and said his plans for 2012 are far from certain.
“I don’t have anything, although I did answer a question last week which got a lot of talk going, and I should have probably not answered the question,” Martin said. “It was a fan at a hospitality function that asked if I would be driving next year and I said yes.
“I have a lot of confidence and the only full schedule that I have been considering is the truck schedule. Nationwide racing, Cup racing would be more of a limited schedule, like I did in 2007 and 2008, that is where my heart is at, and with the things that are starting to move, I am confident that I will be racing and that was the answer and that caused a little bit of things to get ruffled up.”
Often times teams come alive after plans have been put into place for their driver to join a new organization. Just this past weekend, Clint Bowyer won at Talladega Superspeedway, but will join Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012.
Martin is proud of the way his team has performed since midsummer but knows someone else’s name will be on the roofline very soon.
“Yes, we have definitely made great progress starting all the way back in Indy,” Martin said. “We had a fast race car at Indy and we have had a couple of exceptions where we missed it but for the most part we have really, been gaining on it.
“I am really proud of that because everybody on the team is putting their whole heart into this and they know that there are a lot of changes coming at the end of the year. It is really cool to see us gain momentum here late in the season. I wish we could have started that back in the spring but it feels really good. I’m really proud of these guys and this race team.”
There is one major contributing factor to what Martin does in 2012. It’s finding the dollars to fund a team. The lack of them has caused more than one operation to curtail future plans or close down altogether.
Because he’s an elder statesmen among an army of young Cup drivers, Martin’s name still carries a great deal of weight in corporate America.
It takes only a look at his Sprint Cup statistics to get a clear picture of what he brings to a race team.
Since coming to NASCAR in 1982, Martin has amassed 40 wins, 266 top-fives, 438 top-10s and 51 pole positions (including Talladega and Daytona in July) in 829 starts.
It wasn’t until 1988 that Martin began to shine as a winner and championship contender in Fords fielded by team owner Jack Roush. In 2007, he left Roush Fenway Racing to join Bobby Ginn and Teresa Earnhardt for two seasons of limited schedules before joining Rick Hendrick in 2009.
Some may call Martin’s present situation a personal crossroads and, even though the phone hasn’t been ringing, he’s confident he will be strapping into some type of race vehicle in one or more of NASCAR’s top divisions come February. He’s too much of a marquee name for it not to happen.
“I don’t have anything and it has been extremely quiet throughout the year and it is very late in the season, but there is still going to be something happening and sponsorship things that are going to happen,” Martin said. “They are just going to happen later in the year than what we’ve have seen in the past.
“It is sponsorship driven, where I land and what I do. No news yet, but I was asked quite a while back, and people kind of smirked when I said it and probably thought I was being a smart aleck, and they said, ‘When do you want to have whatever you want?’
“And I said November or December and I am still not going to miss that by much. I am still hoping it is November or December and not January.”
Don’t be surprised if Martin pulls off a win in the next four weeks. There’s no doubt he can do it.
More important, he’s made his mark as a driver and a well-respected human being – which could be enough for him to get what he wants for 2012.