Nov 13, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
Mark Martin is NASCAR’s version of Brett Favre. Legendary, beloved, but always questioning when will be the right time to hang up his helmet.
Sure, he hasn’t been as polarizing, especially to one particular fan base.
But he has made a habit for the last decade of asking “Will I?” or “Won’t I?” about his racing in NASCAR for the following year.
Martin said last week that while he won’t use the r-word – retirement – he hasn’t accepted any deals to race in NASCAR in 2014.
Already we have one of his former owners questioning that statement. Rick Hendrick said this weekend at Phoenix “I bet he comes back,” in a story posted to AZCentral.com.
And the reasons are obvious. Even at 54, and he’ll be 55 in January, Martin remains one of NASCAR’s strongest, most motivated, and most popular individuals.
Beyond his driving, his workout routine is legendary; his love of good rap music appreciated by fans both casual and hardcore.
And on-track, he’s still at the top of the list when it comes to filling in, too. For 10 years, Martin has wrestled with the question of whether to give it up entirely, but teams have consistently sought his services.
He nearly won the 2007 Daytona 500 with unheralded Ginn Racing, missing out to Kevin Harvick by mere inches.
In his first full season in three years, in 2009, Martin won five races and finished second in the championship only behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. It was his best season in 11 years.
Just this year, Michael Waltrip Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have called on Martin to provide a leadership role or fill the seat when one of their respective big names has got hurt.
Brian Vickers’ comeback to Cup for 2014 at MWR came with paying tribute to Martin’s mentoring. Tony Stewart – himself never one to dole out too many platitudes to his competitors – is in awe of what Martin’s been able to accomplish, and the perfect choice to fill in due to his own injuries.
Statistically, Martin’s 2013 will go down as one of his least successful in 31 years and more than 880 Cup starts. He’ll have started 28 of 36 races, with one top-five, five top-10s (unless he finishes well Sunday), and finished outside the top-25 in the points standings.
But stats, lately, don’t matter with Martin as much as what he means to the sport.
He’ll go down in history as one of the best drivers to have ever raced in NASCAR, even though he’s never won a championship, or a Daytona 500.
He enjoys a rare level of admiration and respect among his peers. He’s continued to press on in an era where younger drivers have taken over the sport in the last 10 years or so, and are poised to do so even more in the next 5-10 years.
His outpouring of support to the fans – rare did an interview pass when he didn’t take an opportunity to thank them – has been returned in spades. If it wasn’t for Bill Elliott or Dale Earnhardt Jr. hogging it, you can bet Mark Martin would have won multiple “Most Popular Driver” awards.
And on Sunday, he plans to hang it up after one last round of 400 miles.
And with Mark, it couldn’t be done any other way.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
A full download of all posts from NASCAR Media Tour on NBCSports.com.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:30 AM EST
Australian driver does not feel under any added pressure in 2015 despite appearing to be the new team leader.
Jan 30, 2015, 11:15 AM EST
First video from Gridiron Challenge now up, in advance of the full event set to air tonight at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:51 AM EST
The No. 10 WTR Corvette DP reclassified to last in P after drive-time violation at Rolex 24 at Daytona.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:45 AM EST
After a miserable 2014, Raikkonen hopes that the new season and a new car will bring better fortunes for Ferrari.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:45 AM EST
Italian Luca Filippi will get the nod to drive the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet alongside Ed Carpenter this season.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:40 AM EST
Four-time world champion is not expecting immediate success at Maranello.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Big day of coverage for NASCAR on NBC today, with 6.5 hours of coverage slated.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:15 AM EST
Karam, Larson showcase talent in Rolex 24 drives for CGR.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Brazilian driver steps up to F1 with Sauber in 2015 after three years in GP2.
Jan 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EST
Former Caterham driver announces that he is moving to the Japanese single seater championship for 2015.
Jan 30, 2015, 6:14 AM EST
A new era begins at Maranello with the launch of the 2015 car.
Jan 30, 2015, 5:02 AM EST
After a disastrous 2014, Sauber aims to hit back this year with a new image and two new drivers.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
When he went looking for a new crew chief to replace the soon-to-be departing Steve Letarte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ultimately didn’t have to look very far.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Kasey Kahne looks for success with new crew chief… and another Super Bowl for his Seahawks.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway was arrested last week and charged with indecent exposure and lewdness.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:09 PM EST
Conor Daly finally set for an IndyCar test this offseason, with SPM.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:33 PM EST
After coming so close last season, Ryan Newman is ready to fight for the Sprint Cup championship in 2015 — and he’s bringing his brass knuckles to give him a hand.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EST
Car owner Rick Hendrick said he consulted with Jeff Gordon about if to retire the No. 24 after this season.
Jan 29, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
IndyCar’s Brasilia, Brazil race set for March 8 has been canceled.
- NASCAR Media Tour Content Recap: All posts, one place 0
- Gridiron Challenge: NASCAR drivers take football stars for a spin (VIDEO) 0
- Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony headlines 6.5 hours of NASCAR on NBCSN 0
- Ferrari reveals SF15-T for 2015 Formula 1 season 2
- Sauber aims to beat the blues of 2014 with C34’s launch 0
- Track executive arrested, charged with lewdness with 19-year-old 0
- Why Hendrick won’t retire the No. 24 8