Nov 13, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT
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.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Watch the pair of Indy Lights races from Barber at midnight ET.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
It was Ron Capps’ Day in Baytown, Texas.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT
Newgarden rolls out the thank you mat after scoring his elusive first IndyCar victory.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
Ryan Hunter-Reay not satisfied with first top-five finish of 2015.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT
Penske pair still 1-2 after tough afternoon in Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
Graham Rahal comes up short in best performance in a year.
Apr 26, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT
Newgarden scores first career win at Barber.
Apr 26, 2015, 4:43 PM EDT
We’re halfway at Barber, with Graham Rahal the leader at Lap 45 and pit stops underway.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Meeke becomes the first British driver to win in the WRC in 13 years.
Apr 26, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT
Results from the Indy Lights’ series second race at Barber Motorsports Park
Apr 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Watch the fourth round of the IndyCar season, from Barber Motorsports Park, at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.
Apr 26, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT
Lotus youngster beats Nyck de Vries in a truncated second race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
What to watch for ahead of Round 4 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Apr 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Marquez undergoes minor surgery on his left hand, and is in doubt for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.
Apr 26, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Mick wins the third and final race of the first ADAC F4 weekend of the year at Oschersleben in Germany.
Apr 26, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
45 delegates from the FIA had been attending the first Asia-Pacific Sport Regional Congress in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Saturday.
Apr 26, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
The Coca-Cola signage isn’t limited to Scott Dixon’s car this weekend.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT
Second in qualifying a good day at the office for Will Power, as he’s in search of his first win of the year.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT
Davey Hamilton will have a one-off day back behind the wheel of a current day IndyCar, filling in for Townsend Bell at next week’s IndyCar open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
- NHRA: Capps storms to 2nd win of season, Funny Car points lead 1
- Relief, gratitude define the day where Newgarden finally gets first win (VIDEO) 0
- Graham Rahal can’t close deal in runner-up finish at Barber 2
- Josef Newgarden scores his first IndyCar win at Barber 8
- WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra 1
- What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra) 0
- Michael Schumacher’s son Mick victorious on debut ADAC F4 weekend 1