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.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
More Will Power on top of IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Franck Montagny receives two-year ban from FIA’s Anti-Doping Disciplinary Committee.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Swedish driver reaches both Q2 and Q3 for the first time in his F1 career, and will start tomorrow’s race from ninth place on the grid.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Ricciardo and Kvyat both get inside the top five thanks to the rain in Q3 in Malaysia, but Massa and Bottas struggle.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Monaco’s circuit for the FIA Formula E Championship is revealed.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:28 AM EDT
Incident involving Jann Mardenborough’s Nissan GT-R claims the life of one spectator at the Nordschleife.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Dutch youngster scores the best F1 qualifying result for a teenager in 54 years on Saturday in Malaysia.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:15 AM EDT
Spanish driver will make his second debut for McLaren from 18th position on the grid tomorrow.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
British driver explains the challenge of judging your qualifying lap in the wet after securing pole position in Malaysia on Saturday.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:49 AM EDT
Merhi and Stevens miss the 107% time required to qualify in Malaysia, but are granted dispensation by the FIA stewards.
Vettel hoping for more rain on Sunday after scoring Ferrari’s first front-row start in two years (VIDEO)
Mar 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT
Felipe Massa was the last driver to start on the front row of the grid for Ferrari, lining up second for the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:10 AM EDT
German driver cannot improve with his final lap in Q3, leaving him third on the grid behind Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Mar 28, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT
Could a thunderstorm rain on Mercedes parade? Join us for qualifying from 5a ET today.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:06 AM EDT
German driver edges out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in final practice at Sepang.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:30 AM EDT
FP3 for the Malaysian Grand Prix rolls off at 2 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT
Rain washed out Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying for this weekend’s 6th annual NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:03 PM EDT
No IndyCar second practice, and other notes from St. Petersburg.
Mar 27, 2015, 5:50 PM EDT
Michael Johnson in ICU after practice accident at St. Petersburg.
- One spectator killed, others injured, at VLN Endurance event in Germany 0
- Hamilton delighted after claiming 40th career pole (VIDEO) 0
- Hamilton tames wet conditions to grab pole in Malaysia 0
- Rosberg closes out Malaysian GP practice fastest 0
- NHRA: Rain washes out Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying four 4-Wide Nationals 2
- The Equalization Conundrum: Should F1 put sport to one side in favor of ‘the show’? 5
- Practice setbacks leave Hamilton “quite a bit off” in Malaysia (VIDEO) 2