By admin | July 2, 2008
By Richard Allen
The possibility of Mark Martin driving for Hendrick Motorsports or JR Motorsports in 2009 seems a bit out of place in more ways than one.
For one, Martin announced his retirement two years ago. He was given rocking chairs and fond farewells, yet he has been driving ever since his â€œretirementâ€.
Retirement apparently meant a scaling back of his schedule rather than a complete ending to the driverâ€™s career. Martin decided that happiness could be found in part time driving rather than the grind of a 36 race schedule. He left long time owner Jack Roush to take a part time gig with Ginn Racing, which was bought out by Dale Earnhardt, Inc., where he has shared rides with younger drivers.
Now, at age 50(or he will be at the start of the 2009 season) he may have decided that once again, happiness can be found in the 36 race grind. Some reports indicate Martin wants to have one more championship run before he calls it quitsâ€¦again.
If the rumors are true and that is indeed the case he will be making his final run in the Hendrick Motorsports car #5 next year.
To me, here is where it starts to get a bit strange. If he wants to make another run at a title, why at Hendrick?
Granted, Hendrick is the top organization in NASCAR and if it is a championship he seeks then this would be the place to go for it. However, his old friend Jack Roush has five cars and rumor had it a while back that Jamie McMurray was on thin ice. Just a little shuffling of the car(d)s could have put Martin back in car #6 for a sentimental final run. And it is not like Roush Fenway Racing has been terrible. For that matter they have won more races than HMS thus far in 2008.
Another thing that seems a bit iffy is Martinâ€™s age. Why now? He has only run a limited schedule for the past two years. As stated before, he will be 50 years old at the beginning of next season. The oldest champion ever in NASCARâ€™s Sprint Cup division was Bobby Allison in 1983 at the age of 45. Even having taken some races off these past two years, that 36 race grind is a young manâ€™s deal. Although, the Chase for the Championship could make it a bit easier.
Where this whole deal seems the strangest, however, is from Hendrickâ€™s standpoint. For the above mentioned reasons the idea of Martin winning a title appears a bit far fetched. HMS certainly does not owe Martin anything. So, why?
Perhaps, in the final year of their contract, this is a reward to Kelloggâ€™s for sticking it out through a couple of tough seasons. They would be getting some extra publicity because of Martin making a comeback of sorts.
More realistically, in my mind it would seem that HMS has their eye on someone else and is willing to allow Martin a one year stroll down memory lane until that someone else is either ready or available.
In other words, if it is indeed the case that Martin will run a full season for Hendrick, he is there to keep a seat warm for someone else. But who?
If it is to be an established driver then there are a few possibilities. Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick all have their contracts run out at the end of 2009. Perhaps HMS covets one of these drivers and feels as though they would have a shot to sign whichever one it is for 2010 and beyond.
More than likely, it is a younger driver Martin will be warming the seat for. Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill are possible Sprint Cup drivers in 2010.
All of this speculation on my part may be nothing more than idle chatter. Martin may announce his plans this weekend in Daytona. It could be he will be driving for Hendrick Motorsports full time in 2009, or he may be sharing a ride with one of the young drivers previously mentioned with either HMS or JR Motorsports.
Or, it could be that Martin will announce his retirement from racing. If that is the case I wonder who he will drive for next year?
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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