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Minter: Martin Becomes Lame Duck

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 15 2010

Mark Martin could be put into a tough spot next season. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

If all the facts in the  Kasey Kahne to Hendrick Motorsports are as they seem, Mark Martin will be in a mighty awkward spot next year.

Kahne has been signed by Hendrick to drive the No. 5 car, the one Martin’s now in, beginning in 2012. But he’s going to be driving somewhere next year, with some sort of backing from Hendrick.

That means Martin will be in the worst kind of lame-duck situation. It’s not like he’s building the team for a young, inexperienced driver, which can be looked upon as a noble adventure for a veteran driver in the twilight of his Cup career. In this case, Kahne is a proven winner and has been for years. If the 5 team is going to be Kahne’s home for years down the road, it would seem that the sooner he gets behind the wheel the better.

It’s ironic that the impending arrival of Kasey Kahne has a way of putting veterans out to pasture a little prematurely. When Kahne first came to Cup back in 2004, he took over the No. 9 car from Bill Elliott, who was 47 at the time. In Elliott’s last seven races in the car, he had an average finish of 4.56, including a win at Rockingham. And in his final run in the No. 9, he was less than a lap away from winning at Homestead when a tire went flat.

Martin, like Elliott back in ’03, has shown that he’s still plenty capable of taking the car to Victory Lane and competing for championships.

So what does he do now?

If Martin were to come to me for advice, here’s what I’d tell him. I’d say to pour everything he’s got into that 5 car this year, try to win some races, make the Chase, and give the championship one last big shot. I’d try especially hard at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and then I’d announce my retirement from full-time Cup racing.

But I wouldn’t leave the Hendrick camp. I’d sign up for some Nationwide Series races in the JR Motorsports No. 88 car, which is in flux these days with the firing this week of young Kelly Bires. I’d relish the opportunity to work with veteran crew chief Tony Eury Sr.

I’d sign Eury and Martin up for a limited Cup schedule, running only the races and the tracks that I enjoy. I’d skip the car-crunching crashfests at Talladega. I’d run the All-Star race at Charlotte and the 400 at Indianapolis.

I’d try to make the last years of my racing career among the best ones. I’d do a little taking back after years of giving.

The sport could benefit, as it did in the past, from Mark Martin running a limited schedule. He’s the best influence and up-and-coming driver could have in the Nationwide Series, and in Cup. He should be the one running rookie meetings, and he should lead the way in showing his fellow drivers and fans and TV viewers that racing should be pure competition, not some part of a marketing scheme.

Everybody who’s in the latter stages of their careers needs an exit strategy. Martin’s too good and too fit at age 51 to just walk away after another full Cup season. And he has too much to offer the sport.

In racing, it’s often a matter of timing. Sometimes things work out just right. Sometimes they’re a little off.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 15 2010
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  • Stephen says:

    Mark Martin may be the most talented 51-year-old driver in the history of NASCAR. I remember watching from the grandstands in Charlotte win he won the All-Star race in his supposed farewell tour, and that was like five years ago.

    There’s no evidence Martin can’t compete for that elusive championship this year. And next year, who knows? I’ve learned not to count the old man out.