Woody: Martin’s Fade Is Sad To See
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
If last year’s resurgence by Mark Martin was the feel-good story of the year, does that mean this year’s fade is the feel-bad saga of the season?
It’s definitely been a disappointing reversal of fortune for the popular veteran as he teeters on the brink of championship elimination.
Martin’s 21st-place finish Sunday at Atlanta dropped him to 15th in the standings and he needs a miracle – a Hail Mark – to squeeze into the Chase for the Championship.
With just one race left to set the field – Saturday night at Richmond – Martin would have to hurdle 13th-place Ryan Newman and 14th-place Jamie McMurray just to have a shot at displacing Clint Bowyer from the 12th and final Chase slot.
It’s not going to happen. He’s not going to make it.
After last year’s dazzling season – five wins and a second-place finish in the standings – Martin is destined to be a playoff spectator this year.
At 51, Martin’s career clock is ticking. He plans to run at least one more full-time season, but based on this year’s gloomy results there’s not a lot of optimism that next year will get him that oh-so-elusive first championship.
Realistically, last year was probably his final grab at the gold ring.
Then again, we’ve learned never to count Mark out. Some of the media (me) made that mistake at the start of last season. I wasn’t convinced that he could come out of semi-retirement and hold his own with drivers half his age. But he did. He not only held his own, he beat them.
Last year’s amazing run had Martin bubbling with confidence going into this season. But those bubbles gradually burst, and now grim reality has set in. Forget making another strong run for the championship; he’s not even going to get a chance to try.
What went wrong? How did a team so good last year become so, well, mediocre this year?
One theory is that personnel shakeups hurt Martin’s team. Some key players were switched to teammate Dale Earnhardt’s Jr.’s team in an attempt to bolster Junior’s performance up to par with the three other Hendrick drivers.
If that was the plan, it flopped. The changes haven’t helped Junior (he’s winless and 19th in the standing), while they may have hurt Martin. Team chemistry is a delicate thing, and if it’s working it’s not wise to mess with it.
Another theory is that Mark was bothered by the Kasey Kahne distraction. Khane is scheduled to take over Martin’s ride in 2012 and TV commentator Ray Evernham suggested that perhaps Mark should step aside and allow Kahne to come aboard early.
Martin didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that he put himself out to pasture. While he was clearly agitated, I think Mark’s too disciplined to allow that sort of irritation to affect his driving. But who knows? Morale, like team chemistry, can be a fragile thing.
Maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Maybe it just hasn’t been Martin’s season.
The question now becomes, can he put the disappointment of 2010 behind him and turn things around next year? Can the old war horse answer the bell one more time and make one more run for big trophy? Or was last year indeed the last year?
– Larry Woody can be reached at email@example.com Comments