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Woody: Martin’s Final Title Shot Is Over

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 12 2011

It appears Mark Martin has had his last shot at winning a Sprint Cup championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

The end came quietly, with no fuss and fanfare – sort of the way Mark Martin’s entire racing career has gone.

Martin failed to make the cut for this season’s NASCAR playoffs that open a 10-race run Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Following last Saturday night’s race at Richmond, attention was lavished on the 12 drivers who made the championship Chase – some of whom weren’t born when Martin launched his Cup career in 1981.

Meanwhile Martin quietly slipped away into the night. He finished 10th in the race, boosting him three spots in the standings to 16th. Close, but not good enough. The story of his career.

Five times Martin has been runner-up but never champion. This was his last shot with a championship-caliber team.

Martin will leave Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season. He says he wants to keep racing, although no plans have been finalized. There has been talk of a part-time schedule.

Even if Martin should land a full-time ride, it won’t be with one of the sport’s elite teams of Hendrick caliber. He turns 53 in January, and while he may continue to race, he won’t be

Mark Martin's plans for 2012 have not been announced. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

chasing any more cup championships.

In 2009 Martin finished 2nd to teammate Jimmie Johnson in the championship battle. That incredible run fanned hopes of another title quest last year, but it didn’t materialize. Martin finished 13th.

This season’s struggles were worse. He failed to win in 26 races and managed only two top-5 finishes. For the past month it had been evident that he wasn’t going to make the Chase. Now it’s final and so is Mark’s legacy.

He is destined to go down in history as one of NASCAR’s most respected drivers as well as one of its greatest – the greatest never to win a championship.

He has always refused to become bogged down in disappointment and negativity. He prefers to remember all that’s he’s won, rather than dwell on all that he’s lost. He says he’s content to know that he has always raced hard and done his best, even if his best wasn’t quiet good enough for a title.

Despite the stiff-lipped bravado, it has to sting for the proud old warrior as he rides into the sunset of a remarkable career without ever getting to hoist the big trophy.

What does the future hold for Martin? Nobody seems to know, including Mark himself. But one thing it WON’T hold is a championship.

This season represented his last best chance and now that chance is gone. By failing to make the championship field Martin won’t have an opportunity to make another miracle run and punctuate his career with a storybook finish.

Maybe it’s just as well, considering Mark’s past runner-up history. A heart can be broken only so many times.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 12 2011
9 Comments

9 Comments »

  • Dick says:

    Shoulda been driving Chevys all those years, Mark.

  • Doobie says:

    If you’re the best NASCAR driver to never win a championship, and VERY competitive for more than two decades, then you’re in a class of your own.
    What’s so wrong with that?

    It’s better than being certain other recent champions who had only a few years in which everything went their way.
    (And then, a few years later, couldn’t get out of their own way.)

  • Jimbo says:

    Like the rest of y’all, I have been a mark martin fan since the early 90’s(actually when I started watching nascar in 1991). Mark Martin is the MAN! I know that he can still win on any given race week. Lets see how competitive the young drivers are with some age on them. Mark has been loyal to the sport in every aspect of his career from learning & driving to his mentoring. He gives back to the sport that has given him so much. Any fan can see how loyal he is, in return Mark has the most loyal fans in us. Thanks for all the awesome shows you put on, and can’t wait to see you the last ten races of this year, and next year. Never give up on this racer, we will see him in victory lane celebrating another cup win. Go Mark.

  • andrew says:

    The history of the car and team Mark is driving for this year tells the story of why he just isn’t as competitive as he should be. There is no doubt in my mind he still has the talent, determination, and drive to be a title contender if given the chance. Lance McGrew is a large reason why Mark missed the chase this year. Just look at his performance in the few years Jr. was paired with him, the two did just as bad if not worse as now with Mark.

    I listen to him and Mark on the radio each week, and the calls he makes (and doesn’t make) are incredibly bad. He never takes a chance or risk when he should, and any good calls that are made are made at the request or demand of Mark. Lance is rarely able to adjust the car properly or make the car better during the race. Far too frequently he under adjusts or way over adjusts, and mark’s on track performance suffers.

    If Lance lacks the talent to make the right calls during the race or adjust the car properly, there is no doubt in my mind he lacks the skills to set the car up properly before the race. It seems like they rarely unload with a car with a decent setup. Even when they do and mark qualifies and practices well, this performance rarely transfers to race day.

    In sum, I have been a Martin fan for over a decade. I have not given up on him whatsoever, and still believe he has what it takes to beat the best of them. I can only hope he gets the chance next year to prove that once again, like he did in 2009….

  • Deborah Chastain says:

    Wow – According to Larry Woody – Mark should just stay in bed and pull the covers over his head because apparently his life is now over so what’s the use. I have been a Mark Martin fan since 1990 and I didn’t become a fan of Mark’s waiting on him to win a Cup Championship. On the contrary, I became a fan of Mark because I like the way Mark races and the way he always makes time for his fans. I love it when he wins, but I don’t ever give up on him even when he finishes last. Mark doesn’t need a big fancy trophy to cap off his great career. Just because Mark hasn’t discussed his future race plans with you doesn’t mean he doesn’t already something in place, I believe he knows exactly what he is going to do. I don’t think he has to ask your permission for anything. You must really feel special trashing a great driver like Mark Martin. You should feel really good about yourself – JERK.

  • john says:

    Been a life-long Mark Martin fan, he got me interested in the sport and interested in driving a racecar myself. A rarety in North American racing, a true gentlemen who would race you clean and never win one the “bad way”… I don’t know if I speak for all Martin fans, but we don’t care if he never won the championship. He’s a true racer who goes out there and tries to win every damn race, and if a championship happens, it happens.

    As far as I’m concerned, he’s the 1990 Winston Cup champion anyway.

    He’s this era’s Stirling Moss, a driver everyone loves and respects, a driver new talent looks to for advice, and a driver who showed up anytime, anywhere to strap in and go for the win. And it shows, with 40 Cup wins, 40-some Nationwide wins, a handful of Truck wins, a bazillion IROC wins and championships, a class win at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and four ASA Championships.

    As far as his legacy, I would hope he’s comfortable with it. You may not THINK Martin would be more memorable or legendary than someone like Jimmie Johnson, but think of which name resonates more with the average race fan: Stirling Moss or Nelson Piquet?

  • I have watched Mark and pull for him for over 25 yrs.. not only is he my one and only driver i have ever pulled for but the respect i have for MARK is unbelievable. I love this man.Mark could have won the championship many times but hes been way to clean. but you see thats what i love about Mark. To me the IROC races proved to me just what like of racer he was..

    What ever Mark wants to do is what i want for him.love you Mark always and forever.

  • Jamerson says:

    I’ve been a Mark Martin fan since I was a child, and it breaks my heart to read this. After the way this year has gone so far, though, I knew that even if Mark had gotten in the Chase, he probably couldn’t have won the championship.

    I hope he can find a competitive ride next year, even if it is on a part-time schedule. The possibility of splitting a ride with Danica at Stewart-Haas would definitely fit this bill. Mark would still be in Hendrick equipment, and you know Tony is going to put the best team and crew chief he can find behind Danica to ensure her some success. So that can only spell good things for Mark.

    And as far as championships go, I continue to hope that Mark will choose to run a full Nationwide schedule before his career is done. Its not quite a Cup championship, but Mark deserves to be a NASCAR champion of some form, especially given how long he was Nationwide/Busch wins leader. Rumors circulated earlier this year that Mark would run a full Nationwide schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He could still end up doing so next year, although Turner Motorsports or JR Motorsports are more likely candidates if he’s going to be driving a Chevy for SHR.

    No matter what Mark decides to do, though, I will always be a fan.