Mark Martin’s career may be winding down, but not before one more highlight ride

08/21/2013 9:39 PM

08/21/2013 9:41 PM

Mark Martin might have been ready to bow out on a nice, long, distinguished, well-respected career.

Or he might have kept on. He hadn’t decided, or at least hadn’t told anyone if he had.

About all he knew, he said, before the events of this week — when the stars aligned and his sponsors and Stewart-Haas Racing worked out a deal for him to drive the No. 14 car full-time the rest of the year — was that this might be it.

He might finally hang it up.

Now? Not so fast.

He has a ride. A good one. And who knows?

“I don’t have a plan right now, and I have much less planned right now than I had a week ago,” he said in a conference call with reporters this week. “A week ago, I was going to race a partial schedule. Now I’m racing all but one with a whole new situation, with what I feel like is a lot of challenges and a lot of pressure, and I don’t want to think about 2014 at all right now.”

Martin has earned that. The 54-year-old driver from Batesville, Ark., can take all the time he wants to think about it when he wants to think about it.

But now is not a good time to think about it. The No. 14 car can’t win a driver’s championship — Tony Stewart is out for the rest of the season with a broken leg. But it can win an owner’s championship, and Martin believes he is under pressure to perform.

His thinking is right. Why else would his sponsors, Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota, SHR, Stewart’s sponsors and Chevy all sign off on the deal?

“It’s a win for every person involved, from Michael Waltrip Racing, Aaron’s, Brian Vickers, as well as the incredible amount of respect that I have for Tony,” Martin said. “Just the fact that they asked me was a huge honor to me. You know, I feel kind of amazed that we were able to get this done, but we were able to get it done. … I think all the stars just lined up for this to work out because anyone along the way, including Mobil 1, Chevrolet or Bass Pro Shops, could have probably stopped this from happening.

“There were so many pieces to this puzzle, it was a lot more complicated than it looked at face value. But the reason it was able to be worked out is because everyone was able to win in this situation.”

Now, can Martin win? Literally win?

He has jumped in on short notice already this season for Denny Hamlin and competed. But now he has a head start on practicing and setups for races the rest of the year.

“It’s going to be challenging, and challenges are good for me,” Martin said. “They push me hard. They drive me hard, and I will do everything I can to step up to the plate and dig in.

“But it is a new situation, and it’s not like you sign on with a new team in November and you have January and February to get to know each other before you go off racing. We’re faced with this race coming up in just a few days.”

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