Martin drives well to be retired

Published 9:26 pm Friday, June 19, 2009

Didn’t Mark Martin retire about three years ago? While still driving for Jack Roush, Martin went on a “Salute to the Fans” retirement tour during the 2006 season. Since “retiring,” Martin has competed in 63 races for three different car owners.

Until this year, when he moved to the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet, Martin competed only in handpicked races, never winning. But, this season, Martin has already won three times in the first 15 races. And at age 50, he is supposed to way past his prime.

Sitting eighth in the standings, this very might be Martin’s best chance of winning a championship. That is something he has never been able to do in the past 21 seasons that he has been a Cup driver.

Some would discount Martin’s latest victory at Michigan because two cars in front of him ran out of gas on the final lap. I wouldn’t discount a gas mileage victory—a win is a win. Just like a win in a rain shortened race shouldn’t be cheapened.

To me, Martin’s success is one of the biggest stories, along with Tony Stewart’s league-leading performance, of the young season. Before the season started, I predicted that Martin would finish second in the final standings. While it would be a disappointment to Martin to finish second for the fifth time without winning the top prize, it would be a huge accomplishment at the same time.

Looks as though General Motors held out as long as possible before reducing, and in some cases eliminating, funding of NASCAR teams. Last week, several teams in the Nationwide Series that drive Chevrolets were informed that financial support from GM would cease. This week, the Sprint Cup teams were informed that funding would be cut substantially.

I am just glad that Chevrolet is still in the sport. I hope that neither Chevrolet nor Dodge is forced to abandon what has to be a great sales and marketing relationship with NASCAR racing. Word is that NASCAR is having discussions with manufacturers not currently involved in the sport.

Honda and Nissan would be the most logical choices to enter the sports. But neither will show up in the near term. I just hope the “Big Three” are still around when that time comes. And, hey, I would love to see Saturn enter the fray, especially now that Roger Penske owns the brand.

The Cup series makes its first of two stops on a road course this weekend. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 is Sunday afternoon at Infineon Speedway in Sonoma, Calif. In addition to the regular drivers who excel on road courses, we’ll see the annual influx of the specialists hoping to get a good finish and a big payday.

Denny Hamlin is not having the type of season that he expected, despite sitting 10th in the standings. But, he’ll get on a hot streak through the hot summer months and will begin with a win at Infineon on Father’s Day.