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Martin: the ageless wonder

In 2005, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace both announced their retirements from NASCAR racing. Martin called his last season the “Salute to the Fans Farewell Tour,” and I vividly remember the pair being presented matching rocking chairs during one of the Fox broadcasts.

At the time, both drivers were still very competitive on the track and retired for totally different reasons. Rusty wanted to get off the road and keep his health intact. Martin’s young son, Matt, was beginning his racing career on the regional tracks, and Martin wanted to be involved in his career.

Since the end of the 2005 season, Wallace has raced in a grand total of zero races while taking his talents to ABC and ESPN. Since retiring in 2005, Martin has been in 111 races, winning five of those races.

Martin came back for the 2006 season, staying with long-time team owner Jack Roush, because Roush “needs me.” And the fact that Roush didn’t feel comfortable with any of the available drivers to take over the No. 6 car. Martin retired again during the 2006 season.

Not feeling satisfied, Martin struck a deal with Bobby Ginn, the multi-millionaire real estate guy and total flop as a car owner, to drive the No. 01 US Army car for a limited number of races. Martin said, “Only this year, I am through after the 2007 season.”

Well, not so fast my friend. Ginn found out racing was not his cup of tea and sold his operation to Dale Earnhardt, Inc. The No. 01 US Army car warped into the No. 8 US Army car for the 2008 season. At every turn, Martin took the chance to say what an honor it was to drive for Dale Earnhardt’s company. But he was driving only part time in a limited selection of races, and still very competitively.

This season, four years after announcing his retirement, Martin is driving full time in the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports in what was originally a one-year deal. After last week’s race at New Hampshire, the first race of the Chase, Martin, at 50 years old, leads the points standings and has won a series high five races.

Martin has never won a championship, finished second several times, but this year looks to be different. Martin, like the old saying goes, is getting better with age. Obviously, lots can happen in the nine remaining races, but I wouldn’t bet against Martin to bring home his first championship and Rick Hendrick’s ninth championship.

The Monster Mile at Dover, DE is next on the schedule and my pick to win Sunday is Tony Stewart.