July 4, 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Mark Martin will make one final effort to win the NASCAR championship that's eluded him the past 26 years by driving for storied Hendrick Motorsports next season.
The 49-year-old Martin has run a partial schedule the past two seasons, a move he said allowed him to "catch his breath" while rekindling his passion for racing. So when Rick Hendrick offered him the seat in his No. 5 Chevrolet, Martin jumped at the chance to run a full schedule in 2009 in pursuit of the Sprint Cup title.
"It just was an opportunity that I absolutely could not, I just couldn't let it go by," Martin said. "At this point in my life, I was very concerned about regretting it for the rest of my life."
Martin has won 32 races in 710 career starts that began in 1981. A perennial title contender, he finished second in the standings an agonizing four times, including his runner-up finish to Tony Stewart in 2002.
He considered retiring at the end of the 2005 season, but was coaxed back for one final season with Roush Fenway Racing. He finished ninth in the standings that season.
Martin then devised a partial schedule plan with now-defunct Ginn Racing, and nearly won the Daytona 500 in their first race together -- he was nipped at the finish line by Kevin Harvick. But it set the stage for a strong start to the season that had Martin leading the points and the entire industry wondering if he'd really step out of the car.
He did, sticking to his decision to run just 24 races last season and forfeiting the chance to win the championship. His contract was sold to Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Ginn walked away from NASCAR midway through last season, and Martin is splitting his seat there with Aric Almirola this year.
Now, with a premier ride available at one of NASCAR's top teams, Martin didn't hesitate to return for the full 36-race schedule. He'll replace Casey Mears, who is being released at the end of the season. Martin will join two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the stoutest lineup in the series.
"It's a legitimate shot at a championships. He's finished second four times and I'd love to see him have an opportunity to get one," Hendrick said. "That's what Junior wants to do, Jimmy wants to do, Jeff wants to do. If you've got four legitimate shots at it, hopefully one of them can get it."
The Associated Press News Service