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Monday, April 19, 2010

Mark Martin may never retire, but that’s OK by me

By my count, Mark Martin will actually retire at least 10 years after he planned to do it originally. Here’s the math for those new to the sport.

2005 was going to be Mark Martin’s last year competing full-time in NASCAR. Then Jack Roush convinced him to stay one more year, and he held his “Salute to You” tour in 2006 (I’m pretty sure I still have a shirt somewhere to prove this actually happened.) During this “tour”, he thanked his fans for all the support, as he allegedly wasn’t going to be seeing them on a full-time basis anymore.

Then his part-time ride in 2007 and 2008 at DEI renewed his interest in the sport, and he jumped head first into a great opportunity to come back in 2009 with Hendrick Motorsports, winning five times. He’s picking up right where he left off in 2010, and vows to fulfill his contract in 2011 and stay in the #5 car.

But that’s not all folks, he says he’s not retiring at that point, and he’ll have a ride somewhere in 2012. And by the way he’s talking, he’ll probably want to stick around a couple more years, putting his retirement date about 2015 or later, at least a decade later than originally scheduled.

While this kind of coming and going in sports usually annoys me, I have to say that Mark is the one guy who can pull it off without drawing much criticism.

The fact is that he just couldn’t stop racing … he loved it too much. Also, his son stopped his own racing career, which was a big part of the reason Martin wanted to retire – to help his son’s career grow. With free time on his hands, he went back to what he had always done.

When I see Mark Martin now, it’s night and day from when I first started watching racing.

Back in the mid-1990s, Martin was in a bit of a win slump, and every time he was interviewed he talked like the world was coming to an end because he hadn’t won. He just looked miserable and implied many times that winning was the only thing that mattered to him.

Now in his new ride at Hendrick, he’s the exact opposite. Even on really bad days, he has nothing but good attitudes and always praises his team’s effort and vows to come back stronger next time. It’s no longer “The sky is falling” when he doesn’t win. He’s out there having the time of his life, regardless of the outcome.

In addition to this great new attitude, Martin continues to do good things for the sport, including serve as a really good eye for talent. He was one of the first people to notice Joey Logano, many years ago when he was barely a teenager, and say that the kid would be something special. He courted the talented Aric Almirola over to DEI (though sponsorship woes ended Almirola’s run in that ride).

Team owners seek his opinion when considering what young drivers to hire. Now, he has actively recruited Kahne to replace him at Hendrick in the #5 car in 2012, so the team he helped bring up to championship capability will continue to thrive in his absence.

That kind of selflessness and team player mindset exemplifies the kind of man Mark Martin is, and he has the universal respect of his competitors.

This is why his farewell tour is long forgotten, and the fans and the media aren’t as annoyed with his wavering as they are with other athletes like Brett Favre.

He’s earned the right to leave the sport whenever he chooses to do so.


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