Based on the title alone, a multitude of Mark Martin fans may be ready to stone me. However, this is no Mark Martin-bashing article. I have the utmost respect for Martin. I think it is awesome to watch a guy in his fifties perform the way he has over that last two years. It harkens to the days of Bobby Allison and Harry Gant when they were kicking butt when they were supposed to be washed up. Martin’s performance is not what it was a year ago, but he is still on pace to qualify for the Chase for the Championship, and could easily steal a win or two before season’s end.
Nevertheless, some will argue that he is a hindrance to the No. 5 team and their future.
A year ago, Rick Hendrick agreed to allow the 40-time Sprint Cup winner to drive the No. 5 Chevrolet through 2011. This blocked Brad Keselowski, who was driving under the Hendrick Motorsports umbrella at Junior Motorsports, from entering the No. 5 ride as so many had anticipated. Keselowski was clearly ready for Sprint Cup competition, and wasted no time in locating another place of employment for 2010 and beyond. Keselowski’s first year with Penske Racing has had its highs and lows, literally, but while he is improving in the Sprint Cup series, he is on his way to his first Nationwide Series championship.
With Kasey Kahne as NASCAR’s most coveted free agent in 2010, Hendrick lured the 30-year-old driver to his neck of the woods after some urging from Martin. However, Kahne’s deal begins in 2012, so what about 2011?
Shortly following the Kahne to Hendrick announcement, many in the media had Martin stepping out of the No. 5 ride to make room for Hendrick’s new marketing machine. Despite Martin’s dogged avowal that he would remain in the Hendrick ride, nobody seemed to believe him. He grew frustrated with the media, even referring to their speculation as ‘disrespectful’.
As the months flew by, and the uncertainty regarding Kahne and his 2011 whereabouts continued to make headlines, things became more difficult for Martin. It felt like people expected him to relinquish his ride for the incoming Kahne. They made it seem as if Martin was obligated to yield, that is was the right thing to do.
Well, they are wrong. Martin has altered his career plans in the past for the sake of pleasing others. In 2006, Martin was supposed to be retired, but Jack Roush convinced him to remain in the No. 6 Ford for one more year. It seemed as if Martin remained in the ride out of sheer obligation, though later that year is when Martin realized he did not want to ride off into the sunset just yet. Why should Martin alter his career plans now?
Sure, it would really help the future of Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 5 team if Kahne were able to take over the ride in 2011. It would benefit Kahne and his career with Hendrick Motorsports. Instead, Kahne is going be bounced around for the next couple of years…from Richard Petty Motorsports to Red Bull Racing to Hendrick Motorsports. That type of instability does not work wonders for a career, just ask the other Casey (Mears).
However, it is not Martin’s responsibility to take care of Kahne’s career. Perhaps Kahne should have signed with a team that had an opening for 2011 instead of entering this agreement totally blind.
So, back to the original question…is Mark Martin hindering the future of the No. 5 team? Maybe, maybe not, only time will tell. However, Martin is fulfilling his end of the deal he and Rick Hendrick signed, and I respect him for not backing away from HIS ride .