Martin ready to leave driving days behind
November 08, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
At age 54, veteran says he's ready for next phase of life
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- True to his nature, Mark Martin won't call it a retirement. But the veteran NASCAR driver won't compete in the Daytona 500 next season, and he left every indication that next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will also be the last start of his storied career.
"The garage is full of drivers who are on their game, and I've gotten all the good out of mine. I've squeezed every ounce of it out, and no one can say that I didn't," Martin said Friday after his qualifying run at Phoenix International Raceway. "I worked really, really hard the last 10 years to continue to be a formidable opponent in the garage, and from time to time when stuff was right, I was able to do it. And I'm proud of that. But it’s time for me to open a new chapter and do some other things."
Martin, 54, is finishing this season in the No. 14 car of Tony Stewart, who's been out since August recovering from broken bones in his right leg suffered in a sprint-car crash. Next year, Martin expects to move into an advisory role with the same Stewart-Haas Racing team, going to tests and offering advice whenever needed. He'll also handle all of Stewart's preseason testing before the three-time champion returns for Speedweeks.
But as far as competing in races? Martin entered this season in the second and final year of his contract with Michael Waltrip Racing, with whom he competed in a partial schedule in the organization's No. 55 car until he was allowed to go to SHR to substitute for Stewart. He said he didn’t entertain any offers to drive next season, even though his phone rang. Martin said he and his wife Arlene have known for a while about his plans to step out of the car after this season, although they kept it to themselves.
"Father Time does take its toll on every single sense you have," Martin said. "Your hand-eye coordination, everything is affected as you get older. And at some point in time, that decline becomes a detriment to you. You can work as hard as you want, you can maybe run good, but you're fighting Father Time. That’s different for anyone. I feel I can still drive a race car pretty fast, but I'm not the driver I was at my peak. And I know it. Maybe for a while I didn’t, but I know it. … I'm not saying I can't run good, but I can feel it in everything I do. Every time I get up and walk across the room, I can tell that I'm not 35. And anybody that says they can't, I don't know. I'd like to be sipping off their juice."
Martin has won 40 premier series races in a career that started in 1981, and has seen him finish as the circuit's runner-up five times. He was rejuvenated by a 2009 campaign in which he won five times and placed second in final standings with Hendrick Motorsports, and was competitive last season in his first partial season with MWR.
"I wasn’t ready after the 5 car," he said, referring to the vehicle he drove at Hendrick. "I went over to the 55 and just had a barn-burning year where we nearly won several races and we got six poles and it was very, very satisfying. I felt satisfied and at peace. I also recognize the fact that I'm probably working harder at it than most of the young guys to do that, because I am at a disadvantage. Because no matter how hard you work at it, eventually Father Time will extract its toll from your skills."
This season, though, has been more difficult, particularly since he shifted over to the No. 14 car. "I was trying to go out with some dignity," Martin said. "The last two months have not been pretty. But everybody in the garage suffers through times when they can't get their cars to do what they need them to do. I'm not the only one."
All of which makes the Batesville, Ark., native look forward to the next phase of his career.
"It's exciting, because I get to be involved in racing, and I love it so much," Martin said. "But I don't think I'm going to miss being a race-car driver, because I got to do that, and I was really good at it. And it's not fun for me if I'm not real good at it. It's only fun for me when I'm able to have a shot to put my number at the top of the scoreboard. That's what's fun. That's what drives me. We did that a whole bunch last year, and it was really fun. And when the year was over with, I said, 'I'm fulfilled, this is good, we'll finish out our commitment and move on to the next thing.' "
The plans for that next thing won't be finalized until after next weekend's finale at Homestead. Martin said he'll be in a race car some in 2014, but he's not yet sure of exactly how much outside of Stewart's preseason testing in the No. 14. He added he plans to be at all of SHR's tests next season, but not necessarily to drive. He would be available, though, if any driver is unable to attend the test or requested a second opinion from someone else in the seat.
"I say Danica does not need a driving coach. She's driving her tail off, doing an amazing job in my opinion," Martin said. "But if we can feed her faster race cars, she will reach her full potential. I don’t want (the media) to write that I'm going to be coaching Danica. I don’t think she needs one ounce of coaching. She's driving fantastic. We've got to get her cars faster. … So if I were able to aid in any way, shape, or form the information that was given to her to utilize, or (crew chief) Tony Gibson to put the right stuff under her, that would be a success. But as far as coaching her driving, I don't think she needs it."
For Martin, this all crystallized for him after this season's Daytona 500, where he finished third in a race he had always pursued but never won. He left the track content that he had been a factor his last time out.
"I wish I would have won it," Martin said. "But it was pretty cool to run third, and on the way home I felt pretty comfortable in my skin that I ran third in the last Daytona 500 I ran. This stuff ain't easy, you know? It's not easy. So I was proud of that."
One thing, though, won't change -- Martin still bristles at the idea of retirement, just as he always has. "I'm not sure if you keep working, if you’re really retiring. So I'm just saying I don’t have anything lined up to race next year," he said. He's been listening to a lot of country music lately, and one classic George Jones tune in particular has struck a chord with him. The song is called, "I Don't Need Your Rocking Chair."
"I'm like, dang, that fits this week perfect," Martin said, smiling, "because I'm not going to be using a rocking chair."