As of the end of this season, Mark Martin will have had 794 career Cup starts. Through the first 26 races of the 2010 season, Martin has had 40 race wins, 259 top five finishes, and 420 top tens. Mark has finished in the top ten for Season Cup Points in more than 60% of his years in NASCAR Cup Racing, including 12 consecutive seasons from 1989 through the 2000 season. The 2011 season will be Mark Martin's 29th season in Cup Series Racing.
Mark says he will compete in NASCAR at least through the 2012 season. With his contract at Hendrick Motorsports expiring after the 2011 season it is unclear what team Martin will race for in 2012. Martin refuses to talk about retirement; he tried it on a part-time basis in 2007 and 2008, didn't like it, then returned in 2009 to full-time racing for his fifth runner-up season finish. Martin has brought up the idea of driving in a situation similar to Tony Stewart driving for a team for which he holds 50% team ownership. It would not be the first time Martin drove a car he owned; he drove his own car for the five races he particpated in for the 1981 season, and as partial owner in six races over the 1982 and 1983 seasons.
Racing in the upper level series since 1981 Martin has seen racing change through four decades. He has raced against the best of the best - Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earhnhardt, Cale Yarborough and many, many others. He has seen safety develop from minimal safety requirements to today when the cars are safer than they have ever been. With everything that Martin has seen change, one thing remains the same; Mark has finished in the runner-up spot in the Championship five times but has never brought home the top spot.
What does Mark Martin have to do to bring home a Championship? After his second place finish in the 2009 season it was expected that Martin would have a strong showing this year and be a strong contender for the Championship. After the Chase cutoff at Richmond, Mark finds himself outside the Chase looking in. Next year will be Martin's last year with Hendrick Motorsports. With all that Mark feels Rick Hendrick has given him over the past two seasons it is surely important to Mark that he finish strong in his third and final year with Hendrick Motorsports.
Since 1988 Martin has only finished outside the top 12 four other times. In the next year after each of those times Mark came back to finish in the top five for the season, including two of his runner-up finishes. Based on past performance, next year should be a good year for Martin's team. It could even be the year that Mark finally brings home the Championship. If not 2011, he still has 2012 to try again. If not 2012, I don't think anyone would be surprised to see Martin stay through a couple more seasons. Determination is not a trait that Mark lacks.
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