2009-01-22 / Sports

2009 Racing: Beyond The Hype

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Mark Martin Mark Martin A lot of sports writers would have you believe that it will take more than a couple of angels to turn this season into a successful one for NASCAR.

But that ain't so.

Take it from a columnist that has covered NASCAR since 1993.

Granted, there has been more pessimism this year because of the economy, but when you cut through all the hype, racing is going to be as good, or better than last season.

Why shouldn't it be?

Several of the lesser teams with poor records are gone, but like in any private business, it's the survival of the fittest.

All 12 of the drivers in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will be back. Add another four or five "B" teams, along with the "field fillers, who have no chance of winning, and you have the same 43-car field makeup that we had last season.

From a racing standpoint, only four teams truly matter: Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

The rest of the teams might win once or twice, like in a rainshortened race, or some oddball finish situation.

The big question for me is Mark Martin.

For those fans that might not be big devotees of the 50-yearold Martin, he told everyone that he was calling it quits after the 2006 season. In June 2005, it was announced that Jamie McMurray would replace Martin in the No. 6 Roush Ford in 2007. This left Roush without a driver for that car in 2006.

2005 was to be Martin's swan song, a farewell salute to nearly 20 years spent chasing the NASCAR Cup dream from a single car, the No. 6 Roush Racing Ford.

Whether Roush couldn't find a suitable driver, or just wanted the veteran back, Martin agreed to drive for the 2006 season.

Unable to remain out of the limelight, Martin said he wanted to run a partial schedule. He signed up to split time with Regan Smith in the Ginn Racing No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet in 2007. Roush Racing announced that due to team limits imposed by NASCAR, they could not field a team for Martin for all 20 races he wanted to run that year.

However, he drove two races for Roush in the Busch Series, and also drove in three races for Hendrick Motorsports, sharing the No. 5 with Kyle Busch.

2007 started off good. He had three consecutive top-five finishes, and led the points standings. He became the oldest driver in the modern era to lead the Cup points for more than one week.

In July 2007, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. acquired Ginn Racing. Martin joined Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Menard as a driver for DEI starting at the Brickyard. He shared the No. 01 car with Aric Almirola for the rest of the season.

Prior to the end of the 2007 season, it was announced that Martin would share the No. 8 car with Aric Almirola in the 2008 Cup Series.

Martin made his 700th career start at the 2008 Auto Club 500.

He won the Sam's Town 300 driving the No. 5 Delphi Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. It was Martin's 48th career Nationwide Series victory and JR Motorsports' first win.

About midway through the 2008 season, Rick Hendrick announced that Martin would replace Casey Mears in the No. 5 Cup car for the 2009 season, running a full-time schedule in 2009, and a part-time 26-race schedule for 2010.

There's still racing fuel in his veins and he can't seem to give it up.

He's still chasing his first NASCAR Cup championship.

"The championship was not a consideration in taking this deal. Being sure that I was getting into something that had a chance to win meant everything."

"Obviously, as we move forward, our goal is to make the Chase and compete for a championship," he continued, "But like I say, I look at the shorterterm things. As we conquer one, then maybe the next will come."

Martin joins a team of drivers that includes three-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and the sports most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

I know Mark Martin and there's nothing he wants more than a Cup championship. The opportunity to drive for with Hendrick Motorsports, one of the best funded and most powerful teams in racing, was too much for him to pass up.

I have no doubt that Martin is serious, but as you get older, you seem to lose sight of the reality of certain situations.

He was not able to win a Cup championship with Roush Racing when he was much younger, so I don't see how he can do it now in his sunset years.

Mark brings good name recognition to his sponsors, and he still has many fans, but his best driving days are behind him.

Meanwhile, there has been much talk about the lack of testing prior to the opening of the 2009 season. NASCAR eliminated all testing at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in an effort to cut down on team costs.

Personally, I don't think lack of testing is going to hurt that much. Let's face it, NASCAR hasn't changed anything on the car. The teams have a full year of notes now on this new car and there really are no brand new startup teams this season.

And besides, all crew chiefs have plenty of notes from previous testing.

Also, teams are in Daytona for a long time. They will have ample time to practice and make changes to the car.

There will certainly be some surprises, as there is every year, but as Darrell Waltrip would say, "Let's go racing boys."

Next Week: A Totally Different Budweiser Shootout

Racing Trivia Question: Who won the first Daytona 500?

Last Week's Question: What year did Richard Petty get his first win? Answer. 1960.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net.

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