Hendrick Motorsports announced June 27 that driver Casey Mears, who pilots the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet, would be leaving the team after the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Owner Rick Hendrick issued a statement on the release of Mears at the end of the season.
"We've put a ton of emphasis on the No. 5 program," said Hendrick. "It's been a total team effort, and Casey has worked as hard as anyone to help us improve. We've tested more than we ever have, but the results just haven't come."
Mears has only one top-five and four top-10 finishes in 18 starts this season.
Change of scenery
The team then announced Friday, July 4, that Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Mark Martin signed a two-year agreement to drive for Hendrick beginning in 2009. Martin will race the full 2009 Sprint Cup Series schedule in the No. 5 Chevrolet. It will be Martin's first full season of Sprint Cup competition since 2006, in which he finished ninth in points. He will run a partial Cup schedule in 2010 and will share the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined driver. He will compete in 26 events, including the Budweiser Shootout and the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which are non-points races.
Martin is a 26-year veteran of stock car racing but has never won a Sprint Cup Series championship. He has been the runner-up four times and has finished in the top five 12 times. The 49-year-old has reached Victory Lane 35 times in his storied career, which ranks him 17th on the all-time win list and third among active drivers. Martin has also recorded 241 top-five and 391 top-10 finishes in 711 starts, while adding 33 poles to his credit.
Martin also has 48 wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, which is most all-time.
The move to the New York Yankees of motorsports in '09 will likely be the Arkansas native's last legitimate chance at earning his first Cup championship. However, Martin will be 50 years old when next season starts, and only a few drivers have won a championship after the age of 40. Bobby Allison won the championship in 1983 at the age of 45, and Lee Petty won in 1959 at the same age. Martin will become the oldest Cup champion in NASCAR history should he win it all in '09.
It's obvious after the news about Mears being released at the end of the season that drivers at Hendrick are under the microscope a lot more than other drivers, and deservedly so. It's no secret that Hendrick has the best resources and arguably the best drivers on their roster, which means Martin will absolutely have to find the win column and consistently land in the top 10 to keep his full-time job.
Unfortunately, it appears Martin's best days are behind him, failing to win a race since the 2005 season. Drivers and crew chiefs have stated that you can't win every race, so the goal is to be consistent - something Martin has failed to be the last few seasons. He has not recorded double-digit top-five finishes in each of the last two seasons and does not appear to be on his way to reaching that mark this season; although, Martin is running a partial schedule. From 1989 to 2005, Martin amassed double-digit top-five finishes in 15 of those 17 seasons.
- Martin will be working with the best in the business
- He has worked with No. 5 Chevrolet crew chief Alan Gustafson in the Nationwide Series
- Martin qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship in all three of his full-time seasons since the Chase was implemented
- Martin has not run a full schedule since 2006
- He has not won a Cup race since 2005 (Kansas)
- History is against him
About Fraser Lovat
Fraser is a Hot off the Wire Analyst with KFFL and has been with the company since 2007.
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