COMMENTARY | In most of our careers, we're expected to work until we're 65 years old or so and then retire.
In NASCAR's top levels of racing, once you turn 45 you're considered an old-timer who's past his prime and should hang up your helmet (in other series like Formula 1, that number is closer to 30).
Don't tell that to Mark Martin, though. At age 54, he was the most desirable fill-in driver available and will finish out the year in the 14 car (other than Talledega, a one-off for Austin Dillon) for Tony Stewart, who will not return to racing in 2013 after suffering a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg in a sprint car crash.
You all may remember Martin's plan to cut back on racing many years back, to focus on his son's racing career. When his son chose a different path, Martin basically put off his retirement indefinitely. He still didn't want any more full-time rides, but he wanted to keep racing part-time , when he wanted to -- on his own terms.
Why? Because racing is what he knows and what he does, and his age hasn't changed that. He's incredibly fit, perhaps moreso than any other Cup driver, so that's not an issue that would prevent him from racing at this age.
Martin said Monday that he's thrilled that everyone who was involved in this new deal worked together to make this ride in the #14 car possible for him.
"I think all the stars just lined up for this to work out because anyone along the way, including Mobil 1, Chevrolet or Bass Pro Shops could have probably stopped this from happening. So there were so many pieces to this puzzle, it was a lot more complicated than it looked at face value," he said. "But the reason it was able to be worked out is because everyone was able to win in this situation."
And Mark is right. Toyota and MWR win because even though they lose Mark's services in the 55 car, they get a jump on getting Brian Vickers into that ride -- which he'll drive full-time in 2014. And, of course, Tony's team and sponsors get one of the best drivers around in Mark Martin, who can potentially win some races in the 14 car before the year ends.
A lot of folks might question why Martin keeps racing, but the evidence on the track is pretty simple -- he's really good at it. Heck, he almost won the race on Sunday, running out of fuel with just a couple laps remaining at Michigan and ceding the win to a kid he helped discover -- Joey Logano.
And this latest ride provides a unique opportunity for Martin, who has fallen short of the Cup championship as a driver several times by just a hair. The 14 car may qualify for the Owners Points version of the Chase for the Cup, and, if it does, Martin could be part of a team that claims that owners championship. It's not quite the same thing as claiming a Cup as a driver, but I'm sure Martin would love to accomplish that.
As far as Martin's plans for 2014 and beyond, I'll venture this guess: As long as he wants to race and there is a quality part-time ride available, you can bet Mark Martin will be out on that track for some fraction of the year.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
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