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Martin Wants to Leave Something to Remember

Twelfth-place finish puts him in ninth place in the Cup standings as he tries to win elusive title in what is probably his final season.

September 04, 2006|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Mark Martin stood inside his hauler and declared in his fast-talking manner that he has a good answer for the legacy question.

"I just want to be remembered," said the veteran driver of the No. 6 Jack Roush Ford. "That's a big deal in itself.

"Anyone who has been successful hates the thought of being forgotten. I'm a huge race fan, and I know that when you exit, it's gone. You're just not there anymore. That's the tough thing about this sport, there's no place for you after you're done."

Martin may well be remembered as the sport's premier cynic, but his career might be better defined by his finishing second in the championship four times, for holding off his retirement for a year to dig his team owner out of a jam, for staying above the fray and commanding respect throughout the garage.

But to tie Martin to his racing career when he really does reach the twilight years is something he wants to avoid.

"This is all I've done, and I don't want that to be the sum of my life when I'm gone," Martin said. "I don't want people to say, 'Well, he raced hard every day, 24/7, 365.' I want to have done something else."

He doesn't know what that something is, but he is 47 years old and has a 14-year-old son he would like to see grow up.

And he still races hard. He started 38th in the Sony HD 500 on Sunday, rubbed fenders with Scott Wimmer that required extra bodywork in the pits, and eventually finished 12th. He was in 10th place, 90 points ahead of Kasey Kahne for the final position in the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship going into the race, but had that margin cut to 32. He did however, move up to ninth, two points ahead of Jeff Burton.

"My team fought as hard as they can fight," Martin said. "I still think we're in, but the battle's on. And one thing that everybody can count on is I'll go down fighting all the way. Richmond, even if we don't make the chase, I'm going to go down swinging all the way to the end."

He hasn't finished worse than 15th in his last five races at Richmond, Va., the site of this Saturday's race.

Martin still loves racing and will continue to do so. He will run full-time in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2007, and also will race in selected Cup races. That is, unless team owner Jack Roush can entice him to stay on one more year, a prospect that seems unlikely, although Roush will try.

If Sunday was Martin's last hurrah in Nextel Cup at California Speedway, he leaves near the top of his game.

Roush Racing has won two of the last three Cup titles, with Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004. But Roush desperately wants Martin to win. They have been together since 1988.

"Mark Martin is one of the greatest, most talented and able, determined and hard-working drivers that's ever been in this business," Roush said. "For him to retire without a championship is not a failing of his, but a failing of mine that I would carry with me from that point forward. But we haven't failed yet....

"Outside my immediate family, I feel closer to Mark than anyone else in the world," Roush said.

Martin has 35 victories in 19 seasons with Roush. He made his Winston Cup debut in 1981 in his own car, and finished 14th in the championship in 1982, his first full season.

He hooked up with Roush in the owner's debut season, 1988, and had three top-five finishes that year. That matched his career total in 57 previous races.

"I was dumb as a rope and without the background that I really needed to be an owner," Roush said. "Mark was much more ready to drive a fast car than I was to put him in a fast car. He stayed with me and kept his commitment through the years that it took for us to develop good cars.

"Roush Racing would not be the force in Nextel Cup racing it is today if Mark had taken the easy path for him, which was to get off the ship when the seas were rough."

Martin finished second to Dale Earnhardt in 1990, losing the championship by 26 points, and to Tony Stewart in 2002 by 38 points.

This year, he hopes to add a fairy-tale ending.

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martin.henderson@latimes.com

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