The greatest driver to never win a NASCAR championship treated the season finale as if it was the last race of his career.
Mark Martin finished 19th Sunday in the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And if he follows through with his pledge, it will end a career that began with his 1981 Cup debut and covered 40 victories and five runner-up finishes in the championship standings.
”For nearly 40 years I have measured myself against the best stock car drivers of the era,” Martin tweeted early Sunday. ”It’s been (hashtag) 1HellOfaRide.”
Martin was flooded with praise from fellow drivers on Twitter. Jeff Burton called him an ”intense competitor with an equal amount of values. Made entire sport better through his actions.” And Joey Logano said he was his favorite driver as a kid.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who spent half a season in NASCAR, paid his respects from Scotland, calling Martin in a tweet ”a total legend and one of the best people I’ve ever met.”
Martin has said he’s done racing before, only to be lured back into the car. His partial schedule this year was even expanded when he agreed to drive 12 races as Tony Stewart’s injury replacement.
Martin has not used the word retirement in discussing his future plans, but he said he’s turned down every driving offer brought to him for 2014 and just needs some time away right now.
”I’m kind of tired. I might not make the best decisions right now,” he said. ”I’ll still have an opportunity to satisfy my competitive fire and still be able to be involved in the sport at whatever level I want to be. And we’ll let that kind of materialize as we move forward past Homestead.”
The opportunities will be with Stewart-Haas Racing, where Stewart has a ton of projects for Martin to work on in a role that has yet to be formalized.
Since breaking his leg in August, Stewart has been able to watch his drivers from the sidelines and offer input. He believes Martin will be a tremendous asset in a similar role, particularly with Danica Patrick.
Martin also can be a sounding board for SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli, Stewart said.
”I think Mark is a great liaison between us as drivers and the crew chiefs and Zippy,” Stewart said. ”Mark’s got so much practical knowledge and experience. Mark is good with people and I think that is a lot of value to me. I think it’s a little easier for Mark to help Danica.
”But I think Mark can make me better. You’re crazy if you’re a driver and think you can’t learn and that you can’t be better. Having someone like Mark do that, if he sees I’m not driving in the corner hard enough or I’m arcing my entry too much or not enough, whatever. Mark can see that and tell you to think about this.”