Well, it's official, and one more driver and open ride are now off the market. Yesterday, Mark Martin and Rick Hendrick made the announcement that Mark will be in the 5 Chevy in 2009 and possibly beyond, and on a full time basis for 2009.
Many people have been critical of both Mark and Rick Hendrick for this decision, but I think it opens up some interesting possibilities. Mark wants to make one more championship run, and even though he has been retiring for years now, I suppose the opportunity to drive for one of Nascar's most successful owners was overriding in his decision. Having the opportunity to drive for Hendrick would be incentive for practically any driver. But one has to wonder about Rick's wishes or motives.
Rick could have had anyone jump at the offer to take over the 5 ride, within reason of course. Tony Stewart was rumored to be heading for Hendrick. Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman have been rumored. Some have thought that Brad Keselowski might be in that ride. A part time deal with Mark Martin and Brad was talked about. Why Mark, many would ask.
I'm guessing that Rick and Mark have been friends for years, as many who have been in the garage together for over two decades might be. A few short years ago, Everyone thought Mark Martin would end his driving career in the ride for which he was most famous, the 6 Ford owned by longtime friend Jack Roush. Mark agreed to drive part time and mentor young David Ragan. Then Mark went to Ginn racing to mentor a young Aric Almirola and Ricky Carmichael. Ginn gets swallowed by Dale Earnhardt Inc., and Mark found himself replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 8 car, along with Almirola. DEI decides they want Aric in a full time ride next year, and Mark's options are open. Rick has a ride available, Kelloggs and other sponsors want a driver they can get behind, and if nothing else, sponsors like Mark Martin. 35 wins and almost winning the Cup 2 times probably doesn't hurt either.
I don't know the exact reasons for all this earth shattering news, but Rick Hendrick didn't get to where he is as an owner or as a businessman by making hasty decisions or for that matter, foolish ones. And as for Mark Martin, I'm not really a fan of his, but I can understand wanting one more shot at winning that elusive championship. If I had a chance to possibly get Tony Stewart on my team, I'd probably go for it. But surprisingly enough, Neither Mark nor Rick Hendrick asked for my advice or input on this subject.
I'm guessing what it comes down to is sponsorship and relationships. Mark has driven the JRM/ Hendrick 5 Nationwide car, so he's driven for Rick before. If nothing else, Mark has a reputation for being a clean driver on the track, and a good teammate. He's still competitive as a driver, and he's certainly got the experience and is a proven race winner.
Only time will tell how this new deal will work out, but as a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I'll welcome Martin to the Hendrick fold, and wish him well.