Editor’s Note: This is the second of a four-part series on NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. To read part one, click here.
By the time the 2005 NASCAR Cup Series season rolled around, Mark Martin’s career was filled with triumphs and memories that would last a lifetime.
Nineteen years alongside team owner Jack Roush and the No. 6 team were concluding after Martin announced in late 2004 that he’d step away from full-time Cup Series competition at the end of 2005.
Martin’s final victory at Roush Racing came at Kansas Speedway that season en route to a fourth-place finish in the standings.
“The sport was extremely popular and the demand was extremely high,” Martin told SPEED SPORT. “I was tired of working so hard and not having any time for myself or my family. Matt (his son) had started racing and I wanted to help him.
“I didn’t say I was going to retire, I said I was going to step back. I wasn’t going to race full time anymore.”
With his goal of stepping out of the Cup Series in place, Martin eyed racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for Roush.
However, during his Salute To You tour in 2005, Martin’s plans quickly changed, as teammate Kurt Busch announced his move to Team Penske at season’s end, vacating the No. 97 Ford.
“I had recruited Jamie McMurray to come and drive the six car. When Kurt vacated, that left them at the end of the season in trouble,” Martin said. “So it made sense for Jamie to drive the 97 and for me to stay another year.”
Thus, Martin returned to the No. 6 in 2006, with McMurray wheeling the rebranded No. 26 Ford for Roush. Martin made the playoffs and finished ninth in the standings in his final season with the team.
But an unexpected opportunity arrived.
“So then the following year, I thought that I was going to go truck racing after the 2006 season. I had a promise from Roush to race the truck series, but I never signed a contract,” Martin said. “All of a sudden, Jay Frye (Ginn Racing team director) comes along and gives me the opportunity to do exactly what I asked to do with the six car.
“What I wanted to do with the six car was run 24 races and put David Ragan in the car the balance of the races and mentor David.”
Roush did not approve of Martin’s approach to racing part time.
“That made sense to me, but Roush Racing said, ‘You can’t do that. That can’t be done.’ So, Jay Frye offered me the opportunity,” Martin said. “Well, I’d rather do that than race a truck. I’d get to race the Daytona 500, get a shot at it.”
Facing a difficult decision, Martin joined Ginn Racing for 24 races in the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet in 2007.
Martin believes his departure from Roush Racing could have gone differently had both parties seen eye-to-eye.
“It was gut-wrenching for me to leave Roush Racing after 19 years,” Martin said. “But they wouldn’t hear anything of a limited schedule in the six car. Exactly what they let me do in the 01 car. In retrospect, it would have been better for them and better for me both if they would have done that, but they wouldn’t even talk about it.”
Ultimately, Martin believes his split from Roush Racing all came down to money.
“It all comes back to money. It didn’t make as much sense, financially. It might have been a harder sale for a sponsor,” Martin said. “Might have had to take less money from a sponsor if I didn’t drive the car full-time and put a rookie in it the rest of it. It’s details like that. They didn’t want to do it, so I went and did my thing.”
As the curtain closed on a 19-year run in the No. 6, came a refreshing reset for Martin, who was 48 years old at the time.
Martin and the No. 01 crew came out swinging, finishing second to Kevin Harvick by .02 seconds in the 49th running of the Daytona 500.
After four races, Martin and the U.S. Army Chevrolet beamed atop the standings, thanks to four consecutive top-10 finishes.
Martin ran another 24 races the following season, after Ginn and Dale Earnhardt Inc. merged in the middle of 2007.
Though Martin wasn’t competing full time, some of his fondest memories came during the 2007-’08 seasons.
“I had a wonderful time driving the 01 car, and then that turned into the eight car the following year,” Martin said. “Two of the best years of my life.
“I was so happy go lucky, I didn’t have to worry about those stupid-ass points. I could just go race. I raced with great people, great personnel, great team, great crew, fast cars. I had the time of my life. It was fantastic.”
Through his limited schedule in 2007-’08, Martin showed his skillset was still fresh, despite an on-going winless streak of three-plus seasons.
Little did Martin know, a phone call from one of NASCAR’s storied team owners would give the legendary driver one more taste of victory.
Find out how in part three — tomorrow.Follow @DHoffmanMedia22