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NASCAR Season Preview: Mark Martin

Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

#55 Aaron’s Rent Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing

Born: January 9, 1959

Home: Batesville, Arkansas

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Martin took two poles in 2011, in the second races at both Daytona and Talladega. He also scored 10 top 10 finishes, with his runner-up finish at Dover in May his best run of the year. Meanwhile, Martin took his then-record 49th Nationwide Series win at Las Vegas in March, giving Turner Motorsports its first series victory.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: As a lame duck driver at Hendrick Motorsports, to be replaced by Kasey Kahne at the end of the season, Martin had the kind of year that leads many to brand a driver as “over the hill.” Martin got the short end of the stick in a preseason crew swap between three Hendrick teams, finishing a disappointing 22nd in points. He hasn’t won in Sprint Cup since 2009, when he scored his fifth career runner-up points finish.

SEASON OUTLOOK: After three years of full-time competition in Hendrick Motorsports’ legendary #5 car, Martin returns to the partial schedule that reinvigorated his career in 2007 and 2008, this time with Michael Waltrip Racing. He’ll split the #55 car and Aaron’s sponsorship with Waltrip himself (and, in the non-Aaron’s races, with other drivers to be determined) as the team expands to three full-time cars for the first time since 2008. Martin will drive 25 races, running a schedule not too far off from his time with Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.

Don’t be surprised if Martin’s early season performance this year is similar to his early 2007 hot streak, in which he almost won the Daytona 500, led the points, and was repeatedly asked if he would reconsider running limited schedules in order to go for one last championship run. Martin is the kind of driver that, when he’s really excited about an opportunity, rises to the occasion, and this one fits that category. He’s unquestionably the best driver that Waltrip has ever had, and should be able to put up results that reflect that. Martin himself won’t make the Chase as a part-timer, but he’ll run well enough that, had he chosen to run every race, he’d be in.

– Chris Leone

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