When Mark Martin climbs behind the wheel of his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway it will mark the veteran driver’s 31st season in the Sprint Cup Series. It could also be the beginning of what could be his final season as a NASCAR regular.
Martin is expected to run in 24 points races and two non-points races for Cornelius, North Carolina based Michael Waltrip Racing in 2013 but indicated on Monday that he may be ready to scale back his seat time in order to help the development of MWR.
“I’m still working on that,” Martin said when talking about 2014. “All I can say at the moment is I don’t expect to be in the No. 55 as the driver. My goal is to see MWR, (Crew Chief) Rodney (Childers) and the No. 55 car race for a championship. I want to help build MWR. It might still be driving some or it might be working with the pit crew or the drivers, who knows. It’s too early to tell. I’m focused on 2013. I’m having fun doing what I am doing now and plan to do everything that I can to try to win races and perform. The 2014 season is still a long way off, but I’m not going anywhere.”
The 54-year old from Batesville, Arkansas is still a top-flight driver even though he has not visited the winner’s circle since 2009, but during that span he has recorded 14 of his 55 career poles including four, Phoenix, Richmond, Dover and Michigan, in 2012. Last year, in just 24 starts, he had four top-5 and ten top-10 finishes and still finished 26th in points.
His career stats are nothing short of Hall of Fame worthy with 40 Sprint Cup, 49 Nationwide and seven Camping World Truck Series victories. He’s led 12,781 laps in Sprint Cup competition. Martin has started 854 Sprint Cup races, 236 Nationwide races and 25 truck events. He also owns 13 IROC wins in 47 starts. At Daytona he has started 54 races and owns nine top-five finishes with three poles including the 2010 Daytona 500.
Even in a limited schedule, Martin still has a number of goals this year, one to become the oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup race. Harry Gant set the standard in 1992 at the age of 52 years and 219 days. However, at the top of his list is coming home with a Daytona 500 victory and if you believe in numerology he might have a leg up on the rest of the competition.
Martin will enter NASCAR’s premier event with the aforementioned 55 poles and will guide the fortunes of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in the 55th rendition of “The Great American Race.” Unfortunately, he will not have another 55 on his side, age, because his birthday doesn’t roll around until next January. Nevertheless, MWR is becoming an elite organization and Martin still has the drive, if you pardon the pun, to be a contender.
“I’m not superstitious and I don't believe in lucky charms or anything like that,” said Martin. “In fact, I avoid all that stuff. But I have noticed this is the 55th Daytona 500 and the No. 55 is a pretty cool number, don't you think? We want to get Speedweeks started right with a good lap on Sunday. That gets us a good spot to start Thursday’s qualifying race. I think you are going to want to be as close to the front of the pack as you can be this year. Nobody knows what to expect.”
Martin will practice his Daytona 500 car on Saturday and join in single-lap qualifying for the 500 on Sunday as Sprint Cup drivers take their final laps in the new Gen-6 car before the first official race of the year.
“The best thing about the car is the manufacturers’ identity is so much stronger,” he said. “It is a really cool looking race car, they look like Toyota Camrys and they look like the Camry you can get at a dealership, with of course a lot of muscle thrown on them. That’s probably the best thing. There are subtle changes about the car that are improvements from a handling, from a speed, from a safety standpoint -- all those are more subtle. It’s a good looking race car.”