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Martin finds reverse, talks of driving '08 Cup season

9/23/2006

DOVER, Del. -- Mark Martin keeps passing the caution flag on his road to retirement.

Once on the brink of stepping away from Nextel Cup racing completely, Martin not only hasn't ruled out driving a part-time schedule next year, he's thinking of a full-time comeback in 2008.

By next week, Martin might have a totally different plan for his
future.

Martin would have been a great boxer, like the ones who retire
only to step back in the ring for one comeback after another. While
Martin has never stopped competing, he's never stuck with any firm
idea about his future. The only thing he does know is that he
doesn't seem to really know what he wants.

There's only one way for the 19-year veteran to form a clear
picture of his future: Step away.

"I don't know what I want to do until I slow down and I'm not
going to slow down unless I step aside," Martin said.

Martin said he's never missed a test session, a practice,
qualifying or race over a distinguished career that's brought him
everything but a NASCAR championship. He was ready to retire at the
end of last season until car owner Jack Roush talked him into one
more year.

Feeling more like a rookie at times, Martin is glad he returned
behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford. He qualified for the Chase and is in sixth place in the points standings -- 75 behind series leader
Kevin Harvick -- heading into Sunday's Dover 400. The Monster Mile
might be just the track for him to pick up the pace.

Martin has four career victories at Dover and five straight
top-10 finishes, easily making this one of his favorite tracks.
Martin hasn't won a race all year and has 12 top-10 finishes. He
has 25 career top-10 finishes at Dover, including four top fours in
the last five races.

Another top 10, maybe a top five, will propel him right into the
thick of contention.

"We're right on the verge of greatness," Martin said. "We
could have the best year of my career, or we could have a good
year. It could go any of those ways."

Either way, this is the end of his career for now. Maybe.

Martin said he can't picture any other scenario than driving in
the Truck Series next year and about 10 to 12 races in the No. 60
Cup car, if he can secure sponsorship.

"My heart is not in a full-time Nextel Cup deal," he said.
"It wasn't a year ago and they got my heart into it."

Maybe not for next year. But in another twist to his wishy-washy
feelings, Martin revealed Friday that he's thinking about driving a
full Cup schedule in 2008. Whew!

While he has no regrets about coming back for Roush Racing, he
wants to be the only person in the driver's seat the next time he
makes any plans for the future.

"For 19 years, I've really done everything that they've asked
me to do at Roush Racing, and going forward I'm having to keep
reminding myself -- what is it that I want to do?" he said.

Maybe Martin should shake one of those Magic 8-balls. Of course,
he'd probably get, "Reply hazy, try again."

About the only thing he is sure of? He wants to win at Dover and
he wants to go out on top.

"I've been concerned all summer that we weren't going to make
the Chase and it was going to be sad because we had
championship-type effort, but we just bumbled up so many things,"
he said.

Not that many, not enough to derail any title hopes. Feeling at
ease down the stretch, Martin said he's had few restless nights
this year and insisted he wasn't stressed about the final nine
Chase races.

Martin recalled how Rusty Wallace always told himself he was
going to win before every race. Martin refuses to pump himself up
that much because the disappointment would be too great when he
failed.

"Disappointment has been a big part of my career and for me to
deal with the disappointments that I have in my career, I can't
expect to win here Sunday," he said. "I can't deal with that."

What the 47-year-old Martin can deal with is one more hard
charge toward the title -- about the only part of his racing future
he's absolutely sure of.

"I'm not talking a championship that much, I'm talking about
trying to have a good time," Martins said. "But if we fiddle
around and win this race this weekend, the race is on for the
Cup."

And retirement will have to wait.