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Martin enjoys first weekend off in 622 NASCAR races

3/26/2007 - NASCAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mark Martin gave up a spot in the show to
watch it from home, and wouldn't change a thing about his first
weekend off in 622 NASCAR races.

Martin wasn't sure how he'd feel watching Sunday's race from
Bristol Motor Speedway, but after dozing off twice during the
500-mile event, he realized he can live without racing.

"I never once wished I was out there," Martin said Monday.
"When they started the engines, there was a few seconds there that
seemed a little bit eerie to me. But that was the only time that it
ever even crossed my mind.

"There was no anxiety whatsoever. I enjoyed watching the race.
I nodded off once or twice during a commercial, but snapped right
back up. It was just a wonderful weekend. I wouldn't trade it for a
Nextel Cup."

It was the final hurdle Martin had to cross to know for sure
that he can continue his plan of easing into retirement.

He tried to walk away from NASCAR's highest level, only to be
pulled back into the 36-race schedule by former car owner Jack
Roush.

Then Ginn Racing gave him a chance to set his own schedule, and
Martin jumped at the idea of re-claiming part of his life back. But
the pressure to abandon his partial-schedule plan mounted after a
terrific start to the season put Martin on top of the Nextel Cup
standings.

Five years ago, the pursuit of a championship would have
consumed Martin.

No more.

After 19 years of chasing the Cup -- with four heartbreaking
runner-up finishes -- Martin is finally at peace with what hardware
he does have. Under no circumstance would he allow himself to be
sucked back in for another run.

So he stuck with his plan to take last weekend off, knowing full
well it was going to be the test he needed to figure out the rest
of his career.

If his heart ached from being away from the track, and he lay
awake at night regretting his decision, Martin would know he wasn't
ready to walk away.

But if he could sit back and enjoy a rare weekend with the
family, then Martin would finally be free.

He was free on Monday, never sounding more rested and relaxed.

"Some people maybe think I am not doing this by choice, and
wonder why am I slowing down because the performance has been
really well the last three or so years," Martin said. "I am not
doing it because I still can't have a good day on the race track.
It's just that racing has been first in my life for over 30 years,
and I definitely had to make a change in that.

"The time has come to do that, and based on how I felt
yesterday, I am more excited than ever about my life."

In the interest of full disclosure, Martin was hardly removed
from the action at Bristol.

He spoke daily with crew chief Ryan Pemberton and replacement
driver Regan Smith, followed practice on the computer and watched
qualifying on TV. He even took a couple of calls from good buddy
Jeff Burton.

But he also found time do a few family things.

Martin spent Friday night with his in-laws, then headed to
Columbia Motorsports Park in Lake City, Fla., to help son Matt and
NASCAR newcomer Ricky Carmichael in a late model race.

Martin stepped right into his role as Carmichael's coach,
watching from the top of a hauler as he talked the motorcycle star
around the track.

Carmichael finished third in his heat race to advance to the
main feature, where an accident on the second lap led to a flat
tire that sent his Chevrolet into the wall. Matt Martin, racing for
the first time since September, finished fourth in his heat and
seventh in the feature.

"Ricky showed his incredible talent and ability and got really
fast, made large gains, and we learned a lot in a short period of
time," Martin said. "I tried to get him to focus on the lessons
that he learned and not the final result."

After a late night at the track, Martin hustled back to Daytona
Beach on Sunday morning so Matt Martin could play paint ball with
his friends. The 15 year old is unsure how far he wants to go in
racing, and is trying to find a balance between being a teenager
and a budding NASCAR star.

"I don't know if he knows for sure that he wants to be
famous," Martin said. "A lot of 15-year-old racecar drivers don't
know what it would be like to be to be a NASCAR driver. This kid
does.

"But I would rather he doesn't want it, anyway. I think every
parent wants better for their kids than what they've had, and we
have a lot of scar tissue from this."

Martin will continue being a regular citizen this weekend, when
he plans to pick his grandson up in Tennessee then head to Arkansas
for a party with his oldest friends. They'll gather around the TV
in Batesville to watch the race at Martinsville Speedway, and
Martin is convinced a few of his competitors would probably like to
join him.

"Certainly this isn't something you would want if you were 25
or 35," he said. "But if you take a guy like Matt Kenseth and let
him do this 13 more years, then see what he thinks. Or Jeff Burton,
put him out there eight or nine more years.

"I am sure you won't see Tony Stewart in eight or nine more
years. Although he might be eyeing a schedule like mine, him and
Jeff Gordon both. There just comes a time when you have to stake a
claim on your life, and mine is now."