A legendary driver will team up with a legendary team owner at a legendary racetrack this weekend. Mark Martin, having perhaps the best season of his illustrious career despite running only a partial schedule, will run three Busch Series races for Hendrick Motorsports, starting this Saturday at Darlington Raceway.
For Hendrick, it was a gift. As soon as team owner Rick Hendrick learned that Mark Martin was going to be driving a Chevrolet after years in a Ford, he initiated discussions with Ginn Racing about using Hendrick engines. Martin, seeing his opportunity to race for the accomplished Hendrick, made the next move -- requesting a seat in Hendrick's Busch car for a few races.
Now, Martin, the winningest driver in Busch Series history, will start three races in Hendrick's No. 5 Chevy.
"It's exciting," Hendrick said. "He's just such an icon. And I think we'll learn something. I think we'll learn a lot from Mark and his input. ... He's the kind of guy that if you can't win a race, you feel good about watching him win 'cause he's just a real gentleman on the track."
Martin is in it simply to add another notch on his belt.
"The thrill for me is to be able to drive for Rick Hendrick, and to be able to say that I did that before my career ends as a driver is really special," Martin said. "To have [Hendrick Motorsports] with their enthusiasm and a chance to work with more really brilliant people that I can maybe learn something from, this is the greatest time in my life."
Martin's record of 47 career Busch victories is 16 more than the next winningest racer, Jack Ingram. Kevin Harvick sits in third. Martin has a shot at extending his lead on the all-time list on Saturday. In nine starts, Kyle Busch has driven the No. 5 Chevy to six top-10s, including five top-5s.
"The way this car has run this year with Kyle in it," Martin said, "If I can get in there and not do something stupid and do a good job of relaying [information] and integrating and working with the team, then we should have a shot at it."
Many happy returns
Mark Martin isn't the only Busch great returning to the series this weekend. Jason Keller returns to the Busch Series and, fittingly for the South Carolina native, he does so at Darlington Raceway.
Keller is the series' all-time leader in earnings, with over $10 million. He has made more than 400 starts in his Busch career. He will drive the No. 11 Chevy and team up once again with Greg Pollex. As a team Keller and Pollex have nine wins, seven poles, 67 top-fives and 112 top-10 finishes.
The Busch Series top 10 includes nine full-time Cup drivers and four of them rank among the top 10 despite not making every Busch start this season. Kevin Harvick is second with only nine starts, Matt Kenseth is fifth with eight starts, Kyle Busch is sixth with nine starts and Juan Pablo Montoya is ninth with 10 starts.
Look for Matt Kenseth to go for his second Busch win in three seasons at Darlington this weekend. The Roush racer has an average running position in Busch cars of 4.296 at the track. He was runner-up in last season's race. Galloping along on the dark horse is Shane Huffman, the JR Motorsports driver who has posted two top-10s in the chassis he will bring to Darlington.
Rupen Fofaria has covered NASCAR for ESPN.com since 2002. He can be reached at email@example.com.