Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin have been racing against each
other for more than two decades. And as they prepare to leave the
Nextel Cup circuit, they're going out as a couple of contented
warriors of the road.
"Personally, I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life and I
want to say that right now," Martin said. "There are a lot of
reasons for that. Number one is the fans and what they've done and
how they've responded this year. How they've supported me has been
Martin, perhaps the greatest driver never to win NASCAR's
ultimate prize, is the sentimental favorite this year. And it could
happen, with Martin just 21 points from the lead after two of the
10 season-ending Chase for the championship races.
Wallace, who won the Cup in 1989, is even closer, just seven
points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Does that tempt the
49-year-old driver to reconsider his retirement plans?
"It does make you think twice," he said last weekend at Dover
International Speedway. "But, on the other hand, I've made the
What's been billed as "Rusty's Last Call" is just that. He's
showered with gifts and salutes as he visits each track for the
But Martin -- despite his fan-inspired logo "My Salute to You"
-- will be back next season in Roush Racing's No. 6 Ford. He didn't
plan it that way, but was talked into it by car owner Jack Roush
when newly hired Jamie McMurray was unable to get out of the last
year of his contract with Ganassi Racing.
After that, he'd rather drive a truck. Martin willbe doing that
full time in 2008, when he moves to the Craftsman Truck Series. The
45-year-old driver is happy that the lighter demands of the Truck
Series will enable him to spend considerably more time with his
"Their support on what I'm trying to do really makes me feel
good," he said.
That backing was essential to Martin, who had announced this
would be his last season in Cup racing. Then Roush leaned on him to
stay one more year.
Martin laughed when asked if his was the shortest retirement on
"That's funny, but I said over and over and over that I'm not
retiring," he said. "I'm too young to retire. I'm going to
continue racing cars."
Had the truck deal not worked out, had Roush not pleaded with
Martin to return, he was not through burning rubber.
"You might see me at your local short track on Saturday nights,
because I'm going to be racing," he said.
The decision to stay another season in the Cup car was as much
about Martin's crew as it was his loyalty to Roush. The car owner
brought Martin in from the ASA short-track circuit, where he and
Wallace won championships in the 1970s and 80s, and helped him
become one of the greats of his era.
"They want me to fill the seat for one more year until they can
be prepared," Martin said. "I'm not going to let them down."
Wallace, who has 55 career victories, and Martin, who has 34,
are turning their twilight laps in what has become a more
pressure-packed sport, where millions of dollars are at stake each
week and hungry young drivers are being far more aggressive on the
It got so bad earlier this month in New Hampshire that NASCAR
sanctioned three drivers. Last Sunday at Dover, NASCAR president
Mike Helton warned everyone to knock off the rough stuff. Wallace
said Helton wants hard racing and excitement, but is looking for
drivers to have the kind of respect he and Martin have shown each
other for so many years.
"We've got multimillion dollar sponsors and 150,000 people in
the grandstands," Wallace said. "He just wants all of us to act
like men and represent NASCAR in the proper way."