One of Jack Roush’s biggest regrets is failing to win a title with Mark Martin.
Martin says he’s in no hurry to make plans for next year, when Kasey Kahne will take over the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsports. This much is for sure: Martin’s theme for next year might as well be George Jones’ “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair.”
Martin, who started Cup race No. 800 at Martinsville Sunday, isn’t going anywhere. Last week at California he appeared with Jillian Michaels while the GoDaddy fitness guru delivered one of her legendary grueling workout routines to a group of willing masochists. At one point she rolled up the sleeve on Martin’s shirt, and I swear, the guy is so ripped he’d be just as welcome in Atlanta at WrestleMania Sunday as he was at Martinsville.
As Martin continues to look vital, Ragan continues to look vulnerable. His job in the No. 6 UPS Ford is in serious jeopardy, but the only problem for Roush is finding a viable option to take over the car. The two top free agents are his own, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Chip Ganassi should have little trouble reinking Juan Pablo Montoya. There’s no reason to think Richard Childress will struggle to retain Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer.
Initially I thought Martin would be a perfect fit at Front Row Motorsports. Martin could do for Bob Jenkins what Tony Stewart did for Gene Haas: Infuse a self-sponsored also-ran with marketing opportunities and top talent, from fabricators to the front office. Plus, Martin could drive for the team as long as he wanted, then have a second career all lined up as a part-owner.
A Martin-Jenkins partnership could still be the endgame–just maybe not in 2012. For all the driver development Roush has done, there’s just nobody waiting in the wings. The Colin Brauns and Erik Darnells of the world weren’t good enough. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. isn’t ready. Trevor Bayne has come back to earth since winning the Daytona 500, and he’s probably not in too much of a hurry to leave the Wood Brothers after the opportunity they gave him.
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of names left to drive for Roush other than Martin. Suppose Martin signs a one-year deal with Roush, giving the pair another chance to make up for past near-misses.
If Roush has a driver for 2013, Martin could easily slide into the Front Row scenario. Everybody wins. Martin’s long-term plan is secure, Jenkins is finally a serious player, and Roush has a well-funded satellite team to sell cars and engines to.
Roush and Martin partnered together for nearly two decades, and even a short-term reunion would be one of the best NASCAR stories in years. If Ragan continues to struggle, the most must-see action at upcoming tracks might be Martin and Roush shooting the breeze in the garage and asking, “What if?”