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Martin leaving Roush, not Nextel

Veteran Mark Martin puts off retirement again and plans to join MB2 in '07, leaving Roush Racing after 18 seasons. His plan is to race a partial Nextel Cup schedule, maybe.

By BRANT JAMES
Published October 7, 2006


TALLADEGA, Ala. - Mark Martin announced Friday that he will be leaving Roush Racing after 18 seasons to drive part-time next year for MB2 Motorsports, the next but not necessarily final phase of a career that was supposed to end last year in retirement.

But as has been his habit since he started openly contemplating leaving in 2004, Martin hedged. The 47-year-old said he could rethink things if a planned 22-race slate in MB2's No. 01 Chevrolet now driven by Lakeland's Joe Nemechek is not enough.

For Roush Racing president Geoff Smith, who has been working on Martin's ever-changing retirement plan since 1999, the driver's waffling during an announcement at Talladega Superspeedway was hardly a surprise.

"He's been changing his mind or floating around on this for several years," Smith said. "For us, you could see a man struggling with retirement, and he's leaving the door open clearly."

Jay Frye, general manager for MB2, called Friday a landmark day for the team, which currently fields cars for Nemechek, 43, and Sterling Marlin, 49.

MB2 will ease newcomer Regan Smith into Nextel Cup action with starts in the No. 01 in the 16 races Martin plans to skip.

Martin's five-year contract with MB2 contains annual escape clauses should his appetite for NASCAR prove stronger than he expects. He won't know that, he said, until he watches one of the 16 points races he skips on TV next year.

"Bristol or Martinsville will probably be the first one that I skip, and we'll know a lot about '08 after that," said Martin, a four-time series runnerup who is third in points. "I'm not ready to walk away. I never said I was."

Martin's arrival at MB2 will be a splash for new owner and Palm Coast resident Bobby Ginn, who vowed to spend money to improve his team. Martin, who was originally going to drive for Roush's truck series program full time in 2007, will drive 20 points races for MB2 plus the Bud Shootout and All-Star race.

"I never thought I would be in a competition for Mark's time, but here we are," team owner Jack Roush said.

An as-yet-unnamed rookie will take over Martin's No. 6 Ford next season as dictated by the contract with team sponsor AAA, Roush said.

Smith said he was open to the idea of Martin returning to drive a Roush truck, but the manufacturers' rivalry and contracts will almost certainly kill that idea.

Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing technology, said in a statement that "Mark has earned the right to do whatever he wants as far as his racing career is concerned."

However, he added that Ford was "under the strong impression" that Martin would run a full truck season for Roush with factory support.

Martin said even if the contract allowed, he would not have asked Roush to let him return part-time to the No. 6 Ford because it is a championship-caliber team, unlike the No. 01. Not even after Martin did Roush a favor by postponing retirement after Kurt Busch's departure left the owner in a lurch.

"They don't owe me anything," he said of Roush Racing. "I've got 35 wins, a great career. We're square. They did for me what I did for them. I feel like I shouldn't ask them to do something that's not the right thing for them to do."