DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Mark Martin will make one final effort to win the NASCAR championship that's eluded him the past 26 years by driving for storied Hendrick Motorsports next season.
The 49-year-old Martin has run a partial schedule the past two seasons, a move he said allowed him to 'catch his breath' while rekindling his passion for racing. So when Rick Hendrick offered him the seat in his No. 5 Chevrolet, Martin jumped at the chance to run a full schedule in 2009 in pursuit of the Sprint Cup title.
'It just was an opportunity that I absolutely could not, I just couldn't let it go by,' Martin said. 'At this point in my life, I was very concerned about regretting it for the rest of my life.'
Martin has won 32 races in 710 career starts that began in 1981. A perennial title contender, he finished second in the standings an agonizing four times, including his runner-up finish to Tony Stewart in 2002.
He considered retiring at the end of the 2005 season, but was coaxed back for one final season with Roush Fenway Racing. He finished ninth in the standings that season.
Menard, Martin up front for Coke Zero 400
Although Dale Earnhardt Inc. might not be a championship contender, it showed Friday it still can be a force at Daytona International Speedway.
DEI swept the front row in qualifying for tonight's Coke Zero 400 and ended up with three drivers in the top eight positions.
Paul Menard won the pole when he covered the superspeedway with a fast lap of 185.916 mph, just ahead of teammate Martin. Rookie Regan Smith was eighth.
DEI's other driver, Martin Truex Jr., was well back in 35th. He was driving a backup car after his primary car failed inspection Thursday and was seized by NASCAR.
Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified third, followed by Joe Nemechek and Johnny Sauter. Series points leader Kyle Busch was ninth.
The Childress cars weren't as fortunate Friday. Kevin Harvick (14th) was the highest qualifier of the three, followed by Jeff Burton (23rd) and Clint Bowyer (25th).