Mark Martin is unquestionably NASCAR's best driver to have never won a championship.
As the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season quickly approaches, there are still questions surrounding the future of the sport's greatest driver to have never won a championship.
Mark Martin does not have a ride for the upcoming season, and there is a good chance that his driving career may unceremoniously be over. He will test for Stewart-Haas Racing throughout the season, but as far as competing in any events, no one seems to have a definitive answer.
If Martin's career is in fact over, he finishes with 40 career wins, 56 poles and five runner-up finishes in the season-long championship standings.
Though he has never won a NASCAR championship, Martin has enjoyed plenty of success and achieved a plethora of memorable moments throughout his racing career.
There have been near misses, emotional victories and a handful of surprising seasons.
In the slides ahead, I will take a look at the 10 most memorable moments from the storied career of Mark Martin—one of NASCAR's best, and most respected, competitors.
The 2005 season was supposed to be Mark Martin's final year of Sprint Cup competition. In honor of his pending retirement from the sport, he dubbed the season the "Salute to You" tour as a thank you to his fans.
Little did anyone know at the time, his career would continue on for nearly another full decade.
When the series stopped in Charlotte for the annual All-Star Weekend, Martin's goodbye tour was already in full swing. He had scored five top-10s through the first 11 events and sat 10th in the championship standings.
Following a caution with 20 laps remaining in the event, Martin, on four fresh tires, exited the pits second behind Elliott Sadler, whose team chose to change just two tires.
When the field took the green flag, Martin got a great jump on the outside and pulled ahead of Sadler for the race lead. After holding off an early charge from Jimmie Johnson, the race would be decided between the two drivers that restarted on the front row.
While Sadler valiantly attempted to catch Martin, the ageless veteran was able to hold him off and win his second All-Star Challenge, in what we all thought was his final one.
The paint scheme that Martin drove in the event made the win more memorable. It was a throwback scheme using the colors of his old Valvoline sponsored cars.
Not knowing at the time, that he would be back in the car on a full-time basis the next season, Martin excitedly came over his radio on the cool down lap and told his team, "I'll be back next year if y'all give me a ride!"
Mark Martin dominated the Truck Series in 2006.
Not wanting to run a 36-race season any longer, Mark Martin planned to run a full-time schedule in the Truck Series in 2006, following his retirement from Sprint Cup competition.
His plans changed when team owner Jack Roush needed a driver for the No. 6 car in the Sprint Cup Series. Martin agreed to return for one more season, all while still competing in select Truck Series events.
In total, he participated in 14 of the 25 events on the truck's schedule. Not only did he compete in the series, he dominated it.
Martin was a six-time winner in truck competition, including the season-opening event at Daytona. He led 661 laps of the 2009 races that were run while he was on the track. Martin posted 12 top-10 finishes and ended the year 19th in the standings all while skipping 11 events.
As strong as Martin ran during his limited schedule, one can only wonder what he could have accomplished had he competed in all 25 events.
Mark Martin joined Hendrick Motorsports for three seasons beginning in 2009. That year marked his return to full-time competition in the Sprint Cup Series after running a limited schedule each of the previous two seasons.
In the eighth race of that year, at Phoenix International Raceway, Martin scored a very popular victory. He started the race from the pole (his third of the year) and dominated the event. Following a late-race caution, he easily got around Ryan Newman's car and cruised to his first win in three-and-a-half years.
When Martin got to Victory Lane, the moment became even more special. As he was addressing the media, many of his competitors made their way over to congratulate him on the win.
Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Jack Roush, among many others, all wound up in Victory Lane with Martin to celebrate his win.
The win in Phoenix would jump start the rest of the season for the then-50-year-old-driver (more on the entire season later).
Mark Martin's Sprint Cup career got off to a slow start. Following some unsuccessful attempts in the sport in the early and middle parts of the '80s, Martin's career was given new life by start-up owner Jack Roush.
Martin and Roush teamed together for the first time in 1988 and produced mixed results. Martin posted 10 top-10s on his way to a 15th-place finish in the standings.
The 1989 season began much the same way that the previous year had gone. Through four races, they were just 18th in the standings with only one top-10 to their credit.
Then something clicked.
Martin won four poles and finished sixth or better in the next seven events and worked his way up to third in the championship standings.
Martin spent the rest of the season bouncing around between second and fifth in the standings, and when the series arrived at Rockingham late in the year, he earned his first career win in the series.
Martin led 101 laps that day, including the final 77. It was just the second time in his career that he led at least 100 laps in a single race.
The win was also the first of 133 for Roush.
Mark Martin during the 1990 season.
Following Mark Martin's breakout season in 1989, he became a favorite to challenge for the series title the following season. Not only did Martin challenge for it, he held the series lead for a majority of the year.
After a disappointing 21st-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Martin rebounded with his second career victory the following week at Richmond.
However, during post-race technical inspection, Martin's car was found to have an illegal carburetor spacer. This resulted in a 46-point penalty to Martin, a penalty that would prove costly later in the year.
After another disappointing race in the third week of the season, Martin turned things around for the rest of the year. Over the final 26 events of the season, Martin scored two more wins and never finished worse than 14th.
Following the year's 12th event, Martin took the points lead for the first time in his career. He would hold it until the second-to-last race of the season.
He finished 1990 second in the championship standings, losing by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt, meaning that had he not incurred that 46-point penalty earlier in the season, Martin would have earned his first series title.
Mark Martin is the all-time win and championship leader in the IROC.
Mark Martin may not have any NASCAR championships to his credit, but when it comes to the International Race of Champions, there have been none better.
The IROC was an All-Star type event where select drivers were invited to compete. The competitors all drove identical cars that were setup the same way to make the race nothing more than a test of pure driving ability.
The series ran from 1974 through 2006 (except for 1981-1983) and typically consisted of four races per year.
Martin competed in the series 12 times in his career for a total of 47 races.
In that time, he compiled 13 victories and was the series champion five times. Both are IROC records.
When talking about Mark Martin and his Nationwide Series career, it is impossible to pick a single moment that stands above the rest, so I am going to cheat a little, and select his entire career in that series.
When it comes to NASCAR's second-tier series, Martin was Kyle Busch long before there was a Kyle Busch.
From 1992 through 2000, Martin dominated the Nationwide Series. He never ran more than 15 races in a single season, but when he did show up, there was a better-than-average chance that he was going to win.
In total, Martin was a 49-time winner in Nationwide competition. In 1993, he set a personal best with seven wins in one year.
His first win in the series came in 1987, the only time that Martin ran a full-time schedule. He finished that season eighth in the standings. His most recent win came at Las Vegas in 2011, driving for Turner Motorsports. He led just a single lap that day, but it was the most important one.
Following that most recent victory, Martin's 49 career wins were a series best. That record has since been broken by Busch (who now owns 63 Nationwide Series wins).
When trying to describe Martin's Nationwide greatness, the 2000 season probably sums it up best. That year, he competed in 13 events driving for Jack Roush. He won five times, finished inside the top 10 in all 13 races and had an average finish of 2.2.
There is no denying that in the 1990s, it was Martin that was the original ringer in the Nationwide Series. One can only imagine how great his statistics would be had he ever run full time.
2009 was a magical season for Mark Martin. After spending the previous two years driving on a part-time basis, he joined Hendrick Motorsports driving the No. 5 car.
The season could not have started any worse than it did, and Martin's return to full-time competition appeared to be a mistake. His first four finishes driving for Rick Hendrick were 16th, 40th, 40th and 31st. The 31st-place finish at Atlanta came after Martin won the pole earlier in the weekend; his first pole since May 2001.
Martin was 34th in the point standings after the first four weeks of the season.
Martin's year turned around the following week at Bristol. He won his second consecutive pole and finished sixth. This began a run that saw him finish seventh or better six times in the next seven events, including his first two wins since 2005.
His second win of the year, a night race at Darlington, moved Martin all the way up to 11th in the standings and earned him his first multi-win season since 1999.
As the season progressed, Martin won two more events and qualified for the Chase, starting the postseason as the top seed based on his four regular-season victories.
His dream season continued into the playoffs by winning the first race of the Chase at New Hampshire. He finished inside the top 10 six more times in the postseason and ultimately finished the year ranked second in the standings to his teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Martin ended the year with a career-high seven poles. His five victories were the second most of his career in a single season, and his 14 top-fives were the most in a year since 1999.
2009 was Martin's fifth runner-up finish in the standings. While not statistically the best season of his career, at 50 years old, 2009 may have been the best overall year Martin has ever produced.
Mark Martin has won 40 times in Sprint Cup competition. In 1998, he set a career high with seven wins in one season.
None of those seven wins that year, or any of the other 33 in his career, were more memorable, or emotional, than his win at Bristol in August.
Just two weeks earlier, shortly after finishing second in a race at Watkins Glen, Martin's father Julian was tragically killed when the small airplane that he was piloting crashed in Nevada.
There was some question as to whether or not Martin would compete the following weekend in Michigan. He did, and while he was clearly the sentimental favorite to score the win, he ended his day with a fourth-place finish.
While Martin desperately wanted to win that race to dedicate it to his father, he earned that opportunity just one week later.
Martin led a race-high 190 laps on the half-mile oval, including the final 181. It was a dominant late-race performance under less-than-ideal circumstances.
When doing his post-race interview, the usually subdued Martin appeared to be fighting back tears as he dedicated the win to his family.
For any Martin fan, this win is one that will never be forgotten because of the sheer emotion that is attached to it.
Unfortunately, the most memorable moment of Mark Martin's career is one that best defines the entirety of his Sprint Cup career—a near miss.
The finish to the 2007 Daytona 500 is a classic and is one of the best race finishes in NASCAR history.
With two laps remaining, Martin led the field to a restart. He immediately protected the bottom of the track with the rest of the cars lined up behind him.
As the pack stormed to the white flag, Kevin Harvick was the first car to jump out of line from his seventh-place running position. When they got to the end of the backstretch, Harvick had made it up to third place when second-place running Kyle Busch tried to block.
The move cost Busch some momentum and allowed Harvick to power by into the runner-up position.
Coming off Turn 4, Busch and Matt Kenseth, running third and fourth, made contact that sent both cars spinning. As the rest of the field piled into the melee, Martin and Harvick were left to duke it out in a side-by-side drag race to the finish.
The two drivers raced each other cleanly and never made contact. In the end, Harvick nipped Martin at the line by just .020 seconds.
The second-place finish is Martin's career best at Daytona.