The chance of securing the coveted NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship may be in Mark Martin's rear view mirror as his full-time Cup career winds down.
In 2009, the NASCAR statesman finished second to four-time NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the title.
The driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet is currently ranked 11th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.
This upcoming Sunday, Martin heads to Michigan International Speedway for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream 400.
Martin has found success at this track, with five wins, 17 top-five finishes, and 29 top-10's, for an average of 13.2.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver has performed well this year, but is not the dynamo we saw in 2009.
Next year holds less promise, even if Martin's insistence that he will drive the HMS No. 5 is correct. The pressure to win in 2011 may be his Achilles' heel.
Martin knows 2011 is his farewell full-time ride with Hendrick Motorsports if we believe things will remain status quo with that organization and its roster of drivers.
The driver of the No. 5 Chevy spoke of his Hendrick ride prior to the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
He stated, "These guys wanted me to drive it for 2012. I came here (in 2009) and it was a little bit of a stretch to do one full-time season. I gave them three. It's been the gift of my career. One of my biggest concerns has been who was going to be the successor."
Well, that question was answered when Rick Hendrick signed Kasey Kahne to drive for HMS in 2011. The problem still lingers as to exactly what car Kahne is going to drive next year.
According to Martin, Kahne won't be in the No. 5 GoDaddy.com car.
Martin has great chemistry with his crew chief, Alan Gustafson.
Earlier this year Gustafson stated, "I've got an opportunity to win a lot of races and win potentially two championships with Mark Martin.
Should Martin fail to win or finish in the top positions at MIS, his drive to the Chase may start hitting even more pot holes at tracks on which he is not as strong.
Next year, he will be a lame-duck driver for Hendrick Motorsports. Drivers in that situation seldom celebrate a banner year.
This upcoming race at Michigan International Speedway may give Martin an opportunity to exercise his expertise in fuel economy.
He won the June 2009 race in Michigan by saving fuel, but in August, he led 26 laps, ran out of fuel, and crossed the finish line in 31st place.
The next pole position Martin can attain will be his 50th. He has never had a pole at Michigan International Speedway.
Gustafson is bringing the HMS chassis No. 5-523 for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream 400. It is the same chassis used last June, when Martin won at Michigan.
In the Hendrick Motorsports press release, Martin said, "Our performance may not be as good as last year right now, but the team is better than it was a year ago. We work together better and the effort is even stronger than before."
Michigan International Speedway is a two-mile track with 18 degree banking. The wide turns provide three and four grooves for the drivers on this fast track.
Mark Martin, beloved by many NASCAR fans was certainly the sentimental favorite for the Cup Championship in 2009. He turned a terrible start into a rally that took him to second place in the final points for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
Fans want Martin to roll into the Chase and finally secure that elusive championship, but odds are he may be at the bottom of those in the final 12, if he gets that far.
Competition is fierce and the chance of disastrous finishes with "have at it" and green-white-checker repeats have changed the racing dynamics this year.
A fast car, good mileage, and reliable finishing positions may not be enough to enable Martin to make the Chase, let alone win the championship.
For Mark Martin, luck may be his best friend at Michigan International Speedway. A win is important to pull him up in the points and create momentum that can carry him to the Chase.
Sad to say, Mark Martin may have already missed his opportunity to secure a NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.