Mark Martin's Metaphoric Fireball

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJuly 8, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 CARQUEST Auto Parts/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, drives down pit road on fire during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The terrifying fire bellowing from beneath Mark Martin's No. 5 Chevy at Daytona scared everyone but Martin.

Shoot, he wasn't even scared after the flaming car slid to a stop on pit road.

After the quick save, Martin said, "The fire was on the outside.  It wasn't inside.  It wasn't as bad as it looked.  No big deal.  I wish we hadn't been in that wreck."

It was stunning to see a crew member from the Lowe's team snatch Martin from the inferno in a bear-hug that left Martin's feet dangling above the ground.

Perhaps it was a metaphoric moment indicative of Martin's future at Hendrick Motorsports.  His feet won't be dangling, but his removal from the ride in the No. 5 Chevy looms ever closer.

At the end of the 2009 season in Homestead, Martin said, "I had more fun than anybody.  What else can you say, man?  I had a blast."

Martin's physical and mental conditioning allows the AARP cardholder to battle the younger hotshoes with intensity each and every week.  He has no doubt he will be in contention for the win at every NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Rick Hendrick orchestrated a realignment in the shop that houses car No. 5 and car No. 88 for the 2010 season.

His plan seemed to be firing on all eight cylinders as Martin sat on the pole for the Daytona 500 with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. beside him on the front row.

Now with the season half over and a mere eight races to the Chase, even with erratic performance Earnhardt Jr. and the Lance McGrew team sit in 11th place in the Sprint Cup points standings.  Martin follows two positions behind in 13th.

Perhaps the new togetherness is paying off for both teams as they hover around the magic number 12 for the Chase.

For Martin, performance has slipped from 2009 when he finished second to NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

In an odd twist from the first half of the season, Earnhardt Jr. has gained momentum, though luck has played a factor in his improved finishes. 

Junior has made it clear that the team has a lot of work to do and the same applies to Martin and his team led by Alan Gustafson.

The lingering elephant is still in the room.  At Daytona, Kasey Kahne said in a television interview that the pending announcement about 2011 would probably be in "another month."

The look on Kahne's face would lead one to think Kahne knows where he will be driving.  It is just all those other darn details that hold things up.

I would be remiss not to reiterate Mark Martin's insistence that he will drive the No. 5 Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports in 2011.

Until I see Martin in that car on the track at Daytona next February, I must continue to believe he will be elsewhere.

Kahne is under contract for 2011 to Rick Hendrick and will be driving a car at Hendrick Motorsports next year.  Martin is also under contract through 2011, but logic dictates the driver on the way out is the one to drive at a satellite team.

Martin will be well provided for in negotiations.  Keep in mind that Hendrick extended his contract to 2011 in the glory days of the 2009 season when Martin wanted to continue driving. 

Martin may have some deal with James Finch and his operation or he may show up behind the wheel of a Red Bull car.  It really doesn't matter because Martin will be satisfied with whatever the outcome is.

Mark Martin has had quite a ride and lots of fun.  He isn't done yet, and he will continue to contend for wins.

The flames that fire this driver have yet to be snuffed out.