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Is It Mark Martin's Turn in the Dog House at Hendrick Motorsports?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent INovember 24, 2010

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 12:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt Tools 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 12, 2010 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The stunning changes at Hendrick Motorsports may relegate lame duck driver Mark Martin to the dreaded No. 4 position in the pecking order at the organization.

Martin fought distractions for months this year after Kasey Kahne was signed to drive for Rick Hendrick, but with the maximum four teams, it appeared there was no place at the inn unless someone left.  The expected driver to be displaced was rumored to be Martin.

Finally, it was announced Kahne would drive for Red Bull Racing during the 2011 season and Martin's proclamations that he was not leaving the GoDaddy.com car or Hendrick Motorsports rang true.

Now Martin, who finished 13th in the NASCAR point standings this season finds himself being shifted to the slot previously occupied by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick stables.  Through the years it seems that fourth car was doomed to mediocrity regardless of the driver.

Martin also forfeits his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, who he worked with quite well and thinks a great deal of personally.  He now will have Lance McGrew as his crew chief.  The positive about that pairing is that Martin and McGrew should be able to communicate much better with set-ups on the car.

In 2009, Martin was runner-up to Jimmie Johnson, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.  Expectations for 2010 were high for the driver of the No. 5 Chevy, yet Martin failed to make the Chase.

Lame duck drivers traditionally have the cards stacked against them, and they find their final year with a team less than desirable.  Martin now finds himself in that position, with plans beyond 2011 unknown except that he says he still wants to drive.

This is a chance for the eternally optimistic Martin to surprise us all and have a great season in 2011 with his new crew chief, McGrew, being able to prove his value in that capacity.

Martin is a proven winner with 40 career wins and 428 top-10 finishes.  If he has his way, his final year will be one he can be proud of at Hendrick Motorsports. 

We can only hope he doesn't fall victim to being the one assigned to the dreaded fourth slot in the organization.  At least his former crew chief, Gustafson will be close by.

The Hendrick organization brags of their information sharing amongst the teams.  Let's hope the Chad Knaus magic rubs off on Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte and that Jeff Gordon will bond with Gustafson, while Martin will strike that hidden vein of gold with McGrew.

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