NASCAR: Stewart-Haas Racing and Mark Martin's Top Potential 2012 Destinations

Luke KrmpotichContributor IISeptember 8, 2011

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 05:  Mark Martin, driver of the #32 Dollar General Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)
John Harrelson/Getty Images

Even Mark Martin has no idea what he'll be doing in 2012.

He's not worried about his future, even though 2011 is the last year of the 52-year-old Martin's three-year stay with Hendrick Motorsports.

After a checkered (but championship-less) career with Roush Fenway Racing, Martin spent 2007-08 in semi-retirement. Believing he still had more in the tank, he returned to the Cup Series full-time to drive the No. 5 car for Rick Hendrick in 2009.

Martin had a magical first year in which he scored five victories and seven poles. He ran second to teammate Jimmie Johnson in a close-fought battle for the championship, the fifth runner-up finish of Martin's Cup Series career.

However, the last two seasons have been disappointing for the veteran Martin. He missed the Chase, and scored just seven top five's and 11 top 10's in 2010. So far in 2011, Martin has just two top five's and seven top 10's, and will once again miss the Chase.

So where does Martin go from here?

He's unlikely to take on another year of the demands of a full-time Cup schedule, although he hasn't ruled out that possibility entirely. Martin has 49 career Nationwide Series wins and could decide to move to that series next year. He has indicated that he would prefer to continue driving in some capacity rather than seek some type of team ownership.

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Here are Martin's top three options for his NASCAR involvement in 2012:

Roush Fenway Racing

David Ragan is likely on his way out at Roush Fenway Racing after this year's season finale. It's been speculated that Martin could return to Roush for one last go at a title.

I don't think that's a likely scenario. It's hard to win a championship when coming into a new team (although Martin nearly did so in 2009), and even harder to win without knowing how long you'll be around. Martin is satisfied with what he's done over the course of his career and knows his best chances to win a title are now past.

However, I do believe there is one scenario in which Martin could return to his old ride in the No. 6 Roush car.

RFR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been impressive in the No. 6 Nationwide car this season. The 23-year-old Stenhouse Jr. has two wins and three poles while leading the championship standings.

Undoubtedly, Jack Roush would like to move him to the Cup level before long, but making the jump to Cup in 2012 may be a bit premature. Stenhouse Jr. has just one Cup start on his resume and could use another year in the Nationwide series to mature.

Enter Mark Martin.

Martin has a history of mentoring young drivers, so why not drive a part-time Cup schedule while tutoring the up-and-coming Stenhouse Jr.?

BRISTOL, TN - MARCH 20: Team owner Jack Roush and Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet talk during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 20, 2009 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo b
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Roush Fenway would provide Martin with top-notch equipment and the opportunity to win while not enduring the rigors of a full-time schedule. Stenhouse Jr. would have another year to mature in the Nationwide Series while becoming familiar with the Cup cars under the guidance of Martin.

It's a win-win scenario for all involved.

Stewart-Haas Racing

This opportunity would offer Martin many of the advantages as a move back to Roush Fenway.

Danica Patrick will be driving in several Cup events for SHR in 2012, and team owner Tony Stewart has said he'd like to keep Patrick's car on the track (and in the top 35 in owner's points) when she's not driving it.

This could be a perfect fit for Martin.

He'd get to race in cars capable of winning while mentoring Patrick. Martin has given Patrick help in the past and probably would enjoy helping her as she makes the full-time jump to NASCAR from open-wheel cars.

This is the most likely scenario for Martin, as Stewart himself recently said he'd like to see Martin share seat time with Patrick in a SHR car in 2012.

Turner Motorsports

If Mark Martin just wants to kick back and have fun in 2012, moving to the Nationwide Series with Turner Motorsports might be his best bet.

Why move to a lower series, and why choose Turner Motorsports?

Martin has a recent history of racing with the team. And as a matter of fact, Martin's last NASCAR win came in a Turner Motorsports machine at Las Vegas earlier this year.

If he moved to Turner Motorsports in 2012, Martin could run as many and whichever races as he wanted without any pressure at all. He'd be free to enjoy racing in a less stressful situation than the high-octane environment at Hendrick Motorsports.

Finally, he'd be almost guaranteed to reach two significant milestones.

First, although Martin may have lost the all-time Nationwide Series wins lead to Kyle Busch this year, he still could become just the second driver to earn 50 series victories. He's currently at 49.

Second with 40 Cup wins, 49 Nationwide and seven Truck Series victories, Martin is just four victories shy of 100 career NASCAR wins. He'd be unlikely to win four Cup races no matter what team he moved to, but four wins in the Nationwide Series with a top team is well within the realm of possibility.

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