CONCORD, N.C. – When Mark Martin arrived at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 he had one goal – win a race with the No. 5 team.
The then 50-year-old driver climbed behind the wheel of the No. 5 Chevrolet and wasted little time achieving that mission, winning just three months into the season at Phoenix International Raceway. Now three years later, Martin has capped off his Hendrick Motorsports career with a total of five wins, 23 top-five finishes, 42 top-10s and 10 pole positions during his 108 Cup starts for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I can’t believe I had the chance to drive for Hendrick Motorsports and win a race,” Martin said. “That was my hope when I signed the deal to go over there – that I would win one race. I got lucky and won more than one. It’s just been a great time.”
During his tenure at Hendrick Motorsports, the legendary driver added accolades to his already impressive NASCAR record. That 2009 win at Phoenix elevated him to become just the fourth driver older than age 50 to win a race in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. When he won again one month later at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, he became just the second driver over the age of 50 to win multiple races.
“I've worked with a lot of drivers and been around a lot of drivers,” team owner Rick Hendrick said. “He's probably as good as I've ever seen on a chassis, reading the chassis, knowing what he wants, and then knowing how to run the race. He's very, very focused. He's like a computer. When he sits down with those other drivers, he starts explaining his car, they listen.”
Martin’s impact extended beyond the team debriefs and into the NASCAR record books. While driving the No. 5 Chevy, he surpassed several milestones in the sport. Martin recorded his 1,000th start in a NASCAR sanctioned event at Bristol in August 2009. In the April 2011 event recently at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, he made his 800th career Sprint Cup start. And with his pole positions at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, he improved his career total to 51 and took over eighth on the all-time Sprint Cup pole list.
During his time at Hendrick Motorsports, Martin worked with crew chief Alan Gustafson from 2009 and 2010. In 2011, he partnered with crew chief Lance McGrew, and the duo recorded 10 top-10 finishes, scoring a season-best runner-up result in the spring event at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with Mark,” McGrew said. “He’s a true legend and an amazing ambassador for the sport. Not everyone can say they’ve had the opportunity to work with a legend; I can.”
But Martin believes he’s the fortunate one. Driving the No. 5 Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports’ oldest car, and partnering with Hendrick and the team has been an honor for the NASCAR veteran.
“Hendrick Motorsports is just an amazing, amazing race team,” Martin said. “And what makes it that way are the people who are there. These last three years of my career have been incredible. It was so flattering to me when Rick (Hendrick, team owner) hired me and made me a part of this group of drivers. Jeff (Gordon), Jimmie (Johnson) and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) have been great teammates and friends of mine.
“Working with Rick – I’ve gotten the chance to know him on a more personal side. His people skills are incredible and what he’s built with this race team is something he should be very proud of. The fact that, when I look back on the wins in my career, that I had the opportunity to earn five of them with Hendrick Motorsports, is something I’ll always treasure.”