Could Mark Martin be mulling a move back to Roush Fenway Racing, where he spent so many successful—but championship-less—seasons in the No. 6 Ford?
Many NASCAR purists were dismayed when Martin went to DEI, a Chevy team, in 2007. They were simply outraged when he went to archenemy Hendrick Motorsports in 2009.
These fans would likely be thrilled to see Martin back in Jack Roush's equipment in the twilight of his career. It sounds too good to be true, and Martin certainly has other options out there—possibly sharing a ride at Stewart-Haas Racing with Danica Patrick—but there are some good reasons a move back to RFR makes sense for all those involved.
David Ragan will likely be out at Roush Fenway following the season, despite finally earning his first career Cup win at Daytona this July. Ragan is about 20th in the points and isn't deserving of the top-level ride he's held down for the past five years.
Assuming Ragan is out of the No. 6, what will Jack Roush decide to do?
One option is to downsize to three Sprint Cup teams. But if Roush decides to do that, what kind of message will that send to up-and-coming drivers currently driving for the Cat in the Hat, such as Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.?
No, the more likely option is for Roush to stay with a four-team operation and move Bayne or Stenhouse Jr. to the No. 6 ride, assuming a free agent such as Brian Vickers or Clint Bowyer doesn't sign with RFR. And with apologies to Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has earned the title of heir apparent.
Does it make sense for Martin? Several factors make it great for all involved.
By splitting time in the No. 6 Ford, Martin could run most of the Cup schedule while mentoring Stenhouse Jr. Martin has often worked with young drivers, including Aric Almirola during his time at DEI in 2007-2008 and Danica Patrick over the last two seasons. Martin ran the races he wanted to run during those two seasons and nearly won the Daytona 500 in 2007.
Stenhouse Jr., for his part, is having a fine season in Nationwide competition. The 23-year-old is leading the points with a pair of wins and three poles.
But just last season he was struggling mightily and the status of his job was very much in question. He has limited Cup experience, with his long Cup start coming at Texas earlier this year.
Rushing a young driver to the Cup level occasionally works out, but more often leads to stunted development and a wasted talent. Look no further than Joey Logano for evidence of that.
Stenhouse Jr. could use another year of maturing in the Nationwide Series while making several starts against Cup competition. Having a mentor such as Mark Martin would be the perfect scenario for him as he continues his ascent to NASCAR stardom.
In addition, seeing Martin back in the No. 6 Roush car would be the coolest things in NASCAR in recent memory. Perhaps the younger NASCAR covets wouldn't recognize how special it would be, but the older generation would love to see Martin finish off his career where he started.
A major benefit to Martin would be the chance to step into equipment in which he could win immediately.
Instead of taking a step down from getting Hendrick's best in the No. 5 to receiving Hendrick hand-me-downs at Stewart-Haas (yes, I exaggerate slightly), Martin would be getting the Ford's best and a legitimate chance to go for race wins in the No. 6.
And you'd better believe the 52-year-young Martin still wants to win.
Martin knows his days of running a full schedule and contending for a championship are likely over, but he still has the drive and the ability to race at a very high level. The owner of 96 victories spanning the Cup, Nationwide and Truck series, Martin would undoubtedly like to reach 100 victories before handing over the keys and calling it a career.
Is Mark Martin back to the No. 6 the most likely scenario?
Perhaps not. But it would be good for all those involved, and if it were to happen, it would be one of the best NASCAR story lines to come along in quite a while.
A fairy tale ending to a great career, one could say.
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