FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Mark Martin settled into a chair in the garage area at Texas Motor Speedway before practice Friday.
No, it wasn’t a rocker.
“I’m not going to retire,” the 51-year-old driver said.
Martin was speaking publicly for the first time since Hendrick Motorsports this week signed Kasey Kahne as his replacement in the No. 5 Chevrolet after next season. He ended any speculation that he planned to abandon his Hendrick seat early, or quit driving when he does get out of that car at the end of the 2011 season.
“I’m racing in 2012,” he said. “There will be an opportunity for me I’m sure that will be exciting and fun.”
Where Kahne will race next season is uncertain because Hendrick has drivers under contract for its NASAR limit of four cars — Martin, four-time defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kahne is in the last year of his contract with Richard Petty Motorsports.
Martin actually initiated talks with Kahne late last season about replacing him at Hendrick.
“I’m really, really excited. I’m so psyched about it and so relieved that we can go on and work on racing and not worry about Hendrick Motorsports and my team and everything else and what the future is,” Martin said. “We know it’s set. It’s a perfect scenario. Kasey Kahne is a really right fit for this organization.”
Kahne said the talks with Martin helped influence his decision and that he is not too concerned about the 2011 season. His new deal with Hendrick goes through 2014.
“I’ll work through it with Mr. Hendrick and figure out exactly what we need to do in ’11 that makes the most sense,” Kahne said. “They made a commitment to me and Rick said he’ll make sure it’s right. I took that as it will be a pretty good opportunity, a pretty good situation I’ll be in next year.”
The only thing certain is that Kahne will be with a Chevrolet team, and the most obvious option is Stewart-Haas Racing, which has a Hendrick alliance.
Stewart said Friday, though, that nobody has talked to him about that. But Stewart has said he would be interested in a third team “if the right opportunity, right driver and right sponsor came along.”
Martin is 13th in season points going into Sunday’s race at the 1½-mile, high-banked Texas track where Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon is the defending race champion.
Gordon is coming off consecutive top-three finishes, but hasn’t won since last April when he drove to Victory Lane at Texas for the first time. But even Gordon was talking about Kahne on Friday.
“He was a hot commodity. Other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. a couple of years ago, this guy, the fact that his contract was up, there were a lot of people that wanted him in their car,” Gordon said. “We’re excited to have him.”
With Martin talking about racing in 2012 and beyond, even though he’s not sure for whom or how much, it’s hard to imagine that at one point he wanted 2005 to be his last Cup season.
Jack Roush coaxed him back for another year when replacing Martin became complicated. Not ready to completely walk away after that, Martin found a part-time ride with new team owner Bobby Ginn, whose team then merged with Dale Earnhardt Inc., and ran 24 of 36 races in both 2007 and 2008.
“For me to consider going away from NASCAR and crawling under a rock for the rest of my life, that’s no longer in the equation. I love what I do and I love this sport,” Martin said. “You know since ’07 that has just grown and rebuilt and I recognize that now and it’s a part of everything that I am made of. It is part of the fabric.”
Hendrick offered him a full-time ride for 2009, when he won five times and finished second in points to teammate Johnson. It was the fifth time he was the season runner-up in his career that began in 1981.
“It was a little bit stretched to do one full-time season. I give them three. It’s been the gift of my career that Hendrick Motorsports has given me,” Martin said. “One of my biggest concerns has been who is going to be the successor so that I didn’t knock them out of getting the very best A-No. 1 fit. That’s why I started talking to Kasey Kahne before anybody.”
Martin said he also talked to “real good buddies” Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth about the possibility of replacing him. But Martin said his former Roush teammates kept making jokes about it.
Kenseth, who is second in points 36 behind Johnson, said he’s “pretty happy” where he is.
“I know Mark’s having a great time,” said Burton, now with Richard Childress Racing. “He’s really enjoying being at the race track, being with the competitive team. He really respects the situation that he’s in. “