DOVER, Del. (AP) – Mark Martin keeps passing the caution flag on his road to retirement.

Once on the brink of stepping away from Nextel Cup racing completely, Martin not only hasn’t ruled out driving a part-time schedule next year, he’s thinking of a full-time comeback in 2008.

By next week, Martin might have a totally different plan for his future.

Martin would have been a great boxer, like the ones who retire only to step back in the ring for one comeback after another. While Martin has never stopped competing, he’s never stuck with any firm idea about his future. The only thing he does know is that he doesn’t seem to really know what he wants.

There’s only one way for the 19-year veteran to form a clear picture of his future: Step away.

“I don’t know what I want to do until I slow down and I’m not going to slow down unless I step aside,” Martin said.

Martin said he’s never missed a test session, a practice, qualifying or race over a distinguished career that’s brought him everything but a NASCAR championship. He was ready to retire at the end of last season until car owner Jack Roush talked him into one more year.

Feeling more like a rookie at times, Martin is glad he returned behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford. He qualified for the Chase and is in sixth place in the points standings – 75 behind series leader Kevin Harvick – heading into today’s Dover 400. The Monster Mile might be just the track for him to pick up the pace.

Martin has four career victories at Dover and five straight top-10 finishes, easily making this one of his favorite tracks. Martin hasn’t won a race all year and has 12 top-10 finishes. He has 25 career top-10 finishes at Dover, including four top fours in the last five races.

Another top 10, maybe a top five, will propel him right into the thick of contention.

“We’re right on the verge of greatness,” Martin said. “We could have the best year of my career, or we could have a good year. It could go any of those ways.”

Either way, this is the end of his career for now. Maybe.

Martin said he can’t picture any other scenario than driving in the Truck Series next year and about 10 to 12 races in the No. 60 Cup car, if he can secure sponsorship.

“My heart is not in a full-time Nextel Cup deal,” he said. “It wasn’t a year ago and they got my heart into it.”

Maybe not for next year. But in another twist to his wishy-washy feelings, Martin revealed Friday that he’s thinking about driving a full Cup schedule in 2008. Whew!

While he has no regrets about coming back for Roush Racing, he wants to be the only person in the driver’s seat the next time he makes any plans for the future.

“For 19 years, I’ve really done everything that they’ve asked me to do at Roush Racing, and going forward I’m having to keep reminding myself – what is it that I want to do?” he said.

Maybe Martin should shake one of those Magic 8-balls. Of course, he’d probably get, “Reply hazy, try again.”

About the only thing he is sure of? He wants to win at Dover and he wants to go out on top.

“I’ve been concerned all summer that we weren’t going to make the Chase and it was going to be sad because we had championship-type effort, but we just bumbled up so many things,” he said.

Not that many, not enough to derail any title hopes. Feeling at ease down the stretch, Martin said he’s had few restless nights this year and insisted he wasn’t stressed about the final nine Chase races.

Martin recalled how Rusty Wallace always told himself he was going to win before every race. Martin refuses to pump himself up that much because the disappointment would be too great when he failed.

“Disappointment has been a big part of my career and for me to deal with the disappointments that I have in my career, I can’t expect to win here Sunday,” he said. “I can’t deal with that.”

What the 47-year-old Martin can deal with is one more hard charge toward the title – about the only part of his racing future he’s absolutely sure of.

“I’m not talking a championship that much, I’m talking about trying to have a good time,” Martins said. “But if we fiddle around and win this race this weekend, the race is on for the Cup.”

And retirement will have to wait.

AP-ES-09-23-06 1516EDT

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