Mark Martin doesn't want to drive race cars forever. But as long as he can compete at the highest level, he can't bring himself to walk away from NASCAR.
Martin said Wednesday he'll run a full season next year, his 22nd in NASCAR. He's in the first year of a two-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports, but 2010 was fluid and Martin had initially thought he'd run just a partial schedule next season.
But he's proven this season to still be at the top of his profession, ending a 97-race winless streak with last month's victory at Phoenix. At 50-years-old, he became the third oldest winner in NASCAR history.
"I'm in the best condition of my life," Martin said. "I'm recharged, and I'm motivated. Going to the racetrack every weekend is still really fun, and that's the key. There's more gas in my tank."
Martin will stay in the No. 5 Chevrolet, but sponsorship for next season has not been solidified.
After two seasons of partial schedules, Martin was talked into coming back this year for a full schedule by car owner Rick Hendrick, who offered the best equipment in NASCAR. Given an opportunity to compete for wins _ and possibly the Cup championship that has eluded Martin over his storied career _ Martin agreed.
The second year of the contract was supposed to be a partial schedule, possibly shared with Hendrick developmental driver Brad Keselowski. That part of the contract was amended this week to give Martin the entire year in the car.
"Week in and week out, Mark continues to be one of the best race car drivers in the world," Hendrick said. "He's already made an incredible contribution to Hendrick Motorsports and our entire company is excited about running another full season and winning races with him in 2010."
It's not clear how Martin's decision will impact Keselowski, who became NASCAR's newest Cup winner two weeks ago with a surprise victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
Keselowski drives full-time in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports. Under NASCAR rules, Hendrick is permitted to field a fifth Cup entry in seven races this season as a way to help Keselowski gain experience at the top level.
Keselowski also picked up an additional eight to 10 races with car owner James Finch, and drove Finch's car to the dramatic win at Talladega. It raised the profile of the 25-year-old protege of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Keselowski said he wants to run full-time in the Cup series next season.
But he also said he'd like to stay involved with Hendrick, and Martin's commitment to 2010 means Hendrick doesn't have a seat for Keselowski. It's possible Hendrick can still get Keselowski in a Cup car through one of his partners.