FORT WORTH, Texas – Three may be a charm -- unless you're Mark Martin and your media availability feels like an inquisition.
Reporter 1: "Are you still set through 2011?"
"You know that," Martin said. "I don't know why you had to ask that."
Reporter 2: "Would you consider getting out of the car before 2011?"
"If I did, I wouldn't be driving it," Martin said. "So, no, I'm not sure why you don't understand. It's not clear to me why you don't understand."
Reporter 3: "Will you be behind the wheel of the No. 5 in 2011?"
"I'm going to race in 2012," Martin said.
Reporter 3: "In black and white, are you going to be behind the wheel of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet?"
At the start of day Friday, there was speculation whether Kahne would drive the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to avoid structuring a new team with a short shelf life. Martin was emphatic that was not the case. Martin initially approached Kahne last September about taking over his car in 2012, and the gesture seemed selfless. Martin wanted to provide his company and team with "the perfect scenario."
Martin said "three years is enough." But he also made a point of requesting the media not write he was retiring.
"I'm racing in 2012," Martin said. "There will be an opportunity for me, I'm sure, that will be exciting and fun and that I can help people. I feel like I have done that. I feel like I did that in the No. 01 and DEI and I feel like I've helped the No. 5 team realize that they can win races and contend for a championship.
"And so I'll find another opportunity that's exciting to me and I don't want to commit to that now, I want to make sure the Hendrick is set, and they are set."
Martin is invaluable to any program. He brings tremendous leadership skills to a team and is revered by his competitors. His drive and talent are undeniable. At 51, Martin is coming off the season of his career. His friend Jeff Burton refers to Martin as "an incredibly gifted driver."
"Nothing at all against Kasey, but it's hard to be better than Mark," Burton said. "What they've been able to do is maintain an exceptional level."
Although Martin seemed prepared to scale back three years ago, his tune has changed considerably from when he limited his schedule to 24 races in 2007 and 2008. There's no doubt racing in the most competitive equipment in the garage supported by incredibly talented people has made Martin exceptionally satisfied.
Martin's desire to remain active in NASCAR comes directly from his love of the sport.
"I love it with all my heart," Martin said. "If you compare all the other things I could do with my time, there's no comparison. It's like a 10 and a zero. There is nothing else I have found in my life that I can throw my passion toward and occupy my time that I enjoy as much and that I am any good at. I have had the time of my life racing in the No. 5 car."
Although Martin wouldn't speculate what he'll specifically do in 2012, his mind was on the future. On Friday, Martin broached the possibility of team ownership -- a topic not discussed since his son Matt retired from racing. Regardless, the options appear to be open.
"I am more open than I ever have been to other things in racing that would accompany driving," Martin said. "I'll drive and I might drive and consult or I might be an owner/driver, transition to an owner if there was another scenario as wonderful as Tony Stewart's.
"I have a lot of great friends in the sport. There are going to be plenty of things for me to do and be involved in the sport. But 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."
Moving on up
For the second week, Sam Hornish Jr. has improved his career-best qualifying effort. Last week at Phoenix, Hornish was third-fastest in qualifying. On Friday, Hornish laid down a lap of 191.232 mph and will start on the front row for Sunday's Samsung Mobile 500 alongside Tony Stewart.
Though Hornish has picked up his qualifying effort considerably, his finishes don't reflect the gains the No. 77 team has made in its third season. Hornish experienced mechanical failures at Atlanta and Bristol and was collected in a wreck at Daytona. Not being able to run those races in entirety has left Hornish sitting 30th in the point standings.
"We've had some problems being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Hornish said. "It's kind of been luck for a while. We just kept our heads up, kept doing what we needed to do. The good thing is at least our results were from bad luck, not running bad.
"We know what we're capable of doing. ... I just feel like we've learned a lot of things from the last year or so. We just need to finish some of these races."
Carl Edwards, who qualified 20th, has not led a lap in any of the seven races this season. In the final 22 events in 2009, he led just seven circuits. Maybe Edwards' luck will change at Texas.
In 10 starts at TMS, Edwards has led 476 laps. Only his teammate Matt Kenseth (497) has led more circuits among active drivers. ...
Tony Stewart posted his 11th career pole in 400 starts. It's Stewart's first pole in 155 races.
When free agent Kevin Harvick was asked if Hendrick Motorsports signing Kasey Kahne affected his plans, he replied:
"No. I'm happy to be at Texas. I love it."