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Martin didn't miss Bristol a bit
He fell from first to seventh in the series standings but remains committed to his part-time schedule.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mark Martin gave up a spot in the show to watch it from home, and he wouldn't change a thing about his first weekend off in 622 NASCAR races.
Martin wasn't sure how he'd feel watching Sunday's race from Bristol Motor Speedway, but after dozing off twice during the 500-mile event, he realized he can live without racing.
"I never once wished I was out there," Martin said Monday. "When they started the engines, there was a few seconds there that seemed a little bit eerie to me. But that was the only time that it ever even crossed my mind.
"There was no anxiety whatsoever. I enjoyed watching the race. I nodded off once or twice during a commercial, but snapped right back up. It was just a wonderful weekend. I wouldn't trade it for a Nextel Cup."
It was the final hurdle Martin had to cross to know for sure that he can continue his plan of easing into retirement.
He tried to walk away from NASCAR's highest level, only to be pulled back into the 36-race schedule by former car owner Jack Roush.
Then Ginn Racing gave him a chance to set his own schedule, and Martin jumped at the idea of re-claiming part of his life back. But the pressure to abandon his partial-schedule plan mounted after a terrific start to the season put Martin on top of the Nextel Cup standings.
Five years ago, the pursuit of a championship would have consumed Martin.
After 19 years of chasing the Cup -- with four heartbreaking runner-up finishes -- Martin is finally at peace with what hardware he does have. Under no circumstance would he allow himself to be sucked back in for another run.
So he stuck with his plan to take last weekend off, knowing full well it was going to be the test he needed to figure out the rest of his career.
If his heart ached from being away from the track, and he lay awake at night regretting his decision, Martin would know he wasn't ready to walk away.
But if he could sit back and enjoy a rare weekend with the family, then Martin would finally be free.
He was free this week, never sounding more rested and relaxed.
"Some people maybe think I am not doing this by choice, and wonder why am I slowing down because the performance has been really well the last three or so years," Martin said. "I am not doing it because I still can't have a good day on the race track. It's just that racing has been first in my life for over 30 years, and I definitely had to make a change in that.
"The time has come to do that, and based on how I felt [Sunday], I am more excited than ever about my life."
Martin will continue being a regular citizen this weekend, when he plans to pick his grandson up in Tennessee then head to Arkansas for a party with his oldest friends. They'll gather around the TV in Batesville to watch the race at Martinsville Speedway, and Martin is convinced a few of his competitors would probably like to join him.
"Certainly this isn't something you would want if you were 25 or 35," he said. "But if you take a guy like Matt Kenseth and let him do this 13 more years, then see what he thinks. Or Jeff Burton, put him out there eight or nine more years.
"I am sure you won't see Tony Stewart in eight or nine more years. Although he might be eyeing a schedule like mine, him and Jeff Gordon both. There just comes a time when you have to stake a claim on your life, and mine is now."
Kyle Busch won Sunday's race at Bristol using the Car of Tomorrow and gave the vehicle a bad review.
"I can't stand to drive them," Busch said "It's hard to set up and it's hard to drive. I don't remember anyone complaining about the old ones. I told my team before the race that I hoped I could win it so that I could tell everybody how bad it is."