No Title Talk For Martin

Imagine if the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to take an early vacation this summer rather than playing for the NBA title.

Or if the Yankees won Major League Baseball's wild card spot, but owner George Steinbrenner ordered the team to skip the post-season because he was sick of the ongoing Alex Rondriguez-Joe Torre-Derek Jeter saga giving the team a bad name.

Ridiculous analogies to be sure, but NASCAR may soon have a similar situation on its hands as the race to its post-season continues.

Mark Martin is currently in the top twelve, good enough to qualify for the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" under this year's expanded field.

Despite running only a limited schedule, Martin has accumulated enough points to work his way into the group allowed to run for the title.

Despite being a whopping 663 points behind current leader Jeff Gordon, Martin is still considered among the sport's "elite," based on NASCAR's championship format.

One problem.

Martin has no plans on running for the title.

"I don't even want to," Martin said. "So if I was leading, like I was when I missed by first race, I still wouldn't. I don't want to."

You see, Martin has cobbled together a schedule to his liking, a shortened slate rather than the entire 36-race grind of the NEXTEL Cup circuit.

Ginn Racing has allowed him to basically pick and choose when and where he wants to race, a sweet deal that Martin refuses to amend.

"It’s a dream come true," Martin said. "You know, the stars just had to lineup just perfectly for this to work out for me and the Army and Ginn Racing. I don’t know what would have happened sooner in my career or a little later - it would have been too late. So I've got the best gig in NASCAR."

After more than 20 years as a Cup regular, Martin says he's just worn out from the length and grind of the schedule.

"The schedule they have today is overkill - especially after you've done it for 20 years," he said. "I'm very interested in moving on with my life without having to give up on part of the best part of my life and still be a part of that and move on with my life."

Forget the fact that with the schedule Martin has for Ginn in Cup as well as the part-time Busch and truck deals he's sign-up for he'll no doubt race more than 36 times this season.

Martin's steadfast decision to not run for a title puts NASCAR in a sticky situation (would the 13th place driver then get the nod?) and exploits a major flaw in the much-maligned "Chase" system.

On the one hand, without the "Chase" the championship story would be fast-approaching a non-issue with the Jeff Gordon roll and more than 400 points separating him from fifth place Jeff Burton.

The "Chase" guarantees a title run over the last 10 races.

But if someone like Martin can qualify for the post-season without running the full schedule, the precedent for others to do the same will be set.

Suddenly the NEXTEL Cup Series will be the PGA on wheels, with drivers picking and choosing when and where they want to run, knowing they too can take it a bit easy during the year and still be around for the glory run in the "Chase."

That's not what NASCAR, who loves to spout that "every race is an all-star race" wants to stomach. How do you sell fans tickets for a race at Pocono in August with the possibility Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon are playing in the Bahamas rather than racing that day?

Maybe this year is an aberration and there won't be a 600-plus differentiation between first and twelfth in the standings again.

Or maybe it's a trend and the "Chase," which I still support, needs to be tweaked yet again.

If that happens, NASCAR will have Mark Martin to thank - or despise.

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