Mark Martin never used the word "retire," but it's clear next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway might the last time he competes in a Sprint Cup race.
Speaking with reporters following his qualifying lap Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, Martin made it known he has no plans to find a ride for the 2014 season or beyond.
"I worked really, really hard the last 10 years to continue to be a formidable opponent in the garage, and from time to time when stuff was right, I was able to do it," Martin told NASCAR.com after his qualifying lap. "And I'm proud of that. But it's time for me to open a new chapter and do some other things."
That Martin, 54, is stepping away is not a surprise, as it's something he's openly discussed in recent years. He competed full-time in Cup from 1988 to 2006, but reduced his schedule and drove part-time the next two seasons before returning to a full slate of races from 2009 to 2011.
Since leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the 2011 season, Martin has driven a limited schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing and joined Stewart-Haas Racing in August, filling in for the injured Tony Stewart. But this season has been a struggle for Martin. He's started 26 of 34 races with one top-five finish and five top 10s, and hasn't finished better than ninth since assuming driving duties for Stewart 10 weeks ago.
"Father Time does take its toll on every single sense you have," Martin said. "Your hand-eye coordination, everything is affected as you get older. And at some point in time, that decline becomes a detriment to you. You can work as hard as you want, you can maybe run good, but you're fighting Father Time. That's different for anyone.
"I feel I can still drive a race car pretty fast, but I'm not the driver I was at my peak. And I know it. Maybe for a while I didn't, but I know it."
However, Martin doesn't plan to disappear completely. With Stewart still recovering from a broken leg sustained in an Aug. 5 sprint car crash, Martin will drive the No. 14 car in January Daytona testing. He will also attend various SHR test sessions where he will provide feedback.
"It's exciting, because I get to be involved in racing, and I love it so much," Martin said. "But I don't think I'm going to miss being a race car driver, because I got to do that, and I was really good at it. And it's not fun for me if I'm not real good at it. It's only fun for me when I'm able to have a shot to put my number at the top of the scoreboard. That's what's fun. That's what drives me."
Martin has amassed 40 wins in 880 Cup starts and five times has finished runner-up in the championship standings.