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Mark Martin: An appreciation, if this is the last time

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Mark Martin is NASCAR’s version of Brett Favre. Legendary, beloved, but always questioning when will be the right time to hang up his helmet.

Sure, he hasn’t been as polarizing, especially to one particular fan base.

But he has made a habit for the last decade of asking “Will I?” or “Won’t I?” about his racing in NASCAR for the following year.

Martin said last week that while he won’t use the r-word – retirement – he hasn’t accepted any deals to race in NASCAR in 2014.

Already we have one of his former owners questioning that statement. Rick Hendrick said this weekend at Phoenix “I bet he comes back,” in a story posted to

And the reasons are obvious. Even at 54, and he’ll be 55 in January, Martin remains one of NASCAR’s strongest, most motivated, and most popular individuals.

Beyond his driving, his workout routine is legendary; his love of good rap music appreciated by fans both casual and hardcore.

And on-track, he’s still at the top of the list when it comes to filling in, too. For 10 years, Martin has wrestled with the question of whether to give it up entirely, but teams have consistently sought his services.

He nearly won the 2007 Daytona 500 with unheralded Ginn Racing, missing out to Kevin Harvick by mere inches.

In his first full season in three years, in 2009, Martin won five races and finished second in the championship only behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. It was his best season in 11 years.

Just this year, Michael Waltrip Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing have called on Martin to provide a leadership role or fill the seat when one of their respective big names has got hurt.

Brian Vickers’ comeback to Cup for 2014 at MWR came with paying tribute to Martin’s mentoring. Tony Stewart – himself never one to dole out too many platitudes to his competitors – is in awe of what Martin’s been able to accomplish, and the perfect choice to fill in due to his own injuries.

Statistically, Martin’s 2013 will go down as one of his least successful in 31 years and more than 880 Cup starts. He’ll have started 28 of 36 races, with one top-five, five top-10s (unless he finishes well Sunday), and finished outside the top-25 in the points standings.

But stats, lately, don’t matter with Martin as much as what he means to the sport.

He’ll go down in history as one of the best drivers to have ever raced in NASCAR, even though he’s never won a championship, or a Daytona 500.

He enjoys a rare level of admiration and respect among his peers. He’s continued to press on in an era where younger drivers have taken over the sport in the last 10 years or so, and are poised to do so even more in the next 5-10 years.

His outpouring of support to the fans – rare did an interview pass when he didn’t take an opportunity to thank them – has been returned in spades. If it wasn’t for Bill Elliott or Dale Earnhardt Jr. hogging it, you can bet Mark Martin would have won multiple “Most Popular Driver” awards.

And on Sunday, he plans to hang it up after one last round of 400 miles.


And with Mark, it couldn’t be done any other way.

Hamilton regrets setup changes after qualifying second in Abu Dhabi

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain steers his car during qualifying at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. The Emirates Formula One Grand Prix will take place on Sunday.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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Lewis Hamilton was left ruing changes to his setup ahead of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after missing out on pole by three-tenths of a second.

For the sixth race in a row, Hamilton will start from P2 on the grid at the Yas Marina Circuit after losing out to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the final stage of qualifying.

Hamilton set the pace in both Q1 and Q2, but was unable to match Rosberg’s time in the final shoot-out for pole, leaving him to settle for second place once again.

“I’ve generally been struggling with the car a little bit all weekend,” Hamilton said after qualifying.

“We’ve been working really hard to make some changes and we had to take something off the car, but Nico was just really quick today and he did a really great job in Q3.”

“It generally gets a little bit better in the race. But it’s been for a while now, just struggling on the edge of the car.

“It was a lot more comfortable at the beginning of the year for me and coming into this weekend, I tried to make some changes.

“I disadvantaged myself with one of the things that I took off the car because it looked better. I tried to get around it but at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough.”

Hamilton may have clinched his third Formula 1 title over a month ago in Austin, but the Briton knows that victory in Abu Dhabi is key if he is to end Rosberg’s hot streak and cut some of the German’s momentum ahead of the 2016 season.

Rosberg: No revival, I’m just quicker than Hamilton right now

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Nico Rosberg’s impressive qualifying form continued on Saturday in Abu Dhabi as he secured his sixth consecutive pole position by edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the end of Q3.

Rosberg produced a stunning final lap in qualifying to take pole by three-tenths of a second to extend his hot streak and leave Hamilton to settle for P2 once again.

Despite losing the championship over a month ago, Rosberg has been the man to beat in recent weeks, prompting many to tip him for a renewed fight for the Formula 1 drivers’ title in 2016.

Speaking after qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday, Rosberg said that he is simply quicker than Hamilton at the moment and that his recent form is not a revival.

“Before it was close in the other direction and now it is close in this direction,” Rosberg said.

“I am quicker at the moment and I am very pleased about that. I am enjoying the moment and happy to be on pole again. There is no revival and I haven’t invented anything. It is just progress and that is it.

“Before it was always very, very close and Lewis had that one tenth edge. at the moment it is me that has the one tenth edge, today a bit more, but it was very close lately in the last two races.”

Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position means that he will start 2016 just two shy of the Ayrton Senna’s record streak set across the 1988 and 1989 seasons with McLaren.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Grosjean after Abu Dhabi qualifying gearbox failure: “S*** happens”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Romain Grosjean of France and Lotus drives during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean will start his final race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox issue brought an early end to his qualifying session in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Grosjean makes his last Formula 1 start for Lotus this weekend ahead of his move to Haas F1 Team for 2016, and had hoped to add to his haul of 49 points so far this season.

However, the Frenchman will face an uphill struggle in Sunday’s race after a gearbox issue forced him to park his car at the side of the track during qualifying.

Grosjean had aborted his first run in Q2 after Lotus identified the issue on his car and told him to pit, but opted to send him back out with two minutes remaining.

It proved to be a vain attempt to get Grosjean through to Q3, though, as the problem reared its head once again and forced him to stop on the run down to turn eight at the Yas Marina Circuit.

After the session, Grosjean was disappointed that his final qualifying with Lotus had ended in such fashion, but remains hopeful of an improved performance in Sunday’s race.

In the second Lotus car, Pastor Maldonado outqualified Grosjean for just the second time in 2015 after finishing 13th in Q2.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg takes sixth straight pole position in Abu Dhabi

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Nico Rosberg will start the final race of the 2015 Formula 1 season from pole position after setting the pace during Saturday’s qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.

Rosberg posted a fastest lap time of 1:40.237 under the lights in Q3 to secure pole by three-tenths of a second, edging out Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the dying moments of qualifying.

After trailing Rosberg in FP2 and FP3, Hamilton bounced back in the first two stages of qualifying by beating the German driver, but was unable to carry this form over into the final shoot-out for pole.

Hamilton managed to wrestle provisional pole back by going one-tenth of a second quicker than Rosberg with his final Q3 lap, only for his teammate to respond and take pole by three-tenths.

The result marked Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole position and sets him up perfectly for Sunday’s race at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen finished as the best-of-the-rest for Ferrari, edging out Force India’s Sergio Perez for third place on the grid with an impressive last lap. Perez will start from P4 on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Valtteri Bottas led Williams’ charge in sixth place ahead of teammate Felipe Massa in eighth, as they were split by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg. Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top ten in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen was unfortunate to miss out on a place in Q3 after being edged out by Sainz in the sister Toro Rosso by just four-hundredths of a second, leaving him 11th ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button. Pastor Maldonado finished 13th for Lotus ahead of Felipe Nasr as both struggled for pace to get close to a Q3 berth.

Romain Grosjean will start his last race for Lotus from 15th on the grid after a gearbox problem cut his qualifying short. The team told Grosjean to abort his first flying lap because of the issue, and a vain effort to get him out late on ended with the Frenchman parking up at the side of the track.

The biggest shock in qualifying came in Sebastian Vettel’s exit after the German driver backed off on his final lap, mistakenly believing that he had already done enough to make it through to Q2. A quick last effort from Grosjean dumped the German out in Q1, leaving him 16th on the grid for the start of Sunday’s race.

Vettel was joined in the dropzone by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso after his final run in qualifying was ended by a puncture on his rear-left tire. The Spaniard finished 17th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who also had an issue on his car, while Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the timesheets for Manor.

The result gives Rosberg a golden opportunity to round off a difficult 2015 season with a third straight win, and also means he will start 2016 with Ayrton Senna’s record of eight pole positions in a row within reach.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN from 7am ET on Sunday.