By Ken de la Bastide
CNHI News Service
---- — Almost quietly over the weekend as the Sprint Cup season came to an end three veteran drivers probably saw the end of their storied careers come to a close.
Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte may never strap themselves into the driver’s seat and don their safety helmets for the last time.
Martin will probably always be remembered as the best Sprint Cup driver never to win a championship with NASCAR.
But that fact should not detract from his Hall of Fame credentials. The Arkansas native win four titles with the American Speed Association national tour, five IROC titles, finished five times as the runner-up in the championship battle and recorded 40 victories.
Until Kyle Busch shattered his mark, Martin was the career win leader in the Nationwide Series.
During his years in competition Martin earned the respect of his fellow competitors and thousands of fans. I have had the opportunity to meet Martin several times over the years but the one that stands out took place at the Heartland Park road course in Kansas in the late 1990s.
Martin was attending the driver’s meeting before an ASA race and fans gathered around to catch a glimpse of their favorite drivers and to hope for an autograph.
Following the meeting Martin sat and signed autographs for any fan that waited to get his signature.
Back in those days I was an ASA official and asked Martin how long he wanted to sign autographs. His reply was simple, direct and showed his admiration for the fans. He would wait and sign an autograph for every fan that wanted one.
Martin will now serve as a mentor to Danica Patrick for the Stewart-Haas team. Patrick should pay close attention to the words of wisdom from the veteran driver Burton finished third in the point chase in 2000 and has recorded 21 wins over the years. He is now heavily involved with his son’s racing career.
Labonte was the 2000 Sprint Cup champion, the 1991 Nationwide Series champion and captured the IROC title in 2001. He also has recorded 21 Sprint Cup wins.
All three drivers will be missed by the fans and the racing community.
Thanks guys for the memories.
In other racing news: With the unexpected retirement of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti on the advice of medical doctors following his frightening crash at the season ending race in Houston, there is plenty of speculation as to who will Ganassi Racing will select to fill the seat.
Tony Kanaan, already signed by Ganassi Racing for 2014 has been mentioned as a candidate for the ride in the Target sponsored car. Others on the list include Ryan Bricoe, Alex Tagliana, Justin Wilson and Sam Hornish Jr.
If Ganassi Racing decides to still field three cars in the IZOD IndyCar Series next year, I hope they consider Simona de Silvestro. Simona has proven that she can compete on the street and road courses and is gaining experience on the ovals. She earned the admiration of many fans when in 2011 she suffered burns to her hands during practice for the Indianapolis 500. She still qualified 24th for the race IndyCar needs to keep Simona in a full-time ride for 2014 and there would be none better than in the Target car.