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Martin leads rumor mill

The rumor mill around the garage area says Mark Martin may be waving the white flag on his career this season rather than the checkered.

Martin said at the close of the 2004 season, the 2005 race schedule would be his last. However, as his hand picked replacement, Jamie McMurray, sits on the fringes of Chase for the Cup pack, McMurray’s current car owner, Chip Ganassi, looks less and less likely that he’ll sever ties with the driver early.

That’s not Mark Martin’s problem, right? Wrong.

Mark Martin has a reputation as a lot of things and loyal is one of them. If McMurray can’t get out of the No. 42, Texaco ride early, I’d be shocked if Martin didn’t make a few more laps around the track until McMurray’s contract expires after the 2006 season.

It’s not like Martin is a dinosaur on the track. He’s currently seventh in the point standings and is a solid threat to take the Nextel Cup.

Speaking of drivers on the move, Michael Waltrip will be looking for a new ride next season as he and DEI have opted to part ways.

With hotshot young driver Martin Truex Jr. itching to move up to the Nextel Cup series with Dale Earnhardt Inc. next season, Michael Waltrip wasn’t willing to take a back seat with the team that helped him get his first and only career wins.

Many say the team’s shakeup following last season – at the urging of Dale, Jr. – strained the two’s relationship. Now, it looks like they might be right.

There’s still several good years of racing left in Michael Waltrip and with no one named to fill Rusty Wallace’s vacant drivers’ seat, and several other choice vacancies likely to open up at the season’s close, Waltrip could land on his feet.

The Nextel guys pull into Pocono this week for their second and final race of the season at the Pennsylvania track.

Have you ever seen that just-miss face plant Carl Edwards calls a back flip? If not, you stand a pretty good chance of seeing one this weekend.

Edwards took his second career Nextel Cup checkered flag at the mountain track earlier this year – his first race ever at the track – and could use a win to claw back into the Chase for the Cup.

However, there are plenty of drivers in a similar spot, all of which need those points to make a little cushion before the chase begins or to the crack the 400-points behind the leader to qualify for the chase.

Jimmie Johnson swept the Pocono races last year and could desperately use a win to fend off Greg Biffle, who is charging fast at his heels for first place in the standings.

This is not Biffle’s best track. He finished 30th at Pocono earlier this season and his fourth place finish in 2004 was a career high.

With a strong finish, Johnson could really separate himself from the pack before the chase kicks in.

The Pennsylvania 500 starts at noon Sunday and will be televised on TNT. My pick to win this race is Mark Martin, which would be his first career win at the track. In 36 starts, he has 17 top-five finishes and has finished second six times, including last August.