Mark Martin is glad that speculation about his future at Hendrick Motorsports has ended following Kasey Kahne's Red Bull announcement this week.
The NASCAR veteran had been the subject of rumors about whether he would continue in the No. 5 car in 2011 after Hendrick Motorsports announced in April the signing of Kasey Kahne to take over from him in 2012.
Kahne had already committed to leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the year and Martin was questioned several times about the possibility of being asked to step aside for Kahne a year before the end of his current contract. The 51-year-old admits some pressure is off from his team now that Kahne's immediate future has been set outside of Hendrick Motorsports.
"As much as we would like it not to be, now that it's behind us, it does a feel a little lighter," Martin said. "So, I would say that we did the best that we could under the circumstances at managing all of that, and the air does feel a little lighter.
"We all really enjoy working together, and we've been doing a lot of that together, not just at the NASCAR events, but we're putting a lot of effort away from the events as well, and picking things up. It feels fun again. We hope to keep this positive momentum going forward."
Martin says the mounting speculation had affected his team, which is currently trying to secure a place in the Chase after being runner-up last year to reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson. He said a test this week following Kahne's news allowed the squad to regroup and focus on their current goal as Martin sits 12th in the standings, 10 points ahead of Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer with just four races left before the cut for the championship battle takes place.
"I think as hard as we tried to not let it have any effect on us, I think it did have an effect on how you feel," said Martin. I think it has an effect on how you feel – especially as it wore on. It was fine for a while, but it wore on a long, long time. It wore on [crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] as well and probably affected the guys on the car as well. It's really an awesome group."
The five-time Sprint Cup series runner-up believes his team needs to step up their performance if they are to make this year's Chase. Last season he won four races to rally back from a poor start to his season and be part of the season's playoff, while this year he is yet to win for the first time.
"I don't think we can make the Chase unless we go out and run strong," said Martin. "So what we do, we put our effort toward that. And then if we don't run really strong, it isn't because the effort wasn't in an offensive way. You know what I'm saying? So, if we don't go out and look really strong, it doesn't mean that we're playing defense; what we were really doing was our very best.
"And that's what we're going to do – put our best foot forward, put an enormous amount of effort into picking up our game, really more than last year, because last year we were on it so we were just refining what we were doing. This year we're really pushing hard to find a way to step it up."