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Martin more at ease with Hendrick future secure
NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne takes his qualifying laps at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Friday, Aug. 13, 2010. Kahne has turned a lap of 187.183 mph, qualifying on the pole for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race. - photo by Associated Press

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Now that it's over, Mark Martin can admit that the speculation about his future at Hendrick Motorsports was weighing on him.

Confident that he'll be in Hendrick Motorsports' No. 5 car through the end of the 2011 season, Martin said the team mood feels much lighter this week.

"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," Martin said Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "It was fine for a while, but it wore on a long, long time."

Martin's place at Hendrick was subject to speculation after the team signed Kasey Kahne without having an open seat for next season.

Martin insisted all along that he wasn't going to be forced out a year early to make room for Kahne, and lashed out at reporters after facing persistent questions about his future. The situation was settled this week when it was revealed that Kahne will drive for Red Bull Racing next year, then go to Hendrick in 2012.

Martin said he regretted venting his frustration in public.

"I reflect back on how I reacted in Indy and regret what I said there," Martin said. "That came from the heart and not from the head. It was grinding on me, and I apologize for what I said and wish I hadn't said what I said. I should've just continued to hold on to the high road just a little bit longer, and it would've been all OK. Anyway, we're moving forward now."

Teammate Jimmie Johnson said Hendrick will benefit from knowing for sure that Martin will stick around for another year with a solid succession plan in place.

"I've always said that I've been in a very tough position as a driver at Hendrick Motorsports because Mark Martin brings so much to the table that I don't want to see him go anywhere," Johnson said. "At the same time we have Kasey Kahne, who is going to bring a ton to the table as well and be there to work with him and develop that relationship. I guess I always try to find the positive in things and we have two very good situations."

But that doesn't mean the NASCAR world suddenly will be free from speculation about the future of Martin, who once held a "Salute to You" tour to celebrate his impending retirement with fans. That was five years ago.

Now he'll definitely be out of Hendrick's No. 5 car after the 2011 season. But Martin, 51, doesn't know what he'll do after that and isn't in any hurry to decide.

"I'm going to let it ride pretty deep into next year, I think, before I make any kind of decision," Martin said. "Because I want to take the one that is most fulfilling to me, whatever that might be, whatever it entails. That's what I want to do."

Martin insists it is his choice to leave the No. 5 after next season.

"It's still looking too far forward to think about what might happen in (2012)," Martin said. "That was just too far out for me to make that type of commitment, so life's good right now."

And Martin made it clear that he doesn't hold any resentment toward Kahne — instead, he insists he cares deeply about finding a suitable replacement for a team he loves, and began recruiting Kahne before team owner Rick Hendrick did.

"I started talking to Kasey Kahne in September of '09," Martin said. "I don't think Rick Hendrick started talking to Kasey Kahne until February or March of this year. So he didn't even now that I was talking to Kasey Kahne about coming over there, and of course Kasey just kind of laughed a little bit about it and said, 'You'll never get out of that car.'"

Asked about Martin's unstable relationship with the concept of retirement, Kyle Busch noted that Martin isn't the only person in the sports world struggling with the issue.

"Brett Favre doesn't know either," Busch said.