DAYTONA BEACH — Mark Martin just didn't want regrets.
So three years after he planned to retire from full-time racing but was talked into another year by then-boss Jack Roush, a year after he agreed to run a part-time schedule for a Ginn Racing team that was bought by Dale Earnhardt Inc., Martin, 49, said he will join powerful Hendrick Motorsports for one final attempt to win his first Sprint Cup championship.
Martin, second in points four times in a 26-year career, will replace Casey Mears in the No. 5 Chevrolet to create what his new crew chief, Alan Gustafson, described as "the best driver lineup that's ever been."
Hendrick, which has 29 wins since 2006, will have four-time series titlist Jeff Gordon, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, two-time Nationwide series champ Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin, a 35-time Cup winner.
"He will make our company better," Rick Hendrick said.
Hendrick said Mears was not fired for 2009 to make room for Martin but admitted he has tried twice before to hire Martin.
"I didn't really think that it was going to be a full schedule for a while," said Martin, who signed a two-year deal. "But this is a big deal to me. It's not something you could recreate. I told (wife) Arlene when we talked about this, I'm pretty sure that the last breath I took on my death bed would be, 'I should have drove Rick's car when I had the chance.' I didn't want to do that or regret that until the last breath I took."
Martin is scheduled to run a partial schedule in 2010. Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill, who drive for Earnhardt Jr.'s Nationwide series team, are potential partners.
NATIONWIDE: Denny Hamlin held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to win Friday night's Winn-Dixie 250. Hamlin held on after rookie Colin Braun's spin with two laps left forced a green-white-checkered finish. Busch couldn't challenge Hamlin, who got his third series win this year. JGR has dominated the series with 12 victories this year.
OLD TIMES: The ghosts of DEI, past, present and future, captured the top three qualifying spots for tonight's Coke Zero 400. Paul Menard won the pole with a lap at 185.916 mph, followed by Martin and Earnhardt Jr.
TIRESIDE CHAT: NASCAR chairman Brian France held a mid-season "state of the sport" discussion. The highlights:
• An "improved" drug-testing policy will be done within six weeks.
• NASCAR has interviewed 25-30 people in investigating conduct alleged in former official Mauricia Grant's $225-million harassment suit. He continued to defend the series. "It's a lawsuit and lawsuits take a life of their own, and it's going through the court system," he said. "My own experience through lawsuits over many years is by the time the facts catch up to the actual lawsuit they're usually a whole lot different than the claims that are made on the front end when you're after a lot of money."
• Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican counterpart John McCain have been invited to races. "NASCAR has historically been a place where politicians have come to interact and be noticed by our fans and just be a part of our sport," France said.
• NASCAR convened a group of environmental "heavy artillery" in Sonoma, Calif., two weeks ago to discuss "green initiatives."
Times wires contributed to this report.