Martin's career path could help Gordon in the future

CONCORD, N.C. -- Mark Martin success as a part-time driver in 2007 may indirectly prolong Jeff Gordon's Nextel Cup Series career.

Gordon said Thursday at Lowe's Motor Speedway that until he saw Martin's ability to compete for victories in a part-time deal, with legitimate sponsorship intact, he wasn't seriously considering it as an option.

He is now.

"I'll tell you this -- what Mark Martin has done is extended my career," Gordon said. "It's now going to make me look at, when I can't race full time in the Cup Series anymore, I might race part time.

"Every time I've ever thought about it, or talked to anyone about it, they throw out 'Hey, no sponsor would do that.' It's important for that 24 team to continue to race for championships. I'm not saying we could pull [a part-time arrangement] off, but it's something I'd at least consider now."

Gordon used the hypothetical scenario of Rick Hendrick seeking to groom an up-and-coming driver to replace Gordon in the No. 24 as an example of how this could happen. He said a situation like Martin's -- when a team wants to introduce a young driver at a steady pace -- would be the perfect opportunity to activate a part-time partnership.

"That's a scenario I could possibly see," Gordon said. "But I can't see that going for more than a year."

And it takes a special arrangement to pull it off.

"When you're in the prime of your career, and you've made a commitment to your team, to your sponsors, that's when it gets tricky and tough to juggle sponsors, to get them to commit the dollars to be competitive -- it's difficult to convince them you're not going to have your lead driver every weekend," Gordon said.

"I credit Ginn Racing and the US Army for working that out. It's amazing what they've done. Only a team like that could do that. They didn't have a Mark Martin before that, and they needed him to get to the next level, so they were willing to bend."

Marty Smith covers Nextel Cup racing for ESPN.com.