Casey Mears will not return to NASCAR's most star-studded team next season, Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday, opening the door for veteran Mark Martin to drive the No. 5 Chevy in 2009.
Martin, a likely future member of NASCAR's Hall of Fame, would join Hendrick's lineup of four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and the sport's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Martin was not mentioned in Hendrick's statement announcing Mears will not be back for the final year of his contract in 2009, but ESPN has reported the four-time Sprint Cup runner-up will drive for Hendrick next year, either full time or part time.
"We've put a ton of emphasis on the No. 5 program," team owner Rick Hendrick said in the statement. "It's been a team effort, and Casey has worked as hard as anyone to help us improve. We've tested more than we ever have, but the results just haven't come."
Mears' pending release wasn't the only development Friday. Greg Biffle, one of the top prospective free agents, agreed to a three-year extension with Roush Fenway Racing.
Biffle finished second in the championship in 2005 but has failed to make the Chase three out of four years. He is seventh this season.
"I have to admit, one of the key elements was the addition we made with Robbie Reiser," who moved from Matt Kenseth's crew chief to general manager, Biffle said. "I felt like we were making steps in the right direction by continuing to add engineers and people to go beyond just the crew chief and the nuts and bolts of the car, technically."
This was considered a make-or-break season for Mears, the 30-year-old nephew of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. He moved within Hendrick Motorsports from the hard-luck No. 25 team to the No. 5 car, which made the Chase the past two years with Kyle Busch.
Through 16 races, Mears has one top-five finish and ranks 24th in the standings. He has won once in 11/2 seasons with Hendrick, at Charlotte in May 2007.