Mark Martin likes a challenge
The reason Mark Martin will replace Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS for 12 of the final 13 races of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is that helps the team he’s joining, as well as Michael Waltrip Racing, the team he’s leaving.
Stewart has been sidelined since he broke both his right tibia and right fibula in a sprint car crash Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. On Monday, SHR announced that Stewart is officially out for the balance of the year, to be replaced by Martin.
The announcement came one day after Austin Dillon piloted the No. 14 SHR to a 14th-place finish in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Dillon will drive the car again at Talladega Superspeedway in October, with Martin taking over the remainder of the races on the schedule.
It’s a complicated deal in the sense that it required an awful lot of approvals:
• Michael Waltrip Racing had to release Martin from his contract to drive the No. 55 Toyota for the balance of this season.
• Toyota had to give its blessing to let Martin change manufacturers.
• Aaron’s, Martin’s sponsor at MWR, had to OK it, as did Stewart’s primary sponsors, Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1.
Such cooperation among fiercely competitive race teams, manufacturers and sponsors is unusual.
“Things like that are difficult to get worked out,” said SHR Competition Director Greg Zipadelli. “Everybody was very respectful of each other, I believe. It just seems to be a good fit for all of us. It’s about as close to a miracle as you could have happen in such a short period of time.”
It was team owner Stewart who pegged Martin as the first choice.
“I’ll be honest with you, it just kind of happened,” said Zipadelli. “Everybody was very cooperative. Michael Waltrip Racing — hats off to them for allowing Mark to help us out and them getting a jump start on next year.
“It was like, ‘Hey, you think this would ever work, Mark?’
“And he goes, ‘I don’t know. Let me go check.’ It was just that simple, that casual a conversation.”
“I think all the stars just lined up for this to work out because anyone along the way, including Mobil 1, Chevrolet or Bass Pro Shops could have probably stopped this from happening,” said Martin. “So there were so many pieces to this puzzle, it was a lot more complicated than it looked at face value. But the reason it was able to be worked out is because everyone was able to win in this situation.”
Indeed. Once everyone looked around, they realized it was good for all parties. SHR gets arguably the best available replacement driver in Martin; MWR can put Brian Vickers in the No. 55 for the end of the 2013 season in advance of him taking over that ride full-time in 2014.
“It's a really big deal for our organization to be able to get some more races in with Brian and the team as we prepare for 2014,” said team founder and co-owner Michael Waltrip.
In Martin, SHR is getting an extremely steady and capable fill-in. During his career, Martin has finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings five times, most recently in 2009. He has posted 40 race victories, 56 poles, 271 top-fives, 452 top-10s and 12,879 laps led in 870 career Sprint Cup starts. A total of 21 of those victories came at tracks where Martin will drive the No. 14.
Just as importantly, he’s driven with a wide range of teams — Roush Fenway Racing, Dale Earnhardt Inc. Hendrick Motorsports and Michael Waltrip Racing among them — so he should be able to transition easily into the No. 14 car. Or as easily as anyone can on such short notice.
Now comes the hard part: making it work.
“It is like jumping into ice cold water,” said Martin, who takes over from Stewart at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. “We're going to go into Bristol and we're going to have to do race setup, qualifying setup and qualifying all on Friday, boom. We don't get another crack at it on Saturday. We don't get another chance to think about it.”
But Martin said he’s up for it.
“It's going to be challenging, and challenges are good for me,” he said. “… My motivation for racing is not for points, it's for racing. I want to race, and I want to finish if I'm running 20th, I'll bust my butt to run 19th. And that's one more point, but it's for one more position. And I say that just trying to explain the fact that we will race as hard as we can race, and we will finish as high as we can in every race.”