Out for the season with a broken leg, Tony Stewart turned to one of NASCAR’s most respected drivers to take over the No. 14.
At 54, Mark Martin is up for the challenge of taking the wheel for his good friend.
”Hopefully, we can turn the 14 car back over to Tony an even stronger organization than what it was when he stepped away and got injured,” Martin said. ”That’s the thing that I really want to work hard to do, is when it’s all said and done with, I hope that they can look back and say they were glad that they had me as a part of the organization.”
Martin was released from his part-time schedule at Michael Waltrip Racing on Monday and will drive the No. 14 Chevrolet in 12 of the final 13 Sprint Cup races for Stewart-Haas Racing. Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, will miss the rest of the season while he recovers from the broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash Aug. 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway.
Nationwide Series driver Austin Dillon will drive the No. 14 on Oct. 20 at Talladega. Dillon filled in for Stewart on Sunday at Michigan and finished 14th.
Martin entered 16 of 23 races as part of a shared ride in the No. 55 with Michael Waltrip at Brian Vickers at MWR. Vickers, who won this season at New Hampshire, will now drive the No. 55 Toyota for MWR in 12 of the final 13 races. He was originally scheduled to drive just three more times. Waltrip will race the No. 55 at Talladega as previously scheduled.
Martin has 40 wins and 56 poles in 870 career Sprint Cup starts.
”My motivation for racing is not for points, it’s for racing,” Martin said. ”I want to race, and I want to finish.”
Martin gets his chance after Stewart’s injury cost him his shot at driving for a fourth championship. Stewart had one win this season and was a solid contender to make the Chase for the Sprint Championship. Martin will be the third driver in the No. 14 this season. Max Papis drove the Toyota in Stewart’s absence at Watkins Glen. The No. 14 car is 13th in the owner standings.
”Obviously, I’m disappointed to be out,” Stewart said in a statement. ”But the team is in very good hands with Mark Martin and Austin Dillon. Mark is someone I’ve looked up to my entire career and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. Austin is a great young talent, and he showed that Sunday at Michigan.”
Stewart is expected to return in time for preseason testing in January 2014.
”We expect a full recovery by Daytona or close to it,” said Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing. ”It may be able to be done earlier, it’s just not worth it. It’s a bad break to the leg, and he needs time to go through the process of healing, rehabilitation, all those things.”
Martin’s arrival was the only transaction SHR was ready to announce on a busy day of musical seats. Kurt Busch had reportedly been offered a deal to drive a fourth car next season for Stewart-Haas Racing, and is mulling that offer and others.
Stewart said last month the organization was not ready to expand to four cars in releasing Ryan Newman.
”Obviously, there’s options out there,” Zipadelli said. ”We’re looking at everything that’s there. There is nothing done. Right now, we’re focused on (Newman), trying to win another race to make it into the Chase and getting Mark fitted up in this car and heading to Bristol to do the best job we can.”
Newman, who won at Indianapolis, is 15th in the standings and out of Chase spot with three races left until the 12-driver Chase field is set. Stewart is 18th and dropping in the standings and Danica Patrick is 27th. SHR will remain at least a three-car operation next season when it adds Kevin Harvick.
Waltrip said Martin achieved all the goals both he and the team set when he began a 24-race schedule in the No. 55 in 2012. Martin nearly won at Michigan before running out of fuel with four laps left.
MWR announced last week that Vickers will drive the No. 55 Toyota for a full Sprint Cup schedule beginning next season.
”No one wants to see Tony out of the 14, but I am appreciative of the opportunity to get more seat time in the 55 as a result,” Vickers said.
Waltrip said MWR would now turn its attention toward signing No. 55 crew chief Rodney Childers and keep him with Vickers for next season.
”Brian is poised to race for a championship,” Waltrip said. ”The job he’s done in the 55 on a limited basis has been really impressive. To be able to be a part timer and grab a win like he did at Loudon, that’s just amazing in this day and age.”
It took some cooperation to get this deal done. Martin needed MWR and sponsors Aaron’s and Toyota to let him out of his deal to jump to SHR and drive a Chevrolet. Martin could now help send the No. 14 into the owner’s standings portion of the Chase and knock out an MWR team.
Martin, who has five runner-up series finishes and no championships in a three decade Cup career, said he has yet to consider his plans for 2014.
”A week ago, I was going to race a partial schedule,” he said. ”Now, I’m racing all but one with a whole new situation with what I feel like is a lot of challenges and a lot of pressure.
”And I don’t want to think about 2014 at all right now.”