Mark Martin has a new ride. Again.
In fact, it’s his fourth organization in the last seven years. Martin will be the interim driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet at Stewart-Haas Racing in place of the injured Tony Stewart, who broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg earlier this month in a sprint car crash and will remained sidelined for the rest of the season.
Of the season’s remaining 13 races Martin will drive the car in 12 of them with Austin Dillon, who ran the car this past Sunday at Michigan, running at Talladega in October. For Martin, who has become the super-sub in the NSCS, it’s another opportunity to keep his career going in another top-notch car.
“Well, I’m incredibly honored. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding how Tony could possibly feel that way toward me when the guy is so amazing, the modern-day A.J. Foyt,” Martin said on Monday after the official announcement and Stewart’s approval.
“It’s an honor to be in the situation where we’re able to do this. I’m really, really sorry that it comes at the expense of Tony getting hurt. But one thing I do want to say is that is really important here is the amazing amount of cooperation that it took to get this deal done by so many parties, and I haven’t seen this much cooperation in the past, and I think it was largely in part for the incredible amount of respect that everyone has in the sport for Tony Stewart.”
Martin now vacates his partial schedule at Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 Aaron’s Toyota. Both the sponsors and manufacturer gave MWR and Martin the OK to head to SHR and Chevrolet. It works out for both companies since Brian Vickers, who will drive the 55 full-time in 2014, now gets a head start in working with his team.
At SHR, Martin takes over beginning this weekend at Bristol. While he won’t be racing for a championship, Martin made it clear that he still loves to race and not just race, but finish each race in a respectable position. It’s why he’s been with so many teams over the past few years.
When he announced his retirement in 2006 while driving for long-time owner Jack Roush, it appeared to signal the end of an incredible career that lacked only a Daytona 500 win and a championship. Instead, Martin found he couldn’t stay away forever and ran a partial schedule for the then Dale Earnhardt Inc. before finding his way to Hendrick Motorsports from 2009-2011 in which he returned to Victory Lane and finished second in the championship.
Still with the urge to race after leaving HMS when Kasey Kahne was hired, Martin landed with MWR where he’s been running a partial schedule the last two years. During that time he’s substituted for the injured Denny Hamlin earlier this year at Martinsville.
With how much has changed since 2007, Martin remains a constant. Even surprising him the amount of times he’s been called upon and how many opportunities he’s been given.
“I never dreamed of what would take place from 2007 on. It’s been a really great experience to have the opportunity to work with so many great people, teams, learn from so many people and make so many good friends throughout the time,” he said.
“I’ve had great times. I’m just really grateful for all the time that I’ve had in NASCAR racing and in all of racing. The battles that I had getting to NASCAR and ever since, a lot of years of my life have been dedicated to racing and these cars, and it’s really been a rewarding experience to have the opportunity to work with Hendrick Motorsports, DEI, and MWR and now Stewart-Haas. I’m excited about an opportunity to get inside the organization.”
But it doesn’t mean Martin’s going to use the rest of the season to see how good SHR is. Or what type of car Stewart gets to drive on a weekly basis. He doesn’t even see it as an audition for next season and where he might end up next. For Martin, it’s about making the most of a situation and helping SHR – just has he did MWR – in the long run.
“One of my goals is, I know that Zippy’s [SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli] main goal is to get good, solid performance, but more than that I want to be able to bring something to the organization in stability, and 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 revealed.
“That’s the thing 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 in as part of the organization.”