August 21, 2013

Auto Racing Notebook: Martin brings cool with Stewart on ice

By GEORGE DIAZ Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. - Mark Martin, the Methuselah of NASCAR, is back in business full-time for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Mark Martin
click image to enlarge

Mark Martin will be filling in for injured Tony Stewart, making the best of a tough situation for Stewart-Haas Racing.

The Associated Press

That's a compliment, my friends. Forget his age. Martin is one of the coolest cats in the NASCAR garage.

At 54, Martin has the body of a 30-something thanks to a fanatical workout routine. Don't ask him what he does, most often at the crack of dawn. Martin has sworn himself to secrecy. If he told you, he'd have to kill you.

And chances are he's listening to rap artists like 50 Cent when he's banging on the heavy metal. It's not what you'd expect on the countrified iPods of many NASCAR stars.

Martin has that star-thingy going for him, too. A 31-year veteran of the Cup circuit, Martin is the perfect fit to replace Tony Stewart in 12 of the last 13 races of the Cup season.

Austin Dillon will take Tony's ride in Talladega. Otherwise, it's Martin in the saddle, bringing everything you'd expect: experience, knowledge, leadership skills and, most importantly, mad driving skills.

"You know me," Martin 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, and that in turn accumulates the most points that we can."

It's the best situation out of a very tough deal, and it took several parties to get it done.

It starts with Michael Waltrip Racing. Martin was scheduled to drive the No. 55 Aaron's-sponsored Toyota for the MWR team in 10 of the final 13 Cup races, but they released Martin of his obligations. Brian Vickers will step into Martin's ride.

"I love Tony Stewart, who he is and what he stands for, and I love Mark," Waltrip said. "He's a special person, and I'm glad he's going to be able to help those folks. That was the motivation, just to be able to help Tony out, and then of course we're going to benefit as well with getting our new driver, Brian Vickers, behind the wheel of our Aaron's Dream Machine for the rest of 2013 and get ready for '14."

The bigger picture here involves Stewart, unable to race because of a broken leg he suffered in a dirt-track race. Stewart, stubborn to a fault at times, is going to have to rethink his passion for going off the grid during the season.

His Cup ride is too important to risk for these types of secondary leisurely deals. No matter how competitive Stewart may be, it's not worth the risk.

"It's not a game-changer, but Tony's accident shines a light on an issue that certainly will be addressed by drivers and owners," said Kyle Petty, a former driver and a NASCAR analyst on FOX.

Stewart should be grateful for one thing: Mark Martin has his back.

 

KURT BUSCH riding shotgun with Danica Patrick in 2014?

It could happen, for one of the most mercurial guys in the Sprint Cup circuit is in the mix to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

"I've received offers from multiple teams," Busch told ESPN.com. "This isn't a decision I'm taking lightly. I'm looking at what teams have planned long-term and want to be in a place where my opinion and input is valued."

As a fourth driver, Busch would be another newcomer along Kevin Harvick to a team that includes owner Tony Stewart.

(Continued on page 2)

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