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Mark Martin has his work cut out for him replacing injured Tony Stewart this weekend at Bristol.
Friday, August 23, 2013
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Mark Martin is recognized as one of the toughest guys in NASCAR.
Over the past four decades, the Arkansas native has won 40 Cup races through a combination of grit and guile.
According to Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli, there was one natural choice to replace the rugged Tony Stewart in Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“There’s a lot of options and a lot of people reached out to us. But Mark just seemed to be the fit. Him and Tony, they’ve got a bond,” Zipadelli said during a teleconference this week.
Stewart continues to mend from a broken leg suffered in an Aug. 5 sprint car wreck in Iowa. Martin will take the keys of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet in 12 of the final 13 Sprint Cup races this season.
Martin said he felt “incredibly honored” to earn the nod from Stewart
“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.
“When I was growing up, A.J. drove anything and everything and was fast and won in everything he drove. And Tony is the guy today that really does that and is successful at it.”
Martin was originally scheduled to drive the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in 10 of the final 13 races. Martin received approval from Waltrip, Toyota and team sponsor Aaron’s to make the switch to the Stewart ride.
With Brian Vickers already scheduled to move into the No. 55 ride, Waltrip said the change just made sense for all parties.
“I love Tony Stewart, who he is and what he stands for, and I love Mark. He’s a special person, and I’m glad he’s going to be able to help those folks,” Waltrip said. “That was the motivation.”
Waltrip said Martin has all the elements of a team player and professional.
“In our competition meetings back in 2012 when Mark showed up, he just brought a different level of intensity,” Waltrip said. “People wanted to know what Mark thought and what Mark said. He’s definitely left his mark on Michael Waltrip Racing.”
The immediate goal for Martin this weekend is to find a comfort zone with his car and crew members.
“I’ve driven for a lot of different teams, and I’ve worked with a lot of different people,” Martin said. “Going into Bristol with this short of notice is like jumping into ice-cold water.
“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.”
The move to sign Martin has been hailed by fans of both Stewart and Martin. But Martin said his eagerness has been tempered by Stewart’s injury.
“I will have to wait until we get through this and rate it when we get done because I don’t know how successful we’ll be,” he said.
“If we’re extremely successful, then it will be one of the greatest experiences of my life. And if we’re not successful, then I’ll be sorely disappointed that I wasn’t able to bring more to the table. I’m definitely humbled and honored that they would ask me to do it.”
In 46 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol, Martin has crafted an average finish of 13.7 with two wins and 23 top-10 finishes.
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