Mark Martin says he is “honored” to fill in for injured three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart this season and hopes “we can turn the 14 car back over to Tony even stronger than what it was when he stepped away and was injured.”
“When it’s all said and done, I hope they can look back and say they were glad they had me part of the organization,’’ Martin said Monday as Stewart-Haas Racing formally announced the veteran Martin will replace the injured Stewart in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for all but one race — Talladega, Ala. — for the remaining 2013 season.
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Austin Dillon will drive in the Oct. 20 Talladega event.
Stewart, who suffered a broken right tibia and fibula in an Aug. 5 sprint car race in Iowa, is instead concentrating on a full recovery for the start of the 2014 season.
“We expect a full recovery by Daytona or close to it,’’ SHR Competition Director Greg Zipadelli said. “You know, 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. With Mark coming on board, I think it gives us the window to go to the end of the year and feel like we are doing our partners the best job we can to fill Tony’s shoes, and that’s what we’ll do.’’
After using sports car ace Max Papis initially at the Watkins Glen, N.Y., road course and then Dillon on Sunday at Michigan, the team has decided on Martin as a primary full-time replacement beginning Saturday night at Bristol, Tenn.
The team has always maintained it would prefer one driver in the seat long-term instead of a revolving case of replacements.
“After consulting with Tony’s doctors and speaking with Tony, we agreed it was best for him to focus on his recovery,” Zipadelli said. “For the No. 14 team, our focus is on positioning them for a run at the owner championship. Mark Martin and Austin Dillon give us the best opportunity to do that, and we certainly appreciate Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing for making Mark and Austin available to us.”
And Zipadelli said Martin was Stewart’s number one pick.
“Mark just seemed to be the fit,’’ Zipadelli said. “Him and Tony, they’ve got a bond. They seem to get along. Tony was very excited about it. That was his first choice, so that’s what we went after.”
Martin, who has competed in the Cup ranks through four decades, has 40 victories. He has been driving a partial schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing this year and was leading Sunday’s race in Michigan in an MWR Toyota before running out of gas with four laps remaining.
He and Waltrip spoke Monday about the amount of cooperation it took among sponsors, teams and manufacturers to get the deal done. MWR will replace Martin with Brian Vickers for the remaining races. And the timing seemed to align as MWR announced just last week that Vickers would be in the No. 55 full time in 2014 anyway.
“Really it’s such a win, it’s a win for every person involved, from Michael Waltrip Racing, Aaron’s, Brian Vickers, as well as the incredible amount of respect that I have for Tony,’’ Martin said. “Just the fact that they asked me was a huge honor to me.
“You know, I feel kind of amazed that we were able to get this done, but we were able to get it done. Aaron’s agreed to it. The folks from Toyota agreed to it. They are very intense racers, but they all saw the value in a win‑win‑win situation, and everyone respects Tony and wanted to be able to help out.
“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. 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.’’
Zipadelli reiterated with Stewart sidelined, the team’s focus shifts to getting its No. 39 Chevy driven by Ryan Newman into the Chase and to pursuing the owner’s championship with Stewart’s No. 14.
And he deflected questions Monday about reports of an impending announcement the team would be hiring Kurt Busch to drive a fourth SHR car in 2014.
“Right now we’re really focusing on Mark,’’ Zipadelli said. “Obviously there’s options out there. We’re looking at everything that’s there. There is nothing done.
“Right now like I said we’re focused on the 39, 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.’’
Deciding it was best for Stewart to sit out the season, considering he was a Chase contender when he got injured, was still a difficult, if necessary, call.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed to be out of the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy for so long, but the team is in very good hands with Mark Martin and Austin Dillon,” Stewart said. “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.
“Greg Zipadelli, (crew chief) Steve Addington and everybody at SHR supports them 100 percent. This isn’t a situation anyone wanted, but we’re going to make the best of it. In the meantime, my focus is on getting healthy and getting back into my Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy.”