A whirlwind week for Mark Martin is set to reach its climax tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway, as he makes his first start for Stewart-Haas Racing while filling in for the injured Tony Stewart.
With Stewart out for the remainder of the Sprint Cup season after breaking his right leg in a recent sprint car accident, it’s fallen on Martin to drive the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet for all but one of the remaining races on the 2013 calendar (Austin Dillon will drive the No. 14 at Talladega in October).
But while the 54-year-old Martin holds a well-deserved place as one of NASCAR’s most respected veterans, he still indicated on Friday at Bristol that he had a few rookie-like jitters before going about the task of replacing Stewart.
“Like I said before, I’m a little bit nervous about today, because I feel like it is an extraordinary challenge,” he said. “Because it’s not like…I’ve switched around a lot, but usually, you have a couple of months and a test or two to get together. Man, I see a lot of faces I’m not sure I can put names to just yet.”
But SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli appeared to have the utmost confidence in Martin, who also noted that he was “honored and humbled” to have his latest opportunity.
“For us, it’s a homerun,” said Zipadelli. “Obviously, he has big shoes to fill to take Tony’s seat and there are not many guys in the garage that could do that.
“We all agreed that if there was any way to get Mark Martin, he was the guy that would do us the best job and be able to do that.”
Luckily for SHR, things have worked out that way after a long process that, by Martin’s estimation, truly got started when Brian Vickers won earlier this summer at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Vickers has since been announced as next year’s full-time driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota that he, Waltrip and Martin were splitting races in.
Martin was to drive nine more races this year in the No. 55, but with his jump to SHR, Vickers has taken on those events in addition to the three he himself already had remaining.
“Once they got that done, signed and announced, you know, then it kind of opened the door where it was a win/win for everybody,” Martin mused.
“It’s a win for Brian, it’s a win for Michael Waltrip Racing, and it’s a win for myself to have the opportunity to be a small part of Stewart-Haas.”
Martin will start 11th on tonight’s grid.