Mark Martin returning to Roush Fenway Racing in unique role

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Legendary NASCAR driver Mark Martin is returning to Roush Fenway Racing.

But don’t expect Martin, 55, to get back behind the wheel any time soon.

Rather, he’ll be helping those RFR drivers who will be behind the wheel themselves.

The organization announced Thursday morning that Martin will assume a newly-created role as driver development coach.

“The thing that always stood out about Mark was his unmatched drive to win,” team co-owner Jack Roush said in a media release. “Mark put us on the map and I am pleased to have him as a part of our team again.

“Mark is not only a good friend but he’s also a fierce competitor and I truly admire his passion and dedication to racing. I have no question that you will be able to see his influence on our young drivers. He understands what it takes to win and to be able to do that on a consistent basis and he’ll be a great asset to have back within our organization.”

Martin, who has not raced this season but also has not ever officially said he’s retired, will return to the team that he spent almost two decades with.

Martin was the first driver Roush hired when he formed Roush Racing – which eventually would become RFR – back in 1988.

Martin earned 82 wins under the Roush banner: 35 in Sprint Cup and 47 in Nationwide, as well as four runner-up finishes in the yearly Cup championship.

“I’m excited to return to Roush Fenway Racing,” Martin said. “It feels like I’m going home to where I belong.

“I was fortunate to help build this team from the beginning and it’s very humbling to be a part of Jack’s team again. When Jack first hired me in 1988 we didn’t talk about salary or benefits or perks, we talked about testing, tires and putting the right personnel into place to win on the track. That commitment is what stood out to me then and it’s still what stands out to me today.”

Martin is expected to work with RFR’s younger drivers, including 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, two-time Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and rookies Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed. He’ll also help, if needed, veteran Greg Biffle.

“Roush Fenway has an abundance of young, talented drivers and I’m looking forward to working with each of them going forward,” Martin said. “I am very proud of what Jack and I were able to accomplish together and I am excited to expand on those accomplishments.

“I understand what it takes to succeed in this business and appreciate the hard work, dedication and focus required to compete at the highest level week in and week out. We have a great crop of young drivers. … It will be a key part of my job to help them develop their skills behind the wheel and get the most of their exceptional ability.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race the No. 3 vs. IndyCar stars in Michigan iRacing

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).