Report: Why Mark Martin couldn’t be Danica Patrick’s driving coach

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When Mark Martin climbed out of Tony Stewart’s race car after last year’s season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it was to be a quick transition.

Stewart was due back for the 2014 season and Martin was slated to semi-retire from racing and to become a driving coach for Danica Patrick.

We’re finally learning why the expected move never materialized, courtesy of a story by NASCAR Illustrated’s Kris Johnson.

The reason is simple: Martin, whose last career NASCAR race was at Homestead last autumn, has battled a back injury for much of this year that kept him from interacting with Patrick like he hoped to do.

“He was supposed to be my driver coach this year and he wasn’t,” Patrick told Johnson. “He was supposed to do it and then he got hurt, and I was like, ‘Is Mark gonna come to the track?’

“… His back hurt. I feel bad for him, obviously racing and working out is everything to him and then to be hurt and not be able to do … to retire and not be able to do the other, I know it’s been a tough 2014 for him.”

[RELATED: What would Danica Patrick look like if she had Boris Said’s hair?]

It’s unclear where or when Martin suffered the back injury. He’s noted for having a grueling physical fitness regimen.

“I really like Mark and I wish it would have worked out but it was circumstantial,” Patrick said. “But he was up for the job (of coaching her).”

Martin and Patrick had a plan of attack, but the back injury prevented implementation.

“Our sort of motivation and mission together was a lot less about turn in earlier or brake harder or deeper, it was more about the communication side of things, just how to translate the information from me to the crew chief in a beneficial way, in a productive way,” Patrick told Johnson. “And then kind of be the eyes and ears around a little bit and maybe (see) his side of things of what needs to be worked on to make things go better.”

Martin was recently introduced as a driver development coach for Roush Fenway racing, a role that is due to begin next season, presumably after he’s fully healed from his back issue.

He’ll work primarily with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne on the Sprint Cup circuit, as well as several Nationwide Series drivers in the RFR camp.

“I think he has a good understanding that every driver is a little different and you can’t just go tell him what to do,” Patrick said. “We had a good plan. Just didn’t see it through the way that I thought, but Mark is great guy and I know he would have done a good job.”

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AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”