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.”

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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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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”