As rumors swirl, Martin focuses on present
August 17, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Veteran dismisses talk of driving the No. 14 or No. 42
In scenarios that put him in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet while co-owner/driver Tony Stewart continues to mend from a broken leg, to serving as a mentor for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing development driver Kyle Larson next season, Martin finds his name thrust into the mix.
While the 54-year-old Martin was quick to put the brakes on any such scenarios, he didn’t completely dismiss the ideas at Michigan International Speedway.
Officials with SHR have been scrambling to fill the driver’s seat of the No. 14 entry after Stewart suffered a broken right leg while competing in a sprint car race Aug. 5 in Iowa. The following week at Watkins Glen International, road racer Max Papis finished 15th in a relief role; for this weekend’s Pure Michigan 400, former Camping World Truck Series champion and current Nationwide Series competitor Austin Dillon will handle the driving duties.
On Friday, SHR’s Greg Zipadelli said the organization hopes to iron out details in the coming week that will see two drivers fill the seat until Stewart’s return.
Martin’s schedule calls for him to drive the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in 10 of the remaining 14 Cup races, including Sunday’s stop. Brian Vickers, recently announced as the team’s full-time driver for 2014 and 2015, is scheduled to be in the car next week at Bristol, as well as at New Hampshire and Martinsville later this year. Co-owner Michael Waltrip is slated to race at Talladega.
Could Martin, then, fill the seat for SHR at Bristol and Martinsville, if not for the remainder of the season?
It’s something that had not been discussed, he said, in part because the focus was to wrap up negotiations for 2014 with Vickers and sponsor Aaron’s.
“That’s where most of the energy has gone the last couple weeks, getting all that put to rest and announced,” he said.
Martin said he has not heard directly from Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, “but obviously the question came up early on.
“It’s just really complicated, it’s more complicated than it looks at face value,” he said.
MWR fields Toyota-branded cars while SHR has support from Chevrolet. Aaron’s, the primary sponsor for the No. 55, signed on with Vickers for 2014 and beyond, but has expectations that Martin would be in the car for select races this season.
“It sounds logical, but there’s a lot of complications that go with that,” Martin said. “As of right now, I’m driving the Aaron’s Dream Machine and tickled to death. I love (crew chief) Rodney Childers and everybody at MWR and that’s what we’re doing.”
Logic might also indicate that Larson moves into the No. 42 being vacated by Juan Pablo Montoya, but such a scenario is complicated as well. Larson, 21, has six starts in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, winning at Rockingham (N.C.) earlier this year.
He is eighth in points in the Nationwide Series, where he has posted five top-five finishes this season for Turner Scott Motorsports. He has no Cup experience.
A standout in the open-wheel sprints, Larson is considered one of today’s top young talents. Stewart tabbed him a star of the next generation, saying earlier this year, “you can bet the farm on it.
“I guarantee it,” he said. “If not, you can take everything I own because I’m that confident.”
Martin said he has not been approached by anyone from EGR. But a return to competing full time “won’t happen.
“I wouldn’t do it for the world,” he said.
With 40 career wins, Martin has driven for some of the series’ most successful teams, notably Roush Fenway Racing and Hendrick Motorsports. He is 29th in points while making just 15 of 22 starts this season.
“Here’s the thing … the reason I haven’t talked about 2014 is because I felt like the landscape was probably going to change and it’s starting to change rapidly. I have no idea. I promise, no one has talked to anyone on my side from (EGR). I know that it’s really churning out there, but there really hasn’t been the first discussion about that.”
As for serving as a mentor for Larson?
“This Ganassi rumor that’s going around, I heard that at Indy and I laughed because they better start talking to us,” he said. “… I’m not saying they might come talk to me tonight, I don’t know. I haven’t even heard anything. I suspect they might already have something up their sleeve.”
While he has no firm grasp on where he will be next season, Martin said he is confident that he will continue to “be involved in NASCAR racing.
“I’m as big of a fan of it as all you guys,” he said. “It’s been my life and I will be around, I’m just not in a hurry to even start to move forward about ’14 because there’s some good racing to go here yet.”