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In the No. 14, Martin faces quick learning curve

August 23, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

'Pretty intense' week so far for Tony Stewart's replacement

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- It’s been a whirlwind week for Mark Martin, and that was before the veteran NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver made his first lap at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner/driver Tony Stewart sidelined for the remainder of the year due to injury, Martin will handle the driving duties in the No. 14 Chevrolet for 12 of the season’s final 13 races.

Bristol, where Martin hasn’t competed since 2011, is the group’s “get acquainted” weekend. The Irwin Tools Night Race is scheduled for Saturday, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

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“To have the opportunity to be a small part of Stewart-Haas, I’m not sure I can describe to you what it means to me,” Martin said Friday at Bristol. “(Tony’s) definitely one of my heroes.

“I’m a little bit nervous. … Today is going to be action-packed with a short amount of time to practice to get ready to race tomorrow and qualify today. … It’s been pretty intense so far this week.”

Martin will be the third relief driver used by the organization since Stewart broke his right leg while competing in a sprint car race Aug. 5 in Iowa. Max Papis filled in for the team at Watkins Glen International while Austin Dillon drove the No. 14 last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

Martin, running a limited schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing, was granted his release in order to make the move to SHR. Brian Vickers, one of three drivers sharing the No. 55 MWR ride, will fill the races in which Martin was slated to race.

Getting one driver, particularly one such as Martin, was a huge move for the SHR organization.

“For us, it’s a home run,” said Competition Director Greg Zipadelli. “Obviously there are big shoes to fill in Tony’s seat and there’s not many guys in the garage that could do that. We all agreed that if there was any way to get Mark, he was the guy that would do us the best job.

“We’ve said we would take our time and everything we did, we would be as calculated as we could be. We felt like this was the best opportunity for the 14 car to perform on a weekly basis.”

In 16 starts with MWR this season, Martin has four top-10 finishes, including a best of third in the season-opening Daytona 500. He led 23 laps last week at Michigan before having to give up the lead to pit for fuel with only four laps remaining.

He has 46 career starts at Bristol, with two wins and nine Coors Light Pole awards.

Martin said he spoke with Stewart earlier, although Stewart did most of the talking. Much of the conversation, he said, concerned Stewart’s sprint car accident.

“I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, if that tells you what two weeks of bed rest does for you,” he said. “He went into great detail about the accident and what caused the injury and the fix for that … all the stars had to line up just perfectly for that (injury) to happen.”

Stewart, a three-time Cup champion, won one race (Dover) and was 11th in points at the time of his injury.

Martin said he hopes to not only do a good job for the team, but also to “hopefully return his car back over to him in as good or better standing than when it was turned over to me.” 

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