|Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs|
On Monday afternoon Stewart Haas Racing released an official statement quoting SHR competition director, Greg Zipadelli:
“After consulting with Tony’s doctors and speaking with Tony, we agreed it was best for him to focus on his recovery. For the No. 14 team, our focus is on positioning them for a run at the owner championship. Mark Martin and Austin Dillon give us the best opportunity to do that, and we certainly appreciate Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing for making Mark and Austin available to us.”
Martin, who was on the verge of winning Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 before running out of fuel, was released from his obligations with Michael Waltrip Racing in order to make the move happen. Martin’s release allows Brian Vickers, who was slated to take over full-time in the MWR No. 55 in 2014, to take over the seat early. Vickers and Martin have shared the No. 55 with team owner Micheal Waltrip for the last two seasons with Vickers earning a win earlier this season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Vickers will pilot the Aaron’s Dream Machine for 12 of the 13 remaining races in 2013. Michael Waltrip will take the wheel in November at Talladega Superspeedway.
At 54 years of age, Martin is one of the most respected drivers to ever race in the Sprint Cup Series. His 40 career victories, including two at Bristol, are near the top of the chart for wins among active drivers. And although he’s only raced part-time since leaving the No. 5 at Hendrick Motorsport in 2011, Martin is still a fierce competitor and someone many up-and-coming drivers look to for guidance.
Martin spoke about the opportunity during a teleconference on Monday:
“Well, I'm incredibly honored. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding how Tony could possibly feel that way toward me when the guy is so amazing, the modern‑day A.J. Foyt. When I was growing up, A.J. drove anything and everything and was fast and won in everything he drove. And Tony is the guy today that really does that and is successful at it….I'm really, really sorry that it comes at the expense of Tony getting hurt.”
Stewart is expected to return to racing in January, while Martin's future is still up in the air.