Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 24, 2013

Martin to sub for Smoke the rest of 2013

BRISTOL, Va. — “Break a leg” is a well-known idiom in theater which means “good luck.”

Unfortunately for Stuart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart, the cliché was anything but lucky after he literally broke his leg in a sprint car accident last month in Iowa.

He will miss the remainder of the season after having undergone two surgeries to repair the damage.

For sponsors of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, the show must go on and Stewart fans hope that newly-signed understudy and veteran NASCAR driver Mark Martin will see nothing but good luck when the curtain falls tonight at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In what Martin called a “whirlwind week” to get ready for the Irwin Tools Night Race, he said he is “honored and humbled to fill in for Smoke”.  

“I’m extremely committed to doing a good job for this race team and Tony,” said Martin just before his inaugural practice session on Friday. “Hopefully I will return his car in as good or better standing than when it was turned over to me.”

A mutual decision by Michael Waltrip Racing and Aaron’s, Inc. to grant Martin an early release enabled him to replace the injured Stewart.

On Monday, Brian Vickers was announced as the driver of the No. 55 Toyota for 12 of the remaining 13 races in 2013. He will drive the Aaron’s Dream Machine full-time in 2014.

“[Those decisions] obviously opened the door for this to happen. It’s been quite a work in progress since Brian won in New Hampshire, getting Brian signed and Aaron’s re-signed [as a sponsor],” Martin said. “All of the pieces of the puzzle fell in place. It was a win-win for everybody.”

SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli took his time in naming Stewart’s replacement. He is extremely pleased to have Martin in Stewart’s seat.

“For us, it’s a homerun. Obviously, [Mark] has big shoes to fill to take Tony’s seat, and there aren’t that many guys in the garage who could do that,” said Zipadelli. “We all agreed that if there was any way to get Mark Martin, he was the guy that would do us the best job.

“We felt like it was the best opportunity for the No. 14 car to perform on a weekly basis and do our sponsors the justice they deserved.”

Martin has switched teams before, but usually had a few practices and tests before the next green flag fell.

“I’m a little bit nervous because this will be an extraordinary challenge,” Martin said. “It will be an action-packed two-and-a-half hour race or whatever and I’m going to be seeing a lot of faces that I’m not sure I can put names to yet.”

When Stewart returns for Daytona next season, Zipadelli hopes “he will come back with something to prove to the world.”

As for whether or not it will be business as usual for Stewart and his sprint car racing, Zipadelli just doesn’t know yet.

“Tony needs to go through his process and we need to go through ours. We need to spend time talking honestly. I don’t think you can take Tony Stewart and tell him he can’t drive other cars. That is what makes him who he is.

“Can we get him to cut his schedule back, can we get him to look at things, can we help him with this movement to make sprint cars safer for everybody, including himself? Those will be the things that come in the next couple of months.”

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