Originally, Mark Martin was scheduled to drive the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in several of the remaining races on the 2013 schedule, but as of Monday, he's out. Instead, Brian Vickers will get a head start on 2014 by driving the No. 55 in all but one remaining event, with that one race being the October 20 even at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Car owner Michael Waltrip tends to take over driving duties for restrictor plate races.
Martin's not without anything to do, racing-wise, though. According to an announcement from Stewart-Haas Racing, also coming on Monday, Martin will be the go-to substitute for the injured Tony Stewart and drive the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Stewart is now officially out for the duration of the 2013 season. Martin won't be in the No. 14 for one race, though, the event at Talladega. Austin Dillon will return to the seat of the No. 14 for that race.
"Well, obviously, Brian is poised to race for a championship," Waltrip said. "The job he's done in the 55 on a limited basis has been really impressive. To be able to be a part-timer and grab a win like he did at Loudon, that's just amazing in this day and age. But mostly it'll just get him up to speed on the mile-and-a-half tracks. He hasn't run any of those and there's a lot of those in the schedule, so it'll just give him a chance to get familiar with what it's going to take to run consistently and fast on all those tracks. It's a really big deal for our organization to be able to get some more races in with Brian and the team as we prepare for 2014."
"Obviously it's great that this worked out for everybody here at Stewart-Haas, our partners, to put a veteran in that has as much experience, wins, top 5s, all those things are so important to go out and finish the year on a strong note," Stewart-Haas Racing Director of Competition Greg Zipadelli said. "Obviously we're still racing for a spot in the Chase with the 39 car, and we'll do the best we can with owner's points. By keeping one guy that has a lot of experience in there like Mark, I think it gives us our best shot."
But where does Martin go from here. Vickers already knows he'll be staying put in the No. 55 when the calendar rolls over to 2014. And, of course, Stewart will be back behind the wheel of the No. 14 next year. But what will become of Martin? According to Waltrip, Martin has already met the goal he was supposed to meet at MWR.
"Mark's goal when he came to Michael Waltrip Racing was to drive the car part-time and then help us to land a full-time driver we could race for the championship with," Waltrip said. "That was his main focus, and he did just that. So the whole experience has been very positive, and I'm very grateful."
It's probably safer to assume that Martin's not looking for anything full-time, at least from a driving standpoints. He's been a part-time driver at MWR the last two years. And prior to his two-year stint at Hendrick Motorsports, he had also been a part-time driver for some time. As for his time at Hendrick, it took some convincing from team owner Rick Hendrick to get Martin to consider full-time competition again. It may be somewhat safe to assume that the days of Martin racing full-time are over. But that's something that Martin claims he's not thinking about right now.
But are there any teams looking for a part-time driver? There doesn't seem to be. As far as part-time driving goes, it looks like the only possibility may be back with Michael Waltrip Racing. After all, Waltrip has shown no signs of retiring, completely, from driving and all of his existing entries have full-time drivers lined-up for next year. Is Waltrip going to field a fourth-car on a part-time bases for himself? If so, maybe a few more races could be added for Martin.
But then again, Martin was allowed to go outside the fold to drive a Chevrolet, as Stewart-Haas is a Chevy team. So maybe MWR isn't really an option. These final races in the No. 14 may be the final races for Martin as a driver, we don't really know. He's surely to remain in NASCAR, though, in some capacity. After all, when it comes to having and advisor, a.k.a. driver coach, on a team's staff, who better than Martin?