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Friday, November 4, 2011
Big day at TMS before engines even start

By ESPNDallas.com



Ladies and gentlemen, start your ...

Uh, hold on for one second for this important announcement. And another. And yet another.

That's what it was like at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday before the engines ever got going. One story after another. Driver after driver heading to the podium.

The highlights:

* Mark Martin, at a spry 52, signed a two-year deal with Michael Waltrip Racing through 2013. Martin will drive the No. 00 Toyota -- sponsored by Aaron's -- for 25 races each year.

"At a time when other NASCAR teams are cutting back and staying the same, Michael's team is adding people and sponsors," Martin said Friday. "It is the perfect schedule for me. It enables me to catch my breath and spend more time with the fans."

* A very familiar number will be returning full-time to the Nationwide Series in 2012, as Richard Childress announced that the No. 3 car -- made famous by Dale Earnhardt before his death in 2001 -- will be raced by Austin Dillon, who also is Childress' grandson.

* Danica Patrick -- with not one, but two news conferences -- was the focus of attention for most of the afternoon. Racing for the first time since the death of IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas two weeks ago, Patrick will drive a Wheldon tribute car -- complete with the lionheart symbol -- during Saturday's Nationwide Series race and will donate her winnings to a trust fund established for Wheldon's family.

Patrick admitted that she is glad to have a "roof over her head" after the tragic events in the IndyCar event on Oct. 16.

"It does feel safer," she said. "It felt safer two years ago when I first got in a Nationwide car. Accidents still happen, but not a lot of serious head injuries. Having my head covered definitely adds a level of comfort."

* Finally, Patrick announced plans for her Sprint Cup debut in 2012. She'll run a 10-race schedule -- eight races, including the fall race at Texas Motor Speedway, have already been announced -- for car owner Tony Stewart. She'll drive the green No. 10 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing with her familiar sponsor, GoDaddy.com.

"Ten is my favorite number," said Patrick, who will continue to run a full Nationwide Series schedule for JR Motorsports. "It's the number I used when I was racing go karts as a kid, but this is the first time I've gotten to pick my number as a professional. There's a lot of emotion in it for me."

Said Stewart: "It was about the best opportunity to get her the most experience at some places where she hasn't raced. A few races into this, she may hate me. But next year is all about learning these places where she will need to run well in the future."