Mark Martin close to deal with SHR
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mark Martin was three laps short on fuel of winning what likely was his last race in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.
Stewart-Haas Racing is working to finalize a deal that would put Martin in the No. 14 Chevrolet for the injured Tony Stewart for most, if not the rest of, the season, beginning Saturday night at Bristol, sources close to the situation told ESPN.com.
An official announcement is expected to come Monday barring a last-minute objection from Aaron's, the primary sponsor of the No. 55 that Martin was scheduled to drive for 10 of the final 13 races.
Sources said Martin has the support of Toyota and MWR to leave the No. 55 to fill in for Stewart, who is out indefinitely after breaking the right tibia and fibula in his leg during a recent sprint car race in Iowa.
Martin likely would drive in every race Stewart misses except for Talladega, where Austin Dillon could fill in -- as he did on Sunday at Michigan.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday at Michigan he expected Stewart to be out for "the next month or so or longer.'' He also said he hoped to fill out the schedule with two drivers, and early in the process said he was looking for a more experienced driver.
Martin to the 14 would open the door for Brian Vickers to begin preparing for next season. Vickers was named the full-time driver of the 55 in 2014 this past week. He was scheduled to drive in two of the remaining 13 races, including Bristol. Team owner Michael Waltrip is scheduled to drive at Talladega.
Martin acknowledged Friday at MIS that he'd been in contact with SHR officials about replacing Stewart, saying the situation was far more complex than it sounded.
"It sounds logical, but there's a lot of complications that go with that," he said. "I've got contracts. It's not as simple as you guys think, you know? We've got Toyota involved, we've got Aaron's, we've got Michael Waltrip. I'm tickled to death to be driving a hot rod and I'll do what everybody wants."
Martin has every reason to be wary. Earlier this year, Joe Gibbs Racing put out a release saying the 54-year-old driver would replace the injured Denny Hamlin for five races while he recovered from a back injury.
But Aaron's never gave its blessing to the deal, and Martin was able to run only one race for Hamlin, with Vickers filling in for the remaining races.
Martin has been a big part of the turnaround at MWR, driving part time with Vickers and Waltrip the past two seasons. The only thing missing from his resume was a victory.
Martin and crew chief Rodney Childers gambled on fuel mileage on Sunday, knowing they would need a caution over the final 20 laps to have a chance to make it. They didn't get one, and winner Joey Logano passed Martin for the lead with three laps left.
"These guys really wanted to get a win with me,'' Martin said after the race. "They got one with Brian already and they've been so close with me and with Michael as well and they were going for it.
"You usually get -- you can count on eight yellow flags a lot and towards the end of the races, so I don't think it was a long shot to hope for one more yellow. That's all it would have took."
Martin's career has been full of close calls. He finished second in the Cup standings five times, the last in 2009 for Hendrick Motorsports that supplies engines and chassis to SHR.
While he can't win a driver's title in the 14, Martin could help the organization win the owner's title if the car qualifies for the Chase. The team is 13th in owner's points and in position for the second wild card spot with two wins.
"There's no reason in the world that we can't be in the top 10 with where we're at,'' Zipadelli said Friday. "And that's our goals is to continue fighting as hard as we can, do the best we can to represent our sponsors and keep the boss smiling at home that we did a good job with what we had to work with."
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