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Martin is perfect fill-in for injured Stewart

Unexpected opportunity

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(AP)
NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver Mark Martin waits for practice to begin for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., this past Saturday. Martin will drive the rest of this season for the injured Tony Stewart.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Mark Martin, the Methuselah of NASCAR, is back in business full-time for Stewart-Haas Racing.

That’s a compliment, my friends. Forget his age. Martin is one of the coolest cats in the NASCAR garage.

At 54, Martin has the body of a 30-something thanks to a fanatical workout routine. Don’t ask him what he does, most often at the crack of dawn. Martin has sworn himself to secrecy. If he told you, he’d have to kill you.

And chances are he’s listening to rap artists like 50 Cent when he’s banging on the heavy metal. It’s not what you’d expect on the countrified iPods of many NASCAR stars.

Martin has that star-thingy going for him, too. A 31-year veteran of the Cup circuit, Martin is the perfect fit to replace Tony Stewart in 12 of the last 13 races of the Cup season.

Austin Dillon will take Tony’s ride in Talladega. Otherwise, it’s Martin in the saddle, bringing everything you’d expect: experience, knowledge, leadership skills and, most importantly, mad driving skills.

“You know me,” Martin said. “My motivation for racing is not for points, it’s for racing. I want to race, and I want to finish. If I’m running 20th, I’ll bust my butt to run 19th. And that’s one more point, but it’s for one more position.

"And I say that just trying to explain the fact that we will race as hard as we can race, and we will finish as high as we can in every race, and that in turn accumulates the most points that we can.”

It’s the best situation out of a very tough deal, and it took several parties to get it done.

It starts with Michael Waltrip Racing. Martin was scheduled to drive the No. 55 Aaron’s-sponsored Toyota for the MWR team in 10 of the final 13 Cup races, but they released Martin of his obligations. Brian Vickers will step into Martin’s ride.

“I love Tony Stewart, who he is and what he stands for, and I love Mark,” Waltrip said. “He’s a special person, and I’m glad he’s going to be able to help those folks. That was the motivation just to be able to help Tony out, and then of course we’re going to benefit as well with getting our new driver, Brian Vickers, behind the wheel of our Aaron’s Dream Machine for the rest of 2013 and get ready for ‘14.”

The bigger picture here involves Stewart, unable to race because of a broken leg he suffered in a dirt-track race. Stewart, stubborn to a fault at times, is going to have to re-think his passion for going off the grid during the season.

His Cup ride is too important to risk for these type of secondary leisurely deals. No matter how competitive Stewart may be, it’s not worth the risk.

“It’s not a game-changer, but Tony’s accident shines a light on an issue that certainly will be addressed by drivers and owners,” said Kyle Petty, a former driver and a NASCAR analyst on FOX.

Stewart should be grateful for one thing: Mark Martin has his back.

•••

Busch on the rise: Kurt Busch riding shotgun with Danica Patrick in 2014?

It could happen, for one of the most mercurial guys in the Sprint Cup circuit is in the mix to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

“I’ve received offers from multiple teams,” Busch told ESPN.com. “This isn’t a decision I’m taking lightly. I’m looking at what teams have planned long-term, and want to be in a place where my opinion and input is valued.”

As a fourth driver, Busch would be another newcomer along Kevin Harvick to a team that includes owner Tony Stewart.

Although they may not be the best team out there, it would be hard to rival the star power and media buzz generated by that crew.

Busch is ninth in points – with three races remaining in Chase qualifying – for a Furniture Row Racing team that has never qualified for the postseason and whose best finish in the standings has been 24th.

Credit Busch with 99 percent of that turnaround.

“Now here we are,” Busch said last week after a third-place finish at Michigan. “We’re 23 races in and got three to go to get in the Chase. It’s an amazing feeling to be in position right now and have a group of guys from Denver in the Chase right now. That’s what we have to do: Make sure when the door closes and the music stops that we got a place.

“We’re looking for wins right now. We don’t have to be conservative. We can just really go for it and see if we can get a win. I know this team is capable, and Bristol is a great track. It would be a lot of fun to put the Stanley Ford in the winner’s circle this Saturday night."

•••

Truex on board: Ryan Truex will make his Sprint Cup debut at the Bristol Motor Speedway during Saturday night’s 500-lap race.

Truex, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, will drive the No. 51 entry for Phoenix Racing. Truex, the younger brother of rising NASCAR star Martin Truex, signed a multi-year development deal with RPM earlier this year. All involved are currently working to secure sponsorship funding.

Truex was supposed to make his Cup debut earlier, but he broke his collarbone on Easter while riding a motorcycle at home in Mayetta, N.J.

“It has been tough waiting on the sidelines while I healed from my collarbone injury, but now I am ready to go and make my Sprint Cup Series debut,” Truex said. “It’s pretty awesome that it’s coming at Bristol at the night race. This is a premier race on the Sprint Cup circuit.”

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