BRISTOL — Mark Martin couldn’t get a word in edge wise.
The veteran NASCAR driver visited the home of three-time Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart earlier this week. Stewart, who has been sidelined since breaking his leg in a sprint car crash on Aug. 6, was glad Martin accepted an offer to drive his No. 14 Chevrolet in tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway and even happier for his company.
“I couldn’t get a word in edge wise if that tells you what two weeks of bed rest does for you.” Martin said. “He went into great detail about the accident, what caused the injury and the fix for that particular freak accident.
“Finally after about an hour of Tony never taking a breath, I got a chance to talk a little bit.”
Martin shared some of his own injury stories including how Darrell Waltrip had to drive his car for a Wisconsin short track race when Martin was ailing from a broken foot and ankle.
They also got to the business of the No. 14 NASCAR ride with the announcement earlier this week that Martin would drive for the remainder of the season with the exception of the restrictor-plate race at Talladega.
The mutual admiration which Martin and Stewart hold for each other led to the decision.
“I’m not sure I can describe to you what it means to me that Tony wanted me to do this,” Martin said ”He is definitely one of my heroes. People who are paying attention knew that before this ever happened so it means a lot to me.”
Stewart-Haas competition director Greg Zippadelli called it a home run to have Martin, a 40-time winner in the Cup Series, take over the seat. Both agreed the 54-year-old Martin was the best driver available. Last Sunday, Martin was leading in the late stages at Michigan before a stop for fuel.
“Obviously he has big shoes to fill to take Tony’s seat and there are not many guys in the garage that could do that,” Zippadelli said. ”We all agreed that if there was any way to get Mark Martin he was the guy that would do us the best job and be able to do that. 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 that they deserve.”
Zippadelli called a tough situation for Stewart and that he’s struggling with the fact he’s not in the car. As far as Stewart continuning to race the sprint cars in which he was injured, Zippadelli said those discussions are for a later date.
“He needs to go through his process right now. We need to go through ours and we need to spend time talking honestly,” Zippadelli said. “I don’t think you can take Tony Stewart and tell him he can’t drive other cars. That is what makes him that is 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 of making those cars safer for everybody including himself? I think those will be the things that come in the next couple of months.”
In the meantime, they see Martin as the perfect replacement. Martin jumped at the chance to help out his good friend in Stewart, someone he heaped loads of praise upon.
“People who have been around and close enough to him to see Tony on the inside know that he is an incredible person, caring and amazing person,” Martin said. “For the people who don’t get to know that side of Tony they might have a different impression, but he’s loved in the sport and respected throughout the sport universally I think for what a great person he is and the incredible driver and commitment that he has to racing.”