Earlier this week, Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip and Stewart-Haas Racing Competition Director Greg Zipadelli all participated in a combined NASCAR teleconference, during which they discussed such things as Martin filling-in for the injured Tony Stewart throughout the remainder of the 2013 Sprint Cup Series season and Martin’s contribution to Michael Waltrip Racing over the past couple of years. Here’s a transcript:
Greg, you made it official that Tony Stewart is out for the remainder of the season, and as a part of that news, you announced that Mark Martin will drive 12 of the final 13 races in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing with Austin Dillon driving the car at Talladega. How important is it to have a plan for the rest of the season? Greg.
GREG ZIPADELLI: 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. 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.
Q. Mark, Tony Stewart always says how much he respects you. What are your thoughts as you get ready to fill in for him beginning with this weekend’s race at Bristol?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I’m incredibly honored. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding how Tony could possibly feel that way toward me when the guy is so amazing, the modern-day A.J. Foyt. When I was growing up, A.J. drove anything and everything and was fast and won in everything he drove. And Tony is the guy today that really does that and is successful at it.
So it’s hard for me to comprehend that, but he’s made great friends — we’ve been good friends for quite some time with amazing respect, mutual respect. It’s an honor to be in the situation where we’re able to do this.
I’m really, really sorry that it comes at the expense of Tony getting hurt. But one thing I do want to say that is really important here is the amazing amount of cooperation that it took to get this deal done by so many parties, and I haven’t seen this much cooperation in the past, and I think it was largely in part for the incredible amount of respect that everyone has in the sport for Tony Stewart.
Q. And Michael, Mark Martin has certainly been an asset to Michael Waltrip Racing. Can you talk about some of the things he brings to a race team?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Just an incredible amount of determination, dedication, experience, knowledge, talent, everything you would want for a guy to stand for, that’s Mark. In our competition meetings back in 2012 when he showed up, he just brought a different level of intensity to them. People wanted to know what Mark thought and what Mark said. He’s definitely left his mark on Michael Waltrip Racing. We’re stronger, we’re better, we’re more confident, we’re more focused today than we were the day that Mark showed up. I’m just really thankful that Tony and Zippy and all the folks at Stewart-Haas wanted Mark to come help. And the reason why I say that is I know he’ll be an asset to that organization.
I love Tony Stewart, who he is and what he stands for, and I love Mark. He’s a special person, and I’m glad he’s going to be able to help those folks. That was the motivation was 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.
I will tell you this real quickly: 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. That was his main focus, and he did just that. So the whole experience has been very positive, and I’m very grateful.
Q. This question is for Mark. You have been very particular in what you’ve chosen to do in your career, particularly since you stopped racing full schedules. Why was it important for you to be able to do this for Tony?
MARK MARTIN: Well, really it’s such a win, it’s a win for every person involved, from Michael Waltrip Racing, Aaron’s, Brian Vickers, as well as the incredible amount of respect that I have for Tony. Just the fact that they asked me was a huge honor to me.
You know, I feel kind of amazed that we were able to get this done, but we were able to get it done. Aaron’s agreed to it. The folks from Toyota agreed to it. They are very intense racers, but they all saw the value in a win-win-win situation, and everyone respects Tony and wanted to be able to help out.
I think all the stars just lined up for this to work out because anyone along the way, including Mobil 1, Chevrolet or Bass Pro Shops could have probably stopped this from happening. So there were so many pieces to this puzzle, it was a lot more complicated than it looked at face value. But the reason it was able to be worked out is because everyone was able to win in this situation.
Q. I have one for Greg. Obviously with Tony out the entire season now, the injury, is it more serious than you guys first thought? Can you figure out what happened inside the car to cause the injury and put him in the position he’s in right now? I think the release said you guys were expecting him to be back in the car for the beginning of next year.
GREG ZIPADELLI: Yeah, I mean, we expect a full recovery by Daytona or close to it. You know, it may be able to be done earlier, it’s just not worth it. It’s a bad break to the leg, and he needs time to go through the process of healing, rehabilitation, all those things. With Mark coming on board, I think it gives us the window to go to the end of the year and feel like we are doing our partners the best job we can to fill Tony’s shoes, and that’s what we’ll do.
Q. And Mark, I know you’ve always wanted to win a title. Are you thinking about winning an owner’s title here? What would that mean to you if you were able to pull that off? And also are you thinking about next year still driving?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, obviously when I was at the 55 with Michael and Rodney and all the guys, their goal with Brian and Michael behind the wheel, and myself, was to try to make the owner’s Chase. You have to have those goals. Obviously Stewart-Haas Racing has the same goal at this point in time.
You know me, and you know that I don’t want to race — 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.
But I don’t go into this situation rubbing my hands together saying, oh, wow, this is an opportunity to race for a championship. First of all, the first thing we’ve got to do is put it together really quickly. I feel like going into Bristol, I feel sort of like — I’ve driven for a lot of different teams, and I’ve worked with a lot of different people, but when you do something like the 11 car at Martinsville on four-days’ notice or going into Bristol with this short of notice, it is like jumping into ice-cold water. We’re going to go into Bristol and we’re going to have to do race setup, qualifying setup and qualifying all on Friday, boom. We don’t get another crack at it on Saturday. We don’t get another chance to think about it.
It’s going to be challenging, and challenges are good for me. They push me hard. They drive me hard, and I will do everything I can to step up to the plate and dig in. But it is a new situation, and it’s not like you sign on with a new team in November and you have January and February to get to know each other before you go off racing. We’re faced with this race coming up in just a few days.
Q. Do you think this will be it for you? Is this the last of your racing or do you still plan to come back and do some kind of part-time next year?
MARK MARTIN: I don’t have a plan right now, and I have much less planned right now than I had a week ago. A week ago I was going to race a partial schedule. Now I’m racing all but one with a whole new situation with what I feel like is a lot of challenges and a lot of pressure, and I don’t want to think about 2014 at all right now.
Q. This is for Greg. When you all thought about whether Mark Martin would be a possibility or not, how much hope did you have that it would actually get done?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I mean, obviously every time you get an opportunity to work with a driver as great and has the accomplishments he has, you obviously look forward to that, and when we sat down and looked at what we had for options, to run as many races as we need, he was obviously the best option. There’s a lot of options and a lot of people reached out to us, and we’re very thankful for obviously everybody wanting to have that opportunity.
But Mark just seemed to be the fit. Him and Tony, they’ve got a bond. They seem to get along. Tony was very excited about it. That was his first choice, so that’s what we went after. Like Mark said earlier, everybody kind of giving a little bit in this situation, hopefully it’s a win-win for everybody, so we certainly appreciate everybody working with us.
Q. Mark, did you actually change your Twitter handle yourself? And can you explain how that all got done so quickly?
MARK MARTIN: Well, Arlene and I had already had a discussion several weeks ago even before this came up about the 55 part of it, the @55MarkMartin. So we had had the discussion. I moved right past it, didn’t want to think about it or deal with it. We got home last night, and I told her that she was right, I needed to figure something out. I have a buddy that has helped me initially with Twitter a good bit, and he — Phil Hampton, and he actually got in contact with Twitter. We went on the computer last night and searched it out and looked at our options and then talked a little bit to Phil, and Phil talked to Twitter, and there was a lot of cooperation there, and we got it handled, got what we wanted.
Q. Mark, can you reflect a little bit on how far Michael Waltrip Racing has come in the two years you’ve been associated with them?
MARK MARTIN: Well, first of all, I appreciate you giving me a chance to talk about MWR. It’s been such an incredible experience. The working environment that they have there is so great. I mean, it is the least uptight and the least tense of any place I’ve ever been. I really, really have enjoyed being a part of it. I’ve felt really warm and welcome there, and I really love the people in that organization.
A lot of the people there I’ve worked with before at other places or known, and it was a very comfortable situation. And to be real honest with you, people can say what they want, but I have had very little to do with the progression of that organization. I stepped in at a good time when the organization was on an upswing, and it was just starting to show on the racetrack before I arrived there, and when I stepped in, everything was just in place and clicking.
Like I said, they’ve got a lot of great people there who work really well together, and the team concept and the team is working together so great with Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, all the crew chiefs, we all got along so well and worked really hard to achieve the performance that we achieved. I was so proud of Clint being able to finish second in the championship last year, and he’s sitting in the same position this year and hopefully can be poised to race for the championship. And Martin getting a win at Sonoma, he’s been so close for so long, so I’ve felt really good about being a part of so many great people there. I really, really have made great friends with all the folks there.
Q. And Michael, what will a 12-race head start do for Brian heading into next year?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, obviously Brian is poised to race for a championship. 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-halfs. 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.
Q. This is for Greg. Can you sort of walk us through the mechanics of how exactly this deal came together and how many people had to say yes and maybe what was your biggest challenge in putting it together?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I don’t actually know how many people had to say yes. It was just a lot. Obviously Mark and I — I’ve known Mark for a while racing, and we had been talking. You know, we just — I’ll be honest with you, it just kind of happened. Everybody was very cooperative. Michael Waltrip Racing, hat’s off to them for allowing Mark to help us out and them getting a jump start on next year. It just really was like, “Hey, do you think this would ever work, Mark?” And he goes, I don’t know, let me go check. It was just that simple, that casual of a conversation, and from that point everybody started thinking about how it could help Stewart-Haas Racing and also help MWR, and obviously it happened.
Those things like that are difficult to get worked out. Everybody was very respectful of each other, I believe. It just seems to be a good fit for all of us. It’s about as close to a miracle as you could have happen in such a short period of time.
Q. Zippy, I just wanted to see if you had any comment on Lee Spencer’s report that SHR had offered Kurt Busch a deal for next year beyond a possible expansion?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, right now we’re really focusing on Mark. Obviously there’s options out there. We’re looking at everything that’s there. There is nothing done. Right now like I said we’re focused on the 39, trying to win another race to make it into the Chase and getting Mark fitted up in this car and heading to Bristol to do the best job we can.
Q. Mark, have you talked with Tony, and what kind of conversation did you have? Have you been able to kind of have a one-on-one with him about all this?
MARK MARTIN: I haven’t talked directly to Tony. Talked back and forth through Eddie Jarvis, and we’ll be getting over to see — I’ve been in Arkansas for a couple weeks, and I’m going to get over there and see him Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on how all the seat fitting goes on Tuesday and everything. I’ll finally get a chance to go visit with him, and I look forward to seeing him.
Q. For Greg, obviously there will be a lot of reports and whatnot moving ahead, not knowing what 2014 will hold, and are you talking to drivers still now, other drivers beyond the story and the talk in the garage about Kurt Busch?
GREG ZIPADELLI: No, not at all. Like I said, we’ve got two big things going on here right now with the 39 having an opportunity to make the Chase and getting Mark Martin over here, get him acclimated with the guys and how we do things and heading to Bristol. We’ll take it week by week.
Q. Greg, what do you want Mark to do or what do you want him to provide or what can he do to help carry the organization, help it go a little bit further in his time with this car? What are things that he can do or what are you looking at other than obviously strong finishes? How can he help move this organization a little further along?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, I mean, any time you have somebody that has the experience level that he has, all the different organizations that he’s been at, I feel like he can bring some wisdom and help us out a little bit with things he’s seen and how things have changed over the past.
But the biggest thing is we’re really just concentrating on Mark getting in the car, doing the best he can, like he said, finish every lap that we can, and what that brings us at the end of the day, that’s what we end up with. As long as we all do our best, feel like we give 110 percent for each event until Tony gets back, that’s our main priority. There’s no major expectations of him coming in and any extra pressures of him trying to have to do anything. It should be fun to have somebody else in there like Mark that can sit in there and jump in for the rest of the year, but really that’s all we’re looking for, just good, solid finishes.
Q. You talked about you’re focused on the 14 and getting the 39 in the Chase, but obviously with the report of the possible expansion, certainly in your role as competition director you’re looking short-term and long-term. You talked earlier this season about the challenges of going from a two-car to three-car operation and how that maybe slowed you guys up in performance. What are the lessons you learned and how do you avoid that if you go from a three-car to a four-car organization and not have those same problems?
GREG ZIPADELLI: Well, there’s lessons to be learned. We’re not to that point yet. Right now we are a three-car. We have made lots of gains throughout the year, but I still think we have room to improve. We’re still working on that.
Obviously if something were to come, we would look at where we feel like we fell short and try to do a better job at it.
Q. After spending essentially a career at Roush, when you announced you were going to leave there at the end of 2006, could you have imagined that you would have had the opportunities that you’ve had now to be with so many different teams? And what have you learned along the way?
MARK MARTIN: No, I never dreamed of what would take place from 2007 on. It’s been a really great experience to have the opportunity to work with so many great people, teams, learn from so many people and make friends, so many good friends throughout the time. I’ve had great times. I’m just really grateful for all the time that I’ve had in NASCAR racing and in all of racing. The battles that I had getting to NASCAR and ever since, a lot of years of my life have been dedicated to racing and these cars, and it’s really been rewarding, a rewarding experience to have the opportunity to work with Hendrick Motorsports, DEI and MWR and now Stewart-Haas. I’m excited about an opportunity to get inside the organization.
One of my goals is, I know that Zippy’s main goal is to get good, solid performance, but more than that I want to be able to bring something to the organization in stability, and hopefully we can turn the 14 car back over to Tony an even stronger organization than what it was when he stepped away and got injured.
You know, that’s the thing that I really want to work hard to do is when it’s all said and done with, I hope that they can look back and say they were glad that they had me as a part of the organization.
Q. And for Michael, for y’all’s part of this deal, now that you really get a good early jump on the 2014 season, are you any closer to securing Rodney Childers as the other part of that team?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: As you can imagine, it’s been kind of a crazy week or so trying to get all the news that has been so positive and so beneficial to the organization to get these things done, that we’re working still on Rodney, and that isn’t done yet. But we’ll turn our focus to that now and see where we end up there.
Certainly it’s an amazing team, the 55 bunch, winning with Brian and having a chance to win several times with Mark and even a couple times with me behind the wheel. It’s a great team, and we would like to see it stay exactly as it is now, but we’re not down that road yet.
Q. Mark, I’ve known you for a long, long time. I can remember a lot of the up-and-down days, and I can remember how you don’t like to focus too much on one thing at all, but there have been some great moments in your career and in your life as a driver. How does this moment rate in your life in doing what you’re about to do?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I’m humbled and honored. At the same time it came at a tragic — a tragedy with Tony, so it’s tempered because of that. I will have to wait until we get through this and rate it when we get done because I don’t know how successful we’ll be. If we’re extremely successful, then it will be one of the greatest experiences of my life, and if we’re not successful, then I’ll be sorely disappointed that I wasn’t able to bring more to the table. I would wait and see before I rate it, but definitely humbled and honored that they would ask me to do it.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR.