Although Joey Logano has crowded into the headlines recently, Mark Martin will be front and center this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
Martin has temporary seating in one of the Sprint Cup circuit’s best cars – the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11. He is replacing injured Denny Hamlin at a track where Hamlin has had remarkable success. Martin also knows Martinsville (although he has 48 starts and two wins at the track, the speedway was not named for him).
The combination of Martin’s experience and the No. 11 team’s excellent recent history at the track leads many to the conclusion that Martin will be among the three or four favorites Sunday in a one-off appearance for the Gibbs team.
“It’s a challenge for me,” Martin said Friday. “It’s exciting for me to work with all new people, a new spotter and all. It has me up on my toes paying attention and trying to get in sync with a whole group of people and new faces, but that’s a good thing.
“That challenge is something that motivates me to make sure I’m engaged 100 percent. I’ll give it my best, and I’ll be engaged 100 percent this weekend.”
Martin said he and Hamlin, whose recovery apparently is moving along nicely, have discussed Sunday’s race. Hamlin expects to be on the team’s pit wagon Sunday.
“I’ve had a long conversation with Denny about what he feels and what he thinks,” Martin said. “We’ve talked about the way he runs this race track. I’ve told him my experiences and what I think. They line up closely. We will work together to try to get the best result that we can. I’m putting my best foot forward. I’m definitely listening. He’s one of the masters of this race track.”
Martin didn’t race at Martinsville last year and also missed racing here in 2007 and 2008 as he moved to part-time schedules. His wins here came in 2000 and 1992.
Asked about recent driver controversies, Martin said they generally are good for the sport. “I don’t particularly want to be in one, but I certainly don’t mind watching one,” he said.
Martin was careful not to involve himself in discussion about Logano’s recent problems, and said he hasn’t offered the young driver any advice. “If he asks me, I will have,” he said. “Things happen, and I’ve got my own deals to deal with. What he’s going through is not at the top of my priority list to be worried about, to be honest with you.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.