CORNELIUS, N.C.— No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota driver Mark Martin begins his 31st season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when he takes to the track in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited (formerly Shootout) and Sunday’s single-lap qualifying runs in preparation for the 55th annual Daytona 500 on Feb. 24.
Martin expects a busy first week in Daytona. He’ll join in NASCAR’s annual media day on Thursday, practice for the Unlimited Friday then race Saturday night. He’ll also practice his Daytona 500 car Saturday and join in single-lap qualifying for the 500 on Sunday.
Martin will drive the No. 55 in 24 points races and two non-points races in 2013 for Michael Waltrip Racing. Martin said he has yet to determine his 2014 plans, but emphasizes he isn’t going away from MWR or NASCAR.
2014 Plans: “I’m still working on that. All I can say at the moment is I don’t expect to be in the No. 55 as the driver. My goal is to see MWR, (Crew Chief) Rodney (Childers) and the No. 55 car race for a championship. I want to help build MWR. It might still be driving some or it might be working with the pit crew or the drivers, who knows. It’s too early to tell. I’m focused on 2013. I’m having fun doing what I am doing now and plan to do everything that I can to try to win races and perform. The 2014 season is still a long way off, but I’m not going anywhere.”
DAYTONA 500: “I’m not superstitious and I don’t believe in lucky charms or anything like that. In fact, I avoid all that stuff. But I have noticed this is the 55th Daytona 500 and the No. 55 is a pretty cool number, don’t you think? We want to get Speedweeks started right with a good lap on Sunday. That gets us a good spot to start Thursday’s qualifying race. I think you are going to want to be as close to the front of the pack as you can be this year. Nobody knows what to expect.”
SPRINT UNLIMITED: “Saturday night is going to be fun. Not only will the fans vote on some of the race rules, but this is the very first time we will race the Gen-6 car. We really don’t know what to expect. Based on all the wild stuff we saw in just a few laps of drafting at the test, I can guarantee it’s going to be exciting.”
GEN-6 CAMRY: “The best thing about the car is the manufacturers’ identity is so much stronger. It is a really cool looking race car, they look like Toyota Camrys and they look like the Camry you can get at a dealership, with of course a lot of muscle thrown on them. That’s probably the best thing. There are subtle changes about the car that are improvements from a handling, from a speed, from a safety standpoint — all those are more subtle. It’s a good looking race car.”
WOULD ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL SEASON SOLIDIFY MWR AS TOP-TIER TEAM? “Without question it would solidify them. This year will judge whether you really get your position up there with the very top teams in the sport — owners and teams. If we’re able to come back and do what we were able to do last year or more than I think we’ll be seriously considered like the Roush and the Hendricks — the very top teams.”
CHASSIS: Unlimited Primary—747 Daytona 500—753
No. 55 DRIVERS: Martin will drive the No. 55 in 24 races, Brian Vickers in nine races and Michael Waltrip in three races.
DAYTONA: In 54 Sprint Cup starts at Daytona Martin owns nine top-five finishes. He’s led 273 laps and won the three poles including the 2010 Daytona 500. Daytona, Homestead, Indianapolis, Pocono and Kentucky are the only active Sprint Cup tracks where Martin has yet to win. Martin owns Cup victories at 20 different tracks. Martin won the 1999 Sprint Unlimited and 2006 truck race at Daytona.
WINS: Martin owns 40 Sprint Cup, 49 Nationwide and seven Camping World Truck Series victories. He’s led 12,781 laps in Sprint Cup competition. Martin has started 854 Sprint Cup races, 236 Nationwide races and 25 truck events. He also owns 13 IROC wins in 47 starts.
MWR IN 2012: MWR’s five Cup Series drivers scored three wins (Clint Bowyer at Sonoma, Richmond and Charlotte), 24 top-five and 58 top-10 finishes in 2012. MWR drivers led 1,198 laps. Bowyer finished second and Martin Truex Jr. 11 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex led 434 laps led, Bowyer 388, Martin 197, Vickers 158, and Waltrip 21.
RODNEY CHILDERS: Served as crew chief for David Reutiman’s two victories at MWR (Charlotte, May 2009 and Chicagoland 2010) and Martin’s four poles in 2012.