It won't be the traditional “player-coach” relationship, but veteran NASCAR driver Mark Martin expects to spend a lot of time helping Danica Patrick during her second Sprint Cup season next year. After 31 years in NASCAR, the 54-year-old driver says he'll still be involved trackside, but has no plans to race again.
Instead, he'll fill several roles at Chevrolet-based Stewart-Haas Racing. He'll substitute for injured owner-driver Tony Stewart in preseason testing in December at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in January at Daytona International Speedway. If Stewart isn't fully healed, Martin may even drive his No. 14 Chevrolet in the Daytona 500. Mostly, though, he'll devote much of his time to helping Patrick.
“I don't like the word 'coach' because I don't feel she needs one,” Martin said before finishing 19th in the season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “I'd rather people not run with that word because I think she's already doing a helluva job. Let's just put it this way: I'll have a role at Stewart-Haas Racing and will be available to help if she needs me. If I can assist her and her [No. 10 Chevrolet] team in any way, I'll be there. “
In truth, Patrick needs plenty of help. She occasionally was competitive in the Nationwide Series, where she finished 10th in points in 2012. [On the other hand, only 13 teams ran the full schedule]. Her rookie Cup season has been mediocre at best, with 21 finishes in the 20s and 10 more in the 30s in 36 starts.
Even with help from veteran teammates Stewart and Ryan Newman and crew chief Tony Gibson, she didn't show much progress throughout the season. Next year, she'll have yet another voice telling her what to do.
“I don't think you can ever have too much input,” she said at Homestead, where she finished 20th on Sunday evening. “Maybe from person to person, they have different preferences what they like [to hear], but I like it. I like hearing advice about what to do. It doesn't mean you implement every single thing and try every single thing, but there will be situations that come up and you're going to remember what somebody said and you're going to try it. I like asking a lot of questions.”
“It's no different than me walking down pit lane [Friday] night for qualifying and stopping by Mark's car and asking what he's going to do,” he said. “Then we were just talking about working on things for next year and how nice it is when there's natural speed in the car [so] you can work on little things to fine tune. Sometimes it's not necessarily about what you do in the car. Everybody has their own style; everybody has their own way they feel comfortable with and really, no two drivers are the same.
“Sometimes it comes from another driver's perspective on what things need to be worked on, and sometimes it's about driving. But a lot is about team and about communication and what we need to improve as a team, coming from somebody like Mark who has so much experience and has accomplished so much. He's seen a lot of different teams and has a great perspective. He's there to ask driving questions, but he's also there to help overall from a team perspective.”
Martin said he wouldn't be at every race, but most likely at most [if not all] of the test sessions. “I'll do whatever I can to help any our four drivers,” he said, speaking of incumbent drivers Stewart and Patrick, and newcomers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick. “Whatever Tony needs, I'm there to help.”
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