Calling it a "big day for Michael Waltrip Racing," team owner Michael Waltrip announced Friday his Toyota-backed organization has signed Mark Martin to drive a partial schedule for at least the next two seasons.
Martin will drive the No. 00 car – the so-called "Aaron's Dream Machine" – for 25 Sprint Cup Series races in 2012 and 2013. He replaces David Reutimann, who had been with the team since it began.
"The performance level is not where they'd it like to be right now, but they're making a serious move toward stepping that up," Martin said during a news conference at Texas Motor Speedway. "I'm really excited to have a chance to be a part of that. Everybody knows I like to help people. Getting a chance to work with some of the young drivers that come along and come through the program is something that really means a lot to me."
Martin joins a roster that also includes Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, who is leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season.
While Martin will drive the Daytona 500, Waltrip will drive the other restrictor-plate races (including the Budweiser Shootout) and the race in his home state of Kentucky.
With Aaron's sponsoring 30 races, Waltrip said six races will be filled by a yet-to-be-determined driver who brings sponsorship (Aaron's also holds an option with MWR for 2014).
"We're open to suggestions," Waltrip said.
Martin's schedule is the same one he drove while racing part time for Ginn Racing and then Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007 and 2008.
"It is the perfect schedule for me, and it gives me an opportunity to catch my breath," he said.
Waltrip thanked Reutimann for his contributions to MWR, but indicated Aaron's owner Ken Butler was anxious to see a new direction for the 00 car.
"We (decided) it was not going the way we hoped it was," Waltrip said. "He wanted to know what we were going to do."
Said Butler: "We're very apprecitave with what David has done. But our contract up was up next year. Our thinking is, 'What's next?' I went to Michael and said, 'What can we do next? What's the next big deal?'"
"He picked a future Hall of Famer here to drive the Aaron's Dream Machine," Waltrip said.
After racing a Ford for the majority of his career, Martin switched to a Chevrolet when he left Roush Racing for his partial retirement. He later regretted giving the impression he was quitting, because the time off left him rejuvenated and ready to rejoin the Cup Series with a full schedule – which he did by signing with Hendrick Motorsports.
Though Martin is stepping out of the No. 5 car for Kasey Kahne, he was unsure until recently what 2012 would bring.
There were several options floating around, Martin said, but most were of the "wait and see if it materializes" variety. MWR first approached Martin three weeks ago to begin talks, and the contract was signed Wednesday.
"This was the best option on the table at the present time," Martin said. "They presently have a very good program, and they have fast race cars. Their average finish probably doesn't equal the speed of their race cars. But they are making serious moves."