Veteran driver Mark Martin will be back on the NASCAR Sprint Cup grid in 2012, after confirming a deal with Michael Waltrip Racing to take over at the wheel of the #00.
Martin will run for two-thirds of the season - 24 championship races - as well as the Sprint All-Star exhibition event, in a two-year deal with MWR extending into 2013. Michael Waltrip himself may take over the car for some or all of the remaining races.
"I feel very blessed," said Martin at the media announcement at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday. "If you look at all the opportunities that they're going to give there to be involved in multiple things, all of which are fun and I love to do, I couldn't ask for anymore ... This is one that made my heart beep."
Martin will be joining a refreshed three car line-up at MWR. Clint Bowyer is joining the team from Richard Childress Racing, and Martin Truex Jr. will be the third team mate for the year.
The 52-year-old driver - who has 40 Sprint Cup events in his long racing career - comes to the end of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season, and many had expected him to move to Stewart-Haas Racing sharing a car with Danica Patrick.
"Tony and I put our heart into that, but that was not even close," Martin said of his discussions with team owner Tony Stewart. "I don't want to talk about the other possibilities."
Martin had even been contemplating leaving Cup competition altogether and running races in Nationwide or Trucks. Certainly MWR had never been on his radar as a possibility.
"At face value, I didn't see that coming ... It never crossed my mind," admitted Martin. "I got a text from Michael three weeks ago ... The more I thought about it, the more I looked about it, the more excited I got.
"I love this sport. I don't want to go away. I want to be involved in this sport for a long, long time," he continued.
But Martin's joy comes at the expense of David Reutimann, who admitted that he was deeply disappointed by MWR's decision to drop him from the driver line-up for 2012.