Stewart-Haas Racing has confirmed that Tony Stewart will not be able to return to race duty for the rest of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The three-time series champion suffered a broken right tibia and fibula in a
winged sprint car crash in a regional weekday race on August 5 at Southern Iowa Speedway in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Stewart had originally appeared optimistic of returning to the wheel of the #14 car as early as September, but has now received medical advice that he needs a considerably longer recuperation period.

"After consulting with Tony's doctors and speaking with Tony, we agreed it was best for him to focus on his recovery," said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart-Haas' competition director. "For the #14 team, our focus is on positioning them for a run at the owner championship."

That meant finding a top quality line-up of replacement drivers to take over the #14 car for the rest of the season. Zipadelli had previously stated that it was his preference to have just one or two drivers take over from Stewart in order to establish some continuity and allow the replacement to get into a rhythm and build up a strong working relationship with crew chief Steve Addington and the other members of the team.

Rumours circulating at Michigan International Speedway last weekend strongly hinted that SHR was close to concluding a deal to bring in veteran racer Mark Martin as the main stand-in driver. Martin has been driving the #55 Michael Waltrip Racing car this season for 26 of the 36 Cup races, and came close to winning on Sunday before running out of fuel two laps from the end of the race.

On Monday, SHR announced that Martin would indeed take over from Stewart for the remainder of the season, with the exception of the October 20 race at Talladega Superspeedway as Martin is no fan of the high-speed 2.5-mile tracks. Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon will take over the seat for that race, as he did for a solid outing at Michigan.

"We certainly appreciate Michael Waltrip Racing and Richard Childress Racing for making Mark and Austin available to us," said Zipadelli, relieved to have finally hammered out the delicate three-way negotiations to make the jigsaw pieces fall into place and give the team some stability for the remainder of 2013.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed to be out of [competition] for so long, but the team is in very good hands with Mark Martin and Austin Dillon," said Tony Stewart himself. "Mark is someone I've looked up to my entire career and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.

"Austin is a great young talent, and he showed that Sunday at Michigan. Greg Zipadelli, Steve Addington and everybody at SHR supports them 100 percent," he stressed. "This isn't a situation anyone wanted, but we're going to make the best of it. In the meantime, my focus is on getting healthy and getting back into my Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy."

Martin was due to exit MWR at the end of the current season and the team had recently announced that Brian Vickers would take over the #55 full-time in 2014. The deal to release Martin early means that Vickers will now get 12 Cup outings this season in the Aaron's-sponsored entry.

Team co-owner Michael Waltrip praised Martin's contribution to the team over the last two seasons. "With Mark, we accomplished everything we hoped to when he came to this organization, which was bringing that winning confidence to the team, the experience to help elevate our program and ultimately find the full-time driver for the future who can race for a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship," said Waltrip, himself a two-time Daytona 500 champion.

"Mark's leadership the past two years has been so impactful that he has left a mark on this company that will be here as long as we race," he continued.

"This opportunity to help two Hall of Famers in Mark and Tony Stewart at the same time, while getting the opportunity to run the rest of the year with Brian, makes sense for MWR," he added. "But nothing could happen without the support of Aaron's, Toyota and the other MWR sponsors. Each of them saw the same benefits in such a move and helped make it happen. This is a truly win, win, win situation."

"Aaron's is supportive of the arrangement with Mark Martin agreeing to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing," confirmed Ronald W. Allen, Aaron's Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. "We're energized about Vickers' availability to drive the #55 Aaron's Dream Machine for the remainder of the season.

"MWR talked about how this move would better position our team for 2014 while helping Stewart-Haas Racing so we believe this is the best of all possible outcomes for everyone," he said. "We appreciate everything Mark Martin has done for Aaron's over the last two years and wish him the best of luck in the future."

Certainly Vickers was thrilled by the early return to full-time Cup racing. "No one wants to see Tony out of the #14, but I am appreciative of the opportunity to get more seat time in the #55 as a result," said Vickers, who is currently also competing full-time in the Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.

"I didn't think things could get any better than last week's announcement with Aaron's, but having a chance to run the rest of the 2013 season creates a tremendous opportunity for our team and we're excited that all of this came together the way it did," he said.

"Mark gets to help out Tony and we get to start our program early in the #55. We've proven we can win races in a part time capacity so far in 2013 and I'm confident that spending more time working with the #55 crew will only to help improve our already strong performance to date, giving us the momentum needed to start the 2014 season off strong in Daytona."

Waltrip himself will still take the wheel of the #55 at Talladega as planned, since Martin hadn't been scheduled to drive that race for MWR either.

For Martin himself it raises a fascinating question regarding his future in NASCAR. Many had wondered whether the end of his stint at MWR meant he was about to retire for good, but taking on a high-profile assignment in the #14 car suggests that putting his feet up is far from the 54-year-old's mind right now - although if he does decide to retire, it's a heck of a way to go out on a high.

"I'm proud of the work we've done the last two seasons and I'm extremely thankful for the effort everyone on my team and at MWR put behind me," said Martin, who has 870 Cup starts starts to his name - the fifth most in NASCAR history.

"I also want to thank Michael Waltrip and Rob Kauffman for giving me this opportunity," Martin added. "They are building a strong organisation at MWR and one that's going to be a force in NASCAR for years to come both on and off the track."