LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said "one of my goals is that I want to be able to bring something to the organization in stability, and hopefully we can turn the car back over to Tony an even stronger organization than what it was when he got injured." But Martin quickly added, "But when you do something like the 11 car at Martinsville (where Martin subbed for the injured Denny Hamlin) on four days' notice or going into Bristol with this short of notice, it is like jumping into ice-cold water. It's going to be challenging, and challenges are good for me. I will do everything I can to step up to the plate."
LOOKING BACK: Austin Dillon drove the car at Michigan. And his day began badly when he crashed only 14 laps into the 200-lap event. "I did pretty much exactly what I did not want to do," said Dillon after the race. "I put us behind in the beginning and scared myself a little there. I thought I was going to be able to pass J. J. (Yeley) pretty easy, and I was just too loose on the braking. But thanks to Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys in the pits, we were able to recover and we ran some really fast times in the middle of the race. Our goal was a top-15 finish and we got it (finishing 14th). What a great comeback by the 14 team." Dillon will run one more race in the 14 car - at Talladega in October.
ETC.: Stewart suffered a broken right tibia and fibula in a winged sprint car crash on Aug. 5. The doctors have operated twice on his right leg, and Stewart admits he is in a lot of pain. "We expect a full recovery by Daytona (February 2014) or close to it," said SHR director of competition Greg Zipadelli. "It's a bad break to the leg, and he needs time to go through the process of healing, rehabilitation. With Mark coming on board, I think it gives us the window to go to the end of the year. He was obviously the best option. Tony was very excited about it. That was his first choice, so that's what we went after."
43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 76 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Only one top-10 finish in eight starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola hopes "to run a lot better at Bristol than we did in the spring. We know we need a real good weekend to keep alive any hopes of making the Chase. It looks more and more like we need a win to have any shot. But we also need a good run at Bristol to stay in the hunt as we feel real good about Atlanta."
LOOKING BACK: Almirola was forced to make a late-race pit stop for fuel to end any hopes he had of finishing in the top 10. Instead, he had to settle for an 18th-place finish at Michigan. "That was not the day we hoped for," said Almirola. "We had a fast car. Todd (Parrott, crew chief) made two great calls on chassis adjustments to get the splitter back on the ground, and then, we were running times as fast as the leaders. The cautions didn't fall out way, and we had to pit (for gas). We had a good car, but just weren't able to capitalize on it."
ETC.: Very few people get to see a race car pull up in their driveway. But that is exactly what happened last week to Sergeant First Class Howard Kott and his wife Dawn. "We just heard this loud noise and came out to see Aric just driving the 43 down the street," said Knox. "He even set off someone's car alarm. That was really cool." Once Almirola got out of the car, he surprised the Kott family with crew uniforms and VIP passes to the Michigan race. "We want to keep recognizing, honoring and thanking our military veterans, wounded warriors and their families," said Almirola. It was all part of the Operation Homefront program.
31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 102 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: One win and 15 top-10 finishes in 39 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Burton believes the "new" Bristol is "completely different than it was five years ago. To me, it is more of a race now. I know fans enjoyed us beating and banging on one another with all the accidents and tempers flaring, but I think the actual racing is better."
LOOKING BACK: Burton finished eighth at Michigan for his fifth top-10 finish of the season. "It's a good thing to be disappointed with an eighth-place finish," said Burton. "The 31 Cheerios Chevrolet had a lot of speed at times and I think was the best car on the track at times. We just struggled on fresh tires more than other drivers did. When we would put tires on, it seemed like it hurt us more than others. On long runs, our car was really happy and fast. No drama and we got what we deserved."
ETC.: Burton points out "everyone was surprised last year when the high groove (at Bristol) became the preferred line to run. I don't think anyone anticipated that. That usually makes the middle and low lines always open to pass. However, it is really hard to pass. That makes track position even more important."
17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 107 points out of the top 10, only five points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week.
BRISTOL RECORD: Finished 16th in his Cup debut in the spring race.
LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse believes the team will benefit "from the second time around. Going back to these tracks a second time will help us get better. I'm still hoping for that strong finish like we had in our Nationwide Series rookie campaign in 2010 so we can carry some momentum into next year."
LOOKING BACK: A blown right-front tire on lap 70 ended any hopes Stenhouse had of earning his first top-10 finish of the season. Instead, he had to be content with 19th-place finish. "This is the story of our season," said Stenhouse. "Our Ford was fast and we had worked ourselves into the top-10 and then we blew a right front. I am so proud of my guys. They kept fixing our car from our brake line being loose to cosmetic damage after the impact (with the turn two wall). I definitely think we could have gotten up there and contended for the win, but..."
ETC.: Stenhouse admits his rookie Cup season has been "up and down. I would say that we're right at a C. We've got a lot of room for improvement. We've had some strong runs. We've had speed. We've made good decisions. We haven't got everything to fall our way to capitalize on those. In these Sprint Cup races, you have to have everything fall in place and you have to be fast every week to get those good finishes you're looking for. We definitely got a lot of room for improvement."
9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford