Oct 13, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Mark Martin (55) takes the lead during the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Next Driver For the No. 55


Mark Martin announced Tuesday that he will not drive the No. 55 in 2014 and expects the No. 55 to be occupied by a full-time driver. That opens the door for a full-time driver to take his place. But who will it be or who should it be?

Mark Martin will run his second season at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2014 which includes 24 starts, identical to last year’s schedule. Brian Vickers will also drive a limited number of races along with Michael Waltrip, similar to 2012. Rodney Childers was crew chief of the No. 55 last season and will remain in the same position in 2013. Childers worked with all three drivers through last season. The combination of those three drivers have proven that, despite multiple drivers, the No. 55 team is competitive enough to win races. Though the team did not win any races in 2012, the team challenged for multiple wins. Notable tracks included Michigan, Bristol and Pocono.

And with the other two MWR cars making the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2012, Michael Waltrip Racing is becoming a top team in NASCAR, making the organization a premier team to drive for.

But back to the question, who would drive the No. 55 full-time in 2014?

The first driver that comes to mind is Brian Vickers. Vickers had a comeback season last year driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in eight races. In those eight races, Vickers had five top tens and three top five finishes, including 158 laps led. Brian Vickers also ran up front and looked to challenge for the win at Martinsville and Bristol.

In the process of providing results for MWR, teams took notice. Joe Gibbs Racing has signed Brian Vickers to a one year deal in the Nationwide series in 2013. And, as mentioned, Vickers will return on a limited basis for MWR this season. If Vickers can continue to run up front in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series this season, already part of the MWR team, he seems the most logical first choice to take over the No. 55 in 2014.

Elliot Sadler is another possible driver that could drive the No. 55. Sadler has finished second in points the past two seasons in the Nationwide series. He will drive his first full-time schedule for JGR in the Nationwide series this . As a fellow Toyota organization, driving for MWR would be an easy transition for Sadler. And with his past Sprint Cup experience and present results in the Nationwide series, Sadler is a viable option for MWR.

Ryan Newman, who will become a free agent in 2014, is another driver to consider. Ryan Newman has been driving for Stewart-Haas Racing since 2009 and signed a one year deal with SHR in 2013.

Newman has a total of 3 wins since joining SHR and missed the Chase this past season. Questions have been asked if Ryan Newman will return to SHR beyond 2013 due to lack of results and sponsorship. Danica Patrick is also joining SHR in 2013 as well as Kevin Harvick joining the organization in 2014. The organization has had trouble finding sponsors for all three race teams for all 36 races in 2013. Due to lack of results, sponsorship and the addition of Patrick and Harvick, it is likely Newman will be a free agent in 2014.

Newman has a total of 16 wins in his Sprint Cup career, including eight in 2003. Newman is still considered a top driver in the NASCAR garage and must be considered as a possible driver for MWR in 2014. Newman would bring experience as well with his engineering degree. And as a driver, his engineering degree provides great feedback when learning more about the cars.

It is no doubt that Michael Waltrip Racing is a team on the rise and becoming a top team in the Sprint Cup series. The No. 55 will be a coveted ride in 2014 and the team’s results on the race track only makes the vacant seat even sweeter. MWR provides drivers not only a chance to win races, but now they give people a chance to win championships. When championships are a possibility, top drivers want to race for you, and MWR will have good options to choose from in 2014.

Tags: Brian Vickers Elliot Sadler Mark Martin Michael Waltrip NASCAR Ryan Newman