Martin to drive No. 5 for Hendrick; Almirola picked for DEI's No. 8

Updated: July 2, 2008, 12:27 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- Mark Martin will announce at a Friday news conference plans to move from a part-time role in the No. 8 at Dale Earnhardt Inc. to a full-time ride in the No. 5 car at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009.

Aric Almirola will drive the No. 8 car at DEI next season.

The decision to put Almirola into the U.S. Army-sponsored car full-time had nothing to do with Martin's decision to return to a full-time Sprint Cup schedule and make one last run at a championship, sources said.

[+] EnlargeAric Almirola
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireDEI decided to put Aric Almirola in the No. 8 car full time because he has developed a good relationship with crew chief Tony Gibson.

It had more to do with advancing Almirola's talents and taking advantage of the appeal he has shown with sponsors looking for a younger driver. One of those is U.S. Army, whose target audience fits the 24-year-old Almirola much more than the 49-year-old Martin.

"This is an incredibly exciting opportunity," Almirola said. "When you get into racing, you always dream of competing at the highest level and I've had the chance to do that on a limited basis for the past two seasons.

"Now I will have the opportunity to race the car full time and I could not be more excited about driving the No. 8 car each week for Dale Earnhardt Inc."

Sources said DEI informed Martin during the All-Star race in May that the organization planned to move forward with Almirola in a full-time ride, either in the No. 8 or 01.

At that time, Martin expressed an interest in competing in more than the 15 to 19 races he was contracted to run next season at DEI.

It was decided soon afterwards that the 8 would be the best situation for Almirola because he had developed a good relationship with crew chief Tony Gibson while splitting time with Martin.

Almirola was eighth in his first start at Bristol and was 23rd on Sunday at New Hampshire.

Martin also made it known then that he had other opportunities, Hendrick one of them, to run a full-time schedule next season.

"There is no doubt Aric is ready to go full time," said Martin. "Aric is an incredible talent and a true student of the sport. Having him run a full-time program in the No. 8 was always part of the plan, but his development has allowed us to accelerate things.

"Driving that 8 car has been a tremendous honor for me given the respect I have for Dale Earnhardt and DEI, but it is also a great honor to be able to turn over the driving duties of that car to a young man that is destined for great things."

Martin has not run a full-time Cup schedule since 2006, his final year at Roush Fenway Racing. He raced in 24 events last season, registering five top-fives and 11 top-10s.

In 12 events this season, he has two top-fives and five top-10s.

Martin will replace Casey Mears, who has put the No. 5 into Victory Lane only once at HMS.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter