Source: Martin to leave DEI in 2009, Almirola to race full time

SONOMA, Calif. -- NASCAR veteran Mark Martin will have a new racing home in 2009, ESPN.com has learned.

Martin was unavailable for comment Sunday. Officials for Martin's current team, Dale Earnhardt Inc., would neither confirm nor deny the speculation, but did confirm that young Aric Almirola would run a full-time schedule in 2009.

"Aric is ready for a full-time ride," said John Story, DEI vice president of motorsports operations. "There's a lot of interest in sponsorship for Aric. He's a bright young guy and a hell of a race car driver.

"He fits a lot of company's demographics with his age and Hispanic background. And first and foremost he can drive. We have to get him in a car full time somehow, some way."

Almirola has shared the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet with Martin for the past two seasons. Martin has been pivotal in mentoring DEI's young driving stable, especially Almirola and Regan Smith.

"He's been very good to us and very helpful, and good to our other drivers, so we're working through what's best for Mark, for Aric and for DEI," Story said. "We have five guys we'd like to run full time, and Mark doesn't want to run a full-time schedule.

"So he's looking at something very similar to what he has today. That's the challenge we have. We talk every day trying to make that work."

Asked to gauge his confidence regarding Martin's return, Story chose not to play percentages.

"I don't want to put odds on it," he said. "We're talking with him right now. He's got opportunities, as do we. He's been open and candid with his desire to stay, and any team would love to have Mark Martin.

"We're talking to Mark about what his objectives for the future are, and trying to marry that with our own, with Aric Almirola, to make sure Aric has an opportunity to run full time next year.

"We're going through the process right now of trying to make sure that we get something for Aric that provides him a 36-race schedule, and at the same time that Mark is in a good situation."

Marty Smith is the NASCAR reporter for ESPN.