Mark Martin clinches IROC championship

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Ford in the Nextel Cup Series, clinched a record-setting fifth career IROC championship today with his second-place finish in the IROC season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Martin, who completed his 11th season...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Ford in the Nextel Cup Series, clinched a record-setting fifth career IROC championship today with his second-place finish in the IROC season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Martin, who completed his 11th season of IROC competition, has 13 career victories, which includes his most recent win at Richmond in September. Martin Truex, Jr. won the 65-lap, 100.1-mile race by 0.818 seconds over Martin with Matt Kenseth finishing third.

MARK MARTIN -2005 IROC CHAMPION

YOU FINISHED SECOND TODAY, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP. "It was a fun race, a great race, Martin just gave me a driving lesson out there today."

YOU CLINCHED YOUR FIFTH IROC CHAMPIONSHIP, SURPASSING THE LATE DALE EARNHARDT. "I think the most special thing, when you're young you don't really realize it, and I never realized it, but it's the relationships that you build along the way. The opportunity that I've had to get to know Emerson Fittipaldi and Martin Brundell, Al Unser, Jr., Max Papis and Sebastien Bourdais, and just all of these guys, and the opportunity to go to the driver's meeting and hang out with them for 15 or 20 minutes is a really big deal."

TALK ABOUT WHAT THE IROC CHAMPIONSHIP MEANS TO YOU. "This year, I don't know how it worked out, but it was even more spectacular than the other years. My participation in IROC performance-wise has been magical. It is definitely the source of the greatest pride of my driving career. You don't get invited to race in IROC just every year, so you have to really earn your way in just to get a chance to compete. When I was younger it was such a thrill to be invited. The first time I was invited was 1990, and I was just elated to be invited and have the opportunity. Over a period of time, if I look at the numbers, I think we finished fourth the first year we were involved, third the second time that we were involved, and the next nine times that we were invited we either won the championship or finished second. The numbers are incredible, but putting those aside the thing that I think that is most important to me today, where I am in my career, is I've finally matured enough to figure out that the coolest thing about IROC is the opportunity that I've had to sit in the driver's meeting with such great drivers from all over the world. For example, Martin Brundell, Emerson Fittipaldi, great driver like Al Unser, Jr., Max Papis, Castroneves, Sebastien Bourdais, all of these guys I wouldn't have ever had a chance to even talk to if I hadn't been invited to race IROC. That is the coolest thing about IROC racing. The performance part of it has always blinded me because of the competitiveness of it. The thing that I will always remember as long as I live is the opportunity when I see one of those guys on TV, I'll say, 'Man, I know guy and he's pretty cool.'"

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD ANYTHING FOR MARTIN TRUEX TODAY? "No, Martin gave me a driving lesson today. He gave us a spanking big time. I congratulate Martin; he is a true champion and all of the success that he's had on the race track he's earned. He's done it the old-school way. He's gone out there and he hasn't robbed anybody or done it in a rough fashion, he's just gone out there and really been spectacular. Today, nobody could run with him, although I was trying to get at least close to him at the end so that the fans would get excited, but then the caution came out."

ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU WEREN'T VOTED ONE OF THE GREATEST IROC DRIVERS THIS WEEK? "That doesn't surprise me. You could rephrase that question and say, 'Do I think that I should have beat out Dale Earnhardt?' Then I would shrink to that question. I understand your question on one hand, and on the other hand I would shrink away from saying that I think I should have been voted over Dale Earnhardt. It's just like Cup racing, I'm not bitter about what I haven't done, I'm just damn glad that I did have the success that I have had. But, you pretty much knew that. I'm not totally shocked. Maybe down the road, 20 to 30 years from now, maybe they'll have another one and I'll be in the running, I don't know. All I know is that the greatest pride, the centerpiece of my driving career is the absolute phenomenal numbers from IROC, and I can't explain it. I didn't even TiVo the race; I haven't even seen the Richmond race. I didn't TiVo it because I was starting in the back and it's hard to pass. I never dreamed in a million years that I could win that race, and I've been so busy since that I haven't had the opportunity to watch it, and it was a great race. If you were asking me to give myself odds today, I'd say, 'I'm driving against these great guys and it's going to be hard to pass, it's all about drafting.' I'm very proud of running second today. I don't know how I did that. I just can't explain it. It's really been phenomenal. I don't know how I've managed to have so much success. I don't know how it's happened."

IS IT YOUR CHOICE ON WHAT TO DO WITH THE $1 MILLION? "The check usually comes one or two weeks after the last race and it's all there. It's all there, every dollar, it's there. I'm right on the verge of retirement, and in the past I've dispersed that money around quite a bit. I've taken half of the money and dispersed it around, but that my retirement."

AS THE IROC CHAMPION, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THIS YEAR ABOUT THE DRIVERS FROM THE OTHER SERIES? "That's a great question because it reminds me, and I hope everyone write this: if someone in NASCAR doesn't give Sebastien Bourdais a ride they need their head examined. They're all the real deal, but Sebastien has really impressed me. Helio is such a cool guy and he's really got the hang of this stuff, and it's really neat to race with him. Scott Pruett is a master, and if we every wind up with a road course on this thing, he's the man. He said Thursday after we went out and practiced, I got out of the car and he said, 'You guys are just magical.' I thought, 'What? That's just what I told you after Sears Point or Watkins Glen.' He's quick to give credit, but to be honest with you, he is magic on a road course. I don't mean to leave anyone out. It's so cool to be able to race with and talk with Max Papis. These guys really worked hard, and of all the years that I've participated in IROC, these guys this year, Buddy Rice and all of these guys, studied harder and worked hard at it than any of the other guys and they've all done better than the total class of any other year. I've participated 11 times, and they've really all been special."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT SEBASTIEN THAT MAKES YOU SAY THAT? "I'm way too dumb to be able to answer that question. You know how I'll answer that: I know what I'm talking about. I know what I'm talking about. I knew what I was talking about Matt Kenseth. I know what I'm talking about about Joey Logano, and I know what I'm talking about about Sebastien Bourdais. I don't know. Ask me what springs are in my car for tomorrow, or shocks or sway bar or weight distribution. I can tell you all that, but I'm not very analytical about that stuff."

"I think we were invited to IROC because we finished fourth in the point standings; I think that's why. I certainly wasn't invited a few other years when I wished I was and thought I might've, should've been, but you have to earn your way in by doing spectacular on the race track. But the point is, yes, this is a very special year. I went into this one knowing that there was a chance that this would be the last time I was invited based on not knowing how I would end up in the final Cup standings in '05. I knew I was tied for the most wins, and I knew I was tied for the most championships, and I knew that this could be an opportunity to set myself apart. I was up on the wheel like every other year, but this was magical. To have the finishes that I've had and to get the win at Daytona was really special. Daytona, obviously, has not been kind to me at all. I think we may have won twice in an IROC car at Daytona. That was a great way to start it off, and the last time I was invited to IROC, the year before last, Kurt Busch just put a whipping on me. We finished second, which is great, but it was like I could not beat Kurt. Every time we went out on the race track he was positioned one in front of me. No matter where I finished he was the next car ahead of me. It's been a special year for me, especially IROC and the fans with the way that they've embraced the Salute Tour, the performance of the Cup car and the relationships. I've gotten more mature finally and realized that one of the most important things as you go through life is relationships. One of the things that scared me the most in February about moving on from Cup racing was not seeing your faces. I didn't think about the racing part of it, or not going back to a certain race track. I though about, 'Oh wow, that's going to be weird.' I guess I'm a slow bloomer or something because it's taken a long time for me to realize that. Those kinds of things are important to me today."

HELIO CASTRONEVES MENTIONED AFTER THE RACE THAT HE CONSIDERED YOU AN ICON. WHAT DOES THAT STATEMENT MEAN TO YOU? "These young guys, the best young drivers are the ones that respect the guys that were there before them. They're the ones that are the easiest to like. Of course, he incredibly popular because he's always respected the ones that were there before him, and it's really neat, the respect that he and some of the other drivers have relayed or have given me. It's something that I feel like I gave when I came to NASCAR racing and I really, really do respect those guys. The guys that I like the most are the guys that can drive like nobody's business that are humble and look up to the people who did it before they did."

BUT THIS IS FROM A GUY FROM INDY CAR RACING. "I don't know what to say about that. I think that's great. I have as much respect for him as he does for me, but to see it cross over is really neat. I think he has more respect now than he might have had before racing IROC because he's been able to get to know us and race us on the race track. But, we're all fans. I know those guys from TV, and they know me from TV, but the chance to race against each other, to hang out at practice and talk about lessons and little things that go on the race track is all good. It's all good sportsmanship. Everybody goes out there and they race hard and they figure the best man win. It's really a good atmosphere today in this series."

DO YOU GET A DEGREE OF COMPETITIVE SATISFACTION FROM IROC THAT YOU DON'T GET FROM CUP? "I don't know. I think Sunday evening at about five o'clock in Kansas I was pretty satisfied. It's just icing. Every success is icing, and the older I get every time I have a success is even more special because I know that the time is so limited. I think the biggest thing is that I take what I can get. I work really hard and I have for 30 years. Racing has been primary in my life for 30 years, and it's nice to still rake in a trophy here and there."

WHEN YOU START ADDING UP ALL OF YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS SO FAR THIS YEAR, DOES THIS RANK AMONG THE BEST SEASONS OF YOUR CAREER? "It does because 2005 has been the highlight of my career without question with the All-Star win and the IROC win at Daytona right out of the box, two Busch wins the first two Busch races that I ran. The All-Star win was absolutely incredible. I felt so good and it was so exciting. The win at Richmond in the IROC car, this championship, and the Kansas win, it's just all really good stuff. Put that aside and let's talk about the time and the committeemen I made to the 'Salute to You.' That time that I spent with my fans at our dealership in Arkansas, that whole weekend was the most special time that I've ever spent with fans because I didn't come in and sign autographs and leave. I was there all day for two days and we had fun. We hung out, I looked at their pictures, which aren't the same pictures as mine. I saw their stuff and they'll tell me about what it was and when they were there and what happened. That was golden, and that is going to a yearly thing that we're going to have in Batesville. The way that the fans, my fans especially, have embraced me this year because we thought it was gouge to be the last year until six weeks ago has just been absolutely phenomenal. It's been so heartwarming all the way through on the other side, away from the racing performance side. The way my team has supported me this year has been absolutely unbelievable. I can't understand why I'm so lucky to have people like Pat Tryson and Todd Zeigler and Mike Janow and all of the guys that work on my 6 car. What I've done to deserve their commitment I'll never understand. I don't understand it, and all I know is that I'm a lucky man. Yeah, no other year, to me, compares to this year."

WILL YOU RACE IROC NEXT SEASON? "I'm invited and I haven't ever turned one down yet. I'm not making the announcement today because I really want to think about 2006 later, but obviously, I'm very grateful to Crown Royal and IROC."

ARE YOU COMING BACK THE CUP SERIES NEXT YEAR WITH A SENSE OF RESIGNATION, OR HAVE THE SUCCESSES YOU'VE HAD THIS YEAR REINVIGORATED YOU? "There are two ways to look at 2006 through my eyes. One is, I have no idea how I can perform in 2006 like 2005, and it scares me because I didn't want to go out that way. So, how I'm dealing with that is I'm not dealing with it. I'm going to work on that when the banquet is over with, but I can't deal with that right now because I've thrown every ounce of myself at 2005, and I don't know how I can do that again. I can't carry the load of knowing that I'm going to do that again and finish this one out, so I'm going to have to address that after the banquet and we'll go to work on it. Obviously, we have a great race team and I'm very committed in trying to keep that together for '06, and then for '07 for Todd (Kluever) because we have to give Todd the opportunity to show his potential. This truck he's driven this year, he hasn't had the opportunity to realize his potential. It hasn't been as good as it needs to be and we can't let him step into the 6 car and not have a very potent team. I'm committed that one of the things that I'll work the hardest on for the next 16 months is making sure Todd has as good a team as possible, as good of a team as I've had so that he can get in there and learn the things that he needs to learn and realize his potential."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series IROC , Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Max Papis , Scott Pruett , Sébastien Bourdais , Buddy Rice , Martin Truex Jr. , Emerson Fittipaldi , Mark Martin , Al Unser