Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, is second in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, trailing leader Sterling Marlin by 95 points. Martin spoke during Friday's rain delay about trying to catch Marlin and win the first series ...
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, is second in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, trailing leader Sterling Marlin by 95 points. Martin spoke during Friday's rain delay about trying to catch Marlin and win the first series championship of his career.
MARK MARTIN --6-- Viagra Taurus
ARE YOU HAPPY WHERE YOU'RE AT RIGHT NOW IN THE STANDINGS?
"Relatively speaking. I don't know if I would ever be really, really happy for any extended period of time, so, relatively speaking, yes, I'm happy relative to last year and the year before."
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF ATTENTION RECENTLY ON OTHER DRIVERS -- JEFF GORDON, RICKY RUDD, TONY STEWART, STERLING MARLIN -- AND YOU SEEM TO BE FLYING UNDER THE RADAR. DO YOU LIKE IT THAT WAY?
"There are pluses and minuses to all that stuff. I don't race for fame, I race to win. So whether they notice or not doesn't really affect me. It is very nice to be recognized for a job well done. On the other hand, when they're on your bandwagon, there's a certain amount of distraction and responsibility that comes along with that. So I tend to not get caught up in that question and just keep the focus on what I really love to do, but it is true that you like to be recognized for a job well done. It is also true that too much of that gets to be an additional load to all the other things that you're doing, so I don't really get caught up in that."
IT MUST BE NICE FOR YOUR GUYS TO JUST BE ABLE TO COME AND WORK ON THE CAR WITHOUT A LOT OF OUTSIDE DISTRACTIONS.
"We have been able to do that. There has been some frustration, especially where FOX was concerned. They didn't cover us and I didn't know why, but they didn't give us the coverage that we had earned. NBC has been fair about it and they've been a little bit different. What you earn on the race track is what you are due, but it doesn't always work that way in this business."
THAT GOES BACK TO WHAT RICKY RUDD WAS SAYING THE FIRST HALF OF THE YEAR.
"That does go back to exactly what he said regardless of what you think might be the cause of that, which, at the time, age might have been an issue on that -- especially where he was concerned with what he was saying -- but there are other things too that get into that. I'm not complaining about it because I look at the positive side and the positive side is it has allowed us to keep our eye on the target. On the negative side, it hasn't given these guys the credit that they're due."
MOST OF YOUR GUYS HAD NOT BEEN TO VICTORY LANE UNTIL YOU WON AT CHARLOTTE. ARE YOU SURPRISED TO BE WHERE YOU'RE AT RIGHT NOW IN POINTS?
"I am surprised, but the racing in Winston Cup has changed dramatically, especially over the last five years. You couldn't be where we are in the points five years ago with the inconsistent finishes that we have had, but no one can do that right now based on the way the rules are and the changing of the competition on the race track. It's more than just a lot of competition, it comes down to slower cars get better finishes more often now because of track position, aero rules, hard tires and a lot of other things that are involved. You can't pass, so the fastest car doesn't always get back up or recover from whatever little glitches that may happen during the day. If you have a little glitch, you may not recover."
YOU JUST MENTIONED FIVE YEARS AGO, YOU'VE BEEN IN POINTS RACES WHERE YOU'VE HAD BETTER SEASONS THAN THIS ONE BUT YOU'RE STILL IN ABOUT THE SAME PLACE.
"It's just a different time. The year I ran second to Jeff Gordon in '98, we won seven races and finished second to him I don't know how many times when he won 13. That meant that two-thirds of the races were won by two people. It's a different time now. That's not happening and it's not because everybody is not running good. It's not because people aren't trying or there aren't any good teams or anything like that, it's just that the conditions that we race under are different now and you're not able to excel on a weekly basis like you could because you have all these other things that get in your way that didn't use to prevent you from rising to the top week in and week out."
HAS IT BEEN FRUSTRATING NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF STERLING'S PROBLEMS -- LIKE AT INDY?
"We really couldn't help that the part broke in the engine with 15 laps to go. We were a second or third place car and ran third basically all day. I was very, very pleased with the performance we had. We qualified ninth and had a fabulous performance all weekend, but parts break and we wreck these cars and sometimes we have flat tires. You can't control a lot of that. Like last week, what we have to do now is accept what's behind us and try to dig out."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE STERLING'S GOT NINE LIVES?
"I'm not sure that Sterling is the one yet. There's a long, long way to go and my focus is not really on Sterling, it's on us. I don't have any concern about being able to score more points than Sterling, if we have stellar performance on the race track. I don't know that we can do that for sure, but if we have a stellar performance and have a great finishing average, then I think we can score more points than him. But I'm not sure we can do that on everyone that's in the top 10, so the answer to that question is it doesn't exist in my world. Sterling and nine lives doesn't exist. The thing we have to do is we have to step up the performance and then everything else has to go our way, but we also have to watch out that someone doesn't out-perform us."
YOU'VE BEEN CONSISTENTLY IN THE TOP 10, BUT YOU HAVEN'T REALLY DOMINATED.
"That's true but neither has anybody else. That's why we're second in the points, but that's what needs to happen to close this deal. It's very possible that someone will do that. Looking at the history of the season, it's questionable whether or not the 6 will do it and it's questionable whether or not the 40 will do it, but it's possible. It's also incredibly possible for any of the next six guys behind us to put a run together like Bill Elliott did or like Ryan Newman did. All somebody has to do is put something together like that and they can pull this thing off, if they don't stumble in the others. In order for the 6 car to close this deal, that's all we've got to do. I mean, it's a done deal if we can do that and not fall out of races, but I don't know if we can do that or not. I don't know if anyone can, but I'm just saying to close the deal, man, it would be a no brainer. We could go out there and take this thing right now if we could go out and run in the top three six times or eight times and not fall out of any of the last 12 races. No one could touch us."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ABLE TO COME TO THE TRACK THIS LATE IN THE YEAR AND BE IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE?
"I don't even notice it. We have a great working relationship with Ben (Leslie) and Bob Osborne (team engineer) and all the guys and it feels good to come to the race track and work with these guys. It's neither exciting nor depressing to be where we are in the points. A year ago, it was depressing because I didn't see any opportunity to get there from where we were, and now we are basically there. All we need now is a little polishing and a little luck, but it's a joy to come to the race track and work with this race team. This race team reminds me of how I felt in '98 when I had a new race team. Everyone was young and excited and pumped up and we were flying. Everything was good and this is what it felt like. The feeling of what I experienced in May is head and shoulders the highlight of my career. If I never turned another lap as long as I live, my 30 years of dedication and sacrifice was worth it just for that one moment. To be able to see their faces and to have my family there was special. My team targeted that race and they told me, 'We're gonna go win that race. We're gonna build you a new car. We're gonna go test. We're gonna practice pit stops and we're gonna go win that race.' In this business, you're darn lucky if the race picks you. If you get to win, you're lucky because you're one of the very few. You don't ever get to choose which one you're gonna win, but they chose that one and they went and did it. It was huge and the look on their face, it was their first win, it was a big deal. How do you measure the significance of a race? The measures are: how big the trophy is, how much money it pays and how many people come. Those are the only ways I know how to measure how important they are and, by all measures, that was big."
WITH A YOUNG TEAM THIS YEAR, HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE PLAYED A PART IN THE SUCCESS?
"I have a very, very small amount of input on team matters and a small amount of input on hardware. I'm minimizing when I say that. I have an enormous responsibility to this team when it comes to performance matters in relation to setups. It's a heavy, heavy load. That's the beauty of driving for Jack Roush because if you have something to give, not only are you expected to give it but you're expected to give it all the time. That's what I have to bring to the table, so I carry that load on top of the driving duties. My driving duties are totally overshadowed by the responsibilities that I have to Ben and Bruce Hayes and these guys with the 6 car."
YOU HAD A MORE EXPERIENCED CREW CHIEF WITH JIMMY FENNIG LAST YEAR, BUT DOES IT MEAN MORE WITH A YOUNGER GUY THIS SEASON?
"I've always had a big role, but this season is viewed by many people as my big chance, so being tentative or standing back would certainly be a mistake. This is my big chance. Next year might be my big chance, too, but we can't talk about next year. We can talk about the fact I haven't been able to close the deal before and this is the best opportunity I've ever had to do it. I rely enormously on Bob Osborne and Ben Leslie (crew chief) to keep the blinders off and to open this thing up so we're not limited to my knowledge and my experience because that would be a mistake. If you take one guy and that one guy is the boss and the boss never listens or hears from anyone who works for him, then you will only be as good as the boss. But if you take really, really good people and work as a sounding board together, then you have the opportunity of being the sum of all three. So the performance and setup stuff is certainly the sum of all three of us. The only difference in my deal, and a lot of the deals on the Winston Cup circuit, is rather than them making the final choices, I feel like I make the final choices based on team input. There are times when I don't want to but I do, and there are times when I don't want to and tell 'em I don't want to because I can't bear the uncertainty of it all. When that happens, I let Ben take that off of me. But if I just had Ben do that all the time, then we wouldn't benefit from the experience and judgement that I have over someone who had only been here five years and Ben knows that. He wants that, so we rely on each other a lot. Of course, that's the only part of it that I'm so involved in. As far as crew members and pit stops and car maintenance and car build and many other choices that are made, I don't even get involved in those because they're superior to me in experience and knowledge of that. But from a setup standpoint, I have to agonize sometimes. For a driver who is not involved in that and doesn't make those selections and choices and give a lot of direction, then when the car doesn't run good, they have someone to blame. And, believe me, there are a lot of days that it would help me a lot to have someone to blame, but, at the end of my day, I don't have anybody to blame. I don't have anybody to blame for coming up short at the end of the day and that's what I mean by it being a very heavy load. I feel like driving the car is a small responsibility of mine and the really big responsibility of mine is to help shepherd this performance to a winning and contending level. I don't mean that by taking away from anyone, it's just that I can't ever say, 'I don't know why those guys ran that swaybar.' Or, 'I told them not to run those rear springs.' That's a statement that will never come from me. There are certain days when it's just about more than I can bear to make the choice and I've had those days recently. On those days, I've said, 'You guys do what you want to do. I don't know what to do.' But on those days things have turned out very well because of the strength of our team and the depth we have. For the most part, I'm in there wrestling with 'em and when we walk away from the race track, we did it together and I don't have anyone to blame."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TRACKS THAT REMAIN ON THE SCHEDULE THIS YEAR?
"I look at the last stretch much like the rest of the season. I would say 50 percent of the schedule is my strong suit, 25 percent of it is my weakness and 25 percent is in between. In these last 12 races, I would say there's a standard mix of that. I don't see it shaking any particular way. Bristol and Talladega are Russian roulette and we just had one in the chamber for us at Bristol. We may have one in the chamber for us at Talladega too, I don't know. I can't help that or do anything about it, so we'll just do the best that we can. Other than that, we have a couple race tracks where we run really good at times and really bad at time and in between at times. Then we've got some race tracks that we always run good at, such as Charlotte and Dover. I feel like when we go to those two race tracks, in our worst level of competitiveness, we're still a top 10 car at those places. When we're at our lowest and we go to Loudon or Martinsville, we're in the teens or the twenties, but I've won at Martinsville and I've run second real recently at Loudon, so it all comes down to how you hit it. I believe that this race team is prepared for these last 12 races much better than we were prepared for the first 12, although we got some great results. We didn't have many cars and the cars we got done were OK. We have better cars than those now and we know more about our setups than we did, but, then again, we don't run better at every track. We ran worse at Pocono the second time, but we ran better at Michigan the second time. So, it's just racing. There's no way to lay it out. Optimism don't get you results. You can ask certain guys in here and they're gonna win this weekend and you can ask them next week and they're gonna win. They'll tell you every time that they're gonna win, but that doesn't get a win. Other things get you wins, so I'm not the guy that's gonna sit here and tell you that we're gonna do this and we're gonna do that. I can guarantee you that we're gonna give it everything that we have and that we appear to be better positioned for this last third than we were in the first third, but there are no guarantees."