Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, will be making his final Daytona 500 start in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series next week. Martin spoke about getting ready for the season during Thursday's NASCAR media day. MARK MARTIN -- No.
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, will be making his final Daytona 500 start in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series next week. Martin spoke about getting ready for the season during Thursday's NASCAR media day.
MARK MARTIN -- No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion
HOW DID YOU BECOME THE BUSIEST MAN AT SPEEDWEEKS? "Somehow or another by accident. It was pretty obvious that I would be back in IROC as the IROC season wound down because they always invite the champion back, and we did pretty good in the points with the Cup car so that was kind of a given. I wasn't planning on running the truck here. I was gonna let David Ragan go out there and have all the excitement, but I came and helped the guys test and the truck was really fast. I thought, 'Oh boy, it would kind of be fun to drive that truck,' but I still wasn't gonna do it. Then we had the opportunity to sign a sponsor for the full season and I told them I would drive it at Daytona if they would commit to the full season for the truck. So, basically, it had to do with Scotts coming on board for the full season in the 6 truck. That way David will have a sponsor when he drives the truck too."
WHAT ABOUT THE DOUBLE DUTY ON FRIDAY? IT WILL BE KIND OF HECTIC. "I don't think so because it's all about fun. The IROC thing, the pressure is off there. As of right now there are no more records to worry about trying to set or whatever. And the truck is really fast. It's not something I planned on doing, but it will be fun. Maybe I'll have a shot to win two races in a matter of hours."
WHAT WOULD YOUR ORIGINAL PLAN HAVE BEEN BEFORE TAKING ON THE CUP DUTY AGAIN? "Originally it would have been the trucks and, hopefully, IROC. You never know if you'll get invited back. I was crushed a few years ago. After winning four championships and then I finished eighth in the points. I was second in the points in IROC and eighth in the Cup points and I didn't get invited back and I was kind of disappointed. This is the first time they've brought in someone on a past champion, so maybe I can race IROC as many times as I want going forward, but that's always been an elite crowd and very hard to get into. In the past, if you didn't win that championship or finish in the first three or four in Cup, you didn't get to run. Anyway, my plan had originally been to run the trucks only until I made the commitment to Roush Racing. It was a very important commitment that they needed there, so that they could make their deal with AAA. Otherwise, they didn't have a driver to commit to the long-term deal and now they have a long-term contract with AAA and they can move forward in '07."
WHAT'S YOUR THOUGHT ABOUT THIS YEAR? "I haven't thought yet. I put everybody off in New York at the banquet. I put everybody off at the media tour and I still need to put you guys off. I just hadn't thought about it. I've been incredibly busy. We just had a preview in Batesville for our new museum. That has taken a little time. It's been a fairly big project, but I'm overwhelmed by that. We're really excited with that. I've been helping Matt transition from the trucks to late models and just getting my picture taken with all these different sponsors. Man, oh man. I've got AAA, Pennzoil, Ameriquest and Scotts all as major sponsors in different series, so we've been busy."
ARE YOU LOOKING AT THIS AS YOUR LAST SPEEDWEEKS? "I'll be here in the truck next year, and maybe I'll get invited back to IROC, too. You never know."
WHAT ABOUT RUSTY GOING IN THE BOOTH. WILL HE BE EASIER OR HARDER ON THE VETERANS AS FAR AS HIS COMMENTS? "I don't see Rusty being quite as critical as maybe Darrell Waltrip might be. Rusty is a really great guy and he's gonna be fantastic for this sport. He's gonna do an awesome job at commentating and bringing color and bringing an understanding to the fans from the driver's seat, much like Darrell Waltrip has. He'll be a great addition to the lineup like that."
HAVE YOU EVER KNOWN HIM NOT TO TELL IT LIKE IT IS? "Well, Rusty is gonna have trouble not swearing (laughter). Finally, he may learn to communicate without swearing."
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING SOMETHING LIKE THAT DOWN THE ROAD? "No, I'm not cut from that cloth. I could do that, but I would have to work at it really hard. I'm a perfectionist and that's not something I'm inclined to do. I don't want to go to that many races anyway, so there are a lot of reasons why I have no interest in doing it. Rusty's personality lends itself to that more and Rusty is like a going maniac, so that fits Rusty better than it does me. I will find something else to do, which will be driving for quite a few years yet. It just won't be Cup racing."
COULD YOU PUT JARRETT IN THE BIG BROWN TRUCK AND YOU IN THE AAA TOW TRUCK AND RACE? "I wouldn't have a problem with that. I tell you, AAA has some pretty big tow trucks. I think I could handle that brown truck."
ON THE POINT SYSTEM. "I really don't look at it that way. It depends on how good you do in the season. You can throw a race or two out if you're really good, but if you're right on the bubble, every race counts just like it did before. I mean, one bad race here can make all the difference in making or not making the chase -- or anywhere else for that matter. So it's an incredible amount of pressure. You can't ever throw any race out, but after it's over with if it's bad, what are you gonna do? That's it. So all 43 cars that make this race will be in this thing to get everything they can, but when they leave here if it winds up being a disappointing effort for whatever reason under the sun, it is what it is now. You have to go and make the rest of them, or if that happens to Martinsville or anywhere. Daytona is not different. It pays the same amount of points. Everybody wants to do well here because it actually pays more money than a lot of races. And if you can win it it is certainly more prestigious than any other race -- shortly rivaled by maybe the Brickyard. But if you had it and on the last lap you were leading and you thought you had it and the tire went flat like it did on Earnhardt that year, then you did everything you could do. You can't will it. You can be strong-willed and you can will your way into a lot of things, but you can't will your way into a win at Daytona. It's either gonna happen or it's not. You might dominate this race and have it slip through your fingers going into three like it did, for example, with Dale one year. Or you might run terrible and win it. You might just be in the front at the end for some odd reason. Everybody goes out and gives it everything they have."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW MENTALLY TAXING THIS YEAR WILL BE? "I've got to be honest with you, I haven't thought about it and I don't know if I am gonna think about it. I'm still unprepared to talk about, I don't really have a philosophy. I'll get in the race car, what, tomorrow, I hardly know. I think I'm racing Saturday night. I can't mentally prepare to drive. What I do, my preparation usually goes into the hardware. I try to help the team make a better car. When we came down here and tested it was what it was. It was way short of impressive and it is what it is. I can't help them anymore with it. All I can do is drive the car and all they can do is work on the car and make the best out of this and see what we can wind up with. We still might be surprised by the time the qualifiers turn around on Thursday. We may have a better race car than we thought, and I might be able to start talking about having a chance to win the 500 after Thursday, but until then I haven't even thought about it."
DO YOU FEEL MORE OR LESS LIGHTHEARTED THAN LAST YEAR? "I'm really not prepared right now as you can see. I haven't thought. I've been real busy. It's unbelievable. It's the most busy I've ever been in my lifetime. I haven't had a chance to think about it a whole lot. Last year I was preparing myself for my last year in Cup and there was a lot of emotion and a lot of things going on that I was focused on. This year I'm just trying to keep afloat. I'm treading water."
AT HOMESTEAD YOU TALKED IN GLOWING TERMS ABOUT TONY STEWART. DO YOU STILL FEEL THE SAME WAY? -- "Nothing has changed. If that was the first time you had heard those kinds of comments from me, then you just hadn't heard what I had to say beforehand. It is what it is. People earn their respect. Tony has earned my respect. He didn't get it free when he came in just because he was an IRL champion. It didn't mean much to me. I mean, he earned every ounce of the respect that he has on and off the race track. He's a very misunderstood person because of his personality and many of our fans do not know him and many of them would have a much higher opinion and much higher liking for him if they knew who he was to the core because they've only seen one part of Tony."
WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE FOR NASCAR SAFETY? "I'd have to say the one thing is the HANS, and then the very next and very close to that are the seats and head restraints that we have beyond the HANS. But the HANS is the number one thing."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW? "I'm proud to say that I have no interest whatsoever in that car. I'm not gonna drive it and I refuse to test it and I don't want anything to do with it because I've got my head into the trucks. I want to learn about the trucks. I want to drive the trucks. I want to test the trucks. I want to be a part of it because it's competitive and all these guys have a head start on me in that division. So unless Roush Racing were to come to me needing some kind of old school depth to help them with that project, I have passed on the opportunity to drive the car so far. I'm just gonna watch like you all. I'm gonna be a spectator of the car of tomorrow."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE FORD FUSION THIS YEAR? "We're really excited about the car because the Fusion is gonna be a great addition to our race lineup, but, for me, I'm a Ford dealer and it's even more exciting because we have such a terrific new lineup of vehicles to offer our fans. First the Five Hundred and now the Fusion. The Freestyle. We're really looking good, and, of course, the F-150."
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY PIT STRATEGY WORKS NOW AS COMPARED TO EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER? "I don't think so. I think there are tools of choice today that were different than the tools of choice in the eighties, but the only difference really, I guess, is that instead of having five cars on the lead lap we've got 25, so you have to choose what you do with that in mind. You have to look at the circumstances that are in front of you and make decisions that are based on that."
HOW BIG OF AN IMPACT DID EARNHARDT'S ACCIDENT HAVE ON THIS SPORT? -- "I think that Dale Earnhardt's accident had a huge impact on the drivers personally. Obviously it had a huge impact on the fans, a huge impact on NASCAR and safety in general, but I think that it made the drivers and the teams take a more aggressive approach to safety. I had no interest in the HANS until after the accident with Dale and then I took the information that we knew about HANS devices more seriously. I still didn't have one on the next week, but I had one on when I went to Talladega because I knew I was gonna wreck. I figured I would get used to it because then we were going to Texas the next week and knew there was a good chance of blowing the right-front out and you definitely need it there. So by the time we got to Talladega I was wearing a HANS and I wouldn't drive without it now."
ALL OF THESE SAFETY ENHANCEMENTS CAME AS A RESULT OF THAT, SO IN A WAY THERE WAS SOME GOOD THAT CAME OUT OF IT -- "I wish that wasn't the truth, but I feel that is true and that's the only good thing I could see that came out of that. It was a tremendous tragedy. It still breaks my heart, but it was. It had a significant impact on everyone in motorsports from the safety side of it. Everyone got aggressive -- from NASCAR on down to the grass roots of short track racing -- much more aggressive after that."
DOES IT SEEM LIKE FIVE YEARS SINCE THAT HAPPENED OR DOES IT SEEM LIKE YESTERDAY? "It is both. Because it's not on the very forefront of your brain every minute time does pass in that respect quicker. On the other hand, it seems like more than that because of the loss that we all experienced. From that side it seems like more so. It depends on which side of the coin you look at, I think."
EARNHARDT WAS SUCH A LEADER IN THE GARAGE AREA AND WITH NASCAR. HAS ANYONE FILLED THAT VOID? "There's no one in this sport right now, there's no driver in the sport that carries the size of stick that Dale Earnhardt carried. No, to me, in my opinion, that is somewhat gone. Every sport, I think, needs their heroes and we have our heroes here in this sport, but there are heroes very much different than Dale Earnhardt. There just won't be another one. I don't think there ever will be. There might be. I shouldn't say that. There may be, but I'm an old-timer and I just don't see that. He was a unique person and when he spoke people listened."
DO YOU THINK IT'S BECAUSE HE HAD TO RACE TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE AND GUYS COMING INTO TODAY DON'T HAVE TO DO THAT? IT'S A WHOLE DIFFERENT ERA. "It is and I'm not gonna say that that's why, but boy that sure feels good. It feels good to you and me because we were here when he was here, so when you say that it feels right, but I'm not sure just because Reed Sorenson didn't have to race cars to put food on the table doesn't mean that he can't be as passionate. It's a different time and a different age, but certainly as an old school guy, I don't think I have the words for it yet to explain why he was able to have the kind of impact that he had on the sport. But he was real unique."
WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT HIM? "Probably mostly when we talked about the races that we had. I think about racing with Dale because there was a lot of that. Being an old school guy I like to talk about back when and a lot of that back when had to do with Dale."
WHAT KINDS OF THINGS WILL YOU MISS ABOUT THE DAYTONA 500? "I haven't had a great time at Daytona, so I don't expect to be missing the Daytona 500. I will miss racing at Charlotte. If I thought I would never race again at Las Vegas, Charlotte, Texas and Michigan and California. If I thought I'd never race at those places again I'd be teary-eyed, but I'm gonna continue to race for many, many years. I'm not retiring. There are certain places that I love. I had a sinking feeling at Vegas last week when I rolled into the tunnel and saw the track. I sort of felt sick to my stomach. I didn't feel that last year. I felt it this year because I had this realization that this is the last time I would go out to test for a Cup event there. At the same time I'm incredibly excited about getting this off my plate and opening a new chapter of my life. I really desperately have things that I want to do that I haven't been able to do because of my commitments to motorsports and I want to get on with them."
DID YOU FEEL BACK IN THE NINETIES THAT FROM A SAFETY STANDPOINT IT WAS AS GOOD AS IT COULD GET? "I never thought about it. It had only been a few years before I got in a Cup car that I was racing in fiberglass seats. That's ridiculous. I mean, I raced for years in fiberglass seats and then I brought my ASA seats to NASCAR and I raced the aluminum seat that I raced in ASA in NASCAR for years. I blew all those right-front tires out and hit all those walls in the early nineties. I wasn't concerned about it. It just never crossed my mind."