MARK MARTIN, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing

Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota

Photo by: Greg Aleck

How important would it be to win the Daytona 500? "I don't know how to answer the question of how important it is -- you either do or you don't and you try as hard as you can. I would have to say unfortunately when I was a teenager, that's what I thought I was going to do was win the Daytona 500. And now it ain't happened. It hasn't stopped me from trying. It doesn't bother me at all -- none. Why should it (bother me)? I didn't win it did I? If I won it and for some reason didn't get the trophy then that would bother me, but I didn't win it yet so why should it bother me?"

Is that the same philosophy you have about winning a championship? "It's no different. Nobody ever told me that I was going to be the greatest of all time or anything like that. I figure that I'm darn lucky to have been able to participate in this sport and stumble around and win a few things. I'm not owed anything. You earn what you get. I have not lost one ounce of sleep over not winning it other than the disappointment of being within three feet of it in '07. I had to stop short because I did recall when I was telling you that I hadn't lost any sleep over it -- to be real honest, that's not accurate. I did lose a little bit over coming within three feet of it. You don't get to choose which races you win -- if you're lucky you just get to win some. I figured that I got lucky and I got to win some. I don't get to choose which ones they are."

Was there a time when it bothered you not winning a championship? "In '07 when we were leading the points after five races and everybody was thinking it would keep going. I wanted to win that championship when I wanted to win it -- when I was young. At that point, I'd already made peace with that. It was not on my agenda. I went to Rick Hendrick and they wanted to win a championship. I gave everything I had, but I didn't lose any sleep over it. Not like I did -- it didn't bother me like it did when I was young because when I was young in 1990, I came within a whisker of winning it and it didn't bother me because I knew I would. I knew that I would and I didn't. It looked like we did and we stumbled around and finished five or six times second. Look out Carl (Edwards). It looks like he's going to win it a lot of times, but gosh -- at least I didn't tie in points. That's awful."

What is your opinion of Michael Waltrip Racing? "Really great people there. It's a really exciting time at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). They are poised to make a move toward the dominators in the sport and they are poised to make a move toward that. They have great people and it's an exciting time there. They have a lot of great sponsors and not everyone can say that. They've been winning on that front and they want to win on the race track as well. They're working hard. It's a tremendous challenge to do, but that's what they're hoping to do."

Do you see Michael Waltrip in the race shop? "Michael (Waltrip) and Ty Norris (executive vice president, Michael Waltrip Racing) are both machines -- they're machines -- incredible people. Michael is funny and he is fun, but he is no goof. He's a really smart guy that I didn't realize -- I didn't realize how smart he was until I started working alongside him. I'm learning from Michael Waltrip."

What have you seen from Clint Bowyer? "I've known Clint (Bowyer) for a while and I haven't had a chance to work really close to him until starting this weekend. I know Clint real well and he's an incredibly driven young man and talented. It's going to be a lot of fun. I've worked with Martin Truex (Jr.) and been his teammate before. They've got great drivers, great crew chiefs, tremendous people working at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) with good sponsors. We're looking forward to the challenge that we face."

How has Daytona changed from the first year you raced here to now? "I came with my own car, owning my own team, without a sponsor and totally ill-prepared. My car was built one inch too low so I had to run the body an inch too high because the frame rails were built at four inches and the ground clearance stick was five inches so we had to run the car an inch too high. It didn't run worth a flip and it blew up. I left here broke, blew up and everything else. So I began the season pretty much broke in half. This is a whole different thing. I've got Aaron's doing TV commercials during the Daytona 500. I've got all the support from MWR -- Rodney Childers is a great crew chief -- excited about working with all the new people and the folks from Toyota. This is really a good time for me -- anytime that you're put in a new situation it can be a tremendous motivator. I'm motivated, I'm learning new things, I'm learning new people and I'm really up on my toes. It's good."

How will the sport accept a woman getting all of the publicity and exposure that Danica Patrick will get this year? "I think most of us are going to accept it well because we see it as a plus or an addition. The more eyes that tune in to watch Danica Patrick is the more eyes that see the Aaron's Dream Machine on the race track. From that standpoint, it's a good thing. Any time that there's a lot of noise made there's going to be a lot of supporters and a good bit of negative as well. It's a positive for our sport."

How much pressure is it to run for a championship? "I can identify with those young boys and the torment that they can live. I'm sure glad I don't have to deal with that anymore."

Is there any scenario in which you might change your plan and run a full season this year? "No. I did it in '07. Don't forget. If I won the first three races I'd be in the Chase probably so maybe I would run the last 10 races, but that is a maybe. That wouldn't change a whole lot because I'm running a lot of the last 10 anyway. No, listen, you guys have trapped me in a bunch of stuff before and I'm not going to fall into that trap. I'm just going to say that I'm as confident now as I was in 2007 when we were leading the points and didn't go to Bristol and didn't think twice about it. It's not on my radar screen. I love racing and I want to race and you know what, even though it's been a long time since people have done it except for me in 2007 and 2008, what I'm doing is old school. It's what David Pearson did, it's what Cale Yarborough did. They raced the races that they wanted to race and they didn't race the races that they didn't want to. I like them all, but I've got to take a certain amount of breaks and the ones that I'm taking make the most sense to me. I really think it makes me a better racer at this point in time, after all of these years. It makes me a much better racer to skip some races and recharge. It makes me more hungry and more excited each time."

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Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Joey Logano, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

JOEY LOGANO, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Do you think you started competing in the Sprint Cup Series too early? "Looking at it now -- probably yeah. There's a lot more to it than I thought. I was 18 years old, I had the opportunity to jump in the Home Depot car and I probably would do it again. Who wouldn't? It was definitely the right thing to do, but once you get in there and realize how much more stuff actually comes along with that. It's the off the track stuff and dealing with people and how to deal with certain situations -- how to keep a team motivated and be a leader. It was all stuff that when you're 18 years old -- you don't really know how to do that. You just go out there and race all the time. Some of that came really easy to me -- even Nationwide came really quick. It was a lot bigger jump than I thought just because of all the off track stuff."

Do you see yourself as more of a team leader this year? "You have to step it up and the first thing is realizing that obviously. With this crew chief change now, it allows it to be your team -- it allows you to be a leader. That's a really big deal for me and I think Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I are on the same level with each other. We're doing this together and I think it's going to help us out a lot."

How frustrating was 2011? "It was very frustrating. Obviously, we came into last season with a ton of confidence and momentum. We thought we were going to go out there and make some big things happen and then we really fell on our faces. Our whole company wasn't as strong as it needed to be. We had a lot of little problems -- we lost that momentum and we got into a hole and never dug ourselves out, so at the end of the season you can't expect to just keep on doing that. You have to do something different -- you have to change something and bring some new life in. Personally, I feel more confidence coming into this year than I did last year even, which arguably, I probably shouldn't, but I do. I feel like we can go out and do some good things this year."

Do you need to start the season strong? "I think it's very important to take off strong out of the hole here. That's really going to set the tone for the season. You look at last year -- we didn't set the tone very well and we struggled all year. I think it's a really big deal to get out and get going -- get those points early and make that Chase. I don't think you can afford to have bad races right off the bat."

What would it be like to win the Daytona 500? "It would be pretty cool. Ever since you were little, you always think about making it in the (Daytona) 500 or any type of race. It would be huge -- it would be a career changer. I think everyone saw what it did for Trevor (Bayne) last year by winning that race. It's a really big race to win. We're all out there trying to do the same thing. In some ways, it's no different than any other weekend and in other ways, its way bigger than any other weekend. You go in there with the same attitude as you do any other race."

Will Joe Gibbs Racing teams work together more in 2012? "When you have a bad season like that, I think typically the next year is a lot better or one of your better seasons. You learn to take a step back and look at what happened last year, what you learned from that and I think a lot of that is going to bring us back together and a lot better. Obviously, with Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) there now -- Jason and Dave (Rogers, crew chief, No. 18 Camry) have worked together a lot so that's going to help that communication out a lot. Darian (Grubb, crew chief, No. 11 Camry), I think is definitely plugged in and ready to go really quick. They are all getting along really quick. The three crew chiefs are definitely on the same page."

What are your expectations for this year? "Expectations are to go out there and win some races. That's what they need to be. Go out there and make the Chase and do the best we can. We need to try to go out there and win every race -- that's our plan."

Do you feel different starting this season versus previous seasons? "I do feel quite a bit different. Definitely a very important year for me. I feel like I've got my ducks in a row better than any other year. I feel like I've got the guys behind me and we are coming in here expecting a lot. I think we're all excited about it. Our whole team is pumped up and we're working hard. We are all excited about the changes we've made."

Do you feel secure in your career? "In this sport you're never going to feel secure in anything. I think that goes for everybody. Not just drivers -- it goes for the guys working on the cars, it goes for media -- it goes for everybody. You're never going to be secure in any job. Things change, especially in an economy like this. Anything can happen. Obviously, you have to take that and find a way to have it motivate you one way or another. You want to be comfortable and you want to be secure and know everything is fine. You have to go out there and motivate yourself to do whatever you can to give yourself that feeling and the main way to do that is to go out and win races and win championships."

How has your relationship with Jason Ratcliff developed? "We have a good time and the communication is there. I go barge into his (Jason Ratcliff, crew chief) office and sit down and want to go to lunch and hang out. He's come over to the house a few times. I tried to cook dinner -- it really didn't come out that well. I felt bad. It was a bad first impression of me trying to cook a steak. I don't know what happened -- I marinated it and it fell apart. The steak still tasted good even though it didn't look good. We've had a good time."

Are you looking forward to working with Jason Ratcliff on the Cup side? "I got to work with Jason (Ratcliff) for two races on the Nationwide side and I thought, 'Man, I wish I could work with him more and see where we could really take this.' When they talked about putting him in I was like, 'Heck yeah, that's fine, let's do it.' The more we've worked with each other, the more we can really take our time -- that's the big thing about Jason, he takes his time. I don't know if he's stressed out or not, but he doesn't seem like he's stressed out and that carries throughout the whole team. It's just a relaxed atmosphere, but still very intense. You're still out there trying to win races, but he will take his time. In practice even -- he takes his time and makes sure that he really knows what the car is doing. He asks me questions that he needs to know the answers to and what changes to make and then we're going to make the change. We're going to really take our time a lot more than we have in the past. That's going to be a good thing."