Mark Martin, No. 8 U.S. Army Impala SS Met With Media To Discuss His Plans For Working With Younger Drivers,The State Of DEI, And More.
ON HIS PLANS FOR 2008: "The schedule is the same that we ran last year. I'm just really excited. It's great to be back at the race track. I'm with the new group again. But I'm really excited about being with these guys. They are really charged up and they've got a great 'can-do' attitude and I've had a great day for the first day in the No. 8. Last year was a fantastic season, other than I still don't have one of those. But thanks to the U.S. Army and Teresa Earnhardt and everybody at DEI, I feel like I've got a great shot at it again. Junior has had some huge success in restrictor plate racing in that No. 8 car and I think this team has given me something today that has brought some new things to the table. If I can bring some new things to the table too, we can be a contender.
"I think the last time I was in here (media center) was after the 500 last year. It seems kind of weird. It seems almost like just the other day. But we're going to take another crack at it for sure."
ON THE 50TH RUNNING OF THE DAYTONA 500 "This is the crown jewel of a NASCAR driver's career. It was a tough pill to swallow to let it slip out of my fingers last year on one hand. On the other hand, it was really a privilege to have a shot at it. I want to thank everybody on that team for giving me a crack at it. To ask for that to happen on the one hand again this year wouldn't be too much to ask for on the other hand it's an awful lot to ask for. So if I can have a chance at it, that would be great. To pull it off, I can't describe what it would mean."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ATMOSPHERE AT DEI? "It's more than just status quo. I think there is tremendous potential at DEI for the growth to be very productive. The merger last year was something that was hard to get your arms around. They had two cars shooting for the Chase and then they had one car in the Chase and it was a very delicate situation. We didn't want to do anything that would hamper Dale Junior's shot at making the Chase. And once it started, you didn't want to do anything but give Martin (Truex Jr.) their best shot at winning the championship. So they weren't able to really completely merge the thing until afterwards. Some of the work was being done, but a lot of it had to wait until the end of the season. Now that everyone is in one building, it's really going to bear fruit. And I will say that everyone is going to work together like never before at DEI. Not even the No. 1 and the No. 8 have worked as closely together as they're going to be able to do moving forward. Now having four great cars with really good people, they've always had a good staff there, but now they have a really good staff under the same roof, working together for one common goal. And that is to be a powerhouse in NASCAR. And I don't think that happens overnight. But I certainly think that it is coming and that they're on track to do that. Everything is full speed ahead. The attitude is fantastic. I can't tell you what it's like to go to the race track and be around such enthusiastic people. To be a small part of DEI and work with Martin, who is an incredible talent, and to work with Paul Menard, who has yet to show everyone what he really can do. And everybody knows how I felt about Regan (Smith) and Aric. So it's just a terrific opportunity for me to work with some of the best up-and-coming talent in NASCAR. It touches my heart. It goes all the way back to 1981 when I started racing with Dale Earnhardt. I raced against that No. 8 Busch car that Dale and Teresa owned back in the mid-80's and I had some spirited battles. It's hard for me to believe that all that through the eighties and nineties; and now for me to work there and to be a part of that is incredibly important to me because I'm old enough to recognize what history really means. I don't think you can really understand that when you're a kid. So, for me, it's incredibly special."
ON RYAN PEMBERTON'S DECISION TO LEAVE, DID IT CATCH YOU OFF-GUARD AND WAS IT A BIG LETDOWN?
'It was a big letdown, but I've been doing this stuff for a long time and I understand it. I understand that it wasn't going to workout. Man, I was hell-bent to keep that team together and keep that smile on their faces. I failed in that. As hard as I tried from July all the way to the end, I couldn't manage to get some of that group over whatever that hump was that it was going to take to make this merger-thing work. The ones that weren't comfortable with it made their moves. And we all moved forward. I still think that Ryan Pemberton is very possibly the smartest crew chief I've ever worked with. That's how much I think of him and I'll be a great friend to him forever."
WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF WORKING WITH A STABLE OF YOUNGER DRIVERS? "A sense of satisfaction. I think everyone wants to feel like they are useful, too. When you get as old as I am in this business, nobody has much use for you anymore. I've always helped drivers, always, since I was a kid. I did it then for the satisfaction. For some reason it made me feel good to help other people who really wanted to do well -- especially people that I liked. But today, not only just driving the No. 8 car, but to bring some senior grounding to DEI. They've got a lot of drivers and none of them are (the age of) 30. So that's pretty cool. Hopefully they'll keep me around for a while. Certainly Martin Truex Jr. doesn't need any of my help. He helps me some. But some of the other guys, once in a while, I talk to Paul from time to time and I've spent a good bit of time with Regan and I look forward to seeing him on a weekly basis in a Cup car full time. I'm working real hard to get Aric ready to be a full time Cup driver as well. I believe 100 percent in Regan Smith. He's definitely up to the challenge."
WITH ALL YOUR EXPERIENCE, DOES IT GET EASIER TO ADJUST TO THE TEAM CHANGES? WHAT'S YOUR ADVICE TO THE YOUNG DRIVERS? "One of the things everyone has to remember is they thought I was in the No. 6 car for 19 years....I was, but I was with many different people throughout those years. I drove a lot of Busch cars and a lot of them were owned by Jack Roush, but still different teams. I drove trucks and this and that, so I've been doing this longer than people realize. They thought it was crazy when I went to the No. 01. My first day here last year testing was very awkward. Today has been 100 percent seamless. I'm 100 percent comfortable with the exception of being a little weak on names of some of the guys that are working on my car with their heads down and don't talk to me much. I've got to make more progress in that area, but I'm comfortable. The team is comfortable. I couldn't possibly ask for a warmer welcome than from Tony Gibson and these guys."
WHAT IS MORE DIFFICULT TO WIN, THE CHAMPIONSHIP OR THE DAYTONA 500? "I'm not smart enough to word this properly, but it's harder to luck into a championship -- and that's not right -- but you understand that it's easier for bad luck to get you on a championship than it is on one race. It's also incredibly hard to pick one race and say that's the one I want to win. You might be like me and win several, and not be able to win the one you pick. I was glad I got all those others to be honest with you. I'm not mad I didn't get this one. I'm just glad that I won the races I did. I'm very fortunate. But you can't win a championship if your motors blow up all the time. You can't win a championship if you wreck all the time, no matter whose fault it is. You can be a hazard in this race and not wreck, you know what I'm saying? So one race, in some senses, is easier to limit your exposure to things you can't control than it is 36. But yet, then when you just say you want to win this one race, well it's real competitive, it's real hard to win. For me, it's been harder to win than any other race. But I never picked one. Man, I was just hoping I could win and thank goodness I was fortunate enough to win some races. I've always felt like if you pick one, man you're setting yourself up for heartbreak because it's hard to win that one. I never won Pocono, which is phenomenal because we've led forever, we've run second six, seven, or eight times, I don't know what it is, it's been unbelievable. And I never won at Dover, when I should have won forever. And then I think we won three in a row at Dover, or something like that. But it took 'til nearly the end of my career for that to start happening. So if I would have picked Dover, my heart would have been broken. I think that you've just got to go out there and get what you can every time."
YOU'VE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THIS SPORT EVOLVE WHERE ROOKIE USED TO MEAN THE YOUNG GUYS. THIS YEAR, ROOKIE MEANS ALL THESE OPEN WHEEL GUYS. WHAT DOES THAT SAY TO YOU? "I'm not exactly spot-on on your question, but I'll say that I'm incredibly excited and your point is well taken. Usually a rookie is not really a rookie to what we do, but maybe a rookie to Cup. When you bring (Dario) Franchitti and (Jacques) Villeneuve, that's great. You know what? They are more of a rookie than these other guys from that standpoint. From the other side, I'm like really excited because these are world-class drivers. And Juan Pablo Montoya set the bar. He is the gold standard for someone outside of this sport to come in and to be as competitive as he was. It's incredibly difficult. It brings a lot of excitement to our series and one of the reasons why I wanted to hang around, to be honest with you, and keep driving these cars is because I wanted to race with Juan. I mean I was that big a fan of his. I will say again, he has set the gold standard and these new guys are going to have to work hard to adapt to all these changes and how different the car is and how different the races are to be able to be competitive."
YOU'VE BEEN LOYAL ALL THE WAY THROUGH YOUR CAREER AND HAVE WORKED WITH ALL THESE YOUNG DRIVERS. YOU WENT TO BAT ON GETTING REGAN SMITH UNDER THE DEI UMBRELLA. WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE RICKY CARMICHAEL AND THE ENTIRE TUTORING SITUATION? "Ricky is not signed with DEI yet, but they have had numerous talks about Ricky driving the full Busch East Series this year. The deal is not done yet, but I'm hoping it does get done. Ricky has the fire, the desire, and the talent to do this stuff and I'd really like to see him be able to do it and realize his dreams through DEI. But I truly believe that he can do it and I believe he will and I know that they are in talks right now trying to get the deal finalized. But I haven't heard where that stands other than it's not done yet."
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ON YOUR BIRTHDAY NEXT WEDNESDAY (Jan. 9th)? "Test (laughter). I hope I'll get to draft instead of single car runs. Maybe they could do that for me and make sure they get to draft."
-credit: gm racing