This Week in Ford Racing May 18, 2004 Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, won the 1998 version of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge when Jeff Gordon ran out of gas on the final lap. Martin was one of many drivers who...
This Week in Ford Racing
May 18, 2004
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, won the 1998 version of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge when Jeff Gordon ran out of gas on the final lap. Martin was one of many drivers who tested at Lowe's Motor Speedway last week in preparation for this weekend's non-points event and he was a guest on this week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teleconference.
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU HAVE FROM 1998?
"That was the coolest race. That was a great season. We had a fresh, new team in '98 and a new Taurus in '98. We got started off to a great, great season by winning the third race on the schedule at Vegas and we went into Charlotte, of course, excited because that's such an awesome race track to race on. I mean, it is the ultimate. We were running along right at the end of the race and coming off turn four to get the white flag, I got under Bobby Labonte and passed him. Just about the time I cleared him, Jeff Gordon was leading the race, he pulled down to the inside and slowed down and right about the start-finish line I passed him and there was one more lap and we won the race. It came to us as a surprise and those, honestly, are by far the greatest wins of my career - the ones that were a surprise. The ones that you expect, you're just relieved when you win and not really excited. So that one was a really neat win. It was a special night and kind of made up for one other year when we thought we had the race won and the caution flag came out coming to the white flag. We forgot we were running Saturday night rules at the time and thought that thing might be over with and Earnhardt wound up beating us out for the thing. We've had a lot of good runs at Charlotte in everything from Busch cars, I don't know how many races we won with the Busch car, and the Cup car and the all-star race. It's a great track to race on."
WHAT'S YOUR MINDSET FOR THAT RACE VERSUS A REGULAR RACE?
"In today's day and age, you don't let yourself get behind anyway, not unless you can't help it. To be real honest with you, my mindset is not real different for that race than any other race. As soon as the green flag comes out, it's only so many to go. If it's 599 miles to go or if it's one mile to go. From the time the green flag comes out, it's x to go and you've got to start strategizing based on what amount of time is left. I've always been one to over-simplify things or definitely keep 'em simple. When you're no brighter than I am, you don't need to try to get things too complicated."
WHY IS THERE A DIFFERENT MINDSET IN THIS ALL-STAR EVENT COMPARED TO OTHERS LIKE THE NBA, NFL OR MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL?
"First of all, I don't know anything about other all-star events. I've never watched one in my entire life, so I don't know how to compare it to that. But for racers, it doesn't really matter what your motivation is to race - whether it's the trophy, whether it's the money, whether it's the recognition, it all goes hand-in-hand. The most important races that I know of typically pay the most and they typically have the biggest trophy and also get the most recognition. In motorsports, that's how we do it. We put the most effort toward the races that seem to be the most important to us and typically it's one or all of those three things together."
IS THE ALL-STAR RACE AS BIG WITH THE TEAMS AND DRIVERS NOW AS 10 YEARS AGO?
"I'm not exactly sure what your question really is, but the race is bigger than it ever was to many of us because it pays more money, it has a bigger, prettier trophy, and it will be watched by more people. Those three things pretty much sum up whatever drives anyone in motorsports, so it is a very special race and it's really important to the competitors. I mean, really important to the competitors. I feel like it's grown and I feel like it's an even bigger deal than it ever was and I think that was the intent. It definitely has managed to keep pace with the changing times."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU'RE FEELING WHEN YOU'RE BLOWING THE FIELD AWAY, LIKE WHEN YOU WON THE 600 A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO?
"The first initial emotion when that was finally over was relief. We didn't blow this thing. We didn't lose this thing and we didn't get beat. All of those things were right there. It would have been easy to blow it. It would have been easy to get beat by Matt Kenseth as strong as he was, and we had lapped traffic. I had to take some real chances with one of the biggest wins in my career to try to ensure that I would win the race. It was real special to us, but it's hard to describe the feeling when you win a race that you didn't know you were going to right up until the end. I won at Myrtle Beach around 1990, 1989 - something like that - in the Busch car and I never led a lap except the last lap. Tommy Ellis ran out of gas coming off of turn two after he took the white flag and I was running second, so I had no idea that I was gonna win that race. That one was real cool, too, and I remember that win. Out of all the 45 Busch wins, that one is pretty clear in my mind, so I don't know how to explain it to you better than that. Maybe I'm weird or something, but those are the ones that seem cool to me."
HAVE YOU HAD ANY REACTION FROM FANS OR THE GARAGE ON REALIGNMENT?
"My finger is not directly on the pulse of the fans, other than I have heard some slight negative reaction. But anytime anything changes you hear that. I think they're taking us to race tracks that we need to be going to, but nobody likes breaking the tradition and leaving wonderful race tracks behind like Rockingham or Darlington or what have you. We definitely need to be racing more in Texas and Vegas and California, and Phoenix is a wonderful track. I don't know what that does that maybe slights the east coast race fans some, but the west coast fans gain. One man's loss is another person's gain. It's not my area to know what's right or what's best. As a competitor goes, it's going to be greatly more difficult on the competitors - the new schedule. But with that being said, it is the right direction for what the sport is doing. This sport is growing. It's getting more fans. It's getting more popular and it's getting more commercialized and that is in line with the direction of this sport and the direction this sport has been going for the last 15 years. With every change there are plusses and minuses."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THE ONE RACE DARLINGTON KEPT WAS NOT THE SOUTHERN 500?
"You know what, I'm so busy trying to make the 6 car win that I didn't even realize that it wasn't the Southern 500. That's really where my focus is. I do want to say this, NASCAR has had the vision since 1950-whatever - the Starlight Hotel in Daytona, whenever that was, to bring this sport where it is today. They're much brighter than I am. They may have made a few mistakes along the way, but not very many so I have to say that I support what they decide to do. They've decided this is what they need to do, so I support that. Personally, I hate Pacific Time. I hate three hours time difference and I hate traveling across the country because we're so busy that it takes much more time out of our schedules. It's much more difficult to test. It's a lot more stress and strain on the race teams, but from the other side of it, there are a lot of gains for sponsors and for fans out that way and for potential growth. By the way, they are wonderful race tracks, so here we go."
ANY THOUGHT ABOUT TEAMS MOVING TO A MORE CENTRALIZED LOCATION LIKE ST. LOUIS?
"That's an idea that certainly hasn't come to mind to a lot of race teams, but down the road that very well could be a consideration. I know that when I lived in Arkansas and was getting started in racing, that didn't make much sense for any kind of racing that I was trying to do, but now that I look at it, Arkansas wouldn't be that bad with the way our schedule is now - especially with where it's heading. The sport has come so far in the past 15 or 20 years and it's created such tremendous opportunities for so many young people to have a life in motorsports and make a living in motorsports. There are a lot of really great things that have come along with the growth and expansion of NASCAR. A lot of people have an opportunity to realize their dreams today that might not have 20 years ago."
WHAT DOES HAVING ALL 25 DRIVERS ELIGIBLE FOR THE ENTIRE RACE THIS WEEKEND DO FOR THE FIELD?
"That makes it better for the fans and worse for the competitors (laughing). You've got to make it good for the fans if you're gonna pay a million bucks. You can't pay 'em next time around if you don't make it good for the fans. I think you guys heard me say something to this effect a little bit earlier, but with everything good there are drawbacks. I did like the elimination thing last year. I thought that was a cool feature on the deal, but this will definitely make it more wilder and more unpredictable than ever this year. Obviously, that's what they were trying to achieve and I think it will definitely work."
DO YOU SEE THIS RACE AS A WAY OF ATTRACTING NEW FANS?
"Gosh, I don't know. That's a good question. I never thought about that. I always thought of it as just a real treat for the fans that we had - a special treat - something with a different flavor. But I suppose for a first-time race watcher it would certainly be fast-paced enough to really hook you in. So I guess from that standpoint, if you were a first-time fan watching a race, it would definitely be one of the best ones to hook you because it's definitely exciting."
CAN YOU RECAP YOUR SEASON SO FAR?
"I think that we as a race team right now are underrated and have not been noticed for our accomplishments in the last two months and that's easy to see why. One of the reasons why is because we have not finished quite as good as the performance that we've managed to give. We have had some really good race cars and really fast pit stops and I am so thrilled with my crew chief, Pat Tryson. Wally Brown, my engineer, and Todd Zeigler, our car chief, and each and every one on the Viagra team have done such a fabulous job. I'm so pleased to drive a race car that runs fast and these guys are really, really getting it done. We left Daytona. We made eight laps in the Daytona 500 with a car that I thought was gonna give me my best chance to win - ever. So that was disappointing to be 43rd in the points. Then we had a real unfortunate part failure at Martinsville with a fuel line that just disintegrated for some reason and that cost us. We had just worked our way up within striking distance of the top 10, so that really set us back. But since being 17th or 18th in the points, we've battled our way back to 12th and we're just coming into a stretch here where I think we're gonna really show what we're made of. I just hope that we have better-than-average luck. If we do, we can get in the middle of this championship battle. I believe that this race team has the potential to get up in there. Certainly, our cars have been faster than they were ever last year and they're feeling and looking a lot like they did in 2002 when we had such a great year, so I'm real optimistic about this summer. I think we're gonna have a good one."
DO YOU THINK THE VETERANS WILL HAVE AN EDGE IN THE FINAL 10 RACES?
"Someone who has been there and experienced all kinds of different - you know, a person who has been there and done that. A race team who has been there and done that many times can have an advantage, but, let me tell you, there is no replacement for having a car that will run. If your stuff is fast, if your car is fast, it doesn't matter. If it's not fast, it doesn't matter how smart you are or how wise you are, it's hard to overcome someone who has a faster car than you. So we at Roush Racing and at the Viagra team have been focusing on making faster and faster cars and that's the real key because if we have fast enough cars, there's no doubt that between Pat Tryson and myself and Jack Roush, there's no doubt that we would feel like we were in great shape. But if we're handicapped on the race track as far as speed goes, then you have to race a different way - kind of like we did in 2002. We were not as fast on the race track as some of the other guys, but we were very consistent and we were really smart and we almost won the championship even though our performance was just a whisker off of Tony Stewart's and Ryan Newman's. I mean, we finished ahead of a whole bunch of guys that performed way better than us on the race track based on making fewer mistakes and racing smarter. Those kind of things can help you, but the real focus needs to be on making fast race cars and that's what they guys at Roush Racing are doing."
DO YOU THINK THE PRESSURE WILL BE BIGGER THE LAST 10 RACES THAN IT IS NOW?
"For me, and that's the only one I can speak for, but for me the pressure is incredible right now. It's as high as it's ever been in my career to make the top 10 at the 26th race. That's all I can tell you. I don't know about anybody else and I don't know how they'll feel, but if I can make the top 10, I may only have five minutes of relief and then start agonizing over whether or not we can win the championship. But I don't even look at the championship because we're not gonna be a contender for it if we can't make that cut, so that's really where our focus is right now. That's where my focus is. Every ounce of me is going towards trying to make that cut."
WHERE DOES THAT PRESSURE COME FROM?
"It comes from within mostly, but I think it also comes from sponsors too. I think it's more important than ever. In my career, it's more important now to the sponsors to make that top 10. I think the change in the format has put a premium on making that top 10 at the 26th race, and I feel a lot more pressure because of the new format."