Martin tries to improve on career year By Matthew Leach WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Jan. 16, 1999) How do you improve on a career year? Mark Martin thinks he knows the secret: start the season with some idea of what you're doing. Martin had ...
Martin tries to improve on career year By Matthew Leach
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Jan. 16, 1999) How do you improve on a career year? Mark Martin thinks he knows the secret: start the season with some idea of what you're doing. Martin had unquestionably his finest season in 1998, posting career-best totals in wins (seven), top-fives (22), top-10s (26) and prize money (more than $3.2 million). And he did it despite starting the year with, as he said, "one car built and about half a race team." That's scarcely an exaggeration. Martin's team had a complete makeover for '98, moving in with the No. 99 team of Jeff Burton, and turning over most of its crew. In addition, there was the headache of moving from the Ford Thunderbird to the new Taurus. Now the Valvoline/Cummins team has a full year under its belt, and a full year in its new home. And the Taurus is no longer a first-year race car. So when Martin met the media Saturday at the T. Wayne Robertson NASCAR Winston Cup Preview, he was confident, relaxed and -- believe it or not -- ready to go to Daytona. "We had a pretty encouraging test at Daytona," Martin said. "We're certainly not gonna be a threat to win the pole, but if we keep working and we get a little lucky maybe we can be a contender. Our speeds were quite a bit more competitive than a year ago. So that's been a real comfort for us. If we go down there and don't win the Daytona 500, it won't be from a lack of effort from Roush Racing." From Rusty Wallace or Darrell Waltrip, that might sound like gloom and doom. But when Martin says he can be a contender in a restrictor-plate race, you know he's feeling good. Martin has never won a NASCAR Winston Cup Series race at Daytona, and his best restrictor-plate finish in 1998 was 16th in the Pepsi 400 at DIS in October. His perfomance on the circuit's biggest tracks, in fact, is the main thing that stood between Martin and a championship last season. He's working on fixing that this season, but he knows there's only so much he and his team can do. "There's not a whole lot I can do about getting wrecked in the restrictor-plate races," Martin said. "We wrecked in 50 percent of them and we broke a part in another one, and we had a not-great finish in one. There's nothing I can do to change the outcome of that part of it. "We need to run better on restrictor-plate races, but we also could run sorry and be the best-finishing championship contender in every race if the other championship contender is the one that got caught up in the wreck and you weren't. So you're talking about circumstances there. We need to run better, but we only finished one of four, so it wouldn't have mattered how good we ran. We still would have finished sorry even if we'd had the fastest cars. You've got to do everything in this sport and we're doing everything we can with the things we can control." The restrictor-plate program is just one reason that Martin has high hopes for an even better year, though. The year gone by, he said, will be beneficial not only for the team's development but for himself personally. You don't normally think of veteran drivers like Martin continuing to get better, smarter or more mature with age. But he insists that he's still learning and growing in his 41st year and 13th full season of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing. "I made a couple mistakes last year that I hope not to make this year," Martin said, "that were basically lack of confidence. Now I know we have a great race team and now I'm a little bit more comfortable and secure. I'm another year older with another year of maturity and hopefully I'll make the right decisions at the right times. You react differently if you don't have 100 percent confidence in what you're doing." It's possible that even another career year won't be enough to unseat two-time defending series champion Jeff Gordon. But no one is more dedicated, more intense, or more dogged in pursuit of success than Martin. "We will continue to race as hard as we can and do the best that we can," Martin said with quiet conviction, "and we'll see what happens. I expect them (Gordon's team) to run as well this year as they did last year. I don't know what to expect from us. I'm not going to get caught up in expectations. I've been in this sport a long time and I don't need that. I will give my best effort and so will my race team." You'd have to think that not many teams, if any, will be able to do better than the best effort of the No. 6.
Source: NASCAR Online