KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That is the opening of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” a novel set in London and Paris prior to the French Revolution in the late 18th century. It’s a story about the possibility of resurrection and transformation as told through the plights of its two main characters, Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. With more than 200 million copies sold, it is considered to be one of the most famous works in literary history.
While “A Tale of Two Teams” isn’t quite a Dickens classic, it does contain traces of similarities, specifically the notions of transformation and the anticipation of resurrection.
While the NASCAR world awaits Stewart’s resurrection, which is scheduled for the beginning of the 2014 season, the No. 14 team is in the midst of transforming from a team that prepped cars for a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in Stewart to being a team that readies its fleet of Chevys for a 40-time Sprint Cup winner in Martin.
Next up for the Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team is this weekend’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – a track where Martin has a rich history thanks to his 52 Sprint Cup starts. The 54-year-old Martin is one of only a handful of drivers who have competed in every race run at the track since it was reconfigured to a 1.54-mile oval in 1997. In fact, the only active Sprint Cup driver to have made more starts at Atlanta than Martin is two-time Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte.
Since first racing at Atlanta in the 1982 Coca-Cola 500, Martin has scored two wins (November 1991 and 1994), two poles, 14 top-five and 24 top-10s while completing nearly 15,000 laps. He’s competed in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta, scoring a trio of Nationwide wins in 10 series starts.
As race fans across the country wait for Smoke to rise with Stewart’s return to action in 2014 during Daytona (Fla.) Speedweeks, Martin brings experience to the seat of Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet. At a place like at Atlanta where top speeds clip the 200 mph mark, experience counts. Martin counts 40 victories on his expansive Sprint Cup resume, and win No. 41 behind the wheel of the No. 14 Chevrolet is something Martin and Co. have their sights set on at Atlanta.
Mark Martin, Interim Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
How was your first stint with the No. 14 team last weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway? “We struggled at the beginning of the race hitting the racetrack really, really bad and then we had some tough luck and a few things that we could’ve done better, but we were pretty fast at the end.
That’s why I went home feeling good about it because we were able to improve the car and get it competitive and that’s hard to do with the short pit stops that we get at Bristol. The guys did a good job. I think we’ll be better this week at Atlanta and as the next few weeks unfold.
Our practice time was so short at Bristol and we had so much trouble, we just needed another day to be ready. The positive is the guys did a great job. We were way off in the beginning and at the end we were a top-10 car.”
What do you think will be the biggest asset for getting acclimated to the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team? “I’ve just got to have some more time. Being familiar with all this stuff may be a little over-rated, but to be real honest with you, I was quite challenged in Bristol and I don’t feel like I was able to rise to the challenge.
We learned so much and even if we just had one more day before last week’s race to work together a little bit, it would’ve helped us a ton. It’s just a matter of time.”
Do you think people understand how hard it is to work with a new team? “It certainly is hard and it’s challenging, but challenges are good for me. They push me hard. They drive me hard, and I will do everything I can to step up to the plate and dig in. But it is a new situation, and it’s not like you sign on with a new team in November and you have January and February to get to know each other before you go off racing.
We were faced with racing together in just a few days. I felt like we did a pretty good job given the short amount of time we had together.”
What motivates you to continue to compete at such a high level for so many years?
“My motivation for racing is not for points, it’s for racing. I want to race, and I want to finish. If I’m running 20th, I’ll bust my butt to run 19th. And that’s one more point, but it’s for one more position. I say that by means of trying to explain the fact that we will race as hard as we can race, and we will finish as high as we can in every race, and that in turn accumulates the most points that we can. But certainly I don’t go into this situation rubbing my hands together saying, ‘Oh, wow, this is an opportunity to race for a championship.’”