MARK MARTIN, No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
How is your outlook for this weekend in Kansas? "I'm excited to be at Kansas, especially after last week. We had such a great weekend in Texas and I am having a lot of fun. I just love working with Rodney Childers (crew chief) and the folks from Aaron's and Toyota and everybody at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). Really got great teamwork going on between Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer and myself and all of our teams working real well together. I'm just really proud of the performance that they're putting out on the race track. It's good to be here. This is kind of close to -- I did a bunch of racing up kind of this way at I-70 and Springfield, Missouri and all. I see a lot of faces that saw me race when I was first getting started in the fans. There's a lot of enthusiasm here for sure."
How does this season differ from your first season with Jack Roush or Rick Hendrick? "Well, my first year with Jack Roush, we were building a team together from the ground up and that was quite some time ago when it wasn't as easy or there wasn't nearly the kind of assistance that you get from other teams and all. That was a whole different time and a whole different thing. Jack and I worked through an awful lot of things together through the years. I don't think it's really necessary to go into comparing -- I'm so happy I could just -- I'm really happy. I really, really have been pleasantly surprised with the personnel at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). I didn't realize, I didn't go to the shop before I made the deal to drive for them, and when I went to the shop, I saw a lot of faces that I'd worked with before at other places. When you've been around as long as I have, you've seen a lot of those guys and worked with lots of them and raced against some of them. I was teammates with Martin Truex Jr. at DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) in '08. What I'm doing this year is not new, I did it in '07 and I did it in '08 and did it very successfully -- was very fortunate to have good sponsorship and good people working on my race cars and they were giving me great cars and we just didn't get to continue that. Went into DEI and then DEI went in with Ganassi (Earnhardt Ganassi Racing) and downsized. So, I certainly enjoyed my time with Rick Hendrick -- I made friends there for life and I feel very -- they make me feel welcome, still. I appreciate that."
What have the first part of the season been like at MWR as they've seen performance catch up to their investment? "It's a really exciting time for Clint (Bowyer) and myself to be there. I try to acknowledge Martin Truex Jr. who has been there and suffered through the growing pains of that organization and help get it where it is when we got to come on board. They've been working on and strengthening the organization and they were starting to see some fruit -- actually have made progress along the way but have started to see fruit toward the end of last year. With the extra energy that was put into there with Scott Miller (executive vice president of competition) and Clint Bowyer and Brian Pattie (No. 15 crew chief) and all, everything seems like it's clicking right now. It's really, really a lot of fun whenever you can perform up to your expectations or exceed, that's good times. For me, I felt like we were going to have to work for a good while to be able to enjoy the kind of success that we are seeing right now. They are very good stuff, very good cars, very competitive and the teamwork is really fantastic there."
What is the most interesting thing you've learned about Michael Waltrip? "Michael (Waltrip) is a very, very creative soul and very, extremely bright. Usually when you have someone that is really creative, they're a little bit different and Michael is a little bit different. Michael is smarter than I realized -- he is -- he's very smart guy, very bright, very creative and I'm enjoying driving for an owner/driver because that's different than I've done in the past. I think, I see a little bit of what Dale Earnhardt saw driving for Richard Childress -- just maybe a little bit different than when Dale drove for Bud Moore, who was fantastic as well. There is a different dimension and certainly Michael doesn't have the qualities that Jack Roush has -- they're all different people, everyone is different and I'm enjoying the strength that Michael has and is bringing to the program. It's been fun."
What do you think of Michael Waltrip as a business guy? "Michael (Waltrip) sees how to make it work for the sponsor better than a lot of people that I've been around. He really sees how to make it work for sponsors and it shows. Their organization is well sponsored and that hasn't been done based on performance, it's been done on performance, but not performance on the race track, it's been based on how to make it work for the sponsors and their very determined to get that performance on the race track. They want to win and they're very close now. It's neat to be a part of the organization right now because they are so close."
Why do you think there have been 20 fewer cautions this year compared to last season? "First of all, cautions breed cautions -- if you have a caution, you're probably going to have another one and another one. If you have a long green flag spell, unless there are debris caution you may not have a lot of cautions for a while. If you ever got started having cautions, you might have one right after another. That's been one part of it. You have to realize racing -- everything goes in cycles in racing. You might have two or three of the most exciting races you've ever seen and two or three that are not. I think we're going to see plenty of cautions, I just don't know when. Once you start having them, they do reoccur more often because you bunch them up and guys are trying to make their moves when they can, when they're in a bunch and things go wrong."
Why do cautions breed more cautions? "When it's stretched out, to control your car to some degree you have to play nicer or you'll lose control. If you put them in a group, a wad and you put new tires on them, you don't have to play so nice because you can keep control of your car. An example being, we used to go to Daytona in July and it was so hot and slick, day time racing, it was so hot and slick they wouldn't have a caution. We almost couldn't drive our cars without wrecking them, we couldn't get near one another or we would lose control, so there would be fewer cautions then than in February when there was more stick and we could get up closer to each other - that's just the nature of the beast."
What's the potential growth opportunity at MWR if the marketing and on-track are both performing well? "I know that's what they're working towards -- that's their goal. They're putting a lot into it and that's what they hope. That's a big statement, I can't make that statement and that's a huge statement. All I can say, as of right now, they are performing on the level of the best out there, I think."
Is MWR as strong in marketing and on-track as the other bigger NASCAR teams? "Yes and the performance is very strong as well. It's all of our hope that we can continue that. It runs in cycles just like the cautions and everything else. There were a couple years where the Roush cars were not very competitive and then there were a year or two when they were clearly the best stuff on the race track. I think Hendrick Motorsports had the best cars on the race track in 2009. With so many smart people, you can't be at the cutting edge all the time. Somebody gets ahead of you. Everyone at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) is digging in and they are in for the long haul and they have a goal of doing and sustaining -- not only achieving what they've achieved already, but sustaining it as well. Everybody has that goal."