All-Star: This Week in Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing May 16, 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, will be looking for his second straight victory in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series All-Star Challenge and third overall on Saturday...

This Week in Ford Racing
May 16, 2006

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion, will be looking for his second straight victory in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series All-Star Challenge and third overall on Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Martin was this week's guest on the NNC teleconference.

MARK MARTIN -- No. 6 AAA Ford Fusion

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT POSSIBLY TYING THE RECORD OF THREE ALL-STAR WINS ON SATURDAY? "We've really been performing well. We've had really outstanding cars this year with our Fusion and I don't know. I don't like to make predictions, but I don't think it would be a prediction to say that we expect to run real well here. I'd say that's more of an expectation than a prediction."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EFFECT OF THE HARD TIRE AT CHARLOTTE? WILL CARS BE SLIPPING AROUND? "I think there will be a lot of mistakes made because it's gonna be a little bit more tricky. It's different than Darlington because at Darlington the tires give up and you actually slide like you're sliding on a dirt track. But what we have here is when the traction breaks away, let's say you lose 80 percent of the grip. When the traction broke away at Darlington with that surface and the way that tire was, you only lost 50 percent of the grip so you had a lot more control once the car started to slide. The challenge that is going to be to the drivers and the crews is keeping the cars under control when you push them right up to the edge where they start to slip. Once they start to slip it's a lot more difficult because of the speed and because of the fresh asphalt and the way the tire matches up to that asphalt. Once it starts to slide, it's gonna be a great challenge to keep the cars under control and off of one another. I think the prospect of having better racing from a driver's point of view at this race is good than a year ago."

DOES IT MEAN THE GRIP WILL GO AWAY SUDDENLY LIKE AN ALL-OR-NOTHING THING, AND WILL THE GUYS WHO LIKE LOOSE CARS OR ARE DIRT TRACKERS HAVE AN EDGE? "Less advantage. The first statement you made was right on. The second statement we need to correct by saying that if you like to slide the car, it will be much more of a challenge to reap a benefit from that under these conditions. It's gonna be a very challenging but I don't think catastrophic kind of thing. Last year we had all kinds of problems, not just a challenge to drive but a challenge to keep the tires on and the air in them. The grooves were good in some spots and not good in others. I'm trying to say that I feel we're in good shape with this race track going into this weekend's racing -- the best shape of anywhere that I can ever remember with a new paving job."

IS THE DIFFERENCE POSSIBLY GOING TO BE IN WHO LIFTS WHEN THEY NEED TO AND WHO REFUSES TO LIFT? "I think the most decisive will be much like a lot of places where the most decisive factor in this racing will be track position and how well your car works. If you have a better working car, you'll be able to drive it harder and still have grip or still have control of the car. I think we're gonna be in good shape for racing this weekend. I'm very proud of the paving job that they've done here. I'll be honest with you, it will be much better in two or three years than what it is gonna be this weekend, but I think this weekend will be a start and by the time we get to the 600 we're gonna have a lot of rubber on it and a lot of racing on it, and I think we've got good tires that will hold up. They may be a little bit too conservative, but I would much rather have that than have the tire issues. This is gonna be a preview this weekend. The truck race and the all-star events are gonna be a tremendous preview for what's to come the next week and with every race that they run here at this race track it will get better and better."

DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIRE TO GET IN AN OWNERSHIP ROLE WHEN YOU'RE DONE DRIVING? "No, absolutely not. It is not a good business model. It's hard to control and contain and predict your costs, especially with Toyota coming in as well. That's going to make it even more difficult to predict your costs and lay out a long-range plan and make a long-term commitment with a sponsor and all those things, and then implement those. I would be broke no matter how much money I've got for sponsorship because of the escalating cost of things. With my competitive nature I wouldn't have the discipline to run it like a business."

WOULD YOU OWN THE TRUCK YOU'RE COMPETING IN NEXT YEAR OR JACK? "Jack owns it. I'm doing a total of 14 races, but it's running the full schedule with Scotts sponsoring the full schedule. It's the number 6 track that David Ragan will drive in the races that I don't drive in. The sponsor, the team, the number, the whole thing will run the full schedule and then I'm slated to be in it next year full-time at this time."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPACT OF YOUR FIRST TRIP TO DAYTONA WITH YOUR DAD AS A FAN? "It was as a true fan. It was my dad and his buddies and I got to go along with some of my friends. We went down and for me to be able to sit in the stands with binoculars and look down onto pit road and see the pit crews and see the cars and everything was the first glimpse that I got of truly big-time racing. The only thing I had seen prior to that was the dirt tracks in Arkansas. I was already right at the beginning stages of starting to drive myself on the dirt tracks, but that was the first time that I really saw it live and in person. It's hard to describe the feeling that you get, but that was the thrill of my life and something that maybe in my wildest dreams would have liked to have been a part of, but I didn't allow myself to expect to ever be able to do that. It was the thrill of my life."

DO YOU REMEMBER WHO WON OR DID IT HELP MOTIVATE YOU? "In a sense. It didn't happen exactly like that because I was just starting dirt track racing and I was just getting a visual of what the real big-time racing was all about. It was exciting. I don't remember the particular race. I remember I was sitting the stands when Petty and Pearson tangled at the finish line, but that was more like '76, I think. I had been there where they crashed coming for the finish. I think that was '76, but I was there back up in '73 or '74, the first time that we went. It was just a progression from that and then after racing on the dirt tracks in '74, '75 and '76 that in '76 is when I said, 'We may as well start racing on pavement because we're having to travel around to tracks out of state to find the competition that challenges us the way that we need to be challenged. The Daytona 500 is not on dirt, so it's time to move onto pavement races.' So it was really '76 before I really realized that that was something I was really going for. But in '76 the Daytona 500 made an impression deep enough in me -- I was just 17 -- that it was time to switch from dirt track racing to pavement racing."

YOU SAID LAST YEAR THAT TONY STEWART IS THE BEST DRIVER YOU'VE EVER RACED AGAINST. IS THERE A WAY TO QUANTIFY THAT? "Let's start by saying that's my opinion. I'm the expert on my opinion (laughing), so let's start with that and say that's my opinion. Next, my opinion also is that I don't know what those stats say, but I don't care because those stats don't prove anything to me, whether they say he is or he's not, based on those stats because a lot of things can manipulate those stats like luck, like equipment, team -- the kind of team or how the team is performing. That doesn't mean he's the most skillful or fiercest driver -- whatever any stats say. I say that about Tony because I think I know -- first of all I'm the expert on my opinion -- and I think I know what I see in racing. I see a guy that can wheel a large variety of cars on all kinds of situations from road courses to superspeedways to sprint cars to World of Outlaw cars to midgets, dirt midgets, asphalt midgets -- you name it. He can hop in and go, very much like Al Unser, Jr. My number one guy before Tony Stewart, believe it or not, was Al Unser, Jr. He was the one that I thought was probably the most skillful and versatile, but Tony Stewart is just the man in my opinion."

DO YOU THINK YOU'RE THE FIFTH-BEST DRIVER NOW BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE YOU'RE RATED? "I'm humbled by that (laughing). It's nice to be considered that, especially at 47 years old when I'm sure most are 15 years or more younger than I am. So at this stage of the game that's very humbling and I feel honored, but I do also feel that in my expert opinion that's why I say I don't know what the stats say about Tony, but it doesn't matter like to me, it doesn't matter that I haven't won a Nextel Cup championship. That doesn't determine whether or not I'm any good. Things can manipulate that particular result."

ARE YOU ACCUSING NASCAR? JUST KIDDING. "No, I'm talking about the other things I said about Tony -- your team, your car, your gas mileage, you name it. But, yeah, I forgot. I wouldn't even have thrown in that other part, but you're right, especially in days gone past it's less likely that something like that would happen today, but, to me, the trophy doesn't make the man. I know you've heard me say that. It's just like looking at the stats and Tony, I don't know where that puts him."

HE'S NUMBER ONE RIGHT NOW. "OK, but if they didn't, I'd still say that about Tony because, to me, I don't care if he didn't lead any of those races or whatever it was, that didn't mean he wasn't driving the fool out of his stuff and getting more out of it than the other guy. Sometimes you can't judge someone by the results. It's grayer than that."

MATT WON A LATE MODEL RACE LAST WEEKEND. HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE HIM TO WHERE YOU WERE AT THAT AGE AND HOW HARD IS IT FROM A FATHER'S STANDPOINT TO NOT BE ABLE TO WATCH HIM? "It was an interesting experience last week. Saturday afternoon I had the urge to call and tell him not to race. I just didn't feel good about it. I wasn't gonna be there and not that it would make any difference, but I just felt like I know that they have a lot of crashes in that division and I just was uneasy about it. But he's younger. He's been racing seven years. He's 14 now. I didn't start until I was 15, so he is definitely ahead of where I was getting started, but his competition is, for the greatest part, that young as well. I was considered young as a race-car driver at 15 because I started in stock cars, but everybody couldn't get over me being so young. Well if you started at 15 now, you would be behind so it's a different world now. There are a lot of great, really young -- 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-year-old talents, with a lot of experience today. But, yeah, that was really, really great. He qualified well and ran a fantastic race and finished second to Sam Watts, but Sam was considerably light after the inspection. It's something I never expected us to achieve this year in the late models down there. That's pretty almost over our heads, but he's just really caught on real well. He's an incredibly talented driver, but he only races about probably I'm gonna say once a month and he races against folks that race every week, sometimes twice a week, but that seems to work well for him. He seems motivated, interested, desire and he seems to do better when he's challenged than trying to just do repetition over and over and over again. He doesn't race as much as the guys he races with, but we're just having fun. That's one of the most cool experiences that he and I have had. It was cool for me to be in the car and him to tell me while I was still out on the race track at Darlington how things had turned out. I was really happy."

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR ROCK ANTHEM AND ARE YOU A BIG FAN OF HIP-HOP AND RAP? "I am, but, first of all, I'm 47. Most people don't expect me to listen to rap and hip-hop, and I do and I really like it. But I will say this. Still, I'm coming home from somewhere the other day. It's a rare occasion when I'm driving by myself and the radio station I was listening, AC-DC comes on and I did give myself a headache and I do have brain damage from listening to AC-DC at painful levels of volume. I do listen to everything. I do listen to country. I do have a love for AC-DC. The greatest singer alive is Stevie Nicks -- Neil Young, but I certainly do enjoy the latest stuff that's out there and rap and hip-hop as well."

WHAT PROMPTED THIS RAP ANTHEM? "That's probably because it's unexpected from me or was until about a year ago, and that's kind of at the top of my list today of what I listen to."

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN MENTALITY THIS WEEKEND COMPARED TO A POINTS RACE? "Because it's not a points race, you're concern about things going bad -- either being in an accident or taking a risk, whether it be pit strategy or anything else -- it means less. It's more OK. In other words, if you're running along and you're running good but you're probably not gonna be able to win the race, the difference between running sixth and taking a chance to win, you don't hedge for that. You just go for the win. If you're racing in the 600 and you're trying to make the chase, you probably don't want to take a risk. You probably want to take your sixth-place finish rather than risk a 20th-place finish trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat. So it's more than driving recklessly. We drive recklessly all the time. We have to drive with the desire of not wrecking, so we drive as reckless as we can all the time without over-jeopardizing ourselves. So I think it's more in other decisions rather than it is how wild do you drive."

HAS THERE BEEN AN ALL-STAR RACE YOU CAN POINT TO WHERE YOU TOOK A CHANCE AND WON? "No, I drive these things very much like I do any other race. It is so far to go. After the green flag comes out, I don't consider it a short race. I consider it whatever it is. When the green flag comes out, it's this many to go and I race accordingly. So in a short race, you don't rest. You've got to be getting with it all the time. In a 600-mile race when the green flag comes out, you can kind of rest a little bit. You don't have to be incredibly intense and the intensity builds. At some point in that race, it becomes just as short as the all-star race. You see how my philosophy is. It's almost over when it starts, where the 600 only gets to that when it's almost over, but it's still the same thing. You strategize and think and put yourself in the position. You do everything you can. In the all-star race you just can't wait and think about it as long. You've got to start doing things and putting yourself in position now, where in the 600 you have to gradually ease yourself into that and then at some point it's only so many to go and at that point you better be making things happen just as you did in the all-star race. I obviously approach these races different because I never hear anybody else talk about that, but when they talk about the 600 being so long, after you get the green flag it's 399 laps to go. I don't think about it being 600 miles. At some point it's 99 to go, which makes it at that point it's the same as every other race -- at that point. That's sort of my philosophy on these things."

WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEGACY TO BE WHEN YOU LEAVE THIS SPORT? "First of all, let me rearrange that just slightly because I've come up with an answer to 'how do you want to be remembered?' My answer is I just want to be remembered (laughing). I hope that I'm respected for the drive and desire and commitment that I've made to my career."

ONE TRAIT IS THAT YOU'RE A CLEAN RACER. "I try and I've always tried to race people the way I wanted to be raced. I never wanted to be robbed and I never wanted to rob anyone. I had to fix my own wrecked race cars for a lot of years and I had to race against a lot of people who had to fix their own race cars for a lot of years, and we raced hard and put on fierce races and put on great shows, but we didn't run over each other because we neither could afford it or had time to fix them. We were able to race without running over each other. I don't know. I would have to think that people who have raced me for any position would say that I'm a fierce driver. I believe I'm a fierce driver. I think I race with great ferocity, but there is that other side of me, which there's not a lot of room for in today's racing. That era is pretty much going by the wayside."

WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON THE EXPANSION OF NASCAR? "I'd have to say that one of the reasons you don't hear me criticizing NASCAR on a regular occasion is because they have to be quite a bit smarter than I am. Let's just look. Look at the success. I have great respect for NASCAR, the France family in particular, and what they've done. Our fans always have been, I know not everyone is like me, but for me it's not surprising because I meet up with it. I love it too, so I can see how the growth could be possible, but it still was driven and led by brilliant people at NASCAR."

HAVE YOU SEEN AN F-1 RACE IN MONTREAL TO MAYBE COMMENT ON THE COURSE? "I'm sure that I've watching them race there on TV, but I didn't look at it in that context, so I don't remember. So actually I don't know what the course looks like. Even though I maybe watched it, I wasn't thinking that it was in Montreal or whatever. I was thinking about watching the Formula One guys race, so I really don't know but I'm sure it will be a spectacular success."

HAVE YOU RACED IN CANADA BEFORE AND IS IT EXCITING TO SEE IT EXPAND TO DIFFERENT COUNTRIES? "It's something all right. I raced in Cayuga (Ontario) for years. I raced a short track race in Cayuga. ASA had races there and stuff and I've been to Canada a number of times working on cars and building cars. It's not really surprising. Logistically, it's really, really tough, but that's why this thing is becoming more and more a young man's sport."

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SEASON IN TERMS OF WHERE YOU'RE SITTING NOW? "I have to pick it apart. Overall, I'm thrilled. I am really thrilled with the way things are going, but to pick it apart I'd say that the cars that I'm driving are as good as I've ever drove in my life and better than last year. We do have some minor issues that have held us back from doing better on the race track and we're working to try to sort those out with pit stops particularly, which is a great challenge today and we will get those sorted out if we make the chase. By then we'll have them sorted out and hopefully we'll get them sorted out gradually soon so that it doesn't take us out of a shot to be in the chase, but at this point in time my luck has been better than almost ever, and the car's performance itself has been better or as good as ever. And my relationship with AAA and the issues we've been able to work on with teen driving safety and seat belts and those kinds of things with AAA has been incredibly rewarding to me. I'm having the time of my life."

WHAT ABOUT THE TRACKS OF CHARLOTTE AND DOVER COMING UP? "My expectations are extremely high for Dover. My expectations are just in limbo for Lowe's based on the new pavement. I don't know. I can't guarantee. I can't expect to be, I've just got to wait and see on Lowe's to how we adapt and perform on this pavement. I know we're gonna run good, but I don't know if we're just gonna go out there and kill them or not. When we go to Dover, I really have expectations there."

YOU MENTIONED TOYOTA. JACK HAS BEEN OUTSPOKEN ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY THEY'RE BRINGING INTO THE SPORT AND TOYOTA IS SAYING THEY AREN'T DOING THAT. WHEN YOU REFLECTED ON THE BUSINESS PLAN WHAT PART OF THAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE UNPREDICTABLE IN THE COST? "Let me just put it to you this way. It's already bad enough in our sport today. If a race team has everything and every piece of the puzzle is really good on their race team, but they need one thing. Let's just say for example a shock specialist. That's all they need and they'd have it all. Well, teams are a lot more willing to pay a huge sum of money for a shock specialist just to close the deal out so they've got it all. I don't care what Toyota says, once you bring more teams and more funding that just makes it more out of control. You had a plan for what you were gonna pay your shock specialist for the next three years and now if you want to keep yours, you're in trouble or you've got to train a new one -- one of the two. That's sort of how it works, so you didn't have any expectation of one of your positions over the course of two or three years of seeing what they make doubling. That's just an example of how hard it is to contain the cost."

ARE YOU ACTUALLY RAPPING ON THE CD? "No, I don't really have any rhyme, rhythm. I can't dance and I sure can't sing and I won't even try like old Darrell does all the time. I'm not even gonna try because I can't sing as good as DW."

SO IT'S SOMEONE ELSE ON THE CD? "Yes."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , David Ragan , Mark Martin , Al Unser