Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, goes into tomorrow's Mountain Dew Southern 500 in fifth place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Martin, who trails points leader and teammate Kurt Busch by 102 points, held a press conference inside...
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, goes into tomorrow's Mountain Dew Southern 500 in fifth place in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Martin, who trails points leader and teammate Kurt Busch by 102 points, held a press conference inside the Darlington Raceway infield media center before Saturday's practice.
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR CHANCES FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"We're 102 behind, but there are two races left and anything can happen. I'm incredibly proud of our team and of our performance this year. It's been one of the biggest honors of my career to be a part of this chase and to be competitive in it as well. I'm really grateful for the way things have turned out - for Jack Roush hooking me up with Pat Tryson and for the effort that's been put forth. There have been times when I wish we could have had a little bit more of good fortune, but, as far as the performance goes, I've been very pleased. It's been more than I could have expected for 2004."
ON A SCALE OF 1-10, WHERE WOULD YOU RATE YOUR CHANCES?
"Five to one. We're in fifth. I don't know if that's accurate or not."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW FORMAT?
"Actually, I wasn't that big a fan in the beginning, but, in my opinion, it is probably the single best thing that has happened for the race fans in my era. I'm a big supporter of it, I really am."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS RACE SUNDAY?
"This race is 500 miles and it doesn't much matter where you start, although I am happy to be starting in fifth. I'm sure not worried about those guys starting in front of me. We're gonna have a really incredible car this weekend. It's my kind of race. It's 500 miles and it's a tough race track. That's all good things in my book, so I'm looking forward to getting out there this morning because I know my car is gonna be real special.
"We're gonna have a fast car on Sunday and then we're gonna go to Homestead and have a really fast car down there as well. That's how I'd like to end up the season and we'll see how the points tally up, but it's been a really great year for me. It's been more than I could have expected, especially after 2003."
WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT ABOUT POSSIBLY HAVING 35 GUARANTEED SPOTS NEXT YEAR?
"I like it. I'm a big supporter of that. I think that the guys that are spending all the money to support the series need to be in the race. As an example, Atlanta. I don't think that the fans and the media really recognize what an incredible commitment it takes to field a car for 36 points races. It's unbelievable and when they do that, to be left out is a tragedy."
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SPORT IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS WHEN ANOTHER GENERATION OF DRIVERS TAKE OVER THINGS IN FRONT AND BEHIND THE SCENES?
"It was a little bit of a touchy time back when Pearson and Petty and Yarborough and Parsons and all of those guys sort of phased out at a very close time. It was a fairly tight window when they phased out and the same kind of concerns - Rusty Wallace and myself and the other new faces - would we be able to carry their helmet bags. And to be real honest with you, I don't know if we could or not, but over a period of time it just sort of works out.
"I think the same thing can be said about what we're faced with coming up. This is a very exciting sport and when Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and Casey Mears and you name 'em get up there week after week, smoke flying and sparks flying, it won't take but just a little while and the same enthusiasm will still be there. Not to say that the fans won't still have the veterans in their heart and still support 'em in whatever they do around motorsports the way they support 'em as drivers, but I think they'll find the thrill and excitement just as thrilling and just as exciting because of the show and they'll develop their new favorites."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO KURT DURING THIS STRETCH TO GIVE HIM SOME INSIGHT OR HAS JACK?
"I think that might be overrated. Definitely the saying that you have to lose one to win one is ridiculous. Somebody said that because they were looking for something to say and it caught on. That is not true. You take a guy like Kurt Busch, he didn't get the car number 97 because he couldn't do the job. He got the car number 97 because he could do the job and demonstrated it. That doesn't mean that he doesn't make mistakes and didn't make mistakes, but the reason he got that opportunity at such an early age is because he was a very fast learner and he was incredibly talented.
"So over these three years he has continued to be a very fast learner and although he might make one mistake more than a veteran, he might make up for that in incredible talent and, let me tell you something, there is a little bit of luck that goes along with winning these championships. No matter what the difference is in experience levels, that luck factor is definitely gonna take up the slack. I will say right now that they've put an incredible run together in this chase - the whole 97 team - and they won't get outrun for this championship.
"So what decides it? It'll be things that they can't control that will decide that championship. They won't get outrun for it. They won't get outrun forty-some points in these next two races. C'mon. I don't see that happening. The deciding factor will be things beyond their control and you don't have to call that luck. It's a lot softer and more gentle if you just say it's things that are beyond your control. They managed to rebound from their misfortunes last week very well, but you can't do that every single time. Sometimes you're not able to rebound from misfortunes, so you just have to wait and see what happens to all the contenders."
WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAPPENED WITH THE CHASE FORMAT TO MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND?
"My problem is my age and experience in this sport. I am very much a traditionalist. I don't like change. I don't like change in anything. I don't like moving things in the race car. I'd be just as happy if the fire button in my race car was in the same place it was in 1974. I just don't like moving things. They be supposed to be better, but I just don't like change. I felt like, as a competitor, I have a different view than as a fan. When I don't drive anymore, I will have more of a view that Benny Parsons has. Benny Parsons has a view as a fan today, not as a driver.
"But as a driver, every man's gain is another man's loss. So Jeremy Mayfield, for example, his gain in the chase came at Jeff Gordon's expense. So if Jeff Gordon had earned that cushion, that was bad that he had to give it up. It was a good thing that Jeremy got to close it up, though. See what I mean? From a competitors side, if you earn it, you earn it. That's how I looked at it. If he had a cushion, he deserved a cushion. But it's obvious that's not what it's about. It's about the fans. It's about the TV ratings.
"That's what it's really about. That's what drives this sport and the new system will consistently give you a closer run, although I'm not sure - if I was in charge - I would look really hard at you've already separated the top 10 from the rest of the field, I would look seriously at making one more point change. When you finish last, you get 10th-place points and maybe just go 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Hey, we're gonna make a show out of it, let's make a show out of it. Let's really make a show out of it.
"It's unfortunate that if you crash or break something, you lose more points to the leader because of the others that are involved in it. So, hey, if we're gonna let this thing be driven by thrills and excitement for the fans, I would consider that. I know one thing for sure, this sport is driven by that. It's driven by fans and by growth and all those things, and if we're really gonna play to that, then let's fix it to where it really is a hot battle right down to the end - where no one can get so far away if you have a bad day.
"That's the biggest problem all the top 10 have had is their bad days that they weren't able to recover from. It doesn't ever come down to who runs the fastest on the race track, it comes down to how many times did you break an engine or get in a wreck or something like that - not that you can't overcome that with tremendous performance like the 48 has - Jimmy Johnson for example - but, still, you see what I'm saying. Losing 100 points in one race is pretty devastating. If you lost nine in a race, you might have a better chance of making that up."
IF YOU NEVER WIN A TITLE WILL THAT BOTHER YOU?
"Do you have any idea how many times I've been asked that? (laughter) "I'm not owed a championship. I'm just not owed one. I don't think I have one coming to me. If I can go earn it, then I'll get one. We know what the likelihood is - there's a chance of it - but when I reflect back on being a kid from Arkansas that wanted to race the big time and put things in perspective, I really realize what kind of career I've really had.
"Over the years, I've said this and you guys have heard me say it, over the years - somehow or another - I've managed to earn a lot of respect and, to me, that respect means a lot more than any trophy because that didn't happen on luck or accident. I did go out and earn that.
"To win a Daytona 500 and to win a championship would be nice titles to put beside so when you started your article you could say, 'Champion Mark Martin' or 'Daytona 500 Champion Mark Martin.' It's really nice for when you're writing things or when I'm reading things, but I still don't look at Dale Jarrett or Bobby Labonte or Terry Labonte or Bill Elliott, I don't look at those guys differently because they've got that trophy.
"They are what they are in my eyes because of what they did on the race track, not because of the trophy that they got. That's the best way I can put it. I'm not gonna shed a tear because I didn't win something that I didn't earn."
Continued in part 2