MARK MARTIN, NO. 5 CHEEZ-IT/CARQUEST IMPALA SS, AND ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed Mark returning for another full season in 2010, racing for a championship, his Hendrick Motorsports...
MARK MARTIN, NO. 5 CHEEZ-IT/CARQUEST IMPALA SS, AND ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and discussed Mark returning for another full season in 2010, racing for a championship, his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Brad Keselowski and other topics.
MARTIN - MARK, TALK ABOUT RACING HERE AT DARLINGTON: "This is a great place to race. I was thinking about it on the way up here this morning. I have been coming here a long time and have seen a lot of stuff. A lot of times, you might come here and think about the good old days, today is the good old days. I mean, this is it. I am so excited to go to the race track every weekend and drive Alan's car and work with this team and be doing what we are doing. It is cool to be here."
GUSTAFSON - ALAN, TALK ABOUT HOW YOU ASSESS THE TEAM'S PERFORMANCE SO FAR THIS SEASON: "The performance of the team, I think, has been really good. We've gotten in to some circumstances that got us three or four finishes that we'd rather not have, down in the 30s and 40s. We worked hard on correcting those issues. The motor issues, the motor shop did a really good job with that. The win Phoenix was a big deal. Mark did a great job at Richmond. We will just sort of forget about Talladega, there isn't much you can do about that.
"Coming to Darlington, it is always a great place to race. It is a lot of fun. The history is unbelievable here; it is just one of those places. There are very few tracks to come to, Darlington, Indianapolis, Daytona, that you come in to the place and you just feel the history of the race track and that is a great sensation. So that is really neat.
"The pavement is going to be tricky. We don't have a lot of time on this pavement. The tire has changed. Can't wait to run the first lap to see what we will have there so we can adjust to it. The Nationwide cars looked like they struggled a little bit so hopefully we won't have those problems."
MARTIN - WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS IN DECIDING TO COME BACK NEXT YEAR? "Technically, we added 10 races to my schedule. There were some criteria that I had to happen. It was clear what Mr. Hendrick wanted from the start. But there were some things that had to be clear to me. For example, could Alan and I communicate and get the performance together that team deserves was one of them. Another one that was probably the highest on the list is that what Alan and the race team wanted. Which was paramount to me. Lastly and very importantly, I wanted to make sure that I could do it. I have enormous respect for Alan and for the guys on this race team and certainly did not want to feel like that I couldn't do the job even if they wanted me there. I wanted to make sure I could do the job.
"All those things were satisfied and you look at today's climate as far as economic climate and the way the team is performing, it is a good time to put all of that to rest. Now we can just go out and have fun. I would still appreciate if you wouldn't write that I am coming back for one more shot at a championship. I did this because I love racing with all my heart. I love this race team and I am having a blast driving the race car. That is why I made the decision. I just wouldn't sign up for that. It is what Rick wanted to do to start with a year ago and I just wouldn't sign up for something and then wish I hadn't. We have proven over the first five or so races that all of that was good. After Phoenix was the first conversation I had and that conversation lasted five minutes would be a stretch. That was it. I had the conversation with Rick and it was probably less than five minutes. It was more like 60 seconds, you know. He said that was what he wanted to do and I said that was what I wanted to do and so here we are."
MARTIN -- ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT A GUY LIKE TONY STEWART HASN'T WON AT THIS PLACE? "You can't make these things happen even if you run good enough to win, they don't always pan out. Sometimes you have to wait a lot longer than you wish you had to. Yes and no."
MARTIN - DOES THIS MEAN YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO KEEP ALAN? CAN YOU ADDRESS RUMORS ABOUT CREW CHIEF SWAP BETWEEN THE NO. 5 AND THE NO. 88? "I am in no position to make any kind of demands at Hendrick Motorsports. I've only known Rick well for a short period of time. I would do whatever Rick Hendrick told me to do, even though I would be incredibly disappointed. I have every intention of working with Alan as long as I drive the No. 5 car. He is an incredible crew chief and there has never been any conversation other than he and I checking with each other when the rumors were swirling around. Rick Hendrick is the boss, but I am not concerned.
"Rick never spoke to me about it."
GUSTAFSON -- "I have never talked to Mr. Hendrick about anything to do with; I assume you are addressing the No. 88, the swap there. Not really sure where that rumor came from but, my point of view is that I feel really, really fortunate to work with Mark, anybody would. They are going to have to shoe-horn me out of there. I have been with the No. 5 for 10 years, that is my family. That car is very special to me. That team is very special to me and I wouldn't trade that for anything. I have heard these before and fortunately for us, with a really high profile organization, we've got really great drivers. With that comes a lot of pressure to perform. I heard the same things last year with the No. 24 and heard how bad Steve (Letarte) was. Steve is a really good friend of mine, so I really glad right now that he is the smartest guy in the series. That changes pretty quick.
"I feel the same way about Tony (Eury, Jr.). I haven't known Tony nearly as long as I have known Steve, I have known Steve forever, but the same thing is going to happen to Tony and one day we will all look up and he is going to be the smartest guy in the garage. I will be really happy for him when that day comes."
GUSTAFSON -- MARK SAYS HE DIDN'T COME TO DO THIS TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP, BUT WILL YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IF YOU DON'T HAVE A SHOT AT A CHAMPIONSHIP? "I have said it before, that is why I race. I race to win, I love the sport. I want to be successful. The championship is kind of the pinnacle of what we do. We all want to accomplish that. For me to sit here and say I don't' do it for that wouldn't be true. But, I don't look at it any different now than I did at Daytona or after any race this year now that Mark has decided to come back for another full season. We are going to work just as hard every day to do it. I think we have the people to do it. I know we have the driver to do it. Things just have to go our way. So we are just going to the best we can. Mark had a great quote at the beginning of the year. He said 'I can't guarantee results, but I can guarantee the effort and the work we are going to do'. That's just the way we are going to look at it. We are just going to work really really hard. If we could win a championship, I don't think you'd accomplish anything bigger in your professional life than to win a championship at Hendrick Motorsports with Mark Martin. I think that is as good as it gets. I am going to do everything in my power to do it. If it doesn't happen, then it just doesn't happen. You can't focus on it or dwell on it.
"I think you could win four in a row, in my opinion, and I am not demeaning what the No. 48 has to do, they are phenomenal. But, it would mean more to me to win one with Mark than it would four in a row. That is probably the best way I can put it in perspective."
MARTIN -- "Let me sort of clarify so there is no confusion when I say that about the championship thing. Just for example, in l999 in July, on Friday night before the 400 on Saturday, I broke my wrist, a rib and my knee and I raced Saturday night. Not to say that I wouldn't have because that is what I wanted to do. But I did that because I wanted to win a championship. I raced for a year and a half with excruciating back pain. I would have done that anyway, but I did it, I never missed a practice session, I never missed a test session, I never missed anything, because I wanted to win a championship. I allowed that points thing to affect how I felt about racing because I focused on that more than I really realized how much I was. When I finally stepped out of the car and did 26 races in '07, I started to gradually realize how much I love to race. I'm going to keep it that way. That requires a little bit of discipline for me, but that is where I am going to be. I am going to continue to race because I love to race. I'm not going to try to will more points than we can score at the finish line each week."
MARTIN -- WHY IS IT SO MANY DRIVERS DO MELLOW AS THEY GET OLDER AND DO YOU MAINTAIN THAT EDGE? "You are supposed to and there is something wrong with me. (LAUGHS) You are supposed to mellow. That is the natural thing. I don't know, I feel very very fortunate. I reflect fairly regularly and I have especially this week because I can't believe I am getting to do this and do it in this car. With this team. With this performance. This is unbelievable. You know, I came here for the first time in 1981. That is a long time ago. And you know what; I am more excited than I was in 1981 to be here right now. I am really really fortunate for that. I don't know how to really accurately answer your question. But you ask people around me, like my wife, my son and some other people that know me and they will tell you something's not right about me."
MARTIN -- WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON PROCESS TO MOVE GUYS FROM NATIONWIDE TO CUP LIKE BRAD KESELOWSKI? "Brad won in his fifth race in Sprint Cup completion. He is in very very good standing with his career. I think it would be very good for him to do both, Sprint Cup as well as Nationwide. To continue to see things and do things and learn. Let's face it, a lot of what you learn is from mistakes. They may not be big mistakes, but they are from experience, whether it was a mistake or not. The more he races, the more he will be ready to take on the challenge of racing for the Chase and racing for a championship and doing a great job week in and week out.
MARTIN --IF HE DOESN'T DO A FULL SCHEDULE, DOES HE STILL GET GOOD EXPERIENCE? Oh yes. But it is only as many as you do. If it is half, you get half as much. I think no matter what his schedule is, the more racing he does, the further he moves along at a more rapid pace, the more rapidly he moves along."
MARTIN -- IS CONSISTENCY ENOUGH TO DO IT IN A CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think you have to turn up the wick once the Chase starts. I think you really have to turn with wick up. Consistency will do it as long as you are consistently in the top-five. The No. 48 is really setting the bar high for anyone that is stepping up. I think we have seen it the last few years, different teams really step it up. The No. 16 last year came out of the gate and I think he won the first two races, something like that. Winning these championships under this Chase format, you have to be consistent and you have to really roll."
MARTIN -- WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN HERE AT DARLINGTON? WHAT HAS GONE RIGHT OR WRONG FOR YOU? "What went right for us in '93 was that nothing went wrong of any substance. Doggone, one year, we dominated the race and the rain came out and we pitted and Darrell (Waltrip) stayed out and he won. For example, there are lots of things that can go wrong and cost you. We definitely had the car to win the race that particular year.
"It started raining about the time we left our pit stall; I don't what the circumstances were. If Darrell was pitting on the back stretch and we were on the front or whatever it was, whatever, those guys were smart enough to stay out, that is my memory. You have to have it all. But you have to have a good enough program to win and you have to have nothing stand in your way."
MARTIN -- HOW DOES HAVING TEAMMATES RACING SO WELL DRIVE YOU? "Well, to have Dale, Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson for teammates means I have got to pay attention every day, if I want to compete on the same level those guys do. They set the bar really high and each one of them has real strong suits in let's say different areas. They have incredible strong suits. I look at all of them and try to rise to that level. It is a great inspiration for me. It is even more inspiring to me that they seem to genuinely pull for me and our team. It is really an honor to be a part of it. Alan and I, we want to win, and it is a tall order, but it can be done. We can beat our teammates on a good day. He'll say more than that, but I'll say on a good day we know we can. Those guys are incredible teams that have been established for quite some time and really work well together. For Alan and I to be in contention, for me, is very satisfying."
-credit: gm racing