Daytona 500: Martin qualifying interview

MARK MARTIN, DRIVER OF THE NO. 5 KELLOGG'S / CARQUEST IMPALA, WHO QUALIFIED SECOND TODAY. WHAT'S IT FEEL LIKE TO BE ON THE FRONT ROW? "It's an amazing feeling -- I feel so grateful to Rick Hendrick because that's where it all starts. What an...

MARK MARTIN, DRIVER OF THE NO. 5 KELLOGG'S / CARQUEST IMPALA, WHO QUALIFIED SECOND TODAY.

WHAT'S IT FEEL LIKE TO BE ON THE FRONT ROW?

"It's an amazing feeling -- I feel so grateful to Rick Hendrick because that's where it all starts. What an incredible person that he is for giving me this opportunity. Alan Gustafson and this entire Car Quest team because everybody works hard in this business. They just worked a little smarter think with the time that they had. They put me in a really fast race car and it's all about them. It's so much fun to go to work everyday with a group that is so fired up and excited as these guys. I actually wish that we were starting in about five minutes. It would just give me enough time to get strapped in and start the 500."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF MARTIN TRUEX JR.'S TEAM TO GET THE POLE?

"I want to say that working closely with the 1 and the 8 last year, they are racers. When I was saying about how much fun it was to go to the race track and work with the group with such a great attitude, we had that last year as well. I think that shows so much because the 8 is right up there as well. That 1 team, they just buckled down and kept the blinders on and worked on their program, worked on their cars and kept everything together. That's impressive, but those guys are impressive. That was really a group of die hard racers over there that I worked with and I obviously admire that."

HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT MARTIN TRUEX JR. BEATING YOU FOR THE POLE?

"I'm just Mr. Outside Pole -- if I'm not mistaken I sat on the outside pole six times last year and didn't get one so I'll take that because I have sat on the back pole a few times in my career and I don't like that at all. I'll take second. This is my first time -- I don't know how many Daytona 500s I've done, but I think its 25, that's a good, close number anyway or in the ball park. I've never been on the front row. It seems like, my memory may serve me different, but it seems like it time trials it was a very rare occasion when I had a top-10 in time trials car. My guys always told me after time trials were over with that I would race good and 'don't worry about it.' I always said I would race better if that thing was fast. We've got a fast race car -- I'm really excited."

WHAT HAS CHANGED TO MAKE YOU ENJOY RACING AT DAYTONA NOW?

"To be real honest with you, its trying to get my arms around the crown jewel and I didn't let that eat at me a lot, but when it started dwindling down to where you could count on one hand your shots at the Daytona 500 and then it started going down -- four, three, we don't know anymore. In '07, really what I wanted to do was win the Daytona 500 and-or the Brickyard. We got close here and we went to the Brickyard and ran sixth with a broken transmission. Mission was almost accomplished and those are crown jewels. I put the focus on that rather than worrying about points or anything else. To answer your question, this is the crown jewel of stock car racing and I've had a little bit of success in it. Everything else that I've done in my career would fit around this. I'm a one-step-at-a-time guy, but this is definitely the best stuff that I've had -- the best group of people and the best stuff that I've had. I'm grateful for that and as you remember in 2007, I was thankful for the opportunity. I wasn't mad because I didn't win -- I was glad that I had a chance. If things go our way then maybe we'll have a chance again here Sunday."

DOES THIS CHANGE YOUR WEEK FROM WHAT IT HAS BEEN IN THE PAST?

"Absolutely, but its even more than that because things have changed so much without testing. Feeling like the odd-man out with the Shootout and I haven't driven Alan's (Gustafson) cars at a place like this -- we've done limited testing a few times in a race car at a few places, but nothing like this. Missing Friday and Saturday's practices in race trim I feel is spotting our competition and boy, I don't like doing that. It probably won't make a hill-of-beans difference after 15 minutes on the race track we'll probably be read to go. But I still, right now, we are behind. After 15 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour or whatever, we may not be behind anymore, but right now we are and it takes a lot of pressure off of Thursday. We can go out there and I feel a lot more comfortable about going for the win. Meaning fuel mileage or tires or no tires -- heck, if we're running fifth we would have to stay out maybe at the end on a deal where now maybe we can come in and get tires and it doesn't matter. It just takes the pressure off because of the pit selection and the starting position we would have to race for and be more conservative if we had to start where we finished up there. Even bigger than that, I can't even remember all the really cool things that Rick Hendrick has done in his career in racing, but to give me this opportunity is as huge to me as when he gave Tim Richmond an opportunity to win a race again after he got sick -- that was a big deal. He's done some other very big deals in his career like winning the Daytona 500 with Darrell Waltrip and putting Benny Parsons in the 25 car years ago. For me, this is just the start. This is just the first competition that we've had -- just the first one of the year and already it's turned out really sweet. I hope that we can continue to have some really bright days together."

IS IT GOOD THAT FORMER DEI CARS DID WELL TODAY?

"I'm really happy for Aric (Almirola), he qualified great and he will do a great job here Sunday I'm sure. I'm happy for all those guys. That is a group of hardcore racers and today you see less of that. You see more career guys and career racers rather than just the hardcore racers. It's special to me just to see them do well and I know they're going to be fun to watch this year -- all of them. I'm happy for them. Still would have liked to have been on the pole, but I'm not going to complain. It's a big deal to be on the front row for me because I've been down here so many times and went home after qualifying mad. Someone's always up there and I'm in the back end and I have to race my way in on Thursday. This is just the other side of that coin."

IS YOUR MOTTO 'IT'S NIFTY TO BE 50?'

"I've seen that and it beats the alternative. I'm loving it. I think everybody goes through all sorts of experiences in life, but it is really, really critical to be really happy with what you're doing. In the way you see thing and the way you perceive things and the way you feel about life. It's the best it's ever been for me. I wish that for everyone."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HARD TIMES IN THE PAST?

"I think that whatever your life experiences are shape you. My failing and going broke in 1982 was important. I was on track to be one of the young guns in the sport at 23-years old or 22-years old and already sat on a couple poles. I'm glad I didn't succeed the first time, I'm glad that I had the hard times because that's what humbled me and that's what made me. That had an impact on who I am today. We have seen a lot of different things. We've seen the sport grow so much for so long that with a minor contraction or even a good size contraction that we're seeing right now, it's still not bad. There's still 10-times as many great sponsors out here as there were in the 1980s. There's still nearly 10-times as many great opportunities to drive for great teams as there was in the 1980s. In the 80s, it happened all the time -- third-place was five laps down or three laps down or whatever. In Martinsville in 1981, I ran third one-lap down. Darrell (Waltrip) and Harry (Gant) were first and second and I was a lap down in third. The racing is way better than it was in the 80s; I don't care what anybody says. It's way more competitive, it's way better, we have a lot more sponsors, and we have a lot more jobs. There's a lot of things positive in this thing even though we maybe have lost some sponsors and have lost some jobs. We're not experiencing anything different than the whole world -- everybody is feeling the pain, every person, I don't care what they do feels the pain of the economy right now to some degree. To be real honest with you, I think NASCAR is feeling less of it than the average."

DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING IN 2007 IN THE CLOSING LAPS WITH KEVIN HARVICK GOING FOR THE 500 WIN?

"Well, I hesitate to really comment on that, because if I did, I don't want to advertise it. I wouldn't want the competition to know that I did and I might do something different next time. I think keeping everyone guessing is the best thing that you can do on those things. The thing about it is, and I have always had a problem with so and so made a brilliant move at Daytona and Talladega. That move would not be brilliant if the guys out there did something different. You can't control what everybody else does. And that is what makes what you do right or wrong is what they do. I am going to tell you right now that I am thrilled to have a fast race car, but I will take luck come Sunday. If I could be lucky, you watch the finish of that race last night, it was similar to '07 and sometimes there is not anything you can do. But, I look forward to the challenge and if I did learn anything, I really wouldn't share the details with you."

WHAT MAKES THIS A HAPPIER TIME THAN YOU WERE FIVE OR TEN YEARS AGO? IS IT ACCURATE TO SAY YOU REALLY SENSE THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY?

"That is probably what makes me happy. I had to have a break. I was tired, burned out and frustrated. I'd put every ounce that I had in to my career from the time from the time I graduated high school until the last day at Homestead in '06 in the No. 6 car. I had to step back and catch my breath and let myself out from under that gun and do some things that I really wanted to do that I felt like racing was standing in the way of. And I did those. And I caught my breath. And it took a year or a year and a half for me to get caught up and get in the right frame of mind. But mentally right now, I am in so much better frame then I was then. I have experienced some disappointment, I don't know how much but your expectations are pretty high when you have as much success as I had. I worked as hard as I could possibly work. It seemed like it was just time. I had to have a break; I had to get out from under it because I wasn't having fun. I was tired, I was burned out, I was wanting to go racing with my son and help him do that. I wanted to spend time with my family and I needed a break.

"After I got that and I looked around and I figured out that really racing is my life and I am in deep trouble when I can't do it any more, I have no idea what I want to do when I can't wheel one of these things any more. The No. 8 car gave me a shot to win about three times last year. I could taste the blood, I wanted it so bad. When I realized that I might have a chance to win some races in the No. 5 car. I am all over it. That is what I really want to do. I took the time to do the things I wanted to do and now, once again, I am doing what I really want to do and that is I want to go to the race track. Drive these race cars, work with this race team and be around these people. That is what I have done since I was 15 years old and I don't know what I will do when I can't do it.

"I try not to get too far ahead of myself right now. We have drafting practice on Wednesday. We will see how it goes on Thursday then we have got a few more practices. If you put me in a position that I was in with 20 to go in 2007, I was willing that race, I could taste it, and I was willing to wreck to win. I felt like I was very close there a few times. I did everything there I could possibly do. I am very motivated. Probably more motivated than I was in 2000 or 2005 because I know that there is only, it started five, four, I don't know, I don't know. So every time I get a chance to do this, the Daytona 500 for example, I don't know how many more I will get.

"In 2000 I thought, I didn't know, I thought I was going to get to do this stuff forever. You don't think about it. You know? You are in the middle of a haze of just racing and digging and racing and doing everything you can do. Now I can see as clear as a bell I don't know how many more chances I will have like this. So I am going to try really hard to make the most of it."

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO BRETT FARVE OR ANY OTHER ATHLETES WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH WHAT YOU HAVE GONE THROUGH?

"I haven't. But I am not a football fan or any other sports unless it is racing. But, I have watched Brett deal from afar, because I identified with him. I was really happy when he got released so he could go do what he really wanted to do because I could identify with that. It is one thing to try and keep doing something when you are really in a steep decline let's say, but when you can perform like he can perform. Or when you can drive a race car like I was able to get the kind of results I got in 2008 in the No. 8 car, there is absolutely....it is all I have done since I was 15 years old. Why in the world would I want to go sit at home?"

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Tim Richmond