Daytona Ford Wednesday Racing Notes

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Taurus, held a press conference this morning in the Benny Kahn Infield Media Center. He discussed a variety of topics, including his recovery from back surgery to the pit road incident in ...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Taurus, held a press conference this morning in the Benny Kahn Infield Media Center. He discussed a variety of topics, including his recovery from back surgery to the pit road incident in Sunday's Bud Shootout.

MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline Taurus

WHEN DID YOU GET IN THE CAR FOR THE FIRST TIME? "The first time I got in the car was the 21st of January out here for the test to check it out. It was pretty tender and it was a little bit itchy getting in the car. I ran 32 laps in one drafting segment and I was little bit uncomfortable afterwards, not during but afterwards. I was tired after being out here all day and standing up a lot and driving the car and everything. The difference is that now it doesn't bother me to get in or out of the car or drive the car. It doesn't make me tired, I don't get tired. I go wide-open from 5:30 in the morning until whatever time at night and I feel great."

WAS THAT DISCOMFORT PAIN? "One man's pain is another man's discomfort."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE MEN'S HEALTH DEAL AND THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FIT? "The importance of being physically fit is obvious to anyone who wants to see that, the health benefits are tremendous. Non-physically fit people are three times more likely to die of heart disease and they're twice as likely to die of all other causes, just for an example. The recovery from an injury, whether its slipping off a stair of hitting the wall at Daytona in July like I did is greatly shortened by being physically fit. Recovery from the surgery that I had -- my doctors have just stood there with their mouths open because they just can't believe it. That's because I've been working on this program for 12 years and living and eating a healthy lifestyle -- more than healthy, to the point of being nutty lifting weights and eating right. Whatever I do I do too much, so what I've tried to do is find some things that are good for me. Doing too much of things that are good for you is a whole lot better than doing destructive things or things that are bad for you. I can't help it, I'm just that kind of person. I have that personality."

HOW DO YOU KNOW YOUR BACK WILL BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND 500 MILES ON SUNDAY? "I haven't done anything to test that, there's no way to test that, but I've been driving 25 years and I know it's know problem. I just know. I'm strong as an ox."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR 125 ON THURSDAY, IT'S A PRETTY STRONG FIELD. "The first race appears to everyone to be a difficult race, which throws the spin on the second one to appear to some folks as not being difficult. The second race will be very difficult too (laughing). It's not as it really appears to some folks. I think it's an extremely competitive race as well. You do have some really strong, really good history drivers in the first race. It seems like an abundance of them, but, still, when it all comes down to it they're both difficult races. I'm not a fan of qualifying races, although they work well for some folks. In 1986 I came down here and qualified 44th and didn't run second-round qualifying or anything, just got ready to race, and I raced to a 13th-place finish in the 125 and I was in the 500. I guess that's what those races are for, one. Two, they're for making a Speedweek, instead of a Speedweekend. All things considered, the qualifying races work well for some folks and for others they would just as soon line up in the 500 how they time trialed."

YOU OBVIOUSLY FELT BAD AFTER THE PIT ROAD INCIDENT SUNDAY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT NOW? "I was devastated. My guys trust me with their lives and I breached that trust in my mind. Anyone can do any justification they want to about whether I had great brakes or not. I had some brakes, I didn't have the kind of brakes that would slide the tires or anything like that at that point in time. Mike (Ehret) ran out there in front of the car, it was pretty obvious to me that I wasn't gonna be able to stop. I knew for a long time I was gonna hit him and he continued on like a soldier doing what he's supposed to do and that's jack that car. I just felt like I had breached that trust, that there needed to be something else I could have done, so I ran over that in my mind over and over again. What could I have done or what should I have done. If I would have turned left instead of right and hadn't been able to stop, then I would have rolled up and ran into the back of the car that was pitted in front of me, which would be a disaster. You have split-second decisions to make -- how can you minimize the problem here. We do it on the race track all the time. We know when we're gonna crash, when there's a car sitting there, and you hit the car however you can hit it to minimize the danger for everyone involved. That's what I tried to do in that situation. I don't blame anyone for what happened, I don't really blame myself, but I take responsibility. I was ultimately responsible for that happening. Now, I could have had some better tools to work with at the time than what I had to work with, but I ultimately took that responsibility on myself. I was sick about it and it took me a while to feel better. Thank goodness Mike wasn't seriously injured, otherwise I would still be moping."

DID THEY WANT YOU TO GO BACK OUT ON THE TRACK, BUT YOU SAID I'M DONE? "Yes, they did."

DO YOU THINK THE OLD SHOCK AND SPRING RULES HERE MAY HAVE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH YOUR BACK PROBLEMS? "No, they didn't but I sure could say that. That probably messed up a lot of people. The old shock rules did irritate my back, certainly, but I had a degenerative disk. That was not the cause of it. It degenerated over the years and it just went away. My doctor said that when they do this surgery they usually have to use pliers to move the vertebra back and forth. They go in there and scrape the disk out and then they put a block in there and run screws up the vertabra to hold the blocks in. He said that he could move mine back and forth with his fingers, that's how worn out and overdue this surgery was."

Roush Racing announced this morning that NorthernLight.com will sponsor the No. 16 Taurus of driver Kevin Lepage for Thursday's Twin 125 and Sunday's scheduled Daytona 500. Lepage spoke about what it will mean to have sponsorship throughout the rest of this week.

KEVIN LEPAGE --16-- NorthernLight.com Taurus -- "NorthernLight.com is going to be on Jeff Burton's Busch car for a number of races this year and they knew we were looking for a sponsor for the 16 car, so they jumped aboard for one of the biggest races of the year in the Daytona 500 on Sunday and the Twin 125. I'm really happy that we finally got somebody on the car. A lot of people were coming up to us and saying, 'Man, was that you in that white car that got in an accident earlier in the week?' There are two or three white cars out there and now we've got some identity on it for the 125s and the 500. We're pretty excited about it. It's just a one-race deal and it's not something that's gonna be on for the rest of the year, but it shows the caliber of the 16 team to have a new sponsor getting their feet wet in Busch is willing to take a gamble and get on our car for the biggest races of the year."

DOES IT HELP FOR THIS WEEK? "Jack's given us a program and he's given us his word that we'll run the whole year. Our deal right now is to go out and do the best job we can week-in and week-out. Pat Tryson and myself, we came here and struggled a little bit in qualifying, but qualifying is only two laps. We've got 50 to do on Thursday and the race on Sunday, so we're just working real hard. I think we've got the car where it will drive real good, it'll stay consistent for 50 laps, and once we get the 125 underneath us, then we'll get ready for the 500."

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, qualified second for the Daytona 500 and will start on the pole for Thursday's second Twin 125.

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus

EVERYBODY IS LOOKING AT THAT FIRST TWIN AS BEING TOUGH, BUT THERE ARE SOME GOOD CARS IN THE SECOND RACE TOO, RIGHT? "I've never been able to look at those 125s. Sure, you can look at them and sit there and say on paper which one is gonna be the toughest and I've never had any luck because, sure enough, once you think you're in a tough one it ends up being an easy one and the easy ones end up being the tough one. Somebody gave me a statistic. I forget how many wins are combined in the first race, but the second race is like 40 wins and I've got 20 of them. So, on paper it looks like it would be a better race to be in, but we'll rule that out. We'll just take it as it comes."

ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WHERE YOUR CAR IS AT NOW? "Yeah, we are. We're not really sitting in a good position right this minute because you know how treacherous going into these 125s are and the 125s themselves. We don't have a good backup car. I don't think any of the Ford teams have three top-notch Tauruses because they're new out of the box. We've got two cars and one is gone, so we have to kind of sneak through. We haven't been on the top of the speed charts and that's really by reason because we've stayed in four-car drafts and been selective with who we draft with. We don't want to become a victim of somebody else's accident and that's been a little bit of concern. Tomorrow our goal is to get out there, get in that lead pack and get gone. That's what our goal is, but whether it happens or not we'll see."

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, was the fastest car on the first day of practice and followed that up by qualifying seventh last weekend. He is scheduled to start fourth in Thursday's first Twin 125.

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus

WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN THE TWIN 125 TOMORROW? "I understand deeply that it's gonna be a handling race, it really is. We're gonna have to handle good in the 125. I expect in the first 25 laps of the 125 there is gonna be a lot of side-by-side racing and stuff like that. I think after the 25-lap mark it's gonna single out and handling is really gonna start coming into play. We've got to pay hard attention to that and that's what we're looking at right now."

YOU'RE IN A PRETTY STRONG FIELD THAT FIRST RACE. "The first 125, I've never seen a stronger field in my entire life. It's the exact race I don't want to be in, although, if I conquer in the first race then I'll feel pretty good for the 500. I mean, just the who's who of Winston Cup racing is in that first race."

IS THE 500 STILL THE RACE EVERYBODY WANTS TO WIN MORE THAN ANY OTHER? "It's the one I want to win. I've won everything out there, except for this particular race. I'd like to win the Daytona 500. I thought I had it won last year and thought I had it won in '98 also. A late-race pit stop in '98 got me back to fifth and then last year we didn't put tires on, we put fuel on, and it was probably the wrong move on me and Robin's part. We got beat and finished eighth and thought we had it won. We lost it with 10 to go. We don't want to make that same mistake this year. We've got a good 'ol hot rod out there right now, she's running good and real strong, but the next thing is the 125. We know we've got some big, big competition. We've got some real tough guns in that first race. This is one race I wish I was probably in the second, so I know I could have a good finish, but, like I say, if we run good...we're running enough right now to win the thing so we'll see what happens."

Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus, qualified third last weekend and will start on the outside pole for Thursday's first Twin 125.

BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus

THERE ARE A LOT OF FORMER CHAMPIONS IN YOUR TWIN TOMORROW. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE FIELD? "You've gotta race against all of them on Sunday, so what does it matter? It's gonna be a good test."

ARE YOU HAPPY WITH WHERE YOUR CAR IS AT RIGHT NOW? "I could be handling a little bit better, but we're gonna work on that more today. If we don't get it right for the 125, then we'll try to get it right for the 500."

Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 13 Duracell Ultra/Turtle Wax Taurus, was involved in a practice accident with Tony Stewart Wednesday afternoon. Gordon explained what happened and crew chief Fred Graves described the damage to his Ford.

ROBBY GORDON --13-- Duracell Ultra/Turtle Wax Taurus

WHAT HAPPENED? "I know when I went into turn two I passed Tony, I mean I got by him. My spotter told me I cleared and maybe I waited a little a too long to move down after I cleared him and he just tapped me in the left-rear quarter. Obviously, we have a pretty fast car, I think we're sixth-quickest right now, so we're a little disappointed on that. I'm sure with it being the last minutes of practice that tempers are flaring and everybody is getting frustrated. It's just unfortunate what happened. I respect Tony as a driver and, basically, the reason why I went over there was to say, 'Hey, can you give me a little room? It's only practice.' We didn't need to tear up my car, didn't need to tear up his car. We didn't tear his car up. He told me, 'Get out of here until you learn how to race Winston Cup,' and then he pushed me. That's where it all went bad."

DID YOU PUNCH HIM BACK? "Well, I thought he was gonna hit me, so I grabbed him. I didn't hit him, I just grabbed him by the suit so he couldn't hit me. Like I said, it's unfortunate because we're in Happy Hour, basically, before the 125s. Everybody's getting frustrated. We're obviously a little scared too about making the race. We have no provisionals to fall back on or anything like that, so we're working really hard on our car. The car is actually very good. We were 10th-quickest yesterday and right now we're still sixth-quickest, so we're pretty happy about that. Like I said, it's just unfortunate what happened."

HAVE YOU HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH TONY BEFORE? "No. I've got a lot of respect for Tony actually. He's a great race car driver. He hangs it out. He has a lot of car control and he knows how to win races, so I have a lot of respect for him."

FRED GRAVES, Crew Chief --13-- Duracell Ultra/Turtle Wax Taurus

WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE AND WILL IT BE OK FOR TOMORROW? "I don't think so. We've got a little bit of sheet metal damage on the left-front fender and left-rear quarter and I believe we can fix all of that back to normal. We had a little problem in the drive line, I think it might have broken something in the rear-end gear when he got turned around, but I think we can fix that too. So, I think we should be OK."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Kevin Lepage , Robby Gordon , Mark Martin