Ford Daytona test - Mark Martin interview

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, will be looking to improve one spot in this year's NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after finishing second to champion Tony Stewart in 2002. Martin spoke about the season ahead prior to the final...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, will be looking to improve one spot in this year's NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after finishing second to champion Tony Stewart in 2002. Martin spoke about the season ahead prior to the final day of NASCAR Winston Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway.

MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus:

YOU SHOWED LAST YEAR THAT THERE'S STILL SOMETHING LEFT IN YOUR TANK. "I guess. We had a great race team last year and were able to manage some really great performance out of our cars and that's what it takes. You can have all the ingredients right in a deal and still not get the performance. If you don't get the performance out of the car, then you're not gonna see the result on the race track. For us, a year ago right now, we didn't have a permanent car chief and we hadn't practiced many pit stops. We didn't have a downforce car, I don't think, in the shop yet ready to go. There were a lot of questions unanswered a year ago right now. We had an extremely small amount of turnover within our team this year, which is what you get a lot of times when you put a bunch of fresh, committed people together. They seem to hang together a little bit tighter, especially when you experience success on the race track. Without going deep into that, I'm very proud about the people and the members on my team and their commitment to hang together because they got a chance to taste victory lane and had a really great shot at the championship. So that's sort of the glue that's holding this thing together and it speaks more of the individuals than it does of the performance on the race track because you can have a great season and have your camp raided by the other teams. Then it's up to the individuals whether they're committed to holding it together or not. Anyway, I am a lot more at peace with my team and what we are doing right now than a year ago. A year ago, I had absolutely no notes of any setups that worked anywhere for the first time in my career, so I might as well had been a rookie. This year, we have notes from half of the race tracks that work real good and two-thirds that work real well and just a few races tracks that we have to start over again. So just for all those reasons, I feel good about where I'm at right now and the people that are surrounding me, but that still doesn't mean we're gonna have as good a year as we had last year. It just means that things are better. We could have a better year than we had last year and a bunch of other teams have a much better year than they had and then you don't wind up faring as well in the pecking order when it's all said and done with. So we'll have to see what the competition does, but I feel like we can step it up from last year. I hope we can. I feel like we can and I think we will, but I don't know what the competition will do."

WILL THE NEW BODY STYLES AFFECT THE RACING? "I don't think there's really any change with the Taurus. The competition is gonna change and I'm not real sure what kind of affect it's going to have. My first thought was that it wasn't going to be an advantage for the teams that were getting the new body styles, but as we get closer to the season I'm starting to have some fears that it may help them. I don't know, it's hard to say. The Pontiac thing, there were two ways of looking at that. It wasn't the greatest car on Earth, but it had spoilers and they were able to do things to it that nobody else could do, so I don't know where that car really stood at the end of the day to measure up to the rest of 'em. I always thought that Monte Carlo was a real good race car, it always appeared to be a real good race car, but, on the other hand, this new car they have is much more like what we have. It's hard to say. When it all comes down to it, it's what you do with what you have that makes you a winner and, hopefully, we can do the right things with what we have to come out as good or even better than last year."

HOW DO YOU PULL THINGS TOGETHER QUICKLY WHEN YOU LOSE CREW MEMBERS? "I don't really know how you do that, to be honest with you. No matter what, you still have to beat everybody else. No matter what you have, no matter what they have, at the end of the day you have to beat everyone else in order to win and to come out on top. That is just a combination of preparation and performance and the performance is real fickle. It's not easy to put your finger on and, like I said before, we could step it up in 2003 and still not do as good, or we could step it up in 2003 and just clobber everybody because of so many teams getting overwhelmed with the changes. Everything is new. We don't even know what all of the elements are yet until we get to Rockingham and to Vegas. Things will develop and, all of a sudden you'll stand around and see something new has developed, whether it's NASCAR induced or Goodyear induced or whatever. I know there aren't any planned changes, but we've been in this business long enough to know that things still change even though there are no plans for change, so who knows. You have to just roll with the flow - do the best you can on the preparation side, have great pit stops and great chemistry. In my little world and at Roush Racing, the thing that wins races is going through the corners."

COULD SOMEONE LIKE ROBIN PEMBERTON BENEFIT YOUR ORGANIZATION? "Yes, but I don't expect to see him wind up with our organization, but absolutely - no doubt. I think wherever Robin winds up will certainly benefit, if he's allowed to work at his potential. I think there might be something exciting out there for Robin that could potentially be the best thing that he could hope for."

WHY DO YOU THINK THE CREW SWITCH LAST YEAR HELPED BOTH TEAMS? "Basically, probably for the reasons we made the swap and that was putting experience with inexperience. There are some real big plusses to inexperience. They're not all negative. Inexperience is a good thing. It's open-mindedness. It's enthusiasm. Not knowing you can't do it sometimes makes a big difference. Jimmy and I had been together a long time and we were real frustrated and real stagnant at the time. Had we stayed together, we would have had a great year in 2002, but we didn't know that. We had wrestled it for two years pretty heavy and we did what we thought would work the best for Kurt and for me. It's worked real well. I really, really like Ben and think that the change was good for Jimmy and it certainly was good for Ben. It worked out well. We basically knew it would because we knew the elements and we knew that mixing the personalities and people would probably make each group stronger than holding two veterans together and two rookies together."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE LACK OF SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING? RUSTY HAS PROSPOSED LOWERING THE REAR SPOILER AND SOFTENING THE TIRES? "Well, without just flat-out getting smart about it, I have been screaming for about five years so I'm not even gonna talk about it now. No one wanted to hear it five years ago, so I'm not gonna talk about it now. We've had problems for five years and it's been growing every year. I've talked to the competitors about it. I've talked to NASCAR about it and ever since they got away from the five-and-five rule, this has been a growing problem and it's just gotten worse and worse."

HAS IT GOTTEN MORE FRUSTRATING WITH THE WAY YOU HAVE TO RACE TODAY? "There's a much higher degree of frustration, but there would be regardless because there is such a small discrepancy between the cars now. Under the best-case scenario it's gonna be a lot more frustrating, but we're not in the best-case scenario. We've basically put no effort toward improving the opportunity to pass for five years. We've just continually made it worse and worse and worse everytime. There's definitely room for improvement. We've had a perfect example by looking at Indy cars. How bright do we have to be? I've been saying that for five years and we just get closer to it every year, so I'll just stop there before I get smart. Golly, you didn't have to do anything, but you needed to start thinking about it and talking about it before now. There was a problem that was growing and it has grown and grown and grown. Action wasn't required, but you can't just sit in denial and watch a problem get bigger and bigger and bigger. Otherwise, it's much harder to fix."

IS IT LIKE TURNING THE TITANIC AROUND NOW? "It's not gonna an easy thing. It's not just as easy as doing it because we've gone so far down the road now that I don't even know where to start, but we definitely need to start. A grippier tire and less aero is no question the right way to go, but that won't fix it. I will tell you in the early nineties there was no such thing as aero-push. Let me put it this way, I never felt it in the early nineties. If you leave it up to the competitors, they have to make more downforce to go faster and faster and faster. It was up to the sanctioning body to reel that in. You can't just not do it because it makes the car go faster, so the teams and manufacturers have to continue to try and make more and more downforce."

WHAT DID YOU SEE IN MATT KENSETH AND HOW FAR CAN HE GO IN THIS SPORT? "I knew Matt was a really, really, really fine fella when I met him at Talladega. I knew that and I knew he was a whale of a race car driver with tremendous car knowledge. People always want to know how I knew that and I say, 'I do this for a living (laughing).' I mean, I've been there. I knew the races that he was winning. I knew how hard they were to win and I knew he was doing it with different teams, so that meant that he knew how to do it and not necessarily his team because he had to carry that knowledge from car to car to car to be able to win in all those cars. In other words, instead of going to a great car and winning in a great car with a great team, he was able to win. So I knew that. It was just real easy for me. Now, expectations, I'm not surprised with his success and I believe that he is probably right on the very edge of the best in Winston Cup racing. He's right there, just in a very, very, very elite group. That's my opinion."

HOW DOES HE GET OVER THAT EDGE? "I think the car makes the difference, not him. I don't think you can go there. What you're asking for is, 'How is he gonna win everything?' Well, his car will do that for him or it won't, but he's one of the very best in the business."

IN WHAT WAYS DID BEN LESLIE CHALLENGE YOU? "My demeanor is intimidating to people because I'm real direct in everything. I don't really necessarily mean that, but I'm real direct and don't waste a lot of time. I get right to the point, so it's easy to just line up and go. For a young guy, he has surprised me because if he's not sure about that, he doesn't line up and go. He gets around in my face and says, 'Are you sure about that?' He questions my direction a lot. He'll square right up with me and check to make sure. He'll say, 'I want to make sure with you on that. Are you sure?' And that's something that's good for me. If you don't put people around me that are really smart, then I'm only as good as I am and that's not good enough. But if I put people around me who are really, really bright and allow them to help me, then we're as good as the total of all of us and that's what people are doing on the race track right now. That's what I have to do as well in order to compete on the top level and he brings a lot to the table that way."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Mark Martin