Ford Racing Interview with Mark Martin, Jeff Burton


January 27, 1999


MARK MARTIN -6- Valvoline Taurus -- "We tested at Daytona and had a pretty encouraging test. A year ago right now I think we had one car built and about half a race team assembled. Now we've got a shop full of cars, a race team together that's cranking out fast pit stops, and we feel like we're quite a bit more ready than we were a year ago. That's comforting, believe me. A year ago right now I was pretty nervous about the upcoming season, but, as everybody knows, it turned out to be a dream come true season for me. We're hoping that things will go together for us and it's my hope and dream that I can maybe someday again have a season that was as successful and rewarding as 1998 was. Nothing would make me happier than that to be 1999. I think we've got a great race team. We're up for it and I'm looking forward to it. "Like I said before, we had an encouraging test at Daytona. We certainly aren't gonna be a threat for the pole, but, if we keep working and we get a little bit lucky, maybe we can be a contender for sure. Our speeds were quite a bit more competitive than a year ago. That's been a real tough one for us and if we go down there and don't win the Daytona 500, it won't be from a lack of effort on Roush Racing's part." DO YOU AND JEFF BURTON HAVE THE PERFECT TWO-CAR TEAM AND WHY DOES IT WORK SO WELL? "Because of Jeff Burton is why it works so well. If Jeff wasn't driving a car for Jack Roush at this point, we'd probably have almost the same relationship. I think Jeff is the strongest individual race car driver on the Winston Cup circuit at this point, in my opinion. I know he's had a huge impact on the success that I had in '98, and he has the personality that makes the deal work. Instead of trying to push me out of the way, he's decided that if he can do something for or if he could help me or give something back, that I would be a lot more eager to see him do better and to help him and that's what he set out to do. Instead of asking for anything, he set out to give. He's where I was 10 years ago in his career, I think, as far as being knowledgeable about the cars. This sounds real weird, but technologically he's on the cutting edge. We don't use that term in NASCAR because it's really people racing, but I'm talking about the latest thing going on with shock absorbers or weight distributions or aerodynamics or something like that, he's totally in tune. Whereas, after he wins 30 Winston Cup races, it will be a lot harder for him to be as close to the cars and as in tune with them as he is at this level. He's had some success. He's been top five in points two years in a row and he's won five Winston Cup races, but things still haven't totally consumed him with the promotional stuff and other things that take some of your focus." HOW DO YOU FEEL PHYSICALLY GOING INTO '99 -- "My back is about the same status that it was in November -- not better. My hope was to have surgery in November and come into the season with no back problems. I have back pain, I may have back pain the rest of my life but I can live with it. They took another look at my problems there and came with the recommendation that if it doesn't hurt when I race to keep racing and when I can't race anymore they'll do something to me. I think it's a fact of life now at this point for me that I will have the pain that I have. I don't have a nerve problem with it running down my leg anymore, I just have to be really careful with my back to not get it irritated." HOW ABOUT THE REST OF YOUR BODY? "I'm fine. I'm ready to go and, believe me, you better be because the more success you have and the more growth that you experience, the greater the demand. Everybody who plans on doing well this year better sure be ready." DO YOU EXPECT GORDON TO DO WHAT HE DID LAST YEAR AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO STEP UP AND CLOSE THAT GAP? "We will continue to race as hard as we can and do the best that we can and that's what they'll do, and we'll see what happens. I expect them to run as well this year as they did last year, I don't know what to expect from us for sure. I'm not gonna get caught up in expectations and disappointments. I've been doing this stuff for a long time, I don't need that. I will do my best effort and so will my race team." IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM LAST YEAR TO GET BETTER? "I made a couple of mistakes last year that I hope not to make this year that were based basically on lack of confidence due to having a brand new team and a brand new program. Now I know we have a great race team and I'm a little bit more comfortable and secure with things and I'm another year older and another year of maturity. Hopefully, I'll try to make the right decisions at the right time." WHAT DO YOU THINK OF NASCAR'S GROWTH? "I believe that NASCAR as a whole is a great sport that the whole family can be involved in and pull for, and I think it's very American. There are a lot of great role models in this sport, not only as drivers, but as crew chiefs and owners as well. We have a great thing going right now and I think it's gonna continue to grow." DO YOU FEEL THE FIVE TEAMS ARE COMING TOGETHER AND WILL MOVING INTO ONE FACILITY HELP? "I really don't know exactly. It feels to some degree a little bit fragmented. We've got five cars in three shops total and you've got groups doing their own thing here and there, and drivers that do different things. As a whole, I think it has benefited us to some degree, but we're certainly not using it in the same way that the 99 and the 6 car working out under one roof." IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO COMBAT YOUR PROBLEMS ON THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS FROM LAST YEAR AND COME BACK STRONG IN 1999? "There's not a whole lot I can do about getting wrecked in a restrictor plate race, and we got wrecked in 50 percent of them and broke a part in another one and did not have a great finish in one. You can look at the paper work and say we did miserably in restrictor plate racing, but with restrictor plate races there are gonna be wrecks and you don't know if you're gonna be in them or not. There's nothing I can do to change the outcome of that part of it. My race team has made an incredible effort going to Daytona for the Daytona 500 and Speedweeks. If we don't win it won't be from a lack of effort and that's all you can do. We need to run better in restrictor plate races, but we also could run sorry and be the best finishing championship contender in every race, if that championship contender was the one that got caught in the wreck and you weren't. You're talking about circumstances there. We need to run better in restrictor plate races, but we only finished one out of four, so it wouldn't have mattered how good we ran, we still would have finished sorry, even if we would have had the fastest car. You've gotta do everything in this sport and we're doing everything we can with the things we can control."

JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- "We're awfully excited about 1999. At the same time, we understand that this is a very competitive sport. There are a lot of teams that have made improvements to their team, just like we believe we've made improvements to our team. We had what was a little bit of a disappointing year last year, but we're encouraged by that because we're disappointed that we finished fifth in the points and won a couple of races. We're encouraged that that's not a year everybody thought was up to our level. We have made some changes inside of our race team to try to be better in areas we weren't good in last year. I didn't qualify well. We had too many wrecks. We had too many mechanical problems. We weren't as good on pit road as we needed to be. At the beginning of the year especially we didn't do things as tightly as we needed to and I think we made some changes to shore all that up." A YEAR AGO YOU HAD A NEW CAR TO WORRY ABOUT. HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS YEAR? "We're still worried. That orange and blue and green 24 Chevrolet is pretty hard to beat, so we're still worried. Last year, we didn't get a final on templates until a couple days before Christmas because of all the teams at Ford fighting amongst themselves trying to convince NASCAR what we needed to do. NASCAR had already made up their mind, we were trying to change their minds for them, but all of us wanted to do something different. We kept getting delayed and because of that we weren't as prepared as we needed to be, especially for the Daytona 500. This year, we've got four races on those cars now. We've learned a lot and we hope we've applied what we've learned. If we haven't, it's our own fault. We've made a huge effort at improving our speedway program as well as our downforce program. We've concentrated 70 percent on our downforce program and maybe 30 percent on our speedway program because I think that's a fair ratio to do. If we don't do a better job with the Taurus both on speedways and on downforce race tracks, again, that's our own fault because we have had a year and now we need to apply what we've learned." WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE RULES? "The five-and-five rule was an effort to slow the cars down in the center of the corner. I didn't support it and then when we did it, I thought it was a great idea. Cars were harder to drive, but I don't see what's wrong with that. I didn't know that racing was any less competitive last year than it ever had been. Of course, I'm a competitor and not a spectator so I might not see that whole picture. I don't think that Jeff Gordon won the amount of races he won because of the five-and-five rule. I don't think Mark Martin won the amount of races he won because of the five-and-five rule. I believe that they did a better job than the other teams at being good. I'm not a big fan of the big spoilers and low air dams because now, if you drive one of these cars at Atlanta, it's too fast. But, maybe it'll put on better racing. If it puts on better racing, then it's worth it. I don't know. It's a tough spot for NASCAR to be in, it's a tough spot for the teams to be in. At the same time, we've got to have competitive races. Competitive races are what NASCAR is all about, it's what has made Winston Cup racing and I don't have a problem with trying to do something to make Winston Cup racing a competitive sport and make it as competitive as it can be." WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DONE TO MAKE IT BETTER? "You see, that's the good part about being in the position I'm in. Whatever I want to do, it doesn't matter because if I make a decision and it's wrong, it's not gonna impact anything. NASCAR's in a tough spot. I wouldn't know what to do. I'm sitting here saying I'm not sure this is the right thing to do and they say, 'Well, what do you want to do?' and I say, 'I don't know.' I'm not a lot of help to anybody. Again, I don't know that racing was all that uncompetitive last year. I think we've done such a good job of bringing fans in. We saw more fans than we've ever seen last year and I don't know if we've got as big of a problem as everybody made it out to be." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE COMMUNICATION NEEDED TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN THIS SPORT? "This is a team sport. It's hard to see that because the driver gets all the notoriety and the driver is the guy that's out there doing it on Sunday. But without a great crew chief and a great team, the best driver in the world can't get it done. You have to be able to talk to your crew chief and communicate with your crew chief about what the car's doing and between the two of you come up with a reasonable fix as to whatever the problem is. That is the most important part of racing. You've got to have the proper leadership and you've got to have a guy that is at the shop every single day making sure that the stuff is being prepared the way it needs to be prepared and that falls in the crew chiefs lap." DO YOU THINK YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MARK WOULD WEAR IF THE TWO OF YOU WERE BATTLING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP DOWN THE STRETCH? "Here's the way I would answer that and I believe this from the bottom of my heart. If Mark and I went into Atlanta tied in the points, and I walked up to Mark and said, 'Mark, my car won't turn. I can't get it to turn.' He would help me fix that car. I believe that from the bottom of my heart and I would do the same because the reason that the two of us would be in that position was because we helped each other get to that position. When you have two very competitive teams, we have to work extra hard to make sure that everybody knows they have the same opportunity -- the equipment, the people, everything it takes to win races -- everybody in our shop has to know that they have the same availability to it and we've done a good job of that. Nobody on the 99 car, when we won two races and they won seven, not a single employee, not a driver, not a crew chief, nobody can say we were slighted. They did a better job than we did. It's just that simple. So, if we do get in the position of racing for the championship, I don't think it would be any problem at all. I think the only problem would be is the problem we would create for the competitors because when you have two guys that are willing to help each other beat everybody else, that's pretty special." BEING UNDER THE SAME ROOF HAS REALLY HELPED BOTH OF YOU HASN'T IT? "I think it's the best two-car operation in all of motorsports. We lagged behind a little bit in performance. We weren't at the level they were at last year, but if you look at the way our crew chiefs work together, the way the drivers work together, the way team members work together, I don't think you can compare that to anybody. There are a lot of series that race where you are defined as the B driver and you're defined as the A driver and every effort is gonna be made to get that A driver and that A team a championship. We don't have that definition. We have the definition of, 'You both have the same opportunity and go make it happen.' And because of those things, I don't know that there's a multi-car team that operates better than that. On the same note, we are just learning how to work a five-car team. I'm not trying to exclude the other three teams. Last year we were way less understanding of how to make that happen, so there's a huge push for all of us to work together collectively, not just Mark and I but everybody." DO YOU AND WARD TALK A LOT ABOUT YOUR CARS DURING THE YEAR? "Ward is driving a Pontiac and I'm in a Ford. There are a lot of things that don't work from one car to another, but Ward and I do talk. We do communicate about what's going on with each others race teams, and I think that's a little more help to each other than setups. Just having someone that you know very well, who is your brother, he's family, that experiences the same pressure you experience, that experiences the same things in life that you experience. I think having somebody to talk to about those things is where Ward and I help each other more than in springs and shocks and stuff like that." DO YOU THINK ANYONE CAN DOMINATE AGAIN THIS YEAR LIKE LAST YEAR? "The only reason Jeff Gordon and that team won't dominate is if we do a better job to keep them from dominating. They're not gonna forget how to win races. They're not gonna forget how to have great pit stops. They are gonna continue to do the things that they've done. Now what we're charged to do is to make it look like they don't know how to do it anymore, and to do that we've gotta raise our level way up there. They'll still be doing as well as they've done. We've got to be better. There are some team owners and drivers that want to believe that they're gonna forget how to do it and that if they just keep doing what they're doing it will come to them. I can't believe that. They've done it so long and so well, we've gotta raise our level. We can't ask them to step back." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING THE BUSCH SERIES AGAIN AND HAVING JEFF GORDON DRIVE A FEW EVENTS? "We love doing the Busch Series. The Track Gear team is a great team. The Busch Series in itself is a great series and the reason we do the Busch Series is because we think if you win and learn how to do things in the Busch Series, you can also apply those to the Winston Cup Series. The Busch Series is very competitive and we take it as an honor to be in the Busch Series because it's been a lot of the reason I've been able to be in Winston Cup. The Busch Series is not a minor league series, it is a major deal and we like being a part of any major deal that NASCAR is involved with. As far as Gordon running Busch races, that will be fun to do that. It'll be fun to race against Jeff or anybody for that matter another time because the better the competition that you race against, the better you have to be. That's what racing is all about and that's what any sport is all about." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE NEW ROUSH RACING FACILITY? "Right now it's all on paper. There's no ground broken, no electrical lines run. Obviously, if we can get all five Winston Cup teams together that's gonna be a better situation. If we can get our Busch teams rounded up and get them near the Winston Cup teams, that's a help to us as well. Really, the guy we work for is Jack Roush and when he has to go and spend a lot of his day just traveling to get to where he needs to go to yell at us or slap us on our back, being in one spot is gonna help that. It will just be better for everybody to be in one area. There's no doubt about that." WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO IMPROVE AS A DRIVER? "There are a lot of things I need to do. The first thing is I've gotta be a better qualifier. I've gotta figure out why I can't do that and start doing it. The second thing I've gotta do is I got us in some wrecks last year that I shouldn't have got us in, wrecks that I've never been in before. Through being unhappy with the way things were going in a particular race, I tried to make some things happen. There were a couple of times I got us in some incidents that I shouldn't have gotten us in. Two times is too many to do that. Really, I think the biggest thing I have to do is I have to be better about communicating what the car needs during the race. Right now, we could start the race on Sunday pretty close on our setup compared to most cars. Where we have struggled a little bit is making the right changes during the race and I've gotta be better at that. Those three things are things that really stand out to me that I need to be better at." HOW CAN YOU ACHIEVE SOME OF THOSE? "Through experience. Last year was the second year I was involved with a race team that could be competitive on a weekly basis, so we gained a lot of experience last year. At some point in your career you have to get over that potential label and start doing it. You can't just keep saying, 'It's time to learn, it's time to learn.' It's time to apply everything you've learned and now is that time. Now is the opportunity that I have based on the people that we have, the equipment that we have, the funding that we have, now is my time to take advantage of all those things we've learned. I spend many nights thinking about how to be better at those things and the hardest answer for me is the qualifying. As far as setup and stuff, I've gone back and looked at the race notes and looked at my comments and realized there some things that I did that didn't make a whole lot of sense and there were a lot of things that I did that made a lot of sense. So, I think just Frank and I having a full year where I'm just talking to Frank. In the past I talked to Frank and Buddy. Now when it comes to setup during the race, I'm just talking to Frank. I think that's gonna help us because we've done it for a year now. It's easy to define problems, it's harder to fix them. I'm telling you what I think is gonna help us fix them, but I don't know if that will fix them."

JACK ROUSH, Car Owner -- 6, 16, 26, 97, 99 Ford Tauruses -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DAYTONA AND THE TESTING THAT TAKES PLACE IN PREPARATION FOR THAT RACE? "It's the wrong time of the season for that race. You work over the winter and you have limited testing. They used to let us test from the end of the last race in November. Now you can't test through November or December and now they've limited the number of days that you have here with the new testing policy. It isn't enough time. Is it fair? I suppose it's fair. It's the same for everyone and it's predictable. I think that's the litmus test for whether something's fair or not. It's probably not reasonable, but we will get through it and make our best of it. Restrictor plate racing is not much fun. There is so little to work with in terms of power and so much finesse required to the body and so many of the things you have to work on don't lend themselves to windtunnel testing, you really need to do them at the race track and now we're limited at the race track. By the way, we don't have the experience or the resources to be able to come back and do a really quantitative testing effort for here So, it's hit and miss, it's limited time, great anxiety, it's not our favorite race, it comes at the wrong time of the year. We don't look forward to coming to Daytona." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR NEW COMPLEX A LITTLE BIT AND WILL IT HAVE A TEST TRACK? "We will not have a test track. We will have a shake down track. We have 90 acres and we're organizing the buildings and the plot of land so it will specially suit the needs of NASCAR teams and businesses that focus on NASCAR customs. We have room in the complex for non-Ford teams and expect to have non-Roush owned Ford teams in there. So, there will be a cross-section of teams that I expect. I expect that we'll have at least one parts distributor that sells all the parts to all the teams and we'll very likely have a supplier of transmissions and rear ends in, a chassis dyno, an engine dyno. We'll be able to load cars on the truck that have been exercised on the shake down track and have been dynomometer certified as a car and as an engine, and we won't have to cross a public highway to get any of that done." HOW DO YOU LOOK AT 1999 COMPARED TO WHERE YOU WERE AT THIS TIME A YEAR AGO? "I was absolutely stressed out last year. We had moved Mark's program and there was great anxiety. Everybody that was close to me that wasn't involved with the teams was just sure we had done the wrong thing. I had all those questions to answer like, 'Why would you do that? You've gotta know that's the wrong thing.' That was the mindset everybody had. Of course I was concerned, not that we had done the wrong thing, but that it might look like we had for things happening beyond our control for awhile. But, as it turned out, we ran good as soon as we got away from Daytona with all the cars, better than we ran throughout the average of the year with some of the cars, so that certainly relieved it. But I had all that tension with the new Taurus and the templates coming late as they did and with the limited time to build the cars and to make assessments on what the car needed. There was naturally great anxiety over the car and how we were gonna capitalize on its strengths and minimize any weaknesses it might have early. We outsourced our bodies for Daytona and focused our own internal efforts on the non-restricted downforce tracks. As it turned out, I had reason to be anxious there. The vendor underachieved and we wound up starting from behind and rebuilding. Mark was in for restricted cars at the four races last year and so was Jeff Burton. The only one who wasn't was Chad Little, who was in the 97 Thunderbird from the previous year that Jeff Burton had driven. We had reasons for concern. "This year I'm very comfortable with the management team that I now have in place with the other teams. We've had ample time to make a good effort at the windtunnel with our restricted cars. I'm not sure that we'll have the best Tauruses, but certainly we'll have better cars than we had last year. We made a Herculean effort with the engine program to try and make it better. We have better balance in our program this year than last year, but as I look back I don't think I would have done differently. How much emphasis should you put on Daytona and Talladega? We're well beyond the point of diminishing returns on any investment we make for engine work, or for chassis or for aero. The amount of gains that are left are tiny, tiny, tiny. There is more room to make gains for the same amount of effort spent on the other race tracks, but Daytona is the biggest race of the year and it comes first. Talladega is of course heralded for the fact that it's so fast and you can't totally turn your back on it." EVEN BEFORE THE SEASON STARTS PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE ASKING ABOUT WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP. IS THAT A DISTRACTION FOR ANYONE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION? "It's not really. I guess it's an irritation maybe to have the same questions asked over and over who have the same need to communicate the same subject back to the fans and the other people who are interested. NASCAR's got a great format for championship determination. We understand it. We enjoy participating in it. It's very comfortable for us to race with a dimension of being conservative that lends itself well for that and we're in championship stride with all our programs. "Now, would you say is Johnny Benson ready to win a championship after the year he came off of last year? No, but I'd be disappointed if we can't place him in the top 10. That will be my measure. That will be my personal gauge. "Chad Little, Chad had a great year. He probably will not be a championship contender although, again, I hope to put him in the top 10. "Kevin Lepage only has half a year with us. He showed tremendous poise and confidence. He's a dark horse possibility. James and the guys have got a great car for him at Daytona and they had very encouraging races at the end of last year. Yeah, there's a possibility for a top 10 for sure and to be in a championship position if he doesn't get caught up in wrecks and if our strategies are not flawed. "Mark and Jeff are ready to go. I think that Jeff had a year that he needed to have last year in order to get things in line with working with Mark. He needed to gain some more experience and that worked out well. Mark is in his second year with a program that had so many new things to it last year. We really couldn't have expected it to be a championship contender, even though Mark being the great racer that he is carried it on his back and took us to a position that would have allowed him to win a championship except for the 24."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Lepage , Johnny Benson , Chad Little , Jack Roush , Mark Martin