Las Vegas: Ford - Mark Martin interview

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, won the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and will start 27th in tomorrow's event. He held a Q&A session in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway infield media...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, won the inaugural NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and will start 27th in tomorrow's event. He held a Q&A session in the Las Vegas Motor Speedway infield media center prior to Saturday's practice session.

MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus

WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND? "I'm ready to go racing. Our team has spent the winter doing all the things they can do to get ready for the season. You spend so much time at Daytona and then go to Rockingham, and then to have a break was a little bit too soon for us. We need to go to the race track week in and week out and work together with Pat and all the guys on the Viagra team. They have built some really nice race cars and the more we get familiarized with each other and with our cars, I think the better we'll get. We didn't feel like we got everything that was there for us at Rockingham and certainly didn't get everything that was there for us yesterday, but we did come out and spend some time testing in January here, so we think when we get into race trim that we should be better here. Obviously, we haven't gotten off to a very good start this year, but we've had fast race cars at Daytona and Rockingham and that's exciting because your luck can change pretty easy, but it's hard to take poor performing equipment and make it stellar. So I think that we've got the team and the stuff to do what we need to do, we just need to turn our luck around a little bit."

WHAT ABOUT STARTING 27TH TOMORROW? "The competition is really stout right now. There are some really good teams that are really on their game right now, so that makes it quite a challenge no matter where you start. We're used to starting back there and we're used to racing better than we qualify and that's what we expect to do. Like I said before, we've got a great race team. This is an awesome race track. It's fantastic to be here and it's a good place to race and a good place to pass. There's no anxiety about getting around folks that are in front of us. We just have to be on our game."

WHY HAVE YOU HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS HERE? "This is a race track where there is a real premium on handling and that's what I've always put a lot of emphasis on. That's sort of been my specialty through the years and I've had the opportunity to work with great people like Jim Fennig out here and other great people and crew chiefs and engineers. You've got to make them go through the corners."

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET A GOOD READ ON WHAT TEAMS HAVE ADJUSTED TO THE NEW TIRE AND RULES PACKAGE? "I've been around a long time and I think a lot of times I get a pretty good read on things and my read is that the people that were on their game last fall are still on their game. There is an opportunity for someone that wasn't on their game to emerge based on the changes - just accidentally happening right on top of it and say, 'Man, these guys have got it going on.' But, for the most part, the Evernham cars and the Ganassi cars are on it and the Hendrick guys are where they were last year. The Childress guys seem to be where they were last year and the Roush guys seem to be, as a group, a little bit better than they were last year. There will be a little movement in that, but my read on it is the guys that had it going last year are just making the adjustments that they need to and still have the same kind of advantages that they had last year."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHANGING DYNAMIC OF THE SPORT AND SOME OF THE TEAMS SHOWING UP NOW THAT MAYBE WOULDN'T HAVE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO? "The growth of the sport was enormous, as you know, in the late nineties and 2000, 2001 range. Nothing ever stays consistent. There are ups and downs. The last few years, the reason there wasn't room for someone to come into Cup and get some experience is because they couldn't get in the race. There were too many great teams - too many great funded teams and great people. Right now, it's a little leaner times and that's sort of a delay. The economy took its hit a couple of years ago or whenever it was and it's really taken some time for contracts to expire and this, that and the other for it to really feel the pinch here.

"There are a few less great funded teams out there and that opens an opportunity for someone to come and do it - to come and make the race and be able to race. There are positives and negatives about that. The negatives are there may be more crashes or more oiled down race tracks from broken parts, but the positive thing is it gives some people a better opportunity to showcase their talent. They might not have gotten that opportunity if it wasn't for the way things are right now. It's always gonna change."

ARE YOU SURPRISED HOW WELL THE YOUNG DRIVERS HAVE ADJUSTED? "No, I'm not. These guys are incredibly talented and they wouldn't run worth a flip if they drove slow cars. That's the way it used to be. The incredibly talented drivers would come in and they wouldn't get to drive a good car. They wouldn't show everybody what they could do. Kasey Kahne has obviously stepped into a great race car and it allows him to show everyone right now what he can do and Jamie McMurray is the same thing. Kyle Busch is another example. You put those guys in slow cars and you guys wouldn't be talking about them as much, but the bottom line is they are incredibly talented and I think it's very exciting."

WHEN YOU CAME ALONG AND DIDN'T HAVE THAT OPPORTUNITY, WAS IT FRUSTRATING? "That's the way it was. It didn't seem frustrating because that's what you did. That's the way it was. I don't think it was frustrating at all because that's what you did. That's how it was and it was that way for everyone that came in - for the Rusty Wallaces and the Alan Kulwickis and everyone that I knew. They all came in and drove lesser stuff and did their best to get noticed and did their best to get better opportunities."

WHEN MATT IS READY, DO YOU THINK HE COULD COME IN AT THIS LEVEL? "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Matt has the talent, but he is 12 (laughter). He is 12 and that means there's a lot of time between now and then that can direct that. He may not want to do it bad enough to do it. You have to want it really bad. He has the talent, but he will have to decide if that's what he wants to do. Then the only other thing about that is it's gonna take a lot of discipline to hold him back long enough - to try to introduce him too fast. That's my biggest concern over the last couple of months is that I'm ready to go. He's driving a truck now and he's running really good and he's doing really good and I'm ready to move. I'm ready to move to the next step. The hardest thing for me is gonna be to not continue to face those great challenges and get him challenged too young. We're having fun. We're having a ball with it and I'm gonna try to just continue to have fun with it rather than really push it. As he gets 16, 17 we'll see how much fire he really has for it. If he has a fire for it, he will do it."

WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SOURCE OF OPTIMISM THIS SEASON? "I think it originates with Pat Tryson. I think that's where the core of it all comes because I think Pat is gonna do a fabulous job to fight to get me great stuff. Then I'll expand. The engines are very exciting right now for us. The aero department is doing a fantastic job and I'm excited at where we're at with that versus where we were before, and the team itself. The pit stops are gonna be better than they have been in the past and some of that originates back to Pat, but it all comes back to Pat. I believe Pat is gonna do a great job. If we're weak in some area, I think he's gonna do a great job. I like him because he won't let anything get in the way of strengthening our weaknesses. I've got a great race team there and they're real excited. If you remember, 1998 was one of the best seasons I've had in my career and 2002 was another one. In both of those year I had a lot of new people or an almost new race team. Both of those years I had that real, fresh, young feeling of excitement when we went to the race track and we have that again. That doesn't mean we're gonna have a great year, but that means we have that spark and if we can get beyond poor luck. I told Pat yesterday, 'Man, we've just got to keep these guys pumped up until we can have some good luck, so that things just don't keep going wrong for us.' When the wind comes out of a race team's sail, I have never seen it come back. I've had it come out of my sail before, but I can get it back. I don't want to let this thing die. If we can just keep this thing going and keep these guys charged up and doing the kind of job their doing until we can have some good luck on the race track, we're off and running and 2004 can be a great year for us."

DID THE WIND GO OUT OF YOUR SAIL LAST YEAR? "We started off the season running well. We had cars that were as good as they were in 2002 and sometimes even better, but we broke here and the very next weekend we broke at Atlanta. Then we went to Darlington and, I'll be honest with you, I really thought we were gonna win that race and we had a bad stop on the last stop and didn't. Things deteriorated from there and pretty soon we just couldn't do it. We just could not make it happen. I have not seen a race team get back up if they ever get deflated like we wound up getting down last year. I'm so proud of the people that I'm working with and 2004 is the opportunity of the year for me. This is it. Let's go. I want to go and make a great year out of this thing. I have all the tools in front of me to do it. I have the people. We had horrendous luck at Daytona with a car that I thought we could contend with and we went to Rockingham and ran pretty well. We got caught two laps down pitting under the green, but a lot of other people did too. We had a real decent car and right now is an opportunity. If we go out here the next couple of weeks and have some solid runs, I think that we've got a good shot to make a championship run at it."

CAN BUSCH SERIES SUCCESS HELP ON THE CUP LEVEL AND DO YOU WISH YOU COULD RUN MORE BUSCH RACES? "That's a good question and it's gonna take me just a little bit to answer it because it's pretty complex. Earlier in your NASCAR career, the track time is very important to the driver. To answer your question, the track time they're getting doing both is important and is beneficial. For me, I don't need any practice. I've been doing this stuff a long time, so that part of it there's very little gain. When I ran Busch all the time the cars were so different that it was very rare to cross over, but once in a while we would. It was rare, so it wasn't helping the Cup program that much. The thing that it did do for me was, at times when I was really down in Cup racing, I would still win in Busch racing and that would keep everybody remembering that it was a car-team related problem and not a driver problem. That and IROC benefited my career enormously. Nowadays, the rules have changed so much more like Cup that I think it's very possible that more things can cross over, but I can't say for sure because I haven't driven a downforce car yet in Busch. I think you can cross more things over and I think the opportunity - because there's so much more experimenting and engineering going on with these cars nowadays with the setups changing so much - that I think the opportunity to learn more about your Cup car is there. Do I think that if I could run 15 Busch races it would enhance my Cup cars performance? The answer is yes. I tried to get that done and I got three for this year, one of which we didn't get to run at Daytona so I'm down to two. Two is better than none."

WHAT CHARACTERISTICS MAKE ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY SO FAST? "It's the shape, the size, the banking and the transitions from straightaway to corner. It makes better speed. If you made sharper corners, it wouldn't be as fast. If you had flat straightaways and then corners that were banked up, you'd have to slow down more approaching the corner. It's just the shape and the banking, coupled with the transitions and size."

THIS WILL BE THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME THAT BILL ELLIOTT WON'T RACE AT ATLANTA. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "Well, he's a jillion time most popular driver so that should sum it up. If you want to keep it short, that should pretty much sum it up, but as a competitor and as a friend he's been terrific as well. Just as fantastic as he's been for the fans, he has been as a competitor and a friend in the garage to many."

HOW DO YOU THINK THE SAFER BARRIER WILL AFFECT RACING AT DARLINGTON? "I've got my head buried in the competition side of the 6 car and I haven't heard, but I sure hope they're not putting those barriers in at Darlington because there's not room there. In my opinion, there's not room on that race track for that. My vote, if I had a vote, would don't put 'em here because, to me, there's not room for the groove. But everywhere else, it's like yeah, yeah. It's awesome, but Darlington for the speed and the shape - it's just the narrowest race track we race on by far, so it's gonna be interesting now that I find out they're gonna do it. It's less needed there than most places.

"It's less needed there for a safety standpoint, but for a race we're gonna be crippled if we lose two or three feet. If we lose two or three feet around that place, we need every bit of that two or three feet. You can see that after the race. Every other car has the side slid off of it now, so we needed two more feet going out not two feet coming in. Anyway, I applaud NASCAR and the SAFER barriers are wonderful. I hope that when my son races NASCAR that he never drives on a track that doesn't have them. They have to have them. It's a good thing."

ANY CONCERN THAT SOME OF THE FASTER TRACKS DON'T HAVE THE SAFER BARRIER? "I think we have to be patient and understanding that it's a major operation and undertaking to do. There was a lot of impatience before they got started implementing them into the race track. They had to make sure they didn't create a problem trying to solve one problem and creating another safety problem. I think that we have to be patient and hope that we don't get caught out and have an incident on one where it's a devastating incident where you could be in line for criticizing for not already doing it. It is a major undertaking and my first response to that is I feel that we need to be as patient as we can, but work as hard as we can to get 'em implemented into every race track."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A SECOND DATE AT VEGAS OR OTHER SPECIFIC TRACKS? "My answer to that is controversial. I answer this purely from a competitor's side. I'm not in the business side. If I were in the business side I would only answer that in how it would be the best to make money or whatever. I'm a competitor. From a competitor's standpoint, we go to some race tracks that are hard to race on, especially with 43 cars and don't lend themselves to the greatest racing. In that respect, there are a number of race tracks that I'd like to see switch dates around. >From the commercial side of it, I believe Vegas is one and Texas is another that are huge. Those are just the ones that come to mind. There are many others, but a lot of the newer race tracks only have one date but are better equipped to either race on from a competitive side or much better equipped to fill the grandstands. But that's not my deal. My deal is driving the race car and racing the cars."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Jamie McMurray , Kasey Kahne , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin , Alan Kulwicki