Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline/Cummins Taurus, went into last year's Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway with multiple injuries suffered from a practice accident at Daytona one week earlier. He suffered a...
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline/Cummins Taurus, went into last year's Jiffy Lube 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway with multiple injuries suffered from a practice accident at Daytona one week earlier. He suffered a broken left wrist, broken rib and broken tibia plateau in his knee. Martin recently recalled that experience in addition to speaking about a variety of other issues.
MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline/Cummins Taurus -- REGARDING HIS INJURY STATUS A YEAR AGO AFTER THE PEPSI 400. "I didn't find out the knee was broken until Tuesday (after the Pepsi 400) and had the surgery Wednesday. Then I had to go to New Hampshire Thursday and qualify Friday. The knee was in bad shape after the surgery, so that was a tough weekend for us too. We had a good result up there anyway, a good top-10 finish, and I just had my eye on the target -- that Winston Cup championship. No matter how bad it gets all that does is make me more determined. The worse I hurt, the harder it is. The more devastating the situation, the more determined I get, and I gave it everything I had."
IN SOME WAYS DOES MISERY MAKE YOU BETTER? "It probably makes me more determined, yes. That might be a shame, I don't know, but adversity typically gets a determined response from me -- it always has. I've always stood up to it, whether it was being bullied by somebody I couldn't handle or whatever. It's always sort of forced me, maybe not rise to the occasion, but it's sort of pulled everything that I have."
ARE YOU 100 PERCENT AFTER THE BACK SURGERY? "I'm having a little bit of a problem, just a little bit. It's nothing like what I had, but things are not going as good the last three or four weeks as they had been."
MECHANICALLY AS WELL, YOU'VE TAKEN A HIT IN THE POINTS OVER THAT STRETCH. "I don't think you realistically expect a champion to have five races in a season that go bad for you and we had five in a row. We've come back had two top fives in a row and, hopefully, we can continue that and we can wrestle our way back somewhere. Out of all the great race teams and drivers out there, somebody is gonna have a better year than that. We got off to a better start than ever and had a spring like we've never had -- just bad luck."
DOES THE PAIN EFFECT HOW LONG YOU'LL STAY IN THE SPORT? "I'm the kind of guy that will always do what I said I would do. I signed a piece of paper that said I'll drive these cars for five years, I'll drive 'em five years. I might not continue after that, I can't say, but this is a demanding sport and we all get real tired and we all get beat up from time to time. I don't have the kind of problems that I had last year, but I am having to be real careful right now to keep from getting myself in an irritated state with my back."
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN BEING CAREFUL? "That means like moving slowly and deliberately and not doing giving my lower back any surprises."
DOES THAT CUT DOWN ON YOUR WORKOUTS? "No, that's all deliberate. The things that get me are the things that my back doesn't see coming, like bending over. The biggest thing is sleeping. I've had some problems from time to time sleeping real well. I used to sleep on my stomach. I got on my stomach last night because I didn't sleep sound enough that I was looking for the spot and that sets me back. I've got to try to stay off of it, try to stay on my side because sleeping on my back or stomach is not best."
HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT TO GO THROUGH THE SURGERY THINKING IT WAS OVER WITH AND NOW YOU HAVE PAIN AGAIN? "It was over with and I don't think it's any big deal. I'm not disappointed. I had to have the surgery, it's stabilized and that's what the surgery did was stop it from moving around and now it doesn't move around. But there were never any guarantees where the nerves were gonna be as far as giving me pain. Sometimes it's awesome and sometimes it bothers me, so does my knee. I broke my knee and it'll never be the same I'm sure, so there are just certain things in life I can't do anymore. That's the way it goes."
WOULD YOU TRADE YOUR RACING CAREER DESPITE THE INJURIES? "No and the back thing would have probably happened to me if I hadn't been a race car driver. I don't know, it probably would have. I know a lot of other people that have crippled themselves on motorcycles and all kinds of other things that they were doing for fun and this has been my career. I just hope to be able to do it with the same enthusiasm that I have for the last 25 years. I'm fine, just moving a little slower."
THE FACT YOU MAY BE OUT OF THE TITLE RACE, DOES THAT AFFECT THE WAY YOU DO THINGS THE SECOND HALF? "I wished that I could say we're gonna go out and just race to win each race. Well, heck, we do that anyway when we're racing for a championship. The only thing I hope it does is take some of the stress out of racing for me. When you're racing for the championship it's extremely stressful and every point counts in every way. You lose 10 points and you lose a night of sleep over it. What we can do now is just go out and race and try to win races and do the same thing we've done in the past. In the past 10 years we haven't always been a championship contender, we've just been a top-fiver and, hopefully, that's what we're gonna be again this year."
YOU'RE NOT LOSING SLEEP EVEN THOUGH YOU'RE THAT FAR DOWN IN POINTS? "No. I lost sleep the first week and the second week, but after about the third one it was like -- you know. We really didn't mess any of those up. Those were not mistakes on our part. They were mostly part failures that were just one-time things and sort of bad luck. We can't point our finger at any one particular thing and we have to just keep the focus on performance. We have to keep laying 'em down. We've laid down two top fives in a row and now we've gotta try to do another one at a restrictor-plate race."
DO YOU HAVE FUN DOING THIS? "I enjoy winning races and running good. If I was looking to have fun, I could probably find things that I had more fun or enjoyed more than taking a whipping 30 races a year and winning four. I do love to win, don't get me wrong, and I like sitting on the pole and I like running good and I get excited and charged up, but it's competitive out there and I don't enjoy taking a whipping and I don't enjoy making laps. Driving the car is not fun to me, being the best is and I'm not the best and rarely considered the best for any period of time, so you only get that one little taste and it's back to the grindstone again. A lot of people think it would be fun to go test because you got to drive a car fast and go round and round, I'm so competitive that I have no interest in driving that race car unless I can beat everybody."
SO WHAT'S FUN? "Just feeling the love for my family. That, to me, is a fun that might not necessarily make me laugh but makes me feel good and makes my heart smile. Because I've had so little of that, it's growing more and more important to me all the time and getting more and more difficult with every year's schedule and that's one of the reasons why I can see the end of my Winston Cup career from here, whereas five years ago I couldn't see it. Three years ago I was cheering Dick Trickle on and saying, 'Yeah, I hope he wins because that'll add five years to my career. I'll be able to drive these things until I'm 55, I know I can.' That was only three or four years ago and I don't feel the same anymore. I long for the change and step aside to make way for these young guys. It's a long time down the road, but I want to have a family and I want to have time to come to my sister's side when you loses her son and my granddad's side when he loses his son and to my best friend's son's side. The deaths that I've experienced over the past three years have changed me dramatically. I'm the same at the race track and I'm still doing the same things, but I'm seeing things differently now and I see that once you've had to race it's different and I felt like I had to. Now, nobody said I had to, but, me, I feel like that I have a commitment to do and I made that commitment and I'm gonna do it and that's it. I've needed to take care of some other things over the past three years that I haven't taken care of and that makes me feel differently about what I do. I still do it with the same passion, but I'm probably not thinking about doing it as long as I was three years ago."
HAS THE PACE OF THIS SPORT KEPT YOU FROM DOING WHAT YOU WANT? "It's just that I don't feel it's appropriate in our sport to miss a race. When Bill Elliott's dad died and he put Matt Kenseth in the car and didn't come to the race, I think Bill Elliott did the right thing. But, for me, there is no right thing because if I didn't race the car, that's the wrong thing for the team. If I did race the car, that was the wrong thing for the family. When you get caught in about two or three of those things, pretty soon you think, 'Darn, how long do I want to do this. I mean, I've done it since I was 15. How long do I really want to do this?'"
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, has posted three career victories at New Hampshire International Speedway, including one each of the past three years. He is the defending champion of this event as he came from the 38th starting position to win last year's Jiffy Lube 300 when Tony Stewart ran out of gas.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus -- OBVIOUSLY YOU'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS AT LOUDON. "We have. We didn't have the best car last year when we won, but we won -- we found a way to win. When we haven't won there we've always found a way to finish in the top five, we've had a lot of top fives. It seems we run better in the spring race than we do the fall race for whatever reason, so we go there with a lot of confidence. At the same time we've struggled at places this year that we hadn't struggled before so that concerns us a little bit, but if we were going to pick a place to go and try to get the momentum back New Hampshire would be one of those places you'd pick."
YOU STARTED 38TH LAST YEAR AND THAT JUST PROVES AGAIN THAT IF YOU HAVE A GOOD CAR IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOU START, RIGHT? "It doesn't. It was harder for us, obviously, and we had some things go our way. We had a big wreck that race and got by a bunch of people. I think we got by about eight people early in the race and that was a big help to us. It's harder from the back, but it's not impossible. If you're running third with 75 to go, then why did it matter where you started? Really, that's what it's all about is getting yourself in position to win the race. You don't have to be leading to win it until the last lap. Being in the back makes it harder to get to the front, obviously, but it all boils down to the same thing and that's being able to do what you need to do at the end of the race. Starting in the front doesn't guarantee you're gonna be in the front at the end of the race either."
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS WHEN TONY RAN OUT OF GAS? WERE YOU SURPRISED HE DIDN'T PIT? "Yeah, and, without being critical, they obviously made a mistake. I wasn't sure that we were leading the race. It was like, 'Boy, did that just happen?' It was one of those I couldn't believe that just happened. We didn't have the best car. When you don't have the best car attempted to pull something extraordinary in an effort to win is acceptable. When you do have the best car you just need to be conservative. They weren't conservative and we were and that played into our hands. We did what we had to do, we didn't do anything special. We had to pit and they didn't pit for whatever reason."
WE'RE AT THE HALFWAY POINT AND YOU'RE FIFTH IN POINTS. IT MUST BE NICE TO GO TO A TRACK YOU'RE COMFORTABLE WITH WHEN YOU'RE IN A DEFICIT SITUATION. "It is and at the same time I'm optimistic that we're fifth in points because we have run our worst. The last month we've run worse than we have in three years and, by the skin of our teeth, have managed to hang on to fifth. That tells me that there's a tremendous opportunity for an up side, if we can get our act together and run like we've been running I think we can gain some points. It's time to get it done. We can't wait anymore, we've gotta go get it done."
DO YOU FEEL THIS CHAMPIONSHIP IS STILL UP FOR GRABS? "I think it's really up for grabs. Certainly the further back you are the fewer mistakes you can make. We've got one restrictor-plate race left, you've got another road course race left, we've got a lot of races coming up that are problems for all teams. We could be part of those problems too, but in problematic races where there is an opportunity for gaining or losing points, we need to make sure we come out on the positive side."
YOU ALSO DON'T REALLY WANT TO BE FIFTH NEEDED TO JUMP OVER TWO OR THREE OTHER GUYS LATE IN THE YEAR, RIGHT? "It's OK if you're fifth and only 20 points from the lead. If you're fifth and 200 from the lead with 10 to go, then you're probably not gonna get it done. It's all about how many points you are behind rather than what position you're in. The way we look at it is where are we in relation to our competition by number of points difference and not by numbered position, until after the last race then it doesn't matter. But at this time of the year that's really all that matters is the point difference."