MARTIN TAKES NASCAR WINSTON CUP POINTS LEAD * Mark Martin's 16th-place finish today, couple with Sterling Marlin's 21st-place showing lifted Martin into a six-point lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Martin came into today's race ...
MARTIN TAKES NASCAR WINSTON CUP POINTS LEAD
* Mark Martin's 16th-place finish today, couple with Sterling Marlin's 21st-place showing lifted Martin into a six-point lead in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Martin came into today's race trailing Marlin by nine points. This marks the first time Marlin has fallen out of first place in the standings since taking the lead at Rockingham -- the second race of the season."
* The last time Mark Martin led the point standings was following the DieHard 500 at Talladega on April 16, 2000 -- after the ninth race of the season. Martin posted a sixth-place run that afternoon and grabbed the lead by 24 points from Bobby Labonte, who finished 21st. Labonte regained the points lead the following week at California and held it the rest of the season to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship.
* The last time Martin led the point standings with 10 races or less left was in 1997 when he held a 13-point lead over Gordon with 10 events remaining. In what ended up being the closest three-way battle in NASCAR Winston Cup history, Gordon prevailed by 14 points over second-place Dale Jarrett and 29 points over third-place Martin.
* The latest Martin has ever held the top spot in a points race was in 1990 when he led Dale Earnhardt by 45 points with only two events remaining. Earnhardt went on to win at Phoenix and take a six-point lead into the final race in Atlanta, where he finished third. Martin's sixth-place effort that day meant a runner-up spot in the standings by 26 points.
MARK MARTIN --6-- Viagra Taurus (Finished 16th)
UNOFFICIALLY YOU HAVE A 6-POINT LEAD.
"It was a disappointing race for us. We had a really fast race car. I'm so proud of this race team. They built just a fantastic car. It was a great car at Richmond and we got a top 10 out of it. The car was really a top-five car today and we had a flat. We should have ruined it. I almost walled it and got lucky and saved it, so we need to be thankful for the things that we did do and that was avoid wrecking and bring it home 16th. This is one of those days we had a lot better car than where we finished."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE THE LEAD?
"Not much. There are nine to go. It would be a lot more exciting if we would have run fifth or sixth like we were getting ready to do and then we had the flat tire under the green and had all kinds of problems. When we pitted we had a problem and we only got two tires on it, but I was still faster than the guys I was running with back in 18th and moved up to 16th. We had a good car. I would be more excited if I would have finished better, but I would be a lot more disappointed if I would have walled it when the tire went down and almost hit the wall. We were lucky in that respect and we just need to keep that in mind."
YOU HAVE SOME GOOD TRACKS COMING UP FOR YOU.
"This is a great little flat track car. We've got a bunch of flat tracks coming up with Homestead and Phoenix and Martinsville all coming up. We've got the best little short track car I've ever had here and I've got the same car going back to Dover I had last time there. I love that place. I know it's a different tire, but I'll be sorely disappointed if we don't run good there. We've got Charlotte coming up, so we have some good race tracks for us coming up. We've got a couple of duds coming up too, like everybody else, but we'll give it our best."
WHAT DOES THE POINTS LEAD MEAN TO YOU?
"The points lead doesn't mean anything right now. If I hadn't had a flat tire, I'd have a bigger points lead and if I would have wrecked, I wouldn't have the points lead. So, really, it doesn't mean anything. There's nine races to go."
WHEN YOU DO START COUNTING POINTS?
"I won't. I won't. I'm not gonna be any fun to cover, I promise, because I'm not gonna say nothing until it's over. Believe me, I won't talk about it. You guys are gonna pull your hair out if I stay in this shape."
HOW WAS THE TRACK?
"It was coming apart again. It was tearing up again, but at least we made 200 laps."
POST-RACE PRESS CONFERENCE
HOW WAS YOUR DAY?
"I'm so grateful to my race team, who has built me just a fantastic little short track car. We don't know why it runs better than anything else we have, but it does. I really have to work hard at New Hampshire and Richmond and Martinsville and this car does it. We were a fifth or sixth-place car today, just running along, and late in the race we cut a right-rear tire down. The greedy part in you says you'd have a big point lead had that not happened and we would have finished fifth or sixth like we did last week, but the lucky side of you says, 'I almost hit the wall. I should have hit the wall and had I done that I wouldn't be leading the points.' So that just goes to show you that you can look at this thing any way you want, but every race is important and there are nine races to go. Sure, I'm disappointed in the outcome, but at least we didn't race our guts our for 16th. We had a problem that caused us to drop back there. If we can keep putting out cars on the race track that are as competitive as the one I had today and the one I had last week, at race tracks that are sometimes difficult for me, and then we can take our stuff to Dover and Charlotte and run like we hope to run, then maybe we can keep this thing going. I would like to say that, to me, having the points lead right now doesn't mean hardly anything. But I am really, really happy that my sponsor, Viagra, and my whole race team might get some recognition that they greatly deserve. They've worked very hard for it this year and we have achieved more than we hoped for going into the season, and of course now, we're greedy with the points lead. We want to hold onto it, but we've already -- in fine fashion -- done more than we hoped we might in our first year together."
YOU WERE THE FIRST TO PIT FOR TIRES?
"I had a flat. That's what my problem was. I had a flat and almost hit the wall. I had to come in slow and lost all that time. We had a problem in the pits and only got two tires because it was an early stop and we needed to hurry up to try not to go two laps down. So we were crippled from there. We lost tons of time based on trying to drive back around the race time, almost crashing and coming in on a flat and all the problems that we had. That's what I was referring to as a bad-luck day. Had we not had a flat tire, we would have had a fifth or sixth-place finish and things would really be sweet."
HOW IS MATT GOING TO REACT TO THIS?
"I don't know. He probably won't make that big of a deal out of it. He might when I'm not around, but he sure won't make much of a big deal out of it in front of me. It doesn't pay a darn thing to lead it today. I'd rather be in first than last, don't get me wrong, but this today only means that we managed to do it 27 races in or whatever it is, and that's cool. No matter what happens from here, if we fall right out of contention or go and run away with it -- I don't know -- but no matter what, we should be proud of what we've accomplished this year and I am proud of what we've accomplished. I didn't know for sure if I would ever see the day when we could be in this position. You only get so many chances at this and I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of chances, so I consider myself lucky."
WHEN DO YOU START THINKING ABOUT POINTS AS FAR AS STRATEGY?
"In January. I started in January. We score every point we can every race regardless and if something goes wrong, like today, we don't make things worse by short-circuiting or shorting out. I'm not gonna do it. As bad as it goes, I'm not gonna freak out and our team isn't. We're gonna do every race as smart as we can and accept that a bad day is a bad day and accept that we may lose the lead and accept we may lose second and third or whatever it may be. You can't strain real hard and stop it from happening. When the air comes out of a tire, it comes out. No matter how hard you strain, the air still comes out and you can't do anything about that. What you can do, the things you can control, you have to do the very best job you can and the things you can't control, you just have to let go."
HOW WAS THE TRACK?
"I think the track was only better because it was so overcast. It was going bad out there. We were having problems with it. If it would have been sunny, I think we would have had the same kind of mess on our hands."
YOU SAY YOU'RE NOT CONCENTRATING ON BEING NUMBER ONE IN THE STANDINGS.
"I'm concentrating on scoring every point I can score, not where that stacks up."
WILL YOU GO TO THE TEAM AND TELL THEM TO KEEP A LEVEL HEAD ABOUT THIS?
"I don't have to. For some reason, our guys all feel like I do. Ben (Leslie) has really been a calming force in this thing. Along through the season when we had a bad run here and there, there's been some pressure from within to lose our minds and we've refused to do that. We're not gonna lose our minds over it. We're gonna do the best we can and realize that every outcome may not be what you hoped for, but the effort is always there. We'd like to win every race, but it's not working out that way."
IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THE SEASON THAT HAS SURPRISED YOU?
"Last time I was in a real points battle was 1998 and I won seven Winston Cup point races, and The Winston, and Jeff Gordon won 13 and I finished second in the points. That's two-thirds of the races won between two teams. Yeah, wouldn't you be surprised. The complexion is different this year. We've won one and Matt Kenseth as won four and is back pretty good. But we have been consistent. Prior to today, we had the most top 10s of anybody on the circuit and I'm proud of that. I wish we would have added to it today, but I'm glad we didn't wreck the car because now it's ready to go to the next place we want to take it. It could have been worse and it certainly could have been better. When we don't run good, it's one thing to wish you did run good, but when you ran good and didn't finish good, that's a pretty easy wish to wish you didn't have a problem. But at least our problem wasn't as bad as it could have been."