Loudon II: Martin's 500th consecutive start, part I

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, will be making his 500th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start in tomorrow's Sylvania 300. Martin held a Q&A session this morning in the New Hampshire International Speedway infield media ...

Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, will be making his 500th consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup start in tomorrow's Sylvania 300. Martin held a Q&A session this morning in the New Hampshire International Speedway infield media center to discuss the streak and other issues.

MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus:

Part 1 of 2

HOW HAS YOUR WEEKEND BEEN?

"Well, I've got a pretty car (laughing). We're gonna be starting pretty far back, but we're pretty anxious to get started here with happy hour and work on this thing a little bit and see if we can get it tuned in. We made a couple of mistakes yesterday and with the competition the way it is, that kind of put us back a little bit. A lot of times you can run a different strategy if you start toward the back and sometimes it plays in your favor. A lot of times if you get caught just around 10th to 15th, you sort of have to play guard on what you're doing and that winds up putting you behind. You're able to make some gambles and do some different things when you're further back that actually put you in better standing. We've got a great race team. We're looking pretty sporty on pit road these days, so we're gonna buckle down and go after 'em tomorrow."

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITY GOING ON THESE DAYS?

"There's enough of it going on right now that it feels like it's not containable to me. It looks like things have changed (laughing). It looks like things are gonna be different in NASCAR racing going forward. Maybe not, but I will say this. Every week these younger guys are experiencing things that many of them will look deep inside and say, 'I won't do that again.' They have to do that. Everyone can't be like Matt Kenseth and already know without having to make big mistakes. I made mistakes earlier in my career. I still make mistakes, but I made more then and I guess that's my point. We have a lot of young incredibly talented drivers in this sport right now and you have to give them the opportunity to experience things. All of that experience molds them into the people that they will be 15 years from now and the drivers that they'll be. I'm neither defending or criticizing. I'm just trying to bring up a fact that instead of everybody just flipping out because things are a little bit different, you do have to put it in perspective. We have a major influx of incredible young talent with great cars and great opportunities, so the spotlight is on them and they're gaining their life lessons week in and week out out there."

IS THERE ANYTHING THE FIRST-PLACE GUY CAN DO TO ELIMINATE THE SHORT TRACK BUMP-AND-RUN?

"That's difficult for me to really comment on right now because it appears to be a different age today. Maybe not, I don't know. All I know is that everyone has a driving personality and everyone has a particular code they go by. I've had a code all through my career and my code has garnered respect on the race track. I can't think of a time that I got a race stolen from me by the bumper. Maybe I've been lucky, I don't know. I'm really grateful for the success that I've had and the wins that I've had, but I'm not sure how to comment on what is today and what's going forward. I'm like you guys. It's like, 'Whoa, this looks different than it has been in the past.' For example, Dale Earnhardt had his code and his code was different than my code, but I didn't really criticize him for his code because typically if he got it back he'd say, 'Well, I got the short end that day, but there will be next week.' The code that I disagree with is it's racing when you give it, but if you get it something really bad happened. Now that code, I don't like. I don't criticize someone for having a different code than me as long as they live by it and accept the consequences."

DO YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR CODE TO COMPETE?

"I think in respect to giving laps back or hurrying back up to the start-finish line when the caution comes out. These kind of things. I think the days of how we handled those situations are over with based on some people not observing the way it had been done forever in NASCAR. But I don't think the part on the race track, I don't see that changing that much. Everyone out there has different levels of respect for different people. Believe it or not, drivers race different drivers differently based on the respect level they have for those guys. That may not always be right, but that is a fact.

"Just for example, I race this guy different than I race that guy based on our history. I think that goes on out there. I don't think I really have to change my code, but I will say that the other young drivers coming in are faced with a challenge to some degree, but it's not really as major as you think. If you have a fast car and you use your head and do the right things with it, you will prevail. You don't have to prevail by stooping to another guy's tactics. You can do it the way you want to do it."

IS THERE SOMETHING BEYOND YOUTHFUL ENTHUSIASM GOING ON HERE AND IS THERE IRONY IN TERMS OF THIS BEING GOOD FOR THE SPORT?

"Fans have always loved to have someone to pull for - an underdog or a good guy. They've always loved to really hate somebody. That goes probably way beyond me. It looked like maybe they loved to hate Darrell Waltrip - maybe. I was just getting in when that was going on, so I'm not sure. There were a portion of the fans that loved to hate Dale Earnhardt and all the rest of them loved him. There wasn't any in between on that particular guy. He was different than any other driver that I have seen, where everyone was on one side or the other. If you look at it and you say, 'Well, this is stirring up the fans and it's bringing attention to the sport,' I will say one thing. I was offended when Jimmy Vasser made the WWF comment about NASCAR and I guess I'm embarrassed now that I was offended about that because I guess he's smarter than I am. He saw it long before I did, but there's a certain amount of entertainment that goes on here and that is part of it. I don't like it. I don't agree with it, and I don't think that we have to endorse that in order for our sport to grow and be successful. But there is a certain amount of fans loving that and having a good guy and a not-so-good guy to pull for or pull against. It adds interest. I still think it's about racing. I think that's what it's about. I don't think this is really about putting on a show or entertainment or anything else. To me, I'm a hardcore racer and it's about the race, but this thing has really grown and changed a lot over the years."

WAS THERE A DAY WHEN YOU WERE PUSHED IN YOUR EARLY DAYS AND HAD TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF?

"Dale Earnhardt tested me for fun. It was entertainment for Dale. He wanted to see what I would do because Dale was that kind of guy. I took it for just a little bit and then I had to stand up to him, but I did it differently than Geoff Bodine did. Sparks flew everytime those guys got within a quarter of a mile of each other, whereas I handled my deal with Dale differently and nobody really noticed it - except maybe the crews. I earned his respect and we went on, but there was a period of time when he wanted to see what I was made of and how I would react, and I guess I reacted in a way that he could respect and some other didn't. The ones that didn't, he just continually kept on and sparks flew."

YOU DISCOVERED MATT KENSETH. HOW PROUD AND HAPPY ARE YOU TO SEE HIM WHERE HE IS NOW?

"I appreciate the comment, but I really didn't discover Matt Kenseth. I am very proud of him. I have very, very little to do with his success - Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser do. All of the credit for the success that they've had - and they would have had their success whether I would have been in the picture or not 100 percent. I just can't take any credit for the success they're having."

DO YOU SEE MATT BEING A LOT LIKE YOURSELF ON THE TRACK?

"Yes I do. That was one of the things that I really liked about Matt. He knew race cars himself. He know how to make 'em go fast without anyone's help. He could build a car with his own hands, take it to the race track and run up front with it. He was a tremendous driver as well and he didn't have a huge ego and he drove by a code that was reasonable to me. Matt's code may be more aggressive than mine, but it's certainly tame compared to some. Yeah, I really, really admire Matt Kenseth. He's a very, very smart man. I like the way he handles his business. I like the way he handles his team. I like the way he drives. There isn't anything about him that I don't admire."

Part II

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Jimmy Vasser , Mark Martin