Mark Martin, Jeff Burton Share Special Bond

Martin, Burton share special bond By Shawn A. Akers MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 1999) Picture this scenario: It's late November, and Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Burton are running 1-2 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings...

Martin, Burton share special bond By Shawn A. Akers

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 1999) Picture this scenario: It's late November, and Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Burton are running 1-2 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings heading into the final weekend of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Because of their competitive natures, both drivers obviously would like to win their first championship. But that doesn't mean their relationship goes completely out the window.

In fact, because of the close friendship the two have developed over the past few years, the will to help one another -- even in that situation -- would override the desire to beat the other. The teammates' familial bond has become that strong between Martin and Burton.

And it's that bond that has helped the two become perhaps the best "two-car team" on the circuit today. While Roush Racing is a five-car operation, Martin's No. 6 Valvoline Ford and Burton's No. 99 Exide Batteries Ford are the only two under the roof in Roush's "main" shop here, north of Charlotte.

Johnny Benson in the No. 26 Cheerios Ford, Chad Little in the No. 97 John Deere Ford and Kevin Lepage in the No. 16 PRIMESTAR Ford are Roush's other three drivers.

"I believe this from the bottom of my heart that, if that were the case and Mark and I were tied in the points going into Atlanta, 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," Burton said. "I really do believe that, and I would do the same.

"Because the reason that the two of us would be in that position would be because we helped each other get to that point. It's a strain sometimes, obviously, because we have two very competitive teams. But if we do get in a position racing for a championship, I don't think that would be a problem at all. The point is for us to beat everybody else. You have two guys that are willing to help each other beat everybody else, and that's pretty special."

Martin won seven races in 1998 and finished second to Jeff Gordon for the championship. Burton won two races and finished fifth in the standings. While Martin is a savvy veteran with a few years on Burton, according to Martin, it's Burton that makes Roush's 1-2 punch so special.

"Jeff Burton is the reason why it works so well," said Martin, who enjoyed the best season of his career last year. "If Jeff wasn't driving a car for Jack Roush at this point, we'd probably have almost the same relationship. Jeff is, in my opinion, the strongest individual race car driver on the Winston Cup circuit at this point.

"I know that he had a huge impact on the success I had in '98. And, he has the personality that makes the deal work. Where, instead of trying to push me out of the way, he has taken and decided that if he can do something for me or help me if he could give something back, then I would be a lot more eager to see him do better and to help him. That's what he's set out to do. Instead of asking for anything, he set out to give. That's a special person."

Jealousy, animosity -- those words simply don't exist in this branch of Roush Racing.

Early in his career, Burton toiled for the Stavola Brothers. While he did win the NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 1994, it wasn't until he joined the Roush stable in 1996 that Burton's career began to flourish.

He won the first three races of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in 1997, then added his fourth and fifth victories a year ago. He finished fourth in the standings in 1997 and fifth in 1998.

In the meantime, Martin's numbers have risen as well. He won four races in 1997 and finished third in the points after a winless 1996. Then came his "careeer year" in 1998, which put Martin on the threshold of his first title.

Martin, who turned 40 earlier this month, said he sees a lot of himself, in his younger years, in Burton, who turned 31 last year.

"He's where I was 10 years ago with his career as far as being knowledgeable about the cars," Martin said of Burton. "This sounds weird, but technologically-speaking, he's on the cutting edge. He's totally in tune. But, when he wins 30 Winston Cup races, it will be a lot harder for him to be as close to the cars and in tune with them as he is at this level.

"He's had success, but things haven't totally consumed him with promotional stuff and a lot of other things that wind up taking your focus away from you. Hopefully that won't happen, but it might be inevitable as he gets older and becomes a lot more successful at this level."

An outsider may look at both teams' statistics a year ago and say Martin and the No. 6 team were given advantages Burton and the No. 99 team didn't have. Burton is the first to contradict that notion.

And that, Burton said, is why the two teams are so successful -- and why they work so well together.

"We've had to work extra hard to make sure everybody knows they have the same opportunity, the equipment, the people, everything it takes to win races," Burton said. "Everybody in our shop has to know that they have the same things available to them, and we've done a good job of that.

"Nobody in the 99 car, not a single employee, not a driver, not a crew chief, can say we were slighted. They just did a better job than we did, it's that simple. This is the best two-car operation in all of motorsports. I don't see how you can put anybody else up against us."

It's putting the two up against each other that would make for a very interesting scenario.

Source: NASCAR Online

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