Mark Martin on Target at Las Vegas

Martin on target to break through at Vegas By Dave Rodman LAS VEGAS (Feb. 29, 2000) More than anything else, Mark Martin is an utterly no-nonsense individual. He is prepared to pay whatever freight it takes to excel in NASCAR racing, and ...

Martin on target to break through at Vegas By Dave Rodman

LAS VEGAS (Feb. 29, 2000) More than anything else, Mark Martin is an utterly no-nonsense individual. He is prepared to pay whatever freight it takes to excel in NASCAR racing, and consequently his career has lately borne the abundant fruits of many years of labor.

When you look at Martin's consumption by stock car racing, it's not surprising that his former views of "Sin City," one of Las Vegas' many nicknames, would not be too flowery.

But when he considers the entertainment Mecca, which also happens to be the location of Las Vegas Motor Speedway the site this weekend of a NASCAR racing doubleheader, it's also not surprising that his tune has changed recently.

Of course, Martin's record at the 1.5-mile oval located outside the city limits of Las Vegas would certainly have something to do with that. Martin won the inaugural 400 for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1998. And he is the defending champion of the Sam's Town 300 for the NASCAR Busch Series.

"Vegas is cool," Martin said in his succinct style. "I hated Vegas with a passion before they put a race track there. I did everything in my power to avoid going to Las Vegas.

"Since they put a race track there, I've found out that it's a real pretty place, it's got some good food and some cool sights to see and cool things to do even if you don't gamble, plus the race track is one of the best I've ever driven on."

It's no secret that Martin's car owner, Jack Roush, is enjoying a four-race unbeaten string at LVMS, with Jeff Burton alternating with his shop-mate as the winner of the 1998 NBS race and the 1999 400. In addition, Roush's five cars all finished in the top-10 in the inaugural NWC race there.

"We've had a nice string of success there," Martin said, "and we look forward to trying to keep it going."

Both Martin and Burton have extra incentive this weekend. They are both contenders for the $1 million Winston "No Bull 5" bonus. They earned that right by finishing in the top-5 at the first No Bull 5 race of the season, the Daytona 500.

In addition, Martin has picked up right where he left off last season when he finished third in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He is currently fifth after finishing eighth in last weekend's Dura Lube/Kmart 400 at North Carolina Speedway.

Martin, who has raced for a living ever since he was a teenager, found it hard to put much stock in the Vegas scene earlier in his career, when he was concentrating on advancing his career. In NASCAR 2000, he can deal with hobnobbing with entertainers such as Wayne Newton in LVMS's glitzy pre- and post-race hoopla.

"I wasn't interested in gambling and I wasn't interested in the hype that was going on with that place," Martin said of his early trips to venues around Las Vegas. "I wanted to race and Craig Road (location of a speedway) wasn't much of a place to race, so there wasn't much attraction for me there.

"But, things have changed a lot out there since the seventies and eighties. It's a fun place to go because you can see things and do things and it's a really great place to race."

Martin's two-year performance has proved his affinity for the track. He finished 10th last year as Burton held off his older brother Ward for the win.

"We had a great race car last year," Martin said. "I don't think we could have caught Jeff Burton, but we had a top-5 car until we had ignition problems with about 20 laps to go. I expect to be a contender to win this year since that is a terrific track for us.

"It is one of the tracks that really suits my driving style with the size and the banking. It is a great place for us to be eligible for a $1 million bonus if we win. I stand a much better chance there than I ever could at a place like Talladega."

For all of Martin's optimism, Roush is considerably more pragmatic about his team's chances. He says a four-race skein is not worth much consideration given the big picture of a 34- or 32-race season, in the NWC and NBS respectively.

"I think over the broad picture that we will not win more at Las Vegas than other folks and we're less likely to win this year than we have been in the past," the team owner said. "If you look at a 10-year run, we will probably not win more than our contemporaries.

"There has been a pattern at Texas and at Las Vegas with Mark and Jeff. We've won inaugural races at both places and we did very well when they changed the Richmond race track initially with Mark. We did well when we went to Loudon for the first time.

"Mark and Jeff both adapt very, very well to anything that changes in the race track environment and the fact that nobody had books or a lot of history to draw from let their ability to really adapt be telling."

Roush said that the one thing that gave his teams an "advantage" might level the playing field this time around.

"As everybody else is able to build a history of information that's useful for them to set up the cars for the races, I think that we'll lose that advantage," he said.

Still, Roush said that despite his image as "too serious," he was looking forward to the trip to Vegas.

"I try not to have too much fun," he said, laughing heartily to put the lie to the statement. "I'll think less about the idea of keeping the streak going, which I think it's very unlikely that we can win, than I am the chances that we could support another fan to win a million dollars."

Roush, of course, was referring to Winston's "They Win You Win" sweepstakes whereby a fan can also win $1 million if "their" No Bull 5 driver scores.

"Mark and Jeff both have got the prospect of competing for the Winston No Bull 5 and that means a fan can really strike it rich there," Roush said, "so I think the excitement that goes around that is something that will likely have more of my attention than the prospect of keeping that streak alive."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jack Roush , Mark Martin