MARK MARTIN PRESS CONFERENCE "I think this is the first time I've been to the media center this year, so it's good to be here. We've had a few glimpses this year of what it used to be like. We had a great race car at Vegas and that felt really...
MARK MARTIN PRESS CONFERENCE
"I think this is the first time I've been to the media center this year, so it's good to be here. We've had a few glimpses this year of what it used to be like. We had a great race car at Vegas and that felt really good. We raced there. We managed to lead the most laps and we had a great race car at Atlanta. All though Atlanta on qualifying day we had a fast race car and it was really fun to qualify fourth there. Today, after the first lap on the race track I knew that we had something we could work with. I don't think we ever got further down than second or third on the speed chart. Every lap we ran was in the thirties. I think the slowest lap we ran was a 15.36 out of all the laps we ran and I knew we had a great race car. When we ran the 15.21, I figured I just got lucky and got a lucky lap. I didn't want to set myself up to get disappointed qualifying, so I set my sights on a front straightaway qualifying spot -- maybe -- not nearly as happy as sitting on the pole, but I tried not to expect that. When I left the pits, I saw a lot of people in qualifying not going as fast as they did in practice and I really didn't know what to think about that. When I got into three and four and exited four, I knew I had the car sit on the pole with and knew that all I had to do was go out there and do it. Boy, I didn't leave anything anywhere. It scared me so bad the first lap that I was dumbfounded and ran a second lap anyway.
"I had not planned on running a second lap and I guess if I would have known I ran a .19 on the first lap, I would have quit because I would have been just about dumb enough to wreck it on the second lap. I was so out of breath, though, I don't think I could have run fast anyway on the second lap. It's a great race car. It feels like it used to feel. I guess I should take this opportunity to make sure that everyone knows due to some tabloid reporting -- there have been talks that there is trouble in paradise at the 6 car. The only trouble has been that we haven't been finishing as good as we want to. That's about it. We've had some disappointments. Jack Roush and I have a stronger bond today than we had yesterday and a stronger one yesterday than the day before if that tells you anything. You can do the math and figure out how long we've been together, so it grows stronger everyday. Jimmy and I, we worked together in the past before our NASCAR days and he and I are tight. We haven't had a cross word, so we still have our work cut out for us. It's a real competitive sport that we're in right now and we're not as hot as we have been at times. I call it the cycle. In 1998 I was at the top of that cycle. Everytime I climbed in a race car, it felt just about as good as this one here today did. We've been on the opposite side of that cycle. I can't remember when it's been tougher for us to put a car up front than it has been for the last six months, but everybody goes through that cycle. Everyone who has ever been really good has not been as good at times. The fans know that and understand that, but the people who cover this sport sometimes overlook that. They think if you're in a down cycle you're done for or what have you, but the guys who clawed and scraped their way to the top at one time typically figure out a way to claw back up there again and that's what we're doing. We're working on that and this pole isn't the end of it. We have a lot more to do and a lot more work in front of us and that work will never end."
WHY DID SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS HAPPEN IN QUALIFYING TODAY?
"If you look back to '98, I think we sat on four poles in a row here. For two years nobody got a pole but us, so Rusty may leave getting the most poles here, but I think somebody mentioned today that we had gotten in front of him. Just because we didn't manage to win a pole here last year doesn't mean we can't be a contender here on a regular occasion. We've had good qualifying here for a long, long time. As a matter of fact, I was thinking today. A long time ago we were here and it was night qualifying and we ran a 15.95 and people fell off their chairs. That was the first time to ever be in the fifteens. We're not too far away from breaking the fourteens and I think that was probably '89 or '90 when we did that. That's pretty wild. It's almost a second. It all comes down to who gets the lucky laps usually. I tell you, we had a fast car today and we backed our time up from practice. We ran a .21 in practice and picked up to a .19. Gordon on the other hand, who I thought and he thought he might be able to do it today, backed up. Harvick backed his time up pretty much, but nobody in the top 10 in practice really jumped ahead to challenge us there."
YOU, RUSTY AND ALAN ALL RAN WELL HERE, LIKE AT SLINGER.
"Alan was a master here as well and Rusty has not only sat on a lot of poles, but he's won a lot of races here as opposed to us only winning a couple of times. We all ran Slinger. We all ran Winchester. We ran Salem. I'd just like to think that more than the experience that we had at those places that we all came from the same roots and the same background and the same things got us here. We were all in common. We all came the same path. We understood our cars and we always excelled on banked short tracks. I can't give you a good answer, but that's the best answer I can give you on it. That's what I feel like it really is, not really the specific experience that we had at those race tracks -- more that our backgrounds were so similar and they seem to mesh with this track."
IS THIS THE BIGGEST TEST OF A DRIVER'S ABILITY TO STAY CALM UNDER TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES?
"That's a good question. I think we face those same things at Martinsville as well. It's a real fast race track. One little distraction can get you far enough behind that you're in trouble. It's a very intense race track at very close quarters, so we all know what happens when you put us under those conditions and then grind us in the ground for 500 laps around it. "The drivers get fatigued and they get frustrated and they don't have the same amount of patience that they have when they're not dealing with those circumstances. This race track is called a short track and it is short in size, but because of the banks on it, it races like a superspeedway. Martinsville races certainly like a short track and Michigan races like a short track as well, but, to me, driving and setting up for this race track is more like a speedway -- more like a Charlotte or a Dover or something like that."
DID THE TRACK CHANGE AS QUALIFYING PROGRESSED?
"Really, it could have been a bad thing -- the draw -- because I watched so many competitors slow down from practice. I watched a lot of them have handling problems and Jimmy and I considered making an air-pressure change based on what we had seen with our eyes watching qualifying. I could have let that get to me, but in the end, no, my car did not feel any different than it did in practice and I blocked that out of my mind as soon as I got the senses from turn three and four as I was coming up to speed. I don't think the weather conditions were different, but I think a lot of cars had handling problems show up based on whatever reason, but my car did not change from practice."
YOU SEEM AWFULLY EXUBERANT. HAS YOUR RECORD OF LATE BEEN CAUSE FOR MOTIVATION?
"My record of late has not been a cause for motivation, but you can believe that it's been a big cause for exuberance to get back here. Like I said, I hadn't been in a press room since I don't know when -- maybe Homestead. Sometimes it would get kind of old, especially doing double duty, but I hope to visit you guys a little more often here in the future. That's what we work for and that's what I've devoted my whole life to and that's what I continue to devote it to and I have a race team that does the same thing. Everybody can't run in the top three and everybody can't qualify in the top three. Sometimes it's a little bit harder than others for a given team based on where they are in that cycle I talked about earlier. Different teams are hot this year than last year and that will cycle as the year goes through. Obviously, you can take the Gibbs car as an example -- just total dominance last year and not the same kind of performances this year. That doesn't mean that there's anything wrong, that just means it's real competitive out there and there are some things you can't control. There are other things that you can control but can't always do the best job in the garage at."
WAS STERLING A SURPRISE?
"I was just dumb enough to not even consider anybody having a shot at it. After we ran that .19 I was just totally spun out. I didn't have a clue. He came up and asked me before I went out how fast I was gonna go and I just kind of shrugged him off. I said, 'Man, I don't know. The track is all different now and I'll just be happy with a frontstretch pit stall.' Then after we ran I was so excited I didn't even realize he still had to go. To be honest with you, that's a pretty fast time. Usually, the pole is by a hundredth or two or three hundreths here. When the pole is a .30 and you run a .19 at Bristol and you blow it away by a tenth or a little over, man, that's putting some margin in there. Usually, the pole is decided by Sterling's and Harvick's split in times. That's more of what you see. I don't know. This was our day. We had a car that gave me the margin that we needed to get it done and you know what, I feel good about that. I haven't had a car that's been capable of doing that in quite a while, so it was our time today. Today's challenge is over with and totally forgotten by me now. All I can think about is how I'm gonna make that car do that for 500 laps. The pole thing is over with and, to me, that's all said and done. I've just got to figure out how we're gonna make the car stay on the tires. It was real quick today, but once we go into race configuration -- I didn't test here and things are different. The tire is a little bit different. I'm running the same setup that I qualified with last time here and I didn't get the pole, so this tire likes this setup better than the tire we had here last fall. So that tells me in race condition I've got some work to do. I can't just set it up like we raced last time and expect everything to be perfect. I'm gonna have 90 minutes for Jimmy and I to thrash this thing around and see if we can hit something that will put us in shape to be a contender."
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR MATT STORIES FROM THIS WEEK?
"Oh man, it's so cool. I'm having more fun this year than I've had since I was a kid. Matt did really good Wednesday night. He won his heat race in a spectacular pass after he took the white flag. I didn't even know he had a chance to win. I thought he was gonna get second and all of a sudden he darted inside of the kid and won the race. It was pretty awesome. Then he finished second in the feature and ran a great race. The ABC World News was there covering it. He's had all kinds of inquiries for shows. Like I told him, 'I've never been on ABC World News.' We've had a couple of other TV requests that I had never been asked to do before, so I've been pumping him up pretty good. He's coming along. He has to race against some kids -- the kid that beat him Wednesday night is 13 and started racing when he was five. Matt started when he was seven and is nine now, so that puts it in perspective. I figure the kid that won -- Cory Abbott -- he wins all the time. He's incredible. I kind of figure his dad knows a little bit more about those cars than I do too, so if I can get a little bit smarter and give him a little better race car, I think he can give him a run for his money. That's the coolest racing you'll ever see. It's just unbelievable to see those kids race. I have more fun doing that than anything I've done since I started racing. To see those kids drive and compete and learn to be good sports and to see them develop is neat."