Martinsville Schrader to mark his 500th career start

DETROIT, April 3, 2001 - Pontiac brings its 75-year heritage of bold, daring and innovative design and high performance to the road and on the track each time a driver gets behind the wheel. There are thousands of those drivers around the...

DETROIT, April 3, 2001 - Pontiac brings its 75-year heritage of bold, daring and innovative design and high performance to the road and on the track each time a driver gets behind the wheel. There are thousands of those drivers around the country, one of which is Ken Schrader. Sunday at Martinsville Speedway Schrader will put the finishing touches on a major milestone that has been 17 years in the making, as he climbs behind the wheel of a Winston Cup stock car for his 500th career start.

While Schrader celebrates his achievement, another member of the "WideTrack Attack" is hoping to celebrate one of his own. Tony Stewart heads to Martinsville hoping to notch his second straight victory at the Virginia short track and the 10th Winston Cup win of his young career.

Ken Schrader, No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix

What Does Your 500th Start Mean To You?

"I like the thought of it. It's a mark. But, it's still just Martinsville weekend.

Ken Schrader. Photo: Thomas Chemris

"Five hundred starts means I'm old; it means I've been doing it a long time. It was a pretty big deal when I got to run one. Then, I got to run a year. Then I got to run a second year. To have been able to stay here, stay in one of these things, not get shuffled out and still poke your nose up around the front every now and then, it makes you feel good."

On Joining A Legendary List Of People That Have Also Started 500 Races

"They're all old, too. But, no, it feels good. It feels really good. But running really good feels a lot better and that's what our goal is. Just to be here for a long time, that's one thing. But that's not what we're after. We want to be here a long time and running good, and that's what we're working towards. I think we're making gains on that."

Does It Make It More Special That You'Re Running Better As You Reach The 500-Start Mark?

"Most definitely. You just get up, walk out in the morning and you feel better. Everything is more special when you're running better. This is a very all-consuming business and if you're not running like you want to, it can get to you."

How Long Did You Think You'd Be In This Sport When You First Started?

"You just thought about that next weekend. I'm still doing that now. Last week I thought about Texas and now I'm thinking about Martinsville. After you've been doing it a while you start to think in terms of seasons -- where you need to be at the end of the season and how you can be better at the end of the season to prepare yourself for next year.

"The point is I want to run more than 500 and I'm sure not thinking about 600 right now. I'm just worrying about Martinsville."

What Sticks Out Most In Your Mind From Your Career?

"There is so much that you could go through and document -- like how much more competitive the racing has become, how many more different winners we have now and all that kind of stuff. But the thing that really sticks out is just the growth - the growth of the sport.

"We're going to Martinsville this week. We went to Martinsville the first year I ran, too. We pulled in there on a Thursday. I qualified Junie Donlavy's car on Thursday, they went home, he let me re-qualify it Friday so I could be the fastest rookie and get the $500 award. Then the car sat all Friday afternoon, all day Saturday, Harold Kinder pulled the truck around to the back straightaway Saturday night and they showed back up Sunday.

"Now we got into Martinsville and there are grandstands all the way around it, we've got a beautiful new garage, the same racetrack - which is a good thing - but the growth is unbelievable."

Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix

What Makes Martinsville Such A Tough Track For You To Enjoy?

"I don't know. I definitely don't dislike it as much as I used to. Winning did help that. But I'll tell you, the one thing that saves that place is the people who are there and the fans that are there. You can see them every time you're out there practicing. Every time you go to get into the car you can look across the fence and see them, and they're yelling good luck to you. That's the biggest thing about that place, in my opinion. But it's just a tough place. If you can get through that whole day without getting a scratch on your car, it's a miracle."

How Have You Learned To Be A More Patient Driver, Especially At A Place Like Martinsville?

"A lot of it is confidence and comfort, because when you gain those it makes the patience element a lot easier to fulfill. While I may not be 100 percent where I need to be in terms of patience, I would say that I'm getting a lot better about the patience aspect of this whole deal."

How Much Of A Role Has Greg Zipadelli Played In Helping You Become More Patient During A Race?

"He's been really good. At a track like that, he knows what to look for with my driving style as far as how I might overdrive the car. He'll coach me along during a run to take care of my race car, to not overdrive it and do the things that I have typically done in the past in a race car. To have him on the radio is a big comfort to me."

Will Last Fall's Win At Martinsville Help You With Your Mindset Going There This Weekend?

"I hope it does. We're struggling with the tires this year, which is the same thing we were struggling with last year that caused a lot of my frustrations early last year. It's just something that we have to overcome. I know that Goodyear is doing it for the right reasons. It's hard to make a tire that suits everyone's driving style, and we've struggled trying to find that balance this year. I'm hoping that when we go there this time, we're able to find that balance like we did the last time we were there. If we can do that, then we'll have the potential for similar results."

Knowing That You Outran Dale Earnhardt For The Win At Martinsville Last Year, Does It Make That Win Mean Even More Now?

"The two biggest wins that I'm most proud of are this year's Budweiser Shootout and last year at Martinsville. We dominated two races at Homestead (Fla.), but to beat Dale Earnhardt at Martinsville and to beat him at Daytona in the Bud Shootout - those are by far the two biggest single-day accomplishments that I've ever had in my life. To be able to beat Dale at two tracks that he's so tough at - that means a lot. Dale was the guy that you knew that if you beat him, you did it honest. You're not going to luck into a win at Martinsville and you're not going to luck into a win at Daytona with him running second. If he ran second, then you flat beat him that day. That's why those two races mean so much to me."

- Al Larsen

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Tony Stewart , Ken Schrader