Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, announced last October that 2005 would be the final season in which he races full-time for the Nextel Cup. Martin, who finished fourth in the points standings last year, took part in a Q&A...
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, announced last October that 2005 would be the final season in which he races full-time for the Nextel Cup. Martin, who finished fourth in the points standings last year, took part in a Q&A session during the first of a three-day test session at Daytona International Speedway.
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
THOUGHTS ON YOUR FINAL 500 START.
"We're half a day into this thing, but it's pretty much business as usual. I've been coming down here a lot of years. Nine times out of ten we're real disappointed with what we've got and this is not much different. We'd be much happier if we were a half-second a lap faster, but that's just the nature of this race track. Usually, whatever you unload with and go out and run, you know what you've got. We will prepare two race cars for Speedweeks. We brought two new ones down here and they are what they are. We'll do everything that we can to improve them, but the improvements that we make are the same improvements that our competition makes. So when we gain, they gain and we generally don't close the gap a whole lot."
HAVE YOU FORMED A PLAN FOR '06?
"I still say again that there are no plans for Nextel Cup racing for the obvious fact that if you really sit and analyze it, to have what you would call a short program or a limited program, you would also have to have limited people. You couldn't possibly have the quality of car that I drive today and I'm not gonna do it like that. I still again will say that I don't see Nextel Cup competition in my future. I didn't say it never would happen for a lot of reasons. Someone could get injured, Roush Racing. I'm not gonna say never, but I don't expect to do a limited Nextel schedule because I don't feel like I would be able to have a competitive organization for that situation. I'll say again that I'm not gonna quit driving race cars. I don't have anything to announce right now, but I think everybody knows that I follow the Craftsman Truck Series with great interest. There's no new news there."
HAVE YOUNGER DRIVERS IN THIS SPORT HAD AN EFFECT ON YOUR DECISION?
"There are different ways to look at that. To answer your question directly, not that the young guys have come in. The bottom line is I'm 46 years old and my greatest fear in motorsports is going out on decline. Why could that happen? It could happen because the young talent in the sport begins to put pressure to overtake our positions in the sport. On one hand, my answer might be not exactly. On the other hand, yes, of course. Really, my biggest fear in motorsports would be to go out on decline. I've fooled a lot of people for a long, long time and it's very important for me to step out of this thing with everybody fooled and disillusioned about what I was able to do."
HAS MATT'S CAREER HELPED AS FAR AS MAKING YOUR DECISION?
"I can't let Matt's decision on what he does with his life directly control or affect my happiness about my life. In other words, I've got to support him in whatever it is he chooses to do. Therefore, I can't let Matt directly impact what I do with my focus. Obviously, I have ball racing with Matt. I've also had a ball racing with Joey Lagano. He's raced one of my trucks four times now and won once and finished second once and finished third once and set fast time two or three times in it. So I'll have all of that. Joey is two years older than Matt, so it's been fun for me. It's very important for me to figure out how to have fun because I've never put any premium whatsoever on that. It's never been important and it's not important in 2005, but it is important to me looking toward 2006 - to make a change in my life - close this chapter and open the next chapter. Therefore, I have to find some things that I love, that I have passion for and that I'll have fun with. I will have some of that with racing, but that's one of the reasons why I'm telling you I'm not gonna stop driving. If I couldn't work anything out in NASCAR racing, I'd drive some of my son's race trucks, his late models. I'd go around across the country and do guest appearances at short tracks, signing autographs and driving race cars. I'm not gonna quit racing. I can't. I can't because I might short-circuit. There's no doubt that that void has to be filled in my life and that I have to transition.
"I couldn't just pull the plug right now and step out because I don't have a focus toward being a NASCAR team owner, for example. At this time I have no desire to. At this time, Jack can give me a team and I'd say, 'Take that back. I don't want that.' So that's how strongly I feel about that at this point, so I am gonna have to find some things for me to have passion for and fire for, and one of those things that will help fill that void could be the Truck Series. If not, I can always find stuff to drive. There's people standing around all the time - 'Why don't you bring your helmet over here.' So I will do something around racing that I think will be fun."
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM SEASON ON THE WAY OUT OF CUP?
"Gil de Feran literally brought tears to my eyes. That is the ultimate. It would be a terrible mistake for me to hope to do that - to go out like that. But, obviously, I want to go out with a season as good or better than 2004. I believe that we can hope for a season that is better - realistically hope for a better season in 2005 than 2004 based on what I know about Pat Tryson and the Viagra team and the support we have. I want to make mention here - it's very important for me to acknowledge the guys that work on that car because a number of them had good job opportunities that were for better conditions and more money than what they stayed to give me my last shot at a championship. It's an honor to me. I asked them to do that. I asked them to stay and it was an honor to me that they did - everyone of them stayed. That's very special to me and I'd like to acknowledge that and we're gonna go after this thing. Nothing is gonna step in front of the commitment that we have to not only excel on the race track, but to try and do what I said I would do and that's give the media the respect and something different than they've ever gotten for me - try to give the fans a thank you for the respect and the things that they've helped me do with my career as well. So it's a huge commitment. This is gonna be the most difficult year of my life and there's no way it's gonna be fun because it's not designed to be fun. If it was designed to be fun, we'd have a little bit of fun time scheduled in there, but all we've got is work in front of us. But that's what it's about. We're gonna work hard at it and then we're gonna open a new chapter in 2006. As soon as we have that figured out, we will share that with you guys."
IS ROUSH RACING THE TEAM TO BEAT THIS YEAR - GOING FOR A THIRD TITLE?
"One of the things that has changed is, in my opinion, the hottest driver lineup in the garage. Then right behind that, those cats are strapping down into some great equipment based on terrific crew chiefs and engineering program - great engines and really terrific race cars. You put those drivers in less-than-great equipment and they couldn't get it done. It takes it all and right now they've got it going on and I'm proud to be a part of it."
WHAT WON'T YOU MISS RACING AT THIS LEVEL?
"The demands. I won't miss being at the race track on every Sunday for 38 or 39 weekends out of the year. That is a grind. It's not when you're a kid because every place you go is an adventure, but after 15 years it starts to wear old and after 20 - there are a lot of things I've given up in my life to do what I do and to have been able to fool all of you guys for all of these years, it took sacrifices and compromises. I won't miss making as many. I'll have to make some. Don't get me wrong, you'll still have those because I'm still gonna race, so there will still be a number of those, but the number of those today in this environment has just gone completely beyond what I'm willing to continue to give. I was happy to give it. I'm happy to give it in 2005, but I couldn't sign up for another. I want you guys to understand one other thing, too. Every year for me to be competitive in this thing, I've had to reach deeper and, believe me, in 2005 I'm having to reach as deep right to the bottom of the bag - everything that I can find and everything that I can scrape up in order to be competitive next year because all the guys I race with are doing the same thing. So it's required a larger commitment from me every year and at some point you stand around and you look and you say, 'I can't do anything but go down next year because I can't find anymore. I can't put anymore in this thing.' And the level is still going up."
WHERE DOES WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 RANK ON YOUR LIST?
"I would like to say it really doesn't exist on that list, but, let's face it, most of you guys don't know this but when I was 17, 18 - say 19 years old - that was what I wanted to accomplish by the time I was 25, which would have been a young Daytona 500 winner if he was in his early to mid twenties at that time. Obviously, that is a huge milestone. That's what I wanted to do. I said I wanted to that more than once. It was something that was a big deal. The reason that I don't play that up is because if you don't win it, you didn't. So waste your time on something else. That's how I look at it. I'm not gonna waste my time on all that stuff. Hey, we either won it or we didn't. This is probably my last chance and I don't feel any pressure because it won't make or break my career. I've been fortunate enough to win more than one race and I didn't get to choose which ones they were. Doggone it, I wish I could have but I didn't."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ENGINE AND AERO PROGRAM?
"Every year holds surprises. We expected to have big horsepower last year coming down here and we did. It was incredible. Unfortunately, it only ran eight laps in the 500. We did some very special things throughout Speedweeks to our race car and our big horsepower allowed us to do those things in the past we weren't able to do, and it made my car - what I believe in my heart - was a contender for the 500. That was one of the few 500's that I was gonna be able to really be a contender to win. I can't predict if we can replicate that. That takes a lot of special circumstances. I don't know how big other people's engines are gonna be this year. I don't know how sorry their cars are gonna handle. I don't know. That was a magical year. We had big horsepower which enabled us to do some things to our car that made it handle like some of the people I had to race against couldn't, and we had a chance. Will all of those cards line up exactly the same this year or not? I can't say. I might be able to tell you on Saturday before the 500, or maybe on Thursday of the qualifiers. I don't know, but we're gonna have to get into it and evaluate our competition and evaluate our equipment."
IN ALL THE DECISIONS YOU'VE MADE, WHERE DOES THIS RANK AS FAR AS DIFFICULTY?
"I'm not sure if this will directly answer your question, but I'm sure you'll be interested in this. I started racing for trophies and not for money. If I were to race for money, I would be signed up for 2006. I'm leaving a big pile on the table at the peak of my earning career. There's certainly no decline in that part of my career. Two thousand five will be the most money I've ever made and 2004 was the most before that. Every year I've made more money. I don't race for money and still don't. If I did, I would be signed back up. I still race for trophies. And though I'll leave a few trophies on the table, maybe, I don't leave a ton of them on the table. It's much more important for me to exit with great respect than it is in great decline. I wish from a material standpoint that I was 26 instead of 46 because there are a couple of things that I'd really like to have that I'll never be able to have in my life. If I was 26 and where I am today, I'd be able to have those things, but those things aren't that important to me. I'm not 26 and it is time. I wouldn't walk away from this thing if I was 20 years younger right now because there would be time on my side. But you guys know I'm realistic and I'm a realist and the real deal is that this is a good time for me. My biggest fear in 2003 and I agonized over it every day was, 'I don't want to go out like this. What a disgrace.' Two thousand four boosted my self-esteem by a lot and I think that we can come back and have a great 2005. If it's not as perfect as we hope, it'll still be not on a great decline after having such a bright and shiny 2004. On the other hand, if you want to really look at the bright side, I believe that we'll be better prepared. Not knowing what the competition is gonna do again, but I think that the 6 team will be better prepared than they were a year ago and I think that we stand a chance of really messing this whole deal up and that would be if we could win the championship. That would be pretty strange to not have the champion come back and do the tour. It's my hope right now that I can screw it up royally (laughter)."
WHAT SHOULD THE BACK OF THE WATCH SAY AFTER RETIRING?
"I don't know. The first thing that came to my mind it probably wouldn't fit. Well, if you used a magnifying lens you could get it all there. 'There was a guy who tried really, really hard and always did what he thought was right.' That's just the first thing that came to mind."