DETROIT (Sept. 27, 2000) - Missing any race is a disappointment for a NASCAR Winston Cup driver, but under the wrong circumstances, it can happen. Factor in the idea of a driver missing a race at a track that he claims as his home, and the ...
DETROIT (Sept. 27, 2000) - Missing any race is a disappointment for a NASCAR Winston Cup driver, but under the wrong circumstances, it can happen. Factor in the idea of a driver missing a race at a track that he claims as his home, and the disappointment becomes bitter.
Conseco Pontiac driver Rick Mast lives just a couple hours from Martinsville Speedway and for that reason it holds a special place in his heart. Last spring, he failed to qualify at Martinsville in his second start for car owner A.J. Foyt. Although it was tough to accept, Mast knew his team needed much improvement. Improve they have.
During Mast's first 10 races with the team, he missed the starting lineup four times, owned a top finish of 20th at Texas Motor Speedway and an average finish of 34.3. In the 11 races that have followed since then, Mast has qualified for every event - three times in the top five - and has collected four top-12 finishes, including his second top-10 last week at Dover Downs. His average finish during that time has dropped to 22.5.
THOUGHTS FROM RICK MAST, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
...how does the team go about overcoming a lack of set-up notes after missing last spring's race at Martinsville?: "We throw stuff against the wall, like you do, and just hope it's the right thing. Like at Richmond, yeah we did go and test, but the end result was at Richmond we ended doing the same things chassis-wise that we did in the spring there when we missed the race. We just had a much better piece. So I know when we go to Martinsville, I'm going to have a lot better race car than what I had there in the spring. We'll do our normal stuff. We'll just act and react to the chassis. Whatever the car asks for, we'll throw stuff at it and however the thing acts, we'll react to that change. That's how you approach every race and everybody does it that way. "The problem is this: where I live our hometown TV stations cover Martinsville, so I've been watching all these teams testing. They're always down there. Every day they're interviewing drivers - it seems like half the field has been down at that place testing. That bothers me a little bit. "Martinsville is one of those tracks that is ridiculous for me to miss. We missed that race in the spring and there is no excuse for that. I love that racetrack and always run good there. To miss that race was pretty disappointing, so I'm not going to miss that thing again."
...has this year been more of a project than any other year of his career?: "Yeah it has, big-time. Back in March when I came to this race team there were a couple other options at that time that I could have taken, and I think for the first month or so I had a shot at running better in one of those other situations because I knew those teams were better at that point. But I also know A.J. (Foyt) personally, and as I've said a million times, I know what the end result is going to be with this race team and it's going to be successful. I said that back in March and I've said it ever since. We've got a long way to go, yet - a long way to go. But we're doing the right things and we're making it happen. It's going to be very good."
...how does he explain A.J. Foyt to someone who doesn't really know what kind of owner he is?: "The bottom line with A.J. Foyt is very simple... he is just a 'racer.' He has racer mentality. You'll hear guys hit on that every now and then in the media. The Richard Childresses and the Robert Yates of the world - they're racers. It's a different mentality from the businessman mentality. Don't get me wrong, those guys are businessmen, but they're also racers and they understand what you've got to do and what it takes, and the commitment that has to be made from everybody to be successful here. A.J. has that mentality. He is a racer. Yeah, he's hard and maybe he is stubborn on stuff. But he is only stubborn on stuff that he knows is right or something that he knows is wrong. He is stubborn just like any racer is stubborn, and to me all that is good. "During our period of trying to get this Winston Cup thing turned back around, all he has done is sit down and listen to us explain to him what's wrong with the cars. Then he gets in there and he talks about and realizes what we're talking about and he is 100 percent with you in knowing what's going on with the car. Some business people that own race teams, they wouldn't understand that."
...does a hometown race still mean something to him at this stage of his career?: "It does. It does because Martinsville is the first asphalt track I ran on, plus it's just an hour and a half down the road from my house. I consider it, and Richmond, to be home tracks for me.
"I have a lot of people from home that go to that race. I've been going there since I was a teenager racing in some form or another. I hear some of the guys that absolutely hate Martinsville - some of the top veterans just hate the racetrack. But when I see that I cringe because I love it."