Talladega II: Mark Martin preview

MARTIN RETURNS TO TALLADEGA IN WHAT COULD BE A MAKE OR BREAK RACE IN THE CHASE Sitting third in the points, Martin knows importance of 'surviving' Talladega CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2006) -- Mark Martin remembers his first trip to Talladega ...

Sitting third in the points, Martin knows importance of 'surviving' Talladega

CONCORD, N.C. (Oct. 4, 2006) -- Mark Martin remembers his first trip to Talladega Superspeedway as a competitor rather fondly. He made his debut on the high-banks of the 2.66-mile lightning fast superspeedway on August 1, 1981, qualifying second, turning laps of over 200 mph and moving on to a four-second victory in the ARCA 200. His memories of his most-recent three trips there are not as fond.

Martin saw his 'Chase' hopes all but shattered last year after getting caught up in a multi-car accident on just lap 19 of the UAW-Ford 500 last season. Martin went into the race in fourth place in the Nextel Cup point rankings, just a mere 21 points out of first. He boasted one of the fastest cars of his racing career at Talladega and was running inside the top five just moments before the 'big one'. Martin left Alabama that day with a mangled race car and a ninth-place points ranking and with his hopes for the Nextel Cup all but shattered.

Such has been the up and down love affair Martin has had with Talladega Superspeedway over the past 25 years of racing. It's a common perception that Martin dislikes Talladega and always has. However, the 20- year veteran of the Nextel Cup circuit explains it differently.

"I always liked Talladega," said Martin. "It was easier to get around than Daytona and I just didn't find it nearly as intimidating. In the beginning we didn't have restrictor plates and handling mattered. Heck, I remember people spinning out there - on their own. It was just a 'big ole' race track that really tested your skills.

"In fact I always had a good relationship with the track," added Martin with a pause. "Before the restrictor plates were added. Eventually it got to where the wrecking was just ridiculous and now you are just so bunched up that you just hope that you can avoid all the trouble."

In an effort to limit the speed of the cars for safety purposes, restrictor plates were added to the cars in 1988 at both Daytona and Talladega forever changing the dynamics of both places. Since then, Martin has found himself caught up in some of the worst wrecks in the circuit's history. With all the cars running in bunches, often times one small mistake or movement by a driver can cause a chain reaction of events that leads to several torn up race cars. Often times Martin has found himself with no where to go and many times he's left those tracks banged up and disappointed.

In fact, Martin has gotten caught up in major accidents in the last three Nextel Cup races at Talladega; each occurring before the team even had an opportunity to pit. Martin has only one top-10 finish at Talladega since 2001, a sixth-place run in 2004, and he has finished 30th, or worse due to wrecks in five of the last nine.

Still, Martin remembers a different time at the track, when drafting was a lot different.

"Back in the day the cool draft was the slingshot," smiled Martin. "Back before you could run the cars wide open, you got a draft and a run on the guy in front of you and you did the slingshot and you could make a pass on him. Then the guy would slingshot you and you did him and he did you, etc. That all ended with the restrictor plate. It was already phasing out with the way the cars were changing but the final straw was the restrictor plate.

"The only thing I don't like about it now is that the cars are just going too slow and they are too packed up," explained Martin. "Back when they didn't get in such big packs and when handling was a big factor it was just a lot more fun for the race car driver.

"The frustrating part about it is that your cars mean more than you do," said Martin. "No matter how hard you try you can't help the team make the car very much better. That's not the case at unrestricted race tracks. The car doesn't mean more than you and you can help the team make the car better. So it can be frustrating. It's just not about helping your team make the car go faster through the corners."

That's not to say that Martin hasn't enjoyed his share of accomplishments running with the restrictor plate. In fact Martin's 34 top-10 finishes at restrictor-plate tracks are more than anyone else, with 19 of those coming at restrictor-plate races at Talladega.

Martin has clearly had his moments at Talladega over the years as well. He swept the poles there in 1989 and he set track race records in both the Busch and the Cup races there in the spring of 1997. Martin has two Cup wins, two poles, 10 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes at Talladega. For his efforts he was named to the Talladega Hall-of-Fame in 2002. All-in-all Martin has won in three different series at Talladega, Nextel Cup, Busch and IROC. He'll make his 42nd Nextel Cup start there this Sunday.

"It's just a different race now," said Martin. "Now it's all about the draft and making the right move, which actually all just depends on what the people around you do. Some guy will make a move and everyone calls it brilliant, but to be honest it's only brilliant if the people around you do the right thing. That can be tough.

"Talladega used to really test your skills as a race car driver," added Martin. "Now it really just tests your patience. I'm not saying that it doesn't take a lot of skill with the draft -- it does, but it's just a different type of skill. You can definitely tell the ones who are really good at that, but if you hang your hat on that type of racing it can be tough.

"But like I said, I always liked the track and racing there," said Martin. "I just don't like restrictor- plate racing. But the fans there are great and we've always had great support there. They love their racing and they come to have a good time.

"For us this weekend I think the goal is about survival," added Martin. "If we can get through this thing without getting caught up in a big one, then who knows, maybe we have a chance in this thing. All we can really do is go there and do the best we can. I've had wrecks in the front and I've had wrecks in the back and I've surely had wrecks in the middle, so there really isn't any secret formula to get through this thing.

"We'll need a car that's fast and most importantly drafts well," added Martin. "But usually we have that. What we really need is luck, and we haven't had that for some time now at Talladega, so hopefully that will change. I mean, we can't be unlucky there every time can we? I guess we'll just go there and see what happens, but no matter what nothing can change the good job that Pat Tryson and this AAA Team have done this year and no matter what, we'll keep fighting for the championship until the very end."

-credit: roush racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Mark Martin