NASCAR Media Conference
September 7, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's NASCAR event at Richmond International Raceway.
Joining us today is Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Hendricks Motorsports. Saturday night's Air Guard 400 concludes the Race to The Chase, the 10-race stretch that precedes The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
It's the last opportunity for drivers to earn a spot in the 2010 Chase. And Mark is one of those on the eligibility bubble. Following Saturday night at Richmond, the top 12 drivers in the Series standings will battle for the Series title during the season's final 10 races, or The Chase.
Mark is 15th in the standings right now. He's 147 points behind 12th place Clint Bowyer. You had to come from behind to make The Chase before. What do you think your chances are Saturday night?
MARK MARTIN: I haven't done the math, but I don't think they're very good from where we're at. Not very good. I'm sure if Clint starts the race, then we just about need to be leading the most laps and win the race and him finish last somewhere in that range.
So we've got ourselves too far behind to expect to jump in there.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Mark, to try to drag you into the same boat as me, as one of the few left around who can remember the young Dale Earnhardt and his style, I was thinking about Kyle Busch, as far as car control and like this past weekend, didn't have a great weekend like he did at Bristol but he made a good weekend out of a bad weekend. Does Kyle, with car control and keeping on struggling to salvage weekends, does he remind you of Earnhardt in his heyday?
MARK MARTIN: You know, maybe glimmers of that. But his style -- his style is still a little bit different. It is definitely really strong.
He manages to do an incredible amount of things with at times when it doesn't look like he has so much. But you and I both probably -- it may not have been as big a deal as what it seemed like it was back in the day, in Dale's young times, but it seemed bigger than anything I ever could have dreamed of seeing at this time in my lifetime. And I don't know about you.
So in some ways there are flashes of --
Q. Maybe Dale was a little rougher and more obvious with it and Kyle might be a little bit slicker?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, there's some of that to it. You know, also what Kyle does is not head and shoulders above what all the greats do. In other words, you know, there were some greats when Earnhardt was out there doing all that but there wasn't as many greats with great cars as there are today. What Kyle does is make him shine and place him above, up at the very top of the class. But not as far -- like Earnhardt just, he was like way elevated and didn't think there was anybody in his league when it came to that.
With Kyle, you don't forget, you still have Jimmie Johnson and you still have Tony Stewart, and you still have Carl Edwards. As far as that matter, I'll tell you what, Matt Kenseth's style is not showy or flashy, but what he does is incredible, when I set back and just watch what he manages to do so often with when he has what appears to be so little.
And so I would say the discrepancy from the mid-pack to Dale Earnhardt versus the discrepancy today is smaller. But you would expect that, because everybody's raised their game and there's so many -- everybody's cars have the availability of being great.
Everybody's cars aren't the same and they're not all as fast as the other. But they are much closer than they were back 25 years ago.
Q. The chase is so far along now, have we got with this thing that if you're not in it you had a bad season?
MARK MARTIN: Well, that's a good question. This is my first time to miss it. I didn't run for it in '07 or '08. So certainly being in it is big. For me, if we were to have squeaked in it and ran, continued to run like we've run the last three races, three or four races, then it wouldn't make our season. You know what I mean?
At the end of the day you still have to run good to be, to really feel good about yourself. So if you run good and you miss The Chase, then that's a crying shame. And that's what we were faced with last year. It would have been a destroying season for us at the 5 car to have missed the chase last year. Because we knew if we could make it, we could get in it, we could win it. And nearly did.
So, you know, I'll have more insight on missing it after this season's behind us, I guess. But for us right now, our focus is to get back up on the level that we were on last year and actually this allows us in one way missing The Chase will allow us to go out there and take chances on different hardware and different setups and those kind of things that we wouldn't necessarily if we were in the hunt for the championship.
So we will work through that. We really tried a lot of different stuff, really different stuff at Atlanta. And it certainly didn't pay dividends.
But we're one more race wiser. And we do know a few things we don't want to do next time. So we continue to work really hard to raise our game to the level it was last year.
Q. Will you be trying new stuff with the goal of having a better overall season next year, or with winning this year in mind?
MARK MARTIN: Both. Both. No difference in those two statements there. It's all the same. When you run better, you run better. And most of the time, over the long haul, when you run better, you score more points. That's not always the case, because you can have bad luck.
But in reality, even with bad luck, if you run better, you score more points than if you were running bad and you have bad luck. So don't forget, you know, there's more to racing than points. It just doesn't seem like it in today's -- in today's sport. But there is. Every race is a race. Every race is not a point. It's not a points tally. It is if you're in a points battle, but for me I believe that the attraction to the sport of racing is the race.
You can't see points tally until these things are over with and all this stuff, you know, takes place. But you can watch a race and get excited right then and there all the way through the race. And at the end of the day we all started out racing because we loved the race. And I still think that that's what puts people in the stands is watching the race.
Q. Mark, how does it happen that a team like yours goes from being second in points at the end of last year to 13th or 14th where you are now, and kind of in the same vein, how does a team like Harvick go from 19th at the end of one year to first the next?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, I don't really know. (Chuckling). I just know it happens. I've seen it happen before. But I don't really know.
I saw the Childress cars start their momentum at Indy last year and gradually build momentum in performance from there, going forward, all the way to the end of the season. And I knew that they were going to have a great year this year, based off what I saw there.
Didn't really see this coming for the 5 car. And I just know that it happens, that things change and competition -- you know, the target is a moving target. It always has been and always will be. And we were hitting the bull's eye last year. And we haven't found the bull's eye this year. And we'll continue to work until we do. But we just haven't found it.
And we're the same group of people that were getting it done last year and we can do it again. We'll just keep digging until we find it.
Q. On an unrelated topic, Terry Labonte is going to try to make the race this weekend. Have you talked him at all? He hasn't raced since the end of last year, and what do you think about him stepping back into the seat?
MARK MARTIN: I have a couple of thoughts. I talked to him at the first Texas race I think was the last time I talked to him. It was really good to see him and really good to talk to him. I think it's awesome to have him back, and I think it was pretty clear that I was living the dream of every retired driver or semi retired driver in the country last year.
And it's something that I think it's really good. I think it will be good to see him. It will be good to see him back at the racetrack, and I know there's still fans that saw him win championships and win races and put on great shows that will welcome him back to the racetrack and be glad to see him back.
Q. Mark, this is kind of along the lines of what Bob was saying, but more from kind of an emotional or a gut feel for you to come off a year like you had last year and kind of allow your expectations to rise and then for it to turn out the way it does. Maybe you could explain the difference you feel heading into Richmond this time as opposed to last year.
MARK MARTIN: Well, I'm not as nervous as I was this last year. But certainly it's a different feel. It's something that none of us expected or saw coming. But we are the same people that were doing this a year ago and doing it so well.
And you have to look at the positive things and not focus on the negative. Expectations are really tough to deal with when you don't meet them. And that's why I've tried so hard to limit and keep my expectations in check. But still, yet, even as much as I do that, you know, I couldn't have ever been prepared for having as tough a year as what we've had.
But we're the same people, and we're working just the same together as we were a year ago. And that part of it feels good. You gotta focus on the positive. We have a great race team. Smartest people. Some of the smartest people in the business, very committed. We all really get along and respect one another. And we're going to work through this together, and we're going to get better together.
And at the end of the day, as devastating as it is to not run good at the racetrack, you still go home. Just like you do if you won and carried the trophy home. You still go home the same way. And you go to bed that night and you get up the next morning and it's a new day.
And that's the way every one of them were. Every day is. No matter what the result. And you just have to work hard and have to do the best you can to manage all of those emotions, whether they be the peak or the highest peak or the lowest valley. You have to do your best to manage those emotions and everything that's tied along with it.
Otherwise, it can be a deterrent. You know, either the highs are the highs or the lowest of the lows. If you let those get to you, then it changes the outcome and certainly makes a difference in how you're able to perform and work and deal with situations and work with people and everything else.
Q. Are you a little bit better equipped to deal with something like this because of all the experience you've had throughout your career? Was there a time maybe 10 years ago where you might have been a little bit more angry to be in this position or do you think it just kind of balances out and comes with experience and maturity?
MARK MARTIN: I think that I'm better equipped to handle this than ever before, based on the experiences I've had. I'm not fully matured yet. But I have matured some, from 15 years ago, and certainly would have handled things differently if this was 15 years ago and would have let it impact the way I interacted with the people that I worked with and my family as well.
And I feel like I'm doing a much better job of managing all that than I would have back then.
Q. This weekend, when we go to Richmond, we have so many different agendas. You have people who will do anything to get in. That little tiny bubble space. Then you have other people who are already in, so why not just go for broke, right? You have other people that are being careful and trying to get bonus points. Do you think it's going to be interesting this weekend with all the people racing with their different agendas?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, you know, it will be. But to me, it's always interesting. Racing is always. Every race is interesting, fascinating to me. But there will be different agendas. I've always been on the end of protection mode to some degree. I've always had something to protect.
And this is probably these next 11 races are going to put me in a different position. And that might be interesting to me, because I can race each race with not so much to lose and everything to gain.
And I've had to be on the other, you know, been in the other shoes every other time that I can think of. I know in '07 and '08 I didn't run a full schedule, but we still had to watch ourselves pretty close because our car ran full time with Reagan Smith or Aric Almirola.
So it's going to be very interesting. Racing always is.
Q. Even in the races where we don't have these big drama story lines, there are so many interesting things that happen to dissect it. And one of the things I was going to ask as a follow-up is: When you guys come on like a light bulb, this past weekend I think there were 24 laps to go, you always race hard but seemed like everybody came to life and the place went crazy. It was interesting when that light turns on. You would have thought it would have been less laps?
MARK MARTIN: It's backing up from the finish of the race more and more and more all the time, the intensity backs up further and further and further into the race or earlier and earlier that gets started. Even the green flag of 500-miler today is really intense, way more intense than it ever was when I got started in NASCAR. There's no comparison.
So the racing is always more intense and, of course, it builds as the further you go along, and when these guys think that they've had their last pit stop, it really goes through the roof.
So I don't know. I love the sport. I'm as big a fan as there is out there. So like I say, every race is interesting to me.
Q. This past weekend Jeff Burton was asked about not having won a championship and his comment was it would be disappointing, it wouldn't ruin my life, but it would be disappointing for me to walk away from this without ever having won a championship. You certainly made your feelings about a championship known. But I'm just wondering, did you always feel that way that you do now about championships, or how did that change for you from early in your career? And my assumption would be whether it's wrong, would be at least early in your career you were all about everything and that maybe over time things changed but maybe I'm wrong. Can you talk about how you can have, how you developed those feelings in regards to the championship and maybe not letting it be the be-all end-all consuming thing for you?
MARK MARTIN: Well, when I was young, winning races was everything. And building my career was also everything. And winning races helped. Winning championships also got you even more recognition as well. So coming up through the ranks, I got four ASA championships.
I never ran for the Nationwide championship. Got in the Cup in my second year with Roush we went into the last race in second in the points and we broke an engine and wound up third. And then my third year, we nearly won it.
And you know there was all the controversy about the points penalty that we got and whether or not we should have got really a points penalty or not in the first place, based on what the infraction was. Whatever the controversy was.
And you know what, it didn't bother me, because I knew, and anybody would know, you know, based on the experience that I had had, that I would win one.
When I look back on it now, it wouldn't have changed my life had I won it in 1990. It wouldn't change my life any. I don't think I'd be a different person. I don't think I'd have a different ride. I don't think I'd have more sponsors or anything else.
When I look back on it, I've been very, very fortunate to have been incredibly successful at doing what I have passion for and love. And I'm no champion. I'm just lucky I got to win a pile of races. I'm no champion.
I haven't earned the right to be in that category or to stand beside those guys. But at the same time I'm proud that I made them work for it and I saw them finish behind me many a time. And that I can be proud of. And I think that there's a measure to every human being. There's different ways you measure success.
And if you're a race car driver, points is one of those measurements. But it is not the only measuring stick there is. But it is certainly one of them. And I don't measure up in that category.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, thank you.
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