NASCAR Media Conference
May 20, 2008
DENISE MALOOF: Welcome to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teleconference ahead of Sunday's Coca Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Our guest today is Mark Martin, former Coca Cola 600winner from 2002. Mark, welcome.
With the Memorial weekend ahead and your team's sponsorship you'll sport a very special paint scheme on Sunday evening.
MARK MARTIN: We do, in addition to being proud to represent our soldiers in the U.S. Army, we're going to participate in a program salute to, I think it's Salute to Soldiers, which is really an awesome program that we're going to be able to be a part of that benefits our soldiers and their families who defend our nation and are here in all over the world.
DENISE MALOOF: The Coca Cola 600 is the series' longest race, which means just constant decisions for drivers and crew chiefs alike. And it's a challenge that might not always be obvious. You guys are continually adjusting to changing track conditions, setups and other variables all night, right?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know we are, and Lowe's Motor Speedway has always been the moodiest personality as far as the pavement goes I think of any place that I've ever raced.
And so the additional twist from day to night and practicing now and racing then and qualifying there and just all that movement really adds a lot to the stress levels of the crew chiefs and folks like Tony Gibson and all.
But it's really a lot of fun. It's perfect to have the All Star race the week before the 600, because it gives you really the best practice possible for the 600. With the 600 starting in the daylight and going into night, lasting well into the night most of the time, it gives you an opportunity -- you practice during the day. You get plenty of daytime practice, but it gives you a chance to race under race conditions into the night the week before the 600.
So it's a good thing for all the teams. It is the greatest venue in motor sports in my opinion. So I go to Lowe's with some enthusiasm. And I feel really blessed to be driving Tony Gibson's U.S. Army Chevy.
It was really good Saturday night. We didn't get the best result, but we had a great car and those guys, I'm having the time of my life driving and working with these guys. And I look forward to seeing their faces in victory lane one of these days.
DENISE MALOOF: Questions for Mark.
Q. I've been covering NASCAR now for about 30 years. You've been involved longer than that. Now, over the years both of us have seen many changes to the sport of NASCAR, some good, some bad. What stands out in your mind as the biggest change that has come down from NASCAR?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, the first thing that comes to my mind really is -- the first thing that comes to my mind is the safer barrier. Although, the Hans is probably more significant, you know, at the end, at the bottom line, for safety. But believe me that safer barrier, it's a whole different world hitting that versus the concrete that we used to hit back in the day.
Really, really hurt. And so the safer barrier is the thing that comes to my mind.
And just want to make sure that everybody knows that this team is so close. I mean we were right there at Phoenix. If we would have had another half gallon of gas and had a great run at Richmond, I just look forward to every week going to work and working with these guys.
Q. Adjusting to the different teams and cars like you have in the past few years, have you had those skills all along, do you think? The ability to work with your team? Or has it gotten easier now?
MARK MARTIN: Well, that's a complicated question. Even though I drove the 6 car for 19 years, you know it was a revolving door, so to speak. So at Roush we had a lot of people come and a lot of people go. I worked with new and different people and actually switched teams a time or two. I always raced in the Busch Series with different teams. And I raced some in the Truck Series. That was different. Even though Jack Roush owned them, I was used to working with different groups of people.
Now, that went crazy in 2007 when I raced with Wood Brothers, JTG, as well as Hendrick Motor Sports and Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, that was a really big deal. But they're really great people, really good teams and they've treated me with a lot of respect.
And it's been fun. Really, really a lot of fun, getting a chance to work with different people.
Q. I was just interested to find out about how you're meshing with the crew chief. He's kind of a local guy. So we're a little interested in that.
MARK MARTIN: Well, it's really great. To be real honest with you, every week that I work with Tony I like him more. We started off the season fine. Our communication was a little rusty. We worked on that.
We had what I would consider a tough race at Atlanta, and that was sort of our break through, where he and I really got on the same page after that race, because we saw the area that we needed to work on.
I have enormous respect for Tony Gibson. I really like him. I talked to him on the phone almost every day. He is fantastic. And he's really good with his team. He has a great following and it's understandable with the way he leads that team is spot on. I really like Tony.
Q. Your win in the Coca Cola 600, would you call that your most significant win?
MARK MARTIN: I don't know that I could say most significant, because that's a pretty profound statement. But it ranks right up there with all of the significant ones. It is the only one that brings tears to my eyes every time I walk up to that car with the mural behind it there in Batesville, and I see life-sized photographs of all the guys in Victory Lane, including Matt and Arlene. And it's such a good image. It shows all the wet spots from the Coca Cola and everything on everybody's shirts and everything.
And it really captures that little piece of time in a bottle. And it was certainly one of the most meaningful times in my career to take those guys to victory lane for their first time. Ben Leslie is the crew chief, and many of those guys on that race team had not won on that level before. And that was really special.
Q. Would it be fair to say that night you were driving like a wild man those last few laps?
MARK MARTIN: It would be fair to say. It would be fair to say I was Saturday night at the All Star race as well. Not the same result, but certainly the same effort. Definitely that was a great race. And in 2005 when we won the All Star race was one of my proudest driving displays as well.
So Lowe's Motor Speedway certainly is probably at the top of my list for pride. We win so many Busch Series races there and significant Cup wins with the 500, 600 and a couple of All Star races as well. I have a lot of those trophies. They were all the same for years and we've got somewhere up around a dozen. So that place is special in my heart.
Q. Can you talk about, since you've gone to the part-time schedule, is this really working for you, going part time in a car?
MARK MARTIN: I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life. And I am so not ready to quit racing. And in 2005, if I was faced with all or nothing, it was certainly nothing. But we have managed to figure out a way to do this.
And I'm in the best physical condition I've ever been in my life, bar none, without question. I'm in the best mental state that I've been in since I was a kid, because I'm so happy. And I'm so blessed with people, an organization like Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Tony Gibson and the Army and my support group that are around me. For so long I could have only dreamed of having a situation like this.
So I look forward to every day with enthusiasm and look forward to continuing.
Q. I think momentarily you just called Charlotte the greatest thing in motor sports. Why do you say that? What is it about the place that makes it so great?
MARK MARTIN: Sometimes a little bit colorful and maybe articulate but most of the time I'm dumber than a box of rocks. I don't know why. It's just cool.
The first time I went there I was right straight off the half mile in the Midwest. And I made two laps in 1981 and it was one of the first big Speedways I had been on. And I came on the radio and I said, wow, this is just like being back home on a quarter mile only bigger.
I mean, you know, it was just awesome. One of the things that makes it so great is Humpy Wheeler. Another thing that really makes it great was, when I came to town, I turned on the radio. They talked about racing on the radio. I was from Arkansas. There's no coverage there.
I mean it's the nucleus of stock car racing. Humpy Wheeler has made it, continued to keep it at the forefront as far as the venue goes. The layout of the racetrack. The atmosphere. I don't know, everything. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best place to go racing bar none.
Q. How does it compare, obviously Indy is the same day, how does it compare with Indianapolis?
MARK MARTIN: I'm not an open wheel driver. I was never a go-karter or a quarter midgeter or anything like that. The Indy 500 when I was 10 years old was a more recognizable race than the Daytona 500 to a kid from Arkansas.
But as I grew up in stock car racing, Indy sort of faded out of my vision and NASCAR became prominent in my world. So I think that the Indy 500 still is a little bit more recognizable name than the Coca 600, but I sure believe the racing is better over in North Carolina.
Q. Kyle Busch seems to have emerged as the latest villain in NASCAR, at least among Dale, Jr. fans. Do you just get amused? You've been around so long, do you get amused by these developments or do you think -- I know Humpy has said forever that racing needs a villain. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know I don't necessarily completely agree with the notion that Kyle is a villain. But at the same time I do agree with Humpy from the standpoint that I would pick my words a little bit more careful and say that it's good for the -- it's good to get the blood pumping in NASCAR when you have a black hat and a white hat. That tends to get the blood additionally pumping.
So there's no question that what's transpired this year with Kyle has stirred up interest and got people talking and got people using their voice, fans using their voices and people are engaged.
So from that standpoint it's been good for NASCAR.
Q. Several years ago you told us all how good Joey Lagano would be years down the road. That turned out to be true. I was wondering who you think, years from now, we'll be talking about in a similar sense.
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, to be real honest with you, I don't think that NASCAR has ever seen anything quite like Joey Lagano. I haven't spotted the next Joey Lagano. They are far and few. It doesn't mean he's not out there. Because my son raced Legends and Bandalaros, I had a chance to spot Joey when he was 10 and see him come along.
I know there are some other real prodigies out there and there's really some special drivers out there that are just now turning 18. But I don't think there's anybody in Joey's league ready to hit the circuit.
He's going to bring a lot of -- I predict he's going to bring a lot of excitement to NASCAR yet this year.
Q. Did you talk to him?
MARK MARTIN: I talked to his dad more than Joey. But I did talk to Joey after the race at Rockingham where he made the competition look, embarrassed the competition. But I talk to his dad more often. His dad is really cool. I like Tom a lot.
Q. Kind of feels like now with the Chase, that the season is broken up into parts. We will have been home for two weeks, Charlotte. And are the next three months, this grueling schedule throughout the summer of June, July and August, is this perhaps one of the more important parts of the season? Is this where we're going to see the teams succeed and the teams who don't have it all together to fall apart? Do you all as drivers see this summer schedule as the schedule where you -- the part of the schedule where you've got to really have it together?
MARK MARTIN: It's brutal, and it does separate -- it tends to separate a team that's a little bit less stable can hold on through the beginning third of the season. But when it hits this summer stretch, that's what beats you to your knees. And so it will start -- you will start to see the teams that really are strong and really have the capability.
And some are comfortably lodged into the chase, and may experiment and do different things. And then emerge like Jimmy Johnson and the 48 team did last year when it was time to go Chase racing, they were on, spot on. And before that they didn't seem to be.
So you'll have teams like that, but you'll also have the Kurt Busches who stormed into the Chase, didn't look like they were going to be able to. And so that's probably the interesting part from here to Richmond is to see who presently doesn't look like they have what they need to get in there and just put on a march and battle their way in a lot like we did back in I think it was 2004, 2005 where we didn't think we were going to make it. And just had a great, great run through the summer and snuck in.
Q. In regards to the military, they've changed their attitudes in the last few decades in training and recruits. More character building and training is more important. Representing the Army -- of course you've run into soldiers -- do you see any similarity between discipline and work ethic between like the soldiers and the team in NASCAR?
MARK MARTIN: Certainly our team, and myself included, we put great value on things like mental, physical and emotional toughness. We put emphasis on that to be competitive, especially during crunch time. And the values that our soldiers have and that the Army instills in our soldiers, like integrity and honesty, and values like that, are values that are very important to me as well.
So it's been one of the highlights of my racing career to be a part of the U.S. Army team. And by that what I mean is the generals and the soldiers and everyone and to see their attitude and their discipline is something that makes me very proud to be a part of.
Q. Earlier we talked about your length of time in NASCAR. What is your most favorite track to race on? And because of the changes with track conditions, has there been changes in Mark Martin's mind of where is the best place to race now?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I've always said that Lowe's Motor Speedway, but I really like Dover a lot, too. Dover is so good. In my opinion, concrete ruins racetracks, and Dover is so good that even concrete didn't ruin it. It may not be quite what it was when it was asphalt, but it's still my second favorite place to race. Lowe's is the first. And the only time that Lowe's wasn't the first is when it was freshly repaved.
It's still a little difficult. It's still not at its very best. But it is getting there. It's much better than it was when the pavement was fresh and redone. There are a lot of great racetracks, a lot of fun racetracks to run on, but those are the top two in my book.
Q. What is your best piece of advice you can give to any of these young guys now entering into NASCAR, because you've been in it so long. You've seen the changes. You've raced with some of the greatest in racing. What is now your best piece of advice you can give to any of these young guys?
MARK MARTIN: You gotta be willing to work really, really hard. And to be humble, which is not easy. If you are incredibly successful, being humble is not something that comes naturally. So those are two huge assets, being humble and being willing to do anything it takes as far as work and any sacrifice that it takes to get where you want to be.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Mark, for giving us some of your time today. Good luck this weekend.
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