NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: LifeLock 400
Topics: LifeLock 400
June 14, 2009
KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by today's race winner, Mark Martin. He drives the No. 5 Carquest/Kellogg's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. It is Mark's fifth win here at Michigan International Speedway, and his 38th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. He moves up to I believe it is eighth in the points.
Congratulations. Eighth in points, Mark. We have crew chief Alan Gustafson, and of course car owner Rick Hendrick.
Mark, take us through today's series of events and your thoughts about winning here today at Michigan.
MARK MARTIN: First of all, this is the first time Rick has been with us doing this. This is really extra special. It's the first time Arlene has been at the race, too. This is extra special.
Winning with a surprise, for some reason it's always one of the most fun. The surprise win in the All-Star Race in '98 was one that I always remember. This is really cool.
You know, everybody knows that we have had some horrendous luck this year, and it's put us pretty far back. We are on the outside looking in to the Chase. We had a great racecar, but for me, I always, always come up short on the gas mileage thing. I always have. If you look at the stats, you know, I've lost 25 and won two probably on it. You know, I just don't have the luck for it.
I saw the pace they were wanting to run, and I started saving from the third lap. After I got my track position, I started trying to save. And the car worked perfectly to save fuel today. I was in a position that I could. Last week we weren't. We restarted fifth, and if a lap or two we were in 11th. All the guys that had stopped and gotten topped off with gas were on me, and we couldn't save. We weren't in position. The car wasn't good enough.
But today it was. It was important to me to finish this race. If we were in the top five in points, I would have run out today because I would have went after it. But, you know, we just weren't. I just had to let 'em go do their thing. I couldn't save gas and run that pace that they were trying to run both.
When the 48 ran out, I knew the 16 was just right up there. I was just lollygagging. I got past the start/finish line. Came on the radio and said, I've got fuel pressure right now, I'm gonna go for it. I jumped on the gas, ran hard. I couldn't believe how much I was gaining on him through the corner. Then all of a sudden I got on the straightaway, I was really gaining on him. It was like, Whoa! Oh, he's out (laughter). A lot of stuff was happening then.
When we came off four, ours started running out. Our battery had been going dead since lap 75. Been nursing no fans all throughout the race, batteries back and forth, all this different stuff.
After the race was over, I shut it off at the start/finish line, coasted all the way around. I was gonna try to fire it up just to get it in Victory Lane. It wouldn't even spin over. So it ran exactly as far as it was gonna run. We had our hands full if we were going to try to go another lap or another mile. That was cool.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Alan Gustafson. Alan, how nerve-wracking were those last few laps for you up on the pit box?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: That caution was untimely again. Second week in a row. We knew four laps before our window we couldn't go. So we just saved as much gas as we could, tried to just back up to the guys behind us. Mark saved a lot, was fairly confident in that. It's not an exact science. We just do the best job we can. We know what mileage we need to make it, but you don't know. He's out there running and you don't know.
Jimmie ran out here. I could see that happened. Jimmie has about the exact same car we had. We knew if Biffle ran that fast, he would be in the same position. Mark came on the radio, The 16 ran out on the back. Obviously then getting pretty excited. We're trying to go. Mark came on the radio and said, I'm out all four. Next thing I'm looking for the 24. It was two seconds back. We coasted across. It was a great win. Really proud of the guys. We had a really good car. We struggled in qualifying. We didn't get Mark the car he needed to qualify. A lot of green flag runs. It wasn't an easy race. We fought that battery issue all day. But we drove up there, you know. We were in position to win it.
I think if we had gas, we could have raced them. I don't know that we could have beat them. But we definitely could have ran with them. We didn't win it on gas. But the team did a great job getting us a wonderful Carquest/Kellogg's Chevy, with the motor, bodies, chassis. Of course, we got the best driver driving it. We got what we wanted.
KERRY THARP: Rick, as Mark alluded to, he's got three wins this season. This is the first one you've been able to be here in person and actually enjoy. Congratulations. Your thoughts about this victory today?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I want everyone to take a good look at him. I mean, he had no cooling, fans were off, the batteries were switching. The car had to be terribly hot inside. He gets out like he hasn't run five laps. I mean, that's just a real inspiration to me (laughter).
It was a great win. Alan and Mark just do a phenomenal job. They've had really rough luck this year, and have been able to pull off three wins. Just real proud of 'em.
This race was more important to get in the Chase than it was to win the race. We could not afford to gamble and fall out and not finish up front to get the points to be in the Chase. It would be a shame to have two or three wins and not make that thing.
They did a heck of a job. Really proud of Mark. Alan has been one of the smartest, most loyal guys that ever worked for our organization. Mark has brought an inspiration and motivation to all of us, drivers, crew chiefs, every employee over there. This is a great win for us here in Michigan, with all the manufacturers here. So it's been a great day.
KERRY THARP: We'll start with questions, please.
Q. Mark, as you mentioned, of all these fuel mileage races you've been in, if you could somehow set yourself apart from being the winner of this and think of it as a participant, can you think of any that had this many twists, turns, drama, euphoria, that sort of thing? Can you think of a more complex and interesting finish to a fuel mileage race?
MARK MARTIN: No. Usually, as you know, they're not very exciting, you know, don't wind up making a good show. I think the fans really got a great show here. You got two guys wrestling for the win, which is what everybody wants to see, and then you got a surprise winner coming out of it. A lot of drama.
You know, it's really cool to be a part of it, you know. It's really cool to come out on the good end of it. I asked Alan how many guys behind us stopped for fuel. He said almost nobody. So, you know, it was one of those situations that everybody needed to make it work, the distance that we had. Lucky for us we had the perfect balance between the speed and the savings.
Q. You've been here so many times before. How much did experience play out in what you needed to do over those closing laps?
MARK MARTIN: Well, it started at lap 75. It didn't really start there. You know, like I said, we're on the outside looking in on the points. Like Rick said, it was gonna be a shame to not to be able to use those bonus points, miss the Chase, have those bonus points racked up, not be able to use them.
When our battery problem started, I got sick at my stomach. Here we go, another day. They have a very nice system, and that helped make it last. But the biggest thing was, as bad as I wanted to not have the fans for the brakes and for the front tires and all the different things that are really important, the back blower, my helmet blower and everything else, I tried to leave the helmet blower on with no AC, just a fan, and I ran that till about 75 to go, then it started losing. It wouldn't keep up. I started losing power. For a long time it seemed like it charged enough to maintain a low volts, but still okay. It finally got where it was falling. It was starting to fall at the end with both batteries.
So we started a strategy to make it -- I started a strategy from the things that I could do before halfway. I got a good start on that last start. Immediately when I got in position, you know, my history is not good on these things, so I started, by lap two or three...
RICK HENDRICK: You got to quit that (laughter).
MARK MARTIN: If I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have made it. I started on the third lap, for sure, if not the second lap already, for sure on the third lap after that restart, I started.
You know, I asked him what we were going to do about it. He said, Run hard for 10, we'll save a bunch at the end. Not me, I'll run out. We could have run out, too.
The car did a lot of the work. I only did some of the work. You can't save when the car doesn't work. And when you don't have track position, you don't have everything else. Last week we got bit by it. We didn't have the car at the end of the race. We had a good car all race long. The last run it was not. We got passed by everybody. I couldn't save gas.
So this all played in my hands today.
Q. Rick, last night Kyle Busch credited how much Joey Logano had learned from Mark in saving his car till the end. Is Mark as much a plus to your organization in addition to his driving ability?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely. There's a word in the sport: respect. Alan will tell you this. I've worked with a lot of drivers and been around a lot of drivers. He's probably as good as I've ever seen on a chassis, reading the chassis, knowing what he wants, and then knowing how to run the race. He's very, very focused. He's like a computer. When he sits down with those other drivers, he starts explaining his car, they listen. I mean, that was what Jeff Gordon told me before we ever got him to come over. He said, He'll help us all. You know, Jimmie said that. After about two or three races, Junior said, You need to get him to run a couple more years (laughter).
So it's everything from the way you read the car, from the physical conditioning, the shape he's in and the regimen he has. I mean, he adds so much to the entire organization. You know, it's so many different areas, and you see it. There was not a car in Darlington that didn't have a Darlington stripe on it. His car didn't have a mark on it, not a mark. To be able to run that race and run that hard. The first race Alan and I had him with him was in the Busch car. I had him when he didn't have a crew chief, crew chief got suspended, he called the race from the car in the Busch Series. I've been in awe of him ever since the first race.
I mean, if you list all the different categories that you want to list for a driver, he's at the top on every one of them. It radiates through the organization.
Q. Mark, at this point in the season with three wins under your belt, are you glad you didn't retire, and aren't you glad you hooked up with Hendrick Motorsports?
MARK MARTIN: I'm really glad that Rick was so persistent, yeah (laughter).
RICK HENDRICK: I'm not sure I was that persistent. I think he was dragging the bait a little bit.
MARK MARTIN: That's not true. I know it looks like that.
RICK HENDRICK: There's the boss over there.
MARK MARTIN: She's the one we had to get softened up (laughter).
Yeah, this is incredible. And I didn't have any idea. She and I were both apprehensive about coming back full-time because I'd been so happy in '07 and '08 doing what I was doing. I didn't have any idea it could be like this. I'm really, really, really having fun. Alan and I keep getting more comfortable with one another. And I believe that we've still got a ways to go. I think when we have a bad day, we will handle it better later. We're already better, a lot better than we were in California. That was pretty tough on both of us. I think we've come a long way. I think we'll continue to get better in that sense.
Of course, you know, probably communication will get better. I think we'll both get more comfortable. I continue to get more comfortable with Alan. It's great to go to work every day, except for Friday was kind of a tough day.
RICK HENDRICK: Tell them what you called and told me Friday.
MARK MARTIN: You know, he thinks I'm full of it. I didn't think I was going to get fired right now, but if I keep qualifying 32nd every week, he needs to fire me. Everybody can act like that's stupid, but it isn't really stupid. I'm serious. If I can't do better than that in the stuff that they're giving me, they're going to need to get somebody else.
We came back on Saturday, and we won practice. That's the best that I could do. I couldn't make up for Friday, but I was flogging it pretty hard out there on Saturday to make sure that we looked good.
It's great. I love the sport. I don't know what in the world I'll do when I can't do this anymore, but that's a long way out there. I'm not worried about it right now. I'm enjoying it.
Q. As you said about your history, you've been on the other end of some of these. Back in '93 at Michigan, you led 141 laps, were dominant like Jimmie, ran out of gas coming in for your final stop. Were you thinking of anything like that when you started conserving gas early in that final run?
MARK MARTIN: Really what I was thinking about was the hole that we are in in the points standings. Before we started that final run, Alan and I knew what we were going to do. Alan has actually taught me some things about how to do this deal when it comes down to the fuel thing. We had the racecar to do it today. I had to make a choice fairly early in that run that I couldn't race those guys to win and save enough fuel to have the margin that I needed to score the points. I could get an easy, easy, easy top five here, easy, you know, or I could try to win this thing and run out and be 25th. We couldn't afford the 25th at this point in time. I made the conscious choice not to run that kind of pace because I knew that we needed to save quite a bit to get there and couldn't afford to run out.
Q. Mark, in every area other than average finish, the best season of your career was 11 years ago when you won seven races. You are on pace to win seven this year. A lot of people were talking, I bet Martin will make the Chase. A lot of people said you might well have a fine year. Did you have any idea you might be looking at maybe your best year?
MARK MARTIN: Absolutely not. And you know how I look at it? If we don't win another race this year, we still did good. You know, I'm not gonna deal with expectations that cut my legs out from under me again ever in my career. I'm gonna go out and drive the racecar as hard as I can drive every time I get in it. I'm not gonna expect anything other than, you know, a tremendous effort by my team and from myself. I'm really pleased that we are having such a great year.
But the thing that pleases me more than the trophies is just that we've been fast. That's really important. When you're not fast, you know, there's not a whole lot you can do. But when you are fast, you know, if you keep doing that every week, sooner or later you get great results.
So, you know, I just don't feel any pressure. I'd like to see us make the Chase because this race team deserves it and because you never know. It would be awesome. It would be an honor to be a part of that elite group again. We have got the equipment to do it, and we've just encountered so many setbacks.
If we can keep on a roll here going, the car's plenty fast, we just got to avoid, you know, more disasters.
Q. Mark and Rick, while you've been announced of the driver of the 5, you haven't set up the sponsorship yet. Three wins positions you well for the Chase, but how much does this help in terms of shoring up the financial situation for that car and where are you with finding sponsors for the car?
RICK HENDRICK: We have got a lot of things in the works, and our sponsors are coming back. We don't know to what extent. That's the question. As you go along with this economy, companies are taking longer to get their budgets in line. They're not a year out, or not even eight months like they have been in the past. We're in good shape. We have a lot of sponsors inside our company that we're talking to about, you know, splitting up the car. So I look for the guys that are on it to be back, but there will probably be someone new along there with them.
Q. Alan, not getting you to criticize the other guys, but do you think it was inevitable that with three guys all nursing their fuel that somebody was going to decide to go?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yes. You know, there's one winner and somebody's gonna want -- everybody wants to be that guy, and somebody's gonna fool themselves into thinking they can be him and go fast.
I think the reason that happened, though, is the position the 48 is in points. They're in really good shape in points. They're looking at wins. That's what's gonna put them in a better position to win the championship. If we were in that position in points, we'd have been whipping it, too.
So that was the smart thing for them to do in their position. So if they finish 10th or 2nd, it's not going to matter, it's going to matter how many races they won. That's what they were doing. If they wouldn't have done that, Greg could have probably saved and just paced himself to us, then it would have been up to us how much we want to push him.
Yeah, it's gonna happen. Jimmie and Chad going hard is what allowed us to win the race, like Mark and Mr. Hendrick have said. We're not in a position to go hard. We couldn't push those guys for the win on sheer speed because we have to finish, we have to pad our points. Fortunately for us it was our day so we got both.
Q. Mark, you mentioned your struggles on Friday here. Seems like when you haven't been fast off the truck, that it's taken you a while to get the car sorted out, and you haven't been as strong on Sunday. What was different about it this week that you were able to turn it around so much?
MARK MARTIN: You know, we've been fast on race day about everywhere. Dover was a good example where we didn't qualify well, and we weren't really the heat in practice either, but the car drove good. That's all the speed we had. The car really drove good, drove good like I needed. It was doing the things it had to do for Dover. It was a top-five car in the race. It actually was concerning. But, you know, we've had a lot of speed at most places. We were missing a good bit there at Dover, and that concerned us, but it raced really well.
It was funny, the 48 bunch said after practice yesterday, you know, car drives good, but we are 3/10ths or 4/10ths off. I didn't bother to tell them they would probably be all right. If it drives good, it would probably be all right. But it was okay today.
You know, sometimes you just really can't have everything, and so the main thing you've got to have is the car handling, when the racetrack deteriorates because of all the heat, the oil, the sun, everybody running on it, it starts to pay dividends, so...
Q. Mark, the other day you said one of the biggest contributions you can make to the team is preparing yourself physically and mentally. How nerve-wracking was that today with the steering shaft problem you had early on as well as the batteries going dead, trying to work through that and be able to run hard, then at the end having to conserve, go after the carrot at the end of the stick? Alan, you said in the past that Mark was one of your childhood heroes. How gratifying has this been for you this year? Even though Mark is not quite ready to start looking too far ahead this year, how gratifying would that be for you if you could close it out this year?
MARK MARTIN: You know, it's funny the things we talked about on Friday really showed today. Mental toughness, you know, is important. I have a lot more of that, obviously, and put that to use today. This weekend, through the disappointment Friday, to the high Saturday, all that.
I think that, like I said, those are the things that I can really, really do. My dedication to physical fitness and nutrition. I don't have a lot of other interests, business or anything else, so I'm able to give them about everything I've got.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: For me, you know, it just doesn't get any better for me to work for Rick Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports and have Mark Martin as a driver, you know, a place I've been for 10 years and I love dearly. It's great. It doesn't get any better.
I'm really fortunate and blessed to have those opportunities to do that. If we were fortunate enough, God willing, to win a championship with Mark, I said it at Darlington, I'll say it again, to me there's nothing more professionally I could accomplish than that. That's probably the biggest thing that I could do. So to have a chance, there's not a lot of people in the world that have a chance to do something like that, and we don't take that for granted. So we'll just do the best we can.
If it happens, it happens. That's one of the things you say, Hey, man, that was incredible. That was what I worked so hard for my whole life. So it's just really special.
Q. Mark, you talk about how this car has been fast all season, which is a sign of a championship contender. The three wins give you good bonus points leading into the Chase. You talked in the past about not wanting to chase the personal glory, the championship, really focus on that. But as you've matured or as you've gotten this extra chance, can you possibly embrace a championship run and the willingness to the questions that will come with this situation because obviously there are signs pointing towards something like that?
MARK MARTIN: Well, it will be an incredible honor to me to be in that Chase. That's a big deal. Everybody should know that, for every reason, but for me personally. At a stage when I might have written myself off, or the competition might have written me off, to be able to do that is pretty cool.
I feel like that we have some time between now and when the Chase starts, and I certainly think that we need to get stronger if we want to be a contender. But, you know, we have time for that. And all you have to do is have 10 great races. You know, you don't have to be the strongest team or the fastest or anything else. You just have to have the 10 best races to pull it off.
So first you got to be in it. That's what I'm going for. I want this team to be in it because they deserve it and because it would be a real privilege for me to be a part of it. Then we'll go out there and we'll race and we'll fight for everything that we can get.
I'll answer the questions and everything else, but I'm not going to lay in bed at night and think about what it will be like to lift that trophy. It just doesn't exist, you know, in my brain. I'll just go out there and race every time. I raced today. I raced to win. I didn't tell anybody I was going to win before the race. I didn't expect to win before the race. I knew we had a great car. I went out and drove it.
We've won some races this year. I don't expect 'em; I just hope that they come. Same thing with the Chase. I just want to make the Chase. We'll worry about how we do in it after we find out we're in it. But we've really been on the outside looking in a lot this year.
Q. Last couple years has been a part-time deal so you haven't had that opportunity. You go into every race wanting to win. To not have been a part of that the last two years by choice, how has that felt?
MARK MARTIN: A lot more fun because I could go race for the race. This whole sport has forgot that it's about the race, you know. I could do every race, and I went to every race for the race, not about a bunch of things you couldn't control, flat tire, this and that, just the race. It's about the race. And it's a lot of fun.
I'm using that mental toughness that I was talking about to prevent worrying about scoring points, take away from the fun that I'm having. I'm not going to let that happen. We'll score every point I could score. I was thinking points today, you know, but I'm not gonna mess it up either. If we'd had a devastating outcome today with battery or fuel or anything else, you know, I wasn't going to let the points part of it be the disappointment. It was going to be a disappointment because we didn't reach our full potential today.
Q. Rick and Mark, given the news that came out on Friday about GM, was there special significance with the victory here in Michigan for Chevrolet? Rick, how does this change your next couple of days?
RICK HENDRICK: It's always good to win in Michigan because all the manufacturers are here. It's one I've always wanted to win and run well here.
I think what it's gonna do for us, you know, next week, next month, I don't think it's gonna change our relationship with Chevrolet much.
I can say this. Chevrolet gave me my first chance. I was the youngest Chevrolet dealer, I might still be, was the youngest one to get a franchise in a little town of Bennettsville, South Carolina, and they've supported me ever since. Everybody in the world, in the economy, has had to tighten their belt, everybody. I don't care what kind of business you're in. NASCAR, the teams. We cut out testing. We've done everything we can to cut expenses.
I'm a team player and a supporter of Chevrolet. I know what it does for selling cars 'cause I'm also a big GM dealer. They got the best products they've ever built right now. It's gonna be a leaner, meaner company. I think down the road they're gonna come out of this better than they've ever been, shedding a lot of baggage that they've needed to shed for a lot of years.
I think they're going to be in racing. It might not be what we've had. It won't be what we've had. Everybody's going to have to take an adjustment. But that's no different than everything else I've been involved in.
So, you know, I'm excited about the future for them as a dealer and as a racer. They've been great partners. Until they tell me they're not gonna race anymore, which I don't expect to hear at all, then you'll see a bowtie on the front of our cars.
KERRY THARP: We appreciate it very much. Congratulations to this No. 5 team. Good luck next week at Infineon.
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