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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 10, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference. We're in advance Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That's in Concord, North Carolina, just outside of Charlotte. The Bank of America 500, that's the fifth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. The Chase consists of the last 10 races of the season, and that determines the series champion.
First let me give you a quick reminder for media who are going to be attending the race this weekend. Two Nextel Wake-Up Call media opportunities in the infield media center.
Thursday at 1:30, Chase participant Kasey Kahne will be the guest. Then Friday at 3:30, the guest will be Lee White, senior vice president and general manager for Toyota Racing Development USA.
Today our teleconference guest, glad to welcome Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 AAA Ford. Mark comes into this week third in the Chase standings. He's only 10 points behind leader Jeff Burton. Mark is a four-time NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship runner-up.
Mark, you're usually pretty cautious and like to generally downplay talk of chances from your winning the championship. Maybe give us an idea just how good or how optimistic you feel about your chances right now going into these last six races.
MARK MARTIN: Well, we're in the best position we've been in in many, many years. You know, we have a really strong team. Our cars have been fast most of the time this year. We're sitting better than we have been in any other time that I can remember.
You know, we're still six races to go. Although I do feel much better at getting Talladega behind us, I still -- I've done this long enough to know that it's quite a chore to pull one of these things off.
We have to go out and continue to run really well. We have to hope that things that we can't control don't bite us. If those things go our way, then we ought to be knocking on the door.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go right to the media for questions for Mark Martin.
Q. I know you're 10 points behind Jeff Burton, your friend. Can you talk about what you've seen of him this season? He seems to be one of the smarter guys both in and out of the car.
MARK MARTIN: Well, he is both in and out. He's a great leader. It took him a year, you know, or a little bit better to get him and everyone at Childress, RCR, to get their program on track. Certainly they have it on track now. Jeff Burton has been a part of that. I'm happy to see him succeed. I'm excited that he's having such a great year. It would really be awesome if it could come down to he and I at Homestead.
Q. He kind of races a lot like you.
MARK MARTIN: Yes, he does. Yes, he does. He's very fair. He gets the job done.
Q. How difficult is it today to be fair and get the job done maybe compared to 10 or 20 years ago?
MARK MARTIN: It's a little bit different. I don't think it's particularly a lot more difficult, but it is a little bit different.
What you have is some of the newcomers might be -- you know, they're all great drivers and they're all fair, but some, because they haven't been bitten as many times, might be a little bit more reckless. That's tempered over time with how much you get away with it and what the risk is and what the reward is.
I think that's the biggest thing, the guys that have been doing it longer usually have a better sense for what the risk versus reward is.
Q. Did you have a chance to look at any replay of the last lap at Talladega, particularly Vickers' move? What did you make of that?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I saw it like everyone else at least a hundred times. You know, what happened there is Brian was pushing his teammate and was going to push his teammate to a win. That's basically what it appeared like was fixing to happen. When Jimmie went to go on the inside Dale, Jr., the two cars being side by side slowed both of them up ever so slightly. Brian wound up, instead of being an inch behind the 48, he wound of being four inches on him. You don't much want to let off the gas in these things. He went to turn down, to follow behind him, and he had quickly gone from actually behind him to barely up on him.
Brian was trying to follow the 48. He just got a little bit beside him before he turned down, you know. I think that was an honest mistake.
Q. Friday was a big announcement for you. A lot of people have looked at it in shock, curiosity. Was this more of you being able to take control of your racing schedule like you were wanting to this year instead of dedicating to a full season?
MARK MARTIN: Yes, that was a large part of it. The announcement was very painful for me as well as Jack. It was really difficult.
But, you know, this has been -- it's not something that just came up. We've been working on trying to -- 2007 was going to be a year that I call the shots on my schedule. You know, it just didn't work out. We weren't able to work that out. Unfortunately, you know, it took a change in order for me to do that.
Q. You've had a great deal of success in the Truck Series, just dabbling in it. Is that something you're wanting to go after full-time in 2007? Are you going to call your own shots and work what races you want to work?
MARK MARTIN: I want to work what races that work with my system. In 2007, I did not want to stand on the sidelines on Sundays. I also was not willing to sign a full schedule.
You know, as it turned out, what I had hoped to do was to do the truck full schedule and supplement that schedule with a limited Cup schedule because the opportunity wasn't there at Roush Racing. It's gotten changed around a little bit. Now my primary focus for 2007 will be the 22 races with MB2, and my secondary focus will be supplementing that with the racing that I want to do.
I'm in it to have fun now. I've chased this championship and these points for 19 years. I didn't really wind up doing in 2006 what I had originally planned based on it meaning a great deal to Roush Racing for me to come back and fill in for another year. It's time for me to do what I want, have some fun, get some time off.
Q. If you're racing in second place on the last lap at Talladega, do you gamble and go for victory or do you points race knowing you're in the Chase and you need those points? Now that you're leaving Roush, have you been barred from any team meetings?
MARK MARTIN: Well, first of all, it depends on the situation at Talladega. There was not much risk in Jimmie Johnson's move to try to win the race. From where he was, the pack wasn't right behind him. He wasn't in a position to lose a whole bunch of positions by trying to make that pass. That pass was, you know, a laid-out plan. It looked really good. There was a little mishap or a little mistake happened and caused it to all go wrong. That wasn't a high-risk move. It just turned out bad.
I have not been barred from team meetings. I have a wonderful relationship with Jack Roush and everyone there. I have been there for 19 years and helped them build it to the organization it is today. I'm very proud of it, will always be a part of it, will always be, you know, a friend in confidence with Jack Roush on anything that ever comes up in the future.
Q. You still have six races to go in the Chase. I know you have to take them one at a time. This being your last full season, how hard is it to keep your emotions in check, knowing how close you are to maybe winning your first championship?
MARK MARTIN: You know, so far everything has been so blurry, this has been by far the busiest year of my life. It's been a blur. I have been less obsessed with the results and more -- a little bit more enjoying the moments this year than in the past.
But if we are setting where we are now three races from now, you can believe that, you know, the anticipation will start to build. We're still six races out. I'm still not -- you know, I'm still not feeling -- there's still a good bit of racing to go yet before we're really that close. If we could go into the last race with 10 points back, then, whew (laughter). We'll have to wait and see, though.
Q. Why do you think it is that some athletes have such a hard time retiring and stepping back?
MARK MARTIN: Well, because that has defined their lives since they were kids. I don't think that it even pertains completely to athletes. I think that it's an unknown time for a lot of people who whatever they have done, you know, for a profession throughout their lives, you know, there's an unknown on the other side of that.
For an athlete, especially a successful athlete, you know, it's just a tremendous life-changing experience to walk away from what has defined their lives for so long.
Q. Earlier this year you said you didn't want to run around like Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte have here. How is this deal going to be different than those guys?
MARK MARTIN: Well, there's no guarantees in this business. There is a lot of strategy in this thing that most people don't see. One is that, for example, to drive Boris Said's car for 12 races, I was concerned that it might be somewhat like that.
What I really wanted to do was drive a car that ran full-time and had a full-time sponsor and had a full-time crew and team behind it because that's your best chance in being competitive.
You see, Bill's stuff and Terry Labonte's stuff have both been part-time teams. Therefore, they weren't able to be competitive against the guys that do it full-time. You're only as good as the equipment that you're in. I believe that there is great potential, and so do the people at MB2, for improvement over 2006. Don't forget they won a race in 2004.
Q. Size up these last six races, the tracks. You said you wanted to get past Talladega. You're right where you want to be. Size up the last six tracks, what you like and don't like about those last six.
MARK MARTIN: I love Lowe's Motor Speedway. One of my favorites on this whole circuit. Have typically but not always been really fast there.
Then we go to Martinsville. That's a tight little racetrack. It's somewhat of a wildcard, but not as big as Talladega was. I have had some fast cars there in the last few years, but probably not as fast as Jeff Gordon has, for example, or some of the others.
Phoenix, we should have won that race. Had a problem in the pits. I don't know how we'll run this time. I know last time there we ran awfully good, and I like that place.
I love Atlanta. I love Texas. I love Homestead. Have run really good at all those places.
But, you know, every race is different. With the setups changing like they are, it's real easy to be on the money or off. It's hard to predict who's going to be the best in each and every race. I think it's something that you don't ever know. What you have to do is just put your best effort in and wait and see what the result is.
Q. Are you surprised somewhat at the reaction from fans mostly to the fact you'll be driving a Chevrolet next year? How important is that to a driver, his manufacturer identity?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I'm not surprised. I'm probably more surprised at the reaction of some of the journalists and what has been written than I am the fans. It was a major shock.
At the same time I look around and I say I haven't been as successful as a lot of drivers. For example, Bobby Labonte, who has won a championship, drives a Dodge on Sunday and drives a Chevrolet on Saturday, used to drive a Chevrolet. Nothing said of that. I don't remember the whole world crumbling when Bill Elliott decided to drive a Dodge. I don't remember the whole world crumbling when Rusty Wallace decided to drive a Dodge.
You know, Dale Jarrett decided to go drive a Toyota. Yeah, there was some noise about that, but he won a championship, too. I guess the thing is I've been 19 years staying the course, working with Jack Roush, to build from scratch one of the strongest organizations in NASCAR racing. It was just something that no one expects. It was a huge disappointment to Jack Roush and to myself. After 19 years, I wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that was not a full schedule, and it was also not standing on the sidelines watching Nextel Cup racing, it was something in between. They couldn't accommodate that, so here we are.
It is a big shock, I think, to everyone. I'm excited about my new opportunity. It is going to be really exciting for me. I think that we're going to get -- I think we're going to surprise some people with the performance and I'm going to have a lot of time off to do some things with my family that I haven't been able to do for the last 30 years and have some fun on the racetrack and have some fun off the racetrack.
Q. It was reported on TV over the weekend by a former NASCAR driver that there was bad blood between you and Jack on this deal. You said several times that's not the case. Can you confirm that there is no bad blood between you and Jack?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, I will confirm that. You know, Rusty misread just a little bit on that situation. See, the best thing to do here is just sort of take the high road. A lot of people want to play the blame game. Why did this happen? Well, unfortunately, you know, it just happened.
You have to remember that NASCAR placed a limit on the number of teams that you could have, and Roush Racing has five programs that are all sold out and are set in stone to run for the championship. All five teams made the Chase last year. They're just wasn't an opportunity for me to do what I wanted to do there. Unfortunately, we all understand that. Roush Racing understands it. I understand it. Nobody's mad. Everyone's disappointed. They wish me well.
I'm excited about doing something that is a little bit different.
Q. How big a factor was Bobby Ginn in you switching teams?
MARK MARTIN: I don't think this would have happened -- that's not true. I probably wouldn't have wound up at the L1 if it weren't for Bobby Ginn. But there was numerous opportunities for me to go do what I wanted to do. But Bobby Ginn plays into this because, as you can see, the performance of those cars has picked up in the last six weeks or so. Seen a noticeable difference since Bobby really got involved and since Slutter went to work over there. They're strengthening their program. They feel like that I can play a big role in helping them strengthen their program and get it back on track where it was in 2004 when they won.
They're looking at growing the operation. They want me there. They're excited to have me. I'm excited about a new challenge.
Q. The fact you don't have to take your jet to go see your car owner next year, does that play into it, too?
MARK MARTIN: Oh, that's pretty interesting, too (laughter). I mean, he is a neighbor of mine. I don't think that really plays a factor. I kind of like flying that thing, to be honest with you.
Q. Can you give me a snapshot of Bobby. What kind of guy is he?
MARK MARTIN: He's a really good guy. I did a little bit of homework before I dove into this deal. Obviously there's more to this thing than Bobby Ginn, as well. I just want to back up a little bit and say that Jay Fry is the general manager and has been since he left Valvoline as their rep and working with us on the 6 car. I have a great relationship and always have with Jay Fry.
I'm very comfortable with Jay and what he says that their long-range plans are at MB2. I did do some homework on Bobby as this thing started to move ahead. Everyone that I talked to said that it was a really nice guy, been incredibly successful. Then when you have a chance to meet him, you understand that he is really easy to talk to, he's really committed to making his race teams -- he wants to be the best. He knows he has a long way to go. That's the way he wanted to do it. He wanted to come into a team that had a long way to go and take on the challenge and try to build it into a powerhouse. They're making moves to get there. It won't all come at once. It won't be as good as it's ever going to be in 2007, but I expect to see a noticeable progress probably even yet this year. Then going into next year, I hope I am able to help him. I hope that we're able to see the results improve steadily.
Q. If he wants to have a meeting in his office up here, how do you get there?
MARK MARTIN: I don't have directions yet, but I probably would drive considering it's this close. Probably from his place to the airport would wind up taking as much time as driving up there. I do look forward to having a little bit more time on my hands. This is something that I really intended to have done in 2006. I went ahead and committed to doing the AAA deal, and it's been, like I said before, one of the best years of my career.
I look forward to backing off and having some extra time on my hands and being able to breathe. This has been the busiest year of my life by far. Although it's been good on and off the racetrack, I haven't had a minute to breathe. I'm looking forward to that next year.
Q. Apart from changing from Ford to Chevy, how is it going to feel driving without the No. 6 on your car?
MARK MARTIN: Oh, man, that's going to take a lot to get used to for everybody. It's going to be a big change. Every other great driver that I know has done it. It just hasn't happened for me in a long time. It will take a while to get used to.
Q. You talked about how much you dread Talladega. How does it feel with the truck?
MARK MARTIN: It was fun. Matter of fact, even Sunday's race was a little bit of fun because it was a -- because it turned out good for us. The new pavement on Talladega was a plus. Turned out really well. We had a good weekend on both races.
Q. You talked about the great team and relationship you have with Jack Roush. Sometimes when a driver goes to another team, lame duck status at the end of the year, teams may lose focus. I know that won't happen with your team. But tell us why.
MARK MARTIN: Because Brian Vickers won Sunday. Kind of shoots that theory down, doesn't it? Yeah, they've been running really good, too, Brian has. Top 10, top five looking lately. That kind of shoots that theory down.
It's easy to get on the band wagon and roll on whatever. Listen, everybody at Roush Racing wants to win. The guys that work on that 6 car have great respect for me and I have the greatest of respect for them. They know that. I've said it publicly over and over again.
We want to win now worse than ever before. So this is our shot. Nobody is going to let up.
HERB BRANHAM: Mark, third place, 10 points back. Best of luck, pal, going down the stretch here.
MARK MARTIN: Thank you.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media for joining us today. As always, really appreciate the coverage of the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. Thank you.
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