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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 25, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Joining us from the NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach Florida, Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet for Hendrick motorsports. Mark comes into Martinsville and has some serious momentum going. He has been the pole setter at the last two Sprint Cup events, Atlanta and Bristol and he also finished sixth at Bristol, and Mark is also a two-time NASCAR Sprint all-star race winner and is making his 20th start in the All-Star Race this May tying with Terry Labonte for the all tie time most career race starts.
This year with the 25th running of the All-Star event, they are bringing back the ten-lap shootout for the final segment. You won the '98 All-Star Race when the shootout was part of the format. What makes that format so unique or exciting or tough for a driver?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I think that decision is all about the fans. From a competitor standpoint, I think we need a little bit more time and it gives you a chance to do the things that you might like to do when you're not in such a big hurry.
From a fan standpoint, it really drives the race. A ten-lap shootout is a huge, huge deal. It puts a lot of excitement in it, a sense of urgency, and right to the point of being able to -- needing to make a desperate move. So I think it's a good move. I think it will be -- sparks will fly once again at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
THE MODERATOR: Switching back to this weekend, you're on a good roll, and Rick was on with us on an earlier call, very optimistic about this week and the rest of the season. From your perspective, what's your outlook on Martinsville? You've won there twice before.
MARK MARTIN: I'm excited about going every week, no matter where it is. I get distracted with that 5 car. I'm excited working with the team and Alan Gustafson and all of these guys, and my teammates, as well. I just can't tell you what a thrill it is to be working with and treated with such respect with all of the teammates and not just the drivers, but even the crews and the crew chiefs and being a part of Hendrick Motorsports, it's something really, really special to me.
Obviously going into Martinsville, Rick's 5 car winning the first race 25 years ago, and I know that Hendrick Motorsports is looking to win on that anniversary. But I would like to see it be the 5 car.
Q. I'm here with a group of people who are at the press conference earlier today at the track. I was curious if you remember Rick Hendrick and their team's debut in those early years and do you remember anything about that win at all 25 years ago?
MARK MARTIN: I certainly remember Rick Hendrick as he was starting to get his team together and the beginnings of the 5-car in '84. I was not at the race he won in Martinsville, but definitely huge fans of racing. At the time I was not racing in the Cup Series, but I was really aware of their win there at Martinsville and knew Jeff Bodine was really -- had a special touch for Martinsville, and certainly, I remember it.
Q. Did you know anything about Rick at that time, and what do you think of a guy that was a car dealer coming into this sport trying to make a name for himself, and also, you've watched that organization grow over the years from afar; are you amazed at where it's come from to now?
MARK MARTIN: I am. I live here in Charlotte and I moved here in November of 1981, and so you know, I knew of Petty Chevrolet, and as I was around, you would hear about Rick Hendrick and his other experiences in motorsports, affiliations with boat racing and some of the other things that he was into. And I was very aware of him starting a race team when he was getting it together, and of course I knew Harry Hyde fairly well. And I was envious that I wasn't the one that was going to get that car, but I knew Jeff was definitely in a position to have a leg up on me. At the time I was still trying to get started and get my feet up under me and Jeff had had quite a bit of success already.
So I had watched -- I knew, you know, of Rick. I watched their organization. I have been friends with people that worked there all through the years, and had been a competitor of theirs. I would say a good-spirited competitor of theirs all through the years.
Q. And a follow to that, is there one character in Rick that you feel like has enabled him to do what he has done?
MARK MARTIN: Without a doubt, the way he treats people, the way he motivates people is unbelievable. Every time I get a chance to be around Rick, I just want to sit there and soak it up like a sponge and try to learn from him.
It's incredible how he makes people feel and how he inspires them to do, you know, more than you could ever think that you could. I think that everyone that works for him wants to succeed for him, even more than they do for themselves, and it's just a really special quality.
Q. Coming from a short track like Bristol to the one this week in Martinsville, very different kinds of trace tracks; how do you get around there and what do you have to do to be there in victory lane at the end of 500 laps?
MARK MARTIN: Well, the special thing about Martinsville, I think the thing that you really have to think about more than most racetracks, are the brakes. You know, it is brutal on brakes. And some of the other places we go also are brutal on brakes, but Martinsville is the king of brake-killers.
You have to have a brake-handling car, so that you don't have to use so much brake so that you don't -- if nothing else, the brakes are so good today, a lot of times the brakes will live, but the tire beam melts and you lose a beam off the right front tires. So handling is key everywhere we go, except for maybe Talladega. But Martinsville, you really have to put the brakes into the mix and make the brakes and the handling work together.
It's a tough racetrack and very much like Bristol in the way that 500 laps is just, you know, it is an incredible feat for these teams to be able to do and do flawlessly and execute and avoid all problems or whatever it might be on pit row or out on the racetrack, have a fast race car, have the brakes that the car needs, and be in a position to make a run for it.
It's a pretty complex formula to have right there at the end. But if you do all of those things right, you can be there and be a contender at the end.
Q. Can you talk about your big event and how it's evolved into 2009?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah. It's a really exciting event. This is our fifth-annual, we call it our Mark Martin Fan Days. It's our fifth annual event. We always have it around Easter weekend. This year we are having it the 9th and 10th of April, which is right before the Easter weekend.
We have a huge, huge plan for this event. The fans are really, really excited. We have our old buddy Tony Stewart coming back for the third career straight. He's just such an incredible guy. He's really gone the extra mile when he comes. He volunteered himself back this year because I think he has a good time with it. We also have Rick Hendrick coming in, and we've got Dale Earnhardt, Junior coming in, as well.
So we have brought in Cup champions and just numbers of them, I could not name them all, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, I don't know who all else, through the years. But what I have tried to do is just bring a little bit of the NASCAR to hometown Arkansas, and for me, what I really enjoy about it is I don't come in and do a two-hour appearance. I come in in the morning, I stay all day and I try to sign everybody's autograph that wants an autograph, answer questions, take pictures and really, really hang out and talk to the fans.
This year it may be huge, I don't know if it can be as personal or not. We have Q&A's, we have all kinds of events, fun things for kids to do and everything, and it's just my way of giving back to the fans and all of my stuff is there at the museum and they can take a tour of that. It's just a big time.
Q. I'd like to ask you about qualifying. You just jammed it up and did a great job last weekend. How do you look at qualifying at Martinsville now following that?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, it's been really good the last two or three weeks. Actually it was really good in Vegas, as well. You know, we were the fastest in practice before qualifying. We drew the No. 1 till which was the worst possible draw for Vegas and we still qualified eighth.
So far, it's been really good. We were disappointed out in California. I think we qualified something like 16th. You know, not every day is going to be your best day. Gosh, I've laid down two really special laps the last two weeks, and so you know, I'm prepared for one of these days to flub it up. Hoping not at Martinsville.
I'm excited about driving the car. It ran great there. All of the Hendricks stuff has run good there in the past. The promise was made that I'm going to have a really special race car there, and I believe it. We'll hope for the best.
I don't know how we are going to prepare for it exactly, because we are going to be watching the weather and we may not -- we may do race trim instead of qualifying trim, and things can get all mixed up under that scenario. Like I say, you can't expect every week to go like the last two weeks, because both those laps were really special and really breathtaking.
I'm looking for good things. We have had really good speed in the Chevy this year and we were on the pole at Daytona, as well. I'm just loving this thing.
Q. Rick Hendrick was on a bit earlier and he was talking about Dale Earnhardt Junior and having a very long meeting today and snapping into solutions for them. Do you have advice for Dale Junior? Do you chat with him? Do you help him along? Because you had your own struggles basically based on luck.
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, I have talked to Junior some this year. You know, the biggest thing that Junior needs is I think support, a pat on the back. The guy is doing an incredible job. He is carrying a heavier load than any human being could be expected to. And you know what, he's fast. He was fast at Bristol.
You can't just look at the black-and-white of the finish at Bristol and really comprehend how good he ran there really all weekend. He just had a race that he didn't get the results that his car was capable of based on circumstances.
I think right now he needs to just keep focused and not listen to all of the mania there's going on around him. He's got it going on. That team is going to be strong. They were strong at Bristol and didn't get a chance to show it, and over a period of time, they will.
Q. Does this ten-lap shootout at the end of the All-Star Race, do you like that, or does the gentleman racer in you kind of cringe at a ten-lap shootout?
MARK MARTIN: That's a great question. I'll answer it with sort of a fork -- give you a forked answer. I think it's the best thing for the fans without question.
Do I like sparks flying? If I come out on the winning side of it, I love It. From a competitor's side, I would rather have a little settled, may-the-best-man-win kind of showdown there at the end.
When you do a ten-lap shootout, it really sets yourself up for maybe not the best-man-wins winning circumstances; a daring move or two if two guys touch each other, maybe the guy in third place winds up being the guy in the right place. That's what racing is all about.
This is the All-Star Race. Even though it has rendered frustration for me from time to time, the format has also rendered me great rewards at other times.
I am really thrilled and excited about it and I hope that ten-lap shootout turns out to be something that works in our favor and not something that works against us.
Q. Rick talked about not every driver can take what every driver has setup-wise these days with new teams with the new cars. How much have you been able to get from Jeff or Jimmie or Dale Junior are doing with the Car of Tomorrow?
MARK MARTIN: What we did in California was based around Jimmie's setup from there last year, when he dominated the race. That was probably our weakest performance of the year. I struggled with that. We didn't get the car where I really wanted it, although the car was good. It was a tenth place -- it was a tenth-place car, but we have had a better car than that everywhere else. And basically, to be real honest with you, as surprising as it may be, Jeff and I have been really working well together, and Jeff ran in California, what I kind of felt like I kind of liked and sort of developed at the Vegas tire test. Now, he had great results with it. Of course both of us ran similar stuff in Vegas and we have been more similar ever since.
It's seems like that we are sort of gravitating toward the same kind of things in the car, and I think it's been really, really good for us, and I think that Alan and Steve are working more together than they have in the past based on the driver feels correlating. It's just really cool.
It's so surprising to me because Jeff Gordon, you never see Jeff Gordon's car out of shape. You see mine sideways fairly often, and I never would have thought our driving styles would not be so similar and maybe they aren't but they feel similar. So that's where we have been. We have been very close to the 24 ever since California.
Q. We've talked in the past about your passion for flying. Never asked you before, what fueled that? What got you started?
MARK MARTIN: I got on an airplane in '92 and was in the back all the time sleeping. And in '94 I moved to Florida and my pilot lived in North Carolina. So my pilot commuted back and forth, taking me to the races. And I started wanting and needing to go to the race shop in Carolina on Tuesdays and that didn't work for my pilot because he would never get to go home.
So I decided I had to fly to take care of that weekly trip.
And like I do everything else, I go overboard on anything I get into. That's why I'm very careful to not get into very much. I really got on the fast track through my ratings, pilot ratings, and became a jet pilot in a very short period of time.
I don't fly that much to be real honest with you, certainly don't fly -- we are not flying as much today as we have in years past, because -- largely because of the testing that we are not doing so much testing and all. But I still get to fly to the races and it is really the only thing outside of driving the race car that I have that kind of passion for. A lot of guys maybe have a passion for golf or fishing or whatever it is.
I really don't have a passion for anything else. I have a major passion for business aviation. I'm not a sport flyer, not aerobatic, nothing like that. I'm just a big fan of business aircraft. I love the feeling of being able to fly it, especially in inclement conditions and doing a really nice job of it and not needing a baby-sitter to do it with me.
It's kind of the feeling to me, it's kind of the feeling when you were kind of 16 and your daddy handed you the keys to the car. That's kind of how I feel. Sometimes when I'm in the airplane and got to great altitude, say up at 45,000 feet, I kind of look around in the back of the plane and every once in awhile, I'm the only person in the airplane. It's phenomenal to think that you can be eight miles above the earth, by yourself. You know, it's an incredible feat that we have achieved in such a short period of time, a hundred years or so, or whatever it's been since the Wright brothers made their first flight. It's an amazing thing.
Q. And if you don't mind my asking, what are you flying these days?
MARK MARTIN: I fly a Citation CJ3.
Q. Going back to Martinsville, the race can bring up lots of talk of trophies and thinking about your 1998 season when you won all of those races. Did you collect a favorite trophy or maybe do you have a story?
MARK MARTIN: You know, I'm a real goof when it comes to stuff and memory and remembering things. But I will say this. The trophies back invisible when you see them very often. You get used to them and they don't -- you don't really see them anymore. So really I don't have a -- I don't even see the trophies that much to be honest with you. They are in the museum in Arkansas.
To answer your question, the weirdest thing, the thing that I remember about 1998 and all of those wins, I remember two things about that. One, I remember winning Vegas, which was I think the third race on the schedule that year. And I had a completely brand new race team. Jim Finny was my crew chief and it was my second year as my crew chief but my whole race team was brand new. When I won that race, it was such a huge relief to me because I had left such a successful group behind. Even though I was still in the six car, we moved our shop from Liberty North Carolina down to Morrisville and then in the 99 with Jeff Burton and all of the new people and everything, and I was scared that I had made a mistake by allowing that to happen. So it was a big relief to win that race, No. 1.
No. 2, I never thought much about when I won races back then. I never thought that much about some day, I won't ever win another race. I was always in a big hurry, get this one over with so we can hurry up and get working on the next one. And when I took off at night in the helicopter, it was dark. But you could still see out on a moonlit night. When I looked down and saw the racetrack, it dawned on me that I had won that race. A lot of times when you are doing it and caught up in the moment -- it had not sunk into me before. But it sunk into me as I helicoptered out that night going to the airport. And I remember that vividly.
The other thing I remember about that year, we were having an awesome year, winning races and everything else and Jeff Gordon was still killing me in the points by almost 400 points. I do remember that, too.
Q. You recently said that you were focused mostly on the here and now, of course, but I would like for you to talk about what it would take for you to decide to potentially come back to Hendrick Motorsports for another full season in 2010.
MARK MARTIN: Well, here is what kind of got this started, got it going and I'll kind of explain this to you.
In conversation with David Newton over last weekend, he asked me this horrendous luck that I had had this year, did that change the way I felt about racing. I said, no, it's neither made me want to quit, nor has it wanted me to keep going more. The bad luck has not affected the way I feel about racing. I said, "I love what I'm doing. I love driving this car and I love what I'm doing. I can't imagine what else I would rather do. There is nothing else I would rather do."
So that's kind of got the question way too soon to really talk about. It but there's no convincing, none of that. We just don't need to discuss it right now. We have got really important things at hand.
I'll say again just what I told David Newton. I love what I'm doing and I just can't imagine quitting. There's nothing else in the world like this. If I was running 20th every week, I would say, there's no way I could do that, come back and do it again, but I love what I'm doing and I'm still pretty good at it. And I have a chance to drive for one of the -- we have one of the best race teams on the circuit and I am just soaking it up right now. I'm just happy.
I don't think right now anybody wants to hear about what I might or might not do in 2010. I expect to race in 2010. My deal with Rick Hendrick was through 2010. The number of races, we will worry about when the time comes. This is not the time to be talking about it. It's way premature and I really hate that it even got started, because what I really want to do is drive this car and try to win a race or some races. It's all I've ever done since I was 15 years old and I have not found anything else in life that gives me the same satisfaction or even close to the same satisfaction that I have experienced the last few weeks strapping into that 5 car.
So for right now, I don't even want to talk about 2010. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing.
Q. Sort of unrelated; how confident are you based on the speed that you have shown early in the season that you can fully bounce back from this and into contention?
MARK MARTIN: Most of the people around me are very optimistic and confident. I know a lot about this business and I just really would rather stay focused ongoing out here ask doing what we can continue to do, continue to try to race, be competitive, hopefully be contenders and maybe have a crack to win here and there. Let it go a little further.
There's five races under our belt and finally our first piece of forward momentum after Bristol. We have 20 races to go before the Chase starts. I would rather just, before I really -- we do have good speed. We are very far behind on one hand. On the other hand, if a number of other people have below-average or average luck and we have below average luck going forward, certainly we have a shot at it.
It just all comes down to, I don't know. I don't watch other people. I don't know how many other people are going to have as many, you know, 40th place finishes as we have. All things equal, I feel real confident as far as all things equal; if everybody has as much trouble as we ever, then I feel very confident. We have good speed and a great race team. My focus really is not as much on points as it is going out and doing a good job for Hendrick Motorsports. I believe that even though we had two DNFs and a blown tire in the first five races, that we have done a great job and I feel like I have made a contribution not only to the five, but to the whole group together. And I think going forward, we can maybe even hopefully have even more of an impact and more of a positive influence on everyone.
Every time I strap in that race car, I'm putting everything I've got on the line. That's fair to say. Not to say that I didn't always do that, but certainly you can believe one thing, you know, we are not strapping that thing. I am very aware that this is the opportunity of a lifetime for me to be driving the 5 car.
THE MODERATOR: Mark Martin, thank you, sir, for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us, and best of luck this weekend.
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