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January 17, 2009

Mark Martin


RAMSEY POSTON: We're now joined in the infield media center by driver of the No. 5 Kellogg Chevrolet, Mark Martin. Tell us, you've got a lot of new things going on. Tell us about the off-season, the new team, and what you're looking forward to in 2009.
MARK MARTIN: Well, it seems like the off-season has been a year. Knowing since June that I was going to drive that 5 car has just been a lot of anticipation. I can't wait. I've been in the car three different occasions since about September, got in it once in September, once in August and once in December. Wow, it's cool.
I have to say that, you know, for me taking two years of a limited schedule has given me a chance to completely recharge my battery and completely having a different mindset on what it is that I really -- what's important to me and what I really want to do. I know that my buddies that are race car drivers, I thought it was pretty funny last fall, they were all in a bad mood and tired and grouchy and all those things that I used to be, and I never felt that.
I come into this year with tremendous enthusiasm. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to -- you know, that Kellogg's and CARQUEST and Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Alan and the 5 team and the confidence they've had in me would give me a chance to drive for an operation like that. Every time I come home from the race shop I have a huge smile on my face.

Q. I want to read you something that Carl Edwards said yesterday. He said, "you put Mark Martin in the Chase with ten races to go, it's going to be tough. You're going to have to beat Mark Martin to win the championship."
MARK MARTIN: That's nice of Carl to say. Carl is a -- he's treated me with some tremendous respect, and that's nice to see out of a young man, especially as successful as he is.
Let's see if we -- let's see. We have more immediate things to focus on first of all, and that is to get Alan and the 5 team, get the results that they're so capable of, and if we can go out and start getting those results, that would really be cool. And if we could win a race, that would really be cool. And then if we could put one behind us, then we'd go to work on multiples.
Of course then if we could make the Chase, then we'll be -- we will see, but rather than putting great expectations, I would much more prefer the more immediate task at hand, and that will be just coming out of the gate and seeing those guys. I want to see those 5 guys excited and smiling and happy. I'd like to take a picture with them in victory lane.

Q. Obviously once it gets into the season every week will be about the next week and being at that track, but like you were saying, as far as looking ahead, when you're at home in the off-season and you're looking at the upcoming season as a whole, are you allowing yourself to dream about how good it could be? Can you go there in your mind, or do you kind of just, like you were saying, to say, well, let's win a race first? Do you not let yourself go there, or how do you view it?
MARK MARTIN: I think I understand your question, and if it is what I think it is, it's very insightful. You kind of know me.
I think that it would be -- I've got a lot of experience, a lot of experience at a lot of stuff in racing, and I understand the disappointments in racing just like I understand the success.
And I think it would be setting yourself up for disappointment if you expected that end result, I'm talking about that way end result, the one you guys always want to talk about, it's not time to talk about. That's not what I need to do. What I need to do is come in here and go to work with these guys and do like I said. It can be incredible. It could be incredible. Everything is there. But that's a very delicate balance to get those results. You can only guarantee effort, and the effort that I'm going to give is going to be -- the degree of my commitment is greater or as great as I've ever given. I know that the 5 team is ready. I mean, those guys are excited, they're charged up and they're ready to go.
Results we can't guarantee. We can guarantee the effort. That's what I really like to focus on rather than focusing on some kind of expectated (sic) results because I can't completely control those results. But I'm excited about the effort and I'm excited about being part of the thing, and I think there's potential for us to -- especially after having such a great year last year, which has a lot to do with it. I had a great year last year driving the 8 car. I had the time of my life last year, and I hope to have the time of my life again in 2009.

Q. You talked about how happy you've been and kind of the smile on your face. Did that start right from when you made the decision to go to Hendrick, or was it as you started kind of getting into the organization, seeing what it's like to be a part of?
MARK MARTIN: It has grown. The momentum has built. You know, first I started getting happy in 2007. I was having fun, I was racing when I wanted in a fast car, working with a bunch of guys, having fun.
And then in 2008 and also in 2007 I got a chance to drive Rick Hendrick's Busch Car, Nationwide car, and that was a really, really cool experience. And then in between -- also in 2007 I had a chance to win -- Jeff Gordon was going to have their baby, there was a possibility I might drive the 24 car at Sears Point. So I went over to their shop and fit a seat and everything in case something were to come up where they needed me to go do that so Jeff could be there to see his baby born.
So I learned a lot about Hendrick Motorsports I didn't know because I was inside the walls there, not only driving the Busch Car some but actually found out a lot about the 24 team and got to know those guys and everything. So it sort of built momentum from there. Then in '08, in June, we made the deal. So I've known I was going to drive that thing since then, and I've spent more and more time there. Every time I go to the shop, I get more excited, not less, because I find out more and I see more about just what an incredible organization it is.
Rick Hendrick has treated me -- I can't describe it. And so have all the other employees there. It has built. I'm ready -- I wish Speedweeks was starting tomorrow. I mean, I really, really do. I am so ready to go to the racetrack with these guys and be a part of this thing. I can't imagine anybody being more ready for 2009 than I am.

Q. As a guy with a keen eye for talent in a race car, could you talk just a little bit about what you've seen in terms of David Ragan's progress over the last three years and what you might expect from him this year?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, I mean, I'm easy to put expectations on other people, just not on me. I expect David to win this year. I'm incredibly proud of the young man he is, as well as the race car driver that he is, and I'm proud that he is driving the 6 car. That makes me proud. I think that he's a good representative for that car that I drove for 19 years. I always knew that he was a fine young man. I just didn't know that he could drive a race car like that until he did the "Gong Show" there with Roush and those trucks, and I still didn't believe it. I just couldn't believe that he could be that good and never have done it. He had done it, but he had very limited experience driving race cars. He did a fabulous job. He's a great kid.

Q. What would it mean to you to win the Daytona 500, and how do you size up your chances to do it next month?
MARK MARTIN: Well, everybody wants to win it, and everybody thinks they're going to win it. Every one of them thinks they're going to win it. You know, it would certainly be the crown jewel of my career, you know that. Rick Hendrick loves winning Daytona 500s. I think it would be real special for him and for the 5 car to win it on their -- this is their 25th anniversary of being in NASCAR, and it all started with the 5 car. I think it would mean a lot.
Of course it would mean a lot to him to win with Dale, Jr., as well, along with the 24 and 48, Jeff and Jimmie, as well. But it would be pretty cool. Yes, when I cut back to a limited schedule in '07, I said Daytona and Indy, and I don't -- I care more about those than the other races.
The first time we took a crack at it, we nearly did it.
I'm very grateful for the kind of cars that I've had the last two years for the Daytona 500, even though we didn't have a great result last year. It was definitely an awesome effort, and I believe that I will have the most awesome effort ever this time. But so will many other great race car drivers.
With all that said, I'd rather be lucky than good. I'd feel real confident with the lucky part. The good part, there's a bunch of goods out there, but there's only one really lucky one, and I'd like to be the lucky one.

Q. You've always had a good eye for talent, and a lot of us had not heard of Joey Logano until you talked him up in 2005. What was it about him then that you were impressed with and how do you think he'll do this year, and have you found the next Joey Logano?
MARK MARTIN: First of all, no, I haven't found the next Joey Logano. But he's out there and I just haven't seen him. But those are very, very rare. I started watching Joey race when he was ten, so it wasn't -- that probably dates back to 2002 or something. I'm not sure exactly how it figures up. But it's somewhere that far back.
You just have to watch. You don't have to be a brain surgeon. You know I'm not that bright. All you had to do is watch and you could see how incredible of a talent that he was. I love his dad really to death, but his dad ain't no genius. They won all them races, and it was easy to look at it and think that his dad fixed the coolest, best cars on the racetrack. But I got close enough to the situation to find out that it wasn't Tom Logano that was winning those races, it was his driver making him look good. Obviously he takes no offense to that.
He's a cool guy. I really like Tom. But Joey was the real talent there.

Q. How much does it bother you to see that sponsor problems might keep Aric Almirola from working toward that rookie season he's been working for and waiting for?
MARK MARTIN: Well, it's really disappointing, it really is. But we are where we are right now with the economy, and it's tough times. I hate it for Aric. He's a really, really fine young man and he's a great race car driver, and his day will come. Just because you trip and fall down doesn't mean you won't make it. You know, I can testify to that. I tripped and fell down for pretty much the same reason in 1982.
You know, the days of going and plucking a kid out of a go-kart and plugging him into a Nextel Cup car or a Sprint Cup car, those days have changed a little bit for right now. Maybe they'll come back in a few years. But it's going to be tough times right now for upstarts to get in.
But if you have a long memory, it was tough for upstarts when we got into it, myself and Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki. Times have changed, and they'll change again. He's a great race car driver and a great talent, and if it doesn't work out for him in 2009, it will work out for him.

Q. You didn't expect to be this competitive at this point in your career. I think you said that's one of the reasons you planned an exit strategy. How much has your competitiveness come as a surprise, and why do you think you're still able to get it done?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I think that having a great breakfast helps. No, seriously, I think that taking good care of yourself, I think it all makes a difference. You know, your nutrition program, your physical fitness program, and there's also no substitute for desire. You can't really -- that has to be affected by your age. Some guys at 40 or 45 have started a decline in their desire, and some go beyond that. My desire has not declined at all. As a matter of fact, the opportunity to drive the 8 car last year and have a shot at winning a couple of races really made me more hungry than I could ever remember. I want to win a race right now so bad so that I can experience that again that I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I'll work as hard as it takes.
I've learned so much about nutrition. My physical fitness program is on another level from where it ever was. And I must be lucky. I really must be lucky; I don't know. I thought in 2004, 2005, that my performance had declined beyond my -- that I couldn't control what was happening and that I wasn't going to be able to be competitive very shortly. That's how I felt about it.
I've just had a really good year in 2007 and a really good year in 2008, and I have a lot of people that have a lot of confidence in what I can do, and that's what I want to do in 2009. There's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than behind the wheel of the 5 car. I've tried the car and I enjoyed it, but that's not where I want to be.
When I can't do that anymore, I don't know what the hell I'm going to do, because there is nothing like it. There's nothing like being able to go out there and race like we raced at Phoenix in the 8 car in the first race or the second Pocono race last year. When you drive to the front and lead that race, there's no feeling like it in the world, and I don't know what I'll do when I can't do that. But I still can right now, and so I'm really appreciative for the opportunity.

Q. I've got kind of a two-parter. On a personal level is there any pain to see what the guys you've raced with for the last couple seasons are going through in this financial market and just the uncertainty there at Earnhardt-Ganassi? And the driver market as a whole, you've got to be concerned with your own stuff, or do you have, again, some affinity for what these unemployed guys are going through trying to find rides?
MARK MARTIN: I've seen this before. You know, it's just that -- I've seen this before. A lot of people in the sport haven't because it hasn't been so bad. It's been this -- we've had this incredible run for the last five, six, seven years where the growth has just been astronomical and everything.
But yeah, it does tug at me to see Dale Earnhardt, Incorporated, especially struggling, and Aric, because I'm emotionally involved. I have emotions toward that and toward him because he's such a great kid and all.
We're in a reset period where there's things that have gotten tougher and things are contracting some, and I'm just -- I'm fortunate -- I'm one of the guys that could have afforded to not have a job, and I think that's kind of ironic that I got one of the best jobs in the business. So it's kind of weird; I don't know.
I think for right now, experience is back to a premium, and for a period of time it was not a premium, but now it is. The world goes around. The economy will change and things will loosen up. It may take a while.
I'm not in a panic mode like so many people, and maybe I should be. But I think this will come and this will go, this economy problem. There will be changes and some contraction. It won't hurt us any. This thing used to be simple back in the day, very simple and very small, and it's grown to be the coolest racing in the world, and we'll figure out how to smooth up the edges and make it work and conform in today's economy, and then when the economy gets better, it'll morph again, you know?

Q. The other one concerns Hendrick Motorsports, and I dare say this is something that never occurred to you, but the 5 car, and before that when it was the 25 car I think was often seen as the other Hendrick car. It didn't achieve as well as the others. What's your thought on that, and I'm sure you probably see it as a Hendrick car and you're going to win?
MARK MARTIN: It is a Hendrick car, and all the tools are there. Alan Gustafson is the coolest guy I've ever -- I mean, he is so technically over my head that I don't even want him to stop and explain. He's wasting his time explaining. You know, they have underachieved at times, the 5, or the 25, but it's not because they didn't have a great team.
This is the year that I hope that Alan and the 5 team get recognized for their incredible group that they are and for their potential, and that's all I can say. That means more to me than what I get, or if I get a trophy or not.
If they do that, then I'll probably get some hardware, if they're able to achieve and get the recognition that they are capable of.

Q. You're a great guy to ask this question. I ran into a fan that he's a four decade NASCAR fan, and he says I was a fan back when drivers didn't have to be pretty. He's still a great fan, but could you comment on the dual role that drivers have to have now? Obviously you experienced that whole thing.
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, that's kind of a cool statement. You know, it grew -- when I was talking about this thing being simple, I mean, it was around a long time before I got here, and when I got here, if you built your engines in-house, your team consisted of a dozen people. If you were like I was and you leased your engines, or we gotten gins from prototype, there was me and five full-time employees, and my mom ran the office.
You know, the driver certainly wasn't a business person. Me, I was a mechanic, you know, for the most part, that did a few interviews. Certainly there was a lot of great racing and a lot of great times prior to then, '81 or '82. But today it's a big business, and with the marketing and the representative that you have to be to carry the kind of sponsors and financial commitment that goes with a Cup car, you have to clean up well, and you have to be able to speak on camera. You have to be able to be good with the fans, have to be able to relate with the fans. You have to be able to put a suit and tie on, and you have to be able to go to a corporate headquarters and carry yourself well like a businessperson.
You've got a lot of caps that you have to wear on top of -- if you want to be the best in the business, you have to be physically fit and be a great driver, too. There was a time when being a great driver was really enough, but it's different now.
To be real honest with you, it's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of pressure and there's a lot of competition for these jobs. There was a lot of competition back then, too, but it's really tough now. So when you say, oh, these kids get a chance to go drive Joe Gibbs' best cars, the best of everything, and all these people helping them, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, whoever, well, yeah, that's true, but there's a lot of competition for those jobs and there's a lot of pressure on those kids. And they're kids; they haven't been there and done that. Only the ones that are really spectacular make the cut.
All of us forget that. The young guys that are in this sport are phenomenal, and we get used to it. We see them every weekend, and we forget how phenomenal they are in really every respect. I know that I'm guilty of that. Sometimes I forget how phenomenal they really are in all different ways.
RAMSEY POSTON: Mark, thank you for your time. Thanks for coming down. See you in a few weeks.

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