Q&A with veteran Mark Martin
You’ve had a great season thus far, including last weekend’s win in Michigan. With your past success at Infineon Raceway, can you talk about coming out to the road course in Sonoma?
MM: Yeah, I’ve had great runs out there and really good road-course cars, and it’s a place that I have a lot of memories. My first time out there (in 1989), we made a pit stop and I think it was for gas only, and when I left, I turned to go up the hill and the right rear tire flew off and I spun and turned over. I didn’t know if I did that or what, but we weren’t changing tires and it turns out the guy ran out and took off all the nuts off the right-rear tire like he was going to change it. We had some great battles with Dale Earnhardt and some others. Lots of good times out there.
I know you’re into physical fitness. How does that play out coming to Infineon Raceway, being that it’s such a tough, physical course?
MM: Well, I mean, I don’t know. It can be hot out there, and it’s a little bit of a physical race, but all of our races are incredibly demanding in one way or another. We’re racing every week and I prepare every day, like tomorrow’s the big day, and I look forward to it. I’ve had great race cars this year. I haven’t been on a road course in three years, so this is going to be fun.
Can you talk about the double-file restarts and how that might work at Infineon Raceway? Is it going to be a challenge going into Turn 1?
MM: Oh man, yeah. If the fans like spins and unexpected twists and turns in these things, I think they’re in for it. From a competitor’s standpoint I don’t think it’s going to work that well. We only do that once a race and that’s the start of the race when the intensity level is much lower, and it’s still a challenge to get up the hill side-by-side, so trying to do it with increased intensity as the race wears on is going to make for increased difficulty for all of us to get through there cleanly. I think there will be some winners in that, but I think there will be some big losers in that, that’s my expectation.
The end of last weekend’s race was pretty exciting. Did you save fuel? How come you had enough fuel and others didn’t?
MM: It all comes down to the last run. Everybody pitted at the same time and filled up there at the end for the last run, and it was pretty much outside of everyone’s practical fuel window, so almost everyone had to try to save some fuel some way. Yes, I saved a lot of fuel because I wasn’t in the position to take a chance on running out and I got really lucky. I balanced it just right. I ran out 500 feet before the start/finish line with a two-second lead, so the other guys had gone just a little faster and ran out shorter than that and it didn’t work out for them. We had a great car that enabled us to be able to soft pedal it more than you’re usually able if you only have an average-handling car.
How does fuel mileage play into a race at Infineon Raceway? Is it more challenging to save fuel on a road course?
MM: No, not really. I think it’s almost a given that fuel will be an issue to some degree at Infineon Raceway based on the nature of road-course racing. So, you can save, but you also have other obstacles, which some cars just inherently get better gas mileage than others, so if you have one that inherently gets better gas mileage and you save, than you’re going to go a lot farther than the guy who does everything he can but doesn’t have the same fuel economy. It’s racing, but sometimes you have races that require that. We’ve had two races in a row, and now we go to Infineon Raceway where everyone expects it to be some type of factor.
Are there any other memories you have from racing in Sonoma? Has the perception of road-course racing changed since 1989?
MM: NASCAR had raced at the Glen for several years by that time, and prior to that ran at Riverside. So, I think today it’s just a given that you have to perform. Then, there were certain drivers and teams that didn’t figure they were that great at a road course, so they just went out and did their deal, but now today all the drivers and teams have to take it very, very seriously because you can’t afford to have an off day anywhere on the circuit. It’s a lot more competitive and everyone’s much more up on their game – all the drivers, all the cars, all the teams. Maybe only half of them were back then.
Do you have any recollections of the race in 1995 when Dale Earnhardt passed you in the Carousel for his first road-course win?
MM: It’s hard to lose a race in any way, but for some reason when I went into the Carousel turn there, I slipped where there was maybe a little fluid on the race track or if the car just slipped where it hadn’t slipped all day, I’m not sure, but at the end of the day getting beat, when you thought you had things under control is a big pill to swallow.
Having been away from road course racing for three years, is it a difficult transition or just another race?
MM: It’s another race, but I think that race out there is difficult for all of the traditional oval racers, it’s a very demanding course and a demanding race, and my not being out there isn’t really an issue. I bring it up because it’s a fact, but at the end of the day it all comes down to the car and talent and not so much practice, so I’ve had a couple races out there and it won’t have an impact on our racing on Sunday. It might have a small impact on qualifying on Friday.
Seems when you are out here, there’s always talk of retiring. Have you raced longer than you expected to race?
MM: I don’t know. The media talked more about the retirement stuff than necessary. I never announced I was going to retire. I did announce that I wasn’t going to run the full schedule, and I didn’t for two years, and I stepped out of the car when I planned to, leading the points, and I did all that. Where my mind got changed was after a couple years of a refreshing break and a change of pace. I had the opportunity to become a part of Hendrick Motorsports and drive the No. 5 car, and we had been close to winning in the 2001 Daytona 500 and Phoenix and Pocono in the No. 8 car, and I could still taste it and really wanted a chance to try and win. And, now we’ve won three, so this is just a great opportunity and I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world to compete on this level on this stage, and have no thoughts other than I want to strap in that car every Sunday.
There’s been a lot of talk about changes in NASCAR, decreasing TV ratings and such. Do you see that as a factor of the economy or something else at work? Is this a larger correction?
MM: Oh no, we’re in a really difficult time for race fans and that of our population. The core race fan is really experiencing this economy where it is today and it’s something we understand that times are going to get better.
Considering how close you came in 1995, how special was the win 1997?
MM: It was more than that. It was that it came in 1997 after a rough season in 1996, and I was afraid that I had experienced my last win in the Cup series. It was sweet because when you’ve won your final race and it seemed like it wouldn’t happen for us there for quite some time, so it snapped that spell. It wasn’t that any place owes me or doesn’t owe me, but you have to go out and earn it.
Knowing the double-file restarts could be problematic, how do you plan to handle them?
MM: You’re a whole lot better off if you stay on the blacktop, and we will deal with the restarts the best that we can, just like all the other drivers will, but it will be quite a fight. It’s something we’re not used to having to deal with, other than the start of the race. It’s going to be interesting and we’re going to go out there and do our best, and give our best. We’ll hope for a great result and if we don’t have one, we’ll pick up and go to the next one.
You’ve been known for much of your career as someone who practices track etiquette more than other drivers. Is that a fair assessment? How would you describe your on-track philosophy?
MM: I think it’s maybe a stretched assessment. I don’t think I’m the, I think I’m one of what you said there. I just believe that you should treat people on the racetrack the way you want to be treated and if you do that long enough, then it works out in your favor. I feel like I get treated on the track based on my history for the way I’ve treated other drivers and I think that’s a consideration when it comes down to it. I think that they consider it, and I know that I consider the way other drives have raced me when it comes right down to it. Whether I treat them more or less favorable based on how they treat me, and over the long haul I think that’s the best way to do it.