NASCAR Winston Cup Series Hanes 500 Preview: #6, Mark Martin
23 September 1997
#6 Mark Martin, Valvoline Ford Thunderbird NASCAR Winston Cup Series Hanes 500 Advance Martinsville Speedway MARK MARTIN NOTES & QUOTES: HANES 500 MARTINSVILLE, VA - Mark Martin and the Valvoline Ford team head into Martinsville (Va.) Speedway this week, second in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings and hot on the heels of leader Jeff Gordon for the championship. With six races remaining, Martin is 105 points out of the lead, well within range of the leader. An average of 18 points per race could put Martin back in the lead, meaning Gordon would have to finish third or better in each of the remaining events to guarantee the title. Gordon has averaged an eighth-place finish in the last 10 races; Martin has averaged a finish of 6.7 over the last 10. Martin, 38, is no stranger to the battle for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship. The Batesville, Ark., native is one of the biggest names in racing, and his Valvoline team is Ford's most successful stock car racing team. In fact, the Valvoline team has been, by far, Ford's most successful Winston Cup points team in the 1990's, and is second only to Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress among total points earned this decade. Martin and Valvoline carried a string of eight consecutive top-10 finishes in the final NASCAR standings into this season, the longest current streak of any team and matched only by Ricky Rudd among drivers. Martin has not finished lower than sixth in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings since 1988. The Valvoline Ford team is led by Martin, car owner Jack Roush, team manager Steve Hmiel and crew chief Jim Fennig. In 1997, the team has four wins, 14 top-fives and 20 top-10s, as well as winnings of $1,613,609. Martin will almost certainly surpass his career high winnings of $1,893,519 of 1995. Coming off a victory Sunday in the MBNA 400 at Dover, Del., Martin returns to the site of one of his greatest early triumphs. As a raw rookie from the ASA ranks in 1981, Martin ran five races but immediately gained the notice of the racing world. He won two poles in those five races, and finished third in the Hanes 500 at Martinsville. His sole Martinsville victory came in this race in 1992. The thoughts of Valvoline Ford driver Mark Martin heading into Martinsville: "The win at Dover was a great one for us. We didn't have the best car there. Kyle (Petty) had us covered. He had everybody covered. But Jack Roush said he would win a race for us on gas mileage this year, and now he has. We had a good car but that was the only way we were going to win that race. "Martinsville is going to be an important race for us but it's an important race for everybody, whether they are in the middle of the points chase or not. It's the next race, for one thing. That alone makes it as important as anything. That means everybody is going to be going as hard as they can go, no matter where they are in the standings. It's not like me, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett can just sit there and race each other, not that that would be any picnic. There are going to be another 39 guys out there besides us who are going to be doing everything they can to beat us and everybody else. "Martinsville is the hardest place in the world for me. Everybody tells me I run pretty good there but I've never felt that way. People remind me that I've won there but I remember that a lot of guys fell out of that race. I have a real hard time getting the car to handle right. I just don't have a knack for Martinsville. Because of that, I struggle with cars that don't handle well there. It's not the most comfortable feeling going to the most difficult race track I know of. "Still, good things have happened there for me before. We had a pretty awesome car in the last race there. We came from 39th to finish third. I told the guys to take the four springs from that car and put them on a shelf and save them for the next Martinsville race. I know the springs are still there because I checked on them myself a few weeks ago. I just wanted to make sure they hadn't rusted or hadn't been attacked by varmints or something. "Martinsville has a reputation of being a beating and banging and pushing and shoving race track but I don't think that it has to be. That race this spring we started 39th and finished third and didn't have a scratch on the car. Then again, it's easy to think the next time we run there we could start second and have every piece of the car ripped off by the end of the race. Things happen there, and everybody knows that going in. "It is the kind of place where things can happen and you can rub pretty easy. I've had my run-ins with guys there and at other places but it doesn't have to be that way for anybody. If you have a reputation for being clean, if you do have a little slip-up you usually get a little more consideration than a guy that doesn't have as clean a reputation. You can lose your temper there easily but the guys who are successful there are usually pretty good about calming down pretty quick. Being mad might help you in football or something, but it doesn't help you for very long in racing. "Brakes are always number one on everybody's mind at Martinsville but, to tell you the truth, I don't think a lot about them once the race starts. I don't play with those brakes. I use the brakes. That's what they are there for. I don't constantly baby them, I use them. You do have to put some effort into making sure they stay with you and you can't tap them while you're humming a tune in your head or something but you can use the things. I've run every single race there since 1988 and only one time have I run out of brakes. I've come close a few times but only actually run out that one single time. I've had races at Martinsville where we could have gone another 100 laps on the same set of brakes. Then again, I've had races there where we couldn't have gone another 100 feet. "Martinsville could play a big part in the points but every race the rest of the season could be a key race, just like any race we've already had could have been a key race. Do I think about the points much? Yeah, I think about it a lot when we're leading. But when we're 140 points behind, I don't think about it so much. I know that it can all turn around in one race but it won't necessarily turn around. The way the three cars at the top of the points right now run, I don't look at any race track as the place to gain many points. We gained more at Dover than I expected to gain (Martin, who won, picked up 34 points on Gordon, who finished seventh).. You run good and you win, and Gordon runs second, and you gain five points. You're not going to do much with that. The same thing with the (third-place) Dale Jarrett. They won at Bristol and we ran second. They picked up five points on us. "We gained points at Dover but we obviously didn't cut nearly enough off his lead. At New Hampshire, we lost nearly that much so Dover basically got back what we had already lost the previous week. But the week before that (Richmond), we finished 25th and lost a bunch of points. It's going to take a lot to make that up. "We race every race for points. We went to the Daytona 500 thinking about the points. Points and wins are the same thing. Everything you do on the race track, you are thinking points. If you have a 10th-place car, you do everything you can to finish third. If you have a third-place car you want to finish first. If you have a 40th-place car you try your best to finish 20th. To me there is no difference in approaching a race this time of year or the very first of the year. You're going to do whatever it takes to get the best finish you can get. "What do I remember about 1981? What do you want to know? "It was pretty neat. We ran five races that year: Richmond, North Wilkesboro, Nashville, again at Nashville and Martinsville. We'd won the pole at Richmond and won the one at Nashville too. I guess that surprised a lot of people but I wasn't particularly surprised. I'd been running pretty good and was used to winning things. I was really pleased with the poles. "Martinsville (in 1981) was great. I guess anybody who thought we might have something wrote us off after NASCAR caught us with a little invention we'd come up with. I got fined for a big ol' cooler I had in the car with windshield wiper fluid that would spit on the brakes to cool them. I'm not sure how much they fined me but they weren't real happy with me. That much I do remember. We didn't get a chance to use it during the race. "I hated to lose our invention but it didn't devastate us. We led 40-something laps in that race and stayed in the lead lap until around lap 420. We were running a high groove that nobody else was running and it was working for us. Back then you could run up above the concrete section in the turns. You can't do that now. You could go really high there, in fact, and we spent a lot of time up there during that race and it really paid off for me. "I was used to running good. It's not like I'd never done anything good before. I wasn't disappointed in any way, even with the third-place finish. I felt pretty good about things. "And I feel pretty good about this Valvoline Ford team heading into Martinsville. No, it's not always been one of my best tracks but it's the next one we have, and we're going to do everything we can to win there." By Williams Company of America, Inc.