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NASCAR Winston Cup Series DieHard 500 Preview: #6, Mark Martin

7 October 1997

 #6 Mark Martin, Valvoline/Cummins Ford Thunderbird         
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 DieHard 500 Advance    
 Talladega Superspeedway 
          "All we can do is run like we figure we could win it all" 

TALLADEGA, AL - Mark Martin and the Valvoline Ford team head into the
final four races of 1997 still intent on chasing down NASCAR Winston
Cup points leader Jeff Gordon and winning the national title. Martin
trails Gordon by 125 points, 4258-4133, heading into Sunday's
Talladega 500 at the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) SuperSpeedway. By
finishing fifth or better in each of the remaining races, Gordon would
win the crown regardless of what Martin does.

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, 15 top fives and 21 top 10s, as well as winnings of
$1,714,144. Martin will almost certainly surpass his career high
winnings of $1,893,519 of 1995.

In May, Martin won the Winston 500 at Talladega in the fastest race in
NASCAR history.

The thoughts of Valvoline Ford driver Mark Martin heading into

"Valvoline and speed pretty much go together. I guess that kind of
sounds like a commercial and I don't mean for it to be. Okay, I do
mean for it to be but it still makes sense. The Valvoline Ford won at
Talladega in May and that was the fastest race in NASCAR history. Just
over a week ago, a Valvoline car (Mauricio Gugelmin) ran the fastest
lap in Indy car history, over 240 miles per hour. Joe Amato is a
Valvoline dragster and he holds the record for the top drag speed,
over 318 miles per hour.

"So while going fast at Talladega is really important for me and the
guys on this Valvoline Ford team, you can see it is really important
to Valvoline.  Tracks like Talladega are where they get their 'proof
of performance,' and we're as lucky to have them in our car as we are
to have them on our car. If that's too commercial, I'm sorry. It
happens to be true.

"Talladega is going to be pretty important to us. We're still trying
to take a shot at catching (Jeff) Gordon and trying to hold off Dale
Jarrett at the same time. Jeff has a pretty decent cushion over us but
our lead over Dale (72 points) isn't enough to be very
comfortable. It's like running second on the race track. You might be
doing everything you can do to catch the guy in front of you but you'd
better keep a close eye on that guy behind you too.

"All we can do is race. All we can do is go out each week and do the
best we can. If it's enough, we win the championship. If it's not
enough, we don't.  When you look at it that way, there's not a whole
lot of pressure. A few days ago at Charlotte, we led a good portion of
the race, felt like we had a car good enough to win and finished
fourth. Jeff Gordon got caught up in some pit road troubles, lost a
lap early in the race and looked at one point like he wasn't going to
have a very good day. But he came back and finished fifth. We picked
up 10 points. If we do that over the last four races, we lose the
championship by 85 points instead of 125 points. But we still lose.

"Still, all we can do is just that. We do everything we can to win the
race.  We'll go to Talladega and try to win it. We might. Then we'll
go to Rockingham and try to win there. We might win that too. Same
thing at Phoenix, same thing at Atlanta. But that's the same thing
we've been doing all season long. Since they opened up for the Daytona
500, we've been doing everything we could to win the race.

"We're at the point now that a lot of what happens depends not so much
on what that red, white and blue Valvoline car does but more on what
that every-color-you-can-think-of DuPont car does. We probably can't
catch them off what we do alone. Even if we were to win every one of
the last four races and lead the most laps in each one of them, we
probably still couldn't catch them.  But we want to be in a position
where we could catch them if they had some bad luck, if they break, if
they get caught up in a crash, that sort of thing.  We're going to run
like we figure we can win the championship, and be ready to take
advantage of whatever might happen.

"Winning again at Talladega? That's asking a lot. But anything is
possible, especially with this group of guys. I think they showed what
they are capable of doing with the car they put on the track at
Talladega this spring. That was some awesome car and some awesome
race. In some respects, I guess I hate I missed seeing it. Still, if
I'd seen it that would have meant there were cars in front of me to
watch, so I'll go with the way it ended up. Everytime I watched the
tape of that race, I'd get nervous. I'd figure, 'No way that Valvoline
guy can win it again.' But everytime I watched it, he was able to do
it. Finally, I figured his luck had run out so I never watched it

"Talladega is tricky. It's different. From a driver's standpoint, it's
not my favorite track. I was going to say it takes the challenge away
but, to tell you the truth, it's too much of a challenge. You have to
have a good car, no question, but once you get in your group of cars
there, you just work traffic a little better or a little worse than
the other guys. It's not like you can suck it up and do a little bit
more. There isn't any more to do. You find your spot, you make your
decisions and you hope for the best. There have been times when it
probably wouldn't have hurt having a coin to flip, but I guess that'd
be kind of tricky at 200 miles per hour.

"Everything happens quick, really quick. You see strange things
there. I've gone down that backstretch before and the guy right in
front of me just disappeared. I mean, he is there one second and
absolutely gone the next. You come back around and find out he's
wrecked or spun or whatever. That's quick but that's the way things
happen at that place. NASCAR has slowed us down some with the plates
and, if they hadn't, who knows how fast we could be running there now?
But you'd be crazy to think the restrictor plates have actually slowed
the cars down.

"You're still going incredibly fast. That's something you can't allow
yourself to forget, simply because you have to remember how fast
things happen there.  Something happening a couple hundred yards in
front of you are going to be happening right on top of you in the
blink of an eye. Forget that and you lose a race car...and a
race...and maybe a championship.

"We'll be good at Talladega. I really think that. Jack Roush, Steve
Hmiel, Jimmy Fennig and the guys on this Valvoline Ford team know how
to put good race cars together. We'll head there and do everything we
can do."

By Williams Company of America, Inc.