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 MARK MARTIN NOTES & QUOTES: UAW-GM QUALITY 500 "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 Talladega: "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 again. "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.