Mark Martin, 46, won last Saturday night's all-star race at the Lowe's Motor Speedway, and he returns to the 1.5-mile raceway this Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600. Martin is ranked 10th in the Nextel Cup Series standings and his Roush Racing team is committed to sending the 25-year racing veteran into retirement with his first championship.
Martin talked about his season and his future following last Saturday's race. Here are excerpts of his post-race press conference:
Question: How thrilling was it to win $1.1 million in the all-star race?
Martin: The reaction of the fans is No. 1. And part of that reaction was seeing the paint on that race car. So the ÔSalute to You' tour is about the fans. Their reaction to this win is number one. It is the thing that I'll remember as long as I live. Second of all, I want to thank Viagra and all our sponsors for allowing us to get a little glimpse of old school. That car ran like it did in '93 and it really means a lot. The other thing, next in line, is the look on the face of each and every guy who made that happen, the guys who do the work. I wish I could capture that and hold onto that and visit it every day. The best that we can do is photographs, and we'll do the best we can with that. That's really special. Then comes the trophy. It's really special. This is how I want to do it. We did this by racing smart with a great race car tonight. Certainly I don't feel like it was anything more than coming to the racetrack with a great race car and great execution by a team that I'm honored to drive for.
Question: Car owner Jack Roush said he doesn't hold much hope that you'd reconsider your decision to retire at the end of the year. Are there any second thoughts?
Martin: I only see the Bud Shootout and the All-Star race. That's all I really see at this time. I don't see how it would be possible to race a limited schedule on the level that I want to race on. It's just not possible to do that, so I've already said I can't sign up for another one of these. I don't know that I've ever completely explained to Jack why I've made this decision, because I know that he regrets it so much, but there are so many things that play into that decision and I'm excited about 2006, and I'm not regretting my decision at all. This just makes it even better. And we're not done yet. (Crew chief) Pat Tryson and this team, they want to deliver another miracle. This was a miracle tonight, and they want to deliver another one - that being a championship. We've been in the top 10 in every race but one this year, so it's not outside the realm of possibility. If we're going to come back here with fire in our eyes at the 600, and, man, we go from here to Dover, there to Pocono, and then from there to Michigan, we could get on a roll here. These are racetracks where we are strong. We've gone through a number of racetracks where we're not nearly as strong. I'm excited about what's coming up in front of us. We do have challenges in front of us. This business is not easy, and I have had to reach - last year I had to reach deeper than I've ever reached in my life to contend for that championship, and I thought there was no way to find any more and I've had to reach even deeper this year and find some more. And that's the real reason why I can't do it again next year. There's no possible way I could step it up another notch from 2005.
Question: How would you describe your season so far?
Martin: This is exactly the kind of season I had hoped and dreamed for. Not only has the Cup thing been very, very stellar, aside from some bad luck, but we've won a couple of Busch races, and we've won an IROC race and we're leading the points in that thing, too, and we broke a record at Daytona when we won down there and if we're lucky we might not be done yet. This is what I was looking for, but as you know, most of what I've looked for in this business I haven't gotten, I've only gotten part of. It's an honor and a privilege to drive for these guys, and my biggest fear would be to have less of a team or less of a car to work with, but thanks to Pat and thanks to Jack Roush, here we are.
Question: The all-star win came at the Lowe's Motor Speedway and Sunday's race also is at Lowe's. Do you like that?
Martin: Lowe's Motor Speedway is without a doubt, in my mind, it's only my opinion, the greatest racetrack in the world. There's nothing else close. And I still like it even though they ground it. It still is. I wish they wouldn't have, but here we are. And all I can hope for is that we can continue, we can come back for the 600 and Pat can put a setup under my car that will work and give me the latitude to move around on the racetrack like I did tonight. Top or bottom, either one.
Question: At Daytona you were asked how emotional you were going into your final 500. You said to ask that same question at Charlotte. Well, how emotional are you?
Martin: That's a scary question. Obviously, it's not emotional right now because I'm nowhere near done here. This was something that is very important to me and very important to my fans and to my sponsors and to my team. If I had to look out on the grandstands before the race started and think that I would never drive again here, I would cry, like a baby. But that's not the case yet. So, we don't have to worry about it yet.
Question: Is the all-star race fun or is it emotional?
Martin: It's real fun for me (Saturday night), but the last several years it hasn't been any fun at all. It's incredibly frustrating when your expectations are higher than your results. Whether it is that you wish you could be up there contending, or that you got wrecked and didn't get a chance or whatever it might be, it was fun. It felt like it was supposed to feel tonight, for me, because we were never further back than fourth at any time in the race, so our car was spectacular and we were fortunate enough that the wreck didn't start in front of us. We had one of the more dominant cars. The 38 was pretty incredible, but we had a car, as usual, that had legs, it seemed to run longer, better then it would take off. It's a high-intensity race, it pays a million bucks. There's not many races that pay that, and it happens quick. And there's nothing to lose in it. That's still no excuse for not racing like a sportsman. All I said when they had that big wreck was they had that too soon, because now they didn't have a chance. They shouldn't have done that, yet.