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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

"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

By Williams Company of America, Inc.