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NASCAR Winston Cup Series UAW-GM Quality 500 Preview: #6, Mark Martin

1 October 1997

 #6 Mark Martin, Valvoline Ford Thunderbird 
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 UAW-GM Quality 500 Advance
 Charlotte Motor Speedway
             "A moody track but I really love Charlotte"

CONCORD, NC - Locked in a battle for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship, 
Mark Martin and the Valvoline Ford team head to the 1.5-mile Charlotte 
(N.C.) Motor Speedway this week feeling momentum could move back in their 
direction. For Martin, Charlotte is a favorite track and one where he is 
known for success. As the championship battle becomes more and more of a 
two-car fight, Martin knows every little advantage is important. 

With five races remaining, Martin is 135 point out of the lead, well within 
range of the leader. An average of 27 points per race could put Martin back 
in the lead, meaning leader Jeff Gordon would have to finish fourth or 
better in each of the remaining events to guarantee the title. Gordon has 
averaged an eighth-place finish in the last 11 races, Martin has outscored 
Gordon 925-850, over the past seven races. 

Martin, 38, is no stranger to the battle for the NASCAR Winston Cup 
championship. The Batesville, AR native is one of the biggest names in 
racing, and his Valvoline team is Ford's most successful stock ar 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 Jimmy Fennig. In 1997, the team has four wins, 
14 top fives and 20 top 10s, as well as winnings of nearly $1.7 million. 
Martin will almost certainly surpass his career high winnings of $1,893,519 
of 1995. 

No driver and no team has been as successful in the fall race at Charlotte 
than Mark Martin and the Valvoline Ford team in the 1990's. Martin has won 
the event twice in the past five races, picking up victories in 1995 and 
1992. The last driver prior to that to have won the fall event twice at 
Charlotte was Bill Elliott, who won in 1987 and 1984. Martin's 
money-winnings in excess of $800,000 at Charlotte came in 23 starts; of 
the four drivers he trails, Terry Labonte has the fewest Charlotte starts 
with 39. 

The thoughts of Valvoline Ford driver Mark Martin heading into Charlotte:

"Drivers are supposed to be successful at tracks they like. Well, if 
that's the case, we'll have an edge going into Charlotte. Man, I really 
like that place. Charlotte is one of the finest race tracks on the circuit 
and it's a place I've always liked to race. 

"It's a racer's race track. It really takes a team effort to win at 
Charlotte. The car has got to be good. The driver has got to be good 
because the place takes a lot of driver and it takes a lot of car. They 
call them medium superspeedways because they really are a cross between a 
short track and a big superspeedway. Charlotte is the best of both of 
them. It's a fun place to race.

"Charlotte can be a moody race track, especially as far as the weather 
goes. I can't think of a place where weather can play a bigger part in 
setting the car up. There are some tracks where it could go from 90-degree 
weather to a snowstorm and you might not make but a few minor changes in 
the car. At Charlotte one good cloud can change your setup entirely.

"You are always watching the weather and the temperatures at Charlotte. 
This race isn't quite as difficult from that standpoint as the 600, where 
you can start under sunny skies and end in the dark. In the fall you have 
the chance of a race where weather conditions stay the same from green 
flag to checkered flag. But the weather can change so much in the fall 
too, just on race day along. It might be pretty warm and sunny when you 
get started, and be pretty cool and getting dark about the time you 
finish. That will change the characteristics of the car a lot. If you are 
prepared for that, you can handle it. It might make the start of the race 
a little difficult or you might have to make changes all day long, but you 
can handle it. It's when the weather surprises you that you run into 

"You are there for five days and that makes a difference too. Wednesday is 
a totally different day. You are working all day long to qualify at night. 
It's pretty much of a guess what the temperatures are going to be that 
night but at least you are working with that day's weather forecast. 

"It really gets to be a guessing game weather-wise starting on Thursday. 
You're trying to figure Thursday what the temperature and humidity are 
going to be Sunday, and you're trying to figure how cloudy it's going to 
be. You have all day Thursday to practice but you're still guessing. You 
don't even get on the race track Friday so that leaves you with about two 
hours on Saturday to make some decisions and to try some things. In a 
perfect world, Saturday's weather conditions and Sunday's will be pretty 
close to the same. If so, Saturday's practice and what we're able to figure 
out with Saturday's Busch Grand National race will put us right on track for 
Sunday. If not, well, we just do the best we can. 

"The place can be a guessing game. Driver and crew have to really put their 
heads together and make decisions. Let's fact it. October in Charlotte isn't 
a good time to depend on consistent weather. You spend half your time in the 
car and the other half of the time checking weather forecasts. 

"The first thing you do Sunday morning is check the weather forecasts, 
especially temperature, humidity and how much sunshine you can expect. Most 
other tracks, we watch the Formula One race or check out some of the morning 
racing shows or even watch CNN. At Charlotte, we put the TV on the Weather 
Channel, and it usually stays there right up until 1 o'clock. 

"We've had good setups and been pretty good weather guessers too the past few 
years at Charlotte, especially in the fall. We think this Valvoline Ford team 
can be right up there again this week."

By Williams Company of America, Inc.