NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube 500 Preview: #6, Mark Martin
29 October 1997
#6 Mark Martin, Valvoline Ford Thunderbird NASCAR Winston Cup Series Dura-Lube 500 Presented by Kmart Advance Phoenix International Raceway MARK MARTIN NOTES & QUOTES: DURA-LUBE 500 PRESENTED BY KMART 'Phoenix is a lot like bobbing for apples - you can't dive right in' PHOENIX, AZ - Though 125 points behind NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and the Valvoline Ford team have not changed their strategy in regards to the championship. Every race is a run for points. With just two races remaining, though, that chase becomes even tighter for Martin -- leader Jeff Gordon would clinch the title by finishing 13th or better in each of the remaining two events. In the meantime, Martin is battling third-place Dale Jarrett for the runnerup position in the points. Jarrett is just 20 points behind Martin in that fight Yet, of the remaining two races, only Martin knows the feeling of victory. He has one Phoenix and two Atlanta victories in his career, while Gordon and Jarrett each have one Atlanta win.. 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 - a streak that appears jeopardized this season. 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, 16 top fives and 22 top 10s, as well as winnings of $1,783,574. Martin will almost certainly surpass his career high winnings of $1,893,519 of 1995. The thoughts of Valvoline Ford driver Mark Martin heading into Phoenix: "Losing 15 points to (Jeff) Gordon and 25 points to Dale (Jarrett) at Rockingham sure didn't help us any. I'm not sure the 15 points even helped Jeff all that much, or even helped Dale all that much. All three of us finished in the top six - the problem is I was the guy who was sixth. If Jeff gained anything, he gained some time, another race finished. Instead of three races to catch him, I have two now. If I gained anything, and I don't believe I did, I gained another race. But Dale and I are so close, it's going to be anybody's between the two of us. "We'll go to Phoenix and Atlanta with the same strategy we've used since the first of the season. We're running for points. I've been asked how your points strategy changes this late in the season. I can't speak for anybody else but ours doesn't change. We'll run at Phoenix the same way we ran the Daytona 500 -- trying to get as many points as we can. A race is points. That's the only way to look at it. Sure, you want to win to get that great feeling that comes with winning, with being the best for that particular day. But they give the most points to the guy who finishes first, so that's the position you're racing for. If you can't finish first, you do everything you can to finish second. If you can't finish second, then you shoot for third. The whole thing in racing is getting a little bit more, doing a little bit more than maybe you think you're capable of. If you have a fifth-place car, you want to win the race. If you have a top-10 car, you want to finish in the top five. If you have a 20th-place car, you want to finish in the top 10. And on down the line. "Nobody on this Valvoline Ford team is kidding themselves. What happens as far as the championship is concerned depends totally on Jeff Gordon and his team. No matter what we do, they are going to decide things. If they run pretty well and finish in the top 10 the last two races, it doesn't matter what we do or what Dale Jarrett does. If they have some bad luck - and, hey, it is 13th or better - then we'll have a shot at it. We can't match their bad luck. That happened at Talladega. Gordon had some bad luck but it ended up collecting my car and Jarrett's car. So three rounds of bad luck ended up being good luck for Jeff Gordon. "Things can happen. It's late in the season, really late. There is something of a fight for the championship. Jeff Burton is fourth in the standings and he is fighting with about four other guys for that position. Ted Musgrave and the guys ninth through 15th are fighting pretty hard for position. And then you have the group wanting to finish in the top 20 and another group doing what they can to finish in the top 25, the last paying position in the points. A lot of people are shooting for points for a lot of different reasons right now, and that can change things. This time of year, the restarts get a little wilder. The racing gets a little tighter. The guys cutting you a break on the track get a little fewer. The tempers get a little shorter. "Rockingham is the kind of track where weird things can happen. A lot of times it can wipe out a lot of cars. That just wasn't the case this time. Thirty-some cars (36) were running at the finish of the race. Phoenix doesn't always act that way. Usually, a lot of cars finish the race at Phoenix. The way this season has been going, who knows what can happen? "The place is different, and I love running there. It's a real driver's racetrack. This Valvoline team has run really well there in the past. This will be the 10th race there, and we've won one and finished second three times -- including finishing second last year. Phoenix has been a strong track for us. The place is a lot like bobbing for apples. You can't just dive in and come up with a winner. You have to plot and plan, you have to do a little searching, and you might have to get in the middle of it two or three times. "There's more than one line around the race track, and everybody will spend their time finding the best way. Every time we go on the race track, it will be important for us. Every practice will be crucial. You have to have a good starting position, so qualifying and the practice before qualifying is going to be really important. Then you have to spend the practice time after qualifying looking for that perfect race setup. You're searching and looking all the time. Will we be paying a lot of attention to Gordon and Jarrett in practice? Shoot, we won't have the time to do that. We'll be too busy with our own stuff, and they'll be way too busy with theirs. Even if we did, it wouldn't change the way we're looking at things. "We're going to Phoenix to win the race, plain and simple. That's all we can do. This Valvoline Ford team will give it their absolute best shot. We can do that, let the chips fall wherever they fall, and feel pretty good about ourselves." By Williams Company of America, Inc.