NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Preview: #6, Mark Martin
10 November 1997
#6 Mark Martin, Valvoline/Cummins Ford Thunderbird NASCAR Winston Cup Series NAPA 500 Advance Atlanta Motor Speedway MARK MARTIN NOTES & QUOTES: NAPA 500 'There will be a new champion. We're going to work to make it us' HAMPTON, GA - With Jeff Gordon needing to simply lead a lap and finish in the top 20 in the NASCAR Winston Cup season finale at the redesigned 1.54-mile Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway, Mark Martin has his sights set on regaining the runnerup spot in the championship standings from Dale Jarrett, and perhaps making a run for the title. Martin trails Jarrett by just 10 points - 4521-4511 - meaning little is guaranteed for either driver. Gordon leads the standings with 4598 points. Regardless of the outcome, Martin will have the longest active streak of consecutive top 10 finishes in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings - nine straight years (since he finished third in 1989). Should he regain the runnerup slot, it will be the third time Martin has finished second in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship chase (1990, 1994). Only two drivers have registered more runnerup finishes, Richard Petty with six (the last in 1977) and Bobby Allison with five (the last in 1982). Other drivers with three include Herb Thomas (1956); James Hylton (1971); Cale Yarborough (1980); and Bill Elliott (1992). Obviously, 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 productive 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 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 23 top 10s, as well as winnings of $1,816,839. Martin will easily surpass his career high winnings of $1,893,519 of 1995. The thoughts of Valvoline Ford driver Mark Martin heading into the season finale at Atlanta: "Phoenix is a great example of good things and bad things happening at the same time. We were hoping to cut as many points as we could off (Jeff) Gordon's lead at Phoenix, and we did pretty well at that. Dale Jarrett and those guys were hoping to do the same thing to both Gordon and us, and they reached their goals too. The problem is we're third now, and not only have to catch Jeff Gordon, we have to catch Dale Jarrett as well. "Honestly, it doesn't change a lot in the way we'll approach Atlanta. First race of the season or last race of the season, we're taking this the exact same way we did the Daytona 500 -- go out there and win the thing, and let the points fall where they may. Hey, that worked pretty well for Dale Jarrett at Phoenix. "Let's face it. That's all we can do. If we win Atlanta and lead the most laps, we might still finish the season in third place. If that happens, then we'll know we did everything we could do and it just didn't happen to be enough this time. Or we could win Atlanta and lead the most laps, and end up winning the championship because Gordon and Dale Jarrett ran into problems. In other words, we could win Atlanta and lead the most laps and not win the championship. But we know if we don't do everything we can to win that race, then we surely won't win the championship. "We're realistic. Jeff Gordon looks pretty good to win the thing. And even though we got closer at Phoenix, he is still in the spot me and Dale would be glad to be in. What he does will determine everything. If he runs pretty well and runs all day long, well, you can pretty much figure he'll finish at least in the top 10 and he'll be spraying champagne in victory lane. No matter how much we'd rather be spraying Valvoline in victory lane, that team can be the masters of their own fate. Sure, we like to think things can happen for us and we're going to approach Atlanta thinking things will happen for us, but pretty much all Jeff has to do is keep from falling off a ladder between now and then to win the thing. I guess it's going to be pretty tough for me to talk him into cleaning the gutters of my house in the next couple of weeks. "You have to wonder if he isn't out of bad luck. If I had gotten through that deal at Talladega (a large backstretch crash that damaged many cars, including Martin, Gordon and Jarrett), we'd be racing right now. If he hadn't caught that axle deal at Rockingham under caution, we'd be racing right now. If he'd cut that tire at Phoenix right after the pit entrance instead of right before, things would be a lot closer right now. He's had some bad luck but they've been able to overcome things. That's the mark of a championship team. The ability to overcome bad luck has been one of the things this Valvoline team has been so good at all season long. When things look their worst, these guys are at their best. And that's made the difference in a lot of finishing positions and the difference in a lot of points. "Still, he can have bad luck again. It doesn't always go away just because you've had some. Sure, they are probably due for some good luck but so are a lot of other people. It's not like he is going to be able to just ride around at Atlanta, wave at the fans and wait until they bring him the trophy. I figure they're going to be going as hard as they can go. We're going to be going as hard as we can too. Dale Jarrett and those guys are going to be going as hard as they can go. This day and age, you really can't lay off or slow down or gear back. Those guys back in 12th or 15th are running as hard as they can, and doing whatever they can do to win races and move up in the points. There are a few teams out there who have one last shot to win a race this season, and you know they are going to be doing everything they can possible do to win Atlanta. Lay back and you're going to be lucky to finish the race in the top 25. "That's the way to approach this every week. This isn't about the last three or four races of the season. It's about all the season. The points we got at Daytona are just as important as the points we'll get at Atlanta. The only difference right now is we can't change the points from Daytona, but we can determine how many points we'll get at Atlanta. I've been out of the championship battle and I've been part of the championship battle and, believe me, it's a lot better being in the middle of things than watching from the sidelines. But we've been thinking 'points' since we were testing in January. And we've thought about them throughout the year, at every track in every race. I can't believe those other guys haven't been thinking the same thing. Points is what this whole deal is about. You run for points. Wins are great, they give you a tremendous feeling. But the points you get with those wins is the reason you're out here running from week to week. You get more points for winning. "Thinking about points is what got us in the situation where we could shoot for the championship. Yeah, I'd rather be 87 points ahead than 87 points behind right now, but I know there are a whole lot of teams out there who would trade places with us right now too. Championship or no championship, we've had a really good year. We've had more top fives and top 10s than any season since 1990. We've done everything we can do. We've done our best everytime out. Every week people have had an eye on this Valvoline team and we've gotten a lot of attention. We'd like to turn that into the championship but, regardless of what happens, we're pretty proud of what we've been able to do this year. "Atlanta will be a different type of place to make the final decision on things. Well, it's a different type of place anyway. We've tested there and, believe me, it's fast. I've seen that television commercial they did from there a couple of years ago where the decals were peeling off the car and, to tell you the truth, I got out after a couple of runs and glanced back there on the quarterpanels to make sure it still said, 'Valvoline.' "At speed, even at these high speeds, you don't really have a problem. The car is comfortable. Hey, the only problem we have is the world's greatest pavement. As it hardens and wears down some from races, the speeds will start easing back down again. The only thing you're thinking is in the corners, 'What if.' Everything is fine until then but going into that turn you think, 'What if.' By yourself on the track, you don't think that much about it. It's pretty comfortable. It's not treacherous or anything like that. If nothing bad happens, it's no big deal. It's just if something does happen, you're traveling a lot more feet per second. If you hit something, it's going to do a whole lot more damage than if you hit something at a slower speed. That guy in front of you is going to come to you a whole lot quicker than he would have at the lower speeds. What will that do as far as the championship is concerned? Not a thing. It would only be different if the Valvoline car was on the new Atlanta and the Gordon and Jarrett cars were on the old one. Since we'll all be on the same track under the same conditions, then there isn't any difference at all. "Hey, in less than two weeks, the sun is going to come up one Monday morning and there is going to be a new Winston Cup champion. We hope it's us. We're going to do everything we can to make it us." By Williams Company of America, Inc.