NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fest
January 15, 2010
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
DENISE MALOOF: Mark Martin, 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runner-up. 2010, did you have fun during the off-season?
MARK MARTIN: It's been just really great. I really had a special time with family and friends, no big spectacular trips or anything like that. But it was probably the best holiday that I've had in as long as I can remember. A lot of family together, and we spent most of the time in Florida. It was good.
Q. When you look back at your history of racing at Daytona and Talladega, without the restrictor plates, comparing those cars to the new car, can you do that? Were they any more or less out of control? How did the two cars compare pre-plate and post-plate?
MARK MARTIN: The pre-plate cars were a lot more out of control, a lot, lot more. And the packs were small. And so there were fewer wrecks because the cars weren't in big packs, because you couldn't hardly hold on to them.
From a driver's standpoint, that was a challenge. It was fun; it was a challenge when the cars were like that. From a race fan's standpoint, the better the car handles, the better the race is, because they stick together and you have one huge lead draft with all kinds of things happening out there.
Q. NASCAR has told the teams that eventually the wing will be gone and you'll have a spoiler. What do you think about that, and how do you plan to attack that? Do you plan to do a lot of testing or just go to the one test that NASCAR is having and go from there?
MARK MARTIN: I don't expect a huge impact on the handling of the race cars, nothing to the effect that would throw us out of whack. So no, I don't plan on doing an enormous amount of testing. We've got the two-day test at Charlotte. The teams will be working in the wind tunnel. They've been working with the wind tunnel on the wing consistently, and now they will start working on the spoiler instead of the wing. And there will be some learning and development that goes along with it.
You know, I don't see any -- I just don't see it being something where the race teams are going to go out and test everywhere that we can test because I think you're going to bolt it on and you're going to go race and you're going to go to wind tunnel and you're going to work and develop it along.
Q. On Jimmie Johnson, it was written this week that someone said, well, who would you rather interview, Jimmie Johnson or Danica Patrick.
MARK MARTIN: I know who I'd --
Q. Taking Danica out of the equation, is Jimmie ever going to get the due that he's got coming?
MARK MARTIN: It may be after his helmet is hung. Definitely what he's achieved I don't think the sport has absorbed what he's achieved. I've said this a number of times already tonight, but being an outsider, I don't think you really realize how incredible Jimmie Johnson is and what an enormous contribution that Jimmie Johnson makes to the performance of that 48 car.
I'm inside now, and I see that. I didn't see that before. So that's been part of the delay, I think. And the other is we're living it right now. History is what's really behind you, and I think the most significant history to people is further behind you than just a year. And so I think that as we look back on this in history, we'll realize what an incredible feat that they've accomplished, and aren't done yet.
Q. I know you and NASCAR as a whole have always been very appreciative of the fans and your thoughts on what it means to have an event like this to help keep that excitement before the season starts.
MARK MARTIN: Well, it's good to see the fans out. I'm enjoying it. It's good to see everybody out at a standalone event without a race. The environment is a little bit different. We have an opportunity to hopefully take a little bit more time to do some of the things that you might not be able to do in the middle of a racing activity type of a settle. It makes you feel good when you see the kind of support that we have here tonight about where we are today with our sport. Obviously we've got the best fans in sports, most loyal fans in sports.
It's good to see. It's good to see the turnout tonight.
Q. You came closer to doing it last year, and now that you've had a couple months to think about it, how do you beat Jimmie Johnson? How do you beat your teammate for the championship?
MARK MARTIN: First of all, how do we know that Jimmie Johnson is the team to beat in 2010 is my first response to that. You know, you can't really control what other people do and how they perform. What you can do is focus on your performance and strengthening everything in your program. And Alan and I and the team have looked at every piece of it, and we have tried to add strength to every part of it.
When you're performing on the level that we performed in 2009, it's hard to make large gains in any one area. But if you can make just a little bit of gain in most areas, then hopefully that will be you that the field is chasing.
Q. You went into last year with a new team going back full-time after being absent full-time for two years, and you had to have had a lot of questions going into the start of last season, and you answered all those. What does that do for your peace of mind going into 2010 coming back with the same crew chief, the same team, the same organization?
MARK MARTIN: I feel really good. A lot of questions are answered that I was concerned about a year ago. We went to the racetrack this week, tire testing in Atlanta with Goodyear, and it certainly looked like we picked up where we left off last year. We've been working really hard in every single area to strengthen and make our program better, stronger and more productive for 2010. You know, I feel really confident.
On the other hand, you have to put the performance up. So just because we put it up in 2009 doesn't mean that it's done in 2010; it's still all in front of us. All the work is yet to be done, although I feel very confident. I've got my sleeves rolled up, and I'm ready to work.
Q. This may be a short answer. Back at the beginning of the development of the COT, were you part of that group that back-to-back the spoiler against the wing, and if you were, what did you think about the two then, and how would it be any different today?
MARK MARTIN: I wasn't a part of that. The spoiler is going to look like a traditional stock car, and I think that is huge. I think that's big for us all, everyone, fans, competitors and all.
The performance of the spoiler may be a little bit different, but that configuration isn't, I don't think, completely defined yet. So in the end the performance of the spoiler should be similar to what we have with the wing with a much more traditional look, and the effects on the racetrack will be continued great racing with improvement going forward all the time.
If you notice the difference in racing in 2008 to 2009, I certainly saw a huge difference in the development of the race cars and the development of Goodyear tires to go along with the cars that we race now, and Goodyear is continuing to improve and develop the tires to be phenomenal on the durability side, and yet really raceable and drivable from a driver's side as well, fast and racy.
So the cars will continue to get more racy as we go forward in 2010. The spoiler will just be a part of that. It's not a world changer; it is just the right move.
Q. Dale, Jr. was saying earlier that since the naming of Lance as the full-time crew chief of the 88 car that he's sensed a change in the culture of the 5 and 88 shops, that he encountered an optimism there, at least on his side of things, that frankly surprised him. Just wondered if you had had a sense of that as well.
MARK MARTIN: Well, I'm a big fan of Lance McGrew. Lance crew chiefed the Nationwide car when we won Vegas and got JR Motorsports their first win. That's the only race that he crew chiefed for me. I became a huge fan from working with him, not because we won that race, but because of how effective we were together.
And so, you know, I was very excited when he stepped into that position, and Alan obviously feels the same way toward Lance, has a great working relationship, and Alan is very, very committed to making the 5 and 88 stronger. And Lance is a big part of that.
And the way you do that is you make both cars, both teams under one roof stronger than what they were before. That's progress. That's our commitment.
Q. Along with the talk about changing the wing to the spoiler, we've also changed the schedule at Daytona where they're going to do qualifying, ARCA race and the Shootout in one day. They've changed races off of ABC to ESPN, starting times. There's been a lot of things going on here. I spoke with some of the executives at ESPN, and they said they have never -- they have almost daily talks with people from NASCAR where everybody is communicating with everybody and talking and saying, what do we really have to do to make this better, and also with the drivers, talking about the drivers. Do you feel like this is more of a collective effort now, probably more than ever before?
MARK MARTIN: It is more a collective effort, and it's better than ever before, because all the changes that I see coming, almost all, for sure, all the ones I know of are all in the right direction. They're better for the fans, they're better for the sport. The start times are better. I've seen changes in the past where I looked at that and shook my head and didn't understand.
I understand the changes that are being made. They're all for the fans. They're all for the sport. They're all better. And we should all embrace those changes together.
You know, there are still a few things on the table that haven't been decided yet, which way one or two of those things go may or may not be -- you know, I may not be as big a fan of. But as of today, everything that I know of that for sure is going to come to pass are things that I believe are better for all of us.
Q. Following up, you've talked before about how Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is a guy that's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. Given all the changes in the off-season, not just for him but for Hendrick as a whole, what faces him, I guess, going into 2010? I know you can't put more pressure on the guy, but is this sort of like maybe could be a water shed year for him, make or break type of thing?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I think for his sake and for Hendrick's sake both, things have to get better than they were last year. If they only make minor progress in the performance side, and they have the opposite kind of racing luck than they had, they will have a Chase-making and very, very, very respectable season. In other words, they don't have to make a huge jump in performance if they can just get that monkey off their back.
And it's our hope that we're able to make a huge gain in the performance. You know, that's our hope. Everyone's hope is that we can do that. But if we only make a small amount, it will be enough if the monkey gets off their back. They ran better than the 5 car in numerous races, but nobody really noticed because they got wrecked or something broke or -- you know, whatever happened, happened. They had a lot of things happen and go bad for them, when they were faster than we were in the 5 car.
They weren't faster than us enough of the time, you know. I think their hope would be to be 50 percent of the time faster than we were, and maybe we'd be faster than they were 50 percent of the time, and they weren't there yet. So we've got to hopefully bring that up. But it won't take an enormous amount of performance to get them in the hunt. And it will; everybody's luck turns around. Nobody has got the horseshoe forever either. It goes both ways. And certainly Dale, Jr. is due for some good days.
Q. I'm going to probably embarrass your PR rep here, but Kendra Tweeted a little while ago, and she said that you were geared up for this year and you can't wait, and you say your team is better than it was last year. I think that maybe the perception, wrong as it may be, is you finished second for the fifth time last year. How can you possibly come back and take that next step? Are you kind of going into this year saying, hey, don't underestimate me, I'm going to be a lot better than people realize?
MARK MARTIN: First of all, I really don't care what people estimate, and really I don't -- that's no big deal. It doesn't have any bearing on what really happens, whether Daryl Waltrip says that I can't do it again this year. (Laughter) What does that matter at the end of the day? That really doesn't matter.
Here's what matters: And your point is right; we were spectacular last year. I think what you're saying is how can you expect to be better. I can't know what the competition is going to do, but I do know that physically I'm better. I am better. I am more ready today than I was a year ago right now. I know that my race team is more ready than they were a year ago right now. I know our pit stops are faster than they were a year ago right now. I know that we have a better understanding of our race cars than where we were a year ago right now. We didn't know any -- we hadn't even run a race yet a year ago.
So we are better. Alan has put together a very, very strong program, and there's been some people moved around between the 5 and the 88 that will make both of us better and stronger. So those things I do know. I'm not Mr. Optimistic, I'm not Mr. Pessimistic, I'm Mr. Realistic. And realistically speaking, I can't tell you what the result will be in 2010.
But Kendra is very right; we are better than we were a year ago. I just don't know how much better our competition is.
DENISE MALOOF: Mark, thank you very much. We'll see you soon.
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