NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Sylvania 300
Topics: Sylvania 300
September 20, 2009
LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's winner of the Sylvania 300, driver of the No. 4 CARQUEST Kellogg's Chevrolet, Mark Martin. This is Mark's 40th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win and his first at New Hampshire. Mark, tell us about your run today.
MARK MARTIN: Alan has really pulled off something big to figure out how to win a race with me here at Loudon. That's a big deal. I don't get around this place that well. The guys, we came up here with a great attitude with the pressure off of us that we've been carrying around pretty much since the fourth race of the season.
They had a great plan for the car, and they got the car in race trim, strong lap times, strong enough that I thought, gosh, if we could stumble around and get in the front here, I think I might be able to stay. And he figured out how to do that, too. So it was an incredible accomplishment, I think.
It's also pretty cool, when we left Michigan, I don't know how many races was the total race. This is 40. Anyway, Arlene looked over at me, but she happened to be at that one, and she said, "Only three more," or something like that. Something like that, "to 40." And I was like -- you'd have to know her. She's not much of a race fan. It was really odd. For her to know that number and I not know it, and for her to say so many to go to 40 was pretty strange. So it was a cool time, and it is a cool number to hit because of that little time that we shared, that moment we shared.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by today's winning crew chief, Alan Gustafson. Alan, your thoughts from on top of the box today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Everything kind of fell into place for us today. Like Mark said, we worked really hard on Saturday, the guys at the shop. The engineering staff did a great job helping getting us prepared for the race. We weren't the greatest here last year, so we worked really hard. We knew this was a race we needed to focus on to run well, to kick the Chase off, and kind of defend here.
We didn't want to give up too many points because we knew Denny would run well, and Kurt is really, really good here, and it turned out Juan was awesome, and Jimmie is always awesome everywhere.
The race started, and we had a pretty good car, and it's tough. It's tough back there in traffic, and Mark was doing a good job, and we could get to the 6th, to 8th, 9th place range and we could hang out around there.
And then we got an opportunity to kind of flip the track position on them, and we did, and took advantage of that. Mark made that plan work by passing Kurt and getting gone the way he did and running some phenomenal lap times out front and getting a big enough lead over the guys who had stopped. I think the 11 in particular was the car who came to be third there behind Kurt.
So we had a big enough lead on the 11 where we could pit, and we weren't really too far down, a lap down to him. We were only a little ways back, a car or two or half a straightaway. Mark was able to get past the 11 in pretty quick order, so I knew we were in good shape there once we got back on the lead lap.
And then the restarts came, so that's really nerve-wracking. Mark was incredible on the restarts. He did an awesome job. We got him on the top, which was a good thing. He's not a huge top guy, so restarting on the top worked out awesome.
Held off some tough, tough competitors. Like I said, I think Kurt is really, really good here, and Jimmie behind us, and Juan was probably the fastest car all day long. That was all Mark. I don't think our car was better than those guys, I think our driver was. So it's really, really fortunate to win this race. It's a great momentum builder for the Chase and gives us a lot of pep in our step going to Dover.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions from the media.
Q. Mark, on behalf of all of us who have waited for decades to ask you about somebody questioning a move you made to win a race, Juan Pablo was talking about, he said that after he tucked in behind you, you went down into 1, he said Mark went down there in there and stopped. He said you've got to have somebody you trust not to hit you to do that. A, was that a calculated move on your part; and B, does this signal that those of us who would ever suggest that you don't have enough dog-eat-dog in you were wrong?
MARK MARTIN: You can read into that what you want, but my first instinct to answer that question would be, yeah, I stopped compared to how fast his car was going. I don't think I stopped-stopped, I just -- maybe it looked to him like I stopped based on how fast he had been.
This is a very frustrating racetrack. Track position is so incredibly critical and lane choices so unbelievable, as well. And he had the fastest car today.
I fought for that race, but I wouldn't do anything -- I still won't. No, I probably still won't do what some of you wish I would.
Q. He said it was the thing to do. He said to have it done to you is frustrating, but if you do it to them it feels really good.
MARK MARTIN: (Laughing) To be real honest, stopping is a strong word. I made sure that I didn't go in there and lose it once I got in front of him. But his car was probably really strong there.
My car was not fast into the corner, so it probably felt, especially to him -- we made all our time through the center and off the corner and kind of had to get into the corners easy, and once you got the lead, you need to make sure you don't drive it in there and turn it sideways, slide up to the top of the racetrack. I mean, how stupid would I look then?
Q. If you had driven the velocity he had been going --
MARK MARTIN: -- then I would have slid to the top, lost the race, and I would have had to admit to the world that I blew it. That's what happened there.
Q. In the 25 previous visits you've had here, 24 arguably, you've been here with many different crew chiefs. I don't know if you can remember those guys, but what makes Alan Gustafson stand out amongst all the guys you've worked with? And you gave him the credit for this win. What did he do specifically that really put you in victory lane?
MARK MARTIN: I pretty much said that by coming up here with a great plan at a racetrack that's not my strong suit, great plan for setup and setup changes, and he sorted through those things, and we sorted through those and got the car where it was competitively fast.
And then he made the right call today to position us in the front. You know, we weren't good enough to drive from 6th or 8th to 1st, especially against the competition that we had. But as it turned out, we were good enough to stay in the front through three restarts inside of 20 to go. And I think we had quite a bit more on our tires, too.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, we did.
MARK MARTIN: You've got to remember that, as well. I don't know how many more laps we had on our tires, but we had some more. And so that was -- it was great to be able to pull it off.
Q. Could you speak to the strength of the relationship you have now?
MARK MARTIN: I have a lot of trust in Alan. I let him do his thing, and he's brought so much support, you know, in so many areas, and unloaded so much off of my shoulders. He's the smartest -- the best combination of really smart engineering, understanding of that, and the guy that pulls the wrenches and gets his hands dirty, practical racer. He's the best combination of all of that.
I've worked with great engineers and really smart people and great guys that work on race cars and are practical and all of that, but he's the combination, the strongest combination of all of that.
Q. Mark, prior to the race obviously you talked about your struggles here at New Hampshire, and you said you simply wanted to leave here with a decent points finish, and I know that you've sort of become notorious for this, but is that playing into some of your success, sort of having this -- I can't think of the word I want to say --
MARK MARTIN: You're not calling me Gomer Pyle, are you?
Q. -- attitude. Is that playing into your success?
MARK MARTIN: I don't know. Part of my being humble is that a took a beating once and got ran out of town. I got beat to a pulp and run out of town. I wouldn't be as humble if I hadn't have gone through that experience.
And the other thing is I've had my -- I've taken some pretty hard -- swallowed some pretty big pills in my racing career, so I'm cautious about expecting things. Like I didn't expect to win this race once the cautions started falling. I didn't expect it. I knew I'd fight for it, but to expect it and then it doesn't happen will break you in half. Expect to fight for it, and then you accept the results for what they are.
It's just how I manage my emotions and everything else. It doesn't mean I don't try hard. I give my guts, man, but I'm not going to plan on something and then have it not work out.
Q. Mark, there haven't been a lot of racetracks that are not named Talladega that you've had trouble mastering. What is it about this place that's taken you so long? Was it the car was so good today that you finally got over that hump, or what's been the problem?
MARK MARTIN: We've run pretty good here. We sat on the pole up here one year and Rusty beat me and I finished second or something, and another year we thought we were looking really good, and I don't remember what happened. The 24 did two tires or something or other, whatever it was, and we lost that one. So we've been in position.
But I like rounder racetracks where you can get you a handful of steering wheel and slide that baby and manipulate it and make it do something that it doesn't want to do. You can't do that at Martinsville, and you really can't do that here, even more I think than Martinsville.
So it is what it is. It doesn't lend itself; Phoenix does. It's round. The corners are big and round.
Q. I wonder if you could just take us through what in your view transpired on the last lap, and as far as the spinning incident and when you saw the caution come out, and what did you see when you came off of Turn 4, because it looked like A.J.'s car was just kind of sitting there in the middle of the track.
MARK MARTIN: Well, my spotter stayed on me. He told me the spin and all that, but he stayed on me, still green, still green, still green, and I was backing into a little bit more of a conservative mode when he had called the caution. I hadn't quit, but I knew that I had two more corners to make. So Denny wasn't going to catch me, or whoever. I don't even know who ran second. Whoever it was that was behind me, I was checking in the mirror quite often and they weren't coming. So I was kind of making sure that I managed all those things well, and my spotter told me where he was on the racetrack, down toward the inside or whatever, and then finally he called a caution.
And so then I did slow down. And I don't know who came flying up through there, a red one or something, Jimmie or somebody. Somebody came up there and ran into the back of me, and of course I went back to accelerating. I knew the race was supposed to be over, but I've done lots of stupid stuff, and I didn't want to lose this race. I knew it was supposed to be over.
So A.J. was getting going, and I felt pretty confident and comfortable about where he was going to stay, and so I picked up the speed, which is not really the thing we're supposed to do. Of course those guys flew up there on me, and there was chatter on the radio, the race is over, and busting back and forth, and by the time we crossed the start/finish line, somebody said, well, it was before we got to the line. So there were some things going on there, a little bit of confusion.
You tend to kind of -- if you don't know for sure, you kind of race when the caution comes out on the last lap a little bit, and I had -- I was under the impression that when a caution called, the race was over. I don't think the guys gave up the race behind me quite. So it caused a little bit of chaos.
Q. If you could go back a little bit further to your pit stop and what were your expectations coming out of that, and you talked about having the tires and everything. What was going through your mind then?
MARK MARTIN: The last pit stop we made, you know, I had run that whole run out there in front. I fought hard to get by Kurt and get five points, and then just kept the hammer down to try to get as far ahead, because I expect worst-case scenarios, or try to set up for worst-case scenario, which would mean that we would run until we had to pit under the green, and all those guys that had pitted would stay out and then a caution would come out.
So the farthest I could get ahead, then after we had come out after our pit stop we'd be in the best-case scenario. I certainly didn't want to be two laps down, because that's really hard to recover from. So I stretched the lead as far as I could, came out of the pit stop, and I couldn't believe it. I wanted to ask, but I just tried to forget that; just focus on driving and focus on running. But I wanted to ask, I know that's the leader up there, but is it one lap down or two laps down, because I'm fixing to get one of these back.
I just focused and focused, and once we got by Denny, Kurt pitted, and once we got by Denny, then I said, are we in the lead lap. And just like Alan said, we were in the catbird seat then because then if the caution came out we were going to be leading because we could stay out and everybody else had to pit.
So at that point, once we passed the 11, I mean, our race was set up strong suit.
Q. Alan, Friday Mark was kind of downplaying a driver's role in the age of engineering, and then today Denny and Juan both came up here and said Mark made the veteran move he had to make to win the race. Can you just talk about how experience played into that and kind of the driver taking charge there in the last couple laps?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, everything we do, you mentioned engineering and winning races and strategy and pitting and staying out and beating guys on the restarts. None of that is possible without a really, really good race car driver. You've got to have everything 100 percent in this sport to win and to contend to win and to run well. So the driver is obviously a very, very, very key component to that.
In my opinion Mark is the best driver out there, and he proves that time and time again, no matter what situation it is. Not only does he restart well and race well, but he's obviously very smart and he knows what to do and when to go.
It makes our job easier, and if it's Saturday adjusting on the car or if it's Sunday restarting, if it's me having to make pit strategy decisions, you know that you've got a driver who can get the maximum amount of whatever those decisions we make are. And that's really, really special, and we feel real fortunate to have Mark and have guy who takes everything that we work really, really hard on and spend countless hours on, he puts that same amount of effort in when he gets behind that wheel and takes complete advantage of it, and that's all you really can ask for.
Q. Mark, two questions. First of all, what's going on with the feet; and second of all, talk about Talladega. You mentioned it out there. You said that's the lotto race.
MARK MARTIN: Nothing is with the feet.
And Talladega, I like to call it the lotto. I used to think that if the guys could figure out how to get me a fast race car, it would put me in a position to kind of be ahead of the trouble. That certainly isn't the case anymore. So from that standpoint it is kind of like a lotto. It's wild and crazy, and we're going to be there with bells on.
Q. On Friday you announced the extension with Hendrick through 2011, and I was just curious, I mean, to what extent did the fact that you knew you were going to have Alan as your crew chief factor into the equation for your decision to go forward, and how important is it for a driver in the Chase to have a championship-caliber crew chief like Alan?
MARK MARTIN: It was all of it. I mean, definitely because Alan is instrumental in the performance of that car, and the performance is basically largely what I used as a determining factor on whether or not I could still do this stuff.
Alan makes it easier on me. I mean, I don't know what else to say. I don't have to -- he takes a lot off of my shoulders and carries it on his. And so then it's more fun for me. So that's what it's all about.
Q. One for each. Alan, can you explain why you didn't pit with a little over 100 laps to go; that put you out of sequence? And when most of the other field came in, did you feel in or did you feel a little nervous? And then also for Mark, from an outsider's perspective it seemed like the racing was quite aggressive and quite challenging out there. Is that the way you saw what it was like, especially toward the end of the race?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: The reason we decided not to pit in that sequence is probably a combination of experience and a little bit of error on the pit stop before. We pitted -- I don't know the laps, you'd have to look at it. We pitted the stop before. The 48 stayed out, the 14 stayed out. The 26, I can't remember, 39, kind of going down the list there, those guys stayed out and came in and pitted and got back a little bit further than I like to see our car; we got back in the 12th, 13th place range. To me you get to a certain point, you get far enough back where it's pretty dangerous; it's really hard to overcome that position, no matter how good your car is, especially here where it's so hard to pass, and then you also put yourself in a lot higher risk area for incident.
So when we got back there and we restarted a few times and the racing was pretty rough and that caution came out, I said, man, I'm not going to come; we need to be out front, and we weren't in our fuel window. Really that opportunity to pit there was not going to do us any good. We were just going to be in the same place we were with the same tires the guys around us had.
So we had to try to flip the track position on them, and when we took that opportunity to do it, we knew everybody had to stop again. Regardless if we stopped there or not, we had to come again and so did they. So that factored into the decision, and when we got out front, like I said, we started second, the 2 had the same strategy, and Mark got around Kurt in pretty good fashion and pulled away and made all that work.
Once we pitted under green, the key to that, and Mark said it nicely, we came close enough to the 11 where he got back on the lead lap in really quick order, probably three or four laps, and when we got back by the 11, at worst-case scenario I knew we were going to have a decent finish unless we got wrecked or had some unfortunate circumstances. I knew we were going to be close to the leader or pretty near the front, and we have a good car and obviously have a good enough driver. That's how it all played out.
Q. Mark, it looked like the racing was pretty tough and aggressive out there. Is that how it was from your point of view?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, it's really tough, because on restarts these things really slip around. I will say, I really gotta brag on the drivers today. They did an awesome job and did a better job than usual not running over each other because it's very, very hard. And when you have as much at stake as we have, you know, it pushes you to slip over the edge. You know, it's not like a lot of racetracks, this thing. When it starts to slip, you can't fix it. You know, you kind of slide into the other guy. It's not like another place where you start feeling it slip and you can back off a little bit.
Everybody did a great job of racing really hard but not running each other over a lot.
Q. Mark, you told us what you don't like about this racetrack and you told us what you prefer in a racetrack. What do you have to work on at this racetrack? What do you have to focus on to get the best out of a race car?
MARK MARTIN: Well, you know, we just have to get speed. I told them Saturday in practice, is the speed good, because I don't know how to get around here anyway. So don't worry about where it's slipping here or doing that there. Anything we work there, there will be compromises. If you make that over there better it'll make that worse or whatever. The thing we had was speed. I tried to live with the rest of it.
Q. Juan was asked when we were in New York by a Formula 1 writer to explain double file restarts, and he said in Formula 1 whenever he would be around someone the driver would get very nervous and say, oh, no, what's this crazy Colombian going to do next. When you lined up next to him with that three to go, did you know he was going to race you clean? He said he doesn't have enough experience racing for wins; that's how you were able to sort of snooker him. Did you know what to expect from him and know he could handle that?
MARK MARTIN: I have a lot of respect for Juan Montoya, and I had respect for him and he had for me before a lot of others on the racetrack, before they had that, before Juan and some of the other competitors. I still didn't know for sure that he wouldn't slip. I didn't know that for sure, because I know that he's racing for his first oval track win.
But I knew he wouldn't slip on purpose, and we're all fighting hard. So I tried to give him enough room but do my race, too. And that's still -- with the way this racetrack is, that still isn't enough, because even when you give the guy enough room, he's on this part down here, which really makes the car loose on the restart, and it all comes down to how hard he was going to push it and whether or not -- just to explain to you, I gave him the respect from day one on the racetrack, and I got respect a long time ago, not just today. That's all you can do. I thought that he would do the right thing, and if it didn't turn out to be the right thing, I think it would have been a mistake, not something that he was going to do to try to knock me out of the way or something to get the win. And he could count on the same from me.
That's just my code. I'm criticized for that code, and sometimes it's overlooked, the fact that you get what you give. That fact is overlooked sometimes.
Q. The decision not to race back to the caution was born right here several years ago. NASCAR waited a while on that last caution to throw it. In your opinion should it have been thrown earlier?
MARK MARTIN: Well, that's a good question. I couldn't see it, so I don't know. They probably -- for the fans' sake and for the show's sake should have waited until they did to throw it because they were waiting to see if he was going to get going, and if he would have got going, it could have been a green flag finish, and that's about the fans; that's not about the competitors. The competitors being safe is important, too, but we weren't in a dangerous situation like we were at Daytona in what year, 2007. That was different.
Here I think they should have waited until they did to throw the yellow because it could have cleared itself and then they wouldn't have spoiled the finish. Daytona with cars flipping, I think, and wrecking and everything else, I'm not so sure about that.
But it is what it is, and they do the best they can, and they're really strong and pro-fan. And that's good for you and me. It's good for all of us that they're pro-fan. Sometimes is doesn't work the way you want it to, from a competitor's standpoint.
Q. A couple of years ago we'd watch you on television in rocking chairs. How does it really feel to be a contender?
MARK MARTIN: Unbelievable. Unbelievable. If you've never experienced what we experience as drivers, and Dale Jarrett and I had this conversation Thursday, you probably can't understand, because you haven't experienced it. You know, DJ said, there'll never be anything else that's quite like that. He said he likes what he does now, but it's not the same.
And I have to face that, too, someday, but not today. It's pretty incredible the way the fans have rallied behind our effort and our success this year. It makes it even more special.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Congratulations on your victory.
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