NASCAR veteran Mark Martin heads into this weekend's Sprint Cup finale with a slim chance of overtaking Jimmie Johnson and claiming his first series crown. He's optimistic, despite the long odds.
Q. Mark, we go back a few years when Matt Kenseth won his championship in 2004, there was a lot of complaints that things had gotten boring, it was a runaway. Now, unless something happens on Sunday that's going to be a big surprise, I think Jimmie is going to wrap four in a row. You're going to try to make that not happen obviously. Is there anything that can be done to make things more competitive than what's happening right now with the current Chase format?
MARK MARTIN: Well, it doesn't matter what you do, over the course of time there are going to be runaways and there are going to be thrillers, whether it's points or just a racetrack. Same thing with a racetrack. You know, one race will be a runaway, and then you'll have a bunch that are OK – maybe good, but OK. Then every once in a while you'll have a thriller.
That's just how it works. Doesn't matter what the track shape is or what the system is, it's gonna happen.
Q. Although Roush Fenway hasn't announced it officially yet, Jimmy Fennig we kind of expect may not be back as David Ragan's crew chief. You worked with him for a long time. If this is his last race as a Cup crew chief, what do you want to say about him?
MARK MARTIN: I'm actually really happy for Jimmy. I think in some ways Jimmy is ready to cut back a little bit from the role, all the pressures of the role, that he has. I can't announce what it is exactly that he'll be doing, but I have a picture in my mind of what's in store for Jimmy, and I think that he'll be very, very happy. My expectation is that he'll be happier than he is now moving forward with his new role. That's my expectations. I'm not inside the group over there, but I think I know how things are going to play out and kind of what he's going to be doing in a sense. My expectation is that he will be happier than he is now.
There comes that time when you have to make a shift in what you do, much like I did in 2007, catch your breath.
Q. This apparently is the only track Rick hasn't won at. Is that hard to believe? How much does that drive the organization to try to get that this weekend?
MARK MARTIN: Well, yes and no. I mean, as I was explaining to Mike, kind of the same kind of logic applies to this as well. Sometimes your number just doesn't turn up on the card, you know.
Biffle, you know, has had a very good handle on this place, and Tony Stewart. You know, there wasn't a lot of wins to be passed around because of some of the guys who really hit this place right.
There's no reason why we can't win this weekend, why one of our cars can't win, just because we haven't before. I mean, I have no concerns whatsoever about the performance of my racecar. I'm very comfortable that what we've been doing is gonna work just as well here as other places.
Q. I imagine that no matter what happens Sunday, you'll go to bed that evening feeling you did everything you could have this season. Is that the case? If so, can you elaborate just a bit on that?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, it is the case. You know, I'm very comfortable with where I am right now. I'm very proud of my race team. I feel like it's been a tremendous accomplishment to even give those guys any kind of run for their money, is a tremendous accomplishment. And my race team deserves great credit for what we've done.
You know, I feel really good about things. And I've had the time of my life. I'm in the best frame of mind that I have been since I've been an adult. You know, this has been the best time. You know, I look forward every time I have an opportunity to go strap in that racecar and to work and interact with my team.
Q. Your teammate Jimmie Johnson, obviously their success is attributed to them running well those last 10 races the past four years. As a driver over the years, how is it possible to just run well during the regular season and then really turn it up a notch for the last 10 races? Is that something you can plan and do like they've done?
MARK MARTIN: I think they can. And it's something more in the hands of the mechanical side than it is in Jimmie's hands. You know, Jimmie turns it up every time he straps in. But I think that the guys build toward that. You know, they build through the season, they build toward having a faster racecar.
The easiest way to win these races is to have a faster racecar than everybody else. That's the easiest way. There's a lot of other ways to do it, but the easiest way is just have a faster racecar than everyone. And they do a good job of putting all the pieces together at one time, you know, once the 10 starts.
Q. I remember a couple of years ago when you announced you were going to run the limited schedule. You were talking with great satisfaction that you weren't going to have to go to Bristol, Talladega, some of those tracks that you may not necessarily enjoy racing at. How long did it take for you to get the desire back to compete at those when you decided to come back on a full-time deal?
MARK MARTIN: It really wasn't any problem. You know, really the only one left there on that list is Talladega (laughter). We had a blast at Bristol. I think we sat on the pole both times, contended, led the most laps, contended to win the second one there. Had good runs at Martinsville. We got a win at New Hampshire.
It was just a whole new year this year. New frame of mind, new year. Like I said, you've got to understand that I love going to work with those guys every day and competing.
Q. Did you find the weekends off the last couple years, you were kind of looking for things to do?
MARK MARTIN: The first year, in '07, no, I wasn't looking for nothing to do. But in '08, I was charged up and it was fine. But, you know, I was a little less…. I don't know how to explain it. In 2007 I needed them. Man, I really cherished every one, every minute of it. 2008, I was having a good time. I was really happy. I could have been there or not.
In 2009, you know, with this team, the way things are going, it's my passion, it's my life. There's nothing else in the world I want to do.