At 5’6″ and 135 lbs Mark Martin does not strike an imposing figure. But when you listen to the drivers in the garage talk about him you would think he was 8 feet tall and had wings. With the years of experience behind him, the reverence you see in the eyes of the drivers when they talk about him is well earned. Mark Martin may be the oldest active driver on the track, but yesterday he was also the fastest. Carl Edwards said that he thought he had left maybe a little bit of speed out there, well he did, and Mark Martin found it.
“The one thing that you’ll get from me is every ounce that I can find,” Martin said. “You get that no matter what the result may be.”
It’s the experience that counts, and Martin has earned more than anyone else in the garage.
“Gosh, I’ve had a few years of practice,” Martin said. “I don’t need a whole bunch of practice. I just need a race car like what I drove [Friday]. I need fast race cars, and that’s what [crew chief] Rodney Childers is giving me.
“All it is is driving the car — I’ve been doing that since I was 15.”
With a speed of 199.706 MPH Martin came close to breaking the 200mph mark that was seen here at MIS back in June.
“It was obscene. It was crazy,” he said. “To be able to get that lap is a nice thing [but] the fastest car does not always win the race.”
“I believe this race team is up to the challenge of contending and winning a race somewhere along the way,” he says. “I can’t know if it could possibly be this one. All I know is we’re probably not going to have to take a middle-of-the-pack race car and try to win with it. That is a feather in our cap.”
Carl Edwards will start on the outside of Martin in the 2nd position with his qualifying effort of 198.626 MPH. Edwards was all smiles as he talked about seeing his time fall to Martin right at the end of the knockout qualifying session.
“There are generations of people who have all had little Mark Martin toys,” Edwards said. “Who knows? My kids some day might be racing against the guy. … And they will probably be just as frustrated.”
“He is living the dream,” Edwards said. “He has had a successful career and [now] he’s able to pick and choose which races he’s going to run — and he performs well at them. I think that is pretty amazing, especially at his age. … He can probably bench press more than all of us.”
Dale Earnhardt return to the track where he earned his last 2 wins, 4 years apart. In June he dominated here and although he had handling issues in the early stages of the race he made his way to the front and led the field to the checkered flag with ease. He may have a little bit more of a struggle this time. The car he won with in June was what he was prepared to run until a late crash in the 3rd and final practice. Although the backup car he will be using has never turned a racing lap at MIS it has been here before for testing.
“We tested it here when we first came, so we know a lot about the car here at this particular track, where in most cases you don’t,” said Earnhardt. “We have that going for us. We have a lot of information, and I feel like we should be able to put a car out there that’s relatively in the ballpark. … Other than just starting at the back, I don’t think it’s hurt our chances too much. I mean, you hate to wreck the primary car, but the consequences and the situation really couldn’t be more favorable with the backup than it is here for us.”
“We were making some changes on the car, and got the car too loose, and it just came out from under me in the corner,” he said. “A little bit of being too free, and probably running harder than I should have been in practice.”
Jr. is confident that chances can be taken early in the race to move forward, and if not he is prepared to drive his way to the front.
“We can take no tires, two tires, whatever, and gain a lot of track position throughout the first part of the race if we get the opportunity under yellows,” he said. “If we don’t have yellows, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
“When we won here in [June], we fell all the way to the back having some trouble with the balance of the car, and made some changes. So we’ve come out of a hole before here and won the race, so I feel pretty good about our chances still. We’ve just got to make sure we do all our homework up in the front of the hauler here, and when they put it out on the starting grid, it’s close. It needs to be close. We don’t want to have to deal with the car being way off balance-wise at the start of the race. Because that could make it tough for us to finish well.”
Jr. will not be alone starting from the rear of the field as his teammate Jimmie Johnson replaced an engine Saturday, a change which requires vacating his 3rd place qualifying position on the grid and move to the rear of the field.