CONCORD, N.C. Mark Martin won the 1998 Nextel All-Star Challenge, and it was part of a season that included a career-best 22 top-five finishes. Although he's only won two races since then, he still gets excited about racing. The 45-year-old driver talked about this Saturday's all-star race and the rest of the NASCAR season.
Question: Why is there a different mindset for racing's all-star event compared to all-star events for football, basketball, hockey and baseball?
Martin: First of all, I don't know anything about other all-star events. I've never watched one in my entire life, so I don't know how to compare it to that. But for racers, it doesn't really matter what your motivation is to race whether it's the trophy, whether it's the money, whether it's the recognition, it all goes hand-in-hand. The most important races that I know of typically pay the most and they typically have the biggest trophy and also get the most recognition. In motorsports, that's how we do it. We put the most effort toward the races that seem to be the most important to us and typically it's one or all of those three things together.
Question: Is there a different mindset for an all-star race versus a regular season race?
Martin: In today's day and age, you don't let yourself get behind anyway, not unless you can't help it. To be real honest with you, my mindset is not real different for that race than any other race. As soon as the green flag comes out, it's only so many to go. If it's 599 miles to go or if it's one mile to go. From the time the green flag comes out, it's X to go and you've got to start strategizing based on what amount of time is left. I've always been one to oversimplify things or definitely keep it simple. When you're no brighter than I am, you don't need to try to get things too complicated."
Question: Is the all-star race just as big as it was 10 years ago?
Martin: The race is bigger than it ever was to many of us because it pays more money, it has a bigger, prettier trophy, and it will be watched by more people. Those three things pretty much sum up whatever drives anyone in motorsports, so it is a very special race and it's really important to the competitors. I mean, really important to the competitors. I feel like it's grown and I feel like it's an even bigger deal than it ever was and I think that was the intent. It definitely has managed to keep pace with the changing times.
Question: The 1998 season was one of your best. What memories do you have from that season?
Martin: That was a great season. We had a fresh, new team in '98 and a new Taurus in '98. We got started off to a great, great season by winning the third race on the schedule at Vegas and we went into Charlotte, of course, excited because that's such an awesome race track to race on. I mean, it is the ultimate. We were running along right at the end of the (all-star) race and coming off Turn 4 to get the white flag, I got under Bobby Labonte and passed him. Just about the time I cleared him, Jeff Gordon was leading the race, he pulled down to the inside and slowed down and right about the start-finish line I passed him and there was one more lap and we won the race. It came to us as a surprise and those, honestly, are by far the greatest wins of my career the ones that were a surprise. The ones that you expect, you're just relieved when you win and not really excited. So that one was a really neat win. It was a special night and kind of made up for one other year when we thought we had the race won and the caution flag came out coming to the white flag. We forgot we were running Saturday night rules at the time and thought that thing might be over with and (Dale) Earnhardt wound up beating us out for the thing. We've had a lot of good runs at Charlotte in everything from Busch cars, I don't know how many races we won with the Busch car, and the Cup car and the all-star race. It's a great track to race on.
Question: Have you heard any reaction from the fans or in the garage about the new schedule?
Martin: My finger is not directly on the pulse of the fans, other than I have heard some slight negative reaction. But anytime anything changes you hear that. I think they're taking us to race tracks that we need to be going to, but nobody likes breaking the tradition and leaving wonderful racetracks behind like Rockingham or Darlington or what have you. We definitely need to be racing more in Texas and Vegas and California, and Phoenix is a wonderful track. I don't know what that does that maybe slights the East Coast race fans some, but the West Coast fans gain. One man's loss is another person's gain. It's not my area to know what's right or what's best. As a competitor goes, it's going to be greatly more difficult on the competitors the new schedule. But with that being said, it is the right direction for what the sport is doing. This sport is growing. It's getting more fans. It's getting more popular and it's getting more commercialized and that is in line with the direction of this sport and the direction this sport has been going for the last 15 years. With every change there are pluses and minuses."
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