Experience, energy makes Martin a unique driver

Mark Martin brings a unique combination to racing.

He’s a tenacious and classy racer on the track but also a

detail-oriented guy off of it. He’s a veteran of the sport who

brings a wealth of knowledge to any group and a man profoundly

committed to helping other drivers make inroads into the sport.

On top of it all, he’s a pure talent who has shown the

ability to adapt to the increasingly aggressive and competitive

world of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing over the years.

This year, that combination of talents netted Martin his

fifth runner-up finish in the Cup series and five wins in his debut

season with Hendrick Motorsports. He and his Alan Gustafson-led

team gained momentum over the course of the year, led the standings

during the Chase for the Sprint Cup and was the only outfit

mathematically capable of challenging teammate Jimmie Johnson in

the season finale.

It’s clear the impact going to Hendrick has had on Martin.

After two years of part-time racing, he was rejuvenated and showed

an enthusiasm for the sport belying his almost 30 years of

competition. Martin, 50, gained new life in the sport.

What may be less obvious is the impact he had on Hendrick

Motorsports – and how that played into both this year’s

championship race and his future role in the organization.

Not only are Hendrick crew chiefs Gustafson and Chad Knaus,

who won his fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title with

Johnson, childhood fans of Martin, but they also seem thrilled to

be working with him this season. They are pleased with the overall

performance gains of the No. 5 team this season, and they are also

impressed with the way Martin has helped the entire organization

raise its level of competition.

Already among the top organizations in the sport, Hendrick

reached new heights this season as Johnson won the title and Martin

and Jeff Gordon took the next two spots for the first sweep ever of

the top three positions.

Part of that success, and the promise for 2010, comes from

the philosophies Martin has woven into the team.

He has found a way to perhaps get even more valuable

information and input from four-time champions Johnson and Gordon.

“I think he brings great experience, not only from a

motorsports side of things but life experiences,” Knaus says.

“Obviously he’s older than we are, so he’s done more, and he has

experienced more things. He really pulls good information out of

the other drivers. It’s real easy, especially with what we’ve got

going on now with different tires, and obviously we hate to compare

cars still, but with this car that we’ve got, there’s only so much

you can do to it before the driver just has to say that’s about as

good as it’s going to be, and I have to go through with it and

drive it.

“And I think when we get together with Mark as a group, a lot

of the drivers will come in discouraged and be just like, ‘Man,

that’s all I’ve got,’ or even Mark could possibly do that. What

ends up happening is they start to discuss it, and they’re like,

wow, that’s what my car is doing, too, and they start to feed off

of that, and then Mark starts to influence those guys, just like,

you know, ‘Guys, we can get through this; we can do this.'”

Knaus says that Martin has a way to not only put a positive

spin on things but also to make it clear that everything is merely

a step in the process.

In racing, one is never done with anything – there are always

improvements to be made. Martin embraces that philosophy and

encourages others to do the same.

“You’re never done working on it,” Knaus says of Martin. “It

could always be better. It’s just time to go race.

“And I think he brings a lot of that mentality to where we’re

like, ‘Look, we’re going to work on it until the last lap of the

race and try to make it better.’ He’s got that desire that not a

lot of people have.”

Gustafson concurs.

He says that Martin, for all his vast experience, knows what

he wants in the car and knows what he needs in the car. He helps

the team diagnose its own issues.

Having Martin and Johnson in the same group, offering input

that is shared by all, is invaluable to a championship-contending

organization.

“There’s been a lot of times during the year that the 48 (of

Johnson) and the 5 (of Martin) have been very similar or the 24 (of

Gordon) and the 5 have been very similar,” Gustafson says. “All

four cars (including teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.) have been

similar. To watch Mark have the dialogue with those other drivers

and when you get a guy like Mark Martin and a guy like Jimmie

Johnson on very similar equipment, getting their feedback is just

priceless. It allows us to take things so much further, and with

the lack of testing, you don’t have that benefit if you have a

rookie driver or drivers that don’t have the experience or the

intelligence level or the ability that those two have. They’re two

of the best.

“So it’s really neat to be involved with that, when you get

the four talented drivers we have, get them on similar equipment

and then listen to how each one of them will dissect the car

differently, and I think Mark does as good a job with that as

anybody.”

When team owner Rick Hendrick looks at Martin, he sees a man

with uncanny similarities to Johnson.

They both bring a strong work ethic and ability to dissect

things to the sport. Putting them together has only heightened the

competitiveness of their teams.

“They’re as close to being identical as any two I’ve ever

been around,” Hendrick says. “They are both students of what it

takes both in the car and outside of the car. And their dedication

to excellence, it’s remarkable. Their talent speaks for itself. …

They just are never satisfied without everything around them being

as perfect as it can be. They put all of the load on their

shoulders.”

Martin says he just likes the camaraderie among those

involved with his new program.

He sees key assets within the group, including the ability to

work together through both setbacks and triumphs.

“We support each other 100 percent,” he says of his team.

“That’s a mature team, and I, through all the years, have some

maturity as a driver, and whenever things turn bad for either one

of us we’re there for each other. Never a group that would point

fingers at one another. We’re all in it together.”

And now, they are looking forward to another run at the title

next season.

Martin spent this season speaking of how he felt rejuvenated

and ready to take on the racing world once more. At the end of the

year, as he fell just 141 points shy of finally winning his first

title, he continued to carry a boyish enthusiasm for the season.

Now, Martin is ready to go once more.

Martin points out that he’s already looking forward to next

season – a feeling somewhat unfamiliar to him.

“This is the first time in as long as I can remember that I’m

not glad it’s over with,” he says. “I’m fine. I’ve had a blast all

year, and I do look forward to starting with a clean slate.”

Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published

weekly, 46 weeks per year. Visit

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