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
“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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
target="_blank">www.scenedaily.comfor more information.