Martin: Two Races are Very Similar
The NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, run in three segments totaling 135 miles, used to be a sprint race, and the Coca-Cola 600 was a 600-mile endurance test. But now young, aggressive drivers and more durable, equally matched cars have combined to make the 600 a longer version of the all-star race.
"The NEXTEL All-Star Challenge is a series of short runs," said Mark Martin, who won last year's all-star event and claimed the Coca-Cola 600 trophy in 2002. "But that's all we've got in Cup anymore. These races are just a series of 'short squirts.' You can't give up speed anymore figuring to get it back the last 20 percent of a fuel run. That's how you won races in the past, but that won't work anymore."
Teams used to bring fast, experimental cars to the all-star race and then use more conservative, durable machines for the 600. No more. While most teams still use separate cars, there isn't much difference in the engines or chassis setups.
"Six hundred miles is still a long way, but I expect it to be a series of quite a few short runs," said Martin. "To win, you'll have to race smart and do everything right. It's probably going to be difficult for any one driver to have a dominant car."
Martin has stood the test of time and no one currently racing in NASCAR has more time-honored wisdom than the 47-year-old veteran from Batesville, Ark. He first raced in what is now the NEXTEL Cup Series in 1981 and is the all-time leader in Busch Series victories.
Four times Martin has finished second in the Cup point standings. He's been fourth in each of the past two seasons and has finished in the top-five a whopping 12 times.
When Martin won last year's NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, many saw it as the great farewell victory of his career as 2005 was supposed to be his final season as a full-time NEXTEL Cup driver.
In fact, after Martin's victory in the all-star race, team owner Jack Roush said, "I'm holding out hope that this won't be Mark's last Challenge," and, at the time, most thought the remark had been made at least partly in jest.
But at Roush's behest, Martin eventually reconsidered his plans for 2006 and is back in the seat of the No. 6 AAA Ford. In fact, Martin is racing more than ever and is scheduled to compete in each of the four major races this month at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Martin will defend his title in the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and attempt to win a second Coca-Cola 600 trophy. The CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on Saturday night, May 27, could turn out to be Martin's seventh Busch Series victory at LMS, and he will also compete in the May 19 Quaker Steak & Lube 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.
"I had fun last year, which was really cool," Martin said. "It was the best year of my life professionally and personally, so I just want everybody to make sure they know they're talking to a guy who had a blast last year.
"I've got a lot of balls in the air. Jack (Roush) has a strategy that says, 'Don't worry about it. I know you. Just go have fun with it this year. The pressure is off and you might do better than you ever have.' Boy that sounds real good to me."
Tickets for all May events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including the May 20 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the May 28 Coca-Cola 600, can be purchased by calling 1-800-455-FANS or online here.