Martin Tries To Go From Last To First

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.-– For Mark Martin, there’s always Watkins Glen.

No matter how badly he and his team are struggling, a trip to Watkins Glen International for a NASCAR Winston Cup race is always a therapeutic weekend for Roush Racing. Martin hasn’t been to victory lane at the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course since 1995, but he has finished in the top-five there 10 out of the past 11 years.

The only exception was last year’s event, when he came home 10th.

"We feel pretty good about Watkins Glen, we always have," said Martin, who has three career triumphs there. "We tested well and we feel good about it. We know that we can always come here and put the Valvoline Ford up front, and that’s a good feeling when you come to a racetrack.

"We’ve struggled the past couple of races and had some things happen to us and it’s really hurt us in the points. We really need something to get this thing turned around, and I think Watkins Glen is just the medicine for what ails us. We’re looking forward to a good weekend."

Uncharacteristically, Martin has been involved in early accidents the past two races. He wrecked early on in the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway a few weeks back that relegated him to a last-place finish, then he crashed early in Saturday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that once again left him in 43rd place at the end of the day.

That, in turn, has pushed him all the way back to 10th place in the Winston Cup point standings, a whopping 484 points behind leader Bobby Labonte. He is, however, only 61 points behind eighth place Jeff Gordon and 93 points behind seventh place Ward Burton.

For a driver who was once again expected to challenge for the Winston Cup championship in 2000, that’s certainly unfamiliar territory.

Following his accident at Indianapolis, Martin said it’s almost laughable the things that have happened to him this season.

"Yeah, I wasn’t even all that mad (after the accident)," Martin said. "If that would have happened a year ago I would have had to either kill myself or someone. I really didn’t get that mad because it’s just like, 'I can’t believe it.'

"That’s why it took so long for me to get out of the car. I wasn’t hurt, I was just stunned, really. I couldn’t believe that I was wrecked on lap 15."

Martin said although it’s difficult for a driver and a team to keep their enthusiasm up during a rough stretch such as the one the team has encountered, he hasn’t had to be a cheerleader for his crew.

"Fortunately, they don’t need me to do that," he said. "I would, and I have in the past, but it’s not critical. They’re handling that on their own very well, so, therefore, it’s not something I have to make a specific effort to do.

"I always try to project a good attitude and a good vibe to everyone and try to keep everybody pumped up, but this is a great race team that doesn’t thrive on my attitude or rely on me to carry the attitude. They’ve got a good attitude and, if anything, they pump me up."

As it’s always been, Martin’s main focus is to continue to try and win races each week. He’s posted only one victory this season, back in April in the Goody’s Body Pain 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"All that does is take a little bit of stress and strain off of scoring every point and puts a little bit more stress and strain on just sheer performance," Martin said. "So, it’s still just as strenuous, but the strain is in a little different focus.

"If you’re in the points championship, you never want to lose a point. If you’re gonna run sixth, you’ve gotta kill yourself for fifth. If you’re not in the points championship, which obviously we’re not right now, if you’re running sixth you’ve gotta really try to kill yourself to figure out how to get first out of it. It’s just a little bit different reality that you’re dealing with."

Despite his recent troubles, Martin seems as good a candidate, if any, to keep Jeff Gordon from extending his six-race winning streak on Winston Cup road courses. Gordon has won three straight times at Watkins Glen and three consecutive events at Sears Point (Calif.), including the June Save Mart/Kragen 350.

"Watkins Glen has been a real fun place for me to drive although it’s especially challenging to pass," Martin said. "But we’ve always been pretty successful at doing that. I’ve been pretty fortunate there and we’re looking forward to going back.

"If anything, this team needs a victory, and I think that will certainly go a long way for the rest of the season for us. We think we can do it at a place like Watkins Glen, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to try."

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