No Distractions For Martin

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DARLINGTON, S.C. - Unlike many of his fellow Winston Cup Series competitors, there hasn’t been a lot of hoopla surrounding Mark Martin this season.

But that’s just fine with Martin. Other than his team getting recognition for having a strong season, Martin would much rather be out of the spotlight than have to deal with the distractions that come with it.

He’s glad that he hasn’t been involved in any controversy or any on-track feuds. He’s glad that he hasn’t been the center of any “silly-season” speculation among the fans and media.

He’s just happy about the fact that he’s in the hunt for his first-ever Winston Cup championship. Heading into Sunday’s Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Martin is second in the standings, 95 points behind leader Sterling Marlin.

Martin hasn’t seen the fanfare of someone like Jeff Gordon, who came under the microscope for a long winless drought until he won at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday night. Ricky Rudd wasn’t able to turn around with a microphone stuck in his face, asking him questions about his future, until he signed with the Wood Brothers Racing team a couple of weeks ago.

Martin and his No. 6 Viagra team have just been steady on the track.

“There are a plusses and minuses to all that stuff,” Martin said. “I don’t race for fame, I race to win. So, whether they notice or not doesn’t really affect me. It is very nice to be recognized for a job well done. On the other hand, when they’re on your bandwagon, there’s a certain amount of distraction and responsibility that comes along with that.

“So, I tend to not get caught up in that question and just keep the focus on what I really love to do. But, it is true that you like to be recognized for a job well done. It is also true that too much of that gets to be an additional load to all the other things that you’re doing, so I don’t really get caught up in that.”

On-track television coverage has been a sticking point for Martin and his team. Martin said was displeased with a specific network about a lack of coverage for the Viagra bunch.

“There has been some frustration, especially where FOX was concerned,” Martin said. “They didn’t cover us and I didn’t know why, but they didn’t give us the coverage that we had earned. NBC has been fair about it and they’ve been a little bit different. What you earn on the racetrack is what you are due, but it doesn’t always work out that way in this business.”

As far as the championship goes, Martin finds himself in the best position he’s been in since 1998, despite the fact he’s only been to victory lane once this season (at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May).

In 1998, Martin won seven races and finished second in the points to Jeff Gordon, who won a whopping 13 races that season. Martin finished 364 points behind Gordon that year.

The closest Martin has ever come to winning the title in his 16 seasons in Winston Cup was 1990, when he was edged out for the title by Dale Earnhardt by just 26 points.

“We have a great working relationship with (crew chief) Ben (Leslie) and (team engineer) Bob Osborne and all the guys, and it feels good to come to the racetrack and work with these guys,” Martin said. “It’s neither exciting nor depressing to be where we are in the points.

“A year ago, it was depressing because I didn’t see any opportunity to get there from where we were, and now we’re basically there. All we need now is a little polishing and a little luck, but it’s a joy to come to the track and work with this race team.”

The fact that Martin has never won a Winston Cup championship, said four-time champion Jeff Gordon, makes him a dangerous man in the next 12 races.

“Mark’s never won one, but you know he knows what to do out there,” said Jeff Gordon, who’s third in the Winston Cup standings, 111 points behind Marlin. “He knows what it takes because he’s been there before, and he’s definitely a guy that everybody is going to have to watch out for.

“The fact that he’s never won one makes him a threat because he’s hungry to get one. But it’s a unique year, and there’s no one clear cut favorite out there right now.”

This season, Martin has 15 Top-10 finishes, the most of any driver, and eight top-fives. Marlin has seven top-fives and 13 top-10s. Marlin has been inconsistent over the past few weeks, but Martin hasn’t been able to take advantage of it.

“Nobody else has been dominant, either,” Martin said. “That’s why we’re second in the points, but that’s what needs to happen (for him to be dominant) to close this deal. It’s very possible someone will do that. All somebody has to do is put something together like that and they can pull this thing off, if they don’t stumble.

“In order for the 6 car to close the deal, that’s all we’ve got to do. I mean, it’s a done deal if we can do that and not fall out of races, but I don’t know if we can do that or not. I don’t know if anyone can, but I’m just saying to close the deal, man, it would be a no-brainer. We could go out there and take this thing right now if we could go out and run in the top 3 six times or eight times and not fall out of any of the last 12 races. No one could touch us.”

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