Cup-less Martin gets no respect
Doubters of driver persist despite his 33 victories
By Sandra McKee
Originally published July 6, 2002
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Retired Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl, but no one doubts his greatness. NASCAR driver Mark Martin should be so lucky.
Now, sitting in his team's transporter, he is listening to remarks made by Fox television analysts Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds, and Martin's blood pressure is rising.
Speaking during a conference call a few days ago, Waltrip and McReynolds had a conversation that went like this:
"Over the past couple months, Mark Martin has been the most consistent of the whole group [of drivers]," said McReynolds.
"Yeah," said Waltrip, a three-time Winston Cup champion, "but history tells me Roush Racing hasn't won a championship."
"Not to say anything negative against Roush Racing or Mark Martin," said McReynolds. "They've put themselves in position to win a championship, [but] when it comes down to the final hour, they hit the panic button too hard."
Martin is silent.
His jaw begins to work.
He inches forward on his chair, and now, he has advanced to within an inch of the interviewer's face.
"We were penalized out of a championship in 1990, when we weren't in violation of any performance issue," said Martin, recalling the unapproved manifold that resulted in one of the rare times NASCAR has taken points away for a post-race rules violation. "Another year, we were racing the most fierce competitor of all - Dale Earnhardt. We were desperately trying to win, but we were only in our third year and Dale Earnhardt was at his very best."
Martin paused for breath.
"You don't win these things when you go against the very best at their very best," he said. "When you go against Richard Petty at his best - ask Darrell Waltrip. He couldn't win a title against R.P. at his best. You win them when R.P. isn't at his best. That's when Darrell Waltrip won and others won titles, when Darrell wasn't at his best."
Martin has finished second in the Winston Cup championship race three times. He has been unlucky enough to be at his best at the same time Earnhardt was at his in 1990 and 1994 and when Jeff Gordon was rolling up the largest points total (5,328) in the sport's history in 1998.
"I didn't panic and neither did my team," Martin growled. "It's irritating because those guys don't know what they're talking about."
Now the 20-year veteran is livid, but he doesn't want to be. He doesn't even acknowledge that he is.
"I really don't care what people think," he said. "Maybe I'm not good enough to win a championship, but I've won more trophies than some guys who have won two championships. Some of those guys haven't won as many races as I have, but they have championships. What have they had that I haven't? Luck. I'm not Darrell Waltrip."
Actually, Martin's 33 wins are better than seven of the sport's 24 champions, including two-time titlists Terry Labonte (21 wins) and Joe Weatherly (24).
And Martin, 43, is once more second in the championship race, 62 points behind Sterling Marlin as the series advances toward the season's halfway point today in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
It is something of an amazing place to find him. Last season was one of his most disappointing. He didn't win a race and finished 12th in points. It was his worst performance since 1988.
But this season has been different. And when he is talking about his team and his performance, the darkness leaves his blue eyes and a smile cracks his stern face.
"We have more engine power," he said, explaining his revival. "We have a better handling car. And, we have better pit stops. That boils down to a faster car and I'm not losing time in the pits."
And the driver?
"The driver is the same," he said. "I didn't just get smarter. I don't think Sterling is leading the points and I'm second because of more experience. I think we're there because we have good cars. Obviously, we've made fewer mistakes than some - but not fewer than Jeff Gordon or Bobby Labonte. It's just that I'm driving a faster car. I think that's why we're where we are right now."
This might be his year, or not. A lot of people are saying it is the year of the young drivers. Martin can't say about that. But he is absolutely sure if he doesn't win it won't be because he or his team pushed any panic button.
"If I have an advantage," he said, "it's that I've had worse than average luck, and there is always a chance for a coin flipping and landing on the other side. That could determine this championship. It's going to be the guy who doesn't have the flat tire, who didn't break the dollar part. It isn't going to be because someone was young and dumb or old and wise - though I won't say someone won't say that after the fact."
Waltrip is a clown, and a big mouth. I still don't think he understands he's doing color for a sport and is supposed to be impartial.
Maybe when he takes his nose out of Jr and Waltrips asses he'll be worth his salt in the booth and as a sports analyst, until then he's a worthless has been, bent on reliving his past and humiliating himself.
Mark has been so close, he could win it this year.
Mark as well may be looking at how much longer he intends to stay in WC. A quote following the race leads me to believe he has a time frame in mind.
WHAT ABOUT ALL THE WRECKS? "It's restrictor plate racing. Fans love it." WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO GOT CAUGHT UP ON THE BACKSTRETCH? "You can't help it. That's what you get. I'm glad there is only one more this year and I can count how many I've got to do left in my career. Restrictor plate races are miserable -- they really are -- unless you've got a car like the 8 and the 15. I guess it's not miserable for them because they don't have to deal with the pack."
I always thought that Mark would win a title in the early 90's but it just never went his way. Like the article said, if it wasn't Dale Earnhardt kickin his butt it was Jeff Gordon. Mark just never put it together in the right season. But he is in good position this year to get it done. That is if Sterling will ever give up that lead. It seems as if nobody wants to take it from him. I figure that after ten of the twenty race stretch that they are on you'll be able to narrow it down to about three or four people with a legit shot at winning it. Then the pressure will build and it will get interesting.
So, then, should broadcasters allocate the amount of time they spend discussing drivers based on total wins? If so, you're going to hear a lot less about Tony Stewart than you presently do. Same goes for Jimmy Johnson. Forget about Ryan Newman altogether. He should NEVER be discussed, by that logic.
Don't get me wrong. I do think DW is a terrible broadcaster and more than a bit biased towards certain drivers. I just don't happen to think Dale Jr. is one of them. Michael, certainly, but for obvious reasons.
If anything, I'd be inclined to believe that FOX might encourage DW and crew to play up the Dale Jr. stuff because he's so popular and it's good for ratings. But what other reason would he have for that bias?
Watch any sport, the best in the game gets focused on more often than the average people.
Jordan got more TV time than Isiah Thomas, Woods gets more coverage than Garcia. It would be a travesty to what the athlete accomplished if broadcasters were all like DW. If, in Michael's prime, the announcers only talked about Thomas they would be doing a disservice to Jordan.
I think DW is more partial to Chevy,and who drives them .DW will tell his story many differant ways during the race. In the first 10 laps he had Gordon winning it all.Then it was Mike,Shallow is the word for DW.Thats just my opinoin,and I am sticking to it,which is more than I can say for DW.
Agreed, Paul. But then DW shouldn't give as much airtime as he does to Jimmy Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch (he LOVES Kurt Busch) and the other so-called young guns. If they're winning, fine. Talk about them then. But not week in, week out as he's been doing. And if it's their great potential that's getting all his attention, the same could be said about Dale Jr. You may not agree, but I think he's at least as talented as that group of drivers.
I agree with DW and Larry Mac. When Mark gets going in a hot streak and looks like he can't be beat it seems like he shoots himself in the foot. I am not a fan of Mark Martin and Roush Racing, never have never will, but it sounds like he might not be racing in a few years so they better make sure that they have thier gameplan all figured out for the rest of the year or he may never win a championship.
I'm going to listen for that on Wednesday. That was pretty stupid of him to change his tune like that. You'd think he'd go out of his way to appear impartial towards his brother for fear of these very accusations. (I know I would.) Unfortunately, one of his first broadcasts was the 2001 Daytona 500 (right?), so that seems to have set the precedent in terms of public enthusiasm for his brother's accomplishments. That was the first one, after all.
If the NBC guys were smart, they'd be reading boards like this to gauge what fans like and don't like about their broadcasts. Then again, you'd think FOX would have done the same. That's the really arrogant part of it all. Unless we're in the minority, and most folks actually like DW's work? I suspect that may be the case. It's the LCD factor all over again...
I don't mind DW at all! I think he brings a lot to the table in announcing races. He has a great background in racing and he knows the ins and outs of the cars and how they work and also how the drivers think !!!!
I really did love ESPN coverage though! I thought Benny and Bob Jenkins worked well together in the booth !!! Those guys were the best in my Opinion!!
He did get screwed in 1990. I'm not a Martin fan by any means but when that happened back in '90 I was extremely disappointed in NASCAR. I think that they made a wrong judgement call and it cost a guy a Winston Cup title that he so deserves.
Paul, abooja, I submit myself for acceptance into the minority. Jaws is a buffoon on his good days, a rectal infection on his average days, and we won't even discuss his bad days. I have despised him longer than I have any single sports figure in any sport. During a telecast he will contradict himself at least a dozen times. If he had a mind he couldn't make it up. Plus his wife challenges Janet Reno as scarecrow material. All he can talk about is how every move on the track scares him to death. He was the same way when he drove - scared. That's why he wanted restrictor plates so damn bad, the speeds SCARED him, and he admitted as much many times. What a wuss. If y'all are startin an Anti Jaws Society, I want in.