NASCAR's Mark Martin
2003 Season Articles - January

Driven To Be The Best
By Tony Fabrizio
LapbyLap/Media General News Service
Winston Salem Journal
January 28, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you're wondering whether Mark Martin is lamenting the growing possibility he won't win a Winston Cup championship, go ahead and wonder.

But don't ask.

Of course, somebody always does.

"I don't know why I have to consistently explain to writers why my career's not in crisis," Martin said last week, adopting the scolding tone he uses when the subject is broached. "My glass is very full. There is probably room in that glass for a couple of things in it that are not in the glass yet, but it's very full. I've had a fantastic career and I'm very proud of it."

This time it was Larry Woody, a columnist with The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville, who was pressing Martin for introspection.

Some veterans, Martin was reminded, say their careers will not be full if they do not win the championship.

"Who?" Martin wanted to know.

Sterling Marlin, for instance.

"Maybe he doesn't have four IROC championships and 33 Winston Cup wins and 45 Busch wins and all that stuff," Martin retorted. "He'd better get on with it is all I've got to say. I would hate to think my career's been a failure."

No failure. At worst, Martin will go down in history as the finest stock car racer never to win a major championship.

Last year's runner-up finish to Tony Stewart was Martin's eighth time in the final top three. He also was a bridesmaid in 1990 and '94 behind Dale Earnhardt and '98 behind Jeff Gordon.

Maybe the reason Martin is questioned so often about his career is that he often leaves the door open. One of the most complex personalities in racing, he frequently comes across as moody and sullen, yet always manages to quantify disappointment with pragmatism.

For instance, he treated last year's controversial 25-point penalty from NASCAR for a minor rules violation with resignation because, he said, he has no control over the matter. He lost the championship to Stewart by 38 points.

When Martin does light up, it's usually because of his other passion -- directing the racing career of his 11-year-old son, Matt, and following the progress of other young stalwarts.

Matt won two track championships in Quarter Midgets at New Smyrna last year as well as a state championship in Bandolero cars. He'll continue in Quarter Midgets and Bandelors this year, working on a foundation his dad believes will take him to Winston Cup.

Would Martin ease his son into the big time or allow him to come up at say 22, as Roush Racing teammate Kurt Busch did?

"Twenty-two would be too late," Martin deadpans.

There's a kid named Patrick Conrad from the Quarter Midget ranks, Martin goes on, who could fare well in a big-league car now. He's 14.

"You take him to a racetrack and by the end of the day, he would be doing anything I can do," Martin said. "I'm a race fan, and these young kids are amazing. A lot of you guys [media]criticized me for talking about this stuff two years ago, and now everybody's getting interested."

Skeptics looked at Martin's 12th-place finish in the 2001 point standings, listened to him rave about Quarter Midget racing, and concluded that he had lost interest in his own career. Last year's comeback proved otherwise.

There's reason to believe that although he is 44, Martin could be a factor again this year. For one, he is driving for red-hot Roush Racing, which won 10 Winston Cup races last year, for another, he is clicking with crew chief Ben Leslie, who came aboard at the start of last season in a swap with Busch's team.

"I can tell you with confidence that we're going to be better this year," Martin said. "What I can't tell you is whether other people will be better as well."

IROC Sticks With Firebird Bodies For One More Season
AutoWeek - Motorsports News
January 28, 2003

IROC will roll through another year with Pontiac Firebird bodies on its tube-frame stock cars, though it will do so again without any Pontiac support.

ďWeíve decided to hang with the car for another year,Ē True Value International Race of Champions series president Jay Signore said. ďWeíll struggle for a year, but weíve raced for the last two years without Pontiac support and I think we still put on an exciting show.Ē

Signore said he has talked with GM, Ford and the Chrysler group about potential replacements for the Firebird, which no longer is in production. He suggested the series would be interested in again running with a ďconceptĒ body of an upcoming vehicle, much as it did in 1994 when it raced with Dodge Avenger bodies over its tube-frame cars. The Firebird replaced the Avenger as the IROC car in 1996.

Signore said Chrysler expressed interest in IROC Vipers, but that the IROC series is ďbetter off if we can run with a higher-volume car.Ē Using Vipers also could present the problem of having to create an all-new chassis for the series instead of simply installing new engines and bodies.

Signore would have liked approval to do a race version of Pontiacís new GTO, but Pontiac officials told him the reborn muscle car is a limited-production vehicle (and thus likely wonít need the exposure IROC might provide). Still, says Signore, every day, ďMy e-mailís been loadedĒ with queries from fans asking why the series isnít running with the Australian-built Pontiac. (Perhaps he should forward those e-mails to GM officials.)

The 27th IROC season begins Feb. 14 at Daytona. It includes events April 5 at Talladega, July 12 at Joliet, Illinois, and Aug. 2 at Indianapolis. Participating for 2003 are NASCAR drivers Greg Biffle, Mike Bliss, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Ryan Newman; the IRLís Helio Castroneves, Felipe Giaffone and Sam Hornish; and the World of Outlawsí Steve Kinser and Danny Lasoski . Biffle (representing the Busch Series), Bliss (Craftsman Truck), Busch, Giaffone, Johnson and Newman are IROC rookies. Harvick is the defending series champion.

Martin Looking Forward To Daytona
Martin, No. 6 Viagraģ Racing Team Ready for Speedweeks
Roush Racing

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 27, 2002) - Mark Martin is ready to get back on the track. A season removed from his 2002 rejuvenation, Martin readily awaits the start of the 2003 Winston Cup season, a season that will mark his 17th full season in Winston Cup.

Martin will be making his 19th run in the famed Daytona 500 when the checkered flag drops on Feb. 16, and he feels that his team will be ready.

"We had a pretty good test there a couple of weeks ago," said Martin. "Unlike a lot of the years, we feel like we have a pretty good car for the 500. Last year our car wasn't all that good and we still got a descent finish, so this year who knows.

"Everybody knows that Daytona is like playing the roulette wheel, but we do like what we are taking this year."

Last year Martin must have had a gamblers hand at his home track, running to a sixth-place finish in the 500 and finishing fourth in July at the 2.5-mile trioval.

Over the years Martin has accumulated three top-fives and six top-10's in 18 starts in the Daytona 500. In 35 Winston Cup starts at Daytona, Martin has ran to seven top-five and 12 top-ten finishes. Martin's first crack at the Daytona 500 came on Feb. 14, 1982, when he finished 30th after starting 26th and losing an engine.

Martin has led in six Daytona 500's, for a total of 133 laps. In 18 races, he has accumulated 2,827 laps for a total of 7,067 miles. In fact, Marin is one of only 22 drivers of the 461 who have competed in the Daytona 500 to complete every lap of the race on five or more occasions.

Martin has finished in the top six in four of his last six starts at Daytona International Speedway. This will be his 36th Winston Cup start at the track and his 15th straight start in the Daytona 500, dating back to 1988.

Martin will also make his 15th straight start in the Budweiser Shootout on Feb. 8, and his 16th overall. Martin made his first start in the all-star event on Jan. 2, 1982, where he finished eighth. He did not take place in the event again until 1989, but the veteran driver has not missed the event since. Although Martin didn't capture a pole in 2002, he will take place in the even via his 1998 win in the Shootout. Martin will once again drive the No. 6 Kraft Ford Taurus in the Shootout.

Roush Racing is a subsidiary of Roush Industries and operates nine motorsports teams; five in NASCAR Winston Cup with drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle; two in the Busch series with Stanton Barrett and Burton; and two teams in the Craftsman Truck series with drivers Jon Wood and Kyle Busch.

Many Pieces In Place From '02
By Jerry Bonkowski
ESPN.com
January 16, 2003

There's an old axiom in motorsports that everyone remembers who won the championship but forgets the guy that finished second.

Mark Martin is out to change that in 2003.

Having finished runner-up to Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart last season by a mere 38 points, Martin and crew chief Ben Leslie enter their second season together ready to take that last step toward having Martin fitted for a championship ring.

"I thought that we were really on to some things by the end of last year," Martin said Thursday before testing at Daytona International Speedway. "We closed out the season strong and it felt like we had a pretty good grasp on things in the end. I don't really know how that carries over into this season. I don't really believe in momentum, but the knowledge that we gained last year to do the things that we did, can't really hurt either.

"We were also, for the most part, able to keep our team intact and that is a Viagra Racing Team that did a heck of a job for me last season. I can't say enough about the job that Ben Leslie and that team has done. They give me great cars and good pit stops and that is for the most part what it is about."

You could readily see how Martin's straightforward personality -- some may call it acerbic honesty -- has mellowed from a year ago. If that's what success breeds, than Martin will be wearing a big smile this season.

"I am a lot more at peace with my team and what we are doing right now than a year ago," Martin said. "A year ago, I had absolutely no notes of any setups that worked anywhere for the first time in my career, so I might as well had been a rookie."

A year ago at this time, Martin was hoping that the trade of crew chiefs and team members -- longtime Martin crew chief Jimmy Fennig and his crew were moved to Kurt Busch's team, while young Leslie and Co. were dispatched to fill the void in the Martin camp -- would help shake up the performance of both teams.

In reality, the "trade" worked better than anyone expected. But there admittedly was some doubt in Martin's mind when Leslie and the rest of his crew took over preparations for the No. 6 Ford.

"For us, a year ago right now, we didn't have a permanent car chief and we hadn't practiced many pit stops," Martin said. "We didn't have a downforce car, I don't think, in the shop yet ready to go. There were a lot of questions unanswered a year ago right now."

But fast-forward to the present, and Martin, Leslie and most of the crew remain intact for their second season together, with expectations of even bigger and better things.

"We had a great race team last year and were able to manage some really great performance out of our cars and that's what it takes," Martin said. "You can have all the ingredients right in a deal and still not get the performance. If you don't get the performance out of the car, then you're not going to see the result on the race track.

"We had an extremely small amount of turnover within our team this year, which is what you get a lot of times when you put a bunch of fresh, committed people together. They seem to hang together a little bit tighter, especially when you experience success on the race track."

And Martin certainly did experience a great deal of success in 2002, going from a disappointing 12th in the standings in 2001 to coming just a few laps from the championship. Martin's scorecard from last season was impressive, to say the least, with one win, 12 top-fives and 22 top-10s.

The results were a combination of consistency, motivation and the melding of Martin's old-school driving style with Leslie's Generation X ideas of what a modern day crew chief should be. While some critics scoffed that the mixture would be like oil and vinegar, in reality, the pairing not only worked well, it also was an extremely smooth transition.

"Basically, probably for the reasons we made the swap and that was putting experience with inexperience," Martin said when asked about why the trade benefited both teams.

"There are some real big plusses to inexperience," Martin added. "They're not all negative. Inexperience is a good thing. It's open-mindedness. It's enthusiasm. Not knowing you can't do it sometimes makes a big difference. Jimmy and I had been together a long time and we were real frustrated and real stagnant at the time. Had we stayed together, we would have had a great year in 2002, but we didn't know that. We had wrestled it for two years pretty heavy and we did what we thought would work the best for Kurt and for me.

"It's worked real well. I really, really like Ben and think that the change was good for Jimmy and it certainly was good for Ben. It worked out well. We basically knew it would because we knew the elements and we knew that mixing the personalities and people would probably make each group stronger than holding two veterans together and two rookies together."

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how the outspoken Martin mellowed, while Leslie slowly but forcefully made it clear that he not only would call the shots when it came to strategy, but that he had enough experience to back up the reasons for his calls.

"My demeanor is intimidating to people because I'm real direct in everything," Martin said. "I don't really necessarily mean that, but I'm real direct and don't waste a lot of time. I get right to the point, so it's easy to just line up and go.

"For a young guy (like Leslie), he has surprised me because if he's not sure about that, he doesn't line up and go. He gets around in my face and says, 'Are you sure about that?' He questions my direction a lot. He'll square right up with me and check to make sure. He'll say, 'I want to make sure with you on that. Are you sure?' And that's something that's good for me. If you don't put people around me that are really smart, then I'm only as good as I am and that's not good enough. But if I put people around me who are really, really bright and allow them to help me, then we're as good as the total of all of us and that's what people are doing on the race track right now. That's what I have to do as well in order to compete on the top level and (Leslie) brings a lot to the table that way."

And now, with the start of the season just a month away, Martin and Leslie are nowhere near the shape they were at this time a year ago. Heading into 2002, everything was based upon theory and how everyone thought the new alliance would work.

But heading into 2003, last year's results speak for themselves. There is no need for major changes. Rather, what Leslie and Martin have to do is some minor tweaking, just enough to help them overtake Stewart.

Last season was the fourth time Martin finished second in the standings, but he intends on not only making sure people don't forget just how close he came in 2002, but also for them to notice as he finally wins the championship in 2003.

"I'm looking forward to this season because I think we can compete and I'm a competitor," Martin said. "I've said it a thousand times, I don't race for the enjoyment of riding around in circles, I race to compete and I think we will do that."

No. 6 Viagraģ Racing Team Readies For Season Opener At Daytona Testing
Roush Racing

Huntersville, NC (January 16, 2003) - Mark Martin and the Viagraģ (sildenafil citrate) Racing Team concluded three days of testing on Thursday at the Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the upcoming 2003 Speedweeks. Overall Martin and the team were pleased with the results of the test.

"It's a start," said Martin, who will enter his 20th year of full-time Winston Cup racing in 2003. "We were pretty fast on some runs, but we have our work cut out for us to get ready for the 500. However, this is a great team we have and I'm sure we'll be ready."

The No. 6 team tested a pair of new speedway cars during the three-day session, with mixed results. JR-100 was the fastest of the pair, while JR-101 tended to handle better. The team will bring the cars back to the shop for further work before deciding which will run in Feb. 16th, Daytona 500. The remaining car will likely make the start in Feb. 9th's Budweiser Shootout.

"We were happier with one of the cars than the other," said crew chief Ben Leslie, who enters his second year as Martin's crew chief. "The first car was pretty good, but we have a lot of work to do with the second car. Still, it's a better start than we had last year and we are pretty excited about what we can do this year. Hopefully we'll get off to a good start with strong runs in both the Shootout and the 500 and that will set the tone for the season."

Martin, who scored 22 top-10 finishes in 2002, consistently posted top-10 times during the three-day testing period, including the fifth fastest time on Tuesday. Martin and the Viagra‚ Racing Team closed out 2002 with five straight top-10 finishes, including three top-five runs to close out the season.

Martin and Leslie will rely on the knowledge gained last season to improve in 2003.

"A year ago, I had absolutely no notes of any setups that worked anywhere for the first time in my career, so I might as well had been a rookie," said Martin. "This year, we have notes from half of the race tracks that work real good and two-thirds that work real well and just a few races tracks that we have to start over again.

"For those reasons, I feel good about where we are right now and the people that are surrounding me, but that still doesn't mean we're going to have as good a year as we had last year. It just means that things are better. We could have a better year than we had last year and a bunch of other teams have a much better year than they had and then you don't wind up faring as well in the pecking order when it's all said and done with.

"We'll have to see what the competition does, but I feel like we can step it up from last year. I hope we can. I feel like we can and I think we will, but I don't know what the competition will do."

Roush Racing is a subsidiary of Roush Industries and operates nine motorsports teams; five in NASCAR Winston Cup with drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle; two in the Busch series with Stanton Barrett and Burton; and two teams in the Craftsman Truck series with drivers Jon Wood and Kyle Busch.

Only One Position For Martin To Advance
fordracing.com
January 16, 2003

Daytona Beach, Fla. ó Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Viagra Taurus, will be looking to improve one spot in this yearís NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after finishing second to champion Tony Stewart in 2002. Martin spoke about the season ahead prior to the final day of NASCAR Winston Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway.

MARK MARTIN

YOU SHOWED LAST YEAR THAT THEREíS STILL SOMETHING LEFT IN YOUR TANK.

ďI guess. We had a great race team last year and were able to manage some really great performance out of our cars and thatís what it takes. You can have all the ingredients right in a deal and still not get the performance. If you donít get the performance out of the car, then youíre not gonna see the result on the race track. For us, a year ago right now, we didnít have a permanent car chief and we hadnít practiced many pit stops. We didnít have a downforce car, I donít think, in the shop yet ready to go. There were a lot of questions unanswered a year ago right now. We had an extremely small amount of turnover within our team this year, which is what you get a lot of times when you put a bunch of fresh, committed people together. They seem to hang together a little bit tighter, especially when you experience success on the race track. Without going deep into that, Iím very proud about the people and the members on my team and their commitment to hang together because they got a chance to taste victory lane and had a really great shot at the championship. So thatís sort of the glue thatís holding this thing together and it speaks more of the individuals than it does of the performance on the race track because you can have a great season and have your camp raided by the other teams. Then itís up to the individuals whether theyíre committed to holding it together or not. Anyway, I am a lot more at peace with my team and what we are doing right now than a year ago. A year ago, I had absolutely no notes of any setups that worked anywhere for the first time in my career, so I might as well had been a rookie. This year, we have notes from half of the race tracks that work real good and two-thirds that work real well and just a few races tracks that we have to start over again. So just for all those reasons, I feel good about where Iím at right now and the people that are surrounding me, but that still doesnít mean weíre gonna have as good a year as we had last year. It just means that things are better. We could have a better year than we had last year and a bunch of other teams have a much better year than they had and then you donít wind up faring as well in the pecking order when itís all said and done with. So weíll have to see what the competition does, but I feel like we can step it up from last year. I hope we can. I feel like we can and I think we will, but I donít know what the competition will do.Ē

WILL THE NEW BODY STYLES AFFECT THE RACING?

ďI donít think thereís really any change with the Taurus. The competition is gonna change and Iím not real sure what kind of affect itís going to have. My first thought was that it wasnít going to be an advantage for the teams that were getting the new body styles, but as we get closer to the season Iím starting to have some fears that it may help them. I donít know, itís hard to say. The Pontiac thing, there were two ways of looking at that. It wasnít the greatest car on Earth, but it had spoilers and they were able to do things to it that nobody else could do, so I donít know where that car really stood at the end of the day to measure up to the rest of Ďem. I always thought that Monte Carlo was a real good race car, it always appeared to be a real good race car, but, on the other hand, this new car they have is much more like what we have. Itís hard to say. When it all comes down to it, itís what you do with what you have that makes you a winner and, hopefully, we can do the right things with what we have to come out as good or even better than last year.Ē

HOW DO YOU PULL THINGS TOGETHER QUICKLY WHEN YOU LOSE CREW MEMBERS?

ďI donít really know how you do that, to be honest with you. No matter what, you still have to beat everybody else. No matter what you have, no matter what they have, at the end of the day you have to beat everyone else in order to win and to come out on top. That is just a combination of preparation and performance and the performance is real fickle. Itís not easy to put your finger on and, like I said before, we could step it up in 2003 and still not do as good, or we could step it up in 2003 and just clobber everybody because of so many teams getting overwhelmed with the changes. Everything is new. We donít even know what all of the elements are yet until we get to Rockingham and to Vegas. Things will develop and, all of a sudden youíll stand around and see something new has developed, whether itís NASCAR induced or Goodyear induced or whatever. I know there arenít any planned changes, but weíve been in this business long enough to know that things still change even though there are no plans for change, so who knows. You have to just roll with the flow - do the best you can on the preparation side, have great pit stops and great chemistry. In my little world and at Roush Racing, the thing that wins races is going through the corners.Ē

COULD SOMEONE LIKE ROBIN PEMBERTON BENEFIT YOUR ORGANIZATION?

ďYes, but I donít expect to see him wind up with our organization, but absolutely - no doubt. I think wherever Robin winds up will certainly benefit, if heís allowed to work at his potential. I think there might be something exciting out there for Robin that could potentially be the best thing that he could hope for.Ē

WHY DO YOU THINK THE CREW SWITCH LAST YEAR HELPED BOTH TEAMS?

ďBasically, probably for the reasons we made the swap and that was putting experience with inexperience. There are some real big plusses to inexperience. Theyíre not all negative. Inexperience is a good thing. Itís open-mindedness. Itís enthusiasm. Not knowing you canít do it sometimes makes a big difference. Jimmy [Fennig] and I had been together a long time and we were real frustrated and real stagnant at the time. Had we stayed together, we would have had a great year in 2002, but we didnít know tha

HAS IT GOTTEN MORE FRUSTRATING WITH THE WAY YOU HAVE TO RACE TODAY?

ďThereís a much higher degree of frustration, but there would be regardless because there is such a small discrepancy between the cars now. Under the best-case scenario itís gonna be a lot more frustrating, but weíre not in the best-case scenario. Weíve basically put no effort toward improving the opportunity to pass for five years. Weíve just continually made it worse and worse and worse every time. Thereís definitely room for improvement. Weíve had a perfect example by looking at Indy cars. How bright do we have to be? Iíve been saying that for five years and we just get closer to it every year, so Iíll just stop there before I get smart. Golly, you didnít have to do anything, but you needed to start thinking about it and talking about it before now. There was a problem that was growing and it has grown and grown and grown. Action wasnít required, but you canít just sit in denial and watch a problem get bigger and bigger and bigger. Otherwise, itís much harder to fix.Ē

IS IT LIKE TURNING THE TITANIC AROUND NOW?

ďItís not gonna an easy thing. Itís not just as easy as doing it because weíve gone so far down the road now that I donít even know where to start, but we definitely need to start. A grippier tire and less aero is no question the right way to go, but that wonít fix it. I will tell you in the early 90s there was no such thing as aero-push. Let me put it this way, I never felt it in the early 90s. If you leave it up to the competitors, they have to make more downforce to go faster and faster and faster. It was up to the sanctioning body to reel that in. You canít just not do it because it makes the car go faster, so the teams and manufacturers have to continue to try and make more and more downforce.Ē

WHAT DID YOU SEE IN MATT KENSETH AND HOW FAR CAN HE GO IN THIS SPORT?

ďI knew Matt was a really, really, really fine fella when I met him at Talladega. I knew that and I knew he was a whale of a race car driver with tremendous car knowledge. People always want to know how I knew that and I say, ĎI do this for a living [laughing].í I mean, Iíve been there. I knew the races that he was winning. I knew how hard they were to win and I knew he was doing it with different teams, so that meant that he knew how to do it and not necessarily his team because he had to carry that knowledge from car to car to car to be able to win in all those cars. In other words, instead of going to a great car and winning in a great car with a great team, he was able to win. So I knew that. It was just real easy for me. Now, expectations, Iím not surprised with his success and I believe that he is probably right on the very edge of the best in Winston Cup racing. Heís right there, just in a very, very, very elite group. Thatís my opinion.Ē

HOW DOES HE GET OVER THAT EDGE?

ďI think the car makes the difference, not him. I donít think you can go there. What youíre asking for is, ĎHow is he gonna win everything?í Well, his car will do that for him or it wonít, but heís one of the very best in the business.Ē

IN WHAT WAYS DID BEN LESLIE CHALLENGE YOU?

ďMy demeanor is intimidating to people because Iím real direct in everything. I donít really necessarily mean that, but Iím real direct and donít waste a lot of time. I get right to the point, so itís easy to just line up and go. For a young guy, he has surprised me because if heís not sure about that, he doesnít line up and go. He gets around in my face and says, ĎAre you sure about that?í He questions my direction a lot. Heíll square right up with me and check to make sure. Heíll say, ĎI want to make sure with you on that. Are you sure?í And thatís something thatís good for me. If you donít put people around me that are really smart, then Iím only as good as I am and thatís not good enough. But if I put people around me who are really, really bright and allow them to help me, then weíre as good as the total of all of us and thatís what people are doing on the race track right now. Thatís what I have to do as well in order to compete on the top level and he brings a lot to the table that way.Ē

Ben Leslie/Viagra Racing Team Ready For Second Go Around
WhoWon.com

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 9, 2003) - A year ago Ben Leslie was bracing for what would be his first season as crew chief for Mark Martin and the No. 6 Viagra Racing Team; trying to figure out what it would take to get Martin back to the top of NASCAR's Winston Cup circuit. A year later, he's working hard to stay there.

"Last year at this time it was hard to know what to expect," said Leslie. "We had a new team with a new driver and a lot of questions. "The one thing we didn't question was our driver's ability and determination. We also knew that we had a group of guys that were ready to go the distance and work hard to get there. The question was how long it would take to mesh together and work as the team we could be. "We pretty much got the answers early and everything just clicked. We were happy with the way we ran and no one ever gave up. We had some trials last year that tested us, but we kept fighting and we kept coming back. Mark did one of his best jobs ever of driving on the track and it just all fell into place."

Leslie and Martin teamed up in 2002 for 22 top-10 finishes, tying for the most in Winston Cup. Martin also posted 12 top-five finishes in 2002, including three in the last three races. When all the smoke had cleared on 2002, Martin was second in the point standings after being locked in a heated battle with eventual champion Tony Stewart that went down to the wire and the last race at Homestead.

This season Leslie and Martin will try to build on that success as they team up to chase NASCAR's top trophy, the Winston Cup championship. "Any time you start a season, you want to win it all. We know that's a lofty goal, but we also know that we just have to remain competitive. You have to take it one race at a time. Right now the most important race is the Daytona 500, but after that it's Rockingham. I've been in this long enough to know that consistency is the key and that you have to keep your head and your wits about you no matter what is going on around you.

"Last season we were tested a few times with different types of issues. We had a string of bad luck late in the season that really hurt, but that is what happens in racing. We came back with five strong runs to end the season, and that is what you have to do.

"You never know when that might happen to you. We could start the season with the same kind of bad luck, but you can't panic. That kind of stuff will happen during a season. It might be spread out, or it might happen all in a row. It can happen at the first of the season or at the end. The thing about it is that you have to just keep doing what you are doing and now let it get to you. If you do that, you'll probably be okay."

Leslie and the No. 6 team will test next week in Daytona, as they begin preparations for the Daytona 500 in February. Last year the team got off to a great start with a sixth place finish in the 500. that set the tone for the 2002 championship run. Leslie says that he doesn't feel any added pressure entering this season.

"There is always pressure," said Leslie. "There is always pressure because we are in a performance driven environment, but I don't think it's any more this year than ever. We just have to go with what we know and do all we can do. If we work as hard as we can and work smart at the same time, things will take care of themselves."

Leslie, Martin and the entire No. 6 Viagra Racing Team will kick off the season on February 9, in the Budweiser Shootout. The Daytona 500 will be held a week later on February 16.

Roush Racing is a subsidiary of Roush Industries and operates nine motorsports teams; five in NASCAR Winston Cup with drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Greg Biffle; two in the Busch series with Burton and Biffle; and two teams in the Craftsman Truck series with driver Jon Wood.

2003 Mark Martin Articles - February

2003 Mark Martin Articles - March

2003 Mark Martin Articles - April

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