Testing valuable info for Martin

  By Jeff Birchfield
  star staff
  BRISTOL -- A winning driver from the time he was a 15 year-old on the Arkansas dirt tracks, Mark Martin has hundreds of racing trophies including 34 at the Nextel Cup level. Still, when it came to testing at Bristol Motor Speedway Tuesday, Martin took a workman-like approach.
  "It's going OK, we're just looking to make the car fast," said Martin, 45. "You pick your tracks and we picked here to see if we could get going better than we have the last few times here."
  Martin, who already has two wins (1993 and 1997) in the Sharpie 500, explained that testing at Bristol gives the No. 6 Viagra Ford team a chance to venture away from the normal car combinations they would stick to on race weekends.
  "You can try things here you don't time to try during the hour and a half you get to set up for the race," said the Daytona Beach, Fla. resident. "It's not much time, so you can't stray from the normal baseline kind of things.
   "This gives you an opportunity to look at different things. It's real competitive. There's nothing here we're going to do that will make us demolish the competition. People test at every race and not everyone is able to do that."
  The testing process has changed from the time, Martin was a Cup Series rookie in 1982 to today. The advent of computers and other equipment foreign 20 years ago have accelerated a team's learning curve at the track.
  "You get a lot more done now," said the two-time Sharpie 500 winner. "We work really hard at it and get a lot of changes across the car."
  Currently, Martin is one of the drivers right outside of NASCAR's top ten in the "Chase for the Championship" playoff run. He looked in prime position to crack the top ten this past weekend until a flat tire on the last lap of the Brickyard 400 relegated him to a 25th place finishing position.
  "We've had a whole lot of bad luck this year and spotted these guys some points," said Martin. "It looked a lot better last week before we had the flat.
  "Certainly there were a lot of flat tires at Indy. Some of them were for punctures. Some were for other reasons. There were more problems than seen in the history of Goodyear's radial tires."
  He hasn't given up on the chance to make the playoffs and win a first Nextel Cup title after four times being a Winston Cup runner-up. Many consider Martin the greatest NASCAR driver never to win the title. He came only 26 points shy of winning the 1990 title after suffering a rules infraction at Richmond where his team was penalized 46 points.
  Ten years the Batesville, Ark. native finished in the top 5 in the series standings. In addition he has won 41 career poles and is the all-time leading race winner in the Busch Series. Other accomplishments include being a four-time IROC champ, a record shared with Dale Earnhardt, the all-time winningest driver in the IROC all-star series and a four time ASA champ.
  "We are pretty far behind," said Martin about the 2004 race for the chase. "We aren't behind because we haven't run good. We've had some fantastic race cars this year. I'm real proud of how we've run on the track. We've just had an extraordinary amount of problems this year, which we couldn't have forseen."
  One bright spot came in June, when Martin held off Tony Stewart to win the MBNA Heroes 500 at Dover, Delaware. A host of problems ranging from a blown motor in the Daytona 500 to the aforementioned flat tire on the last lap at Indy have soured what otherwise would be a great season.
  "Struggles are caused from all different kinds of things," said Martin, referring back to 30 years of racing experience. "They are caused by too much knowledge, not enough knowledge, too much age, not enough age."
  When the age issue comes up, it is inevitable questions arise about the success of Martin's younger teammates. Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford, is the defending NASCAR champion and Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 97, has won the last three Cup Series races at Bristol.
  Martin bristled when asked if luck played a major part in Busch's success at BMS.
  "Kurt hasn't been lucky, he's been good," said Roush Racing's senior driver. "Kurt runs good here, but when we put the set-up in our car, we don't run good. All you can do here at Bristol is run good and hope the crash doesn't get you."
  This weekend, the focus will be turning left and right. The Nextel Cup Series visits the road course at Watkins Glen, where Martin ranks as a four-time race winner.
  "I'm not particularly excited about that place any more than anywhere else," admitted Martin. "Each race is a new opportunity. We've had a good history there. I'm not sure I've run better there than Sears Point (the other NASCAR road circuit), I've just finished better."