When Mark Martin announced in July of 2008 that he would be retuning full-time in 2009 with Hendrick Motorsports, he said it was because he didn’t want to regret never getting the chance to drive one of Rick Hendrick’s cars.
Now that Martin’s gotten the chance he’s repeatedly said throughout the year that “this is the best team I’ve ever driven for,” and that he loves driving their cars.
The continuous praise for the No.5 team and Alan Gustafson wasn’t hard to find from Martin. When Martin would say how great a crew chief Gustafson was, Gustafson would turn around and talk about how great a driver Martin was.
He also revealed that he’s been a Mark Martin fan since he was a child and he has a whole respect for him now that they’ve worked together.
But the trading of love on the team is all with good reason. Since Martin’s taken the wheel of the Kellogg’s Chevrolet, they’ve gone from could be contender, to multiple race winner and championship caliber.
Quite a pick up from 2008 when they finished 20th in points with only one top five finish and six top tens.
This year, Martin has been the sentimental favorite to capture his first Sprint Cup Championship.
On Thursday afternoon Martin was back to praising his team and the expectations they set and then passed. “It definitely has turned out to exceed my expectations. I knew that the race team would be awesome,” he said. “I knew the car would be fast. I just hoped that I would be able to get the job done.”
He continued saying, “You know, I just have exceeded I think my expectations. The race team has done everything that I knew that they could. I just didn't know, you know, if I could—I really didn't know if I could compete against Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. coming into this season, for sure.”
Mission accomplished and much more.
While many have said this season that Martin has been the reason the No.5 has turned the corner and become one of the series tops team, was because of the man behind the wheel.
Even those at Hendrick Motorsports say that they all knew, and have seen, that Martin was going to make everyone at the company better.
Everyone credits Martin with the team’s success.
But he wants to make it clear that this has always been a good team, a team that never gets the attention and recognition they deserve.
Martin revealed that he’s paid attention to the No.5 team long before he started driving for them and was impressed by what he saw, and heard from them.
“I knew how good Alan was. I watched close for multiple years, I’ve watched him close,” Martin says. “I listened to him and Kyle [Busch] on the radio. I’ve been a fan of his. I think, as Jimmie says, it’s really special to see those guys. They showed what they could do with Kyle at an early state in his career.”
Because of that, Martin says it hasn’t been fair to the team. The wrong person was getting the credit for what was taking place and what was being accomplished.
“I think that Kyle got a lot of the credit for what they were doing because of his talent, and now this is the year that they really had a chance to shine.”
In 2009 they’ve won five races, seven poles, have 21 top tens, 14 top fives, and led 805 laps.
If you look at what the team accomplished with Busch over three seasons, Martin’s numbers look more impressive.
From 2005 through 2007, the team had four wins, two poles, 51 top tens, and 30 top fives and led 1,570 laps. The No.5 team was one of the best on the circuit but with Martin, they’re just a little bit better.
Just don’t credit him or any other driver for doing that.
“Alan and that group, especially after, you know, having a tough time last year, for them to come up and show everybody that not only are they a great race team, but they can give the best in the business a run for their money, it’s huge for me,” he says.
“I’m very, very proud.”