When it comes to Dover International Speedway, few drivers have had as much success there as Mark Martin. The 52-year-old Martin has won there four times in his 49 career starts.
He also holds the track records for career top-10's, with 30 of them. His 22 top-five finishes at Dover are also the most of any driver in history.
As the Sprint Cup Series makes their first stop to the one mile concrete race track, Martin took some time out of his weekly preparations to talk with the media Tuesday afternoon.
Martin discussed various topics including his Nationwide Series win record, his future in NASCAR, and the happiness he felt for Regan Smith this past weekend.
Martin began the session by talking about his excitement about returning to Dover, as well as his memories from all of his past races there.
Martin said, "I loved it the first time I went there, and I remember the track record being set at that first race 144 miles an hour (chuckling). I think it was 25:40 was the lap time. And since then, we have seen lap times down into the 21-second bracket."
He went on to add, "Yeah, a lot of things have changed there, but one thing that's stayed the same is it's a wonderful place to race. Wonderful racetrack, one of my favorite places to go. It's the only concrete track that I really love. And I loved it even more when it was asphalt, but I still love it. It's one of my top-of-the-list favorites."
Then Mark was reminded that it was at this very race track that he scored the first of his now record 49 career Nationwide Series wins.
Asked to reflect on that day Martin answered, "I didn't even know that that was where I got my first Nationwide win. But I do now, because Brett Bodine and Tommy Ellis -- I was running third and Brett and Tommy tangled, two hard heads out there on the racetrack tangled and I slipped right by the two of them and got the win."
It is almost a foregone conclusion that in the coming weeks Kyle Busch, who currently has 48 Nationwide Series wins, will catch and pass Martin as the all time leader. He was asked about his feelings about that.
He responded by saying, "it's an inevitable thing. It's like Jack Ingram saw it coming when I was coming along; and it's been fun. I've had a lot of great times and a lot of success in the Nationwide Series, and Kyle passing my mark up won't change any of that."
Martin went on to say, "Kyle has shown an awful lot of respect to the people who have been here in the sport and that came before him. I really admire that. He's a young man who didn't really even know who Sam Ard was, and has acknowledged Sam probably more than any of us, and helped Sam and his family out. So I respect Kyle for the way he has shown respect for the people that were in the sport before him that were successful."
He went on to say that Busch has offered him a unique opportunity over the coming weeks. Martin said, "and he's already invited me, if he wins this weekend, he's already invited me -- he wanted me to come to victory lane."
With all of the success that Martin has enjoyed in his career, as well as his passion for the sport, he doesn't have any desire to get out of racing any time soon.
Knowing that this is his final year driving the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, he was asked about his plans for the 2012 season.
Martin said, "Well, lucky for me, I don't need a job, so I don't have to worry about it. If I was 20 years younger, I would be concerned about it. But I'm in a good position right now, you know, being able to wait it out and let things play out the way they will."
He went on to say, "Something really, really fun and exciting is going to work out for me, something that will be very rewarding, and I'm in no hurry to force that to happen. I'll just wait until it sort of falls in my lap, just like the 5 car did. I wasn't looking for a job when the 5 thing fell into my lap."
Continuing on, Martin said, "the only thing that people in the garage will talk to me about, or the only thing they want to me about, is driving the race cars. And that's okay. You know, but sooner or later, maybe I'll get a chance to do something else in the sport, as well. I want to be a part of this sport for a long, long time, but they keep running at me about driving their stuff, so we'll just wait and see what happens."
Finally, Martin was asked about the Sprint Cup Series' most recent winner, Regan Smith. Martin and Smith shared the No. 01 car back in 2007, so Martin had the opportunity to work very closely with the young driver.
In response to getting his first win, Martin said about Smith, "he's a great race car driver, and a really fine young man. I was really happy to see that happen. They have been making really serious progress with that team for over a year now. And you know, it's just a real nice success story for Regan, as well as, you know, the whole team, the whole Furniture Row team."
So, while the 52-year-old Martin hasn't been to victory lane in the last 55 races, and while his future plans remain up in the air, it is certain that he is the happiest he has been in his entire NASCAR career.
He is out on the track having fun, and really enjoying his time driving at Hendrick Motorsports. At a time when a lot of owners are looking to find the next young star, it is always refreshing to see the veteran Martin running up front.
And at the same time, it is hard to find a more liked and well respected driver among the rest of his peers. Though he has failed to ever win a championship, there is no denying that as a driver and as a person, Mark Martin is certainly in a class by himself.