Most Winston Cup drivers hate Dover Downs International Speedway. They hate its high banks that turn their neck muscles to jelly. They hate its four turns that seem to run into one another, forcing constant attention and demanding they show the arm strength of Rocky Balboa.
They hate that each turn on its one-mile course demands something different from the race car's chassis setup.
And they hate that a 500-mile race at the Delaware track is an endurance test of a solid 4 1/2 to five hours.
Most of the Winston Cup drivers could do without Dover. But don't count Mark Martin among them. He can't wait to get the green flag that starts tomorrow's 24th-annual Budweiser 500 at noon.
"Dover suits me," Martin said. "It's like slipping your hand into a great glove or sitting down in a great chair. Dover feels like that to me. I love the way it feels, when you dip into the corners. It feels great.
"But that's how drivers judge tracks. They pick the ones they like
by how easy they can run good on them."
Martin will start tomorrow's race on the outside of the front row, beside pole sitter Brett Bodine. Bodine set a race qualifying record at 147.408 mph. Martin was second at 146.999. But Martin holds the track qualifying record with a one-lap performance of 148.075 mph, set in the fall race.
"I thought there might be a race record," Martin said. "But I knew there wouldn't be a track record. Why? Because it's really fast. It's awesome it's so fast. And besides that, when I set that record, there was a tire war going on between Goodyear and Hoosier, and they were both bringing the fastest tires they could make to the racetrack. Now, with just Goodyear, they bring a more conservative tire."
Martin never has won at Dover Downs. But through the years, he has provided racing fans with a lot of spectacular demonstrations of superior driving.
In 1989, in both this race and the Delaware 500 in the fall, Martin raced Dale Earnhardt door handle-to-door handle for 20 laps to the finish. Neither one jostled the other. Neither one asked for another inch, and neither one gave an inch.
"I know this place will give us our due one day," Martin said. "You can't run second, third and fourth all your life. If you're a consistent top-five finisher every week, eventually it will be your turn.
"At Dover, we've run good enough to have won more than once. And I really believe that one day it is going to go our way, and when it happens, we probably won't have to work as hard as we have in the past to get it done."