DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Find Mark Martin a college position as philosopher. Judging by his reaction to yesterday's victory in the Bud Shootout, the all-star race for last season's pole-position winners, he would be as comfortable there as he is in his race car.
"I haven't lost any sleep over not winning at Daytona before," Martin said. "I believe if you do the work and give your very best effort that you need to accept the results, whatever they are. I try to keep the focus on the effort."
In his 16-year major-league career, Martin was winless on this 2.5-mile tri-oval.
And, as he said, it was not for a lack of trying. Martin was 0-for-76.
But on a breezy, sun-filled afternoon, with about 60,000 in attendance, Martin drove the perfect race to outrun the fastest of the fast.
He came from 13th position to third and then emerged from the required pit stop in the lead with 14 laps to go.
From there, his Valvoline Ford averaged 181.745 mph to finish two-tenths of a second ahead of Ken Schrader's Chevrolet and Bobby Labonte's Pontiac. He earned $108,000 in the 25-lap race that took 20 minutes, 38 seconds.
"The pit stop was crucial," said Martin, who complimented his team for giving him a car improved in power. "I came out of the pits in the lead and had a fast-enough car to stay there with the guys racing behind me.
"That's the product of parity in restrictor plate racing [which limits the flow of air and fuel to the engine and thus reduces speed]. If you have a reasonably good car and you're in front, things are great. If you have a really great car and you're not in the lead, you'd better hope things really go your way to get there."
Schrader, whose car showed surprising power in the high groove, passed four or five cars on his own to wind up on Martin's rear bumper. But he said he didn't have enough left to attempt a pass for the lead in the closing laps.
Behind him, Labonte was complaining of an oil leak in Schrader's car, and the second-place finisher acknowledged that if the race had gone five more laps, he might not have made it.
"I knew I couldn't pass him and I said, 'We'll just go ahead and finish second.' " Schrader said. "There was nothing I could do. I was flat-out. Mark was just plain better."
For a while, it was Winston Cup champ Jeff Gordon who seemed to have the upper hand. He had started eighth and by the ninth lap had the lead.
But a lap later, Gordon led the field into the pits for a mandatory pit stop and lost all hope of winning.
Usually, a team of perfection, Gordon and his Rainbow Warriors made two mistakes. The first was Gordon's coming in too fast and overshooting his pit box by about two feet. The other was his crew's not taking the time to push him back behind his own pit line before starting work on the car.
According to a NASCAR rule, a team is allowed to push its car back to its proper position without a penalty, but once a crew begins work on a car outside its box, NASCAR assesses a one-lap penalty.
"You've really got to go for it in a race like this," said Gordon, who finished last in the 15-car field, when he was unable to re-enter the race because of a variety of mechanical problems.
"You've got to get everything you can. I just carried a little bit too much speed to pit road and then I overheated the brakes trying to get it slowed down and just couldn't get it slowed down and then I blew reverse trying to get it in reverse.
"It's just the way it goes. It was my fault. You take chances and risks in the Bud Shootout, and I took one step too many. Even if we had gotten back out there, I don't know if we could have gotten back up to the front. We had an awful strong race car. I was having fun out there for a little while."
Martin, on the other hand, had a lot of fun all afternoon.
"I just wish that was the last lap of the Daytona 500," Martin said. "It would all be over and in the can, so to speak."
Results (Starting position in parentheses) 1. (13) Mark Martin, Ford, 25, $108,000 2. (4) Ken Schrader, Chevrolet, 25, $54,000 3. (9) Bobby Labonte, Pontiac, 25, $42,500 4. (15) Mike Skinner, Chevrolet, 25, $61,600 5. (7) Jeremy Mayfield, Ford, 25, $30,000 6. (11) Ward Burton, Pontiac, 25, $27,000 7. (1) Rusty Wallace, Ford, 25, $26,000 8. (14) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 25, $25,500 9. (3) Rick Mast, Ford, 25, $25,000 10. (2) Kenny Irwin, Ford, 25, $24,500 11. (10) Bobby Hamilton, Chevrolet, 25, $24,000 12. (6) Ricky Craven, Ford, 25, $23,500 13. (5) Derrike Cope, Pontiac, 25, $23,000 14. (12) Ernie Irvan, Pontiac, 25, $22,500 15. (8) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 10, withdrew, $22,000
Time of race: 20 minutes, 38 seconds
Winner's average speed: 181.745 mph
Margin of victory: 0.215 of a second (about 4 car lengths)
Caution flags: None
Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers
Lap leaders: Irwin 1; Mast 2-6; Schrader 7; Mast 8; Gordon 9; Martin 10-25
Mark Martin's record at Daytona (appearances and wins):
Event App. Wins
Shootouts 12 1
Grand Nat. races 11 0
Twin 125-mile 14 0 qualifiers
Daytona 500 14 0
Pepsi 400 13 0
International Race 13 0
Totals 77 1
Pub Date: 2/08/99