By U.S. Army RacingMarch 23, 2007
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Army News Service, March 23, 2007) - Mark Martin cannot even recall the last time he didn't start a Nextel Cup race.
The current point leader has started in 621 consecutive Cup races, dating back to Feb. 14, 1988. That streak will come to an end for Martin this weekend when he stays home from Bristol Motor Speedway as a part of his planned limited schedule in 2007.
And as in many cases, the closing of one door signifies the opening of another.
While Martin stays home and ponders what to place on the grill for Sunday, Ginn Racing rookie Regan Smith will prepare to make his first career Nextel Cup start, taking over the wheel for Martin in the No. 01 U.S. Army Chevrolet.
"It will be quite an initiation for Regan at Bristol," said Martin, who has led the Nextel Cup points for the past month. "He's really going to be put to the test with the inaugural race with the Car of Tomorrow and with all the mania that comes with Bristol on a normal basis."
"It will be intense," added Martin, who himself has been caught up in accidents in seven of the last 12 races at Bristol, while bringing home only one top-10 finish there since 2000.
When asked to describe Bristol Motor Speedway, Martin said, "That place is like flying a fighter jet around a basketball arena, while at the same time 42 other jets are flying around the place. It's really a crazy race and I can't wait to sit at home and watch those guys bang it out without me."
Regarding Smith, Martin confidently says the 23-year-old is ready for the challenge.
"We believe that Regan is up for it," said Martin. "He'll be put to the test early at Bristol, but we've worked with him and believe that he is a tremendous driver. He's a very mature young man and he'll be fine.
"We do have great expectations for Regan, but I did tell him that it's important that he not put too much pressure on himself for this race.
"It's a crazy race and there is so much that goes on there that you can't control. You can't get too caught up in worrying about all of that. It had gotten to the point where I think we wrecked every time we went there, so one thing that is for sure is that he can't have more worse luck there than I've had."
"I've really enjoyed working with Regan and can't wait to see him get his chance on the track," continued Martin. "The one thing I can tell you about Regan is that I've never been able to go faster than him in his car and I respect him for that. I think he's going to have a great career ahead of him. I can remember my first Cup race and that's a pretty exciting time for a race-car driver."
Martin will also be busy this weekend working with Ginn Racing development driver Ricky Carmichael as he begins his switch from Motocross phenom to stock-car driver. Carmichael will be racing along with Martin's son Matt in a late model race in Lake City, Fla.,
"I'll be tired from being out racing on Saturday night with the guys and then trying to travel back home," said Martin. "So I'll be recuperating and spending my time catching up and getting organized. And then next weekend, the Martinsville weekend, I hope to have that whole weekend for myself, my friends and family and just do something different than we've done for the last 20 years."