Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NextelCup [Print without images]

Thursday, November 30, 2006
Updated: December 2, 12:03 AM ET
Martin calling Daytona '07 his best shot at win

By Marty Smith
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Though he has not so much as tested at Ginn Racing Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway, Mark Martin says he'll enter Speed Weeks 2007 with the best chance of his career to win the Daytona 500.

"I may put the curse on the U.S. Army car. But I do have a lot to look forward to -- starting with the Daytona 500. I don't think it would be overboard to say it's my best chance ever at Daytona."
-- Mark Martin

"It's like asking for a championship in '06 -- it's a little too much to ask for, but it's a very realistic proposition," Martin said Thursday at the Myers Brothers NMPA Awards Luncheon. "To win the Daytona 500 is a very legitimate possibility. Very legitimate."

Martin's best Daytona 500 finish in 19 tries with Roush Racing was third, on Feb. 19, 1995. He's finished among the top 10 eight times.

"Go back and look where the MB2 [the team Ginn bought] cars have qualified for the Daytona 500 in the last few years -- it's a heckuva lot better than my car ever did," Martin said.

"Just pull out the paperwork and look at where I time-trialed in at Daytona. We've had some decent starts there through the 125s and racing our way in, and I've had a lot of people tell me, 'Don't worry about it, you'll race good.' And the only thing I've ever said was, 'Yeah, but I'd race better if my car would go that fast [as the No. 01].'"

It seems a bit overboard, the notion that he'd hop in a new ride and win the biggest race of the year, one that has so long eluded him. Especially considering how much better Roush Racing performed on restrictor-plate tracks since joining forces with Robert Yates Racing on engine development.

But given that Ginn Racing leases Hendrick Motorsports engines, Martin will have HMS power for the first time. Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers have won seven of the 12 restrictor-plate races since the 2004 season. They currently set the standard in restrictor-plate racing.

"I'm hoping; I have great hopes," Martin said. "I'm going to go after the things that are missing -- Daytona 500, Brickyard 400. We may go down [to Daytona] and not run well, I don't know. I have the magic touch, you know -- I get within 20 feet of a restrictor-plate car and it slows down three-tenths [of a second].

"I may put the curse on the U.S. Army car. But I do have a lot to look forward to -- starting with the Daytona 500. I don't think it would be overboard to say it's my best chance ever at Daytona."

Martin also has some interesting Busch Series opportunities in the works, though he said he's not at liberty to divulge what, exactly, that entails. A potential partnership with Hendrick Motorsports is rumored. Martin won't budge.

"I have some really special Busch stuff in the works, that's not up to me to announce," Martin said. "I know that we had a big surprise at Talladega with our [Ginn Racing] announcement, but there's still some surprises to be announced about '07, and what I'm going to be doing.

"I have the tiger by the tail. I have the dream deal laid ahead of me, with a more competitive team than the fans or the media realize. A very good team. I've looked at the back end of that car a lot, and wondered, 'Why in the world are they in front of us?'

"It's because Joe Nemechek's a heckuva driver, and because Ryan Pemberton is one of the most sought-after crew chiefs in the garage. Somehow or other they've been the little team that could."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.