Ford Performance NASCAR: Mark Martin Looks Back on 20th Anniversary of Inaugural Win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Mark Martin made history when he captured the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway 20 years ago. Ford Performance caught up with the NASCAR Hall of Famer earlier this week to relive that inaugural event in which the new Taurus registered its first series win and 13 of the top 14 finishers, including the top 7, were Ford drivers.

MARK MARTIN, NASCAR Hall of Famer – WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT THAT INAUGURAL LAS VEGAS CUP RACE? “It was no surprise that Jeff Burton ran really well there. Jeff was definitely on his game at the time, and that was the first year Jeff and I were housed in the same shop and Jeff was stepping up my game as well. The two of us racing out of the same shop was a great year for both of us. For Jimmy (Fennig) and I, we were kind of on a hot streak. We were really solid on the mile-and-a-half race tracks and it kind of being a jump ball with that being the first race, Jimmy and I were pretty quick to adapt and maybe got our cars tuned in a little bit quicker than the competition did at being the first race.”

THAT WAS THE FIRST YEAR FOR TAURUS AND ITS THIRD RACE. WHAT WAS THE FEELING ABOUT THAT CAR AT THE TIME? “The Taurus showed through in that race because the bigger the race track, the more downforce and we had certainly all done our homework over the winter and were making some serious downforce with our new Taurus. At that point in time, it was the first true smackdown for the other manufacturers that we put on them.”

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YOU HAD RUN IN LAS VEGAS BEFORE THE CUP SERIES CAME AROUND, SO WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THAT BECOMING AN ANNUAL NASCAR STOP? “My thought at the time, I had gone out and run Craig Road Speedway in 1977 when I was 18 and it was quite a bit different than the beautiful superspeedway that they have there now. They had run the Busch Series there for several years prior to getting the Cup race there, and, at the time, I had my blinders on and didn’t have the insight of how great having an event in Las Vegas would be, could be and could be built to – and so I will say I didn’t have the vision. My vision was laser-focused on the race car itself, so I didn’t get it. It didn’t register to me how important that speedway and having an event, and now having two events there a year, was really going to be for our sport. So, it kind of went over my head initially. I was on the helicopter shuttle program at that time after the races to get me to the airport and obviously we spent lots of time after we won the race with the press doing media stuff and taking it all in. The place was fairly deserted by the time I was leaving there and I remember the sun was starting to go down and when we lifted off in the helicopter and we went up and lifted up above the speedway and turned toward the airport I looked down at the speedway and it finally dawned on me what we had done and what we had accomplished that day. It’s a strange viewpoint, but when you’re in it and you’re as intense as I was at the time, and there was so much going on, the focus was on the race and executing the race. Afterwards, the focus was on the Victory Lane celebration, the hat dance, all the photos and taking care of all the media, so, really, that was all such a blur that I didn’t really realize what we had accomplished until we lifted off. I looked down and I remember that feeling right now even today when I think about it I can remember looking down and thinking, ‘Oh wow, that was pretty cool what we did today.’ “I didn’t realize when I was going through all of that how precious it really was. It’s kind of a shame that I had such blinders on and couldn’t allow myself to realize that all through those years I was having the time of my life. I was too caught up in the competition of it.”

ROUSH RACING WON THE FIRST THREE CUP RACES AT LAS VEGAS. WHAT WAS THE SECRET TO KEEPING THAT ADVANTAGE FOR SO LONG? “We did get a good head start. The mile-and-a-half speedways were our wheelhouse at Roush Racing. Restrictor plate racing was not on our radar as far as a focus went, so we paid less attention to restrictor plate racing than let’s say a Robert Yates Racing did. We placed a high priority on our mile-and-a-half and one-mile programs. That’s where our organization’s heart was and that’s where my heart was sort of being the leader of the driver organization and a mentor for the drivers, so we had the information, we shared the information, we hit the ground running at that speedway and we managed to stay ahead of the competition for a good while. We ran good there for many years to come. Maybe we didn’t win the race for whatever reason, but it was one of those race tracks where we had a strong presence for years. That was during the glory years. My glory years at Roush Racing, Jimmy Fennig and I, and the fans were rabid. You had your Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet fans and you had your Bill Elliott Ford fans and we were on the Ford side.”

RACE RESULTS
INAUGURAL LAS VEGAS 400
March 1, 1998

1. Mark Martin (FORD)
2. Jeff Burton (FORD)
3. Rusty Wallace (FORD)
4. Johnny Benson (FORD)
5. Jeremy Mayfield (FORD)
6. Ted Musgrave (FORD)
7. Jimmy Spencer (FORD)
8. Dale Earnhardt (Chevrolet)
9. Bill Elliott (FORD)
10. Chad Little (FORD)
11. Rick Mast (FORD)
12. Ricky Rudd (FORD)
13. Geoffrey Bodine (FORD)
14. Michael Waltrip (FORD)

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