BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Mark Martin summed it up succinctly:
"I feel 25 when we win," Martin said Friday, "but I feel 75 the next morning."
Anyone who thinks race-car drivers aren't athletes should jog a few miles with Jeff Gordon's sore back. Or keep up with 50-year-old Martin in his seven-days-a-week workout schedule.
They're driving Sprint Cup races nearly year-round, hundreds of miles each weekend at wild speeds, knowing inevitably there will be crashes that jar their bodies. Gordon was swept up in a wreck last week at Watkins Glen. That was his third collision this season, cumulatively wearing down the hinge that is his lower back.
But like any other athlete, Gordon knows excelling means playing with pain.
"I took a (blow) and worked through it the next couple days and am here, ready to go," said Gordon, who will start 21st at today's Carfax 400.
Gordon's back got so much attention this week, others sounded resentful. As Ryan Newman put it, "We're kind of tired of hearing about his back."
Newman seemed to be saying they're all hurting this time of year, so what makes Gordon's ailment special? Gordon downplayed the injury, cutting off questions about it midway through an interview Friday.
But not before addressing why he won't skip a race.
"I think it would take away momentum and chemistry," Gordon replied.
"If I had a diagnosis from a doctor that told me I was in danger of a major injury, then I would consider it, certainly. But I haven't had that. My issue is spasms ... it's not consistent."
Martin knows the path Gordon is navigating. He had chronic back problems, but that hasn't kept him from driving successfully at an age when most others would have found a cushy spot in broadcasting.
Friday someone compared him to golfer Tom Watson, contending recently for the British Open. Martin sounded flattered by that analogy, and tried explaining what keeps him going.
"You know, things change as you age," Martin said. "I have had the good fortune ... to not have the passion diminish or the willingness to do what it takes to be the very best."
"I do feel stiffer and stuff, but from crashes, bumps and bruises? No."
Martin will start in the front row on Sunday after making the ultimate "go-for-it" decision Friday. He told his crew chief to make his car way loose in qualifying, so much so that he joked that Alan Gustafson was trying to kill him.
Martin is making the most of his late run, much as Watson did last month in golf or Jimmy Connors did years ago in tennis. That involves year-round training, taking off only race days from the process.
He alternates between cardio and strength training. The only constant is the music--hard-core rap or heavy-metal music blazes from his headphones.
Not exactly what you'd expect from NASCAR's senior citizen, huh?