It’s not a question he enjoys confronting, but it’s an obvious one. Why hasn’t one of the best drivers in NASCAR history scored a win in its biggest race? And his answer clearly illustrates that the absence of that victory irritates other people more than it bothers Martin.
"I don't know how to answer the question of how important it is – you either do or you don't, and you try as hard as you can,” he said Thursday. “I would have to say, unfortunately, when I was a teenager, that's what I thought I was going to do – win the Daytona 500. And now it ain't happened.
“It hasn't stopped me from trying. It doesn't bother me at all – none. Why should it? I didn't win it, did I? If I won it and for some reason didn't get the trophy then that would bother me, but I didn't win it yet, so why should it bother me?"
Martin, a probable first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer, also hasn’t won the Sprint Cup championship.
“Nobody ever told me that I was going to be the greatest of all time or anything like that,” he said. “I figure that I'm darn lucky to have been able to participate in this sport and stumble around and win a few things. I'm not owed anything. You earn what you get.
“I have not lost one ounce of sleep over not winning it other than the disappointment of being within three feet of it in '07. I had to stop short because I did recall when I was telling you that I hadn't lost any sleep over it – to be real honest, that's not accurate. I did lose a little bit over coming within three feet of it. You don't get to choose which races you win. If you're lucky, you just get to win some.”
Martin plans to run 25 races for Michael Waltrip Racing this season as he begins to wind down his career.
“I love racing, and I want to race, and, you know what: Even though it's been a long time since people have done it except for me in 2007 and 2008, what I'm doing is old school,” he said. “It's what David Pearson did; it's what Cale Yarborough did. They raced the races that they wanted to race, and they didn't race the races that they didn't want to.
“I like them all, but I've got to take a certain amount of breaks, and the ones that I'm taking make the most sense to me. I really think it makes me a better racer at this point in time, after all of these years. It makes me a much better racer to skip some races and recharge. It makes me more hungry and more excited each time."
And so he rolls on, a 53-year-old, still chasing dreams.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.