COMMENT ON THURSDAY'S 125 "I wanted to position myself in the top four or five to have a run at the end, but when I got to looking where Bobby Labonte was at, he's pretty smart. So I decided not to tear up my car to finish 10th. It...
COMMENT ON THURSDAY'S 125
"I wanted to position myself in the top four or five to have a run at the end, but when I got to looking where Bobby Labonte was at, he's pretty smart. So I decided not to tear up my car to finish 10th. It would have taken you off the pole, and you would have had to start in the back for the 500. The consequences were a lot worse than the gain. I looked at it from our team's standpoint. As long as you can lead, stay up front and put yourself in position that's one thing. You get shuffled around there. I probably would have been all right before the second caution because I felt my car was pretty good. When all those guys got four or five deep, I said, 'I don't have to do this. I can wait until Sunday.'
"The car seems to be great. I haven't had any problem. Sunday I was a little bit off handling wise in the Budweiser Shootout, but Thursday in the 125s, the car seemed to drive very well even with older tires 30 laps into the event. It was still good. We took our notes, and we'll continue to work on it for the 500. As we watched the second 125 unfold, it went a good way under green and then several guys had some handling problems. That's always been the characteristic of Daytona. It's always been a handling race track. It always will be."
DISCUSS ROOKIES' PERFORMANCE ON THURSDAY
"They looked good, but then again, Daytona is a unique deal. The way the aero package is today, a lot of our goals were set for Sunday afternoon. Bobby Labonte and I and several others said, 'let's see what we've got.' When you get to the end of 500 miles, it's going to be a different deal. Still, all the rookies did a good job, and they'll be the stars of the future."
TALK ABOUT THE DAYTONA DRAFT
"They don't have to even get against you to feel the pickup in the race car. Once they get within five or six feet behind you, you can feel the acceleration from them actually helping take the air off your rear spoiler for the car to accelerate. It depends on how well your car accelerates through certain parts of the track. Certain cars will help my car better than other cars. Depending on who you're around and what circumstances you're in, it dictates how you're going to run."
ARE YOU GLAD YOU'RE NO LONGER A TEAM OWNER?
"Owning my own deal had its ups and downs. I enjoyed having the people around me and trying to build a team as we did in the '80s. The other side of the coin was not having the control or having the resources like the other teams. In the '80s, you didn't have the multi-car deals like you have today. You didn't have the sharing of the information among the teams that you have today. We went and worked and got our advantages, power, car, whatever at that time and was able to keep it for a long time. We were able to keep it among ourselves. We had a small knit group. Yet, with looking at where your resources are today and continue to try to build that, today it's just virtually impossible. For an owner-driver to succeed in this sport, you've got to be able to do it week in and week out. That's what tends to drive you in the ground. The guys that have the money and have the people can respond to change and go week in and week out. They might be off a little bit, but if they keep going along, they're going to beat you in the ground.
"I would say the weight of the universe is off my shoulders. I've never been so glad to get rid of something. I love the people, and there's a lot of things I really liked about it. I enjoyed getting a group of people together and trying to get a common goal. On the other hand, other teams are trying to hire your employees, there's a side of it you can't control, NASCAR changing the rules, it was enough to say, 'I've had enough. I'm tired of it, and I don't want to have to do this anymore.' I probably need to thank Cal Wells for coming in and taking the McDonald's deal. He did me one heck of a favor.
"In '85, we had about 12 people on the team. Then we'd have extras to come in and pit the cars. We were a very small group, and we kind of knew what each other was doing. It wasn't because we were in Dawsonville. There wasn't the sharing on information like it is today. You worked hard to try to get an edge. Today, it's not an edge very long.
"That's one side of this sport that I totally disagree with, sharing wind tunnel numbers and all that stuff. You work hard to get your advantage and you spend a lot of money to do that. For NASCAR to come in and say we're going to change this or we're going to change that.... I've been through a lot of the changes. I don't think that's what makes this sport any healthier. If a guy's got an advantage, more power to him. He worked hard to get that advantage. If he wins a race or wins two races, I don't think that having somebody come in and dominate the sport is all wrong.
"What do you do with Tiger Woods? Do you give him a bent club to try to
make him lose golf tournaments? I always worked hard to get to where I was
at, and I kind of go back to the old school of the '80s. We worked hard to
get to a point where we were winning races and eventually change is going to
come along and somebody is going to get better and the brand of car, the body
will change or this or that will change and make the next group more
IS YOUR BROTHER, ERNIE ELLIOTT, BUILDING YOUR MOTORS?
"Ernie is doing the Dodge program, but he's doing it for Chip Ganassi and his drivers, Jason Leffler and Sterling Marlin. They had a lot of success in the 125s. Ernie and I really started our racing together. I worked for my brother Ernie in the early 70s doing motors and stuff back in Dawsonville. He and I have been real close. Maybe we're on different teams, but we're still on the same program, and that means a lot to me."
COMMENT ON DODGE'S 500-DAY PREPARATION FOR RETURN TO CUP
"I've been removed from a lot of things that have happened. Last year I was in a Ford and we had our racing to do week in and week out. Some 500 days ago, they started on the program. Looking back at our program in the '80s, there's no comparison. I think they said they had an engine on the drawing board hundreds of days ago until they finally brought it in and started putting it together. That's totally different than what we had. In the '80s, a lot of stuff was trial and error. We basically had to take cylinder blocks from where we could get 'em. You didn't have factory support you have today. There's a lot of things that were different in that era than today. Dodge has done its homework and did it very well. There will be some ups and downs, but they've come to Daytona and definitely have done the homework up to this point. It's been a great feeling to help bring Dodge back. Daytona is just one event of many throughout the season. We've got a long way to go, and we'll just see what happens."
TALK ABOUT THE DODGE ONE-TEAM APPROACH
"Everybody has cooperated very well, better than I've ever been associated with anyone else as far as sharing information, trying to say if anyone has any problems, what the deals are, so on and so forth. It seems like all the teams are really up and at it. I'm sure as time progresses and once everyone gets into the week in and week out grind of racing, they'll keep certain parts, but as far as the most part, it's been an enjoyable winter getting everybody together and up to speed. The association we've had with all the other guys has been great. I feel like they'll all work together well from this point. They've got a good, small group. I'm sure they'll keep certain things to themselves, but as far as sharing the knowledge we need to make this program grow, I feel like we've probably got as good a group as any manufacturer and we'll continue to make this group and make Dodge better each and every week."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO LEAVE DAYTONA WITH A GOOD FINISH?
"You can be running well and get knocked out. When I was here in '92, my first year with Junior, we were running extremely well, running for the lead coming off turn two. Sterling, Ernie (Irvan) and I got together and had a heck of a wreck over there. That was halfway into the event. You never know what's going to happen. Last year we ran well here and finished third. I want to come out of here, if I can't win, I want a good, competitive run where we can get our program strong and get to where that week in and week out grind goes. We need to get Ray up to speed and get him to where he feels comfortable where he needs to be. I feel good about Sunday. I've got a good car and a good team, and we'll see what happens. Daytona has been good to be through the years, and win, lose or draw on Sunday, if we can come out of here with a good finish it'll set the tempo for the rest of the season, and that's what we need to strive for at this point. Everyone will need to use their heads Sunday. The new aero package NASCAR has implemented is quite a bit different. We'll have our work cut out for us Sunday, but I think we've got a good car and it'll run competitively all afternoon."
TALK ABOUT WORKING WITH RAY EVERNHAM
"To come in and drive for Ray is an honor from my standpoint. He's done a lot in the '90s like we did in the '80s. If we can just turn around and put that together maybe in the 2000s, we can be strong. There will be some growing pains along with this new venture. Ray is coming on as a first-time car owner, so he's got a little bit of growing to do. As far as looking at Dodge and what they've accomplished the last 500 days, my hat's off to them. They've worked hard and a lot of dedication has gone into this program. Ray and I share the same goals. We want to run good, and we want to win races and championships. That's the key part to anything. Once you have that understanding, the rest of it is easy.
"You may have your ups and downs through the year, but Ray and I pretty much see things the same. We spend a lot of time together. We've done a lot of testing. He's been a joy to work for, and I'm looking forward to a long relationship with Ray. Ray said he has 105 people between the two teams, so there's a lot of effort and a lot of dedication to this and a lot of people behind the program. It's just not Bill Elliott and Casey Atwood out here riding around the race track.
"I'm very confident that Ray and the guys can put it all together. I knew with Ray putting his efforts behind it that I didn't need to have any big concerns. It was hard to leave Ford as long as I'd been with them. My dad was always a Ford believer. That was one thing I had to get through, but I had to look at the other opportunities for myself and the guys on the team. It was a several fold decision, and that's what I had to get through."