BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) Elliott, the 45-year-old 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Dawsonville, Ga., will make career start No. 650 on Sunday. Elliott's first start came on Feb. 29, 1976 at Rockingham. He...
(No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
Elliott, the 45-year-old 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Dawsonville, Ga., will make career start No. 650 on Sunday. Elliott's first start came on Feb. 29, 1976 at Rockingham. He has won 50 poles, 40 races and more than $26 million since. Elliott has quite an impressive record at Dover. In 36 career starts at the Monster Mile, Elliott has four victories, 11 top fives and 18 top 10s. In his first start at Dover on Sept. 19, 1982, Elliott qualified fifth and finished third. He won both races at Dover in 1988 and has led a total of 2,033 laps at Dover.
"Terry (Labonte) and I kind of started together. The only exception at that time I ran about 10 races a year and he ran several more. It seems like it was yesterday. The funny thing, I told Casey (Evernham Motorsports teammate Atwood) at Bristol when he turned 21, 'When you wake up tomorrow you'll be 30 and the next day you'll be 40. You'd better enjoy it while you can because it's going to go by in a hurry.'
"Looking back over it, it just seems like it was yesterday when we got started. Day in and day out, I still enjoy the racing. It's a lot of fun. It's gotten awful competitive the last couple of years. It's awful tough from that side. These younger drivers make you work a little harder, but that's what it's all about.
"Week in and week out, the veterans understand the points race a little better than the younger guys. I think that's a key to it. That little bit of patience in the race or don't stick it where it doesn't need to go. I think that's the one side of the coin. It's hard to tell a guy that hasn't been around these places much what to expect. Sometimes that's a factor. A lot of the older guys have got some good equipment, too. They're in the good cars. A lot of your rookies are coming up, but like Harvick, he's come in and blazed a good name for himself and several others. Sometimes these guys come in and teach us a little bit of something. It's never black and white.
"The thing about driving for yourself, you go in the shop on Monday morning and put your car owner's on and you won't to fire the driver and vice versa. I've been very fortunate to be in the position I've been in throughout the years. I've had long term relationships with people, and I think I left on good terms. I think that means more to me than anything. My past owner (himself), really, I did (leave on good terms). We resolved our differences right there at the end. Unfortunately, McDonald's left.
"When the green flag falls on Sunday, there's a lot of strategy to these races. Understanding the race track is one part of it. If you come to Dover, in the 80s, I really stayed hooked up to this race track pretty well. As time goes on, tires change, cars change, setups change. Eventually the surface changed (at Dover). It's hard to stay set up to what you had from that point. The last two years, it's like I go in the shop and I don't even ask what's in the car anymore. They just put in it what they want to put in it and I say, 'OK, I'll try to drive it.' It's gone way beyond me. Sometimes what I suggest to change doesn't work like it used to because there's so many other factors involved. The radial tires, the amount of downforce we've got, the amount of power we've got. It's different, and that's where in the last number of years you see a number of people that's either been hot or cold. There's hardly any in between. Week in and week out, it's harder to stay consistent nowadays. You have these newer guys come in and they didn't know what a bias ply tire felt like. They didn't know what it's like to drive these cars without any downforce. You get a habit or routine of doing things a certain way, and it's hard to break. It's like old dog, new tricks. That's the things I see. That's the thing that drives some of these guys out over a long period of time. They can't resolve to the change they need to make it to the next step.
"(North Wilkesboro) was a fun place to race. It had the two-day qualifying deal where they average the time and a lot of different gimmicks. I guess the biggest thing about these deals, the biggest thing is what a bargain Bruton (Smith) got and the Bahres got for what they paid for the place. I guess that's the wildest thing I see. It's funny, and it's going back to the car owner's side when I was trying to run these deals. You set out a budget and you figure on going to North Wilkesboro which was a fairly local deal from the standpoint of where everyone's based. Then you go to New Hampshire and you go to Texas. That makes a logistical nightmare, just from what's happened here this past weekend, talking to go back (to New Hampshire) after Thanksgiving. To me, it's like the sport grows, but the bigger we get the harder it is to deal with the logistic side of the sport. Now we pack races in every weekend. What happened last week, which was a totally unforeseen deal, and it backs us up. That's the problem I see. We don't have any room for error in this sport at the moment.
"I know what Terry is going to do and what he's not going to do and vice versa. You can come up to him and have an inch between you and him and the guy you don't know, you might have to have a foot or two or three. It's been a lot of fun. As many years as we've been doing it, we're very fortunate to still be here. You look back, and we've seen a lot of situations the last 20 some odd years in this sport, especially with the deal in February that happened to Dale. It's like we've been to keep going on and on and on. I've been very fortunate, very lucky and proud to have done what I've done the last number of years. To race Rusty and all these guys, it's been unique. I don't know anybody else in any other sport that could do it.
"It's a race track (New Hampshire) that's difficult to get hooked up to on cold tires. I've been there when it's overcast and cold and when you go out to qualify you want to pray for the sun. That's probably the only place in the world you want the sun out. I've been there in a lot of different circumstances and it's just hard to get the heat in the tires. If the race track's cold, if the air temperature is cold, it's just going to make that problem that much worse. You'll probably back off at the flagman's stand. You probably won't be able to get in the gas but about a car length before the flagman's stand. It's going to be a tough deal.
"(Kansas) is similar to Chicago, but the back straightaway is straight where Chicago has got a little bit of dogleg or a little bit of curve to the back straightaway. If you closed your eyes and woke up in the morning, you wouldn't know if you were at Chicago or Kansas City as far as looking at the facility.
"I think the competition is closer and that causes everybody to race a little harder and not necessarily smarter. Some of these guys don't realize that these are very long races and a lot could happen. You've got to get to the end of them. Like that deal at Darlington a couple of weeks ago. I could have been 17th or fourth. I ended up fifth, so I was very lucky. It's just one of them deals that a lot of cars are left running on the lead lap at the end of the race and the problem is a lot of pressure is on a lot of guys to do well. People start sticking it in places they don't need to go. Pretty much with 10 laps to go, it's an open deal. You've got to hope you're in the right place at the right time. The unfortunate side, we're going to Talladega in a few weeks, and it's going to be a tough mental deal to deal with from the standpoint of the way you've got to race there. It's really pretty nice when you go to these races and you run the last 50 or hundred laps under green, but when they start having cautions right there at the end, there's a lot of cars left on the lead lap and it sure does make it tough. You know something is going to happen. I agree sometimes with what they do and I disagree sometimes. I guess everybody's got an opinion.
"Dodge as won a couple of races. They've come a long way. I really didn't know what to expect from the program. Ray (Evernham) had a pretty tough learning curve to start with and now he's starting to get his people in place and his organization the way he wants it. I think it'll be a continuing growing thing. One good thing about it, Ray understands racing and he's been very good to work for from my standpoint. He kind of lets us do his own thing and I've got some really good guys around me right now. They've made me look good. From the standpoint of the future, I feel like we've come a long way and things are looking up."