NASCAR Winston Cup BILL ELLIOTT GOT OFF TO A GOOD START IN 1998 WITH EIGHT STRAIGHT TOP-15 FINISHES. HOWEVER, ACCIDENTS AT TALLADEGA AND CALIFORNIA IN BACK-TO-BACK SET THE TEAM BACK, AND RECOVERY HAS BEEN SLOW. ELLIOTT SPOKE ABOUT THE SEASON...
NASCAR Winston Cup
BILL ELLIOTT GOT OFF TO A GOOD START IN 1998 WITH EIGHT STRAIGHT TOP-15 FINISHES. HOWEVER, ACCIDENTS AT TALLADEGA AND CALIFORNIA IN BACK-TO-BACK SET THE TEAM BACK, AND RECOVERY HAS BEEN SLOW. ELLIOTT SPOKE ABOUT THE SEASON AND WHAT HIS PLANS ARE FOR THE 94 AND 13 TEAMS.
BILL ELLIOTT, -94- McDonald's Ford Taurus -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE YOUR OPERATION IS RIGHT NOW? "I know in my heart last year we had some really good races with a chance at winning. But nowadays you've gotta be perfect to win races and, I mean, everybody can look at the board and all these guys, but you look at the list between the Hendrick, the Roush and the Yates, there's very little for anybody else. That's the point we've gotta work toward. The last year I felt like we were pretty good. The change to the Taurus has been a little bit of a step back for us with the situation we've had this year, so, you've got to understand in a year's time we've done a lot. We built and moved into a new facility. We've changed from Thunderbird to Taurus. We've gone through a lot of different changes. We're still trying to get the Marino 13 situation in a better, stable environment by moving it to Statesville. So a lot of things are going on and I think right now we've gotta just look and build and try to get everything in place and build toward next season, which, at this point in time, we'll sacrifice what we can for '98 and build toward '99."
ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED THE ELLIOTT-MARINO DEAL HAS HIT A COUPLE OF ROADBLOCKS? "No, I knew it was gonna be a struggle from the word go, but right now I'm trying to get it to where they help each other and compete off each other. I see what the 6 and the 99 has done and several of these guys so right now that's what I'm building. I felt like before, instead of having two one-car deals I've got one two-car deal, so that's what I'm trying to work toward. We're still trying to get the right people in some places, and I feel like they've done a lot for the first year out and for as many obstacles as we've had to cross with that situation. It will continue to grow and be good."
HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO TRYING TO FIND A LONG-TERM SOLUTION TO THE DRIVER SITUATION WITH THE 13 TEAM? "I'm not gonna worry about it right now. We're gonna keep throwing names in the hat and we're gonna do it systematically. We're gonna look at it here as the year progresses, make a decision and go from there. We're just gonna see what's out there and look at it from there. See who can do the best and who can do First Plus the best job."
DO YOU FEEL YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE 13 CAR HAS CAUSED PROBLEMS WITH THE 94? "No, none whatsoever. I think everything's kind of been self-inflicted. It's not by no means been a problem, but it hasn't been an asset, so right now we're trying to make it an asset to where the two work together and feed off each other and do what they need to do. Looking down this garage and seeing where everybody's at, it's like there's no magic to this business. It's all having organization and having the right people in the right places. Like I said, right now we've got some really good people in the 94 car. I feel like we're on the verge of being really good with just a few breaks. It's just like every time we turn around we're constantly trying to battle back from a problem or whatever, but I feel like by the end of the season I think we'll have things turned around very well.
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGES IN THIS SPORT? "The thing that I see is that the preparation and everything has gotten so much better in this sport and the sport has changed so much. Everybody is up on everything. Like for example, you go back to the 24 for an instance. They qualify well, which they don't have to pass many cars and it seems like that evolution just keeps getting better and better. The point I'm trying to get to is if you can come in here and make everything work for you, then you can kind of make your luck to some extent. They're well prepared when they come in the door. They're able to qualify well, pick the right pit, stay out of the traffic, and do everything right. That, in turn, helps set the stage whereas everybody else has been a little bit inconsistent and that's what's hurt a lot of these other guys."
ARE YOU HAVING ANY FUN AT ALL THIS YEAR OR IS IT KIND OF ARDUOUS COMING TO THE TRACK AT TIMES? "You've got to kinda look past everything that's going on. The problem I have is just we've had a lot of odd circumstances happen this year and that's what's hard to get through. I still enjoy driving a race car. I still enjoy getting out and going around and around and racing these guys. It just makes it a whole lot more fun when you're running well because then that way when you get out of here at the end of the day you say, 'Man, I had a pretty good day.'"
WOULD YOU SAY THE ACCIDENTS, PLUS ADDING THE 13 TEAM, HAVE BEEN REASONS FOR YOUR STRUGGLES? "I don't know if bringing on a new team really added anything. I think the change to the Taurus and all the stuff that we got behind on caught up to us by the middle of the year."
DO YOU FORESEE HAVING TO MAKE ANY SIGNIFICANT PERSONNEL CHANGES TO HELP MAKE THESE TWO TEAMS WORK TOGETHER? "I think we've already made some significant changes. I think we're pretty close and right now we're building back. I don't foresee doing anything much different there."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY CALLS FROM SOME OF THE DRIVERS WHO ARE LOOKING FOR RIDES NEXT YEAR? "We have contacted several people and right now we're just looking at who's out there, who First Plus wants, and who can benefit everybody and do a good job for us."