Bristol Craven and D. Waltrip preview

>From NASCAR Public Relations and Chevrolet Chevrolet NASCAR Winston Cup advance material for March 31 Food City 300 at Bristol International Raceway. Highlights of Winston Teleconference on 3/26/96 with Ricky Craven. RICKY CRAVEN...

>From NASCAR Public Relations and Chevrolet Chevrolet NASCAR Winston Cup advance material for March 31 Food City 300 at Bristol International Raceway. Highlights of Winston Teleconference on 3/26/96 with Ricky Craven.

RICKY CRAVEN (No. 41 Kodiak Chevrolet Monte Carlo)

NOTE: Craven has finishes of 13th, third, 17th, 12th and third in the first five races and is ranked fourth in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, just 85 points behind leader Dale Jarrett.

"Our primary goal was to improve over 1995. We were 24th in points. We didn't win a pole or race. We came close art qualified second, but we didn't come that close to winnings a race. We want to be in the Busch Clash, and we want to win a race. I think we're maybe a little ahead of schedule. We've got some great experience running with the teams we need to compete against to win a race.

"I think Daytona was the first sign, but we didn't know whether or not to take it serious. We were every bit as Scoot as we ran. We continued to back it: up. Before the season began, we broke down the elements of Winston Cup racing. You need to have a good mechanical program. You need to have the consistency and maintenance to run all day long. We've completed all all but one lap in the five races. The pit stops, that part of the equation is so critical. You don't want to lose anything in the pits because it's so hard to make it up on the racist track. That's really Come around. When I began the '96 season, I didn't feel like we were ready to swap paint with Rusty and Dale and Jeff. In some respects, I still don't. I still have a lot to learn. I'm only 36 or 37 races into my Winston Cup career. I really respect the competition. I respect the guys who have earned their names in Winston Cup racing.

"I think the window of opportunity (in Winston Cup racing) presented itself at the beginning of '94 and the beginning of '95. You saw several drivers compete for rookie of the year in '94 and several more in '95. Only a couple of us, survived. I think that window has closed a little bit. The reason I say that, unlike the other major spores where there are hundreds of participants, Cup only has 40 slots on the average. We have those 40 slots filled. When you look from first to 40th, there's only a couple of tenths separating the competition. We've got a quality field. I'm thankful I got in on the opportunity I got. I survived my rookie year, had a good season, and legitimized somewhat that maybe I belong here. I chose the perfect: path, I think, to Winston Cup racing. I went Busch Grand National North, Busch Grand National then Winston Cup. Each one of those steps helped prepare me more for the type of racing I'm doing now.

"I'm familiar with a lot of them (younger drivers). Steve Grissom, Jeff and Ward Burton, Jeff Gordon, Hobby Labonte, Kenny Wallace and several others raced against each other in Busch Grand National. I think there's a lot of common practices and experiences among us. I take what my car will give me. That's the type of driver I've always been and will continue to be. I want to be a smart racer. "

"We're not nearly as far along as that team (Jeff Gordon) was in their third season. I honestly felt like at the end of our third Winston Cup season together that we would be able to flex some muscle, We're a little bit ahead of schedule, and I'm proud of what we've done. I don't want to get caught up in the fact that we're fourth in points. By no stretch of the imagination are we the fourth beat team in NASCAR. I've got a special group, and I don't want to underestimate the ability of that team. The only thing we're lacking is: experience. For the first time in my career or the first time in a long while, I'm in a position where I, an just drive my car and almost completely concentrate on driving. A lot of what I've done in the past as an owner/driver has put me in a position where I'm driving the race car and thinking about whether or not I want to add a rubber to the right rear or adjust the air pressure or take the wedge in or out: (on the next pit stop). I don't think about that anymore. Charles Pressley has so much confidence, and he and I work so well together. It allows me to do my job, and as a result, I think I'm doing a letter job driving the race car.

"It's a key stretch for everyone in NASCAR. The next three races are short fields. There's six less positions It's comforting to be in the position we're in, and I think it allows us to be a little more aggressive. We've run five races in '96, and I've got my best career finish in all five races. We're on a roll, and I just want to maintain the momentum we've got. The only measuring stick I have (for short tracks) is Richmond. We qualified 33rd and used a provisional in the fall race at Richmond. We came back this spring and qualified fourth. Had we not got caught by a caution that put us down a lap, I think we could have had a top 10. I know our program has improved. We're going to test at Wilkesboro next week and then focus on Martinsville. We're just taking a hard work approach.

"Any time you can test on a race track and experiment a little bit and practice fundamentals it helps We began that by going back to the basics and establishing a baseline of what we think our car and driver needs.

"The testing may have helped some, but I honestly think it's team chemistry. There's no question that this is the best group I've been around in a long time. Long before we had some of the success we had in '96, we were enjoying each other's company anal patting each other on the back. We went to Daytona and lost two engines and the guys probably worked as hard as they ever worked. They never got down We continued to compliment one another. We just have awesome chemistry. I really can't wait to get to the race track every week. That's a very powerful advantage I think. We have our own engine facility At the end of '95, we had some mechanical problems that concerned us. They overcame that over the winter and have done a wonderful job."

"We've enjoyed the first five races. We don't expect to let up. Last year we qualified fourth and sixth at Bristol. We've always run well there. Martinsville and Wilkesboro were tough races for us. So were Darlington and Rockingham last year. I think these three short track races coming up will help us measure how far we've progressed and how balanced our program is. We definitely feel better about the speedway races. Martinsville and Wilkesboro will help identify where we're at with our short track program."

"We had two legitimate top 10 finishes at Bristol last Year. We qualified well. If ever there were a race track where pit stops and track position were critical, it's Bristol. It's much easier to pass in the pits than it is on the race track. Of all the races last year, I think that was one of my disappointments. We had two good opportunities for good finishes, and midway through the races, there was a wreck and I got caught up in it. I feel like I've just got to concentrate harder for the entire 500 laps. It's a demanding race physically and mentally. You can't relax for a moment, and I feel like in one of those races that happened to me. You're very dependent on your spotters and whatever help you than get in the pits.

"Waddell (Wilson) was a big help for me in winning rookie of the year. But Waddell wasn't the only position that changed. We had a personnel change that was well over 50 percent. That wasn't necessarily because we were unhappy or they were unhappy. Sometimes the shoe doesn't quite fit. We built a program and assembled a program around our driver and team. Eventually Charley and Scott Maxim and everyone of us are believers now. Waddell possessed a lot of experience, and there were times last year when he really helped us from getting off base. There was also a need on my behalf, I felt, that we needed to be a little more aggressive. We needed to pursue Some different: things, and maybe even take a different approach toward some of the races and the racing we were doing.

"We have team meetings every Monday, and I'm at the shop every Monday and Wednesday, sometimes, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Our expectations had been affected by our performance. I'm a realist, and what I saw in December and January concerned me a little bit. I wasn't sure we had improved as quickly as I had hoped we would. Charles Pressley didn't come on until late January. A lot of late-season acquisitions, if you will. I was concerned about a letdown at the beginning of the season and we've had just the reversal of that. As a result. we've got all this momentum, a lot of excitement and energy and we've had to just dampen that a little bit. We don't want to exceed our expectations. We're nor going to put a restrict or plate on it. If we're ready to win, we'll win. I'm not sure we are. I think our performance at Darlington and Rockingham shows we're getting closer. There's nobody on the race track that wants to win more than I do or my team. We' re on a mission. I've maintained all my life that my ultimate goal was to become a Winston Cup racer, a successful Winston Cup racer. I want to pursue that next goal, which is to win a race. I want to do it as quickly as possible, but I don't want to step on any toes or damage anything in regards to the long term in doing it. We've had five good races, we're fourth in points and knock on wood, we haven' t knocked the fenders off the car or run over anybody doing it. I don't intend to, but I'm also going to race as aggressive as the guys around me. I just want to continue to race smart.

"Sometime along October or November, I'll form that opinion. I know we're for real. I know how committed these guys are. We went to Atlanta and had a top 10 car. We had a tough day in the pits and had the next weekend off. The guys chose to, they weren't forced to, chose to practice every day from Atlanta to Darlington. We left Atlanta with 22, 23, 24-second pit stops. We came to Darlington and had 18 and 19-second stops. It's just a great testimonial to the commitment of this Larry Hedrick Motorsports team. I've made that same commitment. I have all my life in terms of racing. NASCAR is my love, and it also is for these guys. That type of focus is goings to help us become a good NASCAR Winston Cup team, but I'm not bold enough to tell you where we are. I know for certain we're not fourth yet, but we've earned everything we've gotten. If we continue to do it, it'll happen at some point. "

WALTRIP HIRES HAMMOND AS TEAM MANAGER -- Jeff Hammond returned to the Darrell Waltrip Motorsports team Tuesday as the new team manager for the No. 17 Western Auto Parts America Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Hammond first worked with Waltrip in 1982 and won 12 races, seven poles and the NASCAR Winston Cup championship that season. Hammond and Waltrip won the title together again in 1985, and Waltrip won the Daytona 500 in l989 with Hammond callings the shots.

"There's a chemistry between some drivers and, in this case, team managers that allows them to get the most out of the car by getting the most out of the driver, " Waltrip staid. "Jeff and I have that bond. Leering the week, Jeff will help prepare the cars and work on race strategies. On race day, he will be the one talking to me over the radio and making calls from the pits. He has a great ability to translate what I'm saying about the car to the crew. I know that one person can't make you win or lose races, but just look at the numbers. Our goal is to add to those numbers. "

Eddie Yount, 35, has been added as a fabricator for the No. 17 team. A Claremount, N.C., native, Young spent the past six years with the Precision Products Racing team, assisting in its Winston Cup efforts as head fabricator.

Jack Durbin indy500@freenet.tlh.fl.us Motorsport News International jackd@motorsport.com (Moderators for "rec.autos.sport.info") Homepage http://www.freenet.tlh.fl.us/users/indy500/index.html

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Kenny Wallace , Ricky Craven , Steve Grissom