JOHN ANDRETTI FEATURE Lowe's Motor Speedway October 7, 1999 Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver John Andretti is in dire need of a strong run in Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500. He got off to a good start by qualifying third. In his last three...
JOHN ANDRETTI FEATURE Lowe's Motor Speedway October 7, 1999
Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver John Andretti is in dire need of a strong run in Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500. He got off to a good start by qualifying third. In his last three races, Andretti has been eliminated by crashes. Since July's Daytona race, he's suffered five DNFs because of crashes. In the last three weeks, he's fallen from 13th to 19th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings.
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "I've qualified well here before. I think last night was the (third) time I've qualified third here. I think we've been pretty good here. We race pretty good here, we haven't raced great. We keep trying new things. We tried some pretty drastic things with it this morning because if you stay with the same thing you're going to run the same. We're just a tenth, half a tenth off during the race. In Winston Cup, that's like light years. It's all about finding a good base. Guys that run good here have a good baseline. Bobby Labonte has run good here forever and got his first win here. Jeff Gordon, same thing. Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, they've all got good baselines and they build off that. We're just one step behind. Just like Martinsville. I think I've run Martinsville five times for Petty Enterprises and we've run really good every time and we've never run the same setup twice. We know where we're starting and we build from there every time. That's where we're at at Charlotte. We're right in the hunt, but we've got to improve from there to try and be able to win."
WHERE DOES THE TEAM STRUGGLE HERE? "It's just an overall package. We play around with the bodies a little bit. Kyle is running a little bit different car than I'm running. We're experimenting a lot of times. If we ever want to be able to get to the front as far as being a serious contender in the future, you have to run good everywhere and you've got to be able to run top-five everywhere, not just in the top-10. That's our focus here. We can run top-10, I believe. I'll never use the word 'easily' in Winston Cup, but I think we can run in the top-10 and hopefully we can build ourselves on the mile-and-a-halves where we can be a top-five car."
WAS LAST WEEK'S RACE (CRASHED WHILE RUNNING STRONG SECOND) YOUR SEASON IN A NUTSHELL? "I think it's been that way all season, starting at Daytona. In the 125s we didn't even get through the first corner and we had a car that we thought was capable of winning the 125 and we got caught up in an accident and taken out. I mean, let's start at the beginning of the year. Even at Martinsville when I won I got hit twice in the back pretty hard by one guy and spun out by another guy. We came from a lap down. It wasn't like we cruised for an easy victory. Even the win was tough. The thing that's so good about this team is they bounce back. I'm certainly not selling it because I don't have to, but we've run a lot better this year. We're way further behind in the points and people say, 'How can you say that?' It's not about statistics. Yeah, if you pick up a book, it's pretty ugly. If you look at it and add three or five positions, where we were running in every race that something bad happened to us, it would make a huge difference in our season. I'm optimistic. I know that when things change for us, and hopefully they do, everybody will push as hard as they've always pushed. I think it will all turn around for us. It can turn around quick for all the guys that have had the good luck. There's some skill for getting through an accident, but unless you're some physics major that can do a lot of calculations in your head very, very quickly, you have no idea where those cars are going either."
IS THAT WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING? KNOWING YOU'VE RUN BETTER THAN YOU'VE FINISHED? "If we were running bad and finishing, I'd be extremely upset. I don't get down about this. I've been racing a long time. It's frustrating and it's disappointing, but it's not the end of the world. They're going to race next weekend and we're going to be there, so I don't have to worry about the last weekend or even the whole season. You can lose focus. Our focus is to come here and everywhere, and win. There are some places left where we can still win at. That to me is a whole lot more important than points. Points are important, but unless you're going to win the championship, they're not life and death. If you're a multi-race winner, then you can build yourself into a top-five points guy. Then you can build yourself into a championship contender. If you don't win races, then you're not going to win a championship."
THERE'S BEEN SOME TALK FROM OTHER INDIVIDUALS FROM OTHER TEAMS THAT NASCAR NEEDS TO ADJUST THE RULES AND TAKE AWAY FROM THE PONTIAC. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "Let's be realistic about it. Is Bobby Labonte really, really fast around Charlotte? Yeah. He just happens to be in a Pontiac. Is Tony Stewart quick around Charlotte? Yeah, well he's Bobby's teammate and he's got a jumpstart there with the setup. I've qualified up front here. Ward got his first pole here and Ward's a qualifier on these mile-and-a-halves for sure. Nadeau even, has been a qualifier on the bigger tracks this year. I don't get into all that. It's easy to nickpick. Does that mean if a Ford runs bad they should immediately give an inch of spoiler to all the Chevrolets?"
IS IT ALMOST LIKE PONTIACS AREN'T SUPPOSED TO RUN WELL? DON'T YOU TAKE THAT AS A SLAM TO YOUR TEAM AND ITS CAPABILITIES? "To me, Bobby Labonte won at Pocono and he's struggled there in the past. He won both races there. There have been other places where maybe he's struggled a little more than he has in the past. Did he win because he had more blade at Pocono? I've said when you come to NASCAR whatever car you're driving is the worst car out there. That's just part of the politics. To me, NASCAR does an excellent job of trying to keep it even. I find it a little bit confusing how we might have an advantage now when our car is like the longest of all of them. The Taurus is fairly new. It's a little bit early for them to be talking about that, worrying about that, when they're trying to bring a new car in where they're not exactly going to show the whole picture like every other time. They forget about last year when they took more away from us at the beginning of the year than any other make. Also, when you look at it, when the Taurus came out, how many races did they get where they had such a big advantage? The same with the Chevrolet and the Monte Carlo. It's tough. NASCAR's got the toughest job of all. It's never going to be all equal. I think the Pontiac teams in general, starting last year, all became stronger. They had stronger driver/crew chief combinations that were working good together. Not that they never had good drivers or crew chiefs, they just got good combinations together last year. You've got to throw Stewart into the mix now because he's with an excellent team. They're the team Pontiac supports the most, so they should be running good. I don't think it should be any big surprise. If NASCAR comes out and tells us to cut them down, we'll cut them down. If they tell us to add an inch, we'll add an inch. It's not up to me to decide. I think if you look at the point standings you'll see it's pretty even. Pontiac has now got as many strong teams as Ford and Chevy have. They just have more cars. That's the way I look at it. It's all a game of politics. They should be mentioning it. They're trying to beat us in points because they have something else in front of them. I mean, why wouldn't they? Hey, Burton and Gordon have more wins than anybody, so how can they complain. Then we go to the short tracks and the Pontiacs still run good and the aerodynamics play a much less role there."
HOW WOULD YOU RATE YOUR CHANCES AT VICTORY SUNDAY? "I think we're probably a good top-10 contender at this stage. I think to win the race, that would be a big step for us here at Charlotte. That doesn't mean we're not going to hit the setup before then. We've got a lot of things to try. We're not going to suddenly jump over all these guys that are really solid here just overnight, but we're trying. I always have a shot at it. I wouldn't show up at the race track if I didn't have a shot at it. I might as well stay home then. I believe when I get in the car I'm going to have a shot at it."