Some Teams Searching for Stride While Others Hitting It Heading Into Week Five DETROIT, Mich., March 13, 2002 - At the start of a racing season, every team in the garage area brims with optimism. Over the course of the first four races, that ...
Some Teams Searching for Stride While Others Hitting It Heading Into Week Five
DETROIT, Mich., March 13, 2002 - At the start of a racing season, every team in the garage area brims with optimism. Over the course of the first four races, that optimism is joined by realism as a team's fortunes unfold. Pontiac Grand Prix drivers Ken Schrader and Tony Stewart are great examples.
Schrader and his No. 36 Pontiac teammates find themselves ranked 29th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings heading into this weekend's event at Darlington Raceway, despite running competitively to open the season. Stewart, on the other hand, is the hottest driver on the circuit with a win, three straight top fives and a 38-spot jump to fifth in the point standings since the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.
This Sunday, both Schrader and Stewart will be looking to net Pontiac's fourth-ever win at Darlington Raceway in the fifth race of the 2002 season.
Thoughts From Ken Schrader, No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND'S RACE AT DARLINGTON?
"We're really looking forward to getting back there. Last fall's race there was the best run we had all last year. The finish (10th) didn't look quite like we wanted it to, but as far as competitiveness on the racetrack, it was definitely our best run. "It will be the same Pontiac we took there then with what we believe to be some improvements to it. And, I can believe that with some certainty because this is our Rockingham car, which was substantially better (qualified second) than our car was last year at Rockingham."
IN THREE OUT OF FOUR RACES THIS YEAR, YOU'VE BEEN A VICTIM OF SOMEBODY
ELSE'S PROBLEMS...HOW DISAPPOINTING HAS THAT BEEN?
"The finishes have been pathetic, but the performance has been respectable. At Daytona, we were better than respectable and then got caught up in 'the big wreck.' We started good at Rockingham, then got wrecked and at Vegas we had a good car before someone ran into us. But, regardless why, we've still got three bad finishes to show for it. But, I would rather have those types of weeks than to just run around 18th and finish 18th every week."
YOU FINISHED SECOND LAST YEAR AT DARLINGTON IN THE TRUCK SERIES RACE AND
ARE PLANNING ON RUNNING THAT RACE ON FRIDAY...DOES THAT HELP YOUR WINSTON
CUP EFFORT A LOT?
"I don't think so. I just like to race and that is another opportunity. I do like the fact that the truck race is on Friday and not on Saturday. That way you can pretty much just concentrate on the Winston Cup car during the weekend."
IS TOO MUCH MADE OUT OF THE INFORMATION GAINED FROM RUNNING SUPPORT RACES?
"I think there is definitely something to it when it's the same team and the same people that are taking care of the cars. But other than that, I think too much is made out of it."
HAS YOUR TEAM EVER CONSIDERED FIELDING A BUSCH CAR OR A TRUCK FOR THAT
"No, we just need to do this deal. We really need to stay focused on our Winston Cup program."
STERLING MARLING IS LEADING THE POINT STANDINGS AT 44 YEARS OLD...DOES THAT
SURPRISE YOU THAT ONE OF THE OLDER DRIVERS IN THE SERIES IS RUNNING SO
"There are a whole bunch of us that are roughly that same age. It doesn't make a difference - not at all. There are some kids running good and some older guys running good. "You know, we're not out there seeing how many times we can run the length of a football field. We're driving cars. It boils down to experience and the team, and how well you're all working together. I'm awfully happy for Sterling."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT STEVE PARK RETURNING THIS WEEK?
"I'm glad for him. I talked to Kenny Wallace and Michael Waltrip about his (Park's) test and they said he is 100 percent and ready to go."
KENNY WALLACE HAS TO STEP ASIDE FOR STEVE TO RETURN...WHAT IS KENNY'S
"Kenny has a good Busch car to drive for now. He'll just have to wait and see what shakes loose in Winston Cup. Sure, he'd love to be driving the '1' car. But I know he is just like I would be in the sense that you're much happier to see that person come back. You know that it's their car and you're just driving it. When you're in it, you treat it like it's yours because that is your job. But that is Steve's car."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO STEVE?
"I've talked to him a couple times. He was worried, like we all would be, that he wouldn't be able to come back. But, he is feeling really good about it."
Thoughts from Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
ON GOING FROM 43RD TO FIFTH IN THE POINTS IN THREE RACES
"I'm real excited. I'm looking at it from [the perspective of] top fives. We've been in the top five the last three weeks, so that right there makes me extremely excited about the possibility of what might lay ahead of us. We've just got to keep our nose to the ground and keep pushing. We're still 100 points out of the lead right now and that's still a pretty good margin to try to overcome. We've just got to go out and do what we've been doing the past three weeks. If we can be consistent and be in the top five week-in and week-out, we're going to keep knocking those points down. Hopefully, we'll get there before the end of the year."
DOES THAT MAKE YOUR FINISH AT DAYTONA MORE OR LESS FRUSTRATING?
"I don't think it's either, really. You can pretty much count on having three or four bad days a year, whether you get in a wreck or whether you blow a motor or something like that. It just meant that was one of those three or four and meant that we were going to have to try to minimize those days the rest of the year. Being able to go from 43rd in the first race to being fifth at the end of [Atlanta], I'm really proud of our team for what they've been able to overcome from Daytona. It makes me proud that they didn't let Daytona get them down. The next week we went to Rockingham and finished fourth. We went to Vegas [the next week] and finished fifth and then won [Sunday], so I'm really proud of the work these guys are all doing and the work they've done over the winter."
ON STARTING SO FAST THIS YEAR
"I'm just excited about it. History has shown that we need to get through the first eight or nine races. If we can get through that and be fairly close the front, then we actually might have a shot at winning a championship, hopefully. It seems like our weakness is the first eight or nine races, so being this close to the front this early in the year and running the way we have been running - I don't think looking at the points sheet is a true reflection on how our race team has been. We ran really well at Daytona - winning the 'Shootout' and finishing second in the '125,' and everywhere else we've been we've run good. It really excites me knowing that we're getting off to hopefully a good start to the year and hopefully getting ourselves in a position to where we might be there at the end of the season finally."