Robert Yates Racing teammates Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion, and Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion, both missed out on the chase for the Nextel Cup last season. Each driver has a new crew chief...
Robert Yates Racing teammates Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion, and Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion, both missed out on the chase for the Nextel Cup last season. Each driver has a new crew chief and a new outlook on 2006. They spoke about their expectations at media day Thursday.
ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR TEAM? "I think our team has made some great changes this year to try and get us closer to a championship contending team. We got a new crew chief and a couple new engineers. We're changing the way we look at things, so I think we've got a great race team. I can't remember the last time I've come down to Daytona and been so pumped up for the entire season. I just really feel like I've got somebody that's going into battle with me in Tommy and that we're gonna be in pretty good shape." RYR HAS ALWAYS BEEN GOOD HERE. "I think the pressure is on. I've got a car owner that's won the 500. I've got a teammate that's won the 500. I've got a crew chief that's won the 500. I guess I'm the only missing link here. We always come here with Robert's stuff and run good. Doug and all the guys do a great job with the motors and my crew chief is very focused and understands what it takes to run good during the 500. I think we're prepared just as good as we've ever been. It's hard to put into words right now the feelings I've got. I feel like I've got to come in and carry my load this week and do my job to get the car as close as I can, whether we're gonna use the Shootout for it or the Twin 125s, when that Sunday comes and we drop the green for the 500, my job as a driver is getting that car as comfortable and as close as I can for Tommy and the guys that they can adjust on it during the race."
IS THERE MORE PRESSURE ON YOU? "Of course there's more pressure on me because I know everybody on my team can do it. That's a good feeling to have to know that my guys have been successful down here. They've been to Victory Lane. They've all tasted it. We've been to Victory Lane in the Twin 125, so we know we can be successful for a little while. We just have to up the ante a little bit. I've got to be focused here for nine days. I've got to do my job and get the most out of my race car each and every day, whether it's in practice or whether it's in qualifying or what have you. Tommy is keeping me fired up. He knows what buttons to push to keep me on the edge of my seat and I think we've gotten started off on the right foot together. It would be great to come here to Daytona and have a great successful week together."
HOW CRITICAL IS PIT STRATEGY FOR THE 500? "I think it's very important. We saw a couple years ago Scott Wimmer in the 22 car, the Caterpillar car, that was not running up in the top two or three or four most of the day made like a two-tire change there at the end and finished in third. He put himself in great position to maybe try to win that race. I think pit position is overlooked way too much by the media and by the fans and by everybody that's not the driver, the crew chief or the crew. Having the right pit strategy during a race can make or break you as far as where you finish in the race. It's just magnified here at Daytona because of the restrictor plate racing. You'd rather come out fifth than fifteenth because it's so much harder to pass here than everywhere else."
CAN YOU HIT THE RIGHT SETUP FOR THAT LAST RUN? "That's what we're hoping. You want to hit up on it at the right time. You want to save your best matched set of Goodyears for the last run. You want to do everything you can to make sure the last two runs of the race that you're in good shape. That's something Tommy and I have been talking about a bunch is pit strategy and what he likes and what I like and what we're gonna try to use to our advantage and we'll go from there."
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE YEAR? "My expectations are really high, probably higher than they've ever been. We made the chase the first year and last year we just did miss it. We were in the chase pretty much the whole year until right there at the end, so it's not like we've been in left field the last two years. We just need to be more consistent at certain tracks. We brought in a new crew chief that has more fire than anybody I've ever been around in my life. He's an amazing guy. He's got the crew working together and he's standing right beside them. He's making me the quarterback of this race team. I've got to take charge and do my job and I just can't wait to get started. I think we're gonna surprise a lot of people this year and I think Tommy has brought a new light to our whole organization -- him and Slugger both. The way they both work together, I think Dale and I are gonna be better prepared and in a better situation than we've been in a long time."
RUSTY WALLACE WON THE BUD SHOOTOUT IN THE FIRST RACE FOR TAURUS. HOW NICE WOULD IT BE IF YOU WON THE FIRST RACE IN A FUSION? "I've kind of been keeping that in the back of my mind. It would be great to go out and win in a Fusion this week and to be the first one to do it would be awesome. I know it means a lot to Ford to come here to Daytona and kickoff the new Fusion and we need to do a great job as Ford teams to make sure that happens. We need to try to be competitive in all the races that we run this week, so we've been keeping that in the back of our minds. I know Doug and Robert have done their jobs of getting the cars ready and the motors ready. Now it's our job as drivers to go out there and see if we can't put one in Victory Lane. Hopefully, I'll be the first one. I would love to get in Victory Lane this week one way or the other, but if we were the first Fusion it would be a great week."
THIS IS YOUR SECOND SHOOTOUT. WHAT ABOUT THE FORMAT? "I think it's fun. I love the format. It's a fun race. It's a race you don't have to worry about points. You can go out there, it's under the lights, and you can try to win and try to do certain things that can make you or break you. It's just a great race. It's a great way to get started. It's good practice for the pit crew. It's good practice for Tommy and I to work together before we have to work together in the twin 125s, so it's a good practice race for all of us. There's some good pit strategy stuff we can try to get the pit crew warmed up. We can get the communication done, so it cannot have happened at a better time than for our race team to be able to come to the Shootout this year."
HOW HAS THE FUSION TRANSITION BEEN? "I think it's been easy so far. I think Ford did such a good job with all its wind tunnel numbers before it came to us that as far as the Yates group and the Roush group is concerned we didn't really have much we had to do to it. There wasn't much tweaking. It's been very successful in testing and I think we're in good shape."
HOW WILL YOU IMPROVE ON LAST YEAR? "We're gonna take the places that we run good and still try to run good there. We're gonna take the places where the valleys came and try to work on them as much as we can. Tommy and I have sat down and looked at the whole schedule last year race by race and what we fought and what we didn't fight, and what we were good at and what we're not good at and we've got ourselves a gameplan. He is so organized in that area that we hopefully have taken out some of the loops that we had last year and we'll be better prepared this year."
DALE JARRETT -- No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion
HOW IS THE FUSION? "The Fusion kind of answered our questions as far as what we saw from the wind tunnel, which is a little better balanced race car. That means maybe we don't have to trick the car into thinking that it's something that it's not. We kind of had to do that with the Taurus a lot, so it made us kind of get on that edge to where if you got it exactly right, the car was good. If you didn't, it wasn't so good. So now we have a car that we don't have to do that. We can be a little bit more standard in what we do with it and it seems to react a lot better to change than what we've had because of that good balance, so we're pretty excited about it. I would have liked to have had one more day at Vegas to do a few more things, but, obviously, we'll have that opportunity at California and Vegas coming up shortly."
SO YOU HAVE A WIDER RANGE IN WHICH THE FUSION IS GOOD? "Yeah, exactly. I think that what we saw was that if you're not right exactly making maybe a 25-30 lap run, if you weren't exactly right at the beginning, you didn't fall off as much as what we used to. It didn't seem to abuse the tires because we don't have to pile a lot of shock on the front of it to make it hold the front end down. The car is better balanced, so if you're good it's really good. If you're off just a little bit, you're still pretty good and if you get off, you don't seem to be nearly as bad."
IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT AFTER EARNHARDT'S ACCIDENT HERE THAT A LOT OF GUYS WHO WERE ON THE FENCE ABOUT THE HANS DEVICE CHANGED OVERNIGHT? "I don't think there's any question that it accelerated the use of the HANS device. Anytime that you look and see that your Superman, your hero was taken away. I'm not saying that that would have been the savior for Dale, but we know that it gives everyone a much better chance of surviving that type of situation. So, yes, it was greatly accelerated, along with other safety issues that were being talked about at that time. If that hadn't have happened when would they have been put into place? Probably a lot slower than what sooner would have been. So that accelerated that also. You like to think that something reasonably good could come from such a horrific accident and we can look back and say that some good things did come from that. I think Dale would at least be pleased from that to know that we moved forward in that. He and I had a discussion the week of the Daytona 500 about the HANS because he was questioning me why I was wearing it and we had a good discussion about it. But, certainly, there were a lot more put into use the weeks following that Daytona 500."
IT'S BEEN FIVE YEARS SINCE THAT ACCIDENT. HAS ANYONE ASSUMED THAT POWER HE HAD IN THE GARAGE AREA? AND HOW DID HE GET SO MUCH POWER TO BEGIN WITH AS FAR AS BEING THE VOICE OF THE DRIVERS? "I think he took it like he did everything else. He was the man in charge. I can remember telling my wife, 'I love to go and do photo shoots and things with Dale Earnhardt because we're getting in there and getting the hell out. We ain't gonna waste any time.' I know that I'm gonna be through early if I'm doing a commercial with Dale Earnhardt because he was in charge of everything and he'd put himself in that position in this sport. Not that anybody could have taken that position away from him, but we all had a huge respect for him and I think the biggest thing that I realized then but even realize it more now is that, certainly we all look out for what's best for each of us, but he had this sport in mind when he went to NASCAR, when he came to the drivers. He certainly made a lot of good money in this, but his biggest thing was, 'what was gonna best for our sport?' That was every decision that he made in looking at that, and it's hard to find someone like that -- that has that competitive nature and get them to understand that they need to be looking at what's best for the sport in general. What's best for competition? What's gonna make the fans come here? I think if he could look at us right now and see what has happened, he would have a huge smile on his face because even though there's nobody there to take his place, the sport has done exactly what he wanted to do and that's get to the top. I think that's all he ever wanted was for us to have that opportunity."
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT THE NEXT DALE EARNHARDT WILL NEVER GET HIRED BECAUSE HE DOESN'T FIT THE IMAGE OF A RACE CAR DRIVER? "That's very possible because I don't know that that's what everybody is looking for out here -- the whole package. Everybody wants that good-looking. I'm not saying that Dale wasn't good looking, but I'm saying that people want that good-looking guy that can go to their board room and talk and say all the right things and it's gonna do all the right things on and off the race track. That wasn't necessarily Dale Earnhardt. He's a good-looking guy and broad shouldered, but he was willing to carry the weight of this sport on his shoulders. I'm not sure that that person is out there and may not get around here. You put those qualities in only a very few certain people and it's gonna be hard to come by that. It's just like saying that everyone is looking for the next Michael Jordan. Well, those are pretty big shoes to fill. I don't know that you're gonna have the whole package in one person."
DO YOU SEE A HERO FOR THE COMMON MAN? "It's gonna be hard because Dale came along at a time that even though the money was better than most people make, it wasn't the huge money that you see and hear about now. So people are gonna have a harder time identifying with that this day and time and as we move forward, so I think it's gonna be more difficult for us. You're just not gonna replace him. You can't get four or five in here put together that are gonna replace him. Jeff Gordon does a good job for us and that's who I think represents us probably better than anyone else, but we're gonna have a hard time getting that person if we're looking to fill those shoes."
HAS THE SPORT RECOVERED FROM HIS LOSS? "I think we've recovered. It will never be the same because, again, you're not gonna replace someone like that. As much as Junior does with his popularity, it's still not like the things that his dad stood for and what he was about. Of course it's a new generation out here, so I don't know that we have to do that, but the sport is in a better position, but a lot of that still comes -- even five years down the road now -- from the things that Dale did and was doing and was putting into place at that particular time."
WHERE WOULD THE SPORT BE TODAY IN TERMS OF SAFETY IF THAT ACCIDENT HAD NOT HAPPENED? "I don't know that we would be where we are today. I think that had such a huge impact on everyone from the safety side that it accelerated everything 100-fold. I think that there are still things that we have put into place today that we would still just be considering, but that made us look and realize that we couldn't afford to have that happen again, so they were put into place much quicker. It's hard to put exactly where we would be, but I feel quite certain that every race track that we race at wouldn't have the SAFER barrier. We might still just be getting to that point, and some of the other safety issues inside the car."
IS IT FAIR TO SAY HIS DEATH ACCELERATED THE GROWTH OF THE SPORT? "I don't think there's any doubt that it created a lot of attention and focus to the sport for a long period of time, but I think a lot of that was set up because of things that Dale had done up to that point so we're just reaping the benefits of all of that now. But there's no doubt that it brought a lot of attention to the sport, so as we continue to talk about safety issues his name was brought up with that. As unfortunate as the accident was, a lot of good things have come from it and the sport has gone exactly where he was trying to take it at that time."
DO YOU THINK HE WOULD HAVE RETIRED BY NOW? "Oh yeah. I don't think he had any reason to tell me a lie, but I know whenever he was looking at quitting and, of course, you can always put that off for a year or two. But he would have been finished by now."
HE WOULD 54 or 55 NOW. "Yeah, he wasn't planning on doing it that long, but if he were here he would still be having a big impact on the sport."
WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON THE BUD SHOOTOUT? "You've got to be willing to make that move that might get you hung out or it might get you to the front. That's kind of the way, the last time I won it, I found myself with Dale Jr. behind me and was kind of pushing Kevin Harvick to the front and the next thing I know I'm left on the outside with only Junior behind me, but that's a pretty good guy to have behind you. I said, 'I don't have anything to lose here. I'll just stay up here.' It looked like the inside was the place to be, so you just kind of go for broke."
WHAT'S IT LIKE THE FIRST TIME YOU'RE IN THAT RACE? "I was pretty lucky. I had a fast car my first time in it so I won the race and that was pretty cool. I think now getting in it for the first time is a little bit eye-opening as to what takes place and guys willing to make the moves they're willing to make just for that one race. For a young guy right now getting in for the first time it could be quite a difficult chore and trying to keep their focus with everything going on would be a difficult challenge. But these guys today, they don't care. They know how to go at it and go hard and I would imagine most of them are gonna have a lot of fun."
CAN CARL EDWARDS WIN IT? "Oh, there's no doubt. He and Kyle Busch have an excellent of winning this in their first time."