Monday, Jan. 10, 2000. Daytona International Speedway. GM Test Session.
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"The car is a lot more comfortable and a lot easier to drive with the new shock package. I don't think the fans will ever see any difference, but the speeds are going to be a lot slower in qualifying I can promise you that. This new Monte Carlo seems to be pretty good. We were a little concerned with it on the speedways. Our main goal was to get some downforce. I think it's going to race good. It'll probably keep up OK qualifying. We'll know a lot more next week when the Fords run. It's not as aggressive as our race package. It's pretty easy to drive around there. We don't have to worry about the fillings falling out of our teeth. I'd like to see them keep the race package the same, but what the heck. If they put us all on the same shock, that would be good. I just want it to be equal.
"If we come out of here and we're in the top three or four, we'll be in good shape. We usually have a lot more engine when we come back. We're the fastest right now (after morning session). If we get out of here and we're in the top three or four, we'll be in good shape. We're not that far off our goals as far as the lap times are concerned. A couple of more tenths, and we'll be right in there where we wanted to be. For the first test, that would be good.
"What would make me happy? I want to get these cars good enough to come back and win the Daytona 500. We've been close. I found my way to victory lane in the qualifying race last year. I know how to get there now. I'd kind of like to get there in a big race one of these days. When it's meant to be, it'll happen. We've got a good race team here now. The 2000 Monte Carlo is going to be a good car, and we're real excited about this year. I'm going to run a lot of Busch races this year, so we've got a lot of things to look forward to. We're going to do a lot of racing. I went in debt big-time (with an airplane and new house) over the winter, so I need to make some money. I need to run hard.
"I stayed at home mostly in the offseason. We had about eight straight days where we worked a couple of hours in the morning and then played the rest of the day. I'm pretty well rested and we're right back to work. We're going to Las Vegas on Wednesday after two days of testing at Daytona. We'll go to the Winston Cup Preview in Winston-Salem on Saturday and then go straight to Milwaukee to do some autographs and then back to Spruce Creek (home in Daytona Beach) and do some more testing next week.
"We won two poles last season, so we're in the Bud Shootout this year. That's a good race to get your mind set for racing. It's like the 125s. We hope we can qualify well enough so we don't need a good finish in the 125 to make the race. Our goals have changed a little bit. We've got to run smart and get to the end of these races. We had some races last year we could have won. We made some mistakes in the pits and a couple of times we made some mistakes on the race track. We had some mechanical problems. We've got to fine-tune our consistency package a little bit. I think we're competitive enough to win races and run well and be a threat to finish in the top 10 in Winston Cup points. To get to that next level, we've got to get more consistent and get to the winner's circle.
"The next level would be to finish in the top five in the points and get a couple of wins. After that, there's only one more level and that's where Dale Jarrett is sitting now. I think we've got a good team. We've got a brand new car and it's going to take a little time to get it dialed in. Hopefully when we leave here, we'll be in pretty good shape. They gave the Ford some stuff and the Pontiac has been awesome. Hopefully NASCAR will make it a level playing field this year.
"We're enjoying it down here in Daytona. We're going to keep the place in North Carolina. Instead of having a winter home in Florida, we're going to have a summer home in North Carolina. We're going hard every day. I got eight days of rest, so I'm ready to go."
SKINNER COMMENTS ON HIS FIRST RACE IN SUSANVILLE, CALIF.
"I had a half lap lead on second place. I got the white flag and came off turn two and broke a ball joint in the right front. I flipped end over end three times, rolled twice and landed on my roof. I didn't know how to unbuckle the seat belts. It was the first time I'd ever been buckled in a race car. I finally got out very embarrassed, kicked the car and broke my toe. My first on-roof experience was pretty spectacular. I came back and won six races that year."
DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I'm real excited. It just doesn't show right now. We're trying to figure out what's going to help the car. We've got some new guys on the team, so everybody is feeling each other out in the first test. We're working with new people, with new race cars in a new series. We're just trying to stick to business and not get in anybody's way. I'm looking forward to it.
"For some odd reason, the Busch banquet was a little more relaxing and a little easier to enjoy than last year. It was probably because I was a little more relaxed. Last year's banquet, being my first championship, everything happened pretty fast. I was a little more prepared this year I guess. I was able to kick back. I was a little more relaxed when I was doing my speech. I hope everybody enjoyed it. I don't want to do that too much. It'll get you in trouble, but I knew what to expect going into that week. It's a pretty big week for anybody. To go to Beverly Hills, well, it's not known as NASCAR country, but to go out there and try to fit in and try to have a good time with it, it is a big part of my life. It's something I'm proud of.
"I don't think I'm even going to set my goals anywhere close to what Tony Stewart did last year. Regardless of what Tony did last year, he had a great year and did some phenomenal things. If we can just not tear up a lot of stuff and have some decent runs, and if we're in a couple of races where we're in position to win whether we win or not, I'll feel good about the year. I don't want to think we've got to win three races to think we've done well.
"We ran five Winston Cup races last year and did two years in the Busch Series. Hopefully a lot of those guys paid attention to that and they'll feel comfortable with me on the race track. Maybe I won't have to pay too many dues at the beginning of the season and these guys will draft with me the plate races. When you get that respect from those guys, there will be a little more give and take.
"To watch my father come so close for so many years, it was pretty cool to finally see him win the Daytona 500. When he won the race, you knew exactly everything he'd gone through to get there. It was a tower of emotions. It really was."
"I met Jennifer Love Hewitt at Warner Brothers Studios. I don't think she's a race fan, but that didn't bother me much. I got to meet Drew Carey. He was pretty funny guy. He was nice to me and my friends. He let us check out his sets and watch some of the scenes they were practicing on. We got to go to some of the Fox Studios. You see that stuff on television and it looks totally different when you get there in real life. I guess we'll be working with those people pretty close the next few years.
"We've got two cars here. We tested it at Talladega last year. It's a little bit better than the new car we've got here. It's fresh off the floor. We're working with some suspension stuff, and we've made some pretty good gains with it. The body on it is done. On the new car, we're working on the body. Whatever we learn with the suspension changes on the first car, we'll put on the new car.
"I got to run on some of last year's shocks and springs at Talladega. I got a good idea of what their race package was like. It's a lot more comfortable this year. NASCAR was looking for comfort. Things were getting out of hand I guess with the way the guys were getting the cars on the ground cutting the frame rail and shortening the driver cockpit and trying some pretty wild stuff with the springs and shocks. Maybe this will help that situation and put everybody on a more level playing field. It's almost like a restrictor plate for the chassis. It's going to make for some interesting racing I'm sure.
"I kind of slacked off last year working with Tony Jr. We had a good year but things weren't clicking along like they were the first year. It's kind of hard to imagine. The first year I was a rookie and didn't know what I was doing. The lines of communication were just too long last year, so some of the adjustments and things we tried just didn't work out. Maybe with the personnel changes we've got will help that out this year. I've only been doing this a couple of years, so hopefully these new guys can help us.
"I was pretty excited to get here to Daytona. This track, for some reason, you can't get enough of it. I like going around it every lap. It's a lot of fun to drive on, more so than any other track I know of. I guess it's got a lot to do with the history of the track and watching all those races here. It's a neat place to be. We're going to test at probably the first six tracks we go to, and I'm not really looking forward to that. I don't like to test a whole lot, but Daytona is a lot of fun."
LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe's Monte Carlo)
"At first when they came out with the new shock package, we panicked like we do with everything else. Now that we've run it and had a little time to think about it, and evaluated it, it's probably going to save the owners some money and save us some testing time. There's a lot of little things with the chassis we can work with, but as far as the major components, front springs, front sway bar and track bar location is about all we can work with. The shocks and the rear springs are pretty much locked in. Probably a year from now, we're going to look back and say it's a pretty good deal. If I've got a question about what they've done, it's why they're doing it for the race, too. We had 34 Winston Cup events last year and all of them for the most part were pretty good races. The best races we had were the four restrictor plate races. Whether as competitors we like it or don't, they were the four best races, no question. I question why they would want to screw with that. I can understand them getting them off the ground and quit dragging the track and beating the drivers to death. Inspections are going to be interesting to watch. Handing out plates and hanging weights in the rear windows in the past, it took forever to get through inspection. Now for the race, they're going to be issuing shocks and rear springs. They'd better start inspection early on race morning. The real test is going to be the morning of the 125s with about 60 cars going through inspection.
"We're working with the engines and bodies and working with what we can in the front and that's about the extent of it. It looked so funny to see my shock sheet coming down here. It had two sets of shocks to come down on it. Normally, we have three pages of shocks coming down here. It's pretty much a given as to what you've got. It's almost like the cold air box deal. It took a lot of the questions and maybe some of the separation out. Maybe they thought it would equal everybody out a little bit. The cream is still going to be at the top. It's not going to take cars that struggled and turn them into pole contenders.
"The jury is still out. They still have the option of changing their minds. That caught us by surprise. That decision was made just a few days just after one of the best races for sure last October at Talladega. They didn't need seats for the grandstands because nobody sat down for the whole race. That would be my question. Why screw with that? I can't believe it'll make it better, but hopefully it won't hurt it any.
"I feel like we're the best team on the circuit that hasn't won a race. It was a big accomplishment getting Mike Skinner on that stage in New York. We've got to raise that bar. David Smith keeps a chart in our break room and last year the line was 15th. If you could finish above that, you had a good day. We moved it to 12th last year. I'm sure we're going to move it again, maybe to about 10th. If you can do that, the wins will come.
"We've come a long way with the 2000 Monte Carlo. It's going to be a good car to work with. We're a little nervous about the drag numbers. There's no free lunches with aero. When you've got more downforce, your drag is going to be higher. I still think they need to start all the makes off equal when we go to Rockingham and adjust from there. I can't imagine how they can justify Pontiac going to Rockingham with five-eighths of an inch taller spoiler than us and the Fords based on the way the Pontiacs performed last year. I think it makes a ton of sense to put us all back to ground zero. If they need to adjust, then adjust, but don't let it do what it did at the end of last year. It was pretty lopsided, and I'm speaking for the Fords, too.
"We're as good as we were with the other car. I guess based on that car being worked on at the race track for five years, to say they're the same, that's pretty good.
"We'd like to win a race this year. We beat ourselves at Talladega in May last year. We tore up a gear at Michigan and we blew a tire at Texas. You don't get any races back, but give us those three back and give us a top 10 finish in those three and we finish eighth in the points. If we can finish between fifth and eighth in the points and win a race or two, we'll be doing good. Today is my 41st birthday, and sometimes I feel like I'm going on 60. Skinner just gave me a big cigar, so I'm going to smoke it and try not to age another year before the Daytona 500 in a few weeks."