Daytona Shootout: Ford Racing preview

The Budweiser Shootout will once again kick off the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season, but this time it will be run for the first time at night. Ford drivers competing in the event spoke about the change in time and format. MARK MARTIN - No. 6 ...

The Budweiser Shootout will once again kick off the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup season, but this time it will be run for the first time at night. Ford drivers competing in the event spoke about the change in time and format.

MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus (Starting 9th):

HOW ABOUT THE BUD SHOOTOUT ON SATURDAY NIGHT? "I think it's exciting. Night racing is fantastic for the fans and the competitors too. I think it's great. There's no better way to start off the Winston Cup season than the traditional Bud Shootout. That's the way you kick off a great year of racing."

WHAT ABOUT THE FORMAT CHANGE? "It's always different and strategy is always different. It used to be a 20-lap dash at the end and now it's gonna be sort of spun around. The biggest part is that you figure it out as you go. It's not predictable. What everyone else does has a bearing on what you do and what you choose to do may be right or may be wrong based on other people's decisions. Sometimes you just need to be lucky."

DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus (Starting 7th):

IT'S ANOTHER YEAR. "I'm looking forward to it. To be quite honest, the last two years just because of the rules - and not saying that they favored anybody - but we felt like they were certainly against our Fords a little bit, so you didn't get as excited. Even though you were still excited to be at Daytona to start a new season and knew that if everything went perfect we might be able to get into Victory Lane, but this year is a different excitement. I think we now have rules that allow anybody that's here the opportunity to win. To think that I can come here and have a chance at a fourth Daytona 500 has really been a lot of fun to think about. Will it happen? I don't know, but I do think I have a chance to make that happen."

WILL THE SMALLER FUEL CELL HELP THINGS? "I don't know. It's gonna be interesting to see how that plays out. Obviously, we've been calculating already to get an idea and Saturday night will give us a little more of an idea of exactly how far we can go, but it looks like that 40-lap mark is gonna be pretty magical. Obviously, that gets you in a situation of a number of pit stops without having to make that extra one if things were to go green, so it's gonna be interesting to see how that plays out. Does that spread the field out? The thing I've been concerned about is that here at Daytona, where we want to get things separated a little bit, that usually happens in the last 15 or 20 laps of a run when the handling starts going away. Now, you're not gonna have that extra 15 or 20 laps, so everybody is gonna have fresher tires on. Is that gonna keep things bunched up for us? We'll just see how it plays out. I'm sure it's gonna be a great weekend."

WILL IT BE MORE SPECIAL WITH THE SHOOTOUT AT NIGHT? "Yeah, I've always said that racing at night makes everything appear to be a little more spectacular. It's fun racing here at night. Hopefully, the weather will stay pretty good and it's not too cool for the fans. It's gonna be great for the drivers and it's gonna be fun. That's the kind of race that you need to have at night because it's just about winning. It doesn't matter where else you finish. I don't know how many cars are in it, but it doesn't matter because if you don't win, then you just go and get ready for the 500. We're gonna do our best to try and win it."

WHAT KIND OF RACE TO YOU ENVISION THIS YEAR? "I'm not really sure. I think Saturday night is gonna tell us better as to what to expect. I don't know that any of us really know what to expect. I think that we're gonna see close competition. Are we gonna be able to pass? I'm not exactly sure. I think it's gonna be difficult to do that, but I think you're gonna be able to use the draft and make that work. With the cars that close, obviously, pit work is gonna be very important and decisions that you make on the race track are gonna be very important. You're gonna have to be very calculating in the moves that you make. I think it's gonna be a lot easier to go backwards than it is to go forward, so you have to be very careful when you go to make those moves."

MATT KENSETH - No. 17 DEWALT Power Tools Taurus (Starting 5th):

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE BUD SHOOTOUT? "I know with the smaller fuel cell and that 10-minute break, it'll keep the cars bunched up. If you had a straight 70-lap race, it would easily be single-file in 10 or 15 laps and there might not be any passing. The guy in the front might win the thing, so this at least will mix everything up. They'll get everybody two-by-two again and get the draft bigger so we have a chance to pass a little more. It should be a little more exciting for the fans. I don't know if running at night will make a lot of difference. This time of year during the day or at night, I don't know if it makes a lot of difference. It'll be a little colder for the crews and a little colder for the fans, but to watch the races here under the lights is maybe a little more exciting than it is during the day. It brings a different atmosphere running on Saturday night than it does a Sunday afternoon. It gives you a little bit more of a crazy Saturday night race atmosphere."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CONTRACT EXTENSION? "I think it's a distraction that you take away. If you get into the last year of your contract, once you get started at Daytona you've already got people talking about what you're gonna do and if you're gonna go somewhere else. That takes a lot of focus away from the racing end of it and this is all about winning races and being competitive. Last year, between everybody at Roush - but especially the 97 over next to us - our building was able to really accomplish a lot of great things last year. As a race car driver, I couldn't ask for anything more than I had last year. I had really competitive cars. We were able to win more races than anybody else. Each and every week it seemed like we were a contender and that's all I can ask for."

DID YOU HAVE SERIOUS THOUGHTS ABOUT GOING ANYWHERE ELSE? "I pretty much worked on keeping our deal together, but you always want to make sure you know what's out there and have yourself in the best equipment. I feel like being 30 years old right now, this four-year period I've signed for is, hopefully, the prime of my career and I feel like this is the time when you want to make sure that you have yourself positioned in the best equipment you can to win a championship. With the way we performed last year, I didn't think there was anyone out there where we could run better than what we were running."

WILL IT BE BORING NOT TO BE IN THE RUMOR MILL THIS SEASON? "No, the rumor mill doesn't really bother me. It doesn't matter to me what the people say. We kind of control our own destiny and I knew what I was planning on doing and I knew what I was working on and what I wanted from a team. I think Jack and everybody over there knew what they wanted for a driver and crew chief and I think it's best for everybody to keep all that together and, hopefully, build on the success we had last year."

RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus (Starting 4th):

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO BRING THE WOOD BROTHERS BACK TO PROMINENCE? "I'd like to be a part of that. These guys are going for their 100th Winston Cup win as a team and to be able to be a part of that would be great. The bottom line in this sport is all about being competitive and I feel like we all need to win races, that's what we're paid to do, but winning with these guys would be great. It's such a unique situation they've got going, it's a fun place to be a part of. I look at what they've got and the tools to work with and I don't think it's a case of are we gonna win a race, without sounding cocky, I think it's just a matter of when. If we don't, it's because we haven't done something right. We've got the tools to work with. We've got great sponsors in Motorcraft and the Air Force. We need a little time to let it click and let it gel, but everything is there to do it. We've just got to go get it done and to be a part of getting this team back to Victory Lane on a regular basis would be great."

WHAT ABOUT THE SHOOTOUT AT NIGHT? "It's exciting enough the way it's been, but you put it under the lights and it's gonna get that much more so. Everybody is coming down to Daytona. This will be the first race we've run in quite a while and everybody is fired up. The night racing by itself adds a lot of excitement to the race. I can pretty much guarantee you that I don't know how it's gonna turn out, but it's gonna be exciting."

KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus (Starting 3rd):

WHAT ABOUT HAVING THE DAYTONA 500 AS THE FIRST RACE? "We do have somewhat of a warm-up with our Bud Shootout, with our all-star type race before the 500, and then the week of preparations leading up to it. We tested here a month ago and then we'll practice all throughout the week, we'll have drafting practice and then the 125s is a great race. If you're not ready to go then, you won't be ready for the Daytona 500."

WHAT ABOUT THE SHOOTOUT CHANGES? "They had to change it because of the smaller fuel cells. That was the quick and easy fix. You throw the yellow at 20 laps and then with that 50-lap stretch, we're gonna have to come in one more time, so we'll see how it shakes out. The first 20 laps, some guys will want to race, but I think all of us will sort out who is fast during those 20 laps so we know who we need to beat in the last 50 laps."

MORE PRESSURE THIS YEAR? "There are a couple different elements. I feel more comfortable with the car and the team and then having the hype around finishing third in points and winning races and being able to back that up. We've got that and we've got my third year in a racing series, which I've never had before. I feel very comfortable with my team. We signed a new contract, so we're looking pretty good. We've just got to stay focussed on what's ahead of us."

WHAT DOES THE CONTRACT MEAN TO YOU? "I was signed for quite a while, but, in a nutshell, what I did was just a one year extension. We re-signed a four-year deal and that's what it is now. I feel like a veteran, so to speak, with that type of deal and the way I've got appearances set up and the support from Ford Motor Company and Rubbermaid re-signing. It's all balanced out perfectly. With the way 2002 ended at Roush, it's the hot team to be with right now."

CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR FEELINGS TO THIS TIME A YEAR AGO? "It's been somewhat of a tailspin and somewhat more of a comfort level to know what I'm capable of and to know where the team is at right now. There aren't that many question marks. The question marks are just what we've got to do to setup the car, what we've got to do to take advantage of the new templates and try to get the car the best we can. Obviously, we were very happy with the way it ended last year - with the aerodynamic rules and the Ford package. With the little new twist on the nose and little less downforce in the back, it will hopefully just take a couple races to get it sorted out and we can get right back to where we were."

GEOFFREY BODINE - No. 11 Hooters Taurus (Starting 1st):

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SHOOTOUT? "I'm pretty relaxed. We put this situation together with Brett last Friday. That's when I thought about it. I said to Brett, 'I'm eligible for the Bud Shootout. Why don't we run your back-up car?' So that's how quickly that came together. I should have thought of this months ago, but I didn't. I'm racing in the Craftsman Truck too and that came together real quickly. My son was working on a truck at a fab shop and the guy that worked on it said, 'We need a driver. Do you think your dad might want to drive?' So Matthew called me and, at first, I didn't think I needed to do that, but then I got to thinking. I went over to look at things and it's a good truck. It has a Yates engine and they're good people. So I thought that maybe I should go down to Daytona and run that thing and finish what I started three years ago. I'm excited about being here. When I started talking about racing, my blood started running around inside and keyed up to the point that I couldn't say no to these opportunities. Prior to that I had really planned the rest of my life without racing in it. I was trying to buy some car dealerships and do some public speaking. I have some pretty good tales to tell about racing in my life and I enjoy meeting people and traveling, so I was headed in that direction. I still am, but I'm taking a little detour and doing a little more racing, which is OK. I'm excited about it and I'm glad I'm here."

DO YOU GO AT IT REALLY HARD IN THE SHOOTOUT OR DO YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL BECAUSE THIS IS BRETT'S CAR AND HE'S ON A TIGHT BUDGET? "Yeah, without a doubt. This is Brett's car and he is on a tight budget and I do have to be careful. We all have to really think this thing out and decide the smartest way to run this race. I have a brother out there, Todd, and maybe we can team up and help each other. That would be nice. That would be fun. I'd love to see him or me win this shootout, but, first, we have to consider Brett's situation with Hooters and his team. We have a lot of planning to do and maybe we won't have it all planned out until they drop the green flag and see what happens. We haven't even had the car out yet. Maybe it's really, really fast and maybe we're gonna be really, really happy after practice."

WHAT ABOUT BEING IN THE FIRST NIGHT SHOOTOUT? "I'm glad to be a part of that too. I didn't have anything to do with making the rules about past winners being eligible for the shootout, but we're glad to be able to take advantage of it. I'm glad I thought of it last Friday. I wished I would have planned it a little sooner and maybe we could have been better prepared, but Mike Hillman and the whole team have really worked hard on both of Brett's cars to get down here. We'll just have to wait to see what happens. It's gonna be a fun night."

-ford-

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup