LEE McCALL (Crew Chief No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: McCall and his driver Sterling Marlin will return to Daytona International Speedway for Thursday night's Pepsi 400 qualifying with the same Dodge Intrepid R/T that won a...
LEE McCALL (Crew Chief No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: McCall and his driver Sterling Marlin will return to Daytona International Speedway for Thursday night's Pepsi 400 qualifying with the same Dodge Intrepid R/T that won a 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona in February. It started third and finished seventh in the Daytona 500. Marlin qualified second and finished 23rd in the Talladega 500 with the same chassis. Marlin ranks fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings after 16 of 36 races. He trails leader Jeff Gordon by 243 points. Marlin has been ranked in the top 10 all season. He has five top fives and nine top-10 finishes.
"Our qualifying package will be a little different for the Pepsi 400, but I don't think we're going to have to change our race package at all," McCall said. "I think we've got a good enough car that we can overcome the spring rules without the bumper stops. The taller roof blades (for Dodges) may have hurt us in qualifying a little at Talladega, but when you get in a big pack of cars you really don't know they're there.
"Sterling was running up front at Talladega with a handful of laps to go, but like usual, nobody wanted to run with him. That says a lot about the strength of this car. He just got bottled up at Talladega and shuffled to the back.
"We're not going to approach the Pepsi 400 any different. We're up there in the points now, and you always look at the points, but we're racing every race to win. We know we're going to be competitive at Daytona. Sterling is always in the hunt at these restrictor-plate tracks. Sterling is one advantage we've got in our pocket. Sterling is doing a heck of a job. We've got great cars and great motors. We just need to find out how to run a little stronger at the end of the race. If we can do that, I think we'll get a win soon.
"It's a little surprising in a way that Dodge hasn't won yet, but the luck hasn't really fallen our way. The 93 (Dave Blaney) was good enough to win at Atlanta. The 43 (John Andretti) was good enough to win at Bristol, and we've been good enough to win several times and circumstances just didn't work out. Everything has to go your way these days the way competition is.
"We're ready for this stretch of 20 straight races. I think it'll be a positive thing for the 40 and 01 teams (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates). We've got 24 Dodges ready to race. If we tear one up, we've got plenty to choose from to replace it. That was our main focus at the beginning of the season, to build up our inventory, and we've got a racing fleet ready.
"We might need ^Ñem all because we've got plenty on our plate. I'll be home on Monday after Daytona, and then we're going to shake down our Chicago car at Kentucky on Tuesday and Wednesday before we go to Chicago. After we race at Chicago (July 15), we'll test at Indy on Monday and Tuesday and then head to Loudon (New Hampshire) on Wednesday. If I'm lucky, I'll be home on Monday after Loudon (July 23)."
CHAD KNAUS (Crew chief No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Knaus, first-year crew chief for driver Stacy Compton and the No. 92 Melling Racing Team, has encountered highs and lows this season at the restrictor-plate tracks. Compton qualified second for the Daytona 500 and turned in a season-best 10th-place finish. He won the pole for the Talladega 500 with the same Dodge Intrepid R/T but finished 43rd after engine problems on lap 116 of 188. The team will race the same Dodge chassis in the Pepsi 400.
"We've got a pretty good idea of what it's going to take at Daytona. Really, any time you go to Daytona it's like going the first time. It was a bit of a struggle at Talladega with the taller roof blade for the Dodges, but Talladega takes a different package anyway. You can't compare Daytona and Talladega. That's like comparing Rockingham and California. The air is different at Daytona. It's a rougher track. Daytona is like a bumpy ocean with swells.
"We'd like to get another top-10 finish at Daytona, but we'd like to get a top 10 at Bristol or Texas or Indy, too. We got our pole at Talladega, so that takes the pressure off there. Our goals for Daytona will be to qualify in the top 15 and finish in the top 15.
"That was our goal everywhere the first half of the season. We just had an awful test schedule. It seemed like anywhere we went to test, it rained. When we did get to test and went back to the track for the race, we did well. Stacy is getting more experience, and we're getting more experience working together as a team. That's a bonus.
"Stacy has more experience on the short tracks, but he's good on the road courses, and he's good on the superspeedways and intermediate tracks, too. He just needs to make more laps. I think we're going to be better everywhere we go the second half of the season that we've already been, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a Dodge get that first win real soon in the second half."
BILL DAVIS (Car owner Bill Davis Racing Dodge Intrepid R/Ts with drivers Ward Burton and Dave Blaney)
NOTE: Davis will return to the track at Daytona for the first time since May in Charlotte. He's been recuperating from kidney stones. Davis was one of the guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference Tuesday. Here are his comments.
"We're optimistic about Daytona. We feel until the big wreck on the back stretch that the 22 (Ward Burton) had the best run of the day going. I think we led the most laps, could pretty much drive to the front whenever we needed to. I felt like we had an opportunity to win the biggest race of the year. Obviously, you never know until it's over, but we thought we had at least an opportunity in front of us. We didn't get to capitalize on it. We ran well at Talladega and had a problem on pit road and that put us down. We expect to go back and run well. Blaney in February drove to the front and ran in the top 10 a good portion of the race, so we think both cars will run well.
"It'll be great not to be a TV fan any longer. It's frustrating sitting there watching TV and not really knowing what's going on. I will say Fox did a wonderful job. I've given them a lot of credit the last couple of months, but after spending some time at home watching it, it was an enjoyable broadcast. They did a good job. I feel fine now. I went through quite an ordeal. It was a crazy thing that happened, a very, very unusual thing that happened, but it's going to feel good to get back and try to get back in the swing of things and finish up the year.
"I think we'll all have that (Dale Earnhardt's accident) heavily on our minds when we roll in there (Daytona) for the first time and we realize we're back there. We've got it on our minds now, and we've had it on our minds all year. I think it needs to bring closure. It was a very unfortunate and tragic thing of course. It had a major impact on our sport, but we all need to work to bring closure just like he'd want us to.
"Expense would be negligible compared to what we could gain. For the driver and his safety and the safety of the fans in the stands, is what we hav e to be the most concerned with and focused on. Anything we can do to the cars, these guys would work night and day. If we learned something that makes sense and we know that it makes sense and we know it will help and it's a step in the right direction, the expense would not be a problem. We would not even acknowledge that. We'd go right ahead and do it as quick as we could.
"Who knew what to expect? We didn't know if the cars would even run, if there would be an absolute disaster from reliability issues, how long it would take us to get up to acceptable horsepower levels, downforce levels. I think all-in-all, we have to be encouraged. I think from the Dodge side of things, they're really hungry to win a race and they deserve to win a race. At the same time, if you look at the overall picture, the poles and the laps led and the top fives and top 10s, I think it's been a reasonable performance the first half of the season. While everybody begins to understand the car and understand the engine, and get their combinations worked out. We just had an engine test at a short track in the last two weeks where we learned a ton about the motor that unfortunately we didn't get to apply to the short tracks the first half of the year. I think you'll see a marked improvement in performance the second half of the year from all the teams, certainly hope our two teams will pick it up. At the same time, we can be sitting here feeling pretty good about ourselves. We had a car that dominated the Daytona 500 and got taken out with 30 laps to go or whatever it was. A few weeks later we went to Atlanta and Blaney dominated that race. He had that race absolutely covered, the whole entire field and they made a mistake on pit road, hurrying to be the first car off pit road when the last round of pit stops came up, left some lugnuts loose and ruined their day. We could easily be sitting here talking about Bill Davis Racing having won two races already. We're not disappointed. We're encouraged by where we're at and we're still learning and getting better.
"I'll go on record as saying that I thought the roof strip was very unfair. We had run one race with the Dodges and certainly didn't dominate the race or win the race. Maybe I just said I thought we dominated the race, but the 40 car ran well and the 22 car ran well, but they didn't win the race (Daytona 500). To have that slapped on us, I thought was very, very unfair. I do expect it to affect our performance at Daytona. Hopefully, we'll be able to overcome it. Terry (engine builder Elledge) has done a great job with the plate motors. We were so thrilled when we got to Daytona and ran as well as we did, I thought Terry and his guys did an awesome job on the plate motors. Our mile and bigger race tracks we've run real well. When we've had a short coming, it's been on the flat, shorter tracks. A minute ago, I made a comment about the fact that we'd learned a lot about that just recently and had started to make some strides to improve that. I really liked the way the motor ran in the 22 car at Sears Point. It looked really good off the corners. We're getting there. Terry is a very, very smart man. He's probably one of the best, if not the best, engine builders in the garage. We're confident that we'll be where we need to be.
"I don't think it was really critical, other than I just experienced a lot of pain. I had a kidney stone, which I'd had one about 10 or 12 years ago. This one I guess was too large to pass normally, so they busted up the stone with an ultrasound. Whatever went wrong or whatever was wrong with my particular body makeup, it just beat me to death. I was black and blue from my shoulders to the bottom of my rear end. The bruise was so large they actually wanted to give me a transfusion. I didn't move from the bed for six days and I spent another 11 days in the hospital and then went home and laid on the couch for two weeks. I'd never been in the hospital overnight before. It was really quite the experience. I don't think it was critical. It was just an unusual thing that happened. I guess one in about every 2,000 people have a bad reaction to this treatment. I happened to have it, and it just really knocked me down.
"The 93 certainly have some flashes of brilliance (first half of the season). They had four or five races where they ran very, very well, certainly some top five runs going. They should have won Atlanta. They had the best car by far, had the field covered. They've shown they can do it. Dave's shown he can do it. They need to get more consistent, and they're doing that. Tom Hubert has been with us a long time and has done a lot of different things, include drive the Busch car. Tom agreed to step over and be the car chief on that car for the rest of the season. We've already seen the results of that. Tom is very, very smart about race cars. He's driven race cars. He works well with Dave. He's very, very meticulous and thorough in his car preparation. I think what we need to see there, they don't need to beat themselves. If they can get a little more consistent, not make mistakes and beat themselves, I think they'll have a very good second half of the season. That's a good race team, and Dave Blaney can drive a race car."