ANDY GRAVES (Team manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) NOTE: Graves will take over crew chief duties for rookie driver Jason Leffler and the No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T team beginning at Rockingham. Kevin...
ANDY GRAVES (Team manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)
NOTE: Graves will take over crew chief duties for rookie driver Jason Leffler and the No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T team beginning at Rockingham. Kevin Cram will reassume crew chief duties at Bristol.
"Tony Glover and myself are kind of helping oversee both cars (01 Dodge and No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid driven by Sterling Marlin). We've been helping Kevin and Lee McCall with the crew chief duties as it was. During Kevin's suspension for the next four races, I'll go ahead and assume crew chief duties. It'll be business as usual other than Kevin will be back at the shop helping get stuff ready. NASCAR just informed us that he can't be in the garage area with us at the races and he cannot go to NASCAR tests. We were hoping he could go help us with some of the testing duties, but anything that's an official NASCAR test, they don't want him there, either."
TALK ABOUT THE NEW SETUP WITH THE TEAM HAULERS THIS SEASON
"We're doing something a little different. The seven months I spent up in Indianapolis and got to hang around the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Team, I got to see how a lot of things can be done different. In the Winston Cup garage, you tend to get blinders on. Every guy does what the other guy does. We want to be a little different, not to be different but to be more efficient and try to do a better job. What we're going to do this year, we're going to have one hauler that will be our engineering trailer. There will be no lounge in it. There will just be a big desk. All our engineers, crew chiefs, shock guys will hang out in that trailer. It'll be more of a work trailer. Our second hauler will be more of a social trailer. There will be a full lounge up front. Owners, both drivers will have all their clothes in the same lounge. All the food for both teams will be on that truck. We've got a brand new Coors trailer coming, and that will be our engineering trailer. The Cingular trailer will be the social trailer. We're trying to promote teamwork and everyone working together. We feel like we're achieving that in the shop by having no one assigned to one team or the next other than the road crews. We're trying to come up with a good way to make both road crews want to help each other. We felt if we mixed them up at the track where they had to work side by side, it might help quite a bit."
SO HOW EXACTLY IS THE TEAM ORGANIZED?
"Chip just says I do everything. I don't have an official title. My business card is blank. It just says Andy Graves. Tony Glover is the same way. Basically, behind the office doors, Chip looks for me and Glover to handle all responsibilities. For press purposes and stuff, we just call each other team managers for both teams. Tony and myself take care of all the technical stuff. I guess the next four races, I'll be crew chief. I don't think it's going to change a lot of things. Although we have a crew chief designated for each car, obviously Tony and myself are pretty heavily involved in the decision-making process. It just means we'll have one less person there to help make those decisions. The 40 and 01 teams are working great together. We feed information off each other better than any organization I've ever seen do it. My personal feelings is that Joe Gibbs Racing has done the best job up to this point. Now, we want to carry it a step further. We'd like to set something up that all teams will have to look at and go that way in the future. The greatest thing I think that's helped is Chip wanted me to come to Indianapolis last December and help him with the Indianapolis 500 effort. At the same time, it was really a two-fold thing. He wanted me to see how he likes his operation run and how he does things and what he expects. It helped a great deal. Hanging around a four-time CART championship organization, you can't help but to learn some things. It was a great experience for me. Chip knows I understand his philosophy. He keeps telling us that his job is to put tools in the tool box. It's my job to ask for what tools to get. Anything we've ever asked for he's gotten for us. Hopefully, we're gaining some respect in the garage. I think a lot of people thought he was going to come in and be another Cal Wells."
DISCUSS YOUR ROOKIE AND VETERAN DRIVERS
"I knew Jason Leffler had a ton of talent. He hasn't run much superspeedway stuff. You never know until you get in and mix it up. He did a heck of a job yesterday. I'm super impressed. He's going to be the next star of the future. That's why we wanted to take a chance on him and sign him for 2002. We wanted to set the foundation for the future. We know Sterling can give us results for the present. We're just lucky that Joe Gibbs decided to release him (Leffler), and he's doing a phenomenal job. I think with all the talent we have here and the people, we can increase his learning curve a lot faster.
"Sterling was awesome yesterday. I've said I've got to rank him as one of the top three drafters. He proved me right yesterday. I feel like Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon are two really good drafters, and I don't think they're any better than Sterling. They're awesome. I wouldn't trade Sterling right now for anyone in the garage area. I feel real good about Sunday. Hopefully everything goes smooth and we don't end up with any problems. Right now, we're tickled to death but we know we can't stop working. We've just got to keep going.
"I've seen weird stuff happen down here before where we were sitting 28th in the points. The cutoff was 26th in the points, and it was real marginal if a wreck had happened and knocked out some good guys. We didn't want to fall back on that. We don't want to take provisionals anyway. With a limited amount of drafting experience Jason's got and being a rookie and knowing not many people were going to go with him, we were a little nervous about it. He showed real quick he's got the speed and I think he gained a lot of respect from the other drivers yesterday. He didn't do anything stupid. A lot of people started going with him."
DISCUSS DODGE'S APPROACH TO WINSTON CUP RACING
"After spending 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and being one of the flagship GM teams, the support I see from the Dodge guys and the amount of people they have here is unbelievable. Everyday, someone from Dodge comes around asking what they can do for you. How can I help? I've never, ever had that before. It's phenomenal. They're doing it the right way. It's not hard to do. It's just a matter of doing it. We've worked hard and we've got a hell of a race car, and now everyone else is whining and crying. I think it's just because right now the Dodge teams are working harder than everyone else. We started in a big hole, and that's why I think you're seeing a lot of Dodge teams running good right now. I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the Dodges in victory lane on Sunday, but that's a pretty tall order. We'll just have to see how it goes. I'm definitely very honored to be the first Dodge to win a race with our organization. I think a lot of people didn't give us the due respect coming into this thing. I hope they understand now they're going to have their hands full in the future.
"It really just shows how good a job NASCAR has done first of all. Their boundaries and guidelines and the templates they give you, you're going to be pretty hard-pressed to be out of the ball park. What's really impressed me is the engine side. We've gone through a lot of stumbling blocks. Every time we've had a problem, Dodge has come back with a quick fix. I'm really surprised with their reaction time. I can't say enough for our engine department. Ernie Elliott and his guys have the best engine program out here, plain and simple. That was the first piece of the puzzle last year. Chip and I were talking about it even before we got involved with SABCO. That's the first thing we started working on. I went right after those guys and feel fortunate to be involved with them.
"I'm sure it's kind of strange for Bill (Elliott) to have his brother building our engines as long as those guys worked together. I'm tickled to death with our engine program. We've got some really great motors. We've gone to Vegas and tested and Rockingham and we're super happy. Knock on wood, we haven't had one failure to date. I think Ted Flack and some of those Dodge guys might have been getting a little frustrated with us at first, because we were a little bit behind everyone else, but Ernie isn't one to rush and put something together just to have it together. He took his time and fixed the problems he thought might develop and it's paying off.
"I don't feel bad at all about making 500 miles on Sunday. We'll just have to see how it goes. Right now, he'd be super nice to come through the 500 with both cars in one piece and two solid finishes. I'd be happy. What we've already achieved exceeds expectations."
TOP THREE FAVORITES TO WIN DAYTONA 500?
"Earnhardt is going to be pretty tough. Sterling is going to be tough, and I think he's got a good shot at winning it. I think Stewart has got a hell of a race car. Tony had a good race in the Shootout, and he's going to be tough."
LOU PATANE (Vice President, Motorsports Operations and Mopar Performance
COMMENT ON ALL 10 DODGES QUALIFYING FOR DAYTONA 500
"I'd say we've fulfilled expectations for getting the cars in the race. We said it was very important for us to fulfill our first objective, and that was to get all 10 cars qualified. It was a major undertaking, but having said that, now we're on to the next phase of these great two weeks and that's to be competitive in the race. I think we've proven we've got momentum. The question is can we maintain momentum throughout the race. Sunday will tell, but I'm just absolutely so proud of the people who are part of this program from the Evernham organization to what I'll call the smallest team, the Melling group with Stacy Compton. It truly proves that our one-team philosophy works. We're very proud of that."
WERE YOU ON YOUR FEET WHEN STERLING MARLIN WON YESTERDAY?
"I was almost knocked over. Truly, it's a great opportunity for a driver with a tremendous talent and experience at this race track. It was a very, very competitive environment. He didn't have a lot of friends out there. That's understandable."
DID THE DODGE ROOKIES SURPRISE YOU?
"No, not really. I've got to be honest with you. The level of talent they have, I don't think people realize yet. With a little bit of experience and a lot of support, I think they'll turn into great, true NASCAR professionals."
THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT THE WIND TUNNEL TESTS. COULD YOU
"It's like everything else in motorsports. We don't race wind tunnels, and we don't race dynos. The reality is we've done our homework. We've worked extremely hard to be competitive. If that means we're doing a better job aerodynamically than other teams, though we're within NASCAR's templates, then I think that's a credit to our people and the hard work these people have done in the last 500 days. I think the difference between the best and the rest is commitment."
ANY PREDICTIONS FOR SUNDAY?
"I predict I'll be nervous until the end of the race."