Veteran drivers Jimmy Spencer, Hut Stricklin and Jeremy Mayfield join the 10-car factory-backed Dodge Motorsports team for the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup campaign. With combined stats of 913 career starts, 10 poles, five victories, 66 top fives and...
Veteran drivers Jimmy Spencer, Hut Stricklin and Jeremy Mayfield join the 10-car factory-backed Dodge Motorsports team for the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup campaign.
With combined stats of 913 career starts, 10 poles, five victories, 66 top fives and 157 top 10s, the Dodge newcomers figure to play a key role in the success of the Dodge program in its sophomore season after a 25-year absence from NASCAR Winston Cup competition.
Spencer, a 44-year-old driver from Berwick, Pa., will celebrate his 45th birthday on Friday. He'll drive the No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T for the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Team this season.
Stricklin, the last active member or stock car's famous Alabama Gang, is a 40-year-old driver from Calera, Ala. He'll drive the No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T for car owner Bill Davis in 2002.
Mayfield, a 32-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., will drive the No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T for Evernham Motorsports. Mayfield has recorded three victories in 237 starts on NASCAR's big league circuit.
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I'm really looking forward to driving for Chip and Felix this season. I've been trying to get in shape during the off season. I've lost about 17 pounds since Christmas. I knew coming into Christmas with my wife's cooking and my mom's cooking that I might be in trouble, so I started a little before Christmas. The biggest thing is just watching what you eat. I'm not a sweet guy. I don't like candy bars. I love meat and potatoes. I'm on a low carb diet, plus I'm working out every day I'm home. I don't do any weights. My neck is 20 inches now, so I've got to watch myself now. I do weights, but it's just trying to tone.
"If you want to be competitive and be the best you can be, then you need to do whatever you can to get to the top. Working out really makes me feel better about myself going into this season. I'll be 45 in a couple of days, so why would Chip pick me over a younger guy to drive his car? He saw something. It doesn't matter how old you are. What matters is what's in your heart. If you've got it in there, it's like going to battle. I want to make sure whoever is behind me isn't going to stab me in the back. That's the bottom line. You know who you can and who you can't trust. You know there's a lot of things in life that are no different in racing.
"Sterling (teammate Marlin) and I have always got along good together, and he was instrumental getting me in this car. That goes to show you that we're going to build a strong relationship and have a heck of a team. I think Team Ganassi will be stronger this year with Sterling and I on board.
"I could write a book on my racing career. I've been loyal to my car owners. I'm glad I left, but I'm upset that Travis (Carter) lost his sponsor. I hope he gets something. What sparked me was when I drove for James Finch last year. He called me up and wanted me to drive his Busch car for a race or two. It reminded me a lot of Dick Moroso. He told me the same thing and we went on and won a bunch of races. James and I went on and won a bunch of races. Marc Reno and all those guys did a great job. My wife told me that car wasn't too good and now it's winning. What's the difference? I think it was just the attitude I had coming in. My wife saw a different attitude in me after I started winning Busch races. I think taking the ride with Chip was a decision she helped me make pretty easy, and I'm certainly glad she did.
"We're professionals. We don't need to touch each other on or off the race track, but when it does happen there's nothing wrong with confronting that person off the race track and tell him 'don't push me. Please, don't push me.'
"If you push me and touch me, then that's a fight, and that's where NASCAR has to draw the line. There's nothing wrong with standing there arguing to get your point across. That's fine, but don't push and shove each other.
"I'm real proud to be driving a Dodge. Dodge was the first manufacturer to come back into the sport in 25 years or whatever it was. What you saw, you saw a ton of red shirts around the race track. As a driver, you kept looking and saying, 'who's that guy and who's that guy?' You realized that Dodge is really behind this effort. It's not just the Dodge people in Detroit. It's the Dodge people that sell Dodges in Florida, in Nevada, Las Vegas, in Boston, Mass., or wherever it is.
"You just see such enthusiastic people come to the race track and watch Dodge. I want to be on that thing. I said to myself that was a no brainer, to be associated with a manufacturer that is concerned about how we can make everything better for you. That's why they build some of the best trucks and best cars there is right now. I'm glad to be on board with them."
HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"There hasn't been a big adjustment for me driving the Dodge. To me, this team is so much better than anything I've ever been with. Being with a Dodge just makes it better. There really hasn't been a lot of adjustment getting used to a better car. If it was going the other way, it would probably have been a lot harder, but for the most part it's been relatively easy.
"I want to finish in the top 10 Sunday. I want to run all day. When I finished fourth down here in '93 I felt like we had a top 15 or top 20 car and we would up fourth. If you can run all day here and stay out of trouble, anything can happen. We've just got to make sure we get in the Daytona 500 first. Those Gatorade 125's are going to be very important Thursday. I think our car is going to be OK in race trim.
"Daytona doesn't really set the tone for the rest of the season, but in another way it does. Some guys have been able to rally back from a bad finish at Daytona. For the most part, if you come out of the box and run good here, regardless of where you finish, if you run good it shows how good your team is going to be or how good it can be for the year to come.
"Philippe Lopez (crew chief) and I have sat down a lot during the winter and talked about some things that I think is going to help us. I felt like we talked about things that might be a weakness for me and some things that might be a weakness for him. Hopefully we've made them stronger. Philippe is such a strong listener. He works really hard on the race cars getting them up to far. Coupled with Tommy Baldwin (crew chief for No. 22 Dodge Intrepid) and having a teammate like Ward Burton, it's really going to make everything that much better.
"I haven't really got to know Bill Davis well yet, but I'm getting to know him more each and every day. I know he's really pumped up about this season. He's a very good guy. Everything I've asked for him to do for me, he's always risen to the occasion. That's really been something I haven't had in quite some time.
"I think this is without a doubt the most competitive team I've been with since the early '90s when I drove for Allison. I feel like this team is that good, too. I feel like my race cars are going to be better than anything I've been in in quite some time, and I also think my physical shape and mental shape is so much better than it ever has been. I'm looking forward to the year. I think it's going to be one of my best years ever. When I got in my late 30s, I had to start spending time at the gym and doing things that didn't come natural. I feel like now I have the stamina that I've never had and that's only going to be a plus for 500 and 600-mile races."
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T)
"I'm very excited. Just joining this team has been a refreshing moment for me, a new start, a new beginning. It's like baseball players or football players. Sometimes they need a new beginning and all of a sudden they turn into a great player. I feel like that's where I was in my career. I needed a change, and I got it. I feel like I got the best opportunity I could have ever gotten, and Ray Evernham gave it to me.
"I feel like it's up to me now to hold my end of the deal up. I know he'll hold up his end of the deal. I think every year you see a lot of changes. I've made changes in the past, but nothing this big. I feel real good about it. I think this will be a great chance for me.
"Daytona is the new beginning. I've not only got new colors and a new team, but Daytona is the start of a new season for everybody. You're at zero and everybody is equal. I guess about 90 percent of the people here think they have a shot at winning the championship or at least winning a race. Everybody is excited and ready to race.
"I want to start Daytona and put the past behind me. I appreciate what everybody has done for me. I learned a lot from Rusty Wallace and Roger Penske. They were great to me, but we got to a certain point and we needed a change. I think it's going to be best for all of us.
"I like this Dodge red. Red is my favorite color. I've got a red Viper. Everything about the Dodge program and Ray's organization seems like it fits me.
"Last year I wore the Hutchens device and this year I'm trying to wear the HANS. That's a big change. I've got to get used to it, and I feel like the end result will help us out. Once we get where we need to be on the safety issues and get used to everything, we'll be all right."
"I like the way these Dodges drive. I feel like the biggest adjustment for me is going to an organization where everybody has a place. I come in and tell 'em what the car is doing and they fix it. I guess I had gotten in the mode where I explained what the car was doing and tried to figure out what to do to fix it.
"Sammy Johns (crew chief) and I really speak the same language. I think they thought I might be the one holding back all the time, but I'm pretty much wide open. I have that reputation already. I just want to win. It seems like now I might be the one holding Sammy back. He's more wide open than I am. He and I are a lot alike. We want the same thing, and I hope we can grow together as a team. I know Sammy has been with some other teams, and I want to make sure everybody knows that he can get the job done and we can get the job done together."