Highlights of Tuesday NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with: Bill Elliott Ray Evernham Part 2 of 2: Ray Evernham NOTE: Elliott completed Dodge's weekend motorsports Grand Slam by winning the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. Elliott's No....
Highlights of Tuesday NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with:
Part 2 of 2: Ray Evernham
NOTE: Elliott completed Dodge's weekend motorsports Grand Slam by winning the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway. Elliott's No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T scored Dodge's fifth victory of the season on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit. It was also Dodge's first back-to-back victories since returning to the circuit in 2001. Ward Burton won in the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T on July 21 at New Hampshire.
Dodge teams also won this past weekend in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Robert Pressley in the No. 18 Square D Dodge Ram at Michigan International Speedway, Casey Atwood in the No. 19 Dodge Intrepid R/T in the Pepsi ARCA 200 at Pocono Raceway, and Hank Parker Jr. in the No. 36 GNC Live Well Dodge Intrepid R/T in the NetZero 250 Busch Grand National race at Pikes Peak.
RAY EVERNHAM (Car owner Evernham Motorsports Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"That 9 team has been getting better and better, and they've been showing a lot of strength. We knew sooner or later they were going to be able to put it all together. They certainly did that Sunday.
"The same kind of deal it takes just about everywhere you go anymore, you've got to a decent starting position because track position is going to be critical there (IMS). Aerodynamically that car has got to be right. You want to be in clean air. You saw it at Michigan, Chicago and then again on Sunday at Pocono. If you can get out in clean air, the car is going to be a lot faster than when you're behind someone. When we go to Indy, we hope we can get our cars starting up front and keep them up there in clean air.
"I didn't know what to plan on. I didn't know what to expect. It certainly has been different (crew chief and car owner). It's been difficult, but it's been good. I tell everybody I'm not enjoying it and not having any fun, but I am. Days like Sunday, it makes it worthwhile. What I've had to really pay attention to more are things that are intangible, things you can't touch. When you're a crew chief and you go work on a car, you change a spring and change a shock. Now it's a lot of planning and it's a lot of people and it's a lot of mental preparation. You don't really feel like you're doing anything that makes a difference. That's the hardest thing for me. Since I'm not hands-on, you don't feel like you're contributing.
"What do I like most about it? The fact that we've been able to put together a program that did put Dodge in the winner's circle, that did put Bill Elliott back in the winner's circle and has given some guys like Mike Ford and some of the 9 team an opportunity to be a part of a winning team and step up. I feel proud knowing that some of my experience has helped those guys get in a position to accomplish some of the things I used to accomplish on their own.
"I was working at IROC (in 1985), so I was actually working with Bill a little bit. I thought he was great then, Awesome Bill. I think that might have been the first year I got to work with him, but I was an IROC mechanic at that time.
"We were just a good mix for one another. He was a perfect guy for me at that time, and I was the perfect guy for him. He had a race team that didn't have a sponsor, and I had a sponsor that was trying to build a race team and we were trying to hire an experienced driver. I knew that under those layers of the years he'd been beaten up and the injury at Talladega and the other injuries I believe he got at California, and just under the stress of having to do all these things and losing sponsors, there was a great race driver. Bill and I talk a lot. We've always remained friends, and we used to talk a lot. Actually Jeff Gordon and I had conversations about Bill Elliott and Jeff would tell me, 'that guy's pretty good.' I knew that when I went to him, he said, 'I've got my deal. Buy my deal and we can work together.' It was the perfect situation, and I knew as soon as we put him in equipment and he got to feeling healthy again, he could start winning races. Now we're giving him cars that can get the job done. He's healthy and he's confident and right now, today, Bill Elliott is as good as anybody on the race track.
"He gives 100 percent of what he has every week, and that's why he's running good. When he gets out of that car at the end of the day, there's nothing left. If you watched the last few laps of that race, what Bill is really good at, he'll move that car around to find out where it's going to go the fastest. That's what separates the good drivers from the great drivers. He wanted to win that race really bad and he kept moving that car around. He had one shot at making that pass and he got it done.
"Jeff Gordon has been a threat to win several races. He's still the biggest threat I think to win the championship this year. We actually talk more now than we have in several years. I love that guy like a brother. I still consider him a part of my family. I think he considers me part of his. We talk. He's running good. They just haven't clicked to win. He's been in position to win several races. There's way too many races left to count Jeff Gordon out of this championship, but sure, I'm concerned about him. It's certainly a tough time he's going through, and I do take the time to probably talk to him more now than I have. He's still a great friend, and I consider him a part of my family.
"There's certainly not as many confiscated parts sitting up in the NASCAR trailer. I think all the guys are going through inspection a little high. I think it sent a message. Certainly it does around here. I told my guys they really need to be paying attention to this stuff. I don't want to be losing points, and we don't need to be getting fined on things we could have avoided. What you saw with the height thing, that really wasn't intentional. That was just because of the soft springs we're running nowadays. The car bottoms those springs out, it settles and they lose an eighth or three sixteenths of an inch. We need to start with the roofs a little bit higher. The stuff you're seeing there wasn't like Dale Jarrett or Mark Martin or any of the guys who have come through a little low didn't say, 'let's get the car an eighth low.' I just think they're going to pay attention to being a little bit high before the race starts.
"I could afford Michael Schumacher. Bill was the guy. I knew before I started this deal what drivers were available. I would love to have Jeff. Anybody in this sport who owns a race team that tells you they wouldn't want Jeff Gordon is either lying or they're an idiot. I can't sit here and say I wouldn't want Jeff. I definitely would, but Bill has been the perfect guy for me. In reality, this team is not ready for Jeff Gordon. We were far from ready when we started. Bill Elliott has been the guy who's been the backbone of this organization. It's really great. I want to make sure he can reap some more rewards of where this thing is headed, so it couldn't have been more perfect timing.
"They were really good. They certainly were excited because of Bill's past. He was the leading Ford driver at one time, so that was big from the manufacturers side, but they were very, very supportive. Dodge has been a great partner. They want to be involved, but they really don't question a lot of the decisions I make.
"Mike has decided to take his Pocono car to Indy. They went to shift work last night and when it comes in it'll get stripped. All of the suspension will come off and the motor will come out and the transmission, rear end gear. A lot of the hard suspension components will come off and be magnafluxed like the upper control arms, lower control arms, spindles, trailing arms and things like that. The car will get fresh ball joints and tie rods and the wheel bearings will get replaced or repacked. Brakes pads will come out, a lot of the consumable stuff, but the basic frame, body and heavy suspension parts of that car will be the same. Obviously it will have a new motor, fresh transmission and a fresh rear end gear, but the basic parts of that car, the frame and suspension, will be the same race car.
"That's a tough call. You need a team leader, and a lot of it comes down to who's available. We're actually going to start looking at some driver development. One of the hardest things, obviously you know that Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth, there's some good young guys. You know they're good, but nobody could have expected Jimmie Johnson to be do what he's done. You hope that somewhere out there there's a guys like that. We want to try to find him. Bill and I don't talk a lot about retirement. Bill Elliott can drive that car for me as long as he wants to drive it. If he doesn't want to drive it, he knows he's welcomed to be a part of my organization for as long as he chooses to be. Ultimately, as he said, time is not on his side. We are thinking about that. Is Casey going to be able to keep coming up? Is Jeremy going to be able to fit in and step up and where are the next drivers coming from. That's an issue we've thought about a lot. I wish I had an answer for you on what I would do, but I just don't right now. Right now, I'm going to keep feeding Bill those special milk shakes that he's drinking and hope he stays for awhile.
"When you talk to a guy, and that guy is really calculating and he understands what's going on in racing. I call it a high racing IQ. A lot of guys can drive a car fast. Driving a car fast is not what's always going to win you races. The guys that calculate things and they know what they feel and they can slow down time in their mind to communicate back to the crew on how to set that car up, those things are critical. A guy that is smart like that figures out how to win and figures out how to take a car that's a fifth-place car and win a race with it or take a 10th-place car and make it into a fifth-place car.
"Ultimately as the race goes on, it comes down to one moment, but there's probably several moments in a race, it could even be with 200 miles to go, when there's a definitive pass that you either make or don't make that gets you in position to win a race. I do see that in Bill, and I see Bill calculating that all the time. I think now he's got the confidence. When we first started this program he had to think about how he could get race cars to the end of the race and get a top 15 finish. How can I keep Ray's cars up front? Now he can calculate, he and Mike both. Mike had to change how he calls his pit strategy. He used to have to call for a top 10 car. Now he's got a car capable of winning races, so he's got to call his pit strategy different. Bill's got to be thinking going into the race, 'OK, where do I have to be and what strategies do I have to have because I can win this race.'
"We just don't have that chemistry yet (on 19 team). The 9 team has actually been together since 2000 and they've got a very experienced driver and they've got a crew chief, even though he's young he's been in racing for a long time. In fairness to the 19 guys, they're working their butts off but they've been through a driver change, they've been through two crew chief changes and we've just not been able to hit that chemistry and get that communication flowing.
"I had really followed Indy cars before I followed stock cars, so Indianapolis was hollowed ground to me. I can remember the day of the race we pushed the 24 car out there to the starting grid and I just got chills. I couldn't believe we were there. When we won that race, it took me two or three days to figure out what we actually had done. It was a big, big day in my life and career, and I knew obviously what it meant to Jeff and the rest of the team. Even now, when we look back on it, I don't think any of us really realized what we had done that day.
"It's satisfying in different ways. Certainly I had some really satisfying wins as a crew chief. When you're a crew chief, you're hands on. It's very difficult to explain from your personal side if you were a baseball or football player and you actually played in the game and hit a home run to help the team win the race. When you retire from playing and go to the front office to run the team and put it together, It's really two different feelings. It's very gratifying. Sunday was a very gratifying day for me because those guys have worked hard. At the end of last year we started hitting some consistency and they were getting good. I feel in the last four or five weeks, that 9 car has been a threat to win just about everywhere they've been, and Sunday they proved that. It's very gratifying.
"I do and every time I do it (say stand aside and let me do it), I screw them up, so I've been smart enough to learn. No matter how good you think you were, time passes you by. The best thing I can do with my guys is give them good advice, give them the resources to get their job done and stay out of their way."
Bill Elliott Part I