BILL ELLIOTT (No. 98 McDonald's Dodge)
"I think after practice I didn't think much of it. We had a little problem with the car, and they sifted through it and got it squared away before qualifying. Before I got in the car Sammy (team director Johns) told me I was on my own. I new I had to suck it up and go after it. I was just worried about where we were going to end up as far as the overall field is concerned because I didn't have points to fall back on. From my standpoint, that's a critical point of where I am in this sport, plus, as Boris said starting out way back in points once everything gets through inspection, you've lost 20-30 minutes of your practice. That's very critical. I know kinda what I wanted. It's just sometimes I don't find what I'm looking for sometimes until it's too late. Today we found it and ended up with a good run. I'm proud for McDonald's and being able to be back associated with those guys. They were very good to me for a number of years and being able to bring them back in the sport so to speak and having a decent run here today and hopefully we can have a decent run Sunday afternoon. That's going to be critical from this point on.
HOW'S IT FEEL NOT BEING AT DARLINGTON ON LABOR DAY WEEKEND? "I really hadn't even thought about it. It's like this is where we're supposed to be this weekend. I haven't even watched many of the races here the last few weeks. I just go do my own thing. I've been watching my son race his go-karts, and I've been doing other things. I do a little bit of dirt racing, and I've done some of these race of champions deals with some other Cup guys. I go off and do those deals and enjoy that. I'm so far removed from the day to day stuff that it makes it easier for me. They say you've got to be in California this weekend, and I say, 'well, OK.' I was there when the Southern 500 was run on Monday and we didn't do anything on Sunday. I think for myself and other guys that have been around for awhile, for the tradition that Darlington has brought to this sport, it's kinda sad that it's gone away. It's opened up a new era as far as Darlington is concerned, but still, I'm not running this deal. It's way over my head. I enjoy being part of it and being part time, having a good time."
WHAT DO YOU HAVE LINED UP FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "I'll run McDonald's again in Atlanta. We may look at doing something at Homestead, but nothing is concrete on that side. I'll run Memphis with the Busch Elvis car. I'm looking forward to that promotion, but right now that's all I've got going on. I've been starting to test pretty extensively the newer stuff. I've been working on that a good bit with some of the guys. Hopefully we can get that a little bit ahead getting ready for next year. I've been really enjoying the weekends. I'll flip on TV a minute and then flip it off and go do my own thing."
WAS IT HARDER TO QUALIFY KNOWING YOU HAD TO MAKE IT ON TIME? "You never know where all this is going to end up. I do have a champion's deal, but I don't know where that ends up and I'd rather not use it if I don't have to. If some of the other guys that are more recent champions come in and beat you out of it, that's another part of it. I don't want to find out where all that lays. I want to come in and make it on our own merit. Having Ray's stuff here is very important to me. Just like when the relationship ended with McDonald's back in 1999 and 2000, going off on my own and finding success with Ray and being able to be a part of the Dodge program and now being able to come back so to speak with McDonald's is all a critical part of where all this has gone. If I can be a part of bringing them back I know as long term that isn't going to be where I'm going to be, but still I can be instrumental in leading them in a good direction and do some good stuff for 'em."
WILL THIS RACE BE LIKE THE COCA-COLA 600, STARTING IN THE DAY AND ENDING AT NIGHT? "I'm sure it'll be quite a bit different and how to set up for it, I have no idea. We'll have to go out and hopefully the track will be more like it's going to be Sunday afternoon. The second practice may be like it's going to be late Sunday afternoon. He who has the best adjustability is the guy who is going to be able to win the race."
DO YOU THINK YOU HELPED RUSTY MAKE HIS DECISION TO RETIRE? "I didn't do the big retirement deal. I guess there were several reasons for that. I guess it just wasn't right for me. I don't know how I could physically have run every race and been able to do a fanfare deal every week. To me, that's asking too much and taking away too much from the team. I saw what Richard went through in the '90s when he retired and what a struggle that whole deal was. I wanted to do things on my own terms for a period of time and see where things fall. Next year we could run 10-12 races with this program, and hopefully McDonald's will come back and run some next year."
WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE SPORT THAT YOU CAN COME IN AND QUALIFY THIRD? "Don't misunderstand me. It's a whole different era as far as NASCAR is concerned, but for us as competitors we just know where we've got to show us next week. We look at it a little differently than the media or the outside public looks at it week in and week out. It is a big deal. To come back to Southern California after losing Riverside in '88 is very important to the sport. Continuing to grow it coming back with the second event on Labor Day weekend, the people that run it need to make the decision. Right now, I just like where I'm at. I just like driving the racecar."
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
"Every time Bill Elliott races with us he helps our program more than he knows. Everybody comes up to me and Kasey and they say, 'oh yeah, he laid you one down there. The old man laid you one down.' They give us a hard time when Bill outruns us here. That says a lot for him and that race team. He also has a reputation of sandbagging. Have you ever noticed that? This guy will run one corner fast in practice and then he comes out in qualifying and blows everybody doors off."
BIG RACE THIS WEEK BEING 13TH IN POINTS? "Yeah, we tested at Richmond before we went to Bristol. We knew Bristol was going to be a big hurdle for us to cross just because you never know what's going to happen there. We went into Bristol with an open mind and came out of there feeling like we had our tails kicked. We didn't run good, and we had bad luck. We came out 13th in points. The last five or six weeks has been so up and down because we have been excited about a good test, you go to Bristol and you're down again, you come here and have a good run and for a team to go through all that and still be running like we are now says a lot about our team. We're as excited and as happy right now as we've ever been. I think what it's going to take to get in the top 10 is to stay open minded and not let the pressure get to you."
WHAT'S IT LIKE NOT BEING IN DARLINGTON THIS WEEKEND? "That's pretty wild. It all worked out good. We all saw what's happening with the hurricane coming in. We probably wouldn't have been able to race there anyway, but you miss it. You always think about this weekend being the Southern 500, and I love Darlington. I love that place as much as anywhere we go. Not being there this weekend is tough, nothing against other racetracks, but we go a lot of places that racing is nowhere near as good as it is at Darlington or Rockingham. Rockingham always puts on a good show. That's what's sad. When you see good racetracks that you can race on, we'll still be there, but the tradition of not being there this weekend makes it tough."
DO YOU THINK LATE AFTERNOON SUN IN TURN THREE WILL BE A PROBLEM? "I noticed from practice until the time I went out to qualify (Friday) the backstretch was already starting to be a little delusional back there I guess you'd say. Everything started to blend in with the sun. We're used to that stuff, sunshine in our eyes and the windshield getting all blasted up. We'll adapt to it somehow."
WITH SO MUCH AT STAKE IN THE NEXT TWO RACES, DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE SOME STRANGE THINGS SUNDAY? "You never know what's going to happen. This is NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing and it's such a hard sport to have everything go right on Sunday or a Saturday night or whatever. Anything can happen, and that's why it's not over until it's over. That includes the championship, the whole nine yards. It's pretty cool it's coming down this close just for 10th. That's pretty awesome right there. We could come out of here easily eighth or ninth this weekend. You never know. At one point last week I was eighth in the points and ended up 13th. You never know what's going to happen and how a race is going to end up and luck and all that stuff. All we know if we come here and stay focused on what we've got going on, and that's what we've really done. Ray's done a good job of keeping us doing that, and not get out of our focus all year and keep us going on with what the 19 team has been doing and not let anything on the outside world bother us. I think we've done a good job of that with the race team as a whole."
BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak/Jasper Engines & Transmissions Dodge)
"You can pass so easily here you don't have to be impatient. Keep your patience, keep your temper and pass when you get a shot. Don't waste time. If you can get by 'em, get by 'em. Shane Wilson and Matt Lucas, my crew chief and my engineer, the last four or five weekends are just outstanding on their pit road calls -- when to do four tires, when to do two tires. When to do a gas and go. They've been so awesome helping us look good getting us up front in the Kodak car. The strategy is, we know we're a lot better than 22nd. I overdrove turn one and hit the bump that's right in the center and it pushed me up the racetrack. I got tight and it was my own fault. I'll take the blame for it and know that we're better than 22nd. We'll level off around 12th and let Shane and Matt start making adjustments and we'll move up from there.
"We've got the same racecar we finished sixth with here last time, and so far this year we've been better when we go back to a track. I don't see why that trend should stop now. It's the first night race here and that should level the playing field. Shane and I have more experience with that temperature range. It's going to be a night race on the east coast, and it might go into the night. They'll need the lights. The track is going to change big time. It's going to gain grip, and that's going to cause some people to get loose. You've got to be able to stay on top of things. Shane and I have experience in the west series, and we race here at 9 or 10 in the morning. That's like the temperature at 6 o'clock at night. We feel like we know what to expect and feel pretty good about heading into it.
"It's going to be just like the 600. Whoever adjusts all night the best will win. This place is going to start out 100 degrees and the track temp will go to 80 and end up about 75. Who can maintain the best will win? You can be great off the start and make an adjustment and stay ahead and keep adjusting and stay ahead. Some guys may be able to stay ahead all race, and some of us are making plans for adjustments in the late stages of the race and just hold on the first half of the race."