One of the top Ford teams throughout Speedweeks has been the PPI Motorsports duo of Ricky Craven, driver of the No. 32 Tide Taurus, and Raybestos Rookie Andy Houston, driver of the No. 96 McDonald's Taurus. Both drivers, along with team owner Cal Wells, spoke about the team's performance.
ANDY HOUSTON --96-- McDonald's Taurus
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW WELL YOU'VE PERFORMED SO FAR?
"I guess a little bit. I'm a little surprised, but I'm not surprised with the team. We've got great people and Cal has made sure that there has been no stone left unturned through winter testing. We wind tunneled these cars and we've come back and cut 'em up and then gone back to the wind tunnel. I guess these cars have been to the wind tunnel four or five times during the off-season. So, in that aspect, I felt like we were in pretty good shape. I was a little surprised at myself that I was able to come down here and run the way that I did in the (Twin 125) qualifier and, hopefully, we can continue to run that way in the 500. One of the big reasons I came to PPI in the first place were the resources that he had and the people that he had working for him. I felt like this would be a good place to come as a rookie and be able to be successful and be competitive. So, in that aspect I wasn't really surprised at how good our cars were. I was a little surprised at the way I ran, but I'm pretty happy with everything so far."
WHAT KIND OF PERSON IS CAL TO WORK FOR?
"He's really focused on doing well. He wants to be successful. If you're the fastest car on the race track, he wants to know why you're not faster than you are. That's just the kind of guy he is. He's very passionate for racing. Most people thought he came in here as an Indy car guy, but he's just got a passion for racing in general, whether it's Indy cars, stock cars or all-pro trucks. He enjoys racing and he lives it. This is what he does and I respect that because that's a little bit of the way I am. I've got a passion for racing as well and I feel like Cal and I, we've got the same goals in mind and we're looking at the same things, which are to be successful and win races."
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING FOR ON SUNDAY?
"I hope to run in the top 10. If we can come out of here with a top 10, I think that would be a wonderful accomplishment for myself and for most of these guys, which is fairly a new team. I think we can do better than that, but that's a realistic goal."
YOU NEED HELP FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN RESTRICTOR PLATE
RACES. DO YOU THINK YOUR LAST NAME HELPS IN THAT REGARD?
"I think it does have to help a little bit. I know a lot of these guys I'm racing against, a lot of them used to race against my dad. I was always around the race track and around a lot of them, so I think that does help out. I think a lot of them know a little bit about my background and the type of racing I've done in the past and I think that helps. I think that will make them a little bit more at ease when you get out there in a pack knowing that I do have some experience. It may not be in Winston Cup, but I do have experience racing and always feel like I'm in control, so that means a lot to me."
RICKY CRAVEN --32-- Tide Taurus
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW WELL YOU AND ANDY HAVE DONE CONSIDERING YOU'VE ONLY BEEN WITH THE TEAM ABOUT SIX WEEKS?
I'm not surprised by it, but I'm encouraged by it because things can go one of two ways down here. Things can come relatively easy or it can be a very difficult week. For us, these guys have worked extremely hard, but things have come to us and that's nice."
HAVE YOU HAD FUN DURING SPEEDWEEKS?
YESTERDAY YOU SAID YOU HAD THE MOST FUN AND LEAST AMOUNT OF FUN ALL IN ONE
I am having fun. What I was referring to yesterday was having the strength to charge to the lead, that was great, and then getting shuffled at the end was so discouraging. But I'm actually having fun driving. Forget the fact that we're here for 10 or 12 days and all the discussion and strategy, I look forward to practice. Everyday I look forward to getting out there and wheeling this race car because it's fun and it's a fun group of guys to be around."
WHAT'S CAL LIKE?
"Knowing all owners are up to their neck in racing, he's up to his ears in racing. He has experienced everything that I've experienced and he can relate to every one of these team members from a mechanical aspect of things. He's with us everyday and he's a participant. Everybody that I've raced for was a little bit different, but I would say Cal is the most involved of any of the three owners I've been around. He has more of a management role than an owner almost."
IS HE DEMANDING OR DO YOU PUT MORE PRESSURE ON YOURSELF?
"There's zero consideration to him being demanding or not because I think I understand him. He hired me because he recognized my competitive nature and I do enjoy being around people that want to push a little harder, but are also rewarding. I've always felt that if you want to get a little extra you've got to give a little extra. Ultimately, there's a reward to this and the reward is you want to find success. He's competitive, I tell you that, and that's a good thing. There was a lot to be happy about yesterday (in the Gatorade 125). That was my first-ever race for Tide and we led the darn thing. That was great. That was a great audition. We finished top-10 in our qualifier, but what really has me excited is that none of us we're settled with that, and I like that mentality. You have to control that because you need to be realistic."
WHAT IS REALISTIC FOR SUNDAY?
"I think you saw a sample of it yesterday. I think we've got a program that's strong enough to contend, but the changes we make in the next couple of days will determine our fate as to whether we can hang on over the endurance of 500 miles and really show strength over those 500 miles, or if it's gonna be a tale of two runs. Yesterday we were very strong in the early portion of the run and not so strong the latter part of the run. Mike's (Beam) got a great handle on it. I really enjoy working with all these guys. Mike's got the right idea. He says we're gonna have to give a little bit up early to get it back late."
DO YOU HAVE A GOAL FOR SUNDAY?
"I have goals for where I want to be at the end of the year, but I don't want to restrict myself and say 'I'm gonna be satisfied with this' because I look at this as just an outstanding opportunity and I'm not gonna put any restrictions on any race. We're all gonna go after it and get after it every race."
CAL WELLS, Car Owner --32 and 96-- Ford Taurus's
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR SPEEDWEEKS THIS YEAR?
"This isn't the racing season. This event is an anomaly to unto itself. The cars, the aero package, the engines -- everything is unique about this event. The real season starts next week at Rockingham. I'm very focused on what we're doing this week, but as far as who are going be contenders, next week is going to speak an awful lot more than this weekend."
ARE YOU SURPRISED BOTH TEAMS ARE DOING SO WELL?
"We know that we've improved ourselves over the winter as a race team a whole lot. The addition of Mike Beam, that has is surprising how good that has gone. I knew it would go well, but it has really gone well. Mike has embraced certain through processes that I have personally that his predecessors haven't. Joe Garone has, but Joe did everything - he was crew chief and general manager -- and he's been huge. Putting Joe back on the crew chief position, which is what he always wanted to anyway, has been a pleasant surprise. It's gone better than I thought, and some of the people Mike brought has been a pleasant surprise. The race car drivers are race car drivers, I knew they could get the job done. We haven't been through game day yet. Sunday is the first time we're really gonna work together, but, irrespective of the outcome, I think the biggest improvement and the thing I'm most happy about is how the teams are working together, how they are feeding and supporting each other. I think the drivers are getting along famously. I'm really encouraged. We're gonna have to have the emotional toughness to deal with the dark weekends. These first four events are very, very important to both the Tide and McDonald's cars with our provisional status being very weak. We've got to work hard and pray to the weather Gods to make sure the first four events go well for us. After that, if we're in solid, then I think we will just spiral up and we'll be great. Last year we didn't. We didn't qualify at Rockingham. We qualified well at Vegas, but raced horribly. We've just made huge leaps and bounds with these race teams and if I can just get the guys in the show the first four events, get them enough points to be somewhere in the top 30 to where they know they're gonna race, then we're gonna be OK."
YOU YOURSELF, IS THERE
MORE OF A COMFORT LEVEL THIS YEAR? YOU SPOKE A LOT ABOUT A STEEP LEARNING
CURVE LAST SEASON.
"It's still steep. If I knew then what I know now about what I didn't know, not that I have to know anymore just what I didn't know, God, would I have approached it different. But, the fact is I wasn't full-time at this last year. To be very honest, I was kind of part-time CART and part-time Cup and it hurt me and my understanding, and it hurt the company. We got discombobulated. There were just too many things going on. I couldn't spread myself thin enough and still function properly, so my learning curve is still very, very steep. This year will be my first full season at it, even though we ran all year last year. So, there are a lot of places I'll be uncomfortable with where I won't know how to get from the airport to the race track, but what I do know is the cars are much better and I know the people much better. I'm much more excited about it."
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, was involved in an accident during Thursday's first Gatorade 125. The entire right side of his car was replaced with new sheet metal last night and this morning. Jarrett spoke about the work done and his hopes for Sunday's Daytona 500.
DALE JARRETT --88-- UPS Taurus
HOW IS THE CAR RUNNING TODAY?
"Everything's fine. We've just got to get it driving a little bit better, then we'll be OK."
THE CAR LOOKS DIFFERENT FOR SURE WITH THE SPRAY-PAINTED
"Yeah, everything will be painted by Sunday. We've got plenty of time now. We just had to rush to get everything done. They did a great job and it just shows the quality of the fabricators and people that we have to accomplish that much in a short period of time." IS ANGER A PART OF THIS? "There's no reason to be angry. There's nothing to be angry about. Things are gonna happen. If you didn't have bad days, then the good days wouldn't be nearly as good. Everything is fine. Again, we've got a quality group of people and they did a quality job of putting everything back together."
THERE ARE FIVE ROOKIES IN THE 500. DO VETERANS HAVE TO BE WORRIED ABOUT
"Not much because I've seen some of the veterans do more crazy things than the rookies are doing. The guys we're calling rookies have experience in other types of racing. By what I've seen, they appreciate the equipment that they have and how important this race is, so I'm not concerned about those guys. It looks like they're gonna use their head and they're gonna make this a good Daytona 500."
WHAT ABOUT DRAFTING PARTNERS?
"The way that the draft is now you can't find somebody to work with for very long because as soon as they help you get to a spot, they want that spot too. It's not a matter of finding the right drafting partner, it's a matter of positioning yourself at the right place at the right time. You can do a thousand passes throughout the day, but the important thing is gonna be getting yourself in that key position in the last five laps of this race. We're gonna race 195 laps for the enjoyment of the fans and the last five laps are gonna be what counts."
HOW CRUCIAL IS THE FINAL PRACTICE?
"We've got one hour tomorrow afternoon, so we'll get the car painted up and get our race engine in. We've already talked about the direction we want to go to get everything handling better and, hopefully, that'll be good tomorrow afternoon."
DON'T HAVE A SUPERIOR CAR HERE AS FAR AS SPEED. WHAT DOES YOUR STRATEGY
BECOME THE LAST FIVE LAPS?
"To make it to five laps to go and simply getting myself in position there -- getting my car to where I know at the end of the race that it's driving as best as it can drive. I'll do whatever the race dictates during the day. If that means dicing it up a lot and doing a lot of passing, then that's what we'll do. If it gets a little bit crazy at times, then we'll hang out and get back at it whenever it looks like things have calmed down a little. The key is that we get our car handling good and then that'll dictate how we go about this race."
TO REMAIN OPTIMISTIC.
"Hey, we're in the race. We've got a chance to win. Anything can happen out here."
DID YOU CONSIDER A BACKUP CAR?
"Yeah, we just had to look. We know that this is our best car and we just had to look to see if it did any frame damage and when we saw it didn't, we had our fabricators right here and they were very confident. They have so many numbers and pictures of what was there, that there was no doubt they could get it back right. Once we saw that, there wasn't any doubt (about sticking with the primary car)."