Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, and >b?Mike Ford Part 1 of 2 Moderator: Bill, congratulations. What a run. Talk about the race today. Bill Elliott: Fantastic. Feels like it took an eternity to get here. As I was running along here the last several...
Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, and >b?Mike Ford
Part 1 of 2
Moderator: Bill, congratulations. What a run. Talk about the race today.
Bill Elliott: Fantastic. Feels like it took an eternity to get here. As I was running along here the last several weeks, I've been reflecting on a lot of different things. My dad passed away back in '98, my nephew passed away, what all that has meant to me throughout my lifetime. You know, just wishing they were here to celebrate this victory. There was a lady here, Darcy Ross, that worked for CMG, who became a special friend. She passed away of cancer not too long ago. You know, all I could think about was all those folks, you know. It's satisfying to come here and win. But, you know, this was just ... I feel like all those people were right in the car with me today ... from my dad, my nephew, to my grandmother, grandfathers ... you know, just kind of holding their hands around me, making me make the right decisions. One thing I got to say: Regardless of what I do, I am so proud of my guys, it's unreal. They have worked so hard, so dedicated. We came here and tested and we ran every lap we could possibly run, you know, in the two days we tested. When I walked out of here, I was a whipped puppy at the end of the day. To come here and dominate like we did, you know, still wasn't as good as Dale Jarrett did a couple years ago, but at least we're chipping away as it. The 20 car was good early, 2 car was good at the end. 88 seemed like to have an awful good race car, ended up having a little misfortune on the gas stop. Seemed like he was coming along the later part of the race. I was just proud of all the guys. They worked so hard, put all this dedication into it. From Ray, to Mike to Kenny, to Vince, to Derek, to Billie, to Mike Hawkins, all the team guys back at the shop, motor side and chassis side. That says a lot for the dedication, how hard these guys work.
Moderator: Bill has finished in the top 10 seven times in the Brickyard 400. His best finish prior to this was third in '94 and 2000. Joining us are Ray Evernham and Mike Ford. Ray, real fast, comments on the race today.
Ray Evernham: Oh, boy. It's a stunning day for me. I really still can't believe this, what these guys have done for me. Dodge of course has given me the opportunity. But, you know, Bill and Mike were two of the first people I hired. You dream about days like this. But, you know, I know how hard that these guys worked. Mike had a plan coming here. This is something that everybody knew was important to Bill. And they put it together. For the past two weeks, they have put a heck of a race car on the racetrack. And Mike is very methodical and very intense. I was just very proud, I was like a parent today. You know, when I won here as a crew chief, it was all mechanical, you were proud of your mechanical accomplishments. Today it was overwhelming to know how happy it would make him, especially happy, especially happy (laughter). And what it meant to Mike because I know what it went to me all the nine guys. It's just I would say a paternal type of happiness, emotion today.
Q: Anything you did different to prepare for this race than most other races?
Mike Ford: We came to test a few weeks back. We had a plan. We were going to sacrifice a little bit in qualifying. A lot of people come here and spend two days trying to qualify. We had our eyes set on the trophy. That's what we wanted to accomplish. We had a plan, had a plan set forth, took a few weeks to prepare everything, and we came here. I think we ran two races worth of laps. We spent a lot of time on the racetrack trying to answer the questions that our race cars have left us a little bit short on in the past. We answered some of those. You know, it panned out for us last week at Pocono. We were able to learn a little more coming in here. We found a little bit of speed and race trim here.
Q: Bill, back when you were the King of Speed back in the '80s, two Daytona 500 wins, all you accomplished then, what was it about today when in Victory Lane you said this was your greatest?
Elliott: A lot of emotion here today. I mean, it seems like it's been a lifetime getting here, and I don't know how to describe it. I mean, you know, you just look back, all the hard work, all the dedication. Even the years when I had my own deal, I came here and ran well, but never could make the right decisions to get in Victory Lane. It seemed like every time it was always a hard-luck story of why we didn't win at the end of the day. Over the last several weeks, it's been, you know, we kept thinking, "Oh, my, now we can do it. We can do it each and every week." We've just got to keep that momentum rolling. Now I feel like we're going into a stretch where it's wearing a lot of guys down. This race team is really a viable race team, as good as the morale is, as good as these guys are working together, as good as Mike Ford and myself's communications are together, certainly we're not going to get what we want every week, but I think this is a great start to a great future, you know, a great building block for Ray Evernham and what he wants this race team to be for years down the road.
Q: Bill, just to clarify, when you say it seems like it's been a lifetime getting here, you mean getting back to Victory Lane after the lean years you've had?
Elliott: A little bit of both. I mean, it seems like that, you know, everybody's too easy to count you out. You know, and then you stop believing in yourself. I mean, when Ray came to me, as I said back several weeks ago, I mean, I couldn't even think he was going to hire me, with my past record at that point in time, I hadn't done much of anything. You know, I thought maybe he needed a psychologist (laughter). First off, having a race team, and second off for hiring me. There again, it's like Mike has brought something to me that I guess I've lacked for a number of years. It's that solid consistency, that foundation that each and every driver needs out there. That solid foundation, you know, gives me more confidence on the racetrack and gives those guys more confidence in the decisions they make every minute of every day. And that's a two-way street. And it's a never-ending evolution. I learn something new every time I come to the racetrack.
Q: We saw Tony very clearly wave you by, very clearly get out of the way, like, "I can't do anything with them, come on." He let you have it. Rusty Wallace sat there a few minutes ago and said he thought he had the thing won, then he got up off the corner, got loose, you drove under him. He said, "When Bill passed me, I got a big grin on my face," he was so happy for you. Gestures like that these last couple weeks, seems like nobody is happier for you than your fellow drivers. Have you felt that in the garage, they're really thrilled for you?
Elliott: Very much so. I mean, from the young to the old. I mean, you know, it's been a long time coming. And, I mean, it's just like I keep telling these guys, "I'm on the shorter end of the stick than these younger guys." They've got a lot of future, a lot of years left to go. I mean, regardless of how long I drive, whether it's next week, next month, 10 years from now, the sport's eventually going to push you out. That's going to be a part of evolution. But I'm just proud of where I'm at today. I'm proud of the accomplishment. You know, everybody has been so good to me here of late. It's like, you know, I feel it's a joy coming into the garage and driving the race car. I want to focus on the race car. I want to focus less on doing other stuff. You know, I think I've got a good balance in my life right now from not only my family's side, but from the professional to the race side. I've been able to put things in perspective. Now, with all that being said, that gives me the confidence to come into these events each and every week and put the car together. Like I said, we ain't going to get it right each and every week, but I still feel like we're going to be a threat each and every week.
Q: At the end of Happy Hour yesterday, you kept getting faster and faster and faster. That just doesn't happen anymore in Happy Hour, doesn't seem. What's it like to go to bed knowing you have that good of a car and have to wait for the race? Does that take you back to the days when you felt like that all the time?
Elliott: Well, a couple things was going on yesterday. We were scuffing a couple of sets of tires in. We were going out. The racetrack kept getting cooler. The racetrack kept picking up speed. The more turn one and turn four get shaded here, it was almost starting to rain down in three and four, it eventually did just as soon as practice was over. Racetrack started cooling up. I think that goes somehow to like how qualifying transpired on Saturday. We got the luck of the draw, ended up second. I was proud of our run. But still, this old racetrack changes a lot. That was the biggest thing that Mike and Derek and Kenny and all the guys had to decide late yesterday afternoon, was how we were going to start this race in the middle of the heat and keep the car under us all day long.
Q: As dominant as you were back in '88, '92, did you ever think a decade later some of those same guys would still be chasing you around like they were today?
Elliott: You never know. I mean, if you stay in a sport long enough, you going to ride that roller coaster up and down. I don't care who you are. To me it becomes a part, if you can just ... you know, to me I look at it, and guys that's had the most successful years or careers have had a very stable foundation under them. I look back on my past years, and I was stable in the '80s doing my own deal, but then the sport got so big, I couldn't keep up. Then the '90s came along, I went to Junior. First year I just walked in on a great team with Tim, and all the guys already had an established deal. We came out and won races, nearly won the championship. Then Tim and Junior didn't see eye to eye. That kind of separated that team. Then Mike and I spent the next two years trying to put it back together. And then in '95, I decided to do my own deal. I just kept going down different roads. I never could put things together in the right direction. And with Ray, you know, Mike came along with me, in I guess late '99, first of 2000, and he's given me the stability and the confidence. We had some awful good runs in our deal in 2000. I mean, I was proud of what ... them guys slept on the floor back at the shop, you know, because I didn't have the money to do it like it needs to be done today. And they put a lot of dedication in behind me. Then when Ray came along, we turned top 15, top 20 finishes into top 15s, top 10s, top fives. You know, last year we finished maybe a lap down. Now we put in a lead lap. We just kept making it better and better. That goes to show you the communication and the dedication of what we've done and what these guys have done week in and week out.
Q: I'd like for you to just reflect on how deep the valley was when you were struggling. You went from being called former champion to Bill Elliott, who has lost more than 225 races. Put that into perspective with how you feel now.
Elliott: I don't think anybody can put it into perspective. I mean, you know, I look back on like Darrell (Waltrip) and several of them guys. I feel like I've had a second chance at life. I mean, I'll tell you one thing about Ray is right, wrong or different, regardless of how we ran all last year, he called me on Monday or Tuesday and said, "Look, we'll get you a better race car next week." You don't know how good that made me feel. To know that he supported me, there was no talk behind your back, "We'll get somebody else to drive the car," whatever. Just keep the support going that. Just made me want to come back and drive the car a little bit harder. I do feel like I've had a second chance at this. To go through the struggles and the trials and tribulations that I went through in the late '90s, it's like I could have walked away just about easier than I could have stayed. It was getting to that point in my career. But, you know, I'm glad I stayed. At least I had a second chance, and this guy give it to me.
Winning team press conference, part II