HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Stricklin, a 41-year-old driver from Calera, Ala., will make his 323rd career start on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit in Sunday's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet,...
HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Stricklin, a 41-year-old driver from Calera, Ala., will make his 323rd career start on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit in Sunday's Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The former NASCAR Dash Series Champion is ranked 32nd in the standings this season after failing to qualify for the Daytona 500 in February. Stricklin's best performance of the season came at his home track in Talladega, Ala., when he qualified 22nd and finished 11th. Stricklin is in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T owned by Bill and Gail Davis.
"We started 42nd last year at Chicago and went up through the field pretty quick. We got up to about 20th and broke a right rear shock. We came in and changed the shock under a yellow flag and we were better when we went back out. Last year was a big year for Hills Bros at Chicagoland. They sponsored the Busch race and with their headquarters being right there it's like a home race for them. It's a race we'd obviously like to run well at since it's right there in their backyard.
"It was pretty much a one-groove track last year. It's very fast and has a lot of grip. Usually when we go back to a track the second time, it gets better for a second groove. Scott Wimmer will be up there in a third Bill Davis Dodge, and that will help us because he tested there and we'll get all the feedback from his team.
"Downforce is a big issue there, and we could use a little help on our Dodges getting the front and rear ends to stick to the track. We might not have the total downforce the other makes have right now, but I think the balance will be better than what I had up there last year for sure. Having a car that's been to the wind tunnel is a pretty big deal.
"We try hard to stay focused on what our job at hand is. We're still in the middle of negotiating with Hills Bros. We'll have to wait and see what the status is on them and see what they do. That'll probably have a lot of bearing on what I do. I want to stay here. This is the first time in many years that I've raced for a team that I really like a lot. I know our finishes haven't been what any of us would like for them to be, but with what we have here we're going to these race tracks for the first time. You can say your setup wasn't right, but we've got a baseline to go back there the second time. Hopefully, the second time we'll be able to finish in the top 10. We've got to build our notebook right now. We're steadily getting better. I think the second time back a these tracks is going to be better for us. Some of these tracks we'll be going to the first time, but some of them are a lot alike. Take Chicago and Kansas City. You can use just about the same setuip at Kansas City as you do at Chicago.
"This tire has dealt us fits. A lot of times I can't really tell 'em what it's doing. Some things the car does doesn't make any sense to me. Some of the things we do to it, like we think we're going to tighten up a loose car, it automatically makes it looser. It really doesn't make a lot of sense, and I think the tire deal has definitely dealt a lot of people a fit.
"I think we've made a large gain. The thing we've been fighting a lot is begin loose out of the corners, and we found out what it's going to take to get that out. Then we found out what it's going to take to get it to turn in the middle. Now we've got to go back to some of these places and work on the total package.
"I'm signed through this season with Bill Davis and to my knowledge so is Hills Bros. Bill has an option with me and I don't have an option. I don't really feel any more pressure than ever. I feel pressured all the time. It doesn't matter if you're Hut Stricklin driving for Hills Bros Coffee or Jeff Gordon driving for DuPont. The bottom line is you've got to perform. When you get a sponsor spending millions of dollars like they are now, everybody wants to do well. You've got to put forth every effort you can to make that happen."
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Fresh off a fourth-place finish last Saturday night in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Spencer heads to Chicago looking for another top five finish at Chicagoland Speedway. Spencer finished fifth in the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup race at Chicagoland last year.
"We had been running good on the intermediate tracks last year and we had a good test at Chicago. We qualified good and ran good all day up there last year. We're taking the same Target Dodge that's been a good car for us at other tracks this season, and we're going with the attitude that our season started last week. I think our whole team has learned a lot since the Daytona 500. We built a car just like Sterling's for the 500 and it didn't work for us, so the guys went back to work and built another one for July. I think this will help our entire superspeedway program. I can't wait to get back to Talladega with it. We felt we should have qualified better with it at Daytona, but it was a brand new car and it had never been tested. We still think there's two or three tenths left in it, and we'll find it by Talladega. I know we're a long way (368 points) out of the top 10, but we've got 19 races left and if we can gain 20 points a race we'll be there by the end of the season. Finishing in the top 10 was one of our goals when the season started and just because we missed the Daytona 500, I don't see that being an impossible thing to do right now. We've worked on some new things the last month, and it's beginning to pay off. We've got great motors, our cars are better and the team is getting stronger every week. It's like we were on our first date when the season started. It didn't go too good the first couple of dates, but then things got better and now they're awesome. We know what each other is thinking now, and the team communication is so much better than it's ever been. I'm really looking forward to the second half of the season with this Target Dodge. It felt great to be running up front with Sterling at Daytona, and I think you're going to see a lot more of that in the next 19 races."
DODGE GARAGE NOTES - Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T, leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings with 2,368 points after 17 starts in 2002. At the same stage of the 2001 campaign, Marlin had 2,159 points and was sixth in the standings. Jeff Gordon led the standings heading into the Tropicana 400 last season with 2,403 points - 35 more than Marlin's current total. The rest of Gordon's stats at this stage of the 2001 season - 4 poles, 3 wins, 11 top fives, 11 top 10s and 2 DNF's. Compare that to Marlin's current stats - 0 poles, 2 wins, 6 top fives, 10 top 10s and only 1 DNF.... Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T, is currently ninth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings with 2,084 points. At this stage of the '01 season, Elliott was 19th with only 1,732 points. Elliott had one pole, one top five and three top 10s after 17 races in '01. This season, he has two poles, two top fives and seven top 10s... Kyle Petty has made the biggest gain of any Dodge driver since last season. Petty's No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T had already missed six races at this stage of the '01 season, and Petty ranked 43rd in the NWCS. In 2002, Petty has not missed a race, stands 18th in the series standings and has one top 10 finish... Six Dodge drivers rank in the top 25 in the NWCS after 17 races - Marlin, Elliott, Petty, Jimmy Spencer (21st), Ward Burton (24th) and Jeremy Mayfield (25th). At the same point last season, only Dodges driven by Marlin, Burton and Elliott were in the top 25.