MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Fresh off a 12th-place finish in Sunday's Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup road race at Sears Point Raceway, Michael Waltrip heads to Daytona International Speedway...
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Fresh off a 12th-place finish in Sunday's Save Mart/Kragen 350 NASCAR Winston Cup road race at Sears Point Raceway, Michael Waltrip heads to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night's Pepsi 400 with renewed confidence. Waltrip's run at Sears Point was his best since a third-place finish earlier this season at Martinsville. He moved up a spot to 26th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. The 37-year-old Owensboro, Ky., native will be making his 445th career start at Daytona. He discusses Daytona, the 2000 season and outlook for the future.
"We should be able to win that race (Pepsi 400)," Waltrip said. "That's my thinking as I head down there. The car will run, there's no doubt about that. We're confident that we understand the air and draft and strategy all well enough to put ourself in position to do that. We go down there with that type of mentality, not to get a top five or a top 10. We go down there thinking we need to win. "I'm disappointed when I leave and we didn't get the finish we deserve. The last three plate races have been that way. I was leading Talladega last fall when I blew up. I got in a wreck with about 10 laps to go in the Daytona 500 running toward the front. I was running in the top five at Talladega in April and got wrecked. Those are three races where I expect to have a good day. You're not going to be disappointed if you run in the top five or the top 10 in this series, but our goal is to win. If we get a top five or top 10, nobody is going to be dejected over that. "I don't care about halfway in the season. The season is a year, and it counts the same no matter where you're at in the deal. We've struggled to this point. The only thing that signifies it's halfway to me is when you start heading back to tracks where you're already raced. At that point, you need to take the notes and what you learned the first time and make improvements. That's important to me. "They've changed the rules a little bit since February at Daytona, but we had a good setup for that race. I was happy with that setup. We feel real confident we'll be right when we get down there. We got thumped by the Fords in February. We had the best Chevy, but there just wasn't any way we could keep up with the Fords. We couldn't win the race or really even hang in the top four or five. We were trying to be the next guy. We think the rules have been switched around enough now where we can figure it out. We hope. From what we saw at Talladega, that should be true. "I don't think anybody owes you anything. I just like to go race and hope it works out. There's reasons why stuff happens. You just try to put yourself in the best position. My goal is to always be in the front or as near to the front as I can so we won't get in a problem. A good example of that not working right was at Talladega when we were running third or fourth and got in a wreck when a couple of guys got together. If you consistently do that and run toward the front, then you're probably not going to be in a wreck. If you don't wreck and have a car as good as mine generally is at those places, then you're going to have a good finish. "The night races are a lot of fun. I think it's good for the sport. It's made that race one of the ones everybody looks forward to. I like racing at night better. It's too hot during the day. I like the night better for every reason in the world. "In 15 races this year (prior to Sears Point), we've had only four finishes without some kind of problem. We've had five engine problems, two wrecks, a transmission problem. We've had several things that have made us not be running in the position we should have been when the race was over. We've got to eliminate that stuff. Two wrecks, that's about all you can have during the year. If you look at the guys who finish up in the points, they're going to have just two or three wrecks. They're going to have zero engine failures, zero transmission failures and maybe one mechanical problem other than an engine. You've really just got to eliminate mistakes, and that's what we're going to work hard on the second half. "Jimmy Smith is now in control of the team and he's making changes and adding people and giving Bobby (crew chief Kennedy) more of the tools he thinks he needs to work with. I'm excited about what's going on with the team. "If I can go out and run good, like at Pocono. We were running pretty good. We were 12th 35 laps into the race and we blew up. We had a great pit stop and we were competitive, consistently running with the leaders during the course of the race, and then we blew up. I can't build an engine. I don't know how. Everything that was under my control is making sure the car handles good, so I can drive it as well as I possibly can. If we do all that and run good, then I know I've done all I can do. If I know I've done all I can do, then I look forward to the chance to do it again. I love to drive race cars. I just love it. Opportunities keep me pumped up. When we blew up on Monday at Pocono, I knew I would have a shot to run well at Sears Point. That's what we're always trying to accomplish. I always feel a little more confident when we're heading to Daytona or Talladega. I feel like there's a better chance of me accomplishing my goals at those tracks."
BOBBY KENNEDY (Crew chief No. 7 NationsRent Monte Carlo) "We wrecked with six laps to go at Daytona in February, and we were running eighth. We had the best Monte Carlo there. We ran up front the whole day, from second to 10th the whole day and got caught up in the wreck with six laps to go. We rebuilt the car and went to Talladega with it. We were running fourth, and Scott Pruett got into us and caused a big wreck. We rebuilt it again, and we're going to take it back to Daytona for the Pepsi 400. It's a real good car. It's the same car we ran in all four restrictor plate races in 1999. Not only does it have a good handle on the body, but the car drives real well. "You create a lot of your own luck, but we always seem to be in the wrong place. The bottom line is we've had a bunch of motor trouble. We were leading the race at Talladega last year and blew up. We've lost five motors this year. You're never going to get one if you don't see the checkered flag. That's been our biggest problem this year -- wrecks and blown motors. That's taken about 75 percent of our season away. "Michael can win races. He's done it in the Busch Series. If he couldn't win races, he wouldn't have done it over there. It's all about seizing opportunities here in Winston Cup. We've had a few chances last year and we've had a good car this year. We've just had stuff happen. Like Atlanta the last race of the season. We had a good car there and led the first part of the race. We cut a tire and wrecked. There's been a lot of things out of his control that's happened, but I think he can win races. It's tough now. It's tougher than it's ever been. You've got to have the right combination -- crew, motor, car, everything. It's not just the driver. "When a group has worked together for a long time and you see these guys come in and run 10 or 12 races and all of a sudden they're there in victory lane, you're going to have that because those two guys (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth) are rare talents. They don't come along that often. Everybody sort of expected it. I'm not sure they expected it that quick. You've got a lot of drivers who have been here a few years and have won just a couple of races, some haven't won any, and these guys come in. It might make 'em get up on the wheel a little harder and take a few more chances. The crews, too. They see that going on. They know it can be done, even with your driver. It's a matter of combination, and both of those guys (Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth) came in the right way. They came in with great organizations, and that's a big plus. They don't have to go through all the building stages and stuff. It was all laid out for them to take and run with, and they've done well. "We're in the middle of change. When the ownership changed a few months ago, a lot of people got cold feet and weren't sure what was going on when it happened. We lost some good people. Right now, we're just starting to build it back up, so we're in the rebuilding stages. Luckily, the last couple of weeks we've been able to acquire a couple of good people. We're going in the right direction. "We're getting ready to move in a new shop in a few weeks, and we're putting on some new personnel. The new owner seems to have a good philosophy toward racing. He knows this business, and he knows what it takes to win. He's willing to give us the tools it takes to work with. He's around a whole lot, and he's very people oriented. He likes to know every employee and exactly what they do. He's got a big company in California with 900 plus people. He treats everybody the same. He wouldn't ask anybody to do anything he wouldn't do himself. "Numerically it's not quite halfway, but you look at Daytona like it's the midpoint of the season. You better have your stuff geared up for that long stretch and get running good for August and September. We've been about a B-minus team so far this season. Like I said, a lot of stuff has happened to us that has been out of our control. The one good thing about us, attitude wise, we're A-plus. Nobody has given up. Everybody keeps digging. That's the good part of it. "Michael still has his confidence. He knows he can drive a race car. He knows we've got a good team. We can be competitive. I think the worse we ran was at Michigan. We finished 22nd. That's the worst we ran, although we've finished a whole lot worse. Generally we run in the top 15. Wrecks and blown motors have taken us out of a lot of the events. "In February, everybody was fighting push at Daytona. A lot of that was to do with the configuration we had on the nose at the time. People weren't quite used to the shock package. NASCAR has changed the shock package and opened up what we can do with the front shocks. That'll help the handling a little bit more and actually the aero changes we've made for the nose is going to help it. That'll make it more competitive. "Since they've changed the schedule around, you're at Daytona in the summer from in the morning until late at night. It really wears you out. You get tired for Speedweeks because you're there for so long, but you don't have a whole lot of time on the track then. In the summer, it's all packed into three days. It's hot and it'll wear you out. It's not more laid back, that's for sure. When you started at 10 o'clock in the morning, you could be on the beach by 2. It's not that way anymore. We can't work on our tans now. It's good for the fans. I think night racing is the way to go. From the crew's standpoint, I think they'd rather run in the morning and be on the beach in the afternoon, but you've got to look at it from the fans' standpoint. "We're testing at Indy after Loudon, and we're going to be moving into our new shop that week, too. We'll get some time off during that second weekend off in July. We'll need to catch our breath before those 12 straight weekends or whatever it is. I try not to count. We'll get everybody fresh for that long haul. I've been doing this for 12 years. At times, it gets to you, but it gets to me more at the shop. Once I'm at the race track, I'm fine. You're ready to go get it then. It's more trying at the shop."