Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, will enter Sunday's Checker Auto Parts/DuraLube 500K with a 246-point lead over second-place Bobby Labonte in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He held...
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, will enter Sunday's Checker Auto Parts/DuraLube 500K with a 246-point lead over second-place Bobby Labonte in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He held a press conference in the infield media center at Phoenix International Raceway to talk about his lead.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- THERE IS A CHANCE YOU COULD CLINCH THIS WEEKEND. YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "I think it's more up to Bobby Labonte whether we do that here or not, but we just have to do what we can do. We realize that right now in particular everything is kind of in our own hands as to how we want this to turn out. It doesn't matter how good Bobby runs or how good Mark runs, it's all dependent upon what we do and, if we do our job, everything should be fine. This has been a good race track for us. I enjoy racing here. As far as clinching this weekend, it would be nice to come out of here with a sizeable lead. I think it's stretching to think that we can come out of here with a lead big enough to say that everything's over, but, once again, that's why we race each Sunday because you never know what's gonna happen. Right now, we feel good about what we have. The race car we have here is a car that has won on these type of race tracks, so we're excited about that and, hopefully, it can kind of be a repeat of 1997."
IS IT HARD TO KEEP FROM GETTING EXCITED ABOUT THIS? "As I've told our guys, I don't want 'em not to be excited. Like myself, I want us to enjoy this and be excited for what could happen here. We have to continue to hard and stay focussed, but we have to enjoy this too and that means being excited about what we've been able to accomplish to this point. Yeah, is it hard to sit here and say we've got a lot of racing to do? Yeah, that's hard to do because we know that we do have a good lead, but, on the other side of it, if we can knock off another weekend with a good lead then we can get a little more excited after Sunday."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIRING SOME OF JEFF GORDON'S PIT CREW FOR NEXT YEAR AND HOW THAT WENT OVER WITH MEMBERS OF YOUR TEAM? "Would it have been a better situation if everything could have waited until the end of the year? Certainly, for everybody involved it would have been. But that's not always the way things can happen. Those guys felt they had to tell of their commitment for next year so that team could be lining up something different for them. This was something that came to us, an opportunity, months ago and as Robert and Todd and myself discussed this and discussed it with some of our team members, we felt like this sport is becoming so very specialized in each position that this was something that we needed to do. Yeah, it would have been nice if everything could have waited. Our guys wouldn't have been hounded about how they're feeling about it, but this is in no way shape or form a slap in the face to any of them. They've done a fantastic job, obviously, or we wouldn't be in the position that we're in. They've done a terrific job for four years now, but what we're doing, as we sat down and told those guys, is we're trying to make life a little bit easier for them. Each one of those guys that we have on our pit crew have specific jobs that they have to do week in and week out on our race car, and it is just becoming more and more difficult to do all of those jobs plus get ready for the race and perform a duty there. Yeah, the timing is not always great for everything, but we sat down with the guys and they understand what the situation is and why it is. Were they upset? Yeah, a couple of them and well they should be. They're competitors, but after we talked about everything they understand it and they know that the main thing that we have to do is stay focussed for three more races. That's the professionals that they are, they're definitely gonna do that and I'd venture to say that this Sunday and next Sunday my pit stops will probably be the best that anybody's ever seen."
DO YOU HAVE EMPATHY FOR THE TEAMS THAT CAN'T HIRE SPECIAL PIT CREWS? "Yeah, I understand what it's like to be down there and not have the funds to make all of the things happen that it takes to be at the top. I've been there and I certainly understand what they're feeling and how they're looking at things, but it's no different than other businesses where people take chances and risks sometimes to get to that point. That's kind of what we're doing in getting all of these people. Robert Yates, a lot of years ago, actually started this whole thing and he put his tail on the line then to make all of this happen now, so this isn't something that's just taken place. It was something that he did a long time ago and now he's able to benefit and reap some of the rewards of those efforts. So, I do understand what the others are thinking and it's a difficult situation, but we're here to perform and win for our sponsors."
IS IT A CASE WHERE IF YOU DON'T CHANGE, YOU'LL GET PASSED BY? "Absolutely. If you think things are gonna stay the same you're wrong. That's why we made changes in the last couple of years trying to step our program up to the level of the team that was beating us and I think we've done that. But we can't sit still. It's just like having a great race car for half the race and thinking that nobody is gonna catch you. I'll assure you that those other guys are working on their cars every pit stop, so you can't sit still or you're gonna get passed in a hurry."
HAVE YOUR PAST CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES HELPED YOU THIS YEAR? "Yeah, I think probably watching teams that were maybe ahead of us and how they handled the situation. To be honest, I think that if you look at in '96 and '97 the way that the championships were won there, I'd say that Jeff Gordon and them would say that in '97 they didn't do as good a job as they wanted to do down the stretch and in '98 they took things kind of in their hands and took control of everything. That's what we've kind of watched and seen to be the best way to handle this situation -- to not change and to continue to try to win races. We don't know how to do anything else but try to win. Everybody talks about getting conservative, I'm not sure how we would go about that and I'm sure that even if we attempted it we'd fall flat on our face. I think that's what I've seen. Being smart watching people like Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon win these championships, you watch how they race -- they continue to race hard but they race a lot more with their head at this time of year and that's what we've tried to do. One thing that I have noticed with our race team, the professionals that these guys are, I see them not only checking what they do a second time themselves, but they ask other guys to come in behind them and make sure that they've checked this. These guys, there's a lot of pride in what they do, but there's not too much to ask somebody to help them to make sure that they've done their job properly. So those are the things we've watched others do and me as a driver that I've watched and tried to learn."
HAS YOUR DAD TALKED TO YOU ABOUT RUNNING FOR A TITLE? "We've talked about what you do and what's the best scenario. Not only has he been through it, but he's been in a good position himself to watch others go through it and how they've handled it as he's commentated over the years. But, still, driving a race car hasn't changed and racing for a championship hasn't changed, whether it was 1965 or 1999. So, we've talked quite a bit and, I think, having someone like that and that experience there it's certainly helped me and helped me to stay focussed, to stay calm through this and it's a benefit that not a lot of other people have, so I've been able to enjoy that." IS IT AS MUCH FUN AS YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE? "Yeah. I mean, it's more fun than I anticipated it being really. Also, more pressure than I anticipated, I'll be honest about that. There's a lot of pressure. Obviously, there's a lot of pressure every week with trying to perform out here, but being in front this long has been a lot of pressure -- a lot less sleep at times but, on the other side of it, when you're awake and a part of this, there is nothing quite like it. This is definitely the thrill of a lifetime for me."
WOULD THERE BE MORE PRESSURE WITH A SMALLER LEAD? "I don't know. I'd hate to think the lead was smaller. I don't know, that would definitely have to be more pressure. Right now we have a little bit of a comfort zone knowing that if things aren't exactly right on Sunday to where we can run in the top five, we get ourselves in the top 10 and we'd still be OK. So, I think that, even though there's a lot of pressure in looking at if you allow yourself to look at the fact that everybody's looking for you to do something wrong and blow the biggest lead that anybody's had at this point, but that's not really in our mindset. We're not thinking about that. We're thinking about trying to get this thing over 300 if we can in as short a period of time as we can."
WAS THE PRESSURE THE WORST AT BRISTOL AND DARLINGTON? "The pressure wasn't any worse at that time, it's just that you're on difficult race tracks at that time...and trying to make things happen. At Bristol, you're always half out of control, so it only takes a little slip and when you're the points leader that's only magnified. It's not the first time I've spun out at Bristol, but it's probably the most important time I've ever spun out at Bristol. And then Darlington, I made a mistake in the middle of one corner that created a whole bad weekend. I think some pressure mounted after that, yeah, it definitely did. We went to Richmond, I guess, after that and needed to perform and we were able to do that."
WHEN IT'S ALL DONE WILL HAVING THAT MISTAKE AT DARLINGTON MAKE YOU APPRECIATE HOW HARD IT IS TO WIN A TITLE? "Absolutely. When I'm able to look back on this and say that may have been a difficult time right there, but it's all worth that. It was another learning experience and it's something I'll put in the back of my mind for future championships, I hope, to know that when you get in a situation like that...that day the most important thing wasn't qualifying on the pole. We had a car capable of sitting on the pole, but that wasn't the most important thing. The most important thing should have been pitting on the frontstretch. Of course, that won't be an issue now. I think we're gonna have pits all on one side for everybody it looks like everywhere that we go, but, still, getting a decent starting spot would be a lot better than having to get that pole."
DO YOU HAVE A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR WHAT OTHERS HAVE GONE THROUGH TO WIN THE TITLE? "There's no doubt that looking back and just realizing what it takes to accomplish winning in one year. To think that Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt have won seven of 'em, Jeff Gordon has won three in his short period of time. It's pretty amazing that they were able to withstand all the pressures that come that and to be able to perform at that level that many times. Yeah, I have a greater appreciation of that now."
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE TO LOSE A TITLE BEFORE YOU WIN ONE? "Oh, I think there is probably some truth to that, that you have to go through championship scenarios and realize what it's all about before you can actually go out and get a hold of one and really be able to take it and finish it off. Yeah, I think there's so much that goes along with it. Not only the racing on the race track, but the mind games that go along with it also. There are a lot of different things that are involved in winning these championships and I think that you have to at least been around one before you can go on and capture it."
TED MUSGRAVE --75-- Remington Arms Taurus (Qualified 34th) -- "It's been that way the whole day we've been here, but I think today the thing we goofed up on was 99 percent of the guys are going on stickers and we went on one-lap scuffs, so we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit there."
JOHNNY BENSON --26-- Cheerios Taurus (Qualified 19th) -- "I wish it was better. It's (the car) is just a little tough on the one-lap deal right now. I think it'll race extremely good. I think that'll make top 25, that was about 13th in practice. I went just a tad faster, but not as fast as I'd like so we'll see where that goes."
MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline/Cummins Taurus (Qualified 4th) -- "The Eagle One car is pretty awesome here today. I missed my marks just slightly out there, but the car was good enough that it's still gonna get us a great starting spot. If you're just a little more marginal on speed that'll really cost you, but our car was good enough that it recovered from it pretty well."
RICKY RUDD --10-- Tide Taurus (Qualified 7th) -- "We were eighth-quickest in practice and we just did get to eighth-quick when everything ended. We ran a .38 and I said if we could duplicate that lap I'll be happy, we ran a teen so I have to say I'm definitely happy."
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO GAIN THESE LAST THREE RACES? "I think this will be a real good run for us. This is another one of those Robert Yates motors under the hood and, man, it just goes down the straightaway. We just have to get the car handling, but I'm pretty happy. We unloaded and were probably 35th on the speed chart and Mike McSwain and all the guys worked really hard to get the car up to speed and we ran out of a little practice time. I'm pleased with the progress we made from where we unloaded."
RICK MAST --98-- Universal Studios Taurus (Qualified 21st) -- "It was OK. That was the best lap we've run. We struggled big time today and we changed the car around completely for qualifying. We went in the right direction, we just didn't go far enough. The car went into both turns real good, it turned in the center of both turns good, but the car was just too tight exiting. We finally hit it in the right direction, we're just like a day late here. We'll be alright Sunday."
JIMMY SPENCER --23-- Team Winston Taurus (Qualified 16th) -- "I lost in one and two today. Yesterday, my Busch car ran through one and two better than three and four and then three and four today was better than my Busch car yesterday. I don't know. I freed up getting into one. When I turned across I got a little free, I had to wait a little bit to pick the throttle up and I think I lost about two-tenths of a second through that end of the race track. Three and four were pretty good."
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus (Qualified 9th) -- "I got too loose down there (in three and four). I was a little tight down in turn one and two early, so we loosened the car up with some air pressure and got it too loose down in three and four so that hurt me. I'm sure we could have gotten it low in the teens, but I just had to peddle it too much down there." WHAT CAR IS THIS? "It's a brand new Penske chassis. It's really running good, I'm happy with it and, like I say, I just put a little bit too much air in the right-rear tire and it kind of bit me."
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus (Qualified 5th) -- "We're happy. That was a really good lap. If I could have picked it up just a little bit in three and four I might have had a shot at 'em, but we're really happy. We needed a good starting spot. These guys have brought me a really good race car. We're still working hard and we're gonna try to win here Sunday." DID YOU HIT YOUR MARKS? "Yeah, it was pretty close. I probably got into one a little harder than I needed to and that may have got me up the track a little, but, really, if I could have picked the throttle up a little sooner in three and four we might have got on the pole, but we're pretty happy with that."
ARE YOU MORE AGGRESSIVE? "We've got a good lead, so we can go at it pretty hard right now. That's the good thing about having a lead is we can go after it and we know if we win we're not gonna lose any points."
DO YOU HAVE THE CAR TO WIN? "We've got the car to do it here Sunday."
DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus (Qualified 30th) -- "I'm real happy. That's the best we've run. We made a bunch of changes before we qualified and, man, if I would have been that good practicing I would have been right there but I'm real happy. I'm real pleased."
JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus (Qualified 18th) -- "We as a team have never made first round here and we really struggle here a lot. We came here with a totally different setup and worked on me a lot too. It's not a great effort as far as the numbers, but for us it's a big improvement. Before you can run you've gotta be able to walk. We were just crawling before and now at least we're walking and maybe we can improve on this. I'm just real proud of the Exide guys because we've been struggling with our qualifying. Again, it's not great but for us it's a big improvement for Phoenix. We came here and hoped to make the top 20 and it appears we'll do that."
BRETT BODINE --11-- Paychex Taurus (Qualified 24th) -- "We had a better car than that. The driver didn't do a very good job. I just flat missed the first turn. I don't know what I was thinking. I'd like to say like those Unocal commercials that I had spot on the windshield or my tires were wobbly or something, but I just made a mistake. I got in there and got wide and I was late getting in the throttle and I knew I had to do really good at the other end. That was good enough to get us in the top 25 and that's a start in the right direction."