This Week in Ford Racing, March 9, 1999

THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, March 09, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series This week's stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the inaugural Cracker Barrel 500. Kenny Irwin, driver of the No. 28 Texaco...

THIS WEEK IN FORD RACING Tuesday, March 09, 1999

NASCAR Winston Cup Series

This week's stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series is the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the inaugural Cracker Barrel 500. Kenny Irwin, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, finished fifth in last year's race which was then known as the PRIMESTAR 500. His next trip to Atlanta was equally impressive as he earned his first career NASCAR Winston Cup pole in the season finale.

KENNY IRWIN -28- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- YOU MUST FEEL GOOD ABOUT GOING BACK TO ATLANTA, RIGHT? "Yeah, it's a track we've been looking forward to since the season started. We've taken a different car every time we've gone there and we're doing the same thing this time by taking a car that we think is better. For whatever reason, we race good and qualify good there. I mean, we feel like we can keep the momentum going and it's nice going to tracks to start the season that we've run good at in the past and, hopefully, really get that snowball going."

IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE OF THE FIRST TRACKS YOU SEE YOURSELF WINNING AT WOULD ATLANTA BE ONE OF THEM? "Yep, Atlanta and Richmond without a doubt are the tracks I feel like we can go to and qualify up front and be there all day. I don't feel like that at a Rockingham and a Darlington, but Atlanta and Richmond are more suited to my driving style."

HAVING SAT ON THE POLE THE LAST TIME IN ATLANTA, DOES THAT GIVE YOU AN EVEN BIGGER BOOST OF CONFIDENCE? "Yeah. I think anywhere you go and run good at you feel better about going back to. You realize where you have to run on the race track and, for me, that has been the toughest thing. I don't know where I need to be for the fast laps and to be consistent throughout the race. Tracks that we've run good and qualified good at, it's like I can go there the first lap out of the box and we feel like we can be competitive."

GOING BACK TO THE FIRST ATLANTA RACE LAST SEASON, THAT WAS YOUR FIRST TOP FIVE FINISH (FIFTH) AND THE FIRST RACE WHERE YOU GAINED SOME CONFIDENCE AND RAN UP FRONT MOST OF THE DAY, RIGHT? "We qualified good there and it just suited my driving style. It's an on the gas type of place and we ran good all day. Let me tell you, I'll be the first to say I was more surprised than anybody in the garage area at how good we ran there, just for the fact that we ran up front all day long and led most of the race. It felt good and it was almost like, hey, you can expect this every weekend and then reality kind of strikes, but it was good for us to go there and run good."

DOUG RICHERT, Crew Chief -28- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- YOU'RE TAKING A NEW CAR TO ATLANTA AND NOT THE ONE THAT SAT ON THE POLE LAST YEAR. WHAT'S YOUR THINKING BEHIND THAT? "Even though we're taking a new car back I think it's something that's comparable to the rest of the competition. Things were a little more forgiving the last race there because it was so late at night. I think they might have had more trouble if it would have been run during the day versus it being at night, so that lets you get by with certain things. Well, we're gonna be running during the day, so we've got a choice of cars that we're taking back that we feel is the best and that's comparable to everybody else who ran well also."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT KENNY THAT MAKES HIM SO GOOD AT ATLANTA? "If you can run wide open, that's his style. The biggest thing we work on is finessing some of these tracks where using the throttle with the steering comes more into play. We're looking a lot into that as far as maybe not driving in so hard, get on the gas early, just different combinations of stuff like that. Atlanta, you pretty much just burp the gas and, bam, you go. Fortunately, we've got a good motor program here and that makes you really look good."

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH HOW THINGS HAVE GONE SINCE JOINING THE TEAM THIS YEAR? "Yeah, I'm real happy with it. The guys are still learning me and I'm still learning the procedures of Robert Yates Racing and the success the 28 has had through the years. There are 10 different ways to do everything and not just one way is really the right way, so I'm learning new ways myself as to how they've done it. As we work through them, we're gonna work to make things easier, more accessible, quick changes, that's what I'm looking to do."

WITH SUCH A GOOD START I WOULD IMAGINE THERE'S A LOT OF ENERGY AROUND YOUR SHOP THESE DAYS, RIGHT? "I know I'm excited and I think I've got a really good group of guys for that reason. They've been working really hard. We've got a lot of cars put together and we've done a lot in the little bit of time that I've been there, which is very impressive. The energy level I feel is good. We've got some good results and, I tell you, running good fixes everything."

HOW CLOSE DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE TO WINNING A RACE? "Anytime. I feel we can win at anytime. We've got a really awesome pit crew. We were knocking out some really good stops at Rockingham, even though we couldn't benefit from them totally being three laps down, but you have to have all the ingredients for that one day when you run good all day. It doesn't matter how good you run, if you come in under green and you have a bad stop, then running good does you no good, so it's just putting all the pieces together at one time will be the key. We've been able to unload off the truck and run well for the past two races and that is a real energy builder there, so we're practicing pretty good now for race setup and now it's just a thing of how fast you can make it for how long."

HOW IS THE COMMUNICATION BETWEEN YOU AND KENNY SO FAR? "I'm comfortable with it and I think Kenny knows more this year on what he needed to feel from what he experienced last year. That's where you can't beat experience, when a driver has a certain feel that he knows, 'Man, last time I got in trouble and I'm feeling that same way so we better do something.' Well, he had no experience like that last year, but the second half of the year he ran noticeably better than the first half and it's just experience."

1999 SVT F-150 LIGHTNING TO PACE NASCAR CRACKER BARREL 500

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Lightning is expected to hit this weekend at the NASCAR Cracker Barrel 500, but for Atlanta Motor Speedway race fans, this supercharged version will definitely be a treat to watch and experience.

That's because Ford's 1999 SVT F-150 Lightning will make its debut as the official pace vehicle of this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup event, marking the first time a truck has paced a race event at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

This is no ordinary truck, however. The Lightning, which will pace both the Cracker Barrel 500 on Sunday and the Georgia 300 NASCAR Busch Grand National event on Saturday, is offered with the TritonTM 5.4L V-8 engine supercharged and intercooled, producing 360 horsepower and 440 ft./lbs. of torque. Suspension changes include SVT-tuned front and rear shock-absorbers, stabilizer bars, and a lower ride height. To handle the power and suspension upgrades, the Lightning rides on unique 5-spoke 18 x 9.5-inch aluminum alloy wheels shod with GoodyearTM Eagle F1-GS 295/45ZR-18 tires.

This high-performance truck is capable of running the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at 97 mph, and has a top speed of 140 mph. It is available in regular cab flareside trim only, in Bright Red Clearcoat, Black Clearcoat, or Oxford White Clearcoat exterior colors.

"We're pleased that Ford Division chose the SVT F-150 Lightning as the pace vehicle for the Cracker Barrel 500," said Tom Scarpello, Specialty Vehicle Marketing Manager. "We think it shows that the Lightning is just as much at home on the track as on the street. The Lightning outperforms many sport cars on the road today, and of course, it packs all the toughness you expect in a Ford truck." The SVT F-150 Lightning began production in early March, and will start showing up in Ford SVT-Certified Dealerships by April. The Ford F-series is also the Official Truck of NASCAR.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck

Rick Crawford is the defending champion of the Homestead 400 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event. Although Crawford started the 1998 season with a couple of strong runs, his year took a downhill turn from then on. What had shown such great promise at the beginning of the season turned into an 18th place finish in the overall point standings. Rick has high hopes for 1999. He discusses last year, and the changes he made during the off-season to revitalize his team.

RICK CRAWFORD - 14 - Circle Bar Motel and RV Park Ford F-150: WAS THE RACE AT HOMESTEAD THE HIGH POINT OF 1998 FOR YOU? "It sure was. Basically our season started at Disney World. We were well prepared for the race, and a fuel pump broke which put us in a 29th place finish. Then we had a two-month break. The trucks we had were ready to go. We had two months to get our Homestead truck ready. We went to Homestead ready to go, well prepared. The team worked hard. We had more members of our team at Homestead than we had at any other race. We had a good engine program at the time, a great truck. I have to really emphasize we were well prepared for that particular race, and we came away with a win. I think we passed more trucks that day than anybody did. We stalled on one of our pit stops. We had to go back to like 18th place and march right back to the front. It was a strong truck and the team just clicked all day long. From that point on, starting at the next race at Phoenix we still had a strong truck, a strong team, and we had a fifth place finish. All of a sudden we were top-five in the points with a race that you've backed up your win. Everybody's smiling. I wish we could have run in the top-three but we finished fifth. The season was going great. Then we started self-destructing. Our engine program went down hill, really went down hill. The trucks started getting torn up. The trucks we had to run were having to be built in a week. The backbone of the team didn't show its strength. We lost a lot of inventory. It all goes back to what was under the hood. The team was aggravated. Roland (Wlodyka - crew chief) was aggravated. I was aggravated, but being the determined racers we are we worked on an engine program with Robert Yates toward the middle of the season. Roland got to work on the chassis to accommodate the Yates motors because we had to change a little bit there. By the time we got that under control we had a third place finish at Nashville, and as far as I'm concerned we ended the season, not where we wanted to be in the points, but we ended the season on strong finishes and strong runs the last few races. That got us thinking about what we needed to do for 1999. That's where I came in I guess. I made a lot of big decisions toward the end of the season, and I'm really excited about getting started for 1999."

WHAT CHANGES DID YOU MAKE? "The major change we made to the crew was we hired George Church as the crew chief. He came in January 1. We brought in a lot of applicants for the job, a lot of experience, but I settled on George. I thought he had the most experience and was a person I could work with. He was the person who was the best for building our team. So we hired George Church, and we hired two more guys who worked in ARCA who were tire changers and jackmen, tire specialists. We're starting to hire specialists rather than crew members. We started to hire specialists for specialty positions. We've done some testing in the off-season. We tested at Homestead. We were as fast as anybody was. We did some short track testing already this year. I think we're well prepared."

WHAT ABOUT THE TEST AT HOMESTEAD BOOSTED YOUR CONFIDENCE? "I'm smiling as we speak. I feel pretty good about it. We went down there with two trucks, one F-150 with the new B pillar, and one that didn't. We wanted to see the difference and the aero situation. We adjusted ourselves to run the one truck, and then we adjusted ourselves to run the other. We did that and made a big accomplishment there. But the main reason I'm pleased about the test was establishing the working relationship between me and Mr. Church. We did that, and by the end of the second day testing I think we were as fast as anybody on the stop watch. We worked on race set-up a lot. I think we were one of the only trucks that went out there and worked on drafting with another truck to see the stability with the change to the bodies. I was pretty confident after that. We had two good days of testing. But it goes back to other things. We carry a lot of experience back to Homestead. We carry a good record back to Homestead as far as results, and we'll look to that again."

WHAT DO YOU FEEL YOUR PROSPECTS ARE FOR THE 1999 SEASON? "If I was the driver and I was talking to the owner and I promised him we'd win 10 races and the championship I'd be a fool. To say we're going to be a competitive team and we will win our share of races, and I hope we win more than one, then I'm not out on a limb with my expectations. My expectations for our team is winning our share of races, running up front and aggravating those boys for the championship. Hopefully we can do that. I wish you could walk in the shop, see the guys working on the trucks, and see the smiles on their faces. The workmanship and mechanical ability on all of our trucks are polished and shined. All of them are complete, just about, within 85 percent. It's not like last year. If you wrecked one it would take 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get it fixed. The inventory, the backbone of the team is pretty strong."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Rick Crawford , Robert Yates
Teams Yates Racing