This Week in Ford Racing November 16, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season will come to an end this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway as the NAPA 500 officially closes out the 34-race schedule. Ford has already clinched the...
This Week in Ford Racing November 16, 1999
NASCAR Winston Cup
The 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season will come to an end this week at Atlanta Motor Speedway as the NAPA 500 officially closes out the 34-race schedule. Ford has already clinched the driver's and manufacturer's championship for the season, so the only thing that remains is who will win this week's event. Ford drivers Bill Elliott and Kenny Irwin talk about their chances while Robert Yates reflects on his championship season.
Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus and a native Georgian, will be hoping for a solid performance this weekend in front of his hometown fans. Elliott tested at Atlanta Motor Speedway a couple of weeks ago and spoke about how things went and his hopes for next season.
BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus -- YOU TESTED AT ATLANTA A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THE LAST RACE OF THIS SEASON? "As far as Atlanta I'm kind of glad because that means the year's over and you can sit back and regroup to try and get organized a little bit better for next year. We've had some good runs and bad runs and I think now we just need to regroup and go from there."
DO YOU GO INTO THIS RACE FEELING THERE'S NOTHING TO LOSE AND BE MORE AGGRESSIVE THAN NORMAL? "I think we've kind of been experimenting the last two or three races because we don't have a whole lot to lose at this point in time with where we're at, but we tested at Atlanta the other week and it'll be quite a bit different than the past. I'm sure we'll find something that's pretty off the wall and run it to be different and see if we can make it work."
WHAT HAS CHANGED ABOUT THE TRACK? "The race track has gotten more age on it. It's slicker and times will fall off a little quicker than they did in the past. It used to be that you could start and run and pretty much be in the 29-second range for a long time and now it falls off pretty quick."
THERE'S ALWAYS TALK ABOUT THE SPEEDS AT ATLANTA. WILL THEY BE DOWN THIS TIME AROUND? "The speeds are going to be down some. I still liked the racetrack the way it was versus the way it is now. Atlanta was unique the way it was. We've been decent there, but not that great. We had a pretty good finish there a couple of races ago, but it's so different than before."
WILL YOU BE HAPPY WHEN THE YEAR IS FINALLY OVER? "Yeah, because of things aren't going exactly right, I mean there's so many things that can happen that are totally out of your control. I'll give you a prime example. At Dover we were running seventh and Nemechek hits the wall and a piece comes off his car, goes under my car, and busts the radiator hose. I mean, the freakiest deal that I've ever seen. We've had a lot of that little freakish stuff. It's always been some little something that has knocked us out of at least a decent day and there's a lot of that stuff you can't control. I don't know how you do it. That's what gets so frustrating about this sport. You can have the best group of people, but when you have bad luck you can't control it."
Kenny Irwin, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, will be making his final start for Robert Yates Racing this weekend in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta has been a good place to Irwin, who finished a then-career best fifth in the PRIMESTAR 500 in March of 1997 and then earned his first career NASCAR Winston Cup pole for this event last year.
KENNY IRWIN --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- YOU GOT YOUR FIRST POLE AT ATLANTA IN THIS RACE A YEAR AGO. IT'S BEEN A GOOD PLACE FOR YOU HASN'T IT? "For whatever reason in '97 that was one of the four races we ran. We qualified good and I don't think we ran that good, but the next race in the spring at Atlanta we qualified good again and I think we led the most laps and finished fifth. So, it's been a good track and then, obviously, at the end of last year we sat on the pole there. I think we're taking back the car that we've run good with, even though we've never run it at Atlanta, I think we know what we need to have there. The first race this year we took a car that we thought was fixed right and we were terrible. I like the racetrack. I kind of like the fact it's a high-speed, no brake, momentum, almost flat-out deal."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE A LAP AROUND ATLANTA? "One thing that's different from the very first time that they paved it is there's gotten to be a pretty big bump getting into one. So, either you go above it which is kind of hard to do and still make the corner how you want it, or you've got to get the car setup to go across it and not bottom out. That was one of the problems we were having in '98 last year for the second race -- we kept bottoming out. I told Slugger (former crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe) that if we could make this where we won't bottom out we can run a good lap, and that's what he did and we sat on the pole. There are certain things you've gotta do. Three and four it's almost flat-out, you just kind of breathe it and you're right back on it. Whoever doesn't pull their foot off the throttle will sit on the pole and, obviously, have a good weekend."
THE LAST HALF OF THE YEAR HAS BEEN PRETTY GOOD FOR YOU. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT IT? "We have run well. Everybody asks me why do you think you've run better the last eight or 10 races and I don't think there is a reason. You just get in a rhythm and when you start running good it's easier to run good. It's like when you win one race I think it's easier to win 10 races. I wish I knew the reason, but I just think it's a matter of being consistent, getting cars how you want them and getting a feel for the race track. It's also working together as a team."
IS YOUR CONFIDENCE AT ITS HEIGHT RIGHT NOW SINCE YOU'VE BEEN IN NASCAR WINSTON CUP? "I think so. I think I'm more confident. I think whenever you run good and have good runs, you're definitely more confident about going to the next track whether you've ever run good there or not. That's what running good does for you, it gives everybody confidence. The guys building the motors, changing the tires, it just seems like everybody's job is easier. It's nice."
HOW IS THIS WEEK GOING TO BE FOR YOU? "I haven't really thought too much about it. I think that we're going there with a good car and we're planning on going there to win the race like we've done every time. I'm still gonna be in the garage area, we're still gonna talk to all the guys so it's not like I'm gonna be around. All of these guys are gonna be here too, so I don't think it's a relationship that's just gonna end."
Robert Yates, owner of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline and No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, won his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship last weekend at Homestead when Dale Jarrett clinched the top spot. He spoke about his career in racing and what the future holds.
ROBERT YATES, Car Owner --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO BROUGHT YOU HERE ARE KIND OF A MINOR PLAYER IN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP FROM A SPONSORSHIP STANDPOINT? "Since 1986 when I was back working with Ford, sometimes I'd let Ford run together whether it's credit or servicing cars, I'm Ford. I feel very proud that we've contributed a lot with Ford. We've gotten so far. In '96 when we started, they did so well I even got to where I thought if I went down in the 88 pits I may jinx 'em. I remember in Talladega when we won the million dollars, I stayed in the 28 pits and the 28 pits had been cleared out for two hours. I didn't dare move. I'll crawl in a hole, I'll go home, I'll do whatever it takes to win. I certainly don't want to jinx what they do and I don't like to sort of jump on the bandwagon after the fact. I didn't wear it (Quality Care Service/Ford Credit apparel) when they got there, so why jump on it? Certainly, I'll wear it. I'm proud to be part of Ford Credit and Ford Quality Care. Ford got me into this business in the 1960s and they helped me return in the eighties and helped put me in business. Ford Motor Company, and some of the things they did for me, helped me buy that race team so Ford was a big player in the beginning of Robert Yates Racing. They were a big player. They gave me development deals that just really helped me make my payroll, so, to me, I'm as dedicated to Ford as I can be and I think I've helped contribute to Ford. I feel a little bit like the guy who didn't deserve to wear the shirt, but I will put it on. Some days I wear it, but all the guys on the 88 team that wear the Ford Credit and Quality Care colors, they've been consistent since the first time they rolled on the race track. They certainly deserve to win this championship and I'm proud of them. I love contributing what I can whether it's engine or chassis or support. I feel a little bit like if I would have started off wearing one (logo) on both sides of my shirt I could continue that, but I feel a little bit like I need to sort of do what I've been doing -- don't jump up in front of the camera too soon and let those guys who have really earned it and worked for it and deserve it get it."
YOU HAVE FIVE NEW GUYS COMING ON BOARD NEXT YEAR. HOW WILL THAT HELP YOU IN 2000? "Some of the things we've learned this year and what we expect is the competition will get more fierce next year. This is just our response for what we think special teams will, as they're coming, be ready for it in future years. We not only want to be consistent, this is a lifelong deal that we do and we certainly want to be good this year, but we're looking out for next year too."
YOU WANT TO MOVE AHEAD, RIGHT? "If you stay still you get run over. We don't want to pull over in the slow lane, we want to stay in this fast lane."
WHEN ARE YOU LOOKING AT MOVING THE 28 INTO THE RICKY RUDD'S CURRENT SHOP? "They're gonna have an auction like the very first couple of days in December and we're gonna have a little bit of construction work done. We want to be really getting on with the program by Christmas. We're really excited about that. We have a lot of effort and a lot of people going into that 28 team. We want to be racing that car for the championship next year."
IN ADDITION TO MICHAEL MCSWAIN AS CREW CHIEF, ARE THERE ANY OTHER GUYS YOU'RE HIRING FROM THE 10? "We've hired, I believe, six guys from the 10 team. We're keeping all of our 28 guys and we're also putting in a sheetmetal and body-building facility. That will consist of about four guys additionally to what we have between the two teams, so we're gonna be very well manned. We think we've got a lot to look forward to with the 28 for next year."
ARE YOU GOING TO SPEND A LOT AT THE AUCTION? "We don't have duplicates of everything, but as we grow you need more people and more equipment. We're gonna buy some things. We bought two or three racecars from Ricky and a few pieces of equipment. We'll have representatives at the auction. If it's a piece of used equipment, what's fair? What's a fair price? The auction will put the price on it, so that would be fair to Ricky. I don't want to go in there and try to buy everything and get it for 20 or 30 cents on the dollar. Sometimes at auctions the stuff will come and you'll get a good price for it. I'm looking at this as a little bit sad. Auctions can turn out and do pretty well, I hope it will, but it's pretty sad that all this investment is really not worth it, dollar for a dollar. It's just a reminder that you better not slow down and keep running hard because this is a performance business and if you don't perform, you're out of business and you're not gonna get your money back."
YOU WEAR YOUR PRIDE IN A HUMBLE MANNER. YOU DON'T SHOW MUCH EMOTION. HOW PROUD ARE YOU TO WIN THIS TITLE? "I got in this business because I enjoyed working on cars and performing. I think engine builders are always worrying. I think maybe I get this from my mom, she was a worrywart. It's just hard to get a big smile on your face because you just worry about everything all the time. I worry about every little thing happening, I want to get it done but I ought to be happy. I'm happy that we won the Brickyard this year. I try to think of things that are already guaranteed positives. I want to be focussed, I want to think about what I need to go do in a few minutes and decisions on how we're going to tune this engine."
YOU'RE NOT A FIST-PUMPING KIND OF GUY ARE YOU? "I get a good feeling inside. I don't know what happens outside."
HAS YOUR MIND STARTED LOOKING TOWARD NEXT YEAR? "We're always looking six months ahead. We're looking at cars, engines. We've been trying to lobby for some new things on engines. You have to think about next year, but I think the older you get you don't look quite as far ahead. I don't plan as far ahead, I started thinking about retirement which I never thought about until now. I think when you start realizing that the young guys are taking over, you have to start planning to take a further seat in the back."
HAS IT BEEN HARD FOR YOU TO TAKE A BACK SEAT? "I used to watch these old guys walk around the garage and I said I will never do that. I will not do that. When I get to where I can hardly walk around I'm leaving here. I'm gone. It's amazing when you thought 50-year-old people were old and when you're 50 that's young. Now I can look back and say I know why old guys still enjoy that and I can see why Dave Marcis still wants to drive. But when I was very young, it was like 'get it done and get out.' But it's hard to move over. It was hard for me to quit jumping over the wall and jacking the car. That was my exercise for the week. That was a thrill. It's amazing where you get that adrenaline from to do things like that. To just have to stand back and watch it, it's like I was having to explain to a couple of guys on the team that won't be able to do that next year on our team -- 'I had to do it. You're gonna have to do it. Your kids eventually will have to do it.' It's good. When we look at all these young engineers and all these people here working on these cars, I mean I remember when I was about the only one here who could read write. I was the dumbest in my family (laughing). This is a very educated group of guys. The sport is high-tech and I'm proud of it. If it wasn't so good, everybody wouldn't want to be here. It's the best racing in the world."
IS THIS SPORT ADDICTIVE? "When something tastes good or feels good or looks good, you get addicted to it. Winning and performing well is a good feeling. You want to win, so you work hard. You've got to be smart enough, but a lot of it is about having opportunity -- doing all the right things and juggling all the right balls. It's all about opportunity. There are a lot of people that work hard and don't have the opportunity. We're fortunate. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we're fortunate. We have a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful time in God's creation. More things have happened in the last 100 years than happened in thousands of years and we're right in the middle of it. We've seen so many things come along. I can't imagine it could ever multiply more than that. I mean, the late fifties and early sixties was the most fun time for the automobile than anybody will ever have and I was right in the middle of that. Now, I've gotten to work on them and race on the race track. It will never happen to any group of people ever. I'm sure there might be space ships and things in the next 100 years, but I think, at least from what I understand about the creation of this sport, I think I was created at the right time. It's a wonderful time."
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO REMEMBER YOU FOR WHEN YOU LEAVE THIS SPORT? "I would like to be remembered as a guy who was fair in every way -- who would race you hard and was very competitive. A guy who wanted to try to get all the marbles, but to know that I'd give some of them back to you. I want to give people opportunities on both sides of the fence, just be fair. A guy who had his name on a cylinder head, that's a pretty neat deal. I don't think I even deserve that, but the thing that I remember and what I watch to see is I see things that are done today that I can stand back and say, 'I came up with that idea.' Like gluing lugnuts. It's like, 'Man, nobody's come up with anything else yet.' I mean, I was the first one to bring a set of scales to the race track and it was like they looked at me like I was weird or something when I did that. So, it's fun. I would walk around and try to think about what I could contribute next. I worked on some different engines this year with the Panoz engines, and, boy, I was having a ball because it was just wide-open and I could do what I wanted to do. I love doing that. It's not about picking up a book and reading it like a service manual, which I enjoyed working on bulldozers with a service manual, but on race cars you get to create a lot of your own specifications and it's fine. It seems like my life has been a day whereas some people it just wears on and wears on. I don't want to get set in my ways. I don't want to go around and say this is the way it is, I want to be open-minded. I've had so many different jobs and worked with so many people and every single person I've learned something from and the older guys through the years I've learned the most from -- a lot of wisdom -- and it's fun. It's as much fun to give as it is to take. I think when I'm able to share with somebody something and guys, even if they're on other teams today come up and tell me things. This is a competitive world and competition means you're out to be better than the other guy, but then there's this sharing. We trade well. It's not all about just kicking the other guy's butt, it's about sometimes sharing things and working with them. It's the hope that really keeps everybody's eyes looking ahead and we've had that hope for a championship now since 1992 and, I think, if we get it, we can truly say we've earned it and worked hard for it."