Daytona: Ted Musgrave preview

Ted Musgrave's Motto for 2004: Win First, Title Later DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 10, 2004) -- Ted Musgrave, driver of the No. 1 Mopar Dodge Ram, will be the first to tell you that last year is over, and the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series...

Ted Musgrave's Motto for 2004: Win First, Title Later

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 10, 2004) -- Ted Musgrave, driver of the No. 1 Mopar Dodge Ram, will be the first to tell you that last year is over, and the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is about to begin anew. Finally.

Musgrave entered the 2003 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway second in the standings but was issued a controversial black flag on a late-race restart. The infraction relegated him to a 13th place finish and a third-place finish in the points standings. He missed his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title by just 18 points.

The Ultra Motorsports veteran admits his yearly finish in the top-three of the NCTS standings keeps him wanting a little bit more out of next season, but that there's more to racing than just counting championship points.

"I didn't win the championship in my first year either," Musgrave said. "I finished second in points in 2001, but I won the most races. I was able to dominate the series more or less without winning the championship and that didn't hurt so bad because we knew that nobody else made as many trips to victory lane as we did.

"I felt like 2001 was a really good year for the Mopar team. I'd say last year was a decent year -- let's put it that way. Hopefully we can come alive in 2004 and have another really good year, whether that means to win the most races or to win a title I don't know yet. I'm approaching it like this: right now all we're going to do is go out and try to win the most races and let the championship fall where it may.

"Travis Kvapil had a great year last year, but he only won one race. I'd feel bad if I won a championship and never won a race. I'd feel ashamed. Hopefully that doesn't happen to me this year. But for me, I'd rather win the most races, lead the most laps and all of that stuff even if you don't win the championship. I'd rather go out there and win the manufacturer's title, win a bunch of poles and things like that, and if I don't win the championship, big deal. Don't get me wrong, I want to win a championship for the team, for Mopar and Dodge, but to me I'd rather just go out and kick your ass on a weekly basis and go from there."

Musgrave won three races and four poles in 2003. The 48-year-old native of Franklin, Wis., has 74 career starts in the Craftsman Truck Series and 13 victories (17.5 percent). He has nine career poles and won the 2003 Bud Pole Award with four poles. In three full seasons in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competition, Musgrave has finished second, third and third in the final standings.

That success notwithstanding, Musgrave and the No. 1 Mopar Dodge team face a 2004 season full of change. From new team members to new a competing manufacturer, Musgrave said those factors can't deter Ultra Motorsports from striving for improvement.

"I'll tell you what, Shawn Parker (crew chief, No. 1 Mopar Dodge Ram) and his background and everybody else he's surrounded himself with has had very good talent. Dennis Connor (General Manager, Crew Chief of the No. 2 Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge Ram) has made a big impact on this team already, too. He went out, evaluated everybody and said, 'Okay guys, here's where we stand, and we're going to be better,' and then he got everybody better. I think between Shawn and Dennis working together -- and they're working really hard together -- it's going to be a good year. You've got to have confidence in everyone around you, and I really have that in these guys. Shawn has been in the Cup Series for a long time, he's worked with guys like Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett. Now coming into the Truck Series he's just got a little adjustment to make to the conditions of truck racing and he'll be fine.

"We're better than we were last year. You've got to get better in the off-season because everyone else is striving to catch up too. We've made our Dodge Ram better under the umbrella of things that we're permitted to work on. Everybody knows that most of my team has left to other teams, so all of my notes from the last few years and every little thing I've done in the past are out in the open now. So, the team now that they've gone to is going to be a lot better team than they were last year. There's going to be a lot of that happening. We're going to have to come up and be better to combat that.

"Based upon how we tested in the off-season, and sizing that up comparable to every team, we're pretty darn good right now. Let's put it that way. Team-wise, the group of guys we've got between the No. 2 Dodge and the No. 1 is altogether different this year than the last three years I've been here. They're really working hard and working together. We've achieved getting both teams to run the same, and they're both running right up front. I think, between the management changes and the personnel changes and everything involved, it's going to be a better year than we've had in a long time.

"If the new manufacturer gets some rules changes to help them this year, it's not going to surprise me. I don't want to see it, naturally, because it's a learning process. They're working hard -- don't get me wrong -- but you can't just come into this series and expect to win the first race. You've got to earn it. They've done well, very well, and they're only going to get better. So, if you come in and get a concession as the new kid on the block that's not really right. Why put them into a position where other manufacturers have struggled for years and gotten to this point, and then all of a sudden you hand over to somebody else? I don't care if it's a manufacturer or driver or team that gets it.

"In my first year with Ultra Motorsports we took the same Dodge Ram that won a handful of races in previous years, and we won seven of them in 24 starts. We had the same truck, the same rules and everything, and then they said, 'Oh my God, we've got to change the rules.' Well, that was my reason for coming here. I'm going to try to win every race. I picked a manufacturer, team, and everything that it took to win in this series, and then we had the rug pulled out from under us. So, here we are now, and I don't want to see that happen again."

Musgrave also said that although he's glad to come back to a racetrack that he's had success on, that Daytona Int'l Speedway is never a racetrack to guarantee victory at.

"We've had good years at Daytona and bad years here too. We've always had good Dodge Rams out here to run with, but that doesn't always win you the races. A lot of times at Daytona -- and it's only at Daytona -- you really don't know how the race is going to play out because it's always a chance deal. It's up to the draft, and who's going to push you and being in the right place at the right time. It's not like the guy with the best truck is going to go out there and win the race. We've done that and other people have done that where you practice well, qualify up front and you're pretty much favored to win unless you screw up. Here at Daytona you really don't know who's going to win. Everybody's got a shot at it.

"I feel good being here right now. I've had good, fast trucks in the past few races here, and you always feel confident coming back to a track that you know you can run well on. You're always optimistic because you don't really know what's going to happen during the race. Out at California where I've won every time I've raced there I feel great, but I never know what's going to happen on race day. Luck always comes into play too. We could have a good, fast truck out there and still get a flat tire or have something stupid happen on race day. I really, really want to win one more time at California to tie Brendan Gaughan for the most consecutive victories at a track (with four victories). But you've got to remember that we race twice at Texas, so he could do twice as much each year and I've got to wait for four darn years to get the chance to do it at California. But that would be a feat to accomplish. "

Entering his fourth full season in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Dodge Ram, Musgrave has already seen the series develop in many ways, but his focus is still the same each week.

"The competition in the NCTS has really changed a lot. My first year here I really wasn't sure exactly what was going on. My first race in 2001 I was kind of like, 'Okay, here I am. I'm going to go to win.' In the second year at Daytona we had a red flag with a few laps to go. During the red flag all of the Dodge spotters all got together and had time to make a plan for that 1-2-3-4 Dodge finish to happen. We all made the effort to help each other out.

"Now as the competition continues to get better we get more trucks, more drivers, more manufacturers, more TV time, a lot more pressure comes with that. So, I wouldn't say we're getting more selfish or anything, but I think everybody in the garage wants to be on the podium each and every week. We're not here to make friends. I think you'll see a little bit more aggressive driving. We have more aggressive drivers coming in, so we have to step it up a notch too. You just have to fight harder now. I don't think you're going to see anybody go out and dominate races like we have in the past.

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Rusty Wallace , Ted Musgrave , Shawn Parker , Brendan Gaughan , Travis Kvapil