This Week in Ford Racing October 29, 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, is a six-year veteran of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but as the 2002 season draws to a close, the Mobile, Ala., native finds...
This Week in Ford Racing
October 29, 2002
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, is a six-year veteran of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, but as the 2002 season draws to a close, the Mobile, Ala., native finds himself in uncharted territory. Crawford currently occupies the second position in the point standings, 85 points behind leader Mike Bliss, with three races remaining in the season. Interestingly, Crawford has managed to stay in the hunt for the championship this season without making a trip to victory lane in the season's first 19 races. If Crawford remains winless yet manages to clinch the championship, it would mark the first time in any of NASCAR's three main divisions that a driver has won the championship without claiming a race win in the same season.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford F-150
YOU ARE IN A POINTS RACE WITH THREE RACES TO GO IN THE SEASON, UNCHARTED TERRITORY FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM. "Very much so. I'm proud of the Circle Bar Motel & RV Park race team. I'm proud of the total package coming together with Ernie Elliott engines being under the hood, Ray Stonkus (crew chief) being on top of his game and the whole Circle Bar crew, even on pit road, being better than par. All of it has come together and we just need to bring it home."
THERE HASN'T BEEN A LOT OF CHANGES TO YOUR TEAM FROM LAST SEASON TO THE CURRENT YEAR. WHAT HAS ALLOWED YOU TO MAKE THE JUMP FROM A TOP-10 TEAM TO A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER? "If you pay attention, you learn things and that's what we've done from last year to this year. We studied on changes we needed to make in the off-season, we made them and it took a quarter of the season this year to get them all in place. Once we got them all in place, you can make a championship team out of what we've had and that's what we've done."
YOU RUN THE SAME ENGINE PACKAGE AS FELLOW FORD COMPETITOR TERRY COOK, WHO HAS HAD A FEW ENGINE FAILURES RECENTLY. WAS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT YOU MIGHT SUFFER THE SAME FATE? "Well, I hope it doesn't, but the engine can be affected by other components as well, like the gearing you put in the truck. When I see a team have an engine problem, I just hope it doesn't affect me, and that's about all I can do. I have all of the confidence in Ernie Elliott engines and so does Tom Mitchell, as far as our race team is concerned. He's had the reputation in the past of building bullet-proof Ford motors, and so far I've had one under my hood in every race."
YOU HAVE MANAGED TO STAY IN THE POINTS RACE, YET YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TO VICTORY LANE SO FAR THIS SEASON. ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO STAY IN THE HUNT EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVEN'T WON? "It doesn't surprise me because I really don't look at that. I go to each race, no matter where it is, to win. If it's not meant to be to won, then we bring it home with as good of a day as we can have. That's what I look at. I'm going to the races and I'm trying to win. I wouldn't even put on the helmet if I weren't going to try to win, but for some unforeseen circumstance or just the way the races played out, we haven't gotten a win this year. That's why they call it racing. These races are hard to get. The Craftsman Truck Series is a tough series to be in, but that doesn't mean you can't accumulate points and that doesn't mean you can't capitalize on someone else having a bad day. They've capitalized on me having a bad day. We're in the hunt, but we're also trying to win races."
WITH 36 COMPETITORS IN EACH TRUCK RACE, COMPARED TO 43 IN WINSTON CUP AND BUSCH, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO OVERCOME AN 85-POINT DEFICIT IN THREE RACES? "When we had it down to 55 points, I think at one point we were 40 behind here lately, and then it got to 55, you could just about force him to do something then, but he's got you playing his game now. He's dictating now what you have to do. He's got you playing all offense, so now we're looking at sending a little tip to Circle Bar Motel & RV Park so that when the IWX hauler comes into the truck stop to have a meal, you hold him up a little bit and maybe he won't show up to California. We've got to run strong, not change anything that we've done, take the best we've got each race and just let the chips fall. If we win, if we run in the top five, we're doing all we can do. But believe me, I'd love to be a champion, I'd love to win another race, I'd like to win the last three races, and I really want to be the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion."
YOUR LAST WIN IN THE TRUCK SERIES CAME AT HOMESTEAD IN 1998. IF THE CHAMPIONSHIP COMES DOWN TO THE FINALE IN MIAMI, HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU RACING AT THE 1.5-MILE TRACK? "It's been four or five years since I've won that race and last year at the beginning of the season, it almost looked like that surfboard that we were riding that wave with had washed ashore. But, a breath of fresh air has come with the total package that we have and I think that we've caught that wave again. It's just a matter of having that perfect race to win. These tracks coming up, California, we ran second there, and at Phoenix we ran third last year, and Homestead where we've won before suits me just fine. Hopefully, Ray Stonkus has a great setup under the truck and we can mash it and bring home a win."
THIS WEEKEND'S RACE IN CALIFORNIA IS THE LAST STANDALONE TRUCK EVENT OF THE SEASON. WHEN THE SERIES TRAVELS TO PHOENIX AND MIAMI, THERE WILL PROBABLY BE A FEW WINSTON CUP AND BUSCH COMPETITORS ENTERED IN THE TRUCK EVENT. HOW WILL THAT IMPACT THE FINAL TWO RACES? "I think the races are harder to run, but if you look at the stats from Richmond until our last pit stop, some of us pitted and the outcome all revolved around that. Up until then, it was me, Harvick and Leffler running at the top of the pole all day long, and there at the end we finished fourth in the race with a couple of Cup guys ahead of us. It all makes for an exciting race and that's what Craftsman Truck Series racing is all about. They're good racers and I believe we are, too. I don't think there's a driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series that doesn't deserve to be here because they've proven themselves at some proving ground or short track atmosphere before they ever got here and that's what makes the truck series so good and exciting for the fans."
CAN THEY AFFECT THE POINTS RACE AS WELL? "They can put themselves in between you, and I hope they will. Or, they can put themselves ahead of you because they are usually bringing equipment that is only run at selected races a year, so it's fresh and they've got all the knowledge handed down from the Cup side for their setups, so they're going to make it tough on you. I just hope they're in between us."
YOU'VE STAYED IN THE POINTS RACE WITH CONSISTENCY AND THAT'S REWARDED BY THE NASCAR POINTS SYSTEM. IS YOUR OPINION, IS IT A FAIR POINTS SYSTEM? "I believe our team has done a lot this year this to accumulate points and to be second in the points, and one of those being, we've led a lot of races, we've led the most laps at some places and that's off of racing hard and that's what the championship is all about. Yeah, there's a little extra points spread from winning to second but not much. But, I believe it's fair. That's what we're racing for. We know exactly what we're racing for each week and it gives a guy a chance if he's having a bad day to finish 10th and not fall out of the points race, and next week he can come back and win and be back in it."
THE 2003 TRUCK SERIES SCHEDULE HAS YET TO BE RELEASED, BUT MANY OF THE RACE DATES HAVE BEEN ANNOUNCED. ARE THERE ANY OMISSIONS IN YOUR MIND? "I see a couple of new venues coming and a couple of other tracks that we used to race at coming back on the schedule, but I'm not really focused on next year's schedule yet. We've got three races to go, we've got a championship at hand, and that's what we're trying to win. If you ask me after Homestead, the answer will probably be different. I'm excited about it, sure, I'm excited about running at Charlotte, especially the same weekend as The Winston, in front of a great crowd there and putting on a great truck race, but right now I'm focused on the last three races and we have a championship."