Today marked the first day of a three-day test session for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for next month's Daytona 250 season-opener. Ford Racing's veteran duo of Terry Cook and Rick Crawford,...
Today marked the first day of a three-day test session for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for next month's Daytona 250 season-opener. Ford Racing's veteran duo of Terry Cook and Rick Crawford, both who drive for single-truck operations, shared their thoughts on the upcoming season and the importance of pre-season testing.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford F-150 - COMPARED TO PAST YEARS, IT APPEARS THAT THERE HAVE BEEN MORE DRIVER AND CREW CHIEF CHANGES ENTERING THIS SEASON. IS THE TURNOVER RATE IN THE TRUCK SERIES STARTING TO REACH THAT OF NEXTEL CUP? "I remember back two years ago, we came here to test and there were 18 trucks testing at Daytona. Now, I think there are 35 or 40. Look at the quality of teams and the quality of people that surrounds each team, and if you want to win a championship in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, that's what you have to do and we're very serious about our chances this year. The slate is clean for everybody and we're trying to build a good team behind myself and Kevin "Cowboy" Starland (crew chief) for Tom Mitchell (owner)."
YOU EXPERIENCED YOUR FAIR SHARE OF MISFORTUNE LAST YEAR, FROM FLIPPING END-OVER-END IN THE SEASON-OPENER TO SEEING YOUR CONSECUTIVE RACE STREAK END AT KENTUCKY. WAS 2005 A YEAR THAT YOU LOOKED FORWARD TO THE OFF-SEASON BREAK? "The season didn't really get started on the right note, and we tried to rebound with the pole and a new track record at Atlanta, and we led the most laps, but we just couldn't close the door on that one and tore that truck up. Then we got to Kentucky midway through the season and tore that one up, and we spent the rest of the season trying to bounce back from that. We messed up three really nice trucks last year and sorta played hurt. Nobody really knew it, but we played hurt all year and morale wasn't there throughout the team, and I was just glad to put a period on 2005. We tried to end on a good note with a brand new truck and that just didn't work either. A lot of things didn't work, but if you go back and look at the accomplishments in 2005, you'll see the makings of what should have been a successful year. We had two poles and two new track records, the most in one season that I've ever had. We got a win at New Hampshire in one of the most exciting truck races of the year. We led some laps and ran up front some, and we tried to understand the Ford F-150. This year over the winter, us along with Roush-Yates and Ford Motor Co., we made some changes to aero package and made some changes under the hood and we're looking for the bright side to come to Daytona and run good. We're testing here and we came out of the box pretty good. On the bright side, that's a little bit different than normal for us, and I actually told one of the guys in the shop this week that I'm actually looking forward to go testing Daytona. He said, 'Do what?' because I'm one of the drivers that really doesn't like to test. I like to go fast and I like the competition, but it's a not like that here when we test. It one of those things where we see if this works, and if not, we try this. Sometimes you learn what not to do. But, I was actually looking forward to this test because I want to turn this team around and I know Cowboy does as well. It's been a lot of hard work in the off-season and it looks like it's paying off."
WITH NASCAR'S NEW TESTING RULES AND THE FACT THAT THE TRUCK SERIES WILL RACE AT TALLADEGA SUPERPSPEEDWAY THIS SEASON FOR THE FIRST TIME, IS THERE ADDED IMPORTANCE IN THIS YEAR'S PRE-SEASON TEST AT DAYTONA? "There's not much testing this year, and you sort of feel sorry for the rookie class not to be able to go to some tracks and test, especially with the tire leasing program that they have. Luckily we've saved a few sets of tires through last year and we can go run some laps at some different tracks. But, that's basically just to run the truck in and we're probably not really learning anything, and you just have to go back on some good notes from last year and put some good equipment under you."
SOME OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TRUCK SERIES MOMENTS HAVE OCCURRED AT DAYTONA, FROM A THREE-WIDE VICTORY IN 2003 TO AN END-OVER-END BACK FLIP IN LAST YEAR'S RACE. "And then cranking it back up and going ahead with it. That's built Ford tough, but you really don't like to start the season out like that. Here we come to Daytona, ready to go this year, and this could be the year we're going for three wins, but we're still looking for the second one. It's out there and it's within reach and that's our focus for the next month."
ARE THE TRUCKS MORE STABLE THIS YEAR SO THAT THERE WON'T BE A REPEAT OF LAST YEAR'S INCIDENTS WITH TRUCKS GETTING AIRBORNE? "You hate to put yourself into the folklore of sport, but any time NASCAR makes a rule change because of a driver caused it, I guess I caused the side skirts to try to keep the truck from getting up in the air once they get sideways. The trucks are pretty stable now, and NASCAR has done a good job with the spacers and trying to keep the speeds regulated, and they've done a good job with the bodies of the trucks. It's going to be great competition this year with a good mix of rookies and wily veterans."
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU ARE TAKING IT UPON YOURSELF TO REBUILD THE CIRCLE BAR TEAM FOR 2006. DISCUSS YOUR ROLE WITH THE TEAM, AND DOES THAT PUT ADDED PRESSURE ON YOU AS A DRIVER? "I eat pressure for breakfast, but I've sort of let Cowboy make a lot of the personnel calls in the shop to try to put people together. We try to talk about it and try to have a plan, and so far the plan has been working. We've offered a couple of more guys employment, and hopefully that will come through. I oversee everything. I oversee the people, the mechanics of the truck, the setup and I just go by and look and watch, and I've just been doing it so long that I sort of like it done my way. That's not bad because I know my guys are more than capable and my crew chief is more than capable, or else these guys wouldn't be working for me. We've got a lot to accomplish this year and it starts with a good finish at Daytona in February."
TERRY COOK-10-Ford Power Stroke Diesel by Int'l F-150 - NUMEROUS OFF-SEASON CHANGES CAN BEEN WITNESSED THROUGHOUT THE GARAGE. DO YOU RECALL ANY OTHER YEAR WHERE SO MANY TEAMS MADE CHANGES? "There have been a lot of changes from drivers to crew members. NASCAR has asked me this year to conduct the rookie meetings for all of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races, and this morning we had a rookie meeting and there were faces in there that I had never seen before. A lot of names that I've heard of before, but I'd never seen them in person. This is, as far as I'm concerned heading into Daytona, the biggest rookie crop we have ever seen in the truck series, and I think that's a lot of the reason why we see names up there that we're not used to seeing. It's a great, diverse mix with some veterans and some young guys. So far this is typical Daytona testing, the times are all over the board and just because you come down here and put up a fast lap, it doesn't mean that you're going to race well. It's just a matter of finding the right balance between speed and drivability."
WITH NASCAR'S NEW TESTING RULES AND THE FACT THAT THE TRUCK SERIES WILL RACE AT TALLADEGA SUPERPSPEEDWAY THIS SEASON FOR THE FIRST TIME, IS THERE ADDED IMPORTANCE IN THIS YEAR'S PRE-SEASON TEST AT DAYTONA? "I think there is. I think it makes it more important than it ever has because we always came here with the mindset that we're going to try X, Y and Z, and then we'll load up and go test at Talladega and try out the rest of it. In years past, we've tested Talladega as much as three times and Daytona once. In essence, that's four tests before we even came here to race in the season-opener. This year, we're testing Daytona once without the ability to even go to Talladega, so it a big change for sure."
YOU ARE TEAMED WITH VETERAN CREW CHIEF DENNIS CONNOR THIS SEASON. WILL DOES HE BRING TO THIS TEAM THAT IT WAS LACKING? "I think the veteran leadership with Dennis Connor, his track record speaks for itself. He's won three championships, he's won a ton of races and a ton of poles, and to bring somebody in like that, who can look at the shortcomings of the past three years and improve upon that, that's what we needed and I think Dennis will bring that to the team. We can all feed off of that and learn. It might be a little bit of a learning curve to get me and Dennis and the team all up to speed and working together as one, but the whole idea is to come here to a track like Daytona with a three-day test and take advantage of that shorten that curve up as quickly as we can."
AS THE TRUCK SERIES HAS DEVELOPED, HAVE YOU FOUND THAT A TEAM ENGINEER IS A NECESSARY COMMODITY NOWADAYS? "Last year, we didn't really have an engineer in place. We had an intern engineer for a while and never really filled that true engineering void that we had all season long, and this year before the season started, not only do we have a veteran crew chief, but we hired a great engineer in Jeff Kirkendall to help Dennis Connor. Having somebody that had also been in the Ford camp for a full season prior to coming here, Jeff can only help Dennis that much more with the things that he needs to know from the engineering side, so we're pretty excited about that."
YOUR BOTHER-IN-LAW IS SERIES ROOKIE BOBBY EAST. ALTHOUGH BOBBY WON'T BE ALLOWED TO COMPETE IN NEXT MONTH'S SEASON-OPENER, HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU WILL BE ABLE TO HELP HIM WITH HIS DEVELOPMENT? "There's no doubt about it, I told him from the first truck race that he attempted to make at IRP, right on down the line, that any time he needs anything he knows where to come. I'm not going to hound him and push him to come and ask for information, and I'm not going to hound him to give him information, buy any time he wants it, he knows where to come to get information. I haven't won any championships and haven't won a ton of races, but I have run a lot of races, and with that kind of experience I feel like there's definitely something I can offer to him. He's definitely taken advantage of it, and I think Atlanta will be his first raced this year, and he's already been asking things about Atlanta because he's never even been there, and with this new testing procedure, it's going to be that much more crucial for him to unload and be fast right off of the trailer. I'm going to help him all I can, and it's more up to him to come to me because I'm not going to push him because sometimes you can overload somebody with too much information, so at his own pace as he needs it, I'm here to help."
WITH PPC RACING BEING A ONE-TRUCK OPERATION, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU RELATIONSHIP WITH BOBBY WILL HELP YOU BRIDGE THE INFORMATION GAP OF A TWO-TRUCK TEAM? "It's definitely possible as we go along. We have an open-door policy here at ppc Racing that any team in the Ford camp that's wanting and willing to share information with us, we will do the same. That pretty much goes for anybody in the Ford camp; they all feel the same way. We're going to work together with as many teams as we can, whether it's the Wood Brothers/JTG Racing or Circle Bar or Roush. Bobby being over there, I'm sure we'll talk more than we ever have before, but I don't think specifically because of him that we'll share more information with that team."
IS THERE NOW A PREMIUM ON VETERAN EXPERIENCE WITH THE NEW TESTING POLICIES? "I think it puts a premium on experience, but it's a mix between team and driver. If you have rookie drivers in veteran teams, like the two Roush trucks, they know how to prepare race vehicles and they know how to win, and if you establish something like that those two guys should be OK. If you have an entry-level team with an entry-level driver, now you're looking for an opportunity to struggle, but I think if you can somehow mix a veteran driver with a new team or a veteran team with a young driver, I think if you get the chemistry right then it will work."
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR THE 2006 SEASON? "We haven't exactly sat down and specifically said what our goals are, but we've verbally talked to the point where you bring in a veteran leader like Dennis and what we feel the resources of Ford Racing Technology and ppc Racing has to offer, and there's no reason this team cannot be a contender. What I mean by contender is being able to run inside the top 10 week in and week out, and when you do that you'll start running in the top five, and that leads to winning races. We have been successful the last two seasons in having some runs close enough to win. We haven't been able to close the deal, but then within two weeks from there we're back running outside the top 15 and struggling to get inside of there. The thing about it right now is to get the consistency back so week in and week out we can run inside the top 10, and I think everything else will take care of itself once you establish that."