This Week in Ford Racing
June 11, 2002
NASCAR Craftsman Truck
Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, is the iron man of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, set to make his 134th consecutive start this weekend at Memphis Motorsports Park, the longest streak of any active truck series driver. The Mobile, Ala., native recently won his first career truck series pole at Dover International Speedway in his 132nd attempt, and now he has turned his attention to erasing another streak -- 105 starts without a win. Crawford's sole truck series win came at Homestead-Miami Speedway in April of 1998, but in 2002, he has not finished outside of the top six since the season-opening event at Daytona. Now sitting in second place in the point standings and fresh off a pair of top-five finishes, Crawford is anxious to get the unsponsored Ford back in victory lane.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford F-150
YOU HAD A BREAKOUT SEASON IN 2001, FINISHING THE YEAR IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN YOUR FIVE-YEAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES CAREER. NOW, YOU CURRENTLY STAND SECOND IN THE POINT STANDINGS. IS THIS MORE OF A BREAKTHROUGH SEASON COMPARED TO LAST YEAR? "Well, it is. Tom Mitchell has assembled a great team here and even though we're without a sponsor, a lot of good things are happening, and I'm just proud to be part of it. I'm really proud of being able to say that I've been with this organization this long to share some success with Mr. Mitchell."
COMPARED TO THE OTHER TWO MAJOR DIVISIONS IN NASCAR RACING, THE TRUCK SERIES SEEMS TO HAVE LESS STABILITY IN THE POINTS STANDINGS, WITH FOUR LEADERS IN THE FIRST SEVEN RACES. "We haven't run enough races yet to create the stability in the point standings. Plus, the competition is real close. One bad race will knock you down in the points real quick, but as we get to 10 or 12 races into the year, you'll have a little bit of a gap there. They'll weed themselves out. You'll have the ones that are finishing worse in recent weeks, they won't be there in the points. Points are hard to make up. They're easy to get when you're running consistent, but if you have a bad race, they're hard to make up."
YOU'VE MADE SOME LATE-RACE CHARGES TO THE FRONT THIS SEASON, BUT THAT SECOND CAREER TRUCK SERIES VICTORY HAS BEEN ELUSIVE. HOW FAR AWAY IS THIS TEAM FROM GETTING BACK INTO VICTORY LANE? "I learned a long time ago that first you have to finish in order to finish first. I realize that the races are 200 to 250 laps and you charge at the end. We led some laps at Dover in the beginning. We led some laps at Texas, 30 or 40 laps into the race, so we know that we're running good. I'll whip the horse if we want to go out front, but I'm ready to win a race. I want to put myself in position to win. I thought we were in Texas and I thought we were in Dover, but a couple of other trucks had better steam than we did at the end. Ray Stonkus as a crew chief and the Ernie Elliott engines under the hood; both are doing a good job for us. And the teamwork is superb. The pit crew on pit road is doing a good job, it's just that there's not been a perfect race from the green flag to the checkered flag and that's the reason we're not in victory lane. As soon as it is that perfect race, it will fall into place and we'll be in victory lane."
YOU SEEM TO LIKE THE ROLE OF THE HUNTER RATHER THAN THE HUNTED. ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE CHASING THE LEADER AT THE END OF THE RACE RATHER THAN BEING THE LEADER? "Naturally, you want to be out front if you're a racer, but you want to be comfortable out front. I don't necessarily want to lap the field. If I'm comfortably leading, fine, but if somebody is pressuring me to take that lead or you think that somebody might knock you out to take the lead, he can have it. We're going to be there at the end with a nice, straight truck and one that is capable of winning. I'm getting more and more frustrated that we haven't won and that's why I'm so eager to win. I hope it's right around the corner."
THERE IS A LOT OF TALK ABOUT AN AERO-PUSH IN WINSTON CUP CARS AND THE BUSCH SERIES CARS. IS THAT A PROBLEM WITH THE TRUCKS AS WELL? "Sure it is. The laps that we led at Texas were some of the fastest on the sheet because we were out by ourselves. As soon as we got in traffic, even by Brendan Gaughan, if I could have completed that pass going into three, I look at that being the turning point of the race. But we didn't and we were caught in traffic and we ended up fourth. It was just like me and Ted Musgrave racing, if he was ahead of me, I couldn't pass him, but I was ahead him for the last 20 laps of the race and he couldn't pass me. It's not because of the strength of the truck. You can't feel the front wheels off the corner, so there's that dreaded push that you have. What it is, the truck that is the rear, it wants to follow the one in front. It wants to use the same part of the race track that you're in."
AFTER STARTING THE SEASON WITH A 24TH-PLACE PERFORMANCE AT DAYTONA, YOU HAVEN'T FINISHED OUTSIDE OF THE TOP SIX IN THE LAST SIX RACES. HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE HAS THAT BUILT FOR YOUR TEAM? "It's built a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum. Tom Mitchell with Circle Bar Motel & RV Park out in Ozona, Texas, has really provided us with the total package. We've got Ernie Elliott engines under the hood, my crew chief, Ray Stonkus, is the best in the business, and the Ford F-150 pickups that the guys are building in the shop are on time right this minute and it's just a matter of where and not particularly when before we pick up our first win of the season."
YOU HAVE A UNIQUE SITUATION AS A DRIVER IN THE SERIES WHERE YOU ALSO OVERSEE THE DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS IN THE SHOP. IS IT A DISTRACTION AS DRIVER TO HANDLE BOTH JOBS WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING FOR SPONSORSHIP AFTER THE SEASON HAS STARTED? "It hasn't been a distraction at all. It's been a daily routine for the last 22 years for me to watch what's going on with a race team. From having my own race team to partnering up with Mr. Mitchell for the last 11 years, this is his way of running the race team, and I guess between me and him, we wouldn't have it any other way. I've been used to it, I've done it on my own and now I'm doing it for him. It's a daily routine to watch over the business, sponsor or not, but our main concern is that we get paid to win and run good. To put a team together like that with everything you need, like I said the total package, is rewarding when you know you oversee everything, too. I know a lot of drivers don't do that and a lot of team managers don't drive. I seem to do a lot in the mix, but I know what's going on. I know what's happening in the shop and I know what the crew chief is thinking; I think that has a lot to do with it. We go to lunch nearly every day of the week and we know what each other is thinking and I think that has a lot to do with our performance, that we think a lot alike and we can put our best foot forward all the time."
THERE ARE A FEW OF TEAMS SITTING IN THE TOP-FIVE IN POINTS LOOKING FOR PRIMARY SPONSORSHIP FOR THIS SEASON. IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE COMPETITIVE IN THE TRUCK SERIES WITHOUT CORPORATE FUNDING? "I really wish we had a sponsor. I wish we were representing the big corporate image. My team has done a great job in the past for Milwaukee Electric Tool, and we still have a great relationship with them today. We were sponsored by them for two years and they decided not to rejoin us for this coming year, and we still talk and have that relationship going, but our team has something to sell. We have something to represent - a good corporate image - and we're still going to be here tomorrow. We'll be here till the end of the year and then some. We're pretty excited about some prospects, but Tom Mitchell is going to keep this team racing, and hopefully with results that we have and our sales force here, we can find a sponsor pretty quick to represent. Once you have that, I think you have that full team going and that adds a lot to a race team. You want to not only have that American flag flying down the side of the truck, but when you have that corporate image and you're representing a corporation, trying to sell a product, that's satisfying, too."
IS THE TEAM FEELING ANY SORT OF FINANCIAL PINCH DUE TO THE LACK OF CORPORATE FUNDING? "We're business as usual, but there are small things. You get everything you need, but there are things that you want that you have to tighten your belt up on. Nobody has been laid off, and we're business as usual, but we're watching things pretty close to be racing longer. We're surely not skimping on performance."
THIS WEEKEND MARKS YOUR 134TH START IN THE SERIES. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS ONE OF THE VETERANS NOW? "When you talk about being a veteran in a series, people start mentioning your age, and I still act like a young man. I guess you could call me a veteran; I've been in the series, except for the first two years it started. I really enjoy the Craftsman Truck Series, and it's a nice place to be at this point in my career. I look forward to doing other things, but right now, I'm happy to be in this series and I'm really focused on the big picture later on."
YOU'VE HINTED IN THE PAST ABOUT A POSSIBLE JUMP TO WINSTON CUP WITH THIS TEAM. IS THAT IN THE NEAR FUTURE? "Being owned by Tom Mitchell, he's the boss and he owns the team. He dictates what we do, and he's like E.F. Hutton - when he talks, people listen, especially me. I have the utmost respect for him of anybody in the world and if he wants to go Winston Cup racing, I sure hope he chooses me as his driver. I surely want to try some Winston Cup shows here in the near future, but when he says I give you all I've got to run the truck, that's what my mind is set on. Sure, I'd be a fool to say that I don't ever want to run Winston Cup because I've been told to run the truck series, but I am focused on running the trucks. Our business is designed on trucks, but I think that everybody in the shop realizes that one day Rick Crawford wants to run Winston Cup and I sure hope it's with Tom Mitchell."