DAYTONA BEACH, FL (February 9, 2001) - The record shows Mike Wallace won the inaugural Florida 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, but according to pre-season garage area scuttlebutt, Terry Cook is the real defending champion of the ...
DAYTONA BEACH, FL (February 9, 2001) - The record shows Mike Wallace won the inaugural Florida 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event, but according to pre-season garage area scuttlebutt, Terry Cook is the real defending champion of the race.
"I didn't think about it until some people came up to me at the Daytona test and insisted I was the defending champion of the race," grinned Cook, who finished a strong fourth in last year's event and will pilot the No. 29 K-Automotive Ford in this year's race Friday, February 16. "I had to stop and think about that a little. I know Mike Wallace won the race, Andy Houston finished second and Kurt Bush third. All of those guys have moved on to Winston Cup this season, so I am the highest returning finisher from last year's race. I don't think that exactly makes me the defending race winner at Daytona, but it does give me some braggin' rights heading into the event."
Cook wasn't doing much bragging last year after a mechanical problem in qualifying forced the Sylvania, OH native to take a provisional and start 32nd.
"It was probably more disappointing for the team than it was for me," said Cook of the qualifying faux paux. "Daytona is all about teamwork, all about the vehicle. The vehicle is everything, 98 percent of the equation. The engine, aerodynamic and handling packages are what it's all about when you qualify at Daytona. The driver is only two percent. When we burned up the rear end on our qualifying lap last year, the guys were really down. I wasn't because I knew we had a really good truck."
Qualifying and the rest of the field were soon in Cook's rearview mirror as he rocketed to the front taking the lead by Lap 20.
"The race at Daytona last year was the most mentally draining I have ever been in," said Cook. "We started so far back and shot right to the front. Then we just barely missed the big wreck and I got a little front-end damage. We needed to make a patch and NASCAR wouldn't let anyone work on the trucks during the red flag. I actually laid down on the track and measured the damaged area against the leg of my driver's uniform and the guys made a patch to fit from that. The rest of the race, we were just fighting to stay in the draft and make it back to the front when we got shuffled out. To be there fighting for the win at the finish was one of the greatest moments of my career, but I was just mentally spent when it was all over."
An off-season change of scenery has Cook convinced his chances of victory in the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 are even better than in last year's race. Cook joined K-Automotive for the final race of the 2000 NCTS season finishing a strong seventh in the Motorola 200 at California Speedway. Since then, the K-Automotive team has switched to Ford hardware supported by a solid manufacturer's assistance program. The results were immediately evident in the January Daytona pre-season test..
"We had a good, solid test at Daytona," stated Cook. "Our K-Automotive Ford ran pretty well, easily hovering in the Top-10 all weekend. We went to the wind tunnel after the test and we think we found some ways to improve on our drag numbers that are only going to make us a lot better when we come back for the race."
The Florida Dodge Dealers 250 will be telecast live ESPN Friday, February 16. When the race takes the green flag at 11 a.m. (Eastern Time), Cook will be ready to go.
"Since I was a little kid, I've always looked forward to the first race of the year at Daytona," Cook stated. "I was really excited about racing at Daytona for the first time last year and this year I can't wait to get the K-Automotive Ford out there. Bob, Ron and Kay Kesleowski are hard core racers, some of the best ever in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. We've got great trucks, great preparation and a great team to back it up. If I can do what I did last year from the driver's seat, there's no reason why we can't go to Victory Lane this year."
- David Johns