This Week in Ford Racing, March 23, 1999

This Week in Ford Racing March 23, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, has first-hand experience about the new Texas Motor Speedway after being the only NASCAR Winston Cup driver to take part in...

This Week in Ford Racing March 23, 1999

NASCAR Winston Cup

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, has first-hand experience about the new Texas Motor Speedway after being the only NASCAR Winston Cup driver to take part in an off-season Goodyear tire test at the facility. Burton spoke about the changes to the track and his feelings about returning to the site of his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory.

JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- WHAT CHANGES DID YOU SEE IN THE RACE TRACK? "I didn't really ask anybody how they fixed the race track, so I don't know if they moved the walls in or moved the race track down. I don't know what they did, but the end result was that getting into turn one now is a much better transition than it was. It used to be that when you started down into turn one it was like going into a funnel and the transition from the backing on the straightaway to the banking on the corner was awkward, so that made it very difficult getting into one. It was kind of treacherous, so they've improved that a lot. Turn two was never a problem and turn three was never a problem. Turn four was really difficult because you got to the outside wall very quickly. There was a transition problem there, too, so they've fixed that as well. Now you can run off turn four and not feel like you're gonna hit the wall every lap. It's still a narrow race track. It's still a very tight race track. I don't see a second groove coming in yet, and it's fast. It's a lot faster than it was."

DID THE INITIAL BANKING NARROW THE TRACK DOWN WITH THE THREE DIFFERENT DEGREES? "To me, the reason the track was narrow was because of where the wall was. The wall needed to be further away. If they moved the bottom of the race track down that's fine too. When we talk about a race track being narrow, what a race car driver is talking about is the fast groove. There are some race tracks that are very, very wide, but there's only one useable lane, so that's a narrow race track and that's the way Texas still is. There's one groove that you need to run and it's a narrow groove. The track's wider and it's much more negotiable. Don't get me wrong, it's a way better race track, but it's gonna be hard. It's still a hard race track, but that's OK. I wish it wasn't so fast. It doesn't need to be as fast as it is to put on a good show, but when you put down new pavement that's what happens, you get more speed."

WHEN YOU SAY FAST DO YOU MEAN ATLANTA FAST, CHARLOTTE FAST? "As far as miles per hour it's not as fast as Atlanta, but it certainly feels a lot like Atlanta because you're in the accelerator so much. It's fast."

EVEN THOUGH IT'S A DIFFERENT TRACK YOU AND MARK HAVE WON THE FIRST TWO RACES. THAT'S OBVIOUSLY A GOOD PLACE FOR ROUSH. "We think it is. The race track is a difficult race track and that makes it a challenge to go there, number one. Number two, we have had some success there. We were leading the race last year and blew a tire, so we've run well there. We feel like we know how to get around it and we feel like we know what kind of chassis adjustments we need to make to be better during the race, so we have confidence going into that race. At the same time, that race track is a little bit like Darlington. Even though you go there knowing that you've run well there in the past, there are so many things that come into play. Because it's a hard race track, it's easy to wreck. There are a lot of things that happen that make the race track, even if you run fast, make it difficult to finish well. That's the challenge is being in position to win the race at the end of the race."

YOU'VE GOT NOTEBOOKS FROM WINNING CARS THE LAST TWO YEARS. ARE THEY GOING TO BE ANY HELP THIS YEAR WITH THE TRACK CHANGE? "We didn't see much chassis change from what we had in the past. When we were there testing we were pretty close to what we had run there in the past. We didn't see a whole lot of need to change much. The car drove real well, so I think what's worked in the past will work now."

HOW ABOUT THE FACT YOU WON YOUR FIRST WINSTON CUP RACE THERE. IS THAT A BIG DEAL FOR YOU? "It's not right now. Later in life it will be. Right now it's special because we did win our first race there, but there are so many things that we have yet to do that other people have done with a lot of consistency. It's special to win my first race. Obviously you'll always remember that and the fact we won our first race in the inaugural race. All the things that went into that were real special, but you don't have a whole lot of time in this sport to reflect on things and, because of that, I don't have a hugely special place just because we won. My focus is going there and trying to win again. You could win there 20 times in a row, but there's no guarantee you're gonna win the 21st. Every race is a new race and you have to forget what you did whether it was good or bad. You learn from it, but then put it in the past and go about what you need to be doing."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE THE POINTS LEADER? "Well, we'd certainly rather be the leader than not. You can't win a championship this early in the year, but you can sure lose one. I think that's the best way to look at it. We're in the best position we've ever been as a team with points, we're in the best position we've ever been with personnel, with cars, we're just very prepared. It's a long year. There is a lot of racing left, so we're not gonna get too overwhelmed about leading the points. As a matter of fact, we're not even gonna worry about it other than to just be proud of ourselves for doing it. That 24, and that 6 and the 88 and all those guys are shooting to get where we are, so we've gotta race aggressively the way we've been racing, we've gotta race smart the way we've been racing and continue to do what we've been doing and improve on it. This is our second win real early in the year, but we've gotta be better because the 24 is gonna make a charge at us, the 6 is gonna make a charge, the 88, the 18. They (the 18) had a good finish today and I'm glad for them because I think they're a championship contending team. We have to be better than we've been and if we're not then they'll all come at us and get by us. Our focus has to be on being better and maintaining what we've been doing well and be better in a lot of other areas."

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, recalled last year's trip to Texas when water seeped through the track and forced postponement of first-round qualifying.

DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- WHAT WAS LAST YEAR LIKE FOR YOU AND THE OTHER DRIVERS AT TEXAS WITH THE TRACK CONDITIONS AND ACCIDENTS? "It definitely makes for a difficult situation when you have problems on the race track because as fast as we're going those problems are hard to see. You know they're there, but your job is to go out there and go as fast as you can. It makes it difficult. For me and some of the other guys, we knew that we had a starting spot so it's not as much pressure on us as the guys that are there who may not have that guaranteed spot and have to really go hard to get in. That's when you create bad situations."

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A TOUGHER SITUATION RACE TRACK WISE? "Probably not. That was as tough, again, because the moisture was coming up through the track and you really couldn't see that. You knew it was there, but you didn't know where it was, so that was as difficult. But in fairness to them, they were doing everything that they could and I think, as it turned out, they made the best of a bad situation. I think those problems are remedied now and we have a much better race track to race on. The fans are gonna enjoy our racing more and the drivers are gonna enjoy it more."

CART FedEx Championship Series




YOU HAVE BEEN WITH TWO TEAMS IN CHAMP CAR RACING (ARCIERIO- WELLS, TEAM RAHAL). BOTH OF THOSE SITUATIONS HAVE BEEN HIGH PRESSURE SITUATIONS. AT ARCIERIO-WELLS YOU TOOK OVER FOR JEFF KROSNOFF AND AT TEAM RAHAL YOU TOOK OVER FOR A LEGEND IN BOBBY RAHAL. COULD YOU ADDRESS THE DIFFERENCES IN THE SITUATIONS AT ARCIERIO-WELLS IN A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM WHERE YOU WERE NOT EXPECTED TO WIN AND NOW WITH TEAM RAHAL WHERE YOU ARE EXPECTED TO WIN. "First off I was expected to win at Arcierio-Wells. Everyone had high expectations over there. You cannot really compare the two situations. The pressure that was there when I took over for Jeff (Krosnoff) is something that goes beyond motor racing, it deals with human feeling and it touched part of me. It was a very tough decision to become part of that situation but I know I had the support of Cal Wells and Mark Johnson and PPI. Over here it is a different deal. There was more, I would not call it pressure, but when I had to take over for Jeff there was more of a feeling and when I took over for Bobby there was no pressure because we just made a deal and it came together. I know if Bobby wanted me on the team he believes in me and my abilities. So there should be no pressure, I should just worry about driving how I know I can. He knows that my driving capabilities can fulfill (his expectations). The pressure is only what you put on yourself and I always look to improve my performance and improve myself as a person. I just want to be successful and do a good job. Last year I really had to look inside of me to find motivation. We were starting with the dream of winning races but we were developing (the engine) so we did not have the capabilities of winning. This year I know I can fulfill my dream."

HOW IS IT TO HAVE BOBBY RAHAL AS A BOSS? CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM? "With Bobby I think we have more than a team owner/driver relationships. When we are at the track he is like a big brother to me, I'm not going to say he's my dad because he will get upset about it, but he is like a big brother and I think this relationship goes beyond motor racing. I think Bobby sees in me the same will to succeed and maybe he sees that I want to achieve some of the same goals that he wanted to achieve when he was a bit younger. He is so supportive of me and so behind me it really makes me proud. To tell you the truth, to have someone of Bobby's caliber to give you advice and some good words when it's the right moment it's something you cannot buy and that's what I think makes our team different than any other. It's those moments during the race when Bobby will call in and talk to me and say things like 'go and get him' that can't come from anyone else other than a champion. Those moments have made me really proud. They have made me proud that I can work with someone like him and that he has achieved a lot of things in his life. He may be in a tougher challenge than driving race cars because he now has to prove that he is as good of a team owner as he was a driver. It's a situation that requires a lot of skill to put a new page in your life and bring a young driver over whose best previous finish for myself was a fifth place. The decision that Bobby made and all the thought he put into it made me proud. I think knowing that he is there and knowing who Bobby is gave me a little bit more motivation to push a little harder because I want him to be proud of me.

KNOWING THE WAY THAT YOU PUT PRESSURE ON YOURSELF, WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS AFTER THE RACE? "When we started the race it was a bit difficult because we slipped a bit in qualifying. We had been very competitive all weekend and in qualifying we slipped a bit and fell to fifteenth position which we didn't deserve. When I started that race I pushed very hard and kept in my mind that we had to be up front with everyone else. At the end of the race, after I had overtaken Jimmy Vasser at the beginning of the race, and at the end we were fighting for the top four. At the end when I crossed the finish line it was a fantastic feeling. Because we set a goal to finish in the top-five and that's what we accomplished. When you know you can finish in the top-three I guess you have a bittersweet feeling, but that doesn't matter because I was the only one in the top-five who started back as far a P15 and wet to the front, along with Gil de Ferran who finished sixth. We showed that we have the potential to be successful, especially on an oval. It has been a learning curve (on the ovals) for me having come from Europe and it really made me very proud and gave me a lot of encouragement and says that we are right there and that the people in the front are beatable and we just have to concentrate and make the best of what we have in our hand because of what we have is capable of winning races.

WHS YOUR DAD AT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND? He was there with my brother, my best friend, my girlfriend and my trainer. I can't tell you (what it meant) because when I saw my dad in the pits he had tears in his eyes. It's (a feeling) you cannot describe because for me this is my dream, my sport ,and seeing the people that I really care about and are proud of me like Bobby and my dad means more than everything and I am sure that Sunday's result is a good stepping stone. We made some mistakes and I made some mistakes but we are going to make sure we are not going to do those mistakes for sure the next weekend. We know what we didn't do right and we know what we did do right and I think that is one of the strengths we have on our team. We are all very, very down to earth people. We analyze things without taking them personally and that it is why I think that Team Rahal, Bobby and my engineer Tim Reiter are champions, we are champions and we will show we can do very good.

CAN YOU COMMENT ON SOME OF THESE SHORT RACES LIKE HOMESTEAD, NAZARETH AND MILWAUKEE AND WOULD YOU HAVE HAD A BETTER CHANCE TO WIN IF THEY WERE LONGER? ALSO, CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE CHALLENGES OF RACING ON SHORT OVALS AS THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM AT THE START OF THE SEASON. "I didn't feel the race was too short. The race was actually very intense so maybe that is why it looked short. In those ovals, the short ovals, it is very important to be aggressive and be aggressive in the right moment. I am really pleased on how I did on my restarts. I got by quite a few people in those moments. In the last thirty laps we were playing it consistent. We were running in sixth gear and coasting down the straight to save on fuel and I tell you it was really painful because I know we had the potential to go by Jimmy Vasser but we could not because we had to save fuel. For me it was really exciting. Nazareth is going to be an exciting race as well. A short oval provides a lot of changes in the races which means the drivers have to be aggressive and at the same time be smart. If you are too conservative you get lapped so it's a tricky game. We have a good package and the team led me to the right decisions during the race. We didn't come in for fuel, we played it smart and we ended up fifth which is a very good (result) for the first race of the season."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE IN A CAR THAT IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT THAN THE TOYOTA? YOU ARE RUNNING WITH A TEAM THAT IS REALLY TOP-NOTCH NOW AND THAT HAS TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. "It's a different game. Last year we were happy when we were finishing fourteenth and fifteenth because we were developing and catching up to the field. With Team Miller Lite and the Ford engine we have a winning package so it's a different game. It's still the same intensity, it may be even more intense. But I am dealing with a whole new objective. Now when we go to the track we know we can be winners where previously we were developing and when you are in a development program its always questionable because some races the engine may not suit the particular track. But I learned to be patient, which is not easy for an Italian I tell you, but the last two-and-a-half years helped me become a better driver. What you saw on Sunday is a result of what we did at Arcierio-Wells over the last two years, of those hard days and pushing very hard. Also, Sunday you saw the support of a great person in Bobby. He is more than an owner, he is my family in the U.S. I know when he is there he is there behind me it make me push harder. Those things give me the motivation and will to succeed."

DOES THE TEAM HAVE THE HOPES TO LAUNCH ANY KIND OF IDENTITY WITH TEAM RAHAL SIMILAR TO WHAT GANASSI DID WITH JIMMY (VASSER) AND ALEX (ZANARDI)? ALSO CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND BRYAN (HERTA). "First of all Bryan and I have very different personalities. He is a very nice guy. Sometimes people say that he does not talk and things like that, but I tell you, he is a very motivated guy. He will make me sweat in many races and the main thing is that he is an honest person. I appreciated that after the race he came over to me and said good job. He was sorry he was not there at the end but was very pleased for what I had accomplished. It means he is someone who has a heart. We are like water and fire with our personalities but that does not mean anything because people have different values in life but with Bryan I know I will have an honest teammate and continue to be a straight forward person. Of course he wants to beat me and I want to beat him but that will make Team Rahal a better team and push us forward and I think that the (responsibility) we have to the team job is essential. I cannot win and Team Rahal cannot win without a good armory in the team."

IF YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ARE YOU GOING TO BE LIKE ROBERTO (BENIGINI) AND WALK ACROSS THE SEATS LIKE HE DID AT THE ACADEMY AWARDS? "You pointed out something that made me very proud on Sunday night. We were having dinner and we were really cheering for Benigini because we Italians are really proud of our country and our people. What you saw in him you see in me. I am a little bit of the same kind of a crazy, nasty rebel like him. I don't know how I am going to celebrate because first I have to get to the position that I have the chance to celebrate. But, I would probably do something (similar). I know that night made me and a lot of Italian people real proud and I hope that I can give the similar feeling to all of my country men and to all of the American people that come over to watch us at the races the similar feeling that little man gave to millions of people with his movie and with his personality. Seeing how much passion that he put into his job is very special and I wish one day that I can walk on the heads of many people during a prize giving ceremony too."

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Jim Smith, team owner of Ultra Motorsports, is one of the co-founders of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He is the only team owner to win at least one race in the five years of NCTS competition.

JIM SMITH - OWNER - ULTRA MOTORSPORTS - HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER WINNING AT HOMESTEAD WITH A NEW DRIVER (MIKE WALLACE) AND NEW CREW CHIEF (TIM KOHUTH)? "It's really gratifying to first of all be one of the founders of the series and second of all after the first race this year, to be the only owner to have won a race in all five years. But to win the first one and get your season off to a good start with a new crew, a new driver and new crew chief was probably beyond our expectations. We thought we were championship material and certainly would win our share of races, but to come right out of the hat and to accomplish what we did on Saturday with what I don't think was one of our best trucks says that our driver and crew won this race for us."

HOW DID YOU PUT TOGETHER A TEAM DURING THE EARLY YEARS THAT COULD SERIOUSLY COMPETE WITH THE WINSTON CUP-AFFILIATED TEAMS? "I had a little bit of an advantage over the three other gentlemen that were involved early on. I had been around Winston Cup racing my entire life. My father was involved in it. I think I had a little bit better understanding of it. Granted we all thought that this was a series that people could come in from very small racing entities and get involved. It has escalated. When Bill France got involved, this thing went from nothing to one of the toughest series in NASCAR period. You can ask any Winston Cup driver that has been in our races. It is not a cakewalk. It just expedited so quickly and I moved quickly myself by building our shop in North Carolina and of course hiring Barry Dodson. We groomed a Mike Bliss out of the Silver Crown. That was the only outside effort we had other than experienced NASCAR people in the shop."

WHY THE DRIVER CHANGE TO MIKE WALLACE FOR THIS SEASON? "His tenacity I guess would be number one. His ability to drive a race car I don't think entered into the equation. However I had a lot of great drivers knocking on my door and this championship is very important to me personally. I wanted to make sure that we could put the right people in the right places. We were going through a lot of changes that most people were aware of. I'll tell you that I couldn't be happier with the outcome of the people who are involved in Ultra Motorsports today. Mike proved last Saturday what he could do. I knew he could do that and so did a lot of other people. I just couldn't be prouder."


MIKE WALLACE - 2 - TEAM ASE FORD F-150 - YOU ACCOMPLISHED JUST ABOUT ALL YOU COULD WITH KEN SCHRAIDER'S TEAM OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF SEASONS. TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOVE TO ULTRA MOTORSPORTS/TEAM ASE? "I'd like to thank Jim and Marline Smith for the opportunity they've given me along with Tim Kohuth who was my crew chief over at Schrader Racing. We both kind of came over here together. A big instrumental part of a race team is the crew chief and the driver understanding each other and respecting each others ability. I worked really hard with Jim (Smith) last year and when he said tenacity, I was the driver who probably bothered him more than any other driver and that's probably why he hired me. I felt there was a great opportunity here. The team had won races in the past. I was looking for the opportunity to win races again. I knew I had the capability of doing it and along with Ultra Motorsports and our new Ford F-150 and ASE and everyone involved, we've proved that we can win races."

THERE WERE A LOT OF POTENTIAL WINNERS LAST SATURDAY AT HOMESTEAD. YOUR PIT CREW OVERSHADOWED THE OPPOSITION. IF YOU WEREN'T FIRST COMING IN, YOU WERE FIRST GOING OUT. DISCUSS THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR CREW? "Can you believe those guys. They did just a phenomenal job. We've got a group of young, enthusiastic guys lead by a great crew chief in Tim Kohuth. All the guys worked so hard and they did a super job. We as a team won that race. Mike Wallace didn't do it by himself. No one did it by themselves. As you said, there were times where we'd come down pit road in sixth or seventh and left running in second, come in second and left leading. But it shows all the work and dedication the guys did over the winter. They worked on pit stops every night. There was one night when Jim (Smith) was in town, they were out in the sleet showing Jim how good their pit stops were. It was time to show it on race day and we weren't sure if it'd get done. It is easy to do when there is no crowd or motors running. They stepped right up to the table. My hats off to the whole Ultra race team."

HOW TOUGH HAS THE COMPETITION BECOME IN THE SERIES THIS YEAR? "There are 10 or 15 guys that all have the same outlook we have. The situation that Ron (Hornaday) and Jack (Sprague) has is that they were in the series to start with and they've won a few championships so everybody is thinking about them. During the winter here all I kept reading about was Hornaday and Sprague and people like that and how they are going to win all of these races. Fortunately we were able to step up and show that we could win a race."

IT SOUNDS LIKE THEY MOTIVATED YOU IN THE FIRST RACE? "We're self motivated. This is a wonderful race team led by a wonderful owner, an owner that understands the sport. Not just that he was in here from day one, Jim is a racer himself. He knows that not every day is going to be a great day. He is a good owner who comes back to Charlotte area and sits down with the guys and says look guys every day is not going to be perfect. Let's have a good time while we're doing it and take the best finishes we can and work on our championship effort. When we win, lets celebrate and when we have a bad day, lets not get down on ourselves. That means a lot to this team. The guys do a great job but it takes great leadership from the top to make everything click."

YOUR RECORD HAS NOT BEEN GREAT AT PHOENIX, DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE RACE? "We're extremely excited about going to Phoenix. We went there and tested and ran extremely, extremely well. Probably the best thing for us to do is just wait until we get there and see if we can back up our performance from this past week. It was great to be able to go there with the same truck that Mike Bliss sat on the pole with and won the race with. We had some comparable numbers to work with. The guys did some different things chassis-wise. I think we made some improvements on it and we'll try to show it this weekend."

EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DRIVING A WINSTON CUP CAR AND A NASCAR TRUCK? "The trucks don't have the downforce meaning they don't feel like they are stuck to the track like the cars do. The cars have much more downforce. The trucks have a lot more body roll to them and a higher center of gravity and roll over a little bit more. The cars of course, because of the downforce and the lower roof, they seem to run through the air a little bit better. The trucks are still race cars with truck bodies on them."

FIA Formula One World Championship

The Stewart-Ford team's preparations for the Brazilian Grand Prix continued last week when Rubens Barrichello and Johnny Herbert continued their excellent start to the 1999 Formula One season by topping the timesheets at the conclusion of the three-day test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Barrichello produced a lap time of 1:20.48secs, the fastest of the test and the fastest at Barcelona this year while team-mate Herbert, meanwhile, had a best lap of 1:22.02 to be second quickest of the 10 drivers taking part in the test.

Following the grid fires in Australia a lot of work was done to solve this particular problem including two successful simulated hot starts. The team did suffer three engine failures. Most of the time, the engines ran to higher revs than raced in Melbourne and as a result a great deal more data have been accumulated.

At the moment the Stewart-Ford team is planning a shake down at Silverstone before going to Brazil.

FIA World Rally Championship

The Ford Martini World Rally team moves straight from this weeks Rally of Portugal to Spain for a five day test in preparation for the Rally Catalunya. Colin McRae will be accompanied by Simon Jean-Joseph for the five day asphalt test which starts on Friday. Malcolm Wilson said ''Catalunya is the first true dry asphalt rally of the season and it is important to put in as much pre event testing as possible. We will be going to Spain as soon as the Rally of Portugal finishes where we will meet up with Simon Jean-Joseph. We want to ensure that both drivers have time to experience the dry asphalt roads in the Ford Focus prior to the rally.'' The Rally Catalunya is the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. It runs from Monday 19 - Wednesday 21 April and is based at the Spanish seaside resort of Lloret de Mar.

Auto Trader British Touring Cars Championship

The third and fourth days of official testing for the 1999 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship were intensely competitive at Oulton Park last week.

With ten drivers inside the lap record for the Cheshire track's Fosters circuit, it was clear that all teams had made good progress. Ford Team Mondeo continued to break its own records too by setting a time 0.6 seconds faster than a Mondeo has ever lapped Oulton Park.

The team heads for the final official TOCA test at Brands Hatch this week (March 23/24) before the real action begins at Donington Park over the Easter weekend.

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Series General
Drivers Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Johnny Herbert , Rubens Barrichello , Mike Wallace , Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser , Colin McRae , Mike Bliss , Malcolm Wilson , Simon Jean-Joseph , Jim Smith