Andy Houston Daytona preview

HICKORY, N.C. (Feb. 6, 2001) - The following is an interview with Andy Houston, driver of the McDonald's No. 96 Ford Taurus, fielded by PPI Motorsports and owned by Cal Wells III. Houston, who will...

HICKORY, N.C. (Feb. 6, 2001) - The following is an interview with Andy Houston, driver of the McDonald's No. 96 Ford Taurus, fielded by PPI Motorsports and owned by Cal Wells III.

Houston, who will begin his first full season of Winston Cup racing in Daytona this weekend, is one of five rookie candidates competing for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. In preparation for his 2001 rookie season, Houston drove in five Winston Cup races last year for PPI Motorsports.

Houston, 30, competed full-time the past three seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He finished third in the point standings last year with two wins, 13 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. His career truck totals include: 80 starts, three wins, 24 top-fives and 42 top 10s.

You recently completed a demanding test schedule. Is the McDonald's team ready for Daytona

Houston I feel like we are very well prepared. We had some really good tests in the McDonald's car - at Daytona, Talladega, Rockingham and Las Vegas. We have put so much time and effort into our speedway program and everything that we're seeing is positive - wind tunnel data and on-track testing looks really good. I really feel we're going to come out of the box in Daytona swinging and have a good shot of running well and doing the best job we can for everybody involved.

What are your objectives going into Daytona

Houston I guess the first objective is that we would love to go down there and qualify in the top 15. That's what we're shooting to do. Just for the simple reason that if you have a problem in the 125 qualifying race or get caught up in a wreck you'll have a fast enough speed that should be okay to make the race. Being a first year team we do not have any provisionals to fall back on. We really have to concentrate on having a fast car during qualifying and getting a good starting position for the race. If we can do that then it will make the whole week go smoother and we can then concentrate on the race package. As far as objectives for the race - we want to be competitive, do the best we can and try to run up front. I would love to come out of Daytona with a top 15 finish as well. I think those are realistic goals. Deep down inside I think we can do better, but those are our goals heading into Daytona.

Do you have any anxieties going into the biggest race of the year as a rookie

Houston I'm not nervous at all, just real excited because I feel we have a really good racecar. This is what I do and even though it's a different division and the biggest race I will ever run, it's still just another race and that's the way I will approach it. Any race I have ever ran I have always tried to concentrate on winning and being the best I can be. And I'm not going to do anything different for Daytona. I feel like I'm ready for Winston Cup, the team's ready and I think we're going to do a good job.

Can you recall one special time when you dreamed about racing in the Daytona 500

Houston (laugh) Yeah, about every day of my life. As a racecar driver this is where you strive to be. It's always been a goal of mine to race in the Daytona 500. It's a little ironic that you start the season off with the biggest race of the year. But there's no better way to jump in there and get your feet wet than to do it in a big high profile way as the Daytona 500. I'm just really excited to have this opportunity.

Has your father (Tommy Houston) given you any advice about your Daytona 500 Winston Cup debut

Houston No, not yet. I am sure he will. He will be down there for the race and the days leading up to qualifying and the 125 race. I am sure he will have advice to give me -- he always does and it's always well received. With somebody of his experience to be able to kind of coach you along is good. His advice also makes lot of difference in keeping me focused on what I need to do and to keep everything in perspective. He does an excellent job with helping me.

How important is this race for you personally

Houston It's extremely, extremely important for me and the team. It's the first race of the year. All of those cars start out with a clean slate - you try to finish as high as you can, starting with the Daytona 500. All of the races pay the same amount of points and you don't want to give up any along the way. You want to leave Daytona with the maximum amount of points you can get. But getting started off on the right foot builds a lot of morale, gives the team confidence going into the next race and boosts everybody up - sponsors, fans, the team, the driver - the whole bit is contingent on how well you run out of the box. We feel like we're ready to go to Daytona, make a great showing and really surprise some people. I'm looking forward to that.

Do you have any likes or dislikes about the Daytona track and its configuration

Houston No, Daytona is pretty basic, you have to handle well in the race. It's a big track, you run wide open, but you still have to have a good handling car. I feel I have excelled in being strategic and really anticipating what moves to make and what needs to happen. I feel like I do a pretty good job in doing that. That's what restrictor plate racing is all about.

Speaking of restrictor plate racing, this will be your first one. What are your thoughts

Houston Even though this is going to be my first restrictor plate race, I am sure I'm going to learn a lot and I am also sure those guys out there who have tons of experience are going to be teaching me a few things along the way. But hopefully we'll have a fast enough car, good pit stops and I'll be able to drive the car that will put us in contention all day long. You learn little tricks along the way. I don't feel like I know it all, but I think I know enough that will make us competitive. This is our rookie year and we are going to go through a learning process. But at the same time I am confident that I have enough experience to be competitive and run well.

How do you evaluate your drafting experience

Houston I had tons of drafting experience in the trucks. Because the trucks are so unaerodynamic, you draft at places where the Cup cars don't --- Texas, Michigan and places like Homestead. I feel like the experience I gained in trucks will definitely help.

You're one of five rookies this year, how important is it to you to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title

Houston You definitely would like to win it, it's pretty important. A lot of great teams are running for the honor. Sitting here right now you can't say if you don't win Rookie of the Year, it will be a disappointing season. It is very possible the driver who wins it could have a phenomenally good year. I hope that will be us -- we are capable of doing that. I think you're going to see a few of the rookies be very successful this year, have shots of winning races and being competitive week-in and week-out. It's going to be a great rookie battle. And if you don't win it, it's not going to be the end of the world. But if you do win it, it will definitely be a feather in your cap and something the entire team can be very proud of.

How is your relationship with PPI teammate Ricky Craven

Houston My relationship with Ricky is really good. He and I have similar goals, we think alike, our racing background in general is close to the same - type of cars we've driven - and the way we were brought up. It's a good relationship and I think we can help each other out. The two teams are working really well together in sharing information. A lot of these guys have been here for a while and have built a good relationship with each other. The one team, two-car operation attitude is starting to take effect and really working well. When you get to the racetrack and run into trouble that's when you really see if the two-car team is working -- when you need one team to help pull the other team along.

-David Ferroni

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Andy Houston , Ricky Craven