Atlanta Ford Drivers Preview

FORD MOTORSPORT NOTES & QUOTES Monday, November 2, 1998 NAPA 500 ADVANCE, Atlanta Motor Speedway FORD DRIVERS JEFF BURTON AND JEREMY MAYFIELD ARE TWO OF FORD'S TOP YOUNG TALENTS. BOTH ARE COMFORTABLY IN THE TOP 10 IN THIS YEAR'S NASCAR ...

FORD MOTORSPORT NOTES & QUOTES Monday, November 2, 1998 NAPA 500 ADVANCE, Atlanta Motor Speedway

FORD DRIVERS JEFF BURTON AND JEREMY MAYFIELD ARE TWO OF FORD'S TOP YOUNG TALENTS. BOTH ARE COMFORTABLY IN THE TOP 10 IN THIS YEAR'S NASCAR WINSTON CUP STANDINGS, AND ARE CONSIDERED BY MANY TO BE FUTURE NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONS. BOTH SPOKE ABOUT THEIR 1998 SEASONS AND ABOUT THE FUTURE.

JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- ASSESS YOUR SEASON "It's been a so-so first-third and a good second-third. We got out of the gate slow and things just weren't going the way we hoped they would go. We weren't having great pit stops, I was getting us in some wrecks, we weren't running as well as we thought we should run. We had some bad luck, we blew some tires and just some things didn't go our way. Some of it was controlled by us and some of it wasn't. We try to take responsibility for all of it because we're the only ones that can fix it, so we kept working. By any means we didn't drop our heads. We had a meeting after California, a real heart-to-heart meeting, and since that point it's been really good. Still, we had a wreck at Sears Point, we had a wreck at Dover...those things have hurt us. I think we've been the third-best team on the Winston Cup circuit since California. I'm sure other people would argue with that, but at least we've been as good as the 2 and as good as the 88. The 6 and the 24 have been better than all of us and don't let anybody fool you on that. That's the way it's been. We've had a good year. We haven't had a good full year and we as a team have yet to have a good full year. It's hard to put a whole string of a year together the way the 24 has done, that's really difficult and we haven't done it. We haven't come close to doing it, so that's our goal next year is to try and make that string and not to have as many ups and downs. We want to level it off some."

YOU'VE SAID YOU HAVE A YOUNG TEAM. WHAT HAVE YOU GUYS LEARNED MOST THIS SEASON?

"I think we've learned a lot. I think going into this year we all knew the success of last year didn't guarantee anything toward this year. We knew that. But this year was a good soul-searching year. We learned a lot about our people. We learned who is gonna stick it out and who isn't. I've learned a lot about myself. It's been a hard year, but at the same time it's been a good year. There have been more positives than negatives, it's just my outlook on things is that I look more at the negatives. If they're positive we don't need to fix them and if they're negative we need to. It's been a hard year because I see where we can be better and Frankie (Stoddard) sees where we can be better and everybody sees where we can be better, so we're working really hard to try and execute on those things."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE CONSIDERED ONE OF THE TOP YOUNG DRIVERS WHO WILL CARRY THE NASCAR BANNER FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS?

"We're excited about it. Like I said about this year, the success of this year doesn't guarantee any success for the future. The only thing it means is that we have a foundation to build on. Every team in this garage is working to get better.

"Every driver in this garage is working to get better and we have to do the same. We have to be better than we were next year if we're still gonna be one of the top teams. Everybody wants to talk about all these young drivers, but I'm gonna tell you the guys that have been here for awhile, they're not giving up. They fight hard everyday and they're tough. We have to work really hard to beat them and they have to work hard to stay in front of us and that's what's going on."

PEOPLE HAVE TALKED ABOUT A GORDON-BURTON RIVALRY AND YOU'VE SAID IN THE PAST THAT YOU NEED TO WIN MORE BEFORE THAT CAN OCCUR. WHAT WOULD A RIVALRY LIKE THAT MEAN TO YOU?

"I like old school, so to speak. I like old school racing. I like Darlington and Rockingham and those kinds of places because to me that's what Winston Cup racing was built on. When I look back and you talk about Bobby Allison and Richard Petty and you talk about the Allisons and Yarborough and Earnhardt and Rusty. When you talk about those rivalries, if I could be in one of those rivalries that would mean a lot because that would mean we're one of the teams that everybody is looking at and that's what it's all about."

JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR SEASON? "Overall, it's been a great year for us. It's been good for me and good for the team. We got a win, a pole, won the Winston Open, we had a lot of good things. We've had a lot of ups and a couple downs, but I think if we can finish the season strong that would top it off. We want to go out with a good run."

IT SEEMED YOU HAD A GOOD FIRST HALF AND AFTER YOUR WIN AT POCONO SOMETHING HAPPENED. CAN YOU EXPLAIN IT?

"We went through a spell. We went to Indianapolis and was by far the fastest car there. We were running second and cut a tire down. We were at Loudon and the same thing happened. We were running eighth and cut a tire down. At Pocono we should have finished second or third and got in a wreck. A lot of things happened that were unlikely to happen and we just went through a stretch of bad luck during a four or five race span.

It made it look like we didn't run good, but everywhere we've been this year we've been good. If we would have had any luck at all out of those four or five races, we'd be sitting here with a super year and probably second or third in the points. The good thing about it is we realize what it was. From up there watching the race and seeing the end results, maybe it looks like we struggled but we didn't. We learned a lot, learned what we did wrong, and learned what we need to do better."

THIS WAS A BREAKTHROUGH YEAR FOR YOU WINNING FOR THE FIRST TIME AND BEING IN THE BATTLE FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED MOST THIS SEASON?

"I think we learned that consistency is everything. You've gotta build consistency, which means I've gotta have the same feel out of my race cars every week. There are a lot of things that we've learned and we're not far off. Even though we might be seventh in the points and it looks like a long way from first and from winning the championship, but we're not if you go back and look at our season the way it went. Sure, everybody can go, 'Yeah, if we would have done this or done that we would have been better.' But we realize what happened and can do what we can so that won't happen again. We just need to improve on a couple of small areas that we know about and try to stay up to date or further ahead than everybody and I think you'll see us in the top three again next year."

AFTER YOUR POCONO WIN, EVERYONE WAS TALKING UP A MAYFIELD-JEFF GORDON RIVALRY. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING PART OF SOMETHING LIKE THAT?

"I feel good about it because I just turned 29 years old a couple months ago and knowing what I know now, I've learned a lot about Winston Cup racing here. I'm with a great team, a team that has a great future ahead of itself. I feel real good about it. Look how much I've got behind me before I was 30 years old. I've got another 15-18 years to go and that's a good feeling. It feels good being one of the young guys because not only are we young, but we're here for a long time. I know there are other young drivers coming up, but I know they've got three or four more years of learning like guys like Jeff Burton, Ward Burton and myself. We're gonna be here for awhile and I think that's a great feeling knowing that we're all racing each other now, we're all kind of in the same class, and we're all going forward."

WOULD YOU THRIVE ON A RIVALRY OF ANY KIND?

"I can't wait, but I don't want to do it until we're ready to do it or prepared to do it. The 24 car, by far, was a couple steps ahead of not only us but a lot of people out here. We realize that, but I can tell you what, we're gaining on them every year. We've come from what I feel like is 10 steps two years ago to about two steps away from them. When we get even with them, and I feel that's gonna happen pretty soon, then we'll worry about rivalries."

FORD MOTORSPORT NOTES & QUOTES

FORD DRIVERS KENNY IRWIN AND KEVIN LEPAGE REMAIN IN A CLOSE BATTLE FOR THE 1998 ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AWARD. BOTH DRIVERS COMMENTED ON THE ROOKIE RACE AND WHAT WINNING THE HONOR WOULD MEAN TO THEM.

KENNY IRWIN -28- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- YOU HAVE BEEN THE FAVORITE TO WIN THIS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR TITLE SINCE THE SEASON BEGAN. HAS IT BEEN DIFFICULT TO CARRY THAT WITH YOU ALL YEAR?

"I don't think it has been. As a team we don't hardly ever talk about it. Come to think about it, I can't think of any time where we've discussed where we're at or how many points we had. It's something that I've wanted to achieve and I think it's something the whole wants to win, we just haven't discussed it."

IT'S BEEN SUCH A LEARNING EXPERIENCE. IS THERE ANY WAY OF DESCRIBING HOW FAR YOU'VE COME FROM THAT ROOKIE PRESS CONFERENCE IN DAYTONA TO RIGHT NOW?

"I've come so far that I've forgotten where I started. You learn so much and there's so much information that you're trying to figure out that you've probably forgot a lot of stuff. But where I started the year at and where I am now, I'm 100 percent farther along as far as my learning the cars, the drivers and the tracks. Anytime I've had time at the race track, like at Phoenix, we always qualify better and run better. That's just part of this Winston Cup racing is knowing these race tracks. That's where I wish I had more experience."

YOU'RE GOING BACK TO ATLANTA, THE SITE OF YOUR BEST FINISH THIS SEASON...

"The reason why I feel like we ran good at the beginning of the year at Atlanta was because I got to run the fall race last year there. For me, it's just time. Some race tracks are easier to figure out and some are harder. Atlanta, we got to race there and, in my mind, we probably should have won the race. We led the most laps, we were there, we just didn't win. Going back to Atlanta, I hope we take that same exact car and that same exact setup and we should be able to go back there and run good."

YOU'RE PART OF A GOOD YOUNG CROP OF DRIVERS. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING AN INTEGRAL PART OF NASCAR'S FUTURE?

"I think it's great for NASCAR. You look at what they had with Waltrip and Earnhardt and Rusty. These guys are still around, but it takes a generation swing to keep everybody enthusiastic from the fans standpoint. I think it's a great time to come in as a rookie in NASCAR. It's probably the hardest time, but where NASCAR is right now, it couldn't be a better time."

IF YOU CAN WIN THIS ROOKIE TITLE, WOULD IT MAKE ALL THE UPS AND DOWNS THIS YEAR WORTH IT?

"Yeah. It would make me feel good, but I'd give that up to be farther along as far as my learning experience and knowledge about these race cars and race tracks. But this is one thing that I wanted to win, so if we do end up winning it then I've achieved one of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year."

KEVIN LEPAGE -16- PRIMESTAR Taurus -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CHASE? "I wish there were four more weeks left. At one point this year, we were like seven points behind Kenny with the 91 car and really thought we had a legitimate shot at that point in time to at least make it interesting. Then all of the offers started to come and we decided to be a Roush employee and drive the PRIMESTAR car. At that point in time we had a little sabbatical given to me by Joe Falk because he was a little upset at my decision, so we had to take four or five weeks off. Unfortunately, those four or five races were very valuable in this rookie chase. Kenny was getting decent finishes and I wasn't getting any because I wasn't racing. Then, all of a sudden, we hooked up with Jack (Roush) and the PRIMESTAR guys and each week it seemed like we were catching him. It seems like there have been opportunities to gain on him in several races, but when he had a bad weekend we had a bad weekend. A top 10 finish this weekend in Atlanta would really make it interesting."

NO MATTER WHAT, THIS HAS BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR YOU HASN'T IT?

"This has been a great year for me based on, first of all, making the Daytona 500 as the highest qualifying rookie. Nobody gave us a chance to even make the Daytona 500, nevertheless to say that we were even gonna run the next week or the week after that, so that was a major accomplishment for us. Being the first Vermonter in Winston Cup, qualifying in the first 15 races with Joe Falk with an average of 22nd or 23rd -- first round material. I mean, you don't see that in someone who has rookie status in an unsponsored car. Running the Busch Series and winning my first pole in Busch and winning another Busch race. Hooking up with Jack Roush and a great organization with a great sponsor like PRIMESTAR and great teammates, everything has been great. If we win this rookie of the year deal, a lot of talk has been about NASCAR's 50th anniversary this year, but I think this would probably be one of the highlights for one of the most underestimated achievements of the year."

DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS ROOKIE TITLE A LOT ...?

"I think a lot about it now and I'll think a lot about it after the race. During the race, the main goal is to run competitively. What I'm trying to do, and this is why Jack put me in this Taurus for 13 races this year, is to understand what the Taurus wants at the end of a long run. If you go back a few weeks ago at Charlotte, we were one pit stop away from making the car right. We were that good, but it took us all day long to get there and with my lack of experience in these Winston Cup cars, we need to learn quick. To go out there and say, 'OK, where's Kenny. OK, he's out of the race so now I can just ride.' That's not the case. I need to run competitively. I want to get in the top 10 and try to do the best job we can each day."

ARE YOU AWARE OF WHERE KENNY IS ON THE TRACK?

"The only time they'll tell me is when I ask, and when I ask is when I don't see him on the race track. I don't worry about if I pass him on the race track because that means in a few laps he may come back with a pit stop or whatever. But if he's out of the race, did he break, that's the only time we talk about it. It's not a major emphasis. The major emphasis is to keep this car going and keeping it out of trouble. Would this rookie of the year award be very important? Yes, it would because I'd be the only Vermonter to ever win this. There are a lot of different drivers from the same state, but for me the state of Vermont is known for Kevin Lepage. Any accomplishment that I do week-in and week-out -- qualifying fourth, be for the state of Vermont. If we can win this rookie of the year title, it's gonna be for the state of Vermont."

IS THIS THE MOST GRATIFYING YEAR OF YOUR CAREER?

"Right now I'd have to say yes because, first of all we came in with an underfunded car in the 91 team and did a remarkable job in both qualifying and racing. And then all of a sudden to get the attention from different car owners in other organizations to say, 'Hey, we want you to drive one of our race cars.' And then to finally get settled in with Jack Roush and the whole organization, this is what we all work for as young racers back when I started my career in 1980. To know and hope that someday, with the right opportunity, we can say we're a Winston Cup driver. A lot of people have said to me that four years is a short time to make it to Winston Cup, but I'm just glad I've finally gotten the opportunity. Like I told Jack I said, 'I'd like to do what Mark Martin's doing. I'd like to be here a long time.' And he said, 'If you keep doing what we want you to do, which is trying to do the best job you can week-in and week-out and try to win races, that's a very good possibility.' Then the media comes up and asks what your contract is and how many years is it, and my answer to that is your contract is what you do on Sunday."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Kevin Lepage , Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , Jack Roush , Mark Martin