Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Burton will all have to come from the back of the pack in Sunday's MBNA America 500. Burton qualified 30th while Rudd and Wallace were forced to take provisionals and will start 37th and 38th, respectively. All...
Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd and Jeff Burton will all have to come from the back of the pack in Sunday's MBNA America 500. Burton qualified 30th while Rudd and Wallace were forced to take provisionals and will start 37th and 38th, respectively. All three drivers spoke about what happened in qualifying and what it will take to get to the front.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo Taurus --
"Qualifying is important, but it appears it's less important than its ever been. That's probably the third or fourth best we've ever qualified here, but it doesn't come natural to me especially here. We had to work real hard to get to where we are. I'm not too concerned about it. I wished we could be better than we are, but I know there are some people that qualified in the front that are gonna be coming to the back and I know there are some people in the back that are gonna be going to the front. I look at the provisionals and there's Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield, Mark Martin and Ricky Rudd. Qualifying has become such a specialty that some teams do it very well and they don't race well while other teams don't qualify well but they do race well. I'm not overly-concerned about it. This is a real long race. It's 500 miles and if you can't go from 30th to winning in 500 miles, then you probably weren't gonna win if you started on the pole. Surely it makes things a little bit harder, but you've got to have good pit stops and until you get your track position, it makes all of those things a premium. It is what it is, but the one good thing about not being a good qualifying team is that we have experience with it. When we qualify poorly we don't panic about it, we just figure we've got a little more to do and figure out how to get it done."
IS IT EASIER TO GET THE FRONT ON A TRACK LIKE THIS COMPARED TO DARLINGTON OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? "Darlington isn't too bad either, but at places like Bristol and Martinsville is where it's really tough. As much as we talk about how fast it is here at Atlanta, handling is everything in the race. The cars are so different in race trim versus qualifying trim and handling means so much. When handling means so much that means if your car handles well you can pass, so starting in the back isn't as critical when you go to places where handling is a premium. If you go to places where almost everybody could handle or you go somewhere that it's so hard to pass even if you are out-handling somebody, such as Martinsville or Bristol, that's where qualifying poorly really hurts you."
RICKY RUDD --28-- Havoline Taurus --
WHAT ABOUT COMING FROM THE BACK AT THIS TRACK? "The one good thing about this track is that it doesn't take long for that top groove to get worked in, so if you've got a good car, you can come from the back. If you've got a bad car, you're gonna get lapped pretty quick. So far this week we haven't had a really good car. It'll be different today changing over to race setup, but we sort of got behind the eight ball. We didn't test here and got two days behind. If you come off the trailer and you're good, not testing isn't the end of the world because you can still run good. But if you come off the trailer and you're bad, you don't hardly have enough time to get dialed in and that's kind of what got us yesterday."
BOBBY LABONTE AND JERRY NADEAU BOTH STARTED FROM THE BACK LAST FALL HERE. "There's no question that you would rather be up front, don't get me wrong, but if you've got a good race car, 500 miles is plenty of time to get to the front. Qualifying is over and it didn't turn out like we wanted, but now we've got to concentrate on race setup. It's not the end of the world. If we were at Martinsville, Virginia or Bristol, Tennessee, it would be a big concern. You would see a lot of long faces, but we just have to get this thing racing good and driving good. If we can do that, we know we can still run really good on Sunday."
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus --
THIS IS THE SECOND WEEK IN A ROW YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO COME FROM THE BACK. "I'm probably more embarrassed than anything because I can't remember the last time I took a provisional. It's been forever. I really thought I had a great lap going in qualifying because in one and two it was really good, but when I went into three the car turned in real quick on me. I was a little on the free side and the front end stuck harder than I really anticipated and I touched the white line. When I did that it got me sideways. I knew that I had to get everything the first lap because that was the best stuff on the tires, but I got all sideways and ran a .50 the first lap (29.502 seconds) because of it. I said, 'Well, I've got to gather it back up' and I ran a .38 (29.391) or something the second lap. I'm trying desperately to run some of the setups that Ryan has been running in practice. He did the test down here and I looked at the setup and it was way different from anything we've ever run, so I put it in the car and when I got here I just couldn't drive it. So then we really flogged it and ended up taking that setup out and putting what I normally run back in it and that got me way behind. It works wonderful for him and he's doing great, but I've run myself out of time two weeks in a row now. I did the same thing in Las Vegas and got myself in trouble and I did the same thing here and got in trouble again. The guys said, 'Rusty, just do what you normally do and it will all work out,' so now we've got the race setup we normally run in it for this morning (Saturday) and we'll see how it goes. The last time here we ran really, really good in the race, but deep in the runs the car would get tight on me so we've made some adjustments from our notes and that's how we're gonna go out this morning."
GUYS HAVE WON THIS RACE FROM WHERE YOU'RE STARTING. "Yeah, it's such a long race, it's a 500-miler and I'm not concerned about that really. Starting position nowadays are very, very important but a long race like this at such a big track, it doesn't concern me. I'm upset with myself more than anything to have this happen two weeks in a row. Everybody around me says just to forget it, but it bugs me more than anything. To me it's a personal embarrassment and I don't like it."
NOTE: Bobby Labonte won the last race here at Atlanta Motor Speedway in November after starting 39th while Jerry Nadeau, who appeared headed for the victory until running out of gas in the closing laps, took a provisional and started 41st.