Atlanta Ford Saturday Notes and Quotes

Jimmy Spencer, driver of the No. 26 Big Kmart Taurus, was part of a press conference with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Gary Nelson this morning in the Atlanta Motor Speedway Infield Media Center. He spoke on a variety of topics, including the...

Jimmy Spencer, driver of the No. 26 Big Kmart Taurus, was part of a press conference with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Gary Nelson this morning in the Atlanta Motor Speedway Infield Media Center. He spoke on a variety of topics, including the new rule change for Chevrolet and the state of NASCAR Winston Cup racing.

JIMMY SPENCER --26-- Big Kmart Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHEVY RULE CHANGE? "I think the Chevrolets needed help. I run them on Saturday in the Busch race. I haven't ran one yet, but listening to the other drivers in the Busch garage and listening to the Cup drivers, I don't think they're complaining...they're complaining and whining like every other guy when they're not running good. I think the thing is it's not a major change. I guess Dale said it helped him, so to say they're gonna go out and just dominate the field, I don't think that's gonna happen. I think in the Ford camp, we really feel like now they're probably, if anything, as equal if not a little bit better. So now maybe it's our turn to start whining." WHAT HAVE BEEN THE TWO OR THREE BIGGEST SURPRISES TO YOU THIS YEAR? "There's a lot of things. I think that Daytona was a little boring for the fans, but yet, to the drivers I don't think it was by any means. Then we come back out to Rockingham and I think that was a real good race, but I know the media is all coming to us and asking us what are we gonna do to make the racing more exciting. If you strapped your butt in the seat of that car and went out there today you'd see it's exciting. Las Vegas last week, I think that race track warrants that type of racing. Last fall here at Atlanta, I think there was a real good race -- two-wide racing, a high groove and low groove. The thing that surprised me is you guys out there jumping on us for maybe not putting a show on, but we can't put a show Dale was saying, everybody's gotta do what they've gotta do with their race car to try and get it as good as they can. The Ford Taurus is a new car for us also, so we're trying to learn what to do with the Taurus just like all the Chevrolet teams are trying to figure out what to do with those. We tested at Bristol this week and ran a 15.15 (seconds), that's unheard of and Bobby Hamilton ran a 15.05. Do you realize how fast that is at Bristol? That's a new track record. There's gonna be a 14-second lap around a half-mile race track. You don't have absolutely any time to make an error and my big thing is I don't think the fans know how fast we're going out there. If Bill Cannell is up there yelling, 'Oh, my God he ran 186.' That's great, but we ran a 192 here, so I think if Goodyear and NASCAR and everybody worked together to slow the cars down a little bit, I think we could get better racing. I'm not afraid of the speed by any means, but what I'm afraid of is the fans are not gonna keep coming back when they see the drivers, which we really have no control of, not racing one another and not being able to get along side each other and put a good show on. I think the five-and-five rule in the past really hurt that. They thought that was a step in the right direction and it hurt the show and now I think the bigger spoiler and more downforce is better, but yet we're going in the wrong direction. We do need to get a lot more lead changes and a lot more side-by-side racing. Gary, you've got your hands full in that department, I have to say that for you. But I think that's something all the competitors have to really worry about and that's the big scare I have coming into this year, that we see less and less side-by-side racing. Maybe they need to change the Winston Cup points deal, maybe they need to change the structure of the purse. I don't know what they need to do to entertain the fact to get the competition...the competition is as tough as it is, but to get the racing better. That's the thing that's a little worrisome for me. The thing I've noticed over the last couple of years is it's getting worse and worse and we're starting to not sell out the grandstands and when we quit doing that it's gonna hurt all of our sponsors and it's gonna hurt everybody in the end result. I think it's something we need to all be concerned about." DO YOU THINK IF THEY KNOCKED 10 MPH OFF YOU COULD WORK THE CAR BETTER? "I don't think it's a matter of working the car better, I think it's a matter of comfort zone for the drivers. We know when we're out there and we're running as hard as we can side-by-side, if we bump something we don't want to take anybody out. I don't care who it is, so you probably have a little different judgement line when you're going at that speed. I think that's something we need to all consider, but if NASCAR would lock down Goodyear and say this is the only tire. I think we need to really look at how to slow the cars down and keep the competition down." WHAT ABOUT BIAS PLY TIRES? "I don't think that will ever happen again. They were great tires. They blew out...The thing about the bias ply tire was it did put on a heck of a show, you saw smoke coming from the right-front tire in Atlanta and Dover and them places, but that's Goodyear. We run radial tires on the street and I think that's Goodyear's thing to sell to the fans, so I don't think that will happen." SOME DRIVERS ARE UPSET WITH THE MEDIA BECAUSE THEY HAVE WRITTEN THINGS CRITICIZING THE RACING. ARE YOU UPSET WITH THE MEDIA? "I think a lot of the drivers are upset because we can't do any different. We're driving our butts off and the fans are getting down. I don't understand it. There are a lot of things to restructure in this sport and the way they tire test is one of them. Why have certain teams tire test because they have a big advantage when they come to these race tracks. Why not let four or five teams go and tire test or don't tire test at all. That's one of the things they need to do. They need to figure out how to level out this competitive field. They've got Roush with five cars, there's Yates and Hendricks, but the thing is if you take four or five cars and they tire test, each one of them drivers has a different feel. I don't care who he is, he has a different feel. Now he's telling the Goodyear engineer, 'Oh, this is what I feel, this is what the tire's doing.' No, the tire is making him feel good when he's driving around the race track, but it might not make the other guys feel good. So, Goodyear's got a hard thing to do there but if they would take four or five teams, let them all test, they'd get a more balanced tire that would be better for the field in my opinion." I THINK THE MEDIA ISN'T PICKING ON THE DRIVERS, BUT IT'S THE SHOW WE'RE INTERESTED IN. "I agree, I don't think you're picking on the drivers and I think you are interested in the show. I love the media to death, they're great people, but we can't do any more. I don't think you guys can, but you've gotta write the story. There's no more controversy. All these drivers just get out and go, 'Oh well' and walk away. I think they're concerned about their sponsors. Kmart is great for me, they don't say anything. I can say whatever I want to say, but the thing is I think the image a lot of the new drivers are bringing in is very cold -- distant. I mean, would you want to date that person? That's the way I look at it. I mean, hell no, I want to date someone who's exciting (laughing). That's just the way I feel about it. It's tough. I don't know how to fix this sport. We've lost a little." WHAT IF YOU HAD MORE STOCK CARS? "That will never happen. You can't make a car stock because these guys are so good -- these fabricators. You've gotta look at the technology. I remember a couple of years ago, you didn't even know what a computer was. Now you guys type it into a computer and save it, you've got those cameras that shoot pictures -- it's all technology and technology's got us too. The thing about the technology of this sport is Gary keeps coming up with these templates to try and balance the field out and he's doing a great job at it, but if they didn't have templates like that and we had stock cars, my God...NASCAR, they've got a hard job to police it and slow it down but the single biggest factors to slow these cars down are horsepower and tires." ON SPEEDS AT BRISTOL: "I think we need to figure out how to keep the stability in the car but figure out how to slow the cars down. Why did they change the tire at Bristol? It's the best show on the circuit and now we go back and we're a half-a-second faster. Is that stupid? That's what I'm getting at. Is that stupid? I'm not afraid of going fast, I love it. The adrenaline in me, when I went around Bristol in 15 second flat it's like, 'Wow, what a great rush.' But then I'm sitting there thinking, 'It's gonna ruin this show. It's gonna ruin this show, it really is.' There are always wrecks at Bristol, that's what fans come to see. The thing I'm getting at though is that we didn't need to pick up a second of speed, that's what I'm trying to say. If we're sitting in the grandstands, and I've been in the grandstands many, many times, and I'm sitting there watching, I don't know 200 miles an hour at Daytona versus 180 when they're all together and putting a show on. That's what I'm getting at." COMPARE THE STABILITY OF THE CARS WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED TO NOW? "I think the thing is when we ran back then we didn't have the technology and the cars didn't know what the wind tunnel was. We used to run at Daytona with five degrees of spoiler and that was actually slowing the car down but we all thought it was going faster. It was actually lifting the car, so if you were putting 30 degrees of spoiler on the car when we were faster back in 1989 and 1990 when I started than it is now. I think Gary's got the right idea coming out with the same template because for every car I think that's what he has to do. Somebody is gonna keep coming up with ideas on how to make these other cars different. The difference back then, the cars...bias ply tires they blew out. They didn't blow out. When they ran over something they would blow out, but I think when you think back years ago I think the car was stable but it was slow. I attribute that to tires and motors. We used to have like 670 horsepower and now we're 770, so I think it was a lot of things that just kept creeping up on us, I don't think it's just one single thing. For Bruton (Smith) to say it's aerodynamics, I don't agree with that. I think it's everything. I think it's everything we have to look at. Maybe it's take a quarter inch off the spoiler or quarter inch off the valance and maybe it's doing a little carburetor change and let's try to do all these things at once."

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, took part in a question and answer session in the Atlanta Motor Speedway Infield Media Center after Saturday's morning practice session. Jarrett captured his second pole of the season and will start first in tomorrow's scheduled running of the Cracker Barrel 500.

DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PRACTICE TODAY AND QUALIFYING YESTERDAY? "I'd prefer to talk about the qualifying, it went a lot better than practice did this morning. Yesterday is a one-lap deal and it's so totally different than getting ready for the race here. We got in what was a good-enough lap to get the pole, but race-wise this morning we weren't as good. This is a new tire here and I guess, even though we've run something similar to this at Michigan and Charlotte last year, I don't think we were as good at those two places as what we normally are with that, so we're still searching a little bit for exactly what we want with it. We got it better towards the end, but it looks pretty much like that's gonna be the last practice today. Hopefully, maybe we'll get something at the end but it doesn't look very good. We're still searching a little bit. We're not bad, we're just not as good as we'd like to be." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RECONFIGURATION OF THIS TRACK? "Since the reconfiguration of this race track it's definitely a lot different than what it used to be. It's probably as much of a challenge as anywhere that we go. The one good thing that's happened over the last couple of years with it is we've gotten to the point that we can race on the top of the race track or the bottom and that's different than the first year or so after the repaving and the reconfiguration. It's the fastest track to me that we race at, but it takes a good combination. You have to have a good handling race car and you have to have a lot of horsepower, so it takes that combination if you're gonna do well." YOU HAVE TWO POLES THIS YEAR AFTER NONE LAST YEAR. ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT? "No, I haven't done a thing different. I barely had enough time to go to the race shop with all we had going on, so I'm not doing anything different. Qualifying is about your equipment more than anything else. You get a lot of horsepower and that certainly makes my job a lot easier and then you get a car that drives pretty good. You can tell on days where the car doesn't drive good, you only have to be off just a little bit and you start 20th instead of starting first or second. We did that very thing at Rockingham. We were off just a little bit, just a little bit too tight in the center of the corner, and we started twentysomething, but if you get the car right with the horsepower we have, then we have a good chance at starting up front." IS THIS THE MOST STRESSFUL TRACK LAP-IN AND LAP-OUT ON A DRIVER? "I think probably on a driver this place wears on you as much as anywhere that we go. You have to work awfully hard here and you realize the speed that you're carrying in the corner and then if you're gonna run well you've got to be in the gas a lot here. You're carrying a lot of speed off the corner and you need to use up a lot of this race track, more so than even when it was repaved and reconfigured because the car stuck so well you stayed right on the bottom. Now you use a lot of the race track to run, basically, the same speeds we were then. So, yeah, this is a tough race track on the drivers. I mean, it's enough banking that you get a lot of g-forces that sit you down in the seat pretty good and for 500 miles you work hard here." WHITE KNUCKLE TIME? "It's almost white-knuckle every lap here. To go fast that's what you have to do, you have to be hung out just a little bit so it's a pretty tough lap each time around here." HOW MUCH THINNER IS THE MARGIN OF ERROR HERE BECAUSE OF THE SPEEDS? "I'd say if you're comfortable you're not going as fast as you need to go. It's to the point you have to be ready at every second for any type of little slip because you know you're right there on that edge. Sometimes it's hard to tell when you go over that. You have to keep working and finding "out whenever you get to that point that you can't go in the corner any further or you can't pick the gas up any quicker and harder, so it's a fine line there but you have to do that every lap. If you get the car to where you say, 'I'm comfortable' more than likely that's not gonna be very fast and you're gonna be riding around out there by yourself towards the back being comfortable." IS THE COMING STRETCH ONE OF THE TOUGHEST YOU CAN GO THROUGH? "Each week offers something different and a different challenge, so in one sense that's fun that you're not running the same old type of race tracks. Even though they tried to build Texas a lot like this place, it's totally different and you drive it differently so you can't even say there would be similar tracks that you run in a three or four week span. It is tough. You've gotta have different types of race cars for most every one of those tracks. I'm sure, if we run well here tomorrow, we'll look at taking the same car from here to Texas, but the rest of the tracks take something pretty much different. It's a challenge not only for the driver to adapt to each of those different facilities, but it's also a challenge for the crew to keep that many cars ready." ARE PLACE LIKE TEXAS, BRISTOL, DARLINGTON THE TOUGHEST TRACKS YOU RUN? "I don't know about that. I'd make somebody mad if I said that there track wasn't tough too. You look at a place like Pocono, that's a tough race track. Each one in itself, you talk about Sears Point, that's a very very difficult race track, but you're talking about some difficult tracks when you do talk about Atlanta, Darlington, Bristol, Texas is difficult. Talladega is not as difficult as what it is just hectic all day long." YOU HAD SOME STRONG WORDS TO SAY YESTERDAY AFTER QUALIFYING. DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE THE PERCEPTION OF HOW THE RACING HAS BEEN BECAUSE THE PERCEPTION IS PRETTY WIDE SPREAD? "By whom?" BY AN AWFUL LOT OF FANS AND MEDIA? "Where are we getting the awful lot of fans from that were saying this. Are you getting it through your papers or your publications? Where are we hearing the fans speak? I'm not sure where it's all coming from from the fans. There have been over 100,000 at most of these race tracks. Sure, there were seats open at Rockingham and there are gonna be seats open here tomorrow, but they'll tell you there are gonna be more race fans here than what they've had in spring races. There were more at Rockingham, they just have more seats to fill. Again, I think the expectations are very very high. The drivers and the teams are doing everything that we possibly can to race hard and race well and put on a good show. I don't have the answer to what's gonna make it better for you. The days of just racing three-wide and beating and banging on each other, these cars are too sensitive aero-wise to be messing up any part of it, so you have to make sure that you keep the fenders straight on it or you're gonna take yourself out of an opportunity to do that. From where I'm sitting and in talking to the guys that I race against, we seem to think that we've had some decent racing, but, obviously, some people are taking it that we're not. I think a lot of people are led to believe, again, it just like an election, they believe a lot about what they read and don't know the personalities themselves. A lot of these people might not have thought it was too bad a race until they picked up the paper Monday morning and somebody wrote that it wasn't a very good race and then all of a sudden they've got that idea that it wasn't a good race. I think that you all could help out the situation a lot and say everybody is working hard and this is good racing. Our worst racing is better than any other racing there is in the country or the world, so we have to look that we still have the best thing going regardless and we're trying to make it better each and every week. We would like nothing better than to run across here three-wide for the finish tomorrow, but I don't know that that can happen. We are working and there are just a lot of variables that we have to encounter every weekend."

Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 13 Duracell Ultra/Turtle Wax Taurus, did not make the field as a result of rain cancelling second-round qualifying attempts. Gordon, who made the first three races, had the 46th-fastest time in first-round qualifying on Friday.

ROBBY GORDON --13-- Duracell Ultra/Turtle Wax Taurus -- "We had a rough weekend. In Friday's morning practice we had a problem with the chassis that we eventually found to be in the truck arm. Essentially, it forced us to miss the practice altogether. We can't do that. Every minute is so valuable to us. We come to the track each weekend with a fresh sheet of paper. If you look at the first three races, we have done a great job of improving as the weekend moves along, but when you take away two hours of practice -- ouch. Right now we're a practice session behind. What's frustrating is we've worked hard to make the car fast and now it is. The rain has killed us today. This morning we were very fast and given all the little tweaks, sticker tires and me pushing, we definitely felt the car would make the show. It's unfortunate. I hate going home, but we'll be ready to go for Darlington more determined than you can imagine."

Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 16 Taurus, sat on the pole here at Atlanta in the final race of 1999 and will start fifth tomorrow.

KEVIN LEPAGE --16-- Taurus -- HOW CRUCIAL WAS THIS PRACTICE WITH HAPPY HOUR POSSIBLY BEING RAINED OUT? "It was definitely crucial for us because we're still struggling trying to figure out what's gonna happen. The car is driving real good, it's just a little bit too free for me to be fast for a long run. We're gonna make a bunch of changes and see what the other guys have got in their cars and make an educated guess tomorrow." YOU STARTED ON THE POLE HERE A FEW MONTHS AGO, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM THAT EXPERIENCE INTO TOMORROW? "We brought the same car back, but we didn't bring back the same body and Goodyear didn't bring back the same tire, so right now we're struggling as a team to figure out what this Goodyear tire wants. We're gonna sit down here and have a meeting with all the (Roush Racing) crew chiefs and try to decipher who has the right setup and make an educated guess tomorrow."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Jimmy Spencer , Kevin Lepage , Robby Gordon