BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T) "Atlanta has been a good race track. We had a good run there in the spring. We ended up in a little mishap there way early in the race. I said earlier that the new design has been very...
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"Atlanta has been a good race track. We had a good run there in the spring. We ended up in a little mishap there way early in the race. I said earlier that the new design has been very good to me. We came there in the spring and were able to sit on the pole. Mike (crew chief Ford) and all the guys have worked hard. I think that's what was more disappointing Sunday than anything. We had an awful good race car and it's the best I'd been at Martinsville in a long time. It's disappointing for the guys as hard as they've worked and as much effort as they've put in not to be able to finish up and end up as bad as we did Sunday.
"We've been pretty successful on the higher speed stuff this year. We've really worked hard on that program. There shouldn't be any reason we shouldn't be pretty close unless things have changed quite dramatically. You never know. As competitive as everybody is today, and everybody sees it, gosh, who know who can be on the pole the way it turns out this day and time.
"I think right now we try to gamble a little bit. I talked to Ray (car owner Evernham) yesterday, and I think we're willing to turn the wick up on some stuff. Right now we don't have anything to lose. Right now we just need to run good and force some things out and make it better for next year. It's just like a lot of things you can't control in this business. You try to do everything you can not to make mistakes. Right now we've got to go as hard as we can go and do the best we can here in the next several races and see if we can make something happen or better things happen for next season.
"I'm not getting any younger, but I look at it from the standpoint of how well I feel from year to year. I told Ray this early into this deal, I don't want to become a negative to this race team. I don't want a lack of what I'm not doing of whatever become a point that I'm the one holding them back. When that happens, I need to get on my own horse and go on down the road. This year I've worked hard trying to get in good shape, trying to keep the team going, trying to keep Ray in a better position week in and week out. I don't really know how to answer that. Yes, I guess the season has done a lot for me from the standpoint of knowing that we are capable of winning races. There's still some races that I haven't done well at or haven't done well at this season. I'd like to work through and get better at 'em. I try not to think about that. Right now my main goal and main concentration is to run good. Yes, it has rejuvenated me quite a bit to be competitive each and every week.
"It varies at different race tracks. Typically you would go to a place like Martinsville where you average 90 mph and you say, 'man, I couldn't get hurt there.' But you're just as prone there as anywhere else. You don't put that in your mind like you do if you go to Talladega or some of the other high-speed places. When you get into races, as long as I've been doing this stuff, you just try to put it out of your mind. You try not to make stupid mistakes in the race car. You just try to let your ability and experience bring you through and put you in the right places. Some things you can't control. NASCAR has done a good job mandating a lot of stuff. They've gotten a lot better as far as the safety issues are concerned and what we need to be doing better inside the car. It helps you make it to the next week, and I just don't think I think about it any more. I just go out and do what I can do. If you've got the car to do it, hammer down. If you don't, come back next week.
"I think overall when you look at it, yeah, they've done a good job. I wish we could get into a formula where you could make your changes at the first part of the year, the way it's been in the past, and not make any changes during the year, but the only thing I see is it's so easy for somebody to go and politick for a change and depend on who can do the best job you get the change done.
"I don't know that I agree with a common template because you've got to have some parameters in these deals. You've got to have somebody winning the race and you've got to have somebody losing the race. That's the way it's always going to be. We're eventually going to get these cars where they're all going the same speed. They're pretty close on days now.
"I've still got some pretty good remembrance of it (1992 season finale at Atlanta). When we were in the race, me and (Tim) Brewer and the Budweiser team, at that time we were kind of a longshot. Mathematically we had a good shot at it, but yet we didn't really have anything to lose. Davey (Allison) had it to lose. We had it to win. We did everything right that day. We led the race obviously, lacked a little bit of leading all the race, yet we had a good run. (Alan) Kulwicki had a good run. We won the race, and he won the championship. We did everything we could do, and he did everything he needed to do. It was a good recollection. Alan was a unique character. He was definitely a well-motivated person. He kind of reminds me a little bit of how Ryan Newman came into this. He's got the engineering background and was able to make it work more as an independent where Ryan has Penske. Everybody seems to make their deal work.
"The only thing we didn't do was win the championship, but we came close. Looking at that day, I won the race. Gordon started and Petty ended. It was a big day. I look at Alan the next year and how bad he struggled the first few races. He was still trying to do it himself. He had the load of the Winston Cup Championship on his shoulders. He was trying to please everybody and still do it the way he'd been doing it. That's the way I classified myself in the late 80s and early 90s. I eventually had to quit working on the race car and doing the part of doing the promotional stuff and driving the car. There was no room to do everything and be successful at it.
"We're a ways out as far as what we can do. Right now we need to concentrate on what we can do better for the next several races. Hopefully we can make it work for next year. Our biggest deal is, this is a big sport and we need to win races. If we win races and run well the points will take care of themselves. We've come up and had problems the last several weeks. A few things have bit us, bad luck or misfortune or whatever you want to call it. We're definitely not rolling over by no means.
"Atlanta has definitely changed since the redesign in 92 or 93 or whenever they changed it around. The biggest thing today is as it's aged since the change, it's gotten a lot more raceable. You'll see guys run the bottom, middle, top, kind of like it used to be. That's going to be the key deal today, who can get it worked out. Some guys might be better getting in the corner, and some guys might be better getting off the corner. I don't know at any of these places if there's any one key area, take Atlanta for an example, that's any better or any worse to pass. It depends on how well you've got your car working. If you're better than the guy getting in the corner and you can beat him in the corner or if you're better up off the corner you can beat him up off the corner. That's the thing about Atlanta to me. Atlanta is like Michigan and some of the other places. You can capitalize on somebody's weaknesses and it can work vice versa also. They can capitalize on your weaknesses.
"I feel like they're over templated, but that's my opinion. I was in it years ago when you had more parameters of doing things in ways but you had less also. When I first started running NASCAR, you had to run stock body parts. Now, these cars are all virtually handmade, so you kind of lend yourself to be put in a box. You're still at the discretion of the guy putting the template on the car and how well he measures everything up.
"Now they're talking about a body location rule, where the body sits in relationship to the tires from forward to rear. We carried the same car from Pocono to Indy. They measured the car differently at those two places. What they've been doing is writing the numbers down of all the cars to determine where they're going to put the body location. They had one number at Pocono and one number at Indy and it was the same car. It hadn't been changed. How do you do it?
"Getting past Atlanta, at Atlanta anything can happen. I do hope as good as we ran at Darlington that we learned a little bit about that tire and how that things works because Rockingham and Darlington are so similar. Phoenix is hit or miss. I've run good at Phoenix and I've run bad at Phoenix. Hopefully this time we'll run good. If we can halfway do what we did last year at Homestead, we'll be in good shape. We're looking forward to the upcoming races. From the team's standpoint, we're all ready for a break. It's been a long season. A lot has happened. Ray is in his second year of doing this deal, and I think he's grown a lot as team owner. I think the guys have come together good as a race team, but on the other hand, I think we need a break.
"I didn't mind it, but we didn't make 500 laps and that was a bummer. It suited me pretty good. We had the car set up real well and we had a pretty good piece. I didn't think it was a big deal once the race got started and got a little rubber down.
"I would treat it like there's no tomorrow. In this sport, you never know what's going to happen. Just like Alan, unfortunately he didn't live very long after winning his. There you have Earnhardt with all the success he had and never was able to enjoy it. You'd better live and take care of it. I look back on my deal, and I wish I had done a little bit more, yet I'm not going to regret anything I did. I was proud to have won the championship. I guess what I'm saying is being able to enjoy it a little more. Ray has been extremely good to me. Any way I can help him for what he's done for me would definitely be the direction I'd go into. I feel like I'm the happiest now I've ever been. I have been in pretty much a full circle. Somebody commented the other day and said about all the team owners that I've driven for, and I think, well, I drove for Harry Melling, I drove for Junior (Johnson), I drove for myself and Ray. That's four in my career. That's pretty good. Looking at that side of it, I've been pretty fortunate. I'm proud to have a second chance from what Ray and Mike and all the team guys have supported me throughout the last year and three-quarters. I just hope we can continue on the rest of this year and do better next season."
MIKE FORD (Crew chief No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Intrepid R/T)
"We went down and tested (at Atlanta) the beginning of October. I think we had a really good test. We concentrated for two straight days on race setup. Obviously we went down and sat on the pole, but we haven't race quite as well as we'd like to. I feel like we had a top 10 car, but we needed to improve on that. Things we've learned over the course of the year will apply to Atlanta. We're looking forward to going there.
"It's been a huge asset (Elliott's experience working on race cars), especially with me coming in as a young crew chief when he still had the McDonald's team. I worked with Bill then for the final year of that. He understands the race car. We're getting into some areas now where engineering prevails, things are a little more black and white in some decisions, but he's right there. He understands what we're doing. That makes his input back into the decisions made on the car a lot easier. He does help a great deal as far as coming up with the best setup.
"It is a bit of a guessing game before you get to the race track. The thing you have to do is keep a very open mind when you get there and think of issues the modifications will affect. Obviously grip with relationship to the race track at Martinsville. The area you need the most grip at Martinsville is on throttle your forward drive. The thing you have to do before you get there without a test is be able to come up with an idea at the shop and have all the pieces ready to be put on the car before you get there. A lot of the preparation you do never sees the race car, but you do have to have a plan before you get there. We were able to get a handle on the track fairly early. We had several things we had worked on at the shop in regards to forward drive. We made numerous gains. It seemed like we needed just a little bit more to grab the pole, but there really weren't any surprises. The track acted like we thought it would, and that was a pleasant surprise for us.
"Obviously we don't have control over gaining points all the time. The thing I can tell our fans is that we're giving 100 percent every week. We're trying to sit on poles, and we're trying to win races. The last few weeks we haven't gotten the finishes we wanted, but it wasn't from lack of effort from the guys at the shop and from Bill's side, Ray's side. We're giving 100 percent, putting competitive race cars out, and we continue to plan that and hopefully become more competitive.
"Ray has got a lot of respect for me, and I've got a lot of respect for him. We don't always see eye to eye on things, but he does see results at the end of the day from the way we handle things on the No. 9 Dodge. He's given us a lot of room to do the things we want to do. To say he's hands-on everyday, I think would not be accurate. He's involved with a lot of the decisions we make, but the decisions are made by the team. I would be stupid not to ask his advice on a lot of things. Obviously I do that. He's seen a lot more things than I have because he's had a longer career as a crew chief. The everyday dealings of the race team are pretty much done by the race team.
"I would say obviously above and beyond anything would be rest. It's been a long stretch, and you have to have a clear and open mind to a lot of things. You can work yourself into a hole in a matter of a few weeks if you don't get any time to rest and think about other things than just racing. If you go two months and don't have a day off, odds are that third month aren't going to be real good to you, not that you're not giving 100 percent, but your 100 percent that day would be a lot better if you had rest. Keeping the guys fresh through this part of the season, to me, is the largest asset you can have. If your guys come in with an open mind and fresh mind, they get along better at this point of the season because they spend so much time together. The thing that I think is the most important that doesn't affect day-to-day activity on the race car is keeping the guys fresh.
"We've got a lot of people here that do their job well. We've got a lot of people here who have won championships in this sport. It isn't a lack of direction. We have good direction. We're working on cars for next year. These Final Four races we're giving 100 percent just like we do every week. You cannot become content once you start winning races and just recondition a lot of those race cars. What gets you to that point of winning races is the thought process. You have to continue that same thought process and move on. These last four races, we are going to give 100 percent. We're still thinking we can win a couple of these races and sit on a couple more poles before the end of the year. That's what we're shooting for."