TEAM MONTE CARLO DRIVERS EARN TOP FOUR QUALIFYING SPOTS -- Steve Park, Kenny Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner drove their Chevrolet Monte Carlos to the top four qualifying positions at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday. Here are their ...
TEAM MONTE CARLO DRIVERS EARN TOP FOUR QUALIFYING SPOTS -- Steve Park, Kenny Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Mike Skinner drove their Chevrolet Monte Carlos to the top four qualifying positions at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday. Here are their thoughts about Sunday's race.
STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"We got everybody together last night and had dinner. That included the Budweiser guys. It was a Dale Earnhardt, Inc. thing. It was the first pole for Dale and Teresa as car owners, and that was pretty cool. We knew we had some work to do today, so we decided to get everybody together for dinner. We enjoyed it. Everybody was smiling and laughing. The sport is full of highs and lows. Last week we were high and then low. Now we're back high again this week. We just need to pick up the consistency a little bit and eliminate some of these mechanical failures. We've got a good race team, and we've got good race cars. Me and Paul (crew chief Andrews) and Dave (Charpentier) are in a zone right now. We're working together good. I feel like I'm driving real good and using my head. I'm comfortable at all the tracks, and Paul and Dave have helped me feel that way. I come to the race track and they roll that car out of the truck and I go out there and drive my guts out and have all the confidence in the world that car is going to work and handle. I know what's in it when I get out there, and things are just going well right now. We have two top 10s and a pole in the first six races. It's been a pretty good year other than the DNFs. We're building three new speedway cars to go back to test at Talladega, and now we've got to build a Bud Shootout Chevy.
"Steve Park winning the race on Sunday would probably be a bigger upset than Steve Park winning the pole on Friday. I know I was a longshot for the pole, but we feel like we're kind of underrated. We've got a great race team. Things have been working real well the last four or five weeks. I wouldn't be surprised if we got a win here. This place is full of surprises. You have to get to the end to win it, and anything can happen here and anybody can win it. We'd sure like to win. We figured our first pole or win would could at Charlotte or Atlanta or Texas or a place like that. It seems like we're pretty fast at those places all the time. We kind of surprised ourselves yesterday. We were fast all day long. If we can keep it together, we'll be in good shape. We had a good race here last time and got involved in a wreck. We were pitting on the backstretch because we had to use a provisional. We've turned things around. If we can get the car performing the way it did last time, and use our improved starting position to stay out of trouble, anything can happen. There's still Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, guys who run well week in and week out to beat.
"The guys are working hard in the engine shop to try to cure the problems we've got there. They're making good power. We've just got to get to the end of these races. I'm going to try to lead a lap. Then we're going to settle in. We need to stay out of trouble, make good pit stops and not get crashed in the pits. If we can get to that last pit stop and put ourselves in position to win in those last 50 laps, we'll go out there and try to win the race. Hopefully it won't be the same episode that we had the last race here with Earnhardt spinning to win on the last lap, but if we're running second I wouldn't stand too close to the fence on the last lap."
KENNY WALLACE (No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I hope it doesn't jinx me, but this is the best morning practice we've had at Bristol. The car is doing what I want it to do, but we're like everybody else. We keep adjusting here and there and chasing the rubber buildup on the race track. Last year we ran 16th and 11th here and we qualified well both times. Both times, we feel like we let the same things bite us. We put our setup in the car and it seems like we're pretty competitive right now.
"I know Rusty's setup, but I don't know the whole thing so it's hard to run what he's got. I basically could rattle off his four springs and swaybar, but I don't know his shocks and some things. He's got to stay true to his team. They're trying to win. At least I'm a competitor now and he doesn't need to be giving me any of his magic. I think all of us kind of have an idea about the springs. The things that make the difference are the shocks and weights and track bar angles.
"There's a couple of different lines around here. There's what I call the Rusty Wallace line. You run it in the corner and shoot the car across the middle on the bottom. Then you play with the throttle a little bit and then you run the bottom. Rusty seems to have a lot of success with that line. Then you've got Mark Martin and Gordon. They'll run in and let the front end go up right in the middle of the track a little bit, but they'll stay turning and get a good run up off the corner. I think I'm kind of right in the middle there. I think I'm the type of driver that lets the front end go up a little right in the middle of the corner and shoots off.
"This race track doesn't start showing its true colors until about lap 250. I'd like to think I'm in shape. It seems like the first race is always a pretty good race physically. Last year I ran the night race for the Busch cars. I need to take a strong look at that. Even though we ran 11th, I'd have to say with about 50 to go in the Cup race I was done. The night race gives you no time to recover (from Busch race to Cup race). You get to bed at 12 or 1 in the morning, then you're back in the Cup car practicing. At least in the day race, everything is over by 5 and you're relaxing and getting good food in you. The recovery time is better. It's a very physical track, but the key is to get that car handling good and it's easier to drive.
"Mentally what happens is once there are enough wrecks and everybody finally figures it out. That guy is on my rear and he's trying to get underneath me. I'll just go up the track and let him go on. The first hundred laps we're all hungry and trying to hold our positions and fight for it and we end up getting ourselves in trouble. I think the guys who have finished so many races here have done a couple of things. They qualify well. They stay up front and they know that when people are all over their butts, they'd better give way or they're going to get wrecked. They'll get wrecked, not on purpose. A guy will get up underneath them and they'll come down. The problem here is a spinout can cause an eight-car wreck.
"I caught qualifying on the replay last night. Everybody was telling me about my save. After I watched it, it took my heart away. The getting sideways didn't bother me. It was thinking I was going to wreck my car. Being able to save it and have everybody tell me how good a job I did, that was OK. Seeing it on TV, that was even better. We were really lucky, but I was impressed. I'm always impressed with myself (said with laughter).
"I know I can win here. The only way I'm going to win is just do it and then it's that deal on any Sunday. Ward put himself in position at Darlington to do it. We haven't put ourselves in position. We've always qualified well here and maybe we'll put ourselves in position. Maybe we'll jump up and bite them. Everybody who wins needs breaks, and you really need breaks at this track. The pit stops here are huge because it's such a hard track to pass on. I honestly know I can win, and I know a lot of people find that hard to believe. We're not as strong as we need to be, but I know at the end of that race in Atlanta, Mike Skinner was going to win. He knew he could win. He didn't win. It's not fair to ask Mike Skinner if he thinks he could win. He was going to win. He knows he can win. Everything just has to come together."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
"I've got to follow at the beginning because I'm starting third, but I'd like to lead. This is a track where leading is the best place. I'm already finding out that as fast as it is right now, cars get real tight up behind other cars. That's been a problem everywhere. The tires seem to be pretty good. It's a good tire, but it's tighter and you have a little trouble getting the car to turn in the middle the way we'd like it to. The tire has good grip and it seems to stay with it pretty well.
"Do you put the bumper to the guy or not? I think there's respect that's shared out there. I think when it comes down to the closing laps if you're faster than the guy in front of you and you can't pass here, so you've got to find a way to get by him. Just getting up close to him isn't enough. I think it's different if you just take a shot at him. It's like a banzai last chance. At the same time, I've always said, if the guy can get to me and he hit me, then I wasn't far enough ahead of him. Shame on me.
"It's a short track. It's a fast track. It's very hard to pass. You get a guy that's faster than another guy and if he can't pass him you've got to move him somehow. To me, that becomes more of a question for the guy that's in front. I know I'm holding this guy up. How long do I want to hold him up before he moves me? That's a question you've got to ask yourself in that situation, but that's different than the last-lap deal.
"You've got your hands full a lot here. You turn right going into the corner then sharp to the left to get it to turn in the middle. Once you pick up the throttle you're just driving the car with the rear wheels and the horsepower in the car... there's some big bumps you come off the corner with that the tires actually lose traction and you're turning the car under hard throttle and the car wants to jump sideways on you pretty much off every corner on every lap.
"Your arms, your upper body, your neck, you've got to find some ways to support them. I don't care how strong you are. If you don't support it somehow, your head is going to be over on the passenger side. There's no doubt when you leave this race track you're going to feel it more than any other race track. I think road courses are probably one of the most demanding, but they're short races. This is a 500-lap here. Here and Martinsville are tough, here even moreso because of the banking and G forces. I've been working out harder than I ever have and consistently two or three times a week. I feel like I'm in the best shape I've ever been in. The last time I was here, I was hurt with bruised ribs. I felt like that hindered my performance some even though we finished sixth and got in a wreck. It wasn't bad for what we had to deal with. I'm hoping to see a physical race. I'd like to see a physical race because I feel like we'd come out in good shape with that.
"Whatever it takes, but when I say physical I mean long green flag runs, a demanding race on the driver from a physical standpoint. It's nice to have some cautions because you need a breather and to get something to drink. When we run long green flags, you can't get anything to drink because of the way the bottles are situated. You're huffing and puffing anyway. You'd choke on it even if you tried to drink something. Your only breather is a 15 or 16-second pit stop. We've got these systems with the helmets that help us from breathing the outside air, but I don't see how Earnhardt and some of these guys do it with open faced helmet. When I'm not wearing that helmet that's blowing that filtered air in there, I'm a different person by the end of this race.
"You've got to count on your guys in the pits, and you've just got to work on the guy, work on the guy, work on the guy and put that pressure on him until he makes a mistake. If you get a guy that never makes a mistake then you're probably not going to get by him. You can be faster and still not get by him. If you're faster and you can still put the pressure on him... That's the problem with the aero and the speed. When you make the tires go faster it just makes it harder to pass. What's going to happen, the speeds are greater now and guys are able to go through the corners faster. You might be faster than the guy in front of you but as soon as you get up close to him you lose the front end. It starts pushing and you never can put the pressure on him.
"We're really looking for feel right now. We'll go out and make our race runs this afternoon. I feel really good about the way the car is running. I haven't really looked at all the times, but I think we're in pretty good shape."
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I feel like I've struggled this year qualifying with the new 2000 Monte Carlo. I can't blame it on the car, but that's the only thing that's different. Maybe I just haven't found the right balance for me because others have qualified well with it. Steve Park obviously didn't have any problems qualifying with it. It's just me. I haven't found the right setup for me. When I left the house, I felt like we could come to Bristol and get the pole. We qualify well at Bristol (three times in top five and five times in top 10 in eight attempts). Bristol is a good race track for us. Right off the truck, we weren't that good and never really got that good. We weren't that bad, but we didn't think we had a pole contender. When we made our mock up run, David Smith said we weren't out of it. He said we could run a 15.20, but we didn't know if that was going to be good enough. I think the areas I really needed to work on, we did run a little bit quicker. I wasn't disappointed with the qualifying lap. I just think I expected a little bit more.
"We started at the back once here, but it was one of those hero or zero deals, and that's the way it is here. I was talking to Robert Pressley this morning, and I said I can't believe that more people don't bust their butts here qualifying. Kenny Wallace should have wrecked that car yesterday. If you gave him 10 more tries at that, he's going to wreck that car at least eight times. He was in that one spot and caught it just right and was very lucky. He was fortunate he was on a good tire. I think Goodyear has got a good tire here.
"Aero is a big deal everywhere you go, but I'm not sure that's why four Chevys are in the top five. I told Earnhardt yesterday morning that since we were going faster here now, it would probably be easier because it's easier to hold your breath that amount of time. After I went out on the race track for my first two laps, I realized that was wrong. There's nothing easy about getting around this place. It's a controlled wreck. You just about have to wreck the car at both ends of the race track and bring it back with the fenders on it to qualify well here. I think those four Chevys just held their breath a little better.
"I've had a car that was capable of winning or being in the top two or three in the race here, and I didn't take advantage of it. Hopefully we've learned something since then. If we're fortunate enough to make this car drive good and we're in contention at the end, maybe we can get one. This is a place that Rusty Wallace is going to shine. At some places he's not the car to beat, but this is one place where he is. You're going to have to beat Rusty Wallace to win here. Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, he had a bad qualifying run but he'll be up there before long. It's the same group. They're good racers, they've got good teams and excellent engine programs and a lot of depth. They've got what we're starting to get -- a lot of time together. The regulars that are winning all these races with the exception of Tony Stewart, their teams have been together a long time. They've got a lot of depth. I think that's one of the things it takes.
"I've got very positive feelings, very good feelings about this place, and oddly enough, I'm looking forward to going to Texas. That might be hard to believe coming out of my mouth, but we've run well at Texas. I just hope the tire situation holds up and we can get through it without another blown tire and another trip out of there on a helicopter.
"For the equipment that boy (Jamie Skinner) was in, he did way above an average job (qualifying for Busch Grand National race). I don't think he's going to stay there. I don't think the car is capable, and I don't think he's ready to run in the top 10 in Busch yet. I almost wish they would start him in the back. I think he'd be better off. That's how these kids learn. Jamie is going to make somebody a very good driver in the Busch Series. One of the things you have to do in the Busch Series is be a good qualifier. Then you've got to wrap yourself around good people and get with a good race team that can teach you how to race. That seat time has made a star out of Dale Jr. It's making one out of Casey Atwood and Adam Petty. Jamie wore some of these kids out on the late model stock tracks. If he gets wrapped around the same caliber of team these other kids have, I think he can do it in the Busch Series, too. I don't know that the 19 team is ready just yet. They don't have all the stuff I was talking about. They don't have those three or four years together. They don't have the same driver every week to learn his mannerisms."