Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 32 Tide Taurus, qualified seventh for Sunday's Pepsi Southern 500 after not making the field for the spring race here at Darlington. He spoke about the improvement his team has made since the Mall.com 400...
Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 32 Tide Taurus, qualified seventh for Sunday's Pepsi Southern 500 after not making the field for the spring race here at Darlington. He spoke about the improvement his team has made since the Mall.com 400 and what their expectations are for tomorrow's race.
SCOTT PRUETT --32-- Tide Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR QUALIFYING RUN? "We're excited. We came here in the spring and loaded up and went home. We were virtually one of the slowest cars during that whole weekend and it was real frustrating. We couldn't come to grips with the track and now to come back and qualify top 10 in both the Busch and the Cup, I'm real pleased with the whole Tide team -- what they've done, and I'm real pleased with the progress I'm making. As I said earlier, our learning curve right now is pretty vertical. Everytime I run a race I'm learning an awful lot and this is one of those deals where you can come back and really see how bad I was in the spring and the improvement I made coming back to late summer."
IS IT YOUR EXPERIENCE, THE TEAM, EVERYTHING? "Everything. Experience, racing miles under my belt, the team coming together, better race cars, better preparation, everything. Everything is coming together. With a new team and new people everybody has to start finding their way and as we've moved our way through the season we've weeded through and brought in some new talent, got rid of some old baggage, fine-tuned what we're doing and we continually moved forward with it."
TO DO WELL HERE AND AT RICHMOND NEXT WEEK, WOULD THAT BE OVER-THE-TOP FOR YOU TO IMPROVE THAT MUCH? "It would. I said Richmond was my toughest race by far, but that's probably because I didn't race this race. I didn't race Bristol and I didn't race Rockingham. So, last weekend I had a blast. Unfortunately, Robert Pressley said something happened to his car because he and I got into it pretty big. He virtually turned left right in front of me, so our day got cut a little short. It was only 100 laps short, so we were real pleased with that weekend and then coming here, quite frankly, I was a bit unsure of what to expect. We rolled the Busch car out, ran it on the track and were like fifth quick. We rolled the Cup car out and we were like fourth quick and I go, 'Wow, this is OK.' So if we can do that as we venture back to the tracks for the second time -- places like Richmond, like Darlington, I think that it just shows where we're going as a team and how I'm learning as a driver."
CAN YOU WEIGH HOW MUCH OF THE IMPROVEMENT IS CAR OR DRIVER? "It's just both. Both are coming together. The team doesn't know what to give me with the car until I can give them the good, solid feedback and I can't give them good, solid feedback until I know what I'm trying to do out on the race track. I don't know how many of you guys saw me run around here in the spring, but, according to Joe Garone our general manager, he said, 'You looked like crap here in the spring and, boy, you look like you've got the thing down now. I mean, you look real good through one and two where we can see.' So now I'm real deliberate and asking for things out of the car. At that point the team is starting to give me and prepare me better cars as I'm needing them. When we first came here they didn't know what to prepare me because I didn't know what I needed, so it's really been one step forward, one step forward on both sides of the fence."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO DRIVE THIS PLACE BEING A NEWCOMER? "All the Cup tracks that we go to are difficult. Some certainly are more forgiving than others. This is one of those that's not forgiving at all, so when you come here you have to know the line, you have to know how not to overdrive the car, you have to know how to use up the whole track and different lines. Coming into this sport as a totally green behind the ear rookie that's never done this before, it's taken time. What we're pleased about with the whole Tide team is the fact we ran so abominable here for the first race and come back and, I feel, put on a pretty decent show today just says, 'Hey, you know what, we're headed in the right direction, we're doing things rights, let's just keep doing what we're doing.' Give us a year or so and we'll be in good shape."
WHAT EXPECTATIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE RACE ON SUNDAY? "Finishing. The same thing that we're expecting out of Darlington is what we wanted out of Bristol. Right now, I have never raced here. I have run some qualifying laps here, but I still have not had the opportunity to race, so, with that being said, heading into the race Saturday I hope to learn a lot and then the Cup race on Sunday hope to just build upon that, so we'll see."
IS ONE OF THE REASONS TO RUN THE BUSCH RACE EXPERIENCE? "That's exactly why we did it. We were trying to gain any sort of race experience coming here. First is the race to get in the race and then the race itself, so we saw the opportunity to run the McDonald's car just to get a few more miles under my belt and get the opportunity to have one race under my belt as I go into Sunday's 500."
Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Taurus, captured the pole for today's NASCAR Busch Series race in addition to qualifying fifth for tomorrow's NASCAR Winston Cup event. Following are excerpts from a Q&A held late Friday in the Darlington infield media center.
MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline Taurus -- CAN YOU ADDRESS THE STUCK THROTTLE SITUATION AGAIN? SOMEONE SAID THE 18 MAY HAVE HAD ONE WHEN HE WRECKED IN PRACTICE. "It has been addressed with the most urgency possible. I can just tell you that the driver can't be responsible for shutting it off when it sticks wide open. You wait until it's too late anyway to let of the gas and when you let off and it stays down, you can't shut it off no matter what the switch is. Roush Racing tested a switch here that will shut if off. If the throttle is stuck down and you push on the brakes with x amount of pressure it turns the engine off. That is being looked at right now by NASCAR and that's a very nice feature. It's something that should be mandatory on every race car from street stockers all the way up to Formula One."
BOBBY SAID HE DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO HIT THE KILL SWITCH. "You've gotta get a good hold because you're fixing to hit that wall hard. You can't turn loose and push something and you can't be expected to remember that. We're not bright by any means. We need it to do it for us." DO YOU HAVE ONE ON YOUR CAR? "We have the NASCAR mandated button that you push, which most of us aren't gonna remember to push if we get in trouble. I pushed it at Indy, but I made it through the corner without wrecking before I pushed it. If you get in a dangerous situation where Bobby was, you're not gonna push it. This new thing NASCAR is reviewing right now that Roush tested up here in our test on Jeff Burton's car, it is a terrific piece. It is a real answer to the stuck throttles. It still doesn't mean you won't wreck, but you won't have the rear wheels pushing you into the wreck at least."
BUT NASCAR WON'T LET YOU PUT IT IN YOUR CAR THIS WEEK? "They're looking at it right now. It was only tested a week ago and they have to approve it. We wouldn't put it on our car and I don't imagine that we've flat asked to. We're asking them to approve it. If they approve it, it will go on all the cars. It may not be quite ready, plus there may not be 50 of them made yet. You've got 50 cars here and in the worse case scenario you could take them out of each car every week for a while, but they had one here and it's an engineering dream. Those engineers up in Michigan are pretty slick. It's a very nice piece, but I'm sure there was just one to present to NASCAR and I don't know if they're reviewing it, how close they are to approving it, and then they would mass produce them as quickly as possible. It worked well in the test and Steve Peterson was here from NASCAR and did see it. To answer your question, I guess we haven't asked if we could put it on our car or not and I would assume it would be unapproved because there is a good deal of wiring that goes with it. They're so funny about traction control and all those things that they're gonna have to kind of put their blessing on it."
HOW DO YOU FEEL AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE END OF YOUR BUSCH CAREER? "These things are so difficult to do today versus three years ago even. That part of it, I'll be relieved to be finished with, but the thought does go through my mind that I may never see anymore poles or anymore wins. That has been one of the cornerstones of my career is my Busch racing success and you better believe that I know I'm walking away from that. I'm not saying I won't ever go back. I won't ever go back while I'm running a full-time Winston Cup schedule, I can't juggle both schedules anymore and it does. In a way it's kind of painful for me to think about stepping away from something that has worked so well and all, but it's just part of what we have to do with the monsterous demand that is put on us today in Winston Cup."
Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 16 FamilyClick.com Taurus, was involved in a practice crash during the morning session. The car caught on fire, but Lepage was able to escape and walk away without even taking a trip to the infield care center.
KEVIN LEPAGE --16-- FamilyClick.com Taurus -- "My arm's a little warm (right arm and shoulder). From what I'm hearing, it looked like the 75 car blew a brake rotor and I must have run over a piece of it and I was on for the ride. There was nothing I could do. I blew a right-front tire and hit the wall. That wasn't the bad part. The bad part was the fire, I mean as soon as I hit the wall there was fire all inside the race car. Trying to find the pin and get it pulled so we could get the fire down and that stopped it. I mean, it was a good thing that it stopped it, but it just took me a few seconds to find the pin. It's just one of them deals, a bad break because we had just come in and made some adjustments to the race car and it responded very well. Now we've gotta start all over again."
IT HAPPENED PRETTY FAST. "Yeah. We had run a couple laps and the car was responding very well and all of a sudden it just took off into the wall. The 75 car was in front of us, so, obviously, he must have blown a brake rotor getting into the corner."
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, qualified ninth for tomorrow's Pepsi Southern 500. He talked about his chances in the event as well as the opportunity to gain ground on points leader Bobby Labonte.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- A YEAR AGO THIS PLACE WASN'T KIND, BUT SO FAR THINGS HAVE GONE BETTER THIS SEASON. "No it wasn't, but we actually could have had a tenth place finish, but we made a decision to pit there and then the rain decided to come back. That's the only thing that's bad is that indecision. That could certainly be something that makes it more difficult than it already is, I mean it's enough of a challenge without having to find out what's gonna happen weatherwise. We can't control that, so we'll just try to control what we can. We are starting better and that gives us an opportunity to run the race that we want to and to try to just race the race track, which you need to do. Hopefully, everything will turn out well."
WHAT DOES RACING THE RACE TRACK MEAN TO YOU, ESPECIALLY IN THE FIRST COUPLE OF LAPS WHEN YOU'RE STARTING IN THE TOP 10? "That just means I want to get myself in a position to where, if I'm gonna make a pass on a guy it's got to be that he's really slowed down or he's having trouble. Otherwise, I just don't want to put my car in a position to where I can get myself or somebody else in trouble. This race track now is so worn and the tire is so hard that you need all of the race track just to make your lap. To make a pass, somebody really has to be having trouble, so all I want to do -- for lack of a better term -- is just race the track, do what I can do with my car. If somebody catches me, if they've caught me, there's no reason in holding them up. All they're gonna do is I'm gonna put them in a position to possibly make a mistake and cost both of us. The racing, you just have to leave it until the last 100 miles. You always wonder why, if everybody stands and say that why do we ever have a wreck, but we do because people get impatient and they decide they want to go. So it makes it very difficult to do that for 500 miles."
BOBBY HAS GOTTEN OFF TO A ROUGH START THIS WEEKEND, SO DO YOU FEEL THERE'S A BETTER CHANCE OF GAINING GROUND IN THE POINTS RACE? "You always know coming to a place like this that there is that possibility because it only takes so very little for one of the guys to have a really good car and another one to be off just a little bit and have that set him way back at this race track. So, yeah, I look at this as a place that could change. Will it? I know Bobby Labonte and I know Jimmy Makar and no matter where they're gonna start they're gonna be up into the top 10 at least before the race is over. They have good handling cars, Bobby is a very smart driver, so unless they just miss it or something happens, we're probably not gonna pick up a lot of points. But the opportunity is there for us to finish ahead of him and that's all we need to do. If we can just finish ahead of him each week, we still have enough time to do that (take the points lead).
STACY COMPTON --9-- Kodiak/Cougar Taurus -- SECOND-ROUND QUALIFYING HERE IS PRETTY TOUGH ISN'T IT? "We knew it. You at Steve Park was seventh-quickest yesterday, he re-qualified and we re-qualified. We were decent, but he was seven-tenths slower than he was yesterday and he was less than a tenth quicker than us. We shouldn't have put ourselves in this position to have to worry about this to begin with. I'm pretty disappointed. The Kodiak Melling team is better than this, we just have some problems we've gotta work out. We shouldn't put ourselves in the position to be here and we're going home. It's awful disappointing, but we need to work a little harder."
MARK MARTIN --60-- Winn Dixie Taurus -- VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW: IT LOOKED LIKE THE DIFFERENCE WAS THE LAST PIT STOP. "That was the real key. The Winn Dixie team got the job done on pit road and got us out in first place. Jeff Burton was really strong today and I don't know if I could have passed him or not. We chased the setup around and the last run was the strongest the car had been all day. That was when it counted and that's when we needed it. We had the track position to go with it, so we had to work for it. Jeff was gonna be awfully hard to beat today." HOW WERE YOU IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE? "The car just wasn't quite handling like we needed it to right until the end and then the last setup was good."
YOUR LAST TIME AT DARLINGTON IN A BUSCH CAR. THOUGHTS? "I'm gonna miss it for sure. I've got four more races in the Winn Dixie car and I look forward to them, but I'm certainly gonna miss it."
JEFF BURTON --9-- NorthernLight.com Taurus (Finished 2nd) -- "Obviously the pit stop hurt us some, but you have good days and you have bad days. We had great pit stops all day and we didn't have a bad pit stop there at the end they just had a great one, so I'm not down on my guys. They worked their butts off and we just got beat."
HOW ABOUT THE HANDLING THE LAST FEW LAPS? "It never handles as good behind another car as they do in front of it, especially when it's the 60 car. When it's the 60 car it never handles as well because that thing is always so fast. Mark does such a good job. He's a great race car driver and when you finish second to him you've had a good day's work."
HOW WAS YOUR DAY? "We had a good day. We came a long way pretty quick. Our car was a lot better than I anticipated it being. Ironically there we didn't have the pit stop we needed to. We had a good pit stop, but not a great pit stop there at the end. We still had a chance to overcome it. We had enough laps, but I made the car a little too tight on the last run, but, nevertheless, it was a good run."
ELTON SAWYER --98-- Lysol Taurus (Finished 3rd) -- "I was having start in second gear and, evidently, they were in first. First gear would have been way too low for us, I would have just spun the tires, but, man, what a great day for the Lysol team. The guys did a great job. Jack (Roush) gave us a great engine, it was as good as the two in front of us, we just got beat by two of the best. My hat's off to Mark Martin -- he's not gonna be in this series next year. I'm sure there are a lot of people saying that's gonna be good, but not me. He's a great competitor and he's the man at Darlington."
IT LOOKED LIKE YOU NEEDED LONG RUNS. "Yeah, the first run I thought the car really came in. We actually ran the 9, the 60 and the 10 back down but it took us 60 laps to do it. They were much quicker on short runs, but it's still a good day for us."
YOU MUST BE HAPPY. "The whole team did an extremely good job. I told somebody before the race that I felt like I had the best race I've ever had at Darlington and I did, it just wasn't quite good enough to beat Mark or Jeff. My hat's off to both of them. They're two great race car drivers and my guys don't have anything to be ashamed of. We just got beat by two of the best." PRESS CONFERENCE -- "The whole team did an outstanding job. We had great pit stops. We put ourselves in position there at the end and got beat by two of the best in the business -- Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. We had two opportunities possibly on the restarts to get after them. I got after it, but they just drove away from us. There at the end we were kind of playing a little bit of offense and defense. We wanted to make sure the 10 didn't get by us and the 57 and do all I could do to get by the 9, but we really didn't have anything for them at the end."
FORD FINISHED 1-2-3 AND YOU WERE THE HIGHEST FORD BUSCH REGULAR. DOES THAT BODE WELL FOR YOU NEXT YEAR? "I hope so. I think their involvement this year has, obviously, been more than what we've seen in the past. We're actually getting to see some windtunnel time and sharing a little bit of information, so, hopefully, that will increase before I retire. Hopefully, it'll be some type of indication. It's hard to go by Mark Martin because I believe if he was driving any type of automobile at this race track he's gonna run well, so I don't think it's strictly the car or the chassis or the engine. I think it's Mark Martin. Today with Jeff Burton running as wel l as he ran, hopefully, that's some type of insight to where we may be better with our aero package. On Kevin's deal, that wasn't his fault that was my fault. He got a run at us coming off turn four there and we were side-by-side and I set my hand out the window and gave him the lane and then as we drove off into one I just misjudged it and caught him in the quarter panel. It wasn't a rookie mistake, I guess it was a veteran mistake there. It wasn't his fault, it was my fault."
WILL YOU MISS MARK MARTIN NOT RACING BUSCH NEXT YEAR? "Yeah, I will miss Mark. Although he's a full-time Winston Cup competitor, I don't look at Mark as one of those guys that comes over here and kind of cherry picks, so to speak. He's been in this series an awful long time. He supported this series when we were running a lot smaller race tracks and Mark Martin has been to Myrtle Beach and raced in a Busch Grand National car, so he's supported the series. We know when he shows up, whether it's Michigan or Charlotte or Atlanta, that he's the man to beat. So I think it makes myself better and I know I work a lot harder. I would have been extremely proud today to have at least got up there and really challenged him for the win, but, yeah, I will miss him." WHAT ABOUT THE RED FLAGS THE LAST TWO WEEKS. IS IT A GOOD THING? "I think so, only from the standpoint that these people are paying a lot of money to sit in the stands. It's just like tomorrow, I'm home sitting on the couch watching the Winston Cup race and they have a caution with 10 to go, I don't want to see it end under the caution. I think the green-white-checkered deal, as long as we have single-file restarts. I think if we would have had double-file restarts under those conditions right there, then it lets lapped cars get in the way and you don't see the finish that you should see. I think it's a good rule. I didn't know we had a rule doing that, but, obviously, the last two weeks it's been implemented."
DID YOU HAVE PROBLEMS GETTING UP TO SPEED ON THE RESTARTS? "No, we didn't have any problems we just couldn't get up to speed. The 9 and the 60 were just faster. I guess they were re-starting in first gear, that's what it looked like. I was gonna try that, but I had way too low of first gear meaning that I would have had way too many RPMs to do that and I was a little bit tall on second gear, so that's something we'll have to work on. We did everything we could do there and, obviously, we were beating the 10 a little bit, but we couldn't do anything with the 9 or the 60."