FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES PRIMESTAR 500 ADVANCE, March 22, 1999 Texas Motor Speedway One of the biggest surprises of the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season has been the emergence of Chad ...
FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES PRIMESTAR 500 ADVANCE, March 22, 1999 Texas Motor Speedway
One of the biggest surprises of the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup season has been the emergence of Chad Little, driver of the No. 97 John Deere Taurus. Going into this weekend's PRIMESTAR 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Little, who finished a career-best second in last season's trip to the Lone Star state, finds himself 12th in the point standings. Little, along with car owner Jack Roush and crew chief Jeff Hammond, spoke about the team's early season success and expectations for the future.
CHAD LITTLE -97- John Deere Taurus -- WHAT KIND OF EXPECTATIONS DID YOU HAVE FOR YOURSELF THIS SEASON? "I didn't really know what to expect, to be honest. I've never been in this situation before having these kind of cars to drive and having teammates like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Johnny Benson and Kevin Lepage. It's new to me. My whole career has been always underfinanced and robbing Peter to pay Paul one week. It's always been a struggle. Even in the Busch Series we had a lot of hard times. Last year was only the second time I've ever had the opportunity to run a full Winston Cup season because of finances, so I didn't know what to expect. I was really pleased with how we finished last year, I know that. And, just like anybody else, you logically look at your finishes and see three or four races that were wrecks and then we missed Atlanta. If you take those three or four races out of the equation, we were knocking on the door for a top 10 last year and I thought, 'Maybe.' So you've gotta look at it that way. I knew it was possible, but I didn't want to have any false expectations. I just want to try to go out there and learn what I can, finish every race, and do a good job for everybody involved because I feel these guys are really behind me and they're doing a good job."
IT MIGHT BE EASY TO COMPARE YOU AND JEREMY MAYFIELD IN THE SENSE BOTH OF YOU WERE DRIVING FOR A SINGLE TEAM AND THEN BECAME PART OF A MULTI-TEAM UNIT. DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN HAVE A BREAKTHROUGH SEASON THIS YEAR LIKE JEREMY DID IN 1998? "I hesitate to say that, I really do. I think there are a few tracks that we race at right now where we could win. Let's say there's a third of them that, if everything went right, we could win a race. Then there's a third where we're not there quite yet and then another third where we have to step up a notch, so that's where I think I am. I think I can still catch up to the team a little bit, especially at those one-third of the races that I struggle at, but there are two-thirds of them now that we can go to and think we can finish in the top 10 and maybe a third where if things went right we could click off a win. I hesitate to say I could do as good as Jeremy did last year because that was a pretty good year. I'd like to see that, but I'm not gonna be so bold as to say that's gonna happen. Racing is a funny thing. You need to be very humble because it can throw you back and spit you out and forget about you."
IS TEXAS ONE OF THOSE TRACKS YOU FEEL YOU CAN WIN AT? "Definitely. The first time I went there we were good. We got caught up in an accident and never got to show our strength, but the second time we went we were very good all day long. Texas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Michigan, California, I like those places. I think those are the third of the races where we could surprise some people at."
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS IN LAST YEAR'S TEXAS RACE. DID YOU HAVE THE CAR TO BEAT? "I might have had the car and I probably was a little bit better, but Mark outsmarted me. There are a lot of tracks we go to and it's a lot like a lot of other things we do everyday, you try to hard and you end up slowing down a little bit or not doing as good. I was trying so hard, just like at Atlanta, I was trying so hard and I missed my marks a little bit. I think that comes with experience even though it's hard to say I need more experience after nine year, but it still comes with experience."
WAS IT A MORAL VICTORY TO FINISH SECOND LAST YEAR? "Gosh yeah, especially after '97 with my first full Cup year with John Deere. It was a struggle. If Jack hadn't come around to buy the team, it was gonna be another step back for myself and we were gonna probably have to re-group again. You don't like to re-group two or three times. That makes you tired."
DID YOU HAVE TO PINCH YOURSELF WHEN YOU HEARD JACK WANTED TO BUY THE TEAM? "The first time I heard about it was in about July of '97. Greg Pollacks, our car owner, was talking with Jack and I thought it was about marketing support or maybe helping with some engines because I really thought our engine program was below average in '97. So I thought that was great because I knew Jack helped the Wood Brothers and Brett Bodine. Then it started developing and I heard rumors that he was actually looking to buy the team because he was so interested in the John Deere deal. He like the shop, he liked the people and he saw potential in me. That's when I got kind of excited, but like everything else you don't get excited until it happens. You think about it, but you don't dwell on it, and then it happened in about August, so it was pretty exciting. Then the other side came in. Then, all of a sudden, the expectations are there too. If two more years from now we're still in this situation, we'll probably not have done as well as we need to, but if we continue to improve then we'll be OK. When you have Mark Martin and Jeff Burton setting the benchmarks, teams need to do pretty well because those guys do pretty darn good. I have the same resources that they do. The difference is just everybody stepping up to the next level and that takes a lot of time. Little tiny nuances when you build your cars. How light you build them, where you put your weight, how I drive, how you set the car up, those type of things. Those are all the little things that take time, but as far as the cars and the engines, they're the same for me, Mark and Jeff and Johnny and Kevin."
WHAT KIND OF THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR YOU SINCE JOINING ROUSH? "It's changed 180 degrees because in '97, I helped write the press kit because we didn't have the money to pay someone to do it. I did most or all of the sponsorship stuff as far as rounding up sponsors. All of the contingency sponsors, I would close all those deals myself. Finally in '97 I didn't have to do all the payables, but in the first year in Busch I did all of that too. It's just all of that kind of stuff. I remember the first time we hired a secretary, I mean I interviewed her and hired her myself. That was in '95 and it was the first time we ever had a secretary. You look back and those things are kind of funny, so it's changed immensely. It's unbelievable now, I mean you don't have to worry about anything. I can remember taking all the laundry to the dry cleaners after every race just because the guys at the shop had to work on the cars and we didn't have anyone else to do it. Now I can really concentrate on what Jeff (Hammond) and Pat (Tryson) want and talk back and forth about what we need. I don't have to worry about a thing in the business office or the marketing department. It's completely different."
ARE YOU MORE HAPPY WITH WHERE YOU FINISHED LAST YEAR OR MORE SURPRISED WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW? "Probably where we are now I'm more pleased with. I've learned now that you can't measure anything by one race. I think a lot of the drivers who say they don't race for points are really fooling themselves because at the end of the year we all evaluate our season by how we did. If you don't race for points, then at the end of the season you can say, 'Yeah, I did good at this and this race,' but if you're 30th it doesn't really matter. The whole sponsorship, the whole team setup is for how we do at the end of the year, so I think we all race for points, even though some might not admit it. I admit it because that's what keeps my focus."
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner -97- John Deere Taurus -- AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR YOU HOPED CHAD WOULD BE A TOP 10 TEAM AND HE'S PROVEN THAT SO FAR. "The thing I've said about Chad consistently is he's younger than he looks. You know, he spent all these years in school getting ready to be a lawyer, so he doesn't have as much experience with stock cars or racing generally as a lot of the folks that are his age. He's still young enough to do a lot, but he's years younger than that in terms of his experience. He's motivated, he's talented, he's resourceful. His education helps him be able to analyze things and take complex problems apart, analyze the elements and put them back together. His training helps him with that, so he's really good for the guys to talk to because when they sit down and discuss a problem he's really, really good. He's probably better than anybody else at helping take things apart, so that's helping his learning curve and helping the guys around him be more useful because they can make more of an impact on what he's able to do than most drivers. Pat Tryson is great in terms of a car chief. Jeff Hammond is absolutely as good as anybody in the business, so he's got everything he needs."
YOU INHERITED CHAD AFTER PURCHASING THE JOHN DEERE TEAM. WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HIM AT THE TIME? "It's reasonable to say I inherited Chad. John Deere was frustrated with what was going on. I had watched Chad in the Busch Grand National Series and even though he didn't win the championship, he really was surprising with the things they were able to do with that car given what I consider to be the level of the team and the organization of the team at that time, so he did a great job pulling that all together. But Chad, in my mind, was an unknown and I told John Deere that. I told them that we would put them in the kind of position that they wanted to be in with the team and I hoped that Chad could be part of it as we arrived and it's clear that he can be. Did I think that he could make it? Yes, I thought that Chad could make it, but we had to go demonstrate to John Deere and we had to demonstrate to the fans that this was Chad's time, that he was ready to go, that he didn't need more time in a Busch Grand National car or some other series. I'm a Chad fan and had been, but based on where he was in terms of experience, and he hadn't really won a championship back east here, could he do what we needed to have done right now, and it's clear that he can. He's on his way. By racing up front, which he hadn't done before, and having a chance to watch how people keep their cars in good shape for the end of the race and all, he's picking up on that very, very quickly. He'll be a factor in this championship this year. If we're able to keep going with what we've got started, we're a year ahead of where I thought we'd be."
WHAT ARE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS OF THE TEXAS RACE LAST YEAR WHERE CHAD AND MARK BATTLED FOR THE WIN? "I was wondering how Mark was gonna take it when Chad beat him because I thought that's what was gonna happen. Chad had the bit in his teeth and it looked to me like he had the better car. He suffered a little on track position based on what the pit crews were doing, but I thought that Chad was the man and that he was gonna win that race."
JEFF HAMMOND, Crew Chief -97- John Deere Taurus -- YOU AND CHAD SEEMED TO HIT IT OFF IMMEDIATELY. WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS AS TO WHY THAT'S HAPPENED. "It's kind of hard to describe. It's very fortunate that he and I have got enough things in common and the biggest thing we've got in common is the fact we both want to succeed. I've been around a lot of drivers and have worked with some of the best in the business in Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte for example. But I've really had an opportunity here given to me by Jack Roush to work with a driver that has a lot of desire and is commited to becoming a successful race car driver in Chad Little. Chad is a student of racing right now as much as anything. He takes criticism very constructively. He understands his limitations as far as certain areas of experience, but the one thing you can't question about the man is the amount of heart he brings to the table as well as the fact he's willing to study and learn. He studies shock graphs. He looks at race reports. He analyzes things. He asks the right questions. To me, he's given me a renewed sense of urgency to get to victory lane. I want to get back to victory lane because it's been a long time for myself, but to be able to have an opportunity to work with somebody that is as focused as he is, but yet not what I'd say crazy about trying to get it done. He's not trying to run over anybody in his way. He's trying to learn. He's trying to gain respect. He's trying to fit in with the elite of this group. Fortunately, working with these guys and having teammates such as Mark Martin and Jeff Burton doesn't hurt anything."
IS IT REFRESHING TO WORK WITH A YOUNGER DRIVER INSTEAD OF THE VETERANS YOU MENTIONED EARLIER? "It is because Chad looks at me and says, 'OK, what did you do here?' And I'll say, 'Well, we may have done that here, but what do you need?' We've been trying to make sure that he understands that there's nothing written in stone when it comes to racing. You take everything race by race and day by day and you adjust accordingly. When we get into a situation when we're not that good, so far we've been able to say, 'OK, fine. We're having a bad day. Let's not quit. Let's try to figure out what we can do to make it better and turn it around.' And we've been able to turn a lot of bad situations into better, if not good situations by the end of the day. That's another tribute to the fact that he doesn't go crazy in the race car. The guys stay focused and do what needs to be done and having the right people around me to support me to help me get the answers necessary to help make the right calls."
LAST YEAR'S TEXAS RACE WAS ONE OF YOUR FIRST WITH CHAD. WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT THAT DAY? "I think right now what we're looking at is a situation of a race track that Chad has really been looking forward to for a full year. He feels like that's one that got away and I can't disagree with him, but, there again, that's where our inexperience on pit road hurt us a little bit. We got out behind Mark and weren't able to get back around him. I think if the roles had been reversed, it may have been a different story as far as the results, but that's another one of those things that's exciting about working with Chad Little is that when he likes where he's going, it makes things that much better for us because he's not searching. Even though they've changed the configuration of the race track, I think in his mind that's his race track and that's a place he's been wanting to go back to much like Atlanta, Daytona and Talladega. He likes these type of race tracks, flat-out, door-handle to door-handle type racing. It doesn't bother him. The thing you've gotta work with him more than anything else is to not get in too big of a hurry. As we go back into that race, we feel like we're taking one of our best race cars. We're taking a car that's only finished out of the top 10 once in the four times we've run it. He's got a lot of confidence in the car, more confidence in the crew, and the overall attitude as far as the track itself is good. He feels like the track owes him one."