ANDY GRAVES (Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) NOTE: Graves, a 31-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., native, worked as team manager last year for Chip Ganassi Racing at the Indianapolis 500 and went to victory lane with Juan Montoya.
ANDY GRAVES (Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)
NOTE: Graves, a 31-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., native, worked as team manager last year for Chip Ganassi Racing at the Indianapolis 500 and went to victory lane with Juan Montoya. Graves helped Ganassi organize his first-year two-car Dodge Intrepid R/T NASCAR Winston Cup team for the 2001 season with veteran Sterling Marlin and rookie Jason Leffler. Graves will work with Leffler and No. 01 Cingular Dodge crew chief Matt Chambers this weekend in The Winston Open and in next week's Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but Graves will be doing double duty on Sunday, May 27. He'll spot for one of Ganassi's four Indy 500 drivers, Tony Stewart. Graves worked with Jeff Gordon for two years on the open wheel circuit and one year with Gordon in Winston Cup. He was assistant crew chief for Terry Labonte when Labonte won the championship in 1996.
"Tony and I have been friends for a long time, and Tony told me if Chip ever had a ride open for Indy to let him know because he'd like to drive Chip's car and win it. Tony qualified seventh, and I think he'll do well in the race. I'm going to spot for him at Indy and them come back to Charlotte and try to beat him in the 600. That's kind of ironic I suppose, but all racers are competitive and try to beat each other whenever they can. I spotted for Jimmy Vasser some last year, so it should be a lot of fun.
"I think the technology is really neat with the Indy cars. The racing is not as exciting as NASCAR, but you use a lot of the same principles. I learned a lot working with Chip's Indy-car teams last year, and I applied a lot of what I learned to our NASCAR organization. I think it's paid off.
"I've heard some of the rumors that Chip is going to try to get Tony to drive for him in NASCAR, but that's a pretty big rumor. I wouldn't mind it, but I don't see it happening. Tony has got a great deal with Joe Gibbs, and we just appreciate Joe letting Tony drive for us at Indy.
"Chip really likes 'em both (forms of racing) the same. He gets up in the morning just wanting to race. I'm pretty much the same way. It doesn't matter to me. I like watching F-1, CART, NASCAR. Any chance I get to go to any race, I'll go.
"I don't think I'll miss much at Charlotte. Tony got in some race practice last weekend, and I'll just go up there on (Indy 500) Sunday and fly back to Charlotte for the 600 when it's over. Matt Chambers and Jason have been working good together, and Jason has had a couple of decent runs lately. It hasn't been anything earth-shattering, but he's getting better every week. I think he has a bright future.
"Some of the rookies have really been strong this season. When you see someone like Kevin Harvick doing so well, it might be hard on Jason and the other rookies. Jason is so competitive. He wants to do well right now, but he's getting experience and he doesn't have anywhere near the experience Kevin does in a stock car with late models and the truck series and stuff.
"Sterling (Ganassi's veteran in the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) and Jason work together quite a bit. If Jason doesn't understand what Sterling's telling him, Tony Glover can usually explain it because Tony and Sterling think alike. They have different driving styles, but that might be good, too. Sterling is laid back. He's real smooth and never gets too aggressive. I'd say the new tires have played right into Sterling's hands.
"Jason is always on the wheel. He's always aggressive. He drives in the corners too hard and he gets back on the gas too quick. I think the new tires hurt Jason because he drives too hard. I think with time and experience Jason will be as smooth as Sterling.
"We're clicking, but the organization is not where we need to be. We're ahead of where we expected to be at this point. It's basically a brand new organization, and we were working on a three-year plan. I'd say we're about a year away from where we need to be right now, so we're ahead of schedule. I'm satisfied with where everything is right now, but we just need some more time working together.
"I think we'll be better in the second half of the season. I think we'll be well-prepared, and anyone who isn't well-prepared for that 20-race stretch is going to be in trouble. Some of the smaller teams and teams that might not be organized quite enough are going to be hurt quite a bit.
"I think we'll be good at Charlotte. I'm looking for all the Dodges to be pretty good there. Maybe we can get the first win for Dodge this month. Actually, I think we did get the first Dodge win in the 125 at Daytona, but everybody looks at a points race. The 125 is kind of like The Winston. Everyone wants to win it, but it's not like winning a points race. They know we won the 125 at Daytona, but everyone will remember Dodge's first win in a points race more. We'd love to do that, too. It won't be a total disappointment if that doesn't happen, but we've been running pretty good all season.
"Sterling led laps in the first nine races and had a chance to win a couple. Jason has run well at times, and he's getting more experience each week. He's got a great attitude, and I know he'll be a driver to watch down the road.
"We're excited about Indy. I think Tony will do well, and it's always a big deal when someone runs both races in the same day. I'd love to see him win at Indy and then come to Charlotte and have one of our Dodges win. That would really be a double-header to remember."