STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Park was third fastest in the morning practice session and will be competing in his first No Bull Five. "The draft doesn't seem to be much different than the way it was. It...
STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Park was third fastest in the morning practice session and will be competing in his first No Bull Five. "The draft doesn't seem to be much different than the way it was. It just seems like we've got more power to not fall off the draft. It still seems like the fast cars are fast and the slower cars are slow. When guys are getting up to speed or if a group of cars hook up and draft, the difference in speeds seem to be pretty significant. You almost think somebody is pulling into the pits, but they're just not getting a good draft or a good push. I think it's going to give you an opportunity, and I use that word sparingly, to use more patience because you don't have to worry about getting left out of the draft. If you lose the tail end of the draft you're not going to be able to catch back up. I think that element is gone. Without having that as a worry and without having the fact that if you lift off the gas or squeeze a little brake you're going to lose the draft, with that being almost non existent right now, I think you're going to have the availability to use a little bit more patience. That's what it's going to take. We can all run into each other now. "It's not bad on the backstretch, but man, you just can't bump draft somebody through the tri-oval. That's another corner out there. The track has three corners. Now that you can bump draft, if somebody thinks they can bump draft you through the tri-oval, they're going to push you and turn you sideways. I hope everybody realizes that. We're supposed to be the best of the best. I think we've seen a lot of wrecks in the tri-oval by people running into each other. Hopefully everybody knows what the end result is there. "I was a little disappointed in qualifying. I thought we could run faster than that. We went from 30th being our best (qualifying effort in a restrictor-plate race) to 10th, so we're happy with that. We really thought we'd run a little bit quicker than we did, so we're a little disappointed in that. The driver doesn't do anything here, so it's got to be car and motor. The guys have been working hard to work on this restrictor plate program. We've struggled in the past here. We've just adapted a theory that Paul (crew chief Andrews) has and that's look at where you need help and work hardest there because you just can't fix everything at one time. We struggled in the plate races in the past, and the guys have been working real hard to fix that. They've done a great job. The driver just kind of holds the wheel and goes around here. He doesn't have much to do with making it go fast. It's all with the new car they've built and the motor they built. "I think it's just an experience thing (with car owner Dale Earnhardt). Seeing the air is something that's been adapted to his legend of winning a lot of restrictor plate races. He's been at this a long time. He wears an open face helmet so he can feel the pressure changes in the car and can hear the air changing a little bit more than some of the guys wearing a full face helmet. I think that has a little bit to do with it. He's real attentive with how the wind is blowing around the car. He knows what works. He's been doing it for so long. I pay more attention to it now after talking with him the last couple of years. I don't settle in to where your car is running behind somebody but to search around a little bit and see how the air changes around your car and see if you can find a spot where your car really likes to run. When you do that, you find it different behind a Ford or Pontiac or another Chevrolet. You adapt yourself to knowing what kind of makes your car likes to run behind and where you need to place it. I think that's what makes him so good on the restrictor-plate tracks. "We ran with Chevrolets, Fords and Pontiacs. Right now, my car is not sensitive to either one. I don't know if that's good or bad. It just seems my car likes running with a car that's fast. If the lead car is struggling a little bit, you're going to struggle. If the lead car in the draft is running real good, he's going to pull you along real good, so it's just a matter of starting up front and trying to stay up front and running with a lead group of guys that can run fast. "Nobody works with me (in the draft), but I'm hoping that will change this weekend. I think it's because we haven't run good here. No one wants to run with a car that's not running fast, so I haven't really blamed anyone in the past. Now we've got a fast race car, so we might instantly make some friends. Deals get thrown in the wash when you get out on the race track. Even your teammates and car owners.... I don't think Earnhardt has ever drafted with me, but I don't blame him because he's always got a fast car and we've always struggled in the past. I'm sure if it came down to the last lap and it was a decision to go with somebody else, myself or Junior, he'd go with us, but right now you can make all the deals you want but it seems like nobody holds to them out on the race track. "Me and Junior probably race together better than him and his dad. Him and his dad seem to run into each other a lot when they're racing together. So far, me and Junior haven't had a problem. I'm sure they've got a sibling rivalry going there. Since I'm not related, maybe I don't have that. We run well together. He's worked with me in the past and I've worked with him in the past. Dale just kind of helps himself out. "We'd love to win that million. We're looking forward to having a good race car here. We've struggled here in the past and struggled at Daytona. We've worked hard to put ourselves in position to qualify well and race well. The way things are looking if we are in the top five in those last couple of laps, we're going to try to win, million dollars or not. It's one of those deals where it's just going to be an added bonus on top of winning our second race. We're just going to stay focused and do what we need to do to win again and maybe make ourselves millionaires and a lucky race fan. "We'd like to get to the top 10 in the points, but look at who we're up against. We're up against Jeff Gordon and Ward Burton. Although they've stumbled a little bit in the past, it seems they're picking their consistency back up. We've been slowly reeling them in, but we're 313 points behind 10th-place. It's going to take us to continue to run well and for them to stumble for us to get in the top 10. We're running out of time quick. So are the guys second and third in the points trying to win the championship. We just need to keep our heads down and keep doing what we've been doing and running well week in and week out and let the points fall where they may. You don't want to wish any bad luck on anybody, but it's going to take a lot of good luck on our part and bad luck on other people's parts to get in the top 10. "I think the rule changes have equalized all the makes a little closer. We've worked hard on building a new race car and the engine shop has worked hard on giving us the horsepower we need. I think this is going to be our best opportunity to run well on a plate track."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) NOTE: Gordon had an accident in Saturday morning's practice session and the team had to repair the nose of his Monte Carlo. He's also competing for a shot at the million dollar No Bull Five bonus in Sunday's race. "When you come out of the tri-oval, it's where pit road starts to blend with the race track. What they do is they put cones out there so when you make your qualifying runs you don't shoot right up to the racing groove or to the line. It makes you kind of follow pit road a little bit and then blend out. I guess the other reason that I did not know is they've got their time light out there, so I hit a bunch of other stuff besides those cones. They had to go to a backup timing light I imagine. "I was behind Rusty and Earnhardt and had a whole head of steam coming. I was really carrying a lot of momentum to pass 'em. As soon as I shot to the inside that's where those cones were. I drilled every one of them. This isn't bad. We got lucky. It could have been a lot worse. It didn't get the fenders. It didn't get the roof or anything like that. It got a lot of duct work and the radiator. We're changing a few other things just to be safe, some oil lines and the draft shaft. Maybe there's a reason I didn't need to be out there in that practice. "The draft is absolutely incredible. The closing rate you have on the cars in front of you is amazing. We're really, really going to have to use our heads out there. You watch and there's not too many cars that leave the group. It's like constant changes, and it's going to be like that all day long. There's a lot of neat things about it, but there's also some things that if we're not careful can bite us. "I think you're going to see more bumping now than you've ever seen because you can close right up on 'em. The only reason you're going to bump 'em is if you don't have anywhere else to go. If you've got other places to go you'll try to pass 'em, but it's still where you've got to have help to get by cars. You can't do it by yourself. You've got to have somebody behind you pushing to get by guys. "The thing I've noticed the most is if two cars get side by side, they just come to a halt. They used to slow down, but now they just stop. You just don't want to be side by side. That's the biggest thing. "It' exciting, but you've got to run your race and get in position to get the best finish you can and hopefully win. If you've got a shot at it, just like winning the race, you go for it. The million dollars is really something neat, and we're proud we're in position to go for it, but it really to me doesn't make me try any harder to win because I'm already trying as hard as I can. "We've got a much better race car than we did here in April when we won, a much better starting position. I keep telling people it was a fluke we won this race, and they laugh at me like, 'yeah, right,' but it's the truth. That's what's so unique about restrictor-plate racing and drafting. It really equalizes out the competition, and I think this here probably equalizes the competition more than it ever has. "I don't know if you can see the air better now, but you sure can certainly feel it, that's for sure."
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) NOTE: Earnhardt, like Team Monte Carlo drivers Steve Park and Jeff Gordon, will be competing in the Winston No Bull Five contest on Sunday and a shot at the million dollar bonus. "It's close in the draft, and it's competitive. These guys are going to have to realize they're pulling up on each other and they'll be able to draft up on each other quicker than they were before. It's gotten more competitive. Everybody is going to be able to pull back up and race each other. We were hanging on here the last race trying to race each other, but now, it's back to the way it was. I hope we don't see the bump draft. We're seeing some bumping, but I don't know about the drafting. My car is pretty good. We adjusted and worked with some gears, and I think we're going to be pretty good. I'm just worried about getting through this day. If I'm around at the end Sunday, I'm going to be racing for that million. Right now, I just want to get through this day."
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Hamilton, who was inducted into the Talladega Walk of Fame on Friday night, was fifth fastest in Saturday morning's practice session. "I don't think it's bad out there. It seems like you gain a lot of momentum going into the corner and you've got a shot at running over people pretty easy. That's the big thing. The thing I like about it, they've got so much drag. Sometimes you get in traffic and you don't want to let off the gas and you ride the brake a little bit every now and then. They've got enough drag when you crack the throttle they slow 'em down and you don't have to use a lot of brake. I fell back one time half a straightaway by myself on purpose and caught back up in a lap and a half. That's different than what it was here in the past, and it's going to make for harder racing. If you've got good help, you want to be second or third on the last lap. If you've got a real good car you can afford to be up front and hold them off, but you've got to be extremely good to do that. That was our race motor in the car. I noticed a bunch of strong cars are putting their race motors in now. They had their qualifying motors in this morning. It'll be interesting to see how it is this afternoon. I don't really think it'll be a better race. It could be a better race because you probably won't see two packs. You'll probably just see one pack. Let's try it and see what happens."
JIMMY ELLEDGE (Crew chief No. 55 Square D Monte Carlo) "This weekend has been very interesting. The race cars are handling well. With the drag numbers and horsepower as high as they are, the drivers have more control over the situation. The setup is not critical for this race. You can drop back 15 car lengths and still catch the draft. I like it so far. The speeds are definitely higher in the draft. To be honest with you, every week in NASCAR is a surprise. I've been in this sport long enough to know not to expect anything. You need to approach every weekend with an open mind. I've very curious about how the race will unfold tomorrow. It looks like it's going to be a slugfest. In the past, the race cars' drag and horsepower were so low that the race cars just stuck together. You stayed with who you started with. Now, that doesn't matter. You can be 30 car lengths back and with the hole in the air that the pack is creating you can get a run from no man's land."
COMMENTS FROM CHEVROLET DRIVERS AFTER SECOND PRACTICE SESSION WITH NEW 15/16-INCH RESTRICTOR PLATE
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "I reckon we're fine. I don't like the disadvantage it changes for one team more than another. I don't know who it favors. They made the change. That's what it's all about. It's not going to change the drivers going four wide. That's what they were talking about in the meeting. They were trying to get the catch up time and the draft up time changed, but it's Talladega. You've got to use your head. You're got to race the draft and race the race track. We're going to be fine. It's not going to be any big deal. It's not going to be any different than it ever was. Talladega has been here a long time, and we've been racing here a long time. I liked it without restrictor plates. We'd had wrecks without restrictor plates and we've had wrecks with it. I don't see no difference. It's their decision. I've got no comment really. We're going to race what they give us. We can't do anything about it. I think they did that (take race out of drivers' hands) when they put the restrictor plates on years ago. They're past that point."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) "I didn't get to really feel what it was like the first time. I'm not really sure. I thought it was an improvement. It slowed the cars down a little bit. It wasn't quite as easy to pass, but I thought the close up rate was a little less, which was good. You can still pass and close up. The aero package we have is what's doing a lot of that. "I was driving down the front straightaway (in first practice) and two guys were in front of me. I went to go to the inside of them and there were a whole lot of pylons lined up. They're not normally there, but they were there when you're qualifying for first round and second round. I forgot they were there and blasted every one of them. "Something with the shock, I had a problem with the shock (in second practice). It came loose and cut the left-front tire. (Going to a backup car for Sunday's race and starting from the rear of the pack.) The backup car is good (won race here in April). The biggest problem is not the car but starting in the back. It'll be plenty fast enough to run up front. The problem is I'm starting so far in the back. I wanted to qualify up front and I did it. Unfortunately we're not going to be starting there. "I don't think the idea where just one car could do it. I think one car with enough momentum could do it. I think things are different in the year 2000 than back when they were slingshotting with one car. Everybody is so much closer in competition and everyone has got a good package. Horsepower is about the same. Aero is about the same. It keeps us all closely packed together. We don't need something when we just slingshot past a guy. "The little bit I got to run this morning, it was pretty quick. I was in a four-car draft and I could gain on them extremely fast. We didn't really know anything about it (changing plate size) being an option. Everybody has got a different opinion and mixed emotions. What was really neat is that we were all able to just sit in one room and talk about it and give our ideas on the plate and aero package and everything. The bottom line is it comes down to the drivers respecting the speeds and dangers that are out there and understanding we need to go out there and run a race and pass if we can pass. "If somebody is going to pass you don't run them down in the grass to keep them from passing you on lap 100. If you're going to do it, OK, maybe on lap 187, but we don't need to be doing that stuff all day long. There's some common respect that can go among the drivers and that's one thing that everybody agreed on. "We are in control of the gas pedal and brake pedal. If you're closing up on them fast enough then what you need to do is get off the gas and get on the brake to keep from hitting the guy. None of us need to hit the guy in front of us. I think what some of the thoughts were with what we had on there this morning was because it was a fast closing rate and if you do check up and get on the brakes to keep from hitting the guy in front of you, what about the guy behind you and the guy behind him? It's the domino effect that I think worried us as much as anything. "I might be using the brakes more than I ever have at Talladega. A lot of times you use the brake more than you lift. You stay on the floor with the gas pedal and use the brake to slow you down. Sometimes you don't need to slow down as much as lifting does. If you've got to slow down a lot, then you lift. If you've got to slow down a little bit, some guys will maybe ease off the gas and some guys will ride the brake."
JOE NEMECHEK (No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I think the Chevy cars got hurt worse by changing the restrictor plates than the Fords. That's just all part of it. We're starting on the pole. We accomplished one goal. We want to win the race. I think our chances might be a little slimmer. We're going to think all night and come up with the best combination and the best gear selection to have a car that's going to draft well. "We're going to put in our race motor. It's the one we were going to race anyway. It's a little different combination than we were practicing with, but it was still built under the one-inch restrictor-plate rules. There's not a whole bunch you can do here. "This morning it (closing rate) was pretty fast. It may have been 10 mph. With the new plate, overall speed slowed down and the closing rate is now probably 8 mph. When you're catching somebody, if you don't want to make it big, you'd better be stepping on the brake pedal to keep from hitting them too hard. "It probably slowed the cars down two or three mph, and that's about what it slowed down the rate of close. It's not the power. If you gave us inch and a quarter plates, we're going to run faster. It's what they've done to the cars to make them bigger and make the air more dirty. It's like the trucks. With those trucks, if you're back half a straightaway you can catch up in one lap. The dirtier you make the cars, the easier it is for somebody to suck up. You think you have a lot more power than you do. I don't know what the fix is. "I should say a lot of it (throttle response) is gone. Throttle response is definitely less because of the smaller plate. We're going to go slower, but the cars are still going to make dirty air. As far as on the gas like you were this morning, really able to close up to somebody, the acceleration rate is gone from what it was this morning. It's still going to be hairy. We didn't race with a one-inch plate, so it's hard to compare."
JOE NEMECHEK (No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I think it's probably going to stay about the same. You're still going to have a big group of cars only because when the air is dirty, the slower cars are going to be able to keep up. One thing it did do with making the cars more draggy and giving them more power, I think the 43rd fastest car here would be able to stay in the lead pack. That's one thing they have done, group the field closer together. It's definitely going to be exciting for the fans. "We're here to go as fast as we can all the time. There's no questions. Why run slow? I had no idea this (smaller plates) might happen. Just like the trucks in Daytona, the guy who was lagging back a quarter straightaway could suck up to the pack in front of 'em and run 200 mph catching them. Once he got to them, he'd run 192 or 190 or whatever. You're just able to close the gap up when you're behind. That's what they've done. I heard a rumor when I was on the way to the meeting, and I thought 'this is going to be big.' We've dedicated the last couple months or three months to one-inch restrictor plates. We didn't get invited to a test down in Daytona when they had all the different manufacturers down there. I think that was wrong. If they're going to have a test. They need to invite everybody. We had to spend one of our own tests to come here and get ready for this race. Other guys didn't come because they already had experience with it. "There will be some big wrecks tomorrow. There's always big wrecks. We've just got to do the best job as drivers to try and not make that happen. "We learned something in Happy Hour, but I think you'll see everybody change gears. When you put smaller holes in those plates less air goes through it and the motor won't turn as many rpm's. Everybody is fighting it. You've got to turn the motor less rpm's. "The closing rate is not bad. NASCAR is trying to make it more appealing for the fans. You've got to be able to pass. In some races we've been stuck and you can't do anything. It's not going to be that way tomorrow. I think it's going to be a good race. "Where do you need to be on the last lap? Tomorrow, I'd rather be out front on the last lap. This morning if you'd asked me that, I'd say, 'no, I don't want to be out front. I'd rather be second.' The guy who is out front would have got hung out, but if you can time it just right where you can get ahead just enough, I don't think they're going to be able to pass you."