MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I feel like a couple of times we had the car that was going to end up in victory lane. We had a dominant car at Atlanta last year, but it wasn't so strong that we could show off all day....
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I feel like a couple of times we had the car that was going to end up in victory lane. We had a dominant car at Atlanta last year, but it wasn't so strong that we could show off all day. This car here I felt like was going to win the race last week, but I've felt that way five times previously. I really thought we were going to win. It's pretty disappointing whether it's an engine or a bad pit stop. One time a lapped car knocked us out on a restart. It's not easy. It doesn't get any easier.
"The car was pretty awesome last week and the engine was really awesome. I think what a lot of people might not be looking at is that the car stayed up there because our pit stops were awesome. We never had to fight back from sixth or seventh or eighth to get back up front. As far back as we went was third. It makes your job easier as a driver when those guys get you in and out of pit road. They did an awesome job in the pits and it was pretty easy to keep it up front.
"It was a brand new car last week. The very first lap on the race track was the fast time at that time. We didn't have any tire rubs, nothing vibrated, nothing shook, all the wheel bearings were packed. It was a pretty awesome piece. We've got the same car here. The race car might be as good here, but I might not usually very good here. I'm going to do the best job I can and give it 100 percent. This hasn't been one of my best race tracks. I think we qualified fourth here last year for this race and we were really respectable the second race here. I think Jerry Nadeau blew a tire over there. I had just let him go because we were getting ready to pit. We went through one corner and he blew a tire and took us out. Just call me lucky.
"This track reminds me of a lot of the tracks we went to in the truck series. Tucson is real slippery and wears out tires. Monroe, Wash., Nazareth, a lot of places are pretty rough. I think it was designed to run around here about 100 mph and we're going a lot faster than that now. It was designed for a bias-ply tire and you could pitch the car sideways and drive it up off the corner. These Goodyear radials we've got now allow us to go a lot faster, and aerodynamics and everything. It's a tough race track.
"Tires last about three laps here and about 10 at Rockingham. Darlington might be a little worse on tires. I think they used the same pavement on both of them. It's got a lot of gravel and sand in both of them, and it don't stay stuck together. It'd be a pretty neat race track here if they'd put progressive banking on down and get some of that pavement like they used at Indianapolis. The pavement has held up good at Richmond. They need to import some pavement here. They'd be great race tracks again. I think time has passed them by if they don't do something.
"Richard Childress said after last week that he felt for us. He won the race anyway. I know Dale wanted to do everything to beat us, but I honestly think that Dale would have been happy for us to win our first race.
"Last week coming off turn two, I turned down and my teammate was trying to pass me and stuff. Obviously I couldn't see very good, so I went in Monday morning and had eye surgery. Maybe I can see him a little better this week if that happens again. Seriously, I'm seeing a lot better. It probably won't happen this week. I've always had a lazy eye since birth, but I've gone through my whole racing career with 20-20 vision and my peripheral vision is really good. As technology has gotten better, they've got in a situation now where they can help me so I decided to get it done.
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I thought it would be bad if something happened to my right eye. It would be pretty hard to keep going, but with the improvements they made in my left eye, I could still drive with one eye if I had to until we got a caution or pit stop and I could get the trash or whatever out of my eye. I had the surgery Monday and I was only in there for about an hour. It just takes a few seconds. I'm better than new. Until it heals, you're more acceptable to infection and more acceptable to damage it for about a week or so. My main commitment is to the No. 31 Lowe's Chevy. We just didn't want to take a chance of getting something in it, so we put Morgan Shepherd in the Busch car this week. Jamie Skinner is going to drive it next week at Bristol.
"I wasn't surprised with the wind tunnel results. I wasn't surprised that that Ford is still better than we are. I was a little surprised at the Pontiac. I think the wind tunnel numbers are a little deceiving because the Pontiac has such a great balance. It you look at balance numbers, I think the Pontiac is right in there with the Ford.
"If they would do the tests like Larry (crew chief McReynolds) would want them to do it, we could probably learn something by it. When NASCAR impounded our car (after Atlanta), I couldn't figure out why they wanted to look at it. It's blowed up. It didn't take long to figure out because the car was pretty awesome.
"I was crying like a baby inside last week after the engine blew. I said things that just shot from the hip. I said I'd wreck my mother to win my first race. I did not mean that. I wouldn't wreck anybody or hurt anybody to win a race. It was a statement... I wanted to break down and cry. I didn't even want to talk to anybody. It was just give 'em something so I can go on.' That's what I did.
"We want to win here Sunday. If we can't win, we'd like to finish in the top five. If we can't do that, we want to finish in the top 10. You want to do the best job you can do and get what we can get out of here, but we need a top 10 pretty bad right now."
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo)
"It's been a good start for us this year, all but Daytona. We had a little scuff up there at the end of the race and ended up 21st. It still was a good start for us. This is a car we qualified well at Rockingham with and raced well with. We went to Vegas and raced pretty good there. We didn't qualify as well. We raced good at Atlanta. We were arguing about which car to bring to Darlington, and it ended up being the Rockingham car. It qualified well again, so hopefully it'll race well again. It's been a good start with the win last week and running in the top three in the points so far. You've got to race guys who finish up there and you've got to be one of them. Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, I think them guys are going to be the consistent guys to beat. If you have trouble, that puts you behind and you have to catch up. It's harder to catch up than it is to stay ahead. That's been our strategy over the years, and we're just getting back on track here with our new Monte Carlo and the way things are right now, it looks more competitive than ever with the Chevrolet, Pontiac and Ford. I'm looking forward to the season.
"They keep moving the mark. Now it's top fives and wins. A top 10 may keep you competitive, but it's not going to win you the championship I don't think. You've got to be there. People thought I was mad or upset last week with Mike Skinner on the little incident. I was more upset that we had two race cars that could win the race more than I was upset with Mike. He was excited about what was going on and excited about being competitive, but you've got to be there at the end to race 'em. We were looking awful good, and I think our opportunity to win was very good with being able to be one of the top three cars. If you're in one of the top three cars with 100 to go, 100 laps or miles or whatever, you're a contender to win. You just keep tuning and adjusting and circumstances, pit stops fall right, you've got an opportunity to win the race.
"I don't care who I'm racing to win just as long as I'm racing to win. I don't focus on one guy. I focus on the whole program. If it's that (Jeff Gordon), it's OK. If it's Mark Martin OK. I've raced 'em all, and I can race 'em all. It doesn't matter. I know one thing, he (Gordon) wouldn't run me in the infield.
"You need to digest all the drivers I think if you're going to take me apart. It's competitive. Again, you get to that top five and you're going to be competitive to win races and championships. I've said that my whole career. We have been that over the years. Where we got off, I'm not exactly sure. I can put my finger on several things, then I'm blaming NASCAR and rules and cars and things like that and that's behind us. We had the car we were running before taken away from us. The whole time we ran the car until it was not that competitive a car. Now, we've put that back together. As we've been putting that back together I think Richard Childress' race team has gotten stronger and stronger with some things he's done with reorganization and tuning in his shop with the engine shop and car shop. We used to be in a third, the RCR 3 car, used to be in a third of the shop it's in now. Now it's in the whole shop. We used to have a fab shop that put the bodies on, a race car shop and engine shop plus all the little gear shops and everything. Now we have that whole shop just for the car shop. Details are paid more attention to. I think last year we started out with old race cars, biding our time to get new race cars. That was a big fault of our own and a big problem of our own. We just dropped the ball. That's all there is to it. We had a brand new car at Charlotte in May and we ran really well there. From that point on, we were competitive at different times over the year. The rebuilding process was really hard to come by and to finally get it put together. I think Kevin Hamlin and myself... We have a race team right now that any man on it is pumped to win. They're coming to the race track pumped to win. They're excited. You don't have to do something exciting to excite them. They're ready to go. We started out this year with Rockingham, Vegas and Atlanta and to look back to see which car to bring here, all three of the cars are as good as the other ones. It was really a tossup. Which one do you really want to take? The Rockingham car was the one that was ready, and it ran good at Rockingham on a worn out race track, so that's the one we brought here. We've got some good race cars. We've got a brand new car going to Texas and a lot of things looking forward to Bristol. If this car runs good here and gets through here OK, we're going to Bristol with the same car. The rebuilding process was a long, hard thing, and to put it in perspective, that's what we did. We were ready this year. I think we were more ready this year team wise than we've been in a long time. I feel better than I have in a long time after getting my neck worked on back in December. It took a lot of the strain and stress off me. I'm in better shape. I think what happened to me happened in '96 at Talladega and it's something that didn't really get aggravated until last March when I wrecked at Atlanta. From what Charlie Branch and I can put together on how I felt from this time to that time. I'm in good shape and the team is in good shape. If we just keep doing what we're doing I think we'll be OK.
"This is a tough race track and it is a race track that if you win here you feel proud to win. Guys that have won here aren't that many. I mean, there's a lot of them, but still, somebody doesn't do it everyday. It's a weird race track. It's something you've got to race yourself. You can't go race competitors. I've lost focus on racing the race track and hit the wall myself and had opportunity to lose the race and still won it anyway because of gas mileage. It's a tough old race track. You can't take your eye off of it and you can't quit driving the track.
"The weather makes a difference here. The track will tighten up even though it's worn out. You think it's not going to, but the track will get a little tighter as the day goes along. I don't know why we've been threatened with the weather so much the last several years, but the weather don't look that great for Sunday either. It looks like a cool, rainy day to race on. I hope to change the rain problem from Burton's to mine. He's been awful lucky on these rainouts. It's a race track that will change some, but I don't think it will change to a big degree. It's cold today. We're going to practice in the cool. It could get a little damp tomorrow, but I don't think the temperature is going to change much. It does change with the hot sunshine to clouds a little bit, but it more or less goes to a tight race track at the end of the day.
"Last year I was racing pretty much with a lot of pain and stuff, but as far as getting to the point where I couldn't feel my hand, no, I never did that. After I'd get out of the car it was that way. That aggravated me a lot. I would go to the chiropractor and everything until I got smart and went to a doctor. We got through that. Keep working on that and stay in shape is the best I could do with that. Dale Jr. has been fun to watch from the time he started racing. When he got in the Busch car, he impressed a lot of people, myself, Tony Eury and everybody around us. He's been able to take a race car and do things that a lot of people wouldn't be able to and would think he couldn't do. He drives a race car I think as hard as he can go with his heart, a lot like I did and have done. I'm very proud of him. As far as competitive with him, yeah, I'm a little competitive with him, but we've always been that way from the time he was a kid. I sort of do that in raising him, I think, let him win sometimes. I just haven't let him win on the race track yet. He drives a car and gives it his all. It got out from under him over here off two yesterday qualifying, and he still qualified well. He's definitely got it in him.
"That's fine (going to common templates) if they do it at the end of the year. We've worked our guts out really building these cars over the winter and adjusting and when you change something on the car, you change the car. If they go to a template and everybody has to do the work, that's one thing, but doing the work in the middle of the season is another. I think they need to plan for the future at the end of the year so everybody isn't working their guts out. We're racing every week. We've got just a couple of weekends off and we're testing. There's not much time to do work, other than to get cars ready to go. It's really a tough process to go in and change a lot of cars to get ready to go racing. We're sitting there with three good race cars ready to race now and building a brand new car for Talladega. If they change the templates at any point in the year, well, give me something to build a car by. They can't until that minute and then you've got to race it the next minute. They can't do that. You've got to do that in the winter time when everybody can plan and work toward that.
"You just hope maybe you make it when you go for it. I don't know. You've got to race this day and time. You've got to drive hard. Last week when we pitted close to the end with the fenders and straighten it out. I came from eighth or 10th and came back to the front. I think I drove it three-wide a couple of times through the corners and maybe did some things that I wouldn't have done earlier in the race. Still, the car was under me, the tires were there. I was trying to make my time up. I wanted to get back to the front where if there was another caution I would be pitting with the leaders and have a chance to come out with them. It's really competitive. It's competitive on the race track and it's competitive on pit road. You just don't want to give anything up. When you're giving it up and guys are getting car lengths on you on a lap, it's just makes it a harder day to come back from. I've made some close moves at times, and I've gotten in trouble for a lot of them over my time, too. I've paid for it.
"Richard and the guys every year work and put the cars together with championship thoughts. I think that was a little bit of our adjustment from '94 until now. We raced cars that were basically bullet-proof. We'd scuff the wall with them or get in a bump up and you'd still race and win. As the cars have gotten more competitive and lighter and taking chances on running things you wouldn't have run in the past and you can't run but one race, we've had to adjust to that, and I think our cars have gotten to that point now. It's just gotten more competitive in that sense. You've got to race in the top five. If I raced an '86 Monte Carlo against this Monte Carlo, I could probably rough that new Monte Carlo up a little bit and beat him because I'll have him bent up a little bit and I'll still be going straight. Those cars were built bullet-proof. These are to a point. It's just you can't be as aggressive with them and abuse them as hard as you could the cars in the past.
"It's been pretty dramatic with a lot of people's wins. I don't know. I stir up controversy don't I. I don't know if I search it our or what. It was a great race last week. It wasn't controversial. It was just a great race. I'm proud I was part of it. I'm proud it wasn't Mike Skinner doing it. I would have been proud to see him win, but I was a lot more proud that it was me who won. Maybe it'll be controversial this week. I would like to be racing anybody for the win here.
"It was a good race between Terry and I (at Bristol last year) through the race. To come to what it did and him not finish second was the only thing I hated about the whole deal and I thought back about. I wish he hadn't wrecked. I wish it would have been a deal where we bumped and I got by him and raced on.
"He's been paying attention. I don't sit and analyze things with him. He (Earnhardt Jr.) and I talk about racing or testing or how his car is doing. We got on the truck yesterday close to the end of practice and I was showing him a line I had sort of stumbled up on. Richard Childress and I were talking about it. I think it helped my center of one and two. I think my one and two has been a tough corner for me to get through fast when you're qualifying. For him to get up there and us talk about that, that's been the kind of things I've been trying to help him with. He pays attention the whole time. He watches things, and when that deal went on up there, he was paying attention to what happened. He just has to take that and learn from it. He's been learning pretty good. I think he's got it under control.
"If it was a tough, rough day, I'd like to have that '86 Monte Carlo. If it's just a leaned out, go after it kind of race, the new Monte Carlo would beat it, hands down. I'm talking about in the durability state of it, as far as getting roughed up like we used to do and bumping the wall and getting into the wall off the corner and still racing and not knocking the tow in off and that kind of thing.
"The car was a tougher built race car. It had a lot more bracing in it, a lot of different things. I think it was a tougher race car. The cars today are lighter built race cars in a sense that they do away with everything they can but still build a strong chassis or something that's not going to fold up under force, but probably would fold up under a wreck or bump up.
"If I had to Talladega like I did at Daytona, I don't think our chances would be that great. Changing the valence on the cars and building a new car in the direction of trying to get better is what we had to do. I think NASCAR has worked hard to try to balance the rules. If they can keep doing that... The wind tunnel numbers is what they've got to go by and what happens on the race tracks. As the race goes on, they've watched what happens on long runs and watched what happens in qualifying. They got a pretty good mix in the race now from what they had the week before. I'm going to Talladega with antic ipation of running great and anticipation of having a car that I can do what I did last year with, win the race. If I can lead the race and if I can run up front, my confidence is that I can win the race. I didn't think I could last year with Jarrett leading as strong as he was at the end, but we ended up winning."