Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, will go into tomorrow's Kmart 400 with a 50-point lead over Jeff Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Jarrett held a Q&A session earlier today to discuss his current injury and...
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, will go into tomorrow's Kmart 400 with a 50-point lead over Jeff Gordon in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. Jarrett held a Q&A session earlier today to discuss his current injury and hopes for this weekend.
DALE JARRETT --88-- UPS Taurus
HOW IS YOUR HEALTH?
"I guess we're gaining on it a little bit, but it's going to be long process. As they've told me, if I could take three weeks off I would probably be healed, but I obviously can't do that, so they won't guarantee me anything as far as how long it will be. I thought I would be ready and fully healed by the time we got back to Daytona
where I had the week off -- but I'm not sure. This is a slower process because we shock it every week again and we're not really giving it time to heal, so we'll have to wait and see how long. I think we're learning how to better manage the pain and that's a good thing. As long as we can get that to where it's not 100 percent all the time painwise -- if we can keep it somewhere under 50 percent, then I can deal with that and that's what we've tried to do."
IS YOUR CONCENTRATION AFFECTED?
"Yeah, it can a little bit. Fortunately, last week I started off the race where I didn't have a lot of pain, but what we're having to do is king of draining me a little bit. Since I have to really concentrate on sitting up as straight as I can in the seat and staying that way, I'm probably wearing myself out a little bit trying to do that. I just wasn't good enough at the end of the race last week. I don't know that I could have beaten any of the other guys that finished ahead of me anyway because they were all strong at the end of the race, but I just could not hustle the car as much as I needed to at the end of that race. It just kind of wears me down and that's one of the things I kind of take pride in. In a lot of these races, especially these long, hard ones, I'm able to beat guys because of my physical abilities, but right now, that is hurting me for that reason. We've gotten the pain lessened enough to where it's not taking away as far as concentration. The pain is there, but it's not so bad that I can't stand it, so the concentration level is there it's just wearing me down physically."
IS THIS TRACK EASIER FOR YOUR SITUATION?
"I know it's definitely easier than what Dover was last week. I was discussing it this week with my wife, Kelley, and was thinking that this would really be one of the better places, but then I forgot just how fast we're going into the corners here and how much you get loaded up in the center of the corner, and the G's that we're pulling, because as fast as we're running that means we're getting a lot of grip in the center of the corner. So, there's a little more here than I anticipated, but it definitely is gonna be easier than last week. Next week, thinking about Pocono, that's gonna be a difficult place. We've got a rough place on top of a flat track that you pull a lot of G's at too, and then the following week I don't know what we're gonna do. We'll have to do what we can. That's probably gonna be the worst one when we go to Sears Point, but we'll manage."
HOW HARD HAS IT BEEN IN THE 600 AND AT DOVER?
"They're a lot longer races than they used to be. In the 600, I didn't honestly know what to expect. I went in thinking with the rib-block that I got before the race that I wasn't gonna be totally pain-free, but mostly pain-free and that wasn't the case. That was something I really had to deal with. I didn't have my seat adjusted properly because I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't get any practice time to see what I needed to do. At Dover last week, we adjusted the seat some and that helped me. It sounds too much like I'm complaining whenever I talk about the pain, but it's hard to explain how much I have. Everybody has done this. I'm not the only driver that's race out here with a problem. There are probably guys out there that aren't even talking about it, that have problems right now, but this is what I have right now so we're keeping that to a minimum. Trying to explain how much pain I have and how difficult it has been, it has been difficult but on the other side of it I'm fortunate that it's not so bad that it's kept me out of the car."
WITH THE 20-WEEK STRETCH LOOMING, DOES THAT CHANGE HOW YOU FOCUS ON THE POINTS?
"We've been trying to get prepared for that throughout the first part of the season and getting cars built. We're getting better at producing our new cars, so we've tried to get a good fleet of cars built up to where if something happens one week that it doesn't throw us behind. Right now what I see, I was at the shop on Wednesday, we're in pretty good shape car-wise. If something should take place, we'll be okay because we have enough different cars for the different types of tracks. Hopefully, we won't lose any or tear up any, but if that does happen we're still in good shape and it's not gonna kill our guys to work all through the night to get something ready. We do have capable backups, just as we showed at Charlotte after that accident. We had just as good a car to bring out."
DOES IT AFFECT THE WAY THE RACING IS?
"No. We're gonna race to win and go at it as hard as we can. I'm sure everybody is going to (go at it hard), but definitely the two guys behind me -- Jeff and Rusty -- are gonna go wide-open all the time. You can't approach it any differently. Every race is important and we've got to get as many points as we possibly can. Right now, it seems the 24 car is probably the best of the whole group. They seem to be the most consistent, consistently fast and we definitely have our work cut out."
DO YOU HAVE A BUTLER OR LAJOIE SEAT? "Neither one. We use another company, but it's a lot like the Butler seat. It's fitted to me and I have the rib protectors on both sides. I don't use the shoulder devices like the LaJoie seat, it just doesn't feel right to me. We've made some modifications over the last couple of weeks with it and got it to where it's a lot more comfortable for me."
PLAYERS IN OTHER SPORTS PLAY HURT. WHAT MAKES YOUR INJURY DIFFERENT FROM THEM?
"I'm sure a lot of guys do, but the thing is that they can use somebody to take their place and they can take a day off. We can't take a day off. We're gonna lose points if I do that and, basically, take yourself out of a chance to win a championship. That's my only thing compared to them. We have to be in there. I don't have a backup quarterback or somebody to replace me if I'm playing first base or something -- miss one pitching rotation -- that's not what we can do. Obviously, the opportunity is there for a relief driver. That might help a little bit, but on the other side of it there are two things. It takes time to do that and this car is adjusted for me. It's my seat and the steering wheel is where I like it. Whoever you put in there is not gonna be totally comfortable and the second thing is we might find somebody who can drive that thing better than me and I don't want them to know that (laughter)." GOING INTO SEARS POINT, WILL THIS BE A DISADVANTAGE? "I'm not exactly sure what's gonna happen with that. We've got a brand new car and we're going to Kershaw (SC) next Thursday and I'm gonna see what to expect there. I'm gonna make a few laps, not a whole lot, but a few laps to see what to expect and if we need to make any changes from there. I don't anticipate a lot of difference. Even though it's side to side, I don't think anything going to the left is gonna bother me that much. It's actually the rebounding from the right-hand corners, so I'll see. I don't anticipate having to do a whole lot. I sat in the car the other day and my seat in there gave me less pain just sitting down in the car than what my car for here does, so that was kind of a good sign to me."
WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE POINT STANDINGS. WHAT HAS HAPPENED THAT PEOPLE LIKE THE DEFENDING CHAMP AREN'T IN THE TOP 10?
"We talk about the tires a lot and that is a lot of it. The compound is different and it gives you a different feel. To be quite honest, it is hard at times to get a feel for it. I think the things you ran last year aren't exactly working, which is a good thing for us because we didn't really have anything last year that worked. I think some of the guys are finding that they're having to search around. To be quite honest, we're not getting a ton of practice time at these places, so it makes it hard to know exactly what to get and what to do and what direction you need to go in. Plus, you have some good, young drivers that are now getting more experience at this. They've been with their crew chief and their teams for another year and all of that experience is adding up to them being a lot more competitive. You see 'em where it used to be that they may just hit on the setup just once every five or six races, you see 'em doing that a lot more consistently now. That's making the difference. It's back to where it's hard to run in the top 10 now. If you're not dead on it, you have a hard time doing it. I think Bobby Labonte was a good example. He had a good race last weekend, but I assume he was off a little bit. I don't know what problems they had, but he normally runs well at Dover. Even though he stayed on the lead lap, he finished outside the top 10. You have a lot of these teams that have gained that experience and knowledge to make them competitive week-in and week-out."
ARE YOU DRIVING MORE CAUTIOUSLY WITH THIS INJURY?
"I'm not, I'm hoping those other guys are. I'm not sure how much difference that would make (if he hit the wall or got in an accident). The smallest fracture of the rib, that's not giving me as much problem as what the muscle tear is. They don't really think if I had an accident that it's gonna tear any worse than what it is. I'm not sure that I would be in anymore pain. That's one question we've asked the whole time, 'Am I putting myself in danger here?' I didn't want to do that, but to answer the question, I'm not driving any differently other than I'm just having to try to concentrate through the first part of the race to keep myself in the seat. But as far as what I'm doing on the race track, I haven't found myself doing anything different. Charlotte, at the beginning of the race, yeah, I was very cautious. I knew it was 600 miles and I was just kind of taking my time and wanted to be able to get to the end to see how I was gonna be able to do. But I believe tomorrow I'm gonna be able to race just as hard as I always have here."
WHAT ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR TEAM DURING THIS STRETCH?
"That says a lot about our race team and the people that we have involved. They've work just as hard, if not harder, to make sure I had a good car. As I said last week after the race, my race car was probably a little better than what I was at the end of the race. They know that if they can make it better -- and they've been very accommodating with things you don't normally do at the race track like loosening the seat and moving it around. They've just been willing and ready to help me in any way that they can. They've been very supportive and that's the kind of thing you need to make a championship effort. It's the same way if we have a bad day in the pits or something like that. I don't jump on these guys because I know they're doing everything that they can and these guys know I'm doing everything that I can right now. We'll get through this and if we can get through it still with the lead or somewhere right around it, then we'll get after 'em whenever the time comes. I think it's showing just how important a team is. Todd has been great in working hard to make sure the cars drive as good as they possibly can, so it's been a real pleasure to work with our guys."
IS THE PAIN GREATER GOING IN OR COMING OUT OF THE TURNS?
"Here, the biggest part is getting down to the center of the corner. That's where the car really loads up and you get over in the right side of the seat. Because there is kind of a slow transition out of the corner here, it's not very abrupt, you gradually get to the straightaway and it doesn't hurt as much there. Last week at Dover, it loaded you up in the center and the pain was there but coming up out of the corner is where the pain was excruciating last week. That's whenever, I guess, the muscle is pulling back apart. As the car is unloading at Dover up out of the corner, you're lifting up in the seat. The crunch position is where it hurts and then as you come out of that, that's when it hurts even more. So, here it's not quite as bad, it's just if I can get through that center part of the corner."