This Week in Ford Racing July 1, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Even though there are still 20 races remaining in 2003, the July Daytona race has traditionally been recognized as the halfway point of the season. As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series ...
This Week in Ford Racing
July 1, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
Even though there are still 20 races remaining in 2003, the July Daytona race has traditionally been recognized as the halfway point of the season. As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series prepares for this weekend's Pepsi 400, here is a list of Ford tidbits from the first 16 events.
* Kurt Busch leads all NWC drivers with three wins (Bristol, California and Michigan).
* Matt Kenseth took the points lead after a fourth-place finish in Atlanta on March 9 and has remained in the top spot for 13 consecutive races.
* Kenseth's 174-point lead is the biggest margin after 16 races since Dale Earnhardt held a 409-point advantage over Neil Bonnett in 1987. Earnhardt eventually went on to post his second NWC championship by 489 points over second-place Bill Elliott.
* Dale Jarrett increased the longest active streak for consecutive winning seasons among NWC drivers to 11 when he won the Subway 400 at Rockingham on Feb. 23.
* When a Ford failed to finish in the top 10 at Sonoma two weeks ago, it snapped a streak of 486 NWC races with at least one top-10 finisher. However, that streak ending might be a good sign. Why? Prior to Sonoma, the last time a Ford did not end up in the top 10 was at Richmond International Raceway in 1988 when Bill Elliott was 12th. Elliott went on to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship that season. Who was Ford's top finisher at Sonoma? Matt Kenseth, the current points leader, ended up 14th.
* Ford's five wins this season has increased its all-time victory total in NASCAR's top division to 542. That ranks first among all manufacturers (Chevrolet, 515; Dodge, 173; and Pontiac, 154).
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, has four NASCAR Winston Cup victories at Daytona, including a win in the 1999 Pepsi 400. Jarrett was this week's guest on the weekly teleconference, along with general manager Doug Yates.
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus
THE FIRST HALF HAS BEEN KIND OF A STRUGGLE, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
"To say it's been a struggle is probably putting it mildly. It definitely has been that with personnel changes and problems on the race track as far as getting our cars to handle. We found a lot of things aerodynamically in our chassis that seem to make us feel that we're starting to right this ship. We've done a lot of work over the last few weeks. Putting Shawn Parker and Jason Burdett in place as the crew chief and car chief, I think, has been very good for us and I look for these last 20 races to be much improved over what we did the first part. We know that we're a team capable of running up front week in and week out and that's what we have to get back to is that consistency. Hopefully, we're heading in that direction."
HOW DO YOU AS A DRIVER AND AS A TEAM DEAL WITH KNOWING YOU'RE CAPABLE OF BETTER?
"I think what we have to do is just realize first and foremost is that this isn't something that's gonna change overnight. It's gonna be a process. We didn't get in this hole overnight and we're not gonna get out of it overnight. The problem that we have, the biggest thing, to get back is that we run so many different types of tracks. What we think we're doing to make things better for us may work at some tracks and then we get to a different type of track - whether we find the flatter tracks work best at first and then try to relay that information to the tracks that have more banking - could take a while. We know it's gonna be difficult but we have talked with our people. I've been to the race shop trying to keep our guys pumped up and that doesn't take a lot to do. Obviously, it's been difficult and morale can get down. Whenever you're sitting there and every time you look at practice you're on the right side of that sheet or board, that's not very fun. Then you get into the race and on days where we could have made some good gains, we've had mechanical problems. Then on other days we were chasing this chassis and aero problem that we've had, so you just keep working. You know you have all the pieces of the puzzle and you can be successful, but there are a lot of teams out there like that and a lot of them are very good. We just have to keep our heads up and keep digging. There's no substitute for determination and hard work and effort. It doesn't matter what resources you have, you have to put those to use and that's what we'll do."
ARE THE PROBLEMS YOU'RE ENCOUNTERING THIS YEAR MORE A PRODUCT OF A TEAM HITTING A SLUMP OR HAS THE CHALLENGE CHANGED THE LAST FEW YEARS?
"Probably a little combination of both. I think that the challenge has certainly changed. I've always said that as you race for a championship you kind of get focused on one thing and we got focused on that in '99 and that carried over into 2000. Then we started trying to do some things different knowing that this has changed - the tires have changed, the chassis have changed - things that brought us success have changed tremendously. What we started doing - and I say that as a team, but it was being done by the person that was in charge - was changing a lot of things on our chassis and the way that we build our chassis, since we do our own. This was one thing that we tried to caution each other about when we started doing this in 1997 was basically trying to re-invent the wheel and that's what we've found - that none of our chassis are alike. There are little changes in each of them, so we're getting back to the basics and I think that's where you have to start when you get in a situation like this. Again, it's something that has been building on us. We had so much confidence in that person that was leading us, we let him take care of that but now we're seeing that with those changes we've gotten far away from the basics. That's the direction we're headed back in and we have to be there and get that back within reason before we can continue to move forward and making other changes."
IS IT REALLY DIFFICULT TO REGAIN WHAT YOU HAD?
"It makes it difficult. It's certainly not something that's impossible because if you look back over the history of this sport, I think every single race team - no matter how good they were - has been through this type of situation and you just have to fight back and work through it. But it does make it difficult because you're searching so much and you're trying so many things. The good thing about our race team is that we have some very good leadership with Robert and Doug Yates. They're doing a terrific job in a lot of different areas there and, I think, bringing in Shawn and Jason Burdett in, they have listened to different guys within our organization and that has been very helpful to getting this corrected. I think everybody is probably working together more than I've ever seen before and, hopefully, that will speed the process up a little. We just have to be patient."
WHAT DO YOU SEE IN SHAWN PARKER?
"What I see in Shawn is a young man that has worked his way up and paid attention as he's been working his way up. He wasn't just doing the job that he was required to do at that time. I know Shawn, like a lot of others, started just helping out doing what he could with the race team and then became a tire specialist and just moved from there. He wasn't just doing the tires, he was looking and paying attention to other things about the race car and what affected it and made it better. He's just a young man that pays attention to detail and he has a lot of enthusiasm. More than anything he wants to succeed. I think that he looked at this challenge of coming in with this race team realizing that we at one time were on top, but now the challenge is getting this back to a top-10 effort to begin with and then we'll work ourselves back into that top-five and then, hopefully, back into a championship type of race team again. He's put the people around him and he works very good with those people. He has control of the race team right now and that's what you have to have in this business. I see a lot of good qualities about him. Again, probably first and foremost, is his determination to do whatever it's gonna take to win. Whether that means testing constantly or getting our race cars changed and our chassis to what he feels are gonna be best for us, so, again, that determination is gonna bring us back to the front."
CAN YOU PUT THE RACE TEAM PROBLEMS IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND ON THE GOLF COURSE?
"Yeah, you know I used to say that the golf course was a good place to get away, but, right now, there's not any getting away. There's nowhere. I mean, I'm here on vacation for a few days with my family. Kelley and I went away for a few days last week after Sears Point, so I haven't done a whole lot. I think every time we have a conversation or as I'm sitting and thinking it's totally about this race team and what I can do as a driver to do my job better and to give better information and how we're gonna pull this out. This is what I do. This is what I love to do. I love to play golf, but right now, no, I can't. I can't go to the golf course even for four hours and take my mind totally away from the race car and the race team. Until I'm happy doing that again -- it's not that I'm unhappy, it's just that I'm a little frustrated because I haven't helped us get out of this slump any sooner. But we're gonna continue to work hard. No, the golf, subsequently, is not very good. I probably have been spending more time thinking about the race car and the race team than what I have anything else."
WHERE DO YOU SEE THIS SERIES HEADING THE NEXT COUPLE OF YEARS? IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THE PACE OF CHANGE THAT GIVES YOU PAUSE OR DOES IT ALL FEEL RIGHT AND POSITIVE TO YOU?
"From my perspective, certainly of being someone who has been around the sport for a long time, change is difficult for me also. I think knowing what the people at Winston and R.J. Reynolds have done for this sport, that change is difficult, but we've always known that nothing is forever so we were expecting that at some point in time. We'll have to deal with the new title sponsor beginning next year and I'm looking forward to that. I that it says a lot about our sport that someone would come in like Nextel and make a 10-year commitment as they have, so that part of it is very exciting - that we won't have to be going looking for another sponsor for quite a while. They're gonna be very good for our sport and, conversely, we'll be good for their business. As far as changes in the schedule, that goes back to a couple of things. I guess the selfish side of me says, 'Man, I wish it would stay that way. They're taking away races that are close to my home and that's gonna take me away from my family more.' But something I always remember in the back of my mind was a conversation Dale Earnhardt and I had a number of years ago and we were saying that we can't always look at what's best for us. We have to look at what's best for our sport and I think these changes we're making in our schedule - in the long run - will be best for our sport. We're always been quick to criticize what the people at NASCAR do sometimes, but if we look back over the years and the many decisions - and many times difficult decisions - they've had to make, they've been right more times than they've been wrong, by far. So I applaud them for making these changes and looking to the future of this sport. That's what we have to do. Is it easier for us to go to Darlington on Labor Day than California? Certainly it is for most of us that live in the Carolinas. That's a lot easier. But is it better for our sport over the long haul to be in California again? Probably so and I look forward to doing that. I know there are other changes coming that will be upsetting to some people, especially to fans that have been around for a long time, but, again, if we sit back and look at what's best for our sport . FOX and NBC have done such a tremendous job in helping grow this sport over the last couple of years and that's only gonna continue. We have to pay back on some of the chances or little bit of a gamble that they took on their part, so getting into these bigger market areas is what's gonna make this package successful to them and for them. I think we have to be willing to go with that change."