This Week in Ford Racing NASCAR Winston Cup Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, swept both poles at Dover Downs International Speedway last season, and went on to finish fifth in last year's MBNA Platinum 400, the site of this...
This Week in Ford Racing
NASCAR Winston Cup
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, swept both poles at Dover Downs International Speedway last season, and went on to finish fifth in last year's MBNA Platinum 400, the site of this weekend's 13th race of the season. Jarrett and his crew chief, Todd Parrott, were this week's guests on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
DALE JARRETT-88-UPS Taurus
CURRENTLY, YOU'RE IN 15TH PLACE IN THE POINT STANDINGS WITH ONE TOP-FIVE AND FOUR TOP-10 FINISHES THIS YEAR. THESE ARE NOT THE KIND OF STATISTICS THAT YOU AND YOUR TEAM ARE KNOWN FOR.
"No, certainly not. I want to begin by saying thanks for having me on today. I know normally it's more with people that have done good things, so at least we can maybe explain and talk about what our problems are. I guess, obviously, if we totally knew that we wouldn't be still having them, but those aren't the numbers that we're accustomed to putting up and that's why I'm here at Robert Yates Racing this morning. Obviously, we're trying to remedy that situation. We did not have a good night again this past Sunday, so we're looking at exactly what we need to do. It's just a matter of communication, hard work and effort. We realize that we've gotten ourselves behind. Once you get behind in this business, just like any other, it happens a lot quicker, as a far as getting behind and the time it takes to recover. So, this is not going to be a quick-fix situation. We know that we have our work cut out for us, but I think in meetings this morning, we all do realize that we are committed to making this work again and getting us back to victory lane, and we intend on doing it with the people that we have here and working together."
HOW DO YOU KEEP THE MORALE UP WHEN YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER TEAM?
"I think that's the point in time that we are at right now, and I think that's when I have to come and be a part of this organization even more and show the guys that none of us are giving up. I've become somewhat of a cheerleader. I have to keep delivering messages of inspiration to these guys, letting them know that everybody goes through these types of things. And, it's easy to say that, but if you look back on the history of this sport, back to the days I'm sure that when my dad was racing, but more recently, you look at Cale Yarborough and Junior Johnson and Darrell Waltrip during his prime, they went through the same thing - a number of years of good fortune and then a down year or so, but you just have to work though that and that's what I can relay to these guys and let them know that, hey, it's not a fun time. It's a lot more fun business whenever you are on top or whenever you are performing well, week-in and week-out. But, sitting around and pouting about it is not going to get anything done; that's not going to remedy this. Again, I've become a cheerleader and keep these guys pumped up. Obviously, for their hard work and efforts, the best thing for them are some good runs and opportunities to win some races, and, again, their rewards come by being in victory lane. But we've got a long process to get back to that point, and I'm just going to have to spend more time here and help Todd and Robert and Doug as much as I can. It's all of our jobs to keep these guys inspired with the work that they do."
IN YOUR CAREER, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE SILLY SEASON START SO EARLY?
"No, I think this is a first. I think there's a couple of reasons for that. Obviously, with our sport getting more exposure now, which is a great thing for all of us that are involved, it also brings added pressure to perform and I think that starts the ball rolling a lot sooner. You have sponsors, you have teams, owners that are looking for performance and then you have the drivers also starting to wonder, too, if they are safe in their positions if things aren't going exactly well. Sometimes you might make a move a little bit soon and that starts the ball to rolling. But, I've never known it to happen this soon and it's going to be quite interesting. Here we are just a third of the way through the season and we have all kinds of things happening. I think it, again, shows the amount pressure that is involved with this and just how precious these spots in these cars are because sometimes I think we tend to forget, in particular, as competitors and from my side as a driver, just how special the opportunities are that we have because there are only 43 of us that get to start these races each week, and you think of the thousands and hundreds of thousands of drivers there are around the country and we're the 43 that are picked. That's a pretty special seat, so that's a lot of pressure and you want to keep performing and make sure that you've got yourself in a solid situation."
IF YOU ARE THE CHEERLEADER TO YOUR TEAM, WHO IS YOUR CHEERLEADER?
"Gosh, I have a lot of support from Robert and Todd and Doug Yates. They do a good job of that. But, you know a lot of that comes from my family, too. I mean, my dad is very quick to call every week, and just discuss the races and he's always been that supportive. And my wife, Kelley, and certainly my children, they tend to be able to overlook the bad side of it and they'll start talking about 1999 and how we went through that season and won races and won the championship. So, then again, it's easy for them to help me, sometimes just for a little while, to put it behind me and realize that there are other things, but not to the point that it's not important, but that I can forget about it for a little while and then that makes it a little fresher and makes me a little bit more excited about it."
IN YOUR MEETING TODAY, DID YOU TRY TO PINPOINT ONE OR TWO THINGS THAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON?
"Absolutely. I think you can look at a lot of things. What we first had to analyze was: Did we have the right people here doing the right job? And we said, yeah, we think we've got those people that can make all of that happen. Next we started focusing on: Do we feel like this is more of an aero side that is creating our problems, or is it more chassis? And we feel like there is a little bit of a combination there, and so we've mapped out some areas that we certainly want to improve our program, and once we do that, then we feel like the other pieces will fall in place."
DID DRIVING THE BIG BROWN TRUCK EVER COME UP?
"No. We don't discuss that much here. We get enough of that from the outside, so, no, we haven't talked about that."
WITH A RACE EVERY WEEK AND A LOT OF TESTING TIME, HOW DO YOU FIT REBUILDING A PROGRAM INTO THE NORMAL SCHEDULE?
"I think that's one of difficult parts about our business. I think it's a difficult part and a good thing because it doesn't take long to start testing what you're analyzing because you're going to be back at the track. I think what we had to was make some extra time here, and we realize that's difficult to do, but we've got to fit some new projects into what we're doing now. There is only so much work you can do sitting inside this race shop and analyzing what you need to do, but we have to get out to the race tracks a little bit more and put that time that we spend on the tracks testing to good use. A couple of you will be amazed at how we quickly we come up with something once we get to the tracks and figure out exactly what we want to do, and that's going to start for us tomorrow at Pocono. We have a test session there Wednesday and Thursday and I think that we have a very good game plan going into that, something that we haven't utilized very well in the last year, maybe year-and-a-half. I think that it's difficult with the amount of time that we have because we have to be preparing for the races also, but that's where you see how good your leadership really is. And I believe that with Todd, Doug and Robert working together, and myself, that we can see exactly what we need to do and make a good game plan."
SOME PROBABLY EXPECTED YOUR PROGRAM TO BOUNCE BACK WHEN TODD TOOK THE CENTRAL POSITION BACK.
"Well, it's going to, but to be quite honest, and as I've said before, we can't put this on Jimmy Elledege or anything because it wasn't. This was a program that started to get in trouble before then. What it basically amounts to is Todd is only one person, and he has had to surround himself with people here that he can let take over some of the duties. And to be quite honest, Todd is a very determined, very talented person, but there's only so much one person can do. Trying to oversee, and not just oversee, but trying to be a part of every single phase of this operation, except for the engine side of it - the chassis building, putting the bodies on to rating springs himself and everything, he's got to let go of some of that and turn that over and that's where we're struggling right now. Todd can't totally focus on what he needs to. We feel like that we now have those people in place. This is going to be a project that is going to take a little while for all of that to happen, but I think that Todd has come to realize that now, and that's something that is very important here for two reasons - that he gets that help and that Todd doesn't get totally burned out, which he was heading towards, if he wasn't already there. I think that's a very important aspect to this is that Todd gets that help and, again, we feel like we've put those people in place to help him do that and that this turnaround will eventually take place. He's in the position, Todd's the man that we need here doing all of this, but he simply can't do it all by himself."
HOW'S YOUR DAD?
"He's doing fine. I spoke with him last night and things are much better, thank you."
OTHER MULTI-CAR TEAMS HAVE SWITCHED CREWS AND CREW CHIEFS TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE. IS IT TIME FOR DALE JARRETT TO FIND SOMEONE NEW TO HANDLE THE DAY-TO-DAY ROUTINE, AND MAYBE JIMMY ELLEDGE JUST WASN'T THE PERSON?
"I think that's more up to Todd. We've certainly looked and looked around and seen these things happening, and we feel like, as we analyzed this and talked amongst ourselves, that Todd is the man that put this together and that he's very capable of turning this back around, too. Who's to say what may happen down the road, but I don't foresee that to be the case here just because I believe that Todd Parrott has been the leader of this race team for a number of years and that everybody here believes in Todd. That could be what we need, but we just don't believe that. Certainly, there comes a time whenever you have to make that change - I need to take that back. I'm not speaking as 'make that change' as far as personnel change, but that the crew chief might have to make that change in his thoughts as to what got you there in 1999 and 2000, that things have changed. Things have evolved to a point that tires are different, race tracks are different, race cars are different, and so you have to change the way that you are thinking about things and how you go about things. What kind of downforce do we need, what type of balance do we need with the cars, what type of springs do we need versus what we used to run? Yeah, there does need to be a change in thinking there, but as far as personnel-wise here, I don't think that that is what we need to do. We feel like that we have the people here that can lead us back to being a championship contender."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO TRY TO GET YOUR PROGRAM BACK ON TRACK WHEN YOU ARE MENTIONED IN THE RUMOR MILL?
"I think that that can create problems, too, and that's why I wanted to address it this past Saturday. I don't know how these things get started or who comes up with these ideas, and I'm not sure if they're not started by others just to create problems, but certainly, whenever a team is struggling and the team starts to hear that the driver may be going somewhere else, that can create problems. And, I've addressed our guys, letting them know that I have no plans of going anywhere. I've addressed it with Robert to make sure that he didn't have plans of me going anywhere, and Todd and Doug. And so, we're all on the same page there, but that can create problems for a race team, whenever these guys think, 'Hey, he's not behind us because we're not doing well and he's looking to go somewhere else.' And that's the furthest thing from my mind. My whole point is to stay here. As I said on Saturday, in 1995 whenever I came here to drive the 28 car, obviously I left a good situation at Joe Gibbs Racing, but I felt this is where I needed to be, and things didn't go that well here in 1995 for me when I drove the 28 car. And, Robert and Doug Yates could have said, 'Look, this is Dale Jarrett's fault; we won races before he came here and we only won one in '95.' They could have sent me out and my career may have been close to over, but instead, they realized, as we all did, that I wasn't the total problem here, and that there were more things going on, and they stuck behind me. Even though we don't see a lot of loyalty a lot of times in this sport, I am very loyal to the people that have put me in the position to be talking here today, and those people are Robert and Doug Yates, and Todd Parrott, and we that's why I feel that we still have that nucleus of a team to make this all work and that we're going to do our very best to make it work again. I wanted to put that to rest so that we all know here that we're working for a common goal and that we're going to be doing this together, and hopefully in a short period of time, we'll be back towards the top."
DO YOU THINK THIS WILL BE THE LAST TEAM THAT YOU WILL DRIVE FOR IN YOUR CAREER?
"That's my plan, and I've said this before, that I feel like my contract right now, and contracts are only as good as the paper that they're written on, but as long as I feel like that I can continue to do the job, I feel like Robert and Doug and Todd are behind me enough that this will be the last place that I will drive. How long is that going to be? As I said, my contract goes through 2004 right now, and we have talked about an extension of a couple of more years, and that would get me pretty much close to where I feel like that that would be the end for me. But, if I'm feeling good then, I may continue on, but I do feel like this is the last place that I will drive a race car."
"I appreciate you letting me speak, and hopefully there is something there that somebody can take. And that people do understand, as I said, this cycle, there's not a driver out here, no matter how good they've been or a team that hasn't gone through this. I mean, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Childress, Jeff Gordon and the Hendrick organization, they've all been through it. The good ones come back from it, and I know that this is good race team and we'll be back from this also."