Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd will lead the field to the green flag for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Jarrett, who will start on the pole, and Rudd, a winner in one of Thursday's Gatorade Twin 125s, spoke about...
Robert Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd will lead the field to the green flag for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Jarrett, who will start on the pole, and Rudd, a winner in one of Thursday's Gatorade Twin 125s, spoke about the race during a Winston No Bull 5 press conference.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus
WINNING A MILLION FOR A FAN IS A LOT OF PRESSURE ISN'T IT? "That's the first pressure that I've really felt down here. If this was just the normal Daytona 500 you'd feel pressure, but I'm responsible. She (fan Melissa Brown of Pittsburgh, Pa.) is looking to me and our race team to make sure that we do well tomorrow. It's exciting on one hand to know that we have that opportunity to really change someone's life and make it better for them and that's a pretty neat feeling."
YOU'VE BEEN LABELED THE FAVORITE. HOW DO YOU REACT TO THAT? "It's a nice position to be in that everyone considers us the favorite, but we all know that this is 500 miles and a lot of things can happen to change that. We do have a car that is capable of winning the race. If we were just here and said, 'OK, everything is gonna go smoothly for everyone,' then we've got one of the top cars. But, to think that we've got it wrapped up...I mean, my teammate is every bit as good as what we are. Bill Elliott has shown that he's really good and I think that a number of the other cars, after the 125s, saw what they needed to do. Obviously, Mike Skinner hung on to Ricky in his race. Ward Burton was right there and Dale, Jr. made a charge, so I think you've got a lot of people. There are gonna be a lot more people in the mix and we don't be any stretch of the imagination have this wrapped up, but we do have a very, very good shot at winning."
DO YOU HAVE A BETTER SHOT THAN YOU'VE EVER HAD HERE? "Probably the best shot that I've had here coming in knowing everything right from the start. I was very confident for some reason, even though in '93 we were only a second-year team at that time with Joe Gibbs. I literally told Kelley before we came down here that I had a feeling we were gonna win the Daytona 500. This, we're even better prepared now. We've been good all week and we're in a better position than that just because of all the circumstances. We have all the pieces in place. I'm pretty confident that we have the best engine down here between Ricky and myself. Todd has worked awfully hard on our aero package and the pit crew is a proven commodity in itself, so we have everything there for this to work out."
WHAT ABOUT THE SHOCKS. DO THE FORDS HAVE AN EDGE? "They're acting like there's nothing else to change on the car, but I will assure you that if we didn't have this shock rule they would be changing other things besides the shocks. You wouldn't just be changing shocks every time you came in, so there are other areas you can work in. I think NASCAR is very fair in the springs that they gave us. If you were running softer springs than that in the back, I think you'd be crazy anyway, so it's not like you can't do something there. You have front springs, swaybar, trackbar, there are a lot of things you can do to still help your car if it's not driving right, so I really don't understand the complaint. Half of it, it seems like they're blaming us for their car having a lot of drag and the last I checked we didn't build their cars. They submitted them. We worked on ours and made a good car. I think they have a good car, but you go through change and it's kind of like what we went through in '98. We tried to continue our same notes that we had from our Thunderbird in '97 and it just didn't work. The pressure areas on downforce were in different spots and we were getting air to the rear spoiler in a different manner and we just had to put that aside. Even here this week, we're different than what I've been here springwise and everybody's been different shockwise, but we've had to do some things I normally wouldn't do here to make the car be competitive through the corners."
SIX OF THE LAST SEVEN 500s HAVE BEEN WON BY CHEVROLET AND PONTIAC HASN'T WON THE RACE SINCE 1984. DO YOU THINK CHEVROLET IS A LITTLE BIT GREEDY? IS IT TIME FOR FORD TO HAVE AN EDGE DOWN HERE? "Short memories. They don't want to think about that because you go into the biggest race of the year and you like to think that you've got a chance and I think if they just sit back and realize that it's 500 miles, a lot of things can happen, that they'll probably be in pretty good shape before the day is over. But, it's just a little disheartening. We've been there wondering what in the world we could do to give ourselves and opportunity. I guess we were the last Ford to win here in '96, so, hopefully, it is our turn. They don't like to think that things should switch around, just like winning the championship last year for the first time since '92. They're a bunch that is used to winning and they don't like to think that they've got anything that's not superior."
WHAT IS YOUR PLAN FOR THE FINAL PRACTICE? "Everything is going well. We tried a couple of things yesterday in practice and made just a couple of runs. We'll run very little in this afternoon's practice because it doesn't benefit us to get out there in the big packs and do a whole lot and take any chances. I think I know what I need the car to feel like and I plan on it being out front more than I do in a big pack of cars anyway."
JEFF GORDON SAT HERE LAST YEAR AND WAS FAVORED TO WIN THE TITLE. WHAT'S YOUR FEELING ON HIS CHANCES THIS YEAR? "I'd still rate him as the favorite to win the championship just because of the resources that they have at Hendrick Motorsports and because of the talent that he has. They're gonna make things work. They might not be as dominant in doing it as they were in '98, but they're gonna be very strong and they're gonna win their share of races. I think the one thing we've yet to see is are they gonna have those bad days, as many as they had last year, and I wouldn't look for that to happen. I still think that if he's racing, you've gotta consider him the favorite to win the championship."
IS THAT A LOT TO DO WITH HIS TALENT? "A lot, yeah, and just the organization that he works for. You don't replace Ray Evernham, but you can get people in there that have a lot of talent and they've done that. Robbie Loomis is very good and Jeff will work with him and they have a lot of good people supporting him."
RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus
HOW KEY IS IT STARTING ON THE FRONT ROW SUNDAY? "I think everyone wants track position this week, that's been the big battle all week long is to try to get close to the front. We're starting up front and I hope we can maintain it, but you've also got the normal course of racing where you're not gonna have that position the entire race because pit stops are involved and there are many things that will change that. The start of the race looks pretty good for us, we just need to keep it up there."
DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM THE 125? "We learned that we have a pretty good race car. The Texaco Havoline Taurus has been fast all week long down here and it was also fast in the 125. We haven't made a lot of changes to it, so we expect it to do the same in the 500 but we also expect a lot of guys to get their cars a little bit better. So, I feel like it's gonna be a little closer race than it was the other day."
WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU EXPECT? "I really don't know. The other day in the 125 we set out and did what we needed to do. We felt like we needed to get out front, we didn't want to get mixed up in traffic, we heard all the stories about the cars not drafting well. So, my car by being out front did what it needed to do. In behind traffic, it's still pretty good, but I didn't want to get myself back in that mess. To answer your question, I don't really know what to expect in the 500, I really don't."
HAVE YOU EVER GONE INTO THE 500 MORE CONFIDENT IN YOUR RACE CAR THAN THIS ONE? "I've never started a Daytona 500 with a car that I felt was this good. I felt like all week long our team was very well prepared. All winter long they worked hard, we had good tests, but the Robert Yates organization -- they're equipment is always on top and especially when you come to Daytona. Generally, they're the guys that most people shoot for. I know I've been in the position of trying to race against these guys, so it's nice to be sitting behind the wheel of one of their cars."
HOW IS YOUR PIT CREW? "A good pit crew. We had good pit practice all winter. The 88 team basically hired the Rainbow Warrior group, but our guys were pretty quick the other day. They got us in and out of the pits the other day, they've been practicing and I think as an extra incentive out there they want to beat that ex-24 crew. They've been training hard, working hard. It's a little harder for these guys because our guys work in the shop, so to find time to get to the gym is hard, but they've been doing it and they're fired up. It's a good, solid pit crew."
IS IT FAIR TO SAY THE SECOND-HALF OF THE TIRE RUN WILL BE KEY WITH THE SHOCKS? "I think the guy that can hold it on the floorboard all day long will probably win the Daytona 500. I mean, that's our goal is to make it so you don't have to lift the throttle." CAN YOU DO THAT? "I don't know. I really don't know. All the cars, it's a fine line when you lose the handle and you have to crack the throttle a little bit. Hopefully, we can. The race will be won with handling, that's not a question. Everyone can pretty much keep up with each other. When you see those packs break up into packs, they don't break up because one guy just drove away from them, they break up because the next group is having to crack the throttle just a little bit."
WILL YOU TRY TO WORK A LOWER LINE? "Again, it seemed to make a difference whether you're out front or behind. In practice I've put myself in behind to see what would happen and the bottom of the race track is the quickest way to go and that would be the preferred line, but if the bottom quits holding and the front end quits holding, that's why those guys in the first race went up to the top of the race track. It's a wider arc, but it releases the front tires and doesn't work the front tires quite as hard, so the driver will move around to find a place where the car wants to run."
CAN YOU COMPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY THIS YEAR TO PREVIOUS YEARS? "I think coming into this race all the teams work so hard and you've had all winter to prepare, but you also have Rockingham and Vegas on the heels of this race. But this is the Daytona 500 and it's just nice coming into this event with equipment that you know is state-of-the-art. I came here with my equipment that was state-of-the-art, but these guys have been to the wind tunnel. They have built cars and if they didn't like what they saw, they cut the cars up and built new cars. They've gone after this really hard, a much more aggressive approach and a much more expensive approach than what I've had to work with at least in the last six years. Whatever we built we'd have to live with it. We could make a few modifications to it, but these guys have so much depth and so much talent in so many people that they're able to build cars. If they see something they don't like, they'll turn around and build another one pretty quickly."
CAN YOU FOCUS MORE ON THE RACE? "It's been a whole lot easier for me to try and get away and relax a little bit because I haven't had to be at the transporter every morning at the crack of dawn and sitting down to discuss what we're gonna do with these cars today to get them up to speed. We've been pretty good since we've been here and now it's more of a case where we're ready, let's go race, but now we've got a long wait. We felt like we were ready at the 125 stage, we were ready to go race the 500, and I can't ever remember in my career when I felt after the 125 that I had a car that was handling like I needed to handle and was ready to go. We feel like we've been ready since Thursday and that's a pretty nice feeling."
DO YOU FEEL THE FORD HAS AN ADVANTAGE? "I looked on my bumper and Mike Skinner was right there the entire race and was trying to figure out a way to set up and pass me. That was the worse situation to be running behind another car and he looked pretty racy. Ward Burton was right there in my race. There was a pack of about 10 cars the entire race in my race. Does it have an advantage, I don't think so. In qualifying it looked like the Ford ran a little bit quicker, but in race trim I've seen some awfully good Chevrolets. I've seen some good Fords, I've seen some bad Fords, and I've seen some bad Chevrolets, so let's run the 500 and find out."
CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR FEELING THIS YEAR TO OTHER YEARS? "There are a lot of guys who come down here and a lot of people have high hopes and high expectations because all the teams work hard coming down here for the 500. I've always come down here saying, 'Sure, we want to win the 500. If we get really lucky our car will really hold its own and run well.' But you also know that you're not as prepared as some of the bigger teams like the Yates organization or the Childress organization or Hendrick. You knew you weren't prepared as well. Probably since 1993, which was the last time I came down here with the Hendrick camp, knowing that we really had top-notch equipment that could win the race. But with your own stuff you didn't have enough money to dedicate. I would have blown 85 percent of my budget trying to go to the Daytona 500 to compete at the level with these operations. So, you came in hoping for a great run, a top five, and with circumstances you might be able to win it but you knew you weren't gonna win it by being a dominant car."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU MISS TO OWNING A TEAM? "I'm trying to think right now, but right now I can't think of anything. Again, if you were an individual that liked to have total control and had to have that, then you probably wouldn't like the situation now. But you've got to remember, I've enjoyed someone else coming in and taking the pressure off me and running the business side of it, so it's a welcome relief for me. I can get a breather now. I know all the business stuff is being handled and I know it's in good hands with the Yates organization."