Darlington: Bill Elliott preview

BILL ELLIOTT NO. 9 DODGE DEALERS/UAW DODGE INTREPID CAREER LONGEVITY "I enjoy being here. I feel like I can still be a good competitor. I feel like when I can't hold up my own end, then I need to go on down the road. It's a different era...



"I enjoy being here. I feel like I can still be a good competitor. I feel like when I can't hold up my own end, then I need to go on down the road. It's a different era though. These younger guys keep you on your toes. It makes it fun to go out there every week. Yeah, I might be the veteran now or whatever you want to call it, but I still feel like I can go out there and run with these guys and still be competitive."


"I feel very fortunate to be where I am today. I've seen a lot things throughout my career and I've won a few races along the way. I can't complain about anything. I'm not real big on making a lot out of things like this. I guess when you sit back and think about it though, it's something to hang your hat on. I've had a good career. I really can't complain. I was saying the other day that if it all ended now, I'd be happy with what I've accomplished over the years."


"Darlington has been pretty good to me throughout the years. I like running there. I don't know that it makes it any more special that I'm making my 700th start there. Winning the million back in '85 was certainly one of the highlights of my career, but I've also had some good runs there recently. You just can't put too much emphasis on one race though. It's the same as it is every week. You have to make the race first, and hopefully we can have a good qualifing run this week and then go out and do what you have to do to have a good day on Sunday - good pit stops, track position and stay out of trouble."


"It's all about people. It's all about getting the right people plugged into the right places. I've said this several times, for me it's a situation where you've got to have good people and you've got to have them working together toward a common goal. It's no different than any other sport. You can have the greatest people in the world but if they can't work together than they can't come together as a team. I think the middle of 2001 is when our team really started coming together. We started hitting on things and working well together. Last year we just put it together real well. In the winter we lost a few people. They moved around within the organization. Then we went to the common template, and we've had several other little changes, and it's like we've got all the pieces there but we haven't gotten them all put together yet. It might take another race or two to get everything just right, but I'm confident that Ray's going to do what he needs to do."


"Ray's done a great job in putting this Dodge team together and what he's done between Dodge and UAW, I'm proud of where we're at. I think the only thing that's hurt us a little bit is that we've only been able to test at one place, Daytona, and we've not been able to do anything at the short or intermediate stuff. We're going to test Kentucky on Wednesday. We tried to do it before

Rockingham but the weather didn't cooperate. At Rockingham, not being able to practice because of the rain really hurt us. We tried to use some of our stuff from last year but it wasn't really what we were looking for. At Las Vegas we weren't that bad. We had a little problem there at the end, but all in all we had a decent day. At Atlanta, we had a good qualifying run, and we were pretty good in the race. I don't think we had anything for the 18 car, but we had engine trouble so we never really got to finish where we should have. We just need to get our season back on track and the problem that I see, since they've gone to the common template, is that it's going to take some guys a little longer to figure out what they need because for some people it's going to complement their setup and some people it's not."


"Matt's one heck of a driver. He's one of those guys who's kind of quiet. You don't know he's around and then all of sudden he up and wins the race. In Las Vegas, it was like all of a sudden he shot out of a cannon, and he was gone. He's a good competitor and he's going to be tough to beat this year."


Bill Elliott is scheduled to drive chassis #17 this weekend. This is the same chassis he ran at Rockingham this year and at the Darlington fall race where he finished third in 2002.


* This weekend's race will mark Elliott's 700th career Winston Cup Series start. Last weekend, Elliott moved to seventh on the all-time starts list, passing Buddy Baker (698). Richard Petty heads the list with 1,177 starts, followed by Dave Marcis (882), Darrell Waltrip (809), Ricky Rudd (771), Terry Labonte (749) and Bobby Allison (717). Elliott is third in overall starts among active drivers. In his 28 years of racing, Elliott has amassed 43 wins, 55 poles, 166 top-fives and 307 top-tens. If Elliott continues to start every race of the 2003 season, he will surpass Bobby Allison to rank sixth on the all-time start list in the fall race at Michigan Int'l Speedway.


* This weekend's race marks Elliott's 50th career start at Darlington. He leads all active drivers with five poles, 21 top-fives and 33 top-10s at the track. Elliott's five wins put him second to Jeff Gordon (six) for the lead among all active drivers. Elliott has led laps in more than half of his appearances at Darlington - 27 races for a total of 980 laps led (second-most among all active drivers). He also has an average finish of 9.04 in 49 races, the best of all active drivers with more than five starts at the track.


* A 21-year-old Bill Elliott earned his first career top-10 finish at Darlington Raceway in the Sept 5, 1977 Southern 500. Elliott battled from a 16th position to finish 10th. It was his 15th Winston Cup Series start, and his first run at Darlington. Elliott also earned his first career pole at Darlington in the April 4, 1981, CRC Chemical Rebel 500. He finished fourth in the event.


* Elliott has won three races at Darlington from the pole (1985a,b, 1988b). Elliott's most recent pole at the track came in the spring race of 1994 and his most recent win was in the fall race of that same year.


* The field in last September's race at Darlington was set by owners' points due to rain, forcing Elliott to start in the eighth position. The race started under cloudy skies with 19 laps of caution. On lap 20, the field began running at full speed with Elliott making a jump to the fifth spot in the opening laps. On lap 45 Elliott assumed the lead, which he held until lap 69. Elliott temporarily gave up the lead for a pit stop but assumed it again on laps 74 through 91. Elliott battled with handling problems as the clouds began to burn off and the sun began to hit the track. Mike Ford and the No. 9 crew made various air pressure adjustments to correct the problems. Elliott was never out of the top 10 during the 367 lap event. Elliott made a run for the lead but would battle lap traffic and did not have enough laps left to overtake eventual winner Jeff Gordon. Elliott placed third.


* Last weekend at Atlanta, Elliott lit up the qualifying charts with a time of 28.99, 191.23 mph. He completed an all-Dodge front row for the first time this season and the first time since Evernham Motorsports completed the feat at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 2001. Sunny conditions compared to the cloudy conditions that occurred during qualifying and practice, caused the No. 9 Dodge Squad to make some adjustments to Elliott's Dodge. Elliott reported slightly loose conditions. On the team's first stop they made air pressure and wedge adjustments. A caution on lap 135 brought Elliott into the pits for a trackbar adjustment and four tires. Elliott lost a lap to the leaders but remained in the top-15. He nearly got his lap back on lap 151 but was blocked from doing so. He was making a run at the lap again when engine trouble ended the hometown favorite's run. Elliott finished in 39th place. He loses six spots in the Winston Cup points race, currently in the 36th position. He is 122 points out of 20th place.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Dave Marcis , Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , Buddy Baker