DODGE NOTES - Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid, will make his 700th career start on Sunday at Darlington..... Sterling Marlin and the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid team won last year's Carolina Dodge Dealers...
DODGE NOTES - Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid, will make his 700th career start on Sunday at Darlington..... Sterling Marlin and the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid team won last year's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400......Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge Intrepid, finished second and fifth in his first two Cup races last season at Darlington.... Ward Burton, a two-time winner at Darlington, holds the track qualifying record at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval in his No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid with a lap of 173.797 mph.
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid)
NOTE: Spencer qualified fifth and finished seventh last Sunday at Atlanta. He qualified seventh for last year's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington and finished a career-best fourth at Darlington in the 2001 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
"The team has really come together. Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) has really put a good bunch of boys there. Tommy has run really well at Darlington. He's a past winner there. He's real excited about Darlington. I like Darlington. It's a racer's race track without a question. It's a track where you stay on top of your game all day.
"I think anybody that's in the Winston Cup Series right now as had some success from their roots of racing, including the rookies and veterans. I think it's an honor that Bill Elliott is making his 700th start at Darlington. I think that's pretty neat. Hard work is the only way you have success. It's not just the driver. It's the team. I have a great team this year. I think Tommy and his guys have done an outstanding job putting this thing together as quickly as they have. To establish the success we've had is pretty neat. You have to have a lot of luck. We were lucky on Sunday. We had a tire going down. We pitted out of sequence because of that. We didn't panic. Tommy did a great job on the radio and the spotter Eddie Thrap and the guys. We came back and got it up to second and we were going to pit. The caution came out for an engine failure by Mark (Martin) and that kept us on the lead lap. We had a car that we knew could stay on the lead lap all day. We did our homework on Saturday in Happy Hour and we achieved a top 10 finish. That's what we intend on doing the rest of this year, Tommy, myself and the crew. We're excited about this year.
"Even in school when I was growing up, if somebody asks you a question, give them an answer. It's not politics. I hate the politicians for that reason. Sometimes you say stuff that makes people mad. You don't want to make anybody mad, but sometimes it's the truth. If you like a football team, don't beat around the bush. Say you like the Dallas Cowboys or say you like the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just because they had a bad year doesn't mean you're going to sell them down the road. You're going to stick by your guns and be loyal to them. I think the NASCAR fans over the years have gotten so much bull crap from drivers not speaking the truth. When they ask a question of me, I give them an answer. If I can give them an answer I'm going to give them the answer. If I can't, I'll not answer the question because I don't know the answer. If I have an answer, I'm going to speak it. Sometimes it gets me in trouble, but I've done it my whole life. I've been slammed by it, but most of the time it's been good press for me, and I enjoy it.
"I think last year we had hot and cold days. This year for me sitting here to pick on Dodge and say we have a disadvantage in the aero department, I want to wait another couple of weeks. I did notice yesterday when Tommy and I talked in our meeting that I thought the car did not have the frontal downforce it needed. That was where the Chevys were better on the long runs. For us to come out of the box with our first top 10, which I thought we should have three top 10s already, and be less than 100 points out of sixth place, for us to start complaining, I think that's the wrong thing for the Sirius team to do right now. What we're doing, we're trying to figure out how to get our car better balanced. We had the best balanced Dodge in the show Sunday and we were still a little too tight exiting the corners where the Chevys weren't. I think the Dodges are going to keep working. I think this Dodge team is a lot better than one I've ever driven for in the past for any team, and it's all attributed to the guys in the shop and Tommy. He does a great job. He trusts me. I tell him it's pushing. I tell him it's loose. He doesn't question me. He goes about figuring out a way to fix it, and that's important. That reputation that Tommy has, the reputation that Jimmy has, we were going to be a big failure. I'm glad a lot of people felt that way. I knew Tommy could do it, and Tommy said, 'Jimmy, I know you can do it.' The biggest thing that Jimmy Smith gave us confidence as an owner. We have made him one of the happiest owners, and he's sure made us two happy guys. We think we can build on this thing and go to Darlington and qualify well and run in the top 10 again. We're excited about Bristol and Texas coming up. For us to say the Dodges are at a disadvantage, give us another two or three races and let everybody get these things sorted out.
"I'm not surprised (that NASCAR hasn't taken cars to wind tunnel). They've got to wait. It's like Bobby Labonte's got a brand new crew chief. Tommy and myself are brand new to a complete team. Ryan Newman's got new engine builders and Ryan went from a Ford to a Dodge. There are so many variables. Bill Elliott had a real good car, and I guess something broke in the engine. I think all in all, NASCAR is not panicking because of that reason. They'll give these guys five, six or seven races and then they'll make a decision. It's obvious Matt Kenseth has got his Ford figured out, so Ford shouldn't be complaining. They've already won a race. They ran second at Rockingham and won Rockingham. They ran second at Daytona. That's typical of the Ford camp. They complain, complain, complain. I think Dodge is a little bit different. We're going to keep looking at our program. We're going to keep talking amongst ourselves. Our engineering staff in Detroit does an awesome job. I think time will tell. They're working on that stuff right now. I think with Ryan Newman, he's definitely a title contender, and he'll establish himself quickly as one of the top Dodge teams if he hasn't already. We just want to be one of them that can score some points and possibly win some races. That's what we're looking for.
"There was a lot of racing (at Atlanta). I was racing pretty hard side by side with Bill Elliott the first 20 laps. My crew chief was telling me to be patient and take my time. I think it was a heck of a good race. I know they moved to the top of the race track. I think some of that might have been too hard of a tire. It was probably good two years ago, but now Atlanta has really worn down. Speeds have really come down because of the race conditions, the tire being harder. Maybe Goodyear will look into that with NASCAR, but I still think that those two Chevys battling - Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon - that was a hell of a finish. I also feel like it's a race track where a tenth or two a lap doesn't show up as much until the longer we run. I still feel Atlanta is one of the better races for a superspeedway as fast as we run. We didn't have any problems with our tires at all. The tires could have gone further than the pit stop. I also feel like the biggest thing was we just didn't have the car balanced. Our car was tight on the longer runs. It was really fast the first 20 or 25 laps, but then it would go away. Matt Kenseth wasn't as good the first 20 laps, but he would come on stronger. I think that a lot of different rules were implemented this year trying to figure out the balance of the car. Trying to figure it out after the third race, Daytona doesn't count. Rockingham is different than Vegas, and Darlington is a lot different. I think it's the closest we've ever seen the sport really.
"A two-car team is your best mix. I think Joe Gibbs proves it week in and week out. I think you'll see a lot of production out of the Yates program. I wish I had a teammate, but Tommy has a lot on his plate with a single-car team, and he's worked really hard just getting our team a top 15 every week.
"It bothers me. I think Rockingham and Darlington are two of the best race tracks we go to as far as competition from the drivers. I don't think we carry the weight we should carry. I think we should lose the two road courses. The efficiency of the road racing is not there anymore. We don't get a big enough crowd at either one of those tracks. It costs the car owners hundreds of thousands of dollars to test and build new road course cars. To me, I don't think it's racing the way we were supposed to race. To me, I think those are the two tracks I'd like to lose as quick as we could.
"I think all the short tracks, even Martinsville is a track you hit the wall really hard at because of the angle you hit at. The angle at Las Vegas and Atlanta isn't as abrupt. It isn't as hard a hit as a track such as Richmond because of the speed difference. You wouldn't think you'd hit the wall that hard at Richmond, yet you're still going in the corner probably 160 mph. I think NASCAR is doing a fantastic job with their research department as far as driver safety, pit crew safety, I just can't compliment those guys enough on what they do.
"I think Richmond is definitely the first (for safer barriers), and then I think you could look to New Hampshire, Martinsville and then up the ladder. I think it's the angles we hit the walls at, and they've done a lot of research on this. I would say the next one in line after Richmond would be New Hampshire. I've hit the walls a couple of times there (Richmond), and it hits hard. I hit it hard enough the Saturday night race in the fall, Sterling and I, and you probably hit that wall and stop quicker than you would at Atlanta or Charlotte."