NOTE: Richard Petty presented the keys to the first 2006 volume production Dodge Charger to roll off the assembly line to Dwight Kennedy on Saturday afternoon at Darlington Raceway. Kennedy was the charity auction winner of the car, and the...
NOTE: Richard Petty presented the keys to the first 2006 volume production Dodge Charger to roll off the assembly line to Dwight Kennedy on Saturday afternoon at Darlington Raceway. Kennedy was the charity auction winner of the car, and the Victory Junction Gang Camp received $50,000 of the $75,100 winning bid.
RICHARD PETTY (Owner Petty Enterprises Dodge Chargers)
"The Charger was really good for us. I just wish we could get it going as good as we used to have it going. The name brings back a lot of memories. The cars are so different, but we had some really good years with the Chargers in the '70s. We had some good years and bad years down here at Darlington. We always ran good here, but we never had a lot of good luck. I think we won three races in a row one time. It seems like we always led races when we came down here, but it was hard to win races here. I guess the worst part was in 1970 coming off the fourth turn. I turned over and dislocated my shoulder. That was the bad time. I remember the bad times more than the good times.
"The racing people per se all got behind the Victory Junction Gang Camp and Dodge is behind it here. This gentleman here (Dwight Kennedy) is behind it because he bid knowing where the money was going. It's not just people in North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia. It's all over the United States and Canada, also. We've got a lot of good people behind us to make it work. Kyle got the idea and put it out there, and we did what little we could do. Then it took the racing fraternity to make it work."
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
COMMENT ON THE NEW 2006 HEMI DODGE CHARGER. ANY CHANCE WE'LL EVER SEE THE HEMI ON THE RACETRACK? "The dilemma we've had with the hemi engine is when we were there the first time the engine was truly a hemispherical engine which is where hemi derives its name from. Right now the engines we're using in NASCAR are not hemispherical, so part of the problem is you would have an engine that would not fit the technical description. Obviously, hemi has great marketing value for us as a brand. If we could figure out a way to get NASCAR to allow us to race hemi engines we'd certainly be trying to do that. I'm not so sure they're going to take that trip through. It would be a great marketing tool for us and obviously we're in this sport to win races and championship but also to market our product and sell our cars. Certainly hemi has a tremendous name out there. We're using it in NHRA, and we'd like to use it in NASCAR. We'll have to have the help of the sanctioning body to do that. We've asked. It's not like we're not asking. I think there's some past history of where we were with the hemi that folds into that. I think the idea that I talked about earlier with the technical nature of where the hemi came from, the hemispherical type of engine and we don't use that. There's some of it. I don't know that NASCAR has said absolutely not. I think we've said this would be something that would help us from our marketing perspective. It's good business for us. What's good business for us is good business for NASCAR because we support the sport. I'm not saying they've said absolutely not. We've been talking about it, but they haven't said yes, either."
ARE YOU CATCHING A LOT OF HEAT ABOUT THE CHARGER? "The Charger is a great looking car. You've got to understand we're only nine races into a brand new body and a brand new spoiler and brand new tires. In one case we've got a brand new chassis under the car. We've proved that the car is quick. We're on the pole and starting on the outside here. All our major players are in the top 20. We've had opportunities to win races this year. Rusty had the absolute best car at Bristol and we didn't win the race. Rusty had a great car at Martinsville and we didn't win the race. Jamie McMurray could have won a couple of races this year and didn't. A brand new car and I'm not disappointed where we're at. We've got more developmental work to do and continue to get better. We haven't won a race and we haven't quit yet, either. It's too early in the season. We'll keep plugging away at it."
HAVE YOU ASKED NASCAR FOR HELP? "We had some issues at California which is probably one of the dirtiest tracks because there's a lot of stuff on the racetrack. The problems we had there the paper happened to stick on our cars versus other people's cars. We've improved the front end as the season has gone on. We've had less and less problem with that. We haven't been to NASCAR and said we've got major issues with that (nose) yet. We want to see how the season goes before we would do that. We're still working hard on the new car and the aero balance. I think it's up to us to make sure we do everything we can, and we haven't done everything we can yet before we go to NASCAR."
IS THE CHARGER CLOSER TO BEING BALANCED? "We're getting better every week. We were really up after Atlanta and then we went to Phoenix and looked like dog meat there. Last week we looked good again, and we looked good here in qualifying, but qualifying isn't the race. We'll see how we do in the race. I'm seeing improvement as the season goes on and this is a brand new car. One thing people don't add in to that equation is we got a half inch off the spoiler and brand new tires. We did all our testing on the new car with the old tires and a half inch more on the spoiler, so we're still working on getting the balance right. We're not quitting."
DON'T YOU THINK THE DODGE CHARGER 500 IS A PERFECT PLACE FOR THE CHARGER TO WIN ITS FIRST CUP RACE? "If we could have picked our race to win the first, although it's the 10th in progression, this would be the one, but since we're here it would be tremendous. It would be a big boost for our program and something for the Carolina Dodge Dealers because they're putting on a great show. It would be a nice present for them if we could win the race and they could go home and say, 'we won it.'
EVEN THOUGH DODGE HASN'T WON, IS THE PROGRAM SHOWING MORE DEPTH? "Yes, we started showing more depth last year. We continue to show it this year. Our three youngest drivers have another year under their belts. You've still got to realize our three young drivers - Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray, those guys only have a total of six years between them, so it's not like those guys have got a tremendous amount of experience. Every race they're maturing and getting more experience. We've got Travis Kvapil up in Cup, so we've improved our lineup. We're still looking to do that. We're looking for drivers to replace Rusty at the end of the year and Sterling when he leaves the Ganassi team. I think we're going to get stronger and stronger from the driver perspective. Obviously I like the organizations we've got in place. The Pettys have a tremendous program with the Evernham engines. They've had much better results this year than they've had the past couple of years, and Kyle is working really hard on that program. Ganassi, Penske and Evernham have all picked up their programs, and when we get the little aero balance problem straightened out and some of the fine tuning on this car, it's going to be a damn good car."