Darlington II: Dodge this - Bill Elliott interview

Dodge This Teleconference Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2003 Bill Elliott BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid) WHAT'S GOING TO BE THE BIG SECRET AT DARLINGTON? "I think it's going to be like the last 15 or 20 races - track position...

Dodge This Teleconference
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2003

Bill Elliott

BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid)

WHAT'S GOING TO BE THE BIG SECRET AT DARLINGTON?

"I think it's going to be like the last 15 or 20 races - track position and survival. I think tire management, fuel mileage and track position and hopefully we'll qualify well enough to be in position to do some good. That to me is going to be the key."

IS IT A BIG DISADVANTAGE WHEN A YOUNG DRIVER BECOMES UNPOPULAR?

"It depends on how the individual handles the situation. If he can block it out, get in the racecar and do his job, it doesn't really matter. If you can't it will be a distraction. It just depends on the individual. He's liable to get help. I don't know in which direction."

COMMENT ON DARLINGTON AS A LABOR DAY TRADITION

"That's about like eating hot dogs and apple pie, I think. I think that's the way people know it to be. Whether they can change or not, I don't know. I guess that will be the test of the sport. That was a surprise even for me when they ended up moving that date. That was a very surprising move."

HOW BIG OF A TEST IS IT FOR NASCAR TO GO THROUGH CHANGES?

"If you turn back and analyze what they're trying to do, the California market can probably grow. You look at Rockingham the market has been going the other way, the lack of growth. It just depends on how it can balance all this out to make it work for everybody. I think to run Darlington in November is going to be a tough sell. Everybody is so programmed to going to Darlington on Labor Day. It's not a new track on the circuit like California. It's in a lot of the same markets, and I think this will be a very serious test to see what they will eventually do with that date, whether they keep it or move it or whatever."

HOW DIFFERENT WILL DARLINGTON BE IN NOVEMBER?

"Is it ever cool at Darlington? It won't make that much difference. It'll help the driver, there's no doubt about that, but you've got everybody programmed to go over there Labor Day weekend. Whether it can change or not to live with that date, I don't know. That will be a very key question here pretty shortly."

WHAT'S FIRST THING THAT POPS IN YOUR HEAD WHEN SOMEBODY SAYS DARLINGTON?

"Probably winning the Winston Million. It's the first race I won a pole at. I've had a lot of good runs there, a lot of success there. It's been a good racetrack for me. It's changed a lot over the years, but it's been a pretty strong racetrack."

WHAT'S THE FLAVOR OF DARLINGTON?

"It's kind of a mix. To me, as old as the racetrack has gotten, there's not been a great deal of improvement to the racetrack over the years. It's just the same old place. For the changes they've made several years ago, other than the racetrack surface itself being repaved, the place hasn't changed since I've been going there in the 70s."

COMMENT ON PRESSURE OF WINNING WINSTON MILLION

"It was very new. I think once I got through Charlotte and all the stuff that phased me there, I was better able to handle it when I got to Darlington. On the flip side, by that time I think I had everything pretty much in place. I had it in my head what I was going to go through, so on and so forth. Things just kind of unfolded and fell into my favor, but it was just one of them days that luck was on your side. Probably the worst thing, I think in '86 I was leading the race with a handful of laps to go and I ran into the wall on the first turn. I just drove in too deep. I think Richmond ended up winning the race. I think I wound up third. I just drove straight into the wall. I didn't pass go. I didn't collect $200. I just drove straight into the wall. Back then it wasn't for the million."

WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU MAKE IF YOU COULD?

"I'd take some of the downforce off these cars. I'd change the tires around a little bit where it would make it more (dependent) on chassis rather than aero. The evolution of where they've come to, I've seen millions of changes. There used to be there wasn't any fans at the racetrack to now where it's difficult to get in and out. They need to work to get some of the bugs out of that side of it, but still, the sport is so much different than it was 10 years ago. You're going to like and dislike a lot of the changes. Just like in your hometown, growth is good in some respects and bad in others. You've got to take the good with the bad."

WHAT ROLE DOES LUCK PLAY IN A DRIVER'S SEASON?

"How many times do people go to Vegas and how many times does luck play a part? There's certain things you can't control. You draw for your qualifying position. You can draw a good draw. You can draw a bad draw. You can't control it. That can dictate your whole weekend. It can dictate where you pit on pit road. It can dictate who you pit around on pit road. It can dictate whether you start in the front or start in the back. If you start in the back and get a bad pit area, then that pretty much dictates your day. How much of that is luck and how much is it not luck? There's a lot of ifs and ands in this sport. As competitive as everybody is today and as critical as track position is today and as critical as everything has to be 100 percent.... Just like Saturday night at Bristol. Luck plays a part in whether you finish or don't finish. Whether you're in the right place at the right time or in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's a lot of variables in the sport. When you're racing 42 other competitors, it makes it very difficult."

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

"Well, let me tell you like this. When I'm ready to talk, I'll talk. When I ain't, I ain't. That's just plain and simple. When it's time, it's time and I'll let you know. When it's not, it's not, and then I'll let you know. I'm almost 50 now. I've given it thought because I'm definitely on the shorter end of the stick."

DID YOU HAVE TO EARN RESPECT OF YOUR PEERS?

"The thing about it is, so many things have changed since Rusty or myself or even Earnhardt was around. Back in those days, you weren't under such a magnifying glass. I can remember when Darrell and Cale got into a little altercation after Michigan. I think it was either in the late 70s or early 80s. It was on TV. The thing of it is, everybody gets put under a lot of pressure these days. NASCAR is the controlling factor of what kinda goes on. I don't think in today's world I don't think it can tolerate anything that goes on like what happened between Spencer and Busch. That's kind of an ongoing battle. It don't go well with all the other racing leagues around the world. You've got a guy coming up and it's OK to turn somebody or OK to do this or OK to do that. Well, it's not OK. Running at 200 mph, we ought to be professionals at what we do. We get mad and upset and things happen, but I still don't know how to handle the situation. You've got so many personalities. You've got people that deal with things differently. Whether Kurt Busch was right or wrong, I don't know. Whether Spencer was right or wrong, I don't know. I know you can't settle your disputes like that. On the other hand, I don't guess Kurt should have said some of the things he said. There again, I wasn't in that situation and I don't know what the circumstances were.

"I know when I came in everybody talked about how tough Cale was, but Cale, by the time I came in, he was very respectful. He would race you like you raced him. If you beat on him, he'd beat on you. If you respected him, he'd respect you. I feel that's the way it should be. I feel like there should be respect on the racetrack. It's earned on the racetrack. It's just like the gentleman's agreement driving back to the yellow flag. It's been like that ever since I've been in it, and all it is is a respect thing, respect your competitors. All you're trying to do is to be able to slow down so the safety equipment can move faster. To me it's just a respect thing.

"How can you have a villain the way the sport is perceived today? This ain't the western days. This ain't Saturday night dirt track racing. Even it has respect. You can't go out and hit people and things like that. There's too many eyes watching what goes on everyday."

HOW MUCH HAS RESPECT CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

"I think people are using all the tactics they can to get position. It has changed, and I don't think it's changed for the better in my opinion. I just don't agree with that kind of racing. Some people love it. That's why Bristol sells out. People want to see the wrecks and see what happens during the night, but I kinda disagree. I guess my philosophy is I always had to work on the racecar and I had to fix what I tore up. I tried to respect my fellow competitors. If I couldn't beat 'em fair and square, I went back and worked harder on my race car where I could."

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE OR IS IT THE WAY THE SPORT IS EVOLVING?

"I think it's probably the way the sport is evolving. You're so limited to what you can do to your racecar anymore. You're trying to get every possible advantage you can. You're so reliant on downforce and it's just so much different than the past."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THE SOUTHERN 500 HERITAGE MEANS?

"I think it's very traditional for somebody around here, not only the south but a lot of people. That's what Darlington was molded around."

WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU PASSED CALE IN '85?

"It's no different than anytime you're driving a racecar. Your main goal is to beat the competition. The million dollars, I don't even believe I was thinking about the million dollars at the time. All I was thinking about was how I was going to continue to stay ahead of the competition. Cale was very strong that day. He probably should have won the race. I remember very well. Earnhardt was good that day. Gant was good that day. They all had problems. Cale was good that day. When you're in a racecar, you concentrate on what's happening at that second. You don't think beyond it, and you don't think behind it. You're just concentrating on getting everything you can out of the racecar. Everything else you don't think about. I don't."

IS THERE TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON PIT STRATEGY?

"That's a difficult question. The way the current rules are with these cars and our aero packages and competition and all of the above, now people are looking at other ways to get an advantage. You're going to have to do something pit strategy wise to put yourself in position to win. At Sears Point, we were getting good fuel mileage that day. We stopped as far back as we could with laps to go to make it to the end where we could gain track position. It ended up paying off. We ended up finishing fourth. Unfortunately that's where it's gone. This sport isn't like football or baseball or anything else. You don't race against one other person. You race against 42 of the best teams every week. It's like a superstar game every week, and I think that's why it's so difficult to win now. You can make some of your luck. Sometimes you put yourself in position and luck and everything else plays a part in what you do, but still, you've got to have it all. I think the way everything is right now is the reason it's going in this direction.

"You can look at it several different ways. Some people look at it as a positive. Some people don't, but the problem is today it's just hard to get ahead. Take body location. NASCAR has set where the body goes forward and out on the chassis. You take 43 drivers and one guy is going to like the aero balance that way and another guy is not. He's going to need the balance changed. You can't take even 12 IROC cars that are set up the same and have them compliment each driver that gets in it. One driver is going to like something different than the other driver. That's what helps the drivers get the balance they want, to at least have a little more adjustability. You go to Daytona or Talladega now, you can't run but so much cross weight. You can't run but so much front weight. You can't run but so much spring in the rear and on and on and on. That's going to compliment some guys and it's going to take away from some guys. It's just that plain and simple.

"It's too much dictated on how well your car is handling. Pit strategy is based on fuel mileage. If you're not getting very good fuel mileage.... It's just like us at Michigan. I had to stop with 10 laps to go. I couldn't make it. The pit strategy goes out the window."

HAVE SETUPS CHANGED SO MUCH THAT IT TAKES THE DRIVER OUT OF THE EQUATION?

"I'll guarantee you this. You ask anybody that's been around awhile. Between Mark Martin, myself, Rusty, whoever, what we're doing to these cars today doesn't make any sense setup wise. It just doesn't make any sense. It's all with aero and downforce. It's very frustrating because it's so confusing. You've got these younger guys come in and they didn't run on bias-ply tires with no downforce. Now you're trying to relearn because you're trying to set up the car where the chassis will work rather than the aero work. It's just a whole different thing."

-dodge motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Kurt Busch , Mark Martin