Darlington pre-race notes



DALE EARNHARDT (#3 GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet) -- (Has won nine races at Darlington and needs one more victory to tie the "Silver Fox," David Pearson, as the all-time victories leader at Darlington Raceway, with 10.) I wish he (Pearson) was still out here to chase! I don't know why he retired so early -- he's only 39! (On hearing a howl of protest from Pearson...) I'm sorry, 38... I think you could still get around Darlington... One race a year would be OK, wouldn't it? (Pearson replied, "I could start one, anyway." And I bet you could finish it! When you chase somebody so much, who's set records at a place, you've got to learn something. When I was hurt (at Pocono International Raceway) in 1979, driving Osterlund's car, David substituted and came down here and ran the car so well... I learned a lot just by watching him run that race - - every race he drove for Osterlund that year. Jake Elder was always beating on me, hollering, 'Do it like David did it, do this, and do that...' After watching him, sure enough, he helped me learn a tremendous amount on how to get around this race track.

It's like any race track you go to -- you watch the guy who's the best and you learn how to do it. You race this race track. They may have put a new dress on her -- new paving -- but that's all they've done. They haven't changed the race track. Qualifying speeds are going to be faster and we're going to set records. But come race time we're still going to race the race track just like every time we've been down here. If you do that, when it comes down to the end you'll be a winner or at least a contender. That's the way David did it and that's the way I've been doing it. If I tie his record I guess that proves that's the way you do it. You learn a lot from those old guys...I mean those YOUNG guys.

It's a pretty intimidating race track. You've got to get your psychological thing going, driving the race car and getting your rhythm going. If you can get yourself comfortable, your timing and your line right around the race track, you're going to run a lot better. That's why I used to enjoy running the Busch Grand National races on Saturday.

(What's his impression of the new pavement?) It's pretty slick when your tires are flat! (Referring to his accident in testing.) We came here and tested right after Atlanta (Purolator 500). We were really impressed with the pavement and things were really going well until we cut a tire down and backed the car into the wall and shortened it up quite a bit. They've resurrected the wreck and we'll be bringing it back. It was pretty bad, but they put a new back end on it and a new front end ("clip"), and it's the same car. We didn't get but one day of testing in and didn't get going that fast. We were on the same set of tires all day and everybody picked up quite a bit on the second day. Then Robert (Pressley) run what, 28.80 -- 170 mph? That's a little fast for my blood, David! I'm going to have to qualify 30th and work my way on up there later, maybe. The pavement's made the track faster, but the track's still shaped the same, banked the same and the walls are just as hard. You're going to have to pace yourself and race the track.

(About the Monte Carlo.) Why do you want to talk about the Monte Carlo? That's all the Ford guys want to do is talk about the Monte Carlo! It's amazing to me. We've sort of had to run behind the Fords for a couple of years. They won 20-something races last year, or more. With all the things they've done the last three or four years... Now, we've come out and run really well the first four races. If you look, the Chevrolets ran pretty good at the end of last year, too. It's just hard work. The Chevrolet folks have done their homework. I think Ford has got something in their plans for 1996...whatever. If you give it some time it's going to even out. Mark Martin was awful fast at Atlanta, but he had some problems and didn't end up finishing well. This track will lend itself to a driver- and car-type thing, so I think you'll see guys like Rusty Wallace show themselves really well. You've got to look at it. Ernie (Irvan) was really blazing a trail in that Ford last year, but then he got hurt. I think that took a lot of wind out of Ford's sails. Now, the Monte Carlo's come along and it's been a good, all-around race car that we worked hard to develop. I'm really sorry to see it, in a way, because Terry Labonte and Bobby Labonte and Jeff Gordon -- some of these young guys -- are really kicking butt with it, and it's my butt they're kicking. I haven't won a race yet. I think it'd be pretty neat if I could win one. I feel like they're (Ford) going to be strong at race tracks like this. I think it's a little unfair for them (Ford) to be hollering about it when they won so many races last year and won the Manufacturer's Cup. Here, we've only won four races with the Chevrolet, and they want to change the rules already or something. That's up to NASCAR, and whatever they do we'll race by -- we always have.

DAVID PEARSON (All-time victories leader at Darlington, with 10) -- If I told him anything (back in the '70's) it was the wrong things, I guess! I don't know, I talked to Dale quite a bit about getting around this track -- a number of tracks. I don't know if I taught him any lessons. (Earnhardt interjected, 'Every time you raced with me, I got a lesson!') I knew how those guys all feel. He'd get up behind you and you'd think, 'Is he going to hit me this time (great laughter).' We did whomp back-and-forth a little bit, but we never did knock anybody out. (Earnhardt, 'That's 'cause you were on those old hard tires, whew!') I didn't have a good enough engine to run out front (Earnhardt, 'That's not what Leonard Wood told me!'). Records are made to be broken. If anybody had to break it, I'd say that I'd rather have Dale break it rather than anybody else that's around. (Earnhardt said, 'I appreciate that.')

STEVE GRISSOM (#29 Meineke Chevrolet) -- We're going to be looking at an extremely fast-paced race, both Saturday and Sunday. Since I've been running at Darlington, if the qualifying speed was 164 mph, or so, the actual race speed would only be about 158 for an average lap. Now, I think you're going to see the race run at qualifying speeds for 400 miles on Sunday and 200 miles on Saturday (in the Mark III Vans 200). I think the track's going to do nothing but get better. Last week (in testing) we were here on Monday and there was just one other car here. On Tuesday there were, I don't know, 15 cars, and the track just continuously got faster. The thing is, as far as looking at Sunday, the track should continuously get better as the weekend goes on, with all the laps that'll get put on it in Busch practice, IROC practice, Winston Cup practice and in the IROC and Busch races.

I don't think there'll be much of a change in set-up from qualifying to the race. I think the race pace will be similar to a qualifying pace. The tires are not going to give up like they have in the past.

(How has the team bounced-back from two top-10 finishes, followed by a DNQ?) That (Richmond DNQ) was one of those deals where we just stubbed our toe. In some ways we were victims of circumstances, with the weather and all. On the other hand, we had the same amount of time as everybody. On Saturday afternoon we wondered how everyone would react, but on Monday morning when we all got into the shop, everybody was there and working as hard as they had the two previous Mondays, after Daytona and Rockingham. At Atlanta, we broke a piston with about 20 or 30 laps to go and had to idle around and ended up 18th. It happened early and we're only about 43 points out of 12th, or 14th or something like that. It's not like our year's over. We'll work hard and come back. (On Buddy Parrott.) When he walks in the shop, it's like E.F. Hutton -- everybody listens! At the race track, he lets me tell him what the car's doing. We'll talk about it. Sometimes we'll change it his way, and sometimes we'll change it my way. It does a lot for your confidence that he has that kind of confidence in your opinion. He doesn't say, 'This is the way Rusty Wallace did it,' or 'This is the way Buddy Baker did it,' or 'This is the way Richard Petty did it.' Racing is two things, hard work and communication. If you communicate it's not hard work -- you just work together -- and that's what Buddy brings.

DENNIS CRAFT (president, TranSouth Financial Corporation) -- TranSouth is thrilled to be here and thrilled to sponsor another TranSouth Financial 400. We've got a new program that we've instituted at all our TranSouth offices, the "Straightaway Loan Program." If a new TranSouth customer, or a present TranSouth customer, comes in a TranSouth office and fills out a loan application, they'll get an official "TranSouth Financial 400" cap. If we close the loan for $1,500 or more, they'll get an official "Fan Pack," which includes a nice, black leather TranSouth Financial 400 sports bag, four can coozies, a wristwatch, sun visor and a T-shirt. We're also going to have a trailer outside the (Joe Weatherly Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame &) Museum (located outside Darlington Raceway), and anyone who stops by to fill out an application there will get an official TranSouth Financial 400 cap. I'd also like to introduce our 1995 "Miss TranSouth Financial 400," Kristy Hutchinson, of Hartsville, a student at Coker College.

ROBERT PRESSLEY (#33 Skoal Bandit Chevrolet) -- (First driver to eclipse 29-second barrier, with 28.88-second, 170.276 mph lap in testing last week.) Leo Jackson was supposed to arrive at about 2 o'clock. So, we went to lunch and lollygagged around until, when we got back, Leo was setting there waiting. I figured we better do something pretty quick. It was a perfect lap, and the car just went wherever I pointed it. No complaints. The race track just kept getting better and better the two days we were here. We tried some things David (Pearson) had shown me when I was with the Alliance car in the Busch Series, with (crew chief) Ricky (Pearson, David's son). They showed me the little things about getting around this race track. We figured we had a week to fix it if anything didn't work, but it worked -- after it was all over it wasn't too bad! We made a 30-lap run and started out running 29.40s and ended up running 29.40s. I think it's going to take a toll on everybody, the speeds we'll be running. This is a tough place. We had won two Busch races and was going for a third. I was sitting in second, behind Mark Martin and just idling, and I think I got too comfortable or something. Wham! I went into turn three and before I knowed it I about tore the right front wheel off it! Mentally, you've got to be ready, every lap and every corner of this race track, or you're going to be in trouble.

DERRIKE COPE (#12 Straight Arrow Ford) -- We didn't test. I don't think it will be a major adjustment (to the new pavement). The car will just have a lot more grip, and you'll be trying to get it to turn a lot more than you were used to. I've talked to a lot of the guys who tested, and I think you'll just be able to manipulate the car a bit more, I believe. Typically, when we qualified here on new tires we were in the gas for just about one whole lap. I think that the same tendency will be there, you'll just have a lot more grip and you'll carry a lot more speed in the corners. I don't anticipate it being that much of an adjustment. It'll be a matter of going out and getting a feel for what the car will give ya, and then applying yourself. I think tire wear again will be a key here. A lof of the guys who tested saw that the tire life was substantially better, so obviously it'll be a situation where you might be able to keep the car a little freer, the car will have the grip and the tire will be on the surface longer. You'll have to work on a long-run situation.

DARRELL WALTRIP (#17 Western Auto Chevrolet) -- We didn't test. We kind of listened to what everybody said, and figured that it would be faster, but not all that different. All the guys I talked to said they didn't change anything -- they just got more grip, which is what we didn't have here before. The new surface won't feel all that different, but you'll go faster because of it and the better tires. Last year, we saw tire wear because the tires had to be softer to get the grip we were looking for. This year, the better surface will eat the tires up. If the tires aren't pretty hard, we could end up with a wear problem. That will improve daily. You'll be able to get in the gas a lot quicker and stay in it a lot longer. As the cars run for these next couple days, I think the track will change before Sunday. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than spend a week worrying about it. (So far this season.) We've had good cars, but we've had a couple engine failures that we're not accustomed to having. I think we've got a handle on that, and if we do, we're a top-five car for sure. When you get in the top five, then you've got a chance to win, and that's what we're shooting for. We're trying to run our typical Darlington race, although it's only 400 miles and you can't lay back too much. You've got to respect the place, run your own race and not get in trouble. It's still the same old deal at Darlington, you've got to be there at the end to win. Don't race the other cars, race the race track, and if you do, you'll be in pretty good shape at the end.

(On running Busch Series race at Nashville, where he sat on the pole in a car owned by Terry Labonte.) I'd like to run some more Busch races this year. I never intended to quit driving in Busch -- I just didn't have time to own a team. I just stepped away from it for a year, sold my cars and my truck... I knew if I didn't just get away from it, I'd have a new truck and new cars and get right back in it again. What I'd really like to do is be a driver in the Busch Series, like I did for Terry, if there were good cars available. Run a race or two here and there. When I was successful in Busch was when the cars were similar to Winston Cup cars, with V8 motors that weighed about the same. That's where they are again. They feel like a Winston Cup car again and I feel like I could be a real threat in that Series in a good car every now and then. I don't have anything lined up today. I didn't tear Terry's car up and we did pretty good with it so we might run it again -- that's what I'd like. In 1985 Terry drove my Busch car and won at Charlotte in the fall. Pete Wright works for me and he'd been with Terry for years. Pete and I were talking about running Nashville, and I said I didn't know anybody who had a good car. Pete said he'd call Terry, and Terry said 'sure.'

JIMMY SPENCER (#23 Camel Cigarettes Ford) -- We didn't test here. We're waiting and saving some of our tests for later in the year. We're just trying to sort out everything right now. Travis (Carter, team owner) seems to always run good here. Although it's new pavement, I think the track will have the same characteristics it always used to. You've got to be careful. It will be more competitive than it's ever been. It ought to be a great race. I like Darlington, believe it or not. I've not had any luck here. We had good cars here both times last year and didn't have any luck. Unfortunate things happened. This is a place that's steeped in history -- it's one of the best places we come to on the circuit.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Richard Petty , Buddy Baker , Mark Martin , David Pearson