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TRANSOUTH FINANCIAL 400 PRE-RACE NOTES Darlington Raceway -- March 20 ERNIE IRVAN (No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford) -- (What would be the significance of winning the last race before Darlington's start/finish line is "switched?") I think it's ...

TRANSOUTH FINANCIAL 400 PRE-RACE NOTES Darlington Raceway -- March 20 ERNIE IRVAN (No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford) -- (What would be the significance of winning the last race before Darlington's start/finish line is "switched?") I think it's gonna be something really special. When you look back on your records everyone's gonna look at who won the last race when Darlington was shaped like it was... I think it's exciting. David Pearson's won a lot of races here. It'd be something to add to your record book -- that you won the last race when it was like when David Pearson won on it. It's an added incentive (winning last race in current configuration). When the race is done, whoever's in Victory Lane -- that'll be the last time they come to that Victory Lane -- they're gonna go to a new Victory Lane! The drivers and crew chiefs and everyone working on the cars do everything they can possibly do -- every day -- to try to win races. (On getting green flag for the Mountain Dew Southern 500 on Aug. 31.) It'll be different, but I think the green flag would be real treacherous if we'd never been into that corner (current turn three). We run side-by-side there, you just have to slow down some. I don't think it'll be a problem but it's gonna be exciting. The neat part about it is they're going to be able to expand the track and will be able to seat more people. That's the exciting part. That's what Winston Cup racing is about, keeping up with the growth of NASCAR and being able to sit as many people as we can. We've had some good cars here. Obviously, if you don't have a real good car the best driver in the world is not going to win the race. Darlington's a great race track with a lot of tradition. It's a driver's race track because a driver can really show his talents, unlike a lot of the tracks where you just have to have a good race car with a lot of motor. This is a great race track to show that drivers are still a big part of this. If we've got our car dialed-in right, I think I'm capable of getting the job done and our guys are capable of getting the job done. It's just a matter of putting the whole combination together. (On the season.) Every week we've been in contention to have some good top five runs but we've had some bad luck. We just look at that and say Hey, if we keep doing the job we're doing I think we're gonna be in good shape.' Darlington is the kind of place that if somebody has a problem you can get tangled up in it but that's just part of it. I really feel like our race team is ready to win some races. If I can stay out of trouble the first 300 miles we'll be in contention. (What is the toughest part of the race track?) Leaving the pits. Really, this is a pretty treacherous race track. There's not a lot of trouble getting into turn one, but then the wall tends to sneak up on you. About the time you want to drift out far enough you slap the fence. It's awful tight coming off turn two... You carry so much speed into turn three and it's so tight... The transition from turn three to four is so good that you carry a lot of speed through there but it's tough to run side-by-side through there. Running by yourself you can definitely have a good line. Turn four we all know about. I don't know if I've ever finished a race here and not slapped the fence at least a little bit off of turn four. You know you're gonna brush it a little bit -- you just hope you brush it a little less than everybody else. (On Jeff Gordon's three-race winning streak at Darlington.) It's a pretty remarkable feat to be able to win just one race at Darlington, never mind three times in a row! There's nothing that we can do to stop him. All we can do is get our car the best that we're capable of doing and hope that our best is better than anything Jeff's got. He's not unstoppable. I feel like me and (teammate Dale Jarrett) DJ had the two best cars at the first part of the race in the fall (Mountain Dew Southern 500). It's gonna be an interesting race because we know Jeff's gonna unload and be real fast. (Is he upset with Jeff Gordon for tangle at Richmond?) Anytime you walk up to someone with a mike after they've tried to knock the wall down emotion rules what they'll say. I said a lot of things after the Richmond race because I was pretty mad. If emotions didn't make a difference I don't think we'd be the kind of people we are when we're driving race cars. Me and Jeff talked at Atlanta. He didn't do something on purpose. I'm not gonna go out and wreck him on purpose. Hopefully we'll be able to do the traditional passes in turns three and four (in TranSouth Financial 400) and that'll get the fans in an uproar.

MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet) -- I'm definitely not a rookie in racing or to radial tires but we're rookies in Winston Cup. What you have to learn is a lot of etiquette, like when to race hard and when to fall in line -- when to hold em and when to fold em. You have to get wise to the Winston Cup ways and it's gonna take a little bit of time to do that. (On the season.) We seem to be stacking up those sheet metal things this year. We've been in the right place at the wrong time a couple times. The Lowe's car's ran awful well and we've been competitive but we've had struggles from one end to the other. We've had problems in the pits when I've done well and when they've (crew) done well I've had problems. The tough thing about Winston Cup racing is you've got four or five guys who are out there in their own zone, then you've got about 25 guys all running the same speed. Wherever you fall in that line it's hard to go forward but it's easy to go back! We're going to concentrate on track position and getting our car able to pass. We haven't struggled that much in qualifying. We've had a harder time with track position and when we lose it we can't get it back. (On his first Darlington race, the 1993 Mountain Dew Southern 500.) Jimmy Means was making the transition from getting out from behind the steering wheel and I drove his car. If we had been able to find some sponsorship I might still be driving his car. Jimmy was a heck of a nice guy, a darn good racer and a very knowledgeable person. I owe a lot of thanks to Jimmy. That was a good opportunity for me and I hope we can get our Lowe's car running as good as his was that day. (On damage to car in testing March 13.) We had it back on the race track in an hour. We bent a couple trailing arms and moved the rear end housing over a little bit. We're bringing the same car back because we'd spent all our time with it. We got our stripe,' now we're ready to go race. I learned a lot. I have to thank Ted Musgrave. He was real free with information and told me some things he saw me doing wrong. (Can he score a top 10 finish in the TranSouth Financial 400?) I think the biggest thing is going to be patience. What people say about Darlington is very true. I've always been told not to race the cars, race the race track. What I see about Darlington, from the testing, is that it's going to be hard to pass. When you catch somebody at Atlanta, you pass them. When you catch somebody at Darlington, you don't just drive by them. You have to set them up, follow them a while and find out where they're weak and try to make your car real strong in that area. It's gonna take a lot of patience, and as narrow as the race track is in a couple places, if you get a little impatient you'll watch the rest of the race from the top of the (transporter) truck!

DAVID PEARSON (Career victories leader at Darlington Raceway) -- I think part of the reason why I excelled here was determination. They always talked about how tough the track was, and I just wanted to prove that I could run good here. I ran good the first time I come here. It's a lot easier getting around now than it used to be. They've changed the track quite a bit -- made it a little wider on the inside. But to get around it fast you still drive it the same way you always did. They haven't changed the outside, just the inside. Back when I first came here there was no way you could go through three and four side-by-side -- and you can now. We had to fall in line or out-brave the others gettin' into three. (On changing start/finish line.) As far as driving the race car it won't make a bit of difference. I've heard people say it'll be hard getting into three' on the first lap but that's not gonna be so. In fact I think it's gonna be easier because you're gonna be runnin' slower into number three' than you would'a been with the starting line on the other side. It's not gonna be quite as bad -- I think it's gonna be easier. DERRIKE COPE (No. 36 Skittles Pontiac) -- (Is it a liability to come to Darlington with a new race team?) It's kind of that way everywhere. We haven't tested a lot -- Texas was kind of our first test (other than Daytona). It's been a difficult season for us so far, other than Daytona. This is a place I come to relaxed, because I've performed well here without a lot of effort. This place just kind of comes to me so this could be a good benchmark for us. If we can come away from here with a good run we'll feel like we've turned our program around a little bit. (After helping NASCAR Busch Series Penrose Rookie candidate Jimmy Foster at a test last fall, does he feel like an "elder statesman?") After starting a new team from scratch I guess I went from being the young guy' (with Bobby Allison Motorsports) to being the veteran. Overnight I changed roles. (Does he follow younger drivers he's helped?) I enjoy working with young people. I hope at some point, later in life, I'll be able to own a team and do some of those things. Tim Bender sat on the pole at Atlanta in a Busch car and he drove for me in my Busch team. I worked with Jimmy (Foster) down here a bit. I try to keep an eye on the guys that I have some kind of a tie to. I see a lot of progress in both and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens at Darlington.

DIAMOND HILL PLYWOOD 200 PRE-RACE NOTES Darlington Raceway -- March 20 JIMMY FOSTER (No. 11 Speedvision/Outdoor Life Ford) -- It's an interesting race track, that's for sure. Turn four is real tricky for me. We were real loose when we tested there (last fall). Derrike Cope helped me out quite a bit with the race track. He took me around in a passenger car and after that I just took my time. You have to be careful not to get too deep into turn one. (On adjustment to the NASCAR Busch Series from the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series, where he was Rookie of the Year in 1996.) Radial tires, which I've never raced on, have been a big transition for me. The heavier weight, bigger car, 15-inch tires and you carry a lot more speed have all been big adjustments. It's been tough and we've struggled the first five races. Hopefully we're going to turn it around here. I respect this track quite a bit. You've got to use a lot of patience here. It's a 200-mile race and I want to be around for 200 miles. I've watched a lot of races here and watched a lot of people hit the wall. I hope we'll come away without a Darlington Stripe.' (Jim Foster, who has been involved in NASCAR racing for more than 40 years as a journalist and a NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation executive, is Jimmy's grandfather. Has he provided any advice?) Yeah, don't hit the wall! He's been a great help. At first I don't think he wanted me to race because he was afraid I'd get hurt. My dad (the late Scott Foster) was real influential in my racing. I started when I was six (in karts). My grandfather, grandmother and my whole family have been real supportive. I've been coming to Darlington and watching these races for quite a while. I'm really excited about running here and this is really an honor to be able to race here. It's a great race track and there's great people here.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Derrike Cope , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Ted Musgrave , Bobby Allison , David Pearson