JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations) HOW'S EVERYTHING SHAPING UP? "Obviously the Fords were strong in qualifying. We expected with the new configuration they got with the cylinder heads that they'd be stronger. I know they...
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
HOW'S EVERYTHING SHAPING UP?
"Obviously the Fords were strong in qualifying. We expected with the new configuration they got with the cylinder heads that they'd be stronger. I know they say they're not using them yet, but I don't know if I buy that or not. I was real happy with our guys in drafting practice.
"Jamie McMurray was one of the guys who looked strong. In the Bud Shootout that car was real strong in the first 25 laps then he got caught up a little bit. Casey Mears looked real good. Ryan Newman said his car is fine. They're just looking to find the right balance. They approach things differently than some of the other guys do.
"I think the big thing will be watching our cars in traffic and seeing if our cars are capable of moving to the front. The objective here is to win the Daytona 500, so every time they hit the track that's what they're trying to get ready for. The DEI cars are strong again, and that's really no surprise. I was a little surprised the Fords were as dominant as they were in qualifying.
"We've got to work on consistency. If we can come out of here with good top 10 finishes for our primary teams then I'll be happy, and if we win that'll be a bonus. I talked to most of the teams, and everybody is pretty happy with their engines. Everybody has got more engine than chassis. Everybody is talking about being tight in turn one. I haven't heard that in awhile. With the banking the way it is and a little softer tire, you've got to be concerned with that right front. It takes the highest loads. I think at this track the veterans have a little advantage. Dale Jarrett, Sterling Marlin, Rusty Wallace have an advantage with all their experience in the draft. Rusty's car looked good in both practices Tuesday. I think he's going to be right there."
JAMIE McMURRAY (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge) -- fastest in Wednesday practice at 191.290 mph.
"The speed chart doesn't really represent anything here. We were really worried about the right front tire. I know a lot of guys were concerned with that. We finally got our car where it wasn't so tight. We'll make some adjustments for tomorrow. It's going to be really good. I think we'll have a fast car. I'm pretty happy with it right now.
"The tires don't feel a lot different here. They just wear out really quick. You used to be able to run tires forever without the tread wearing off. Now it seems to be a problem. We finally got our car working better, so it's not a big concern for us now. This is the best car I've had here. I feel good about the 125. We'd love to win, but we want to keep our car in one piece for the 500.
"The track has a lot of grip. It's pretty cold in North Carolina right now, and we come down here and it's 70 degrees so when you get in the car it feels pretty hot right now. It takes awhile to get used to that. With the cool weather, it's a little easier.
"Yesterday I was really concerned with the tires. We'd run 30 laps and the tires were pretty much worn out. I'd say we can go 35-37 laps on a fuel run. We freed up our car a lot today, so it's driving a ton better. I had my teammate behind me, and when we were going by the scoreboard I actually noticed we were third and fourth. I went ahead and passed him before we got to the start/finish line so we could be faster. I'll have to talk to Casey (Mears) later, but we're in the same 125 and we'll have to see how he is on the long run. Our car is 100 percent better than it was yesterday. I'm pretty excited about it.
"We'll get together and talk about strategy. You do whatever you can to win. I'm sure everybody will do what it takes to win if they have an opportunity. What we do will depend a lot on what everybody else does."
BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak Easy Share/Eckerd Drug Dodge) -- third fastest in practice at 190.945 mph.
"I struggled a little, and I've still got a lot to learn. I worked with Casey Mears and Jamie McMurray. We got those three Dodges hooked up and we've got some strong Dodge horsepower. We pushed our way up there. I think the Dodges are going to draft well. We're pretty strong.
"I tried to get with Rusty once. I got one car from him. I made a mistake and got shuffled back five spots. When you look at the top of the board, that's how big of a suck up to the draft you've got. You have to look at the overall time and how you're doing on the 25-30 lap runs, and we feel like the Kodak Dodge is good. Late in fuel
runs we're good. We like the tear wear we're seeing. I think we're going to have a decent car for the 125.
"We made a two-tire change and I feel very confident on two Goodyears right now. You never go out there and try not to win the race. I don't care if I'm a Raybestos Rookie or not. We're going to go out there and try to earn some respect and have a good starting spot for the one that matters -- the Daytona 500. We need that car. Our backup Dodge is not the greatest. We'll have a better backup when we come back."
RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge) -- Seventh fastest in practice
"We're trying to get the feel of the car and understand what the draft is going to be like. We've tried a few things. Some of them didn't work, but we learned from them.
Our right front tire isn't bad. I think we went 28 laps. You can feel the tires falling off. It sounds like a lot of people are struggling with it. I don't think we're struggling with it, but we haven't run 30 laps straight in the draft to see exactly what it's going to be like in race conditions.
"We've got a good opportunity to gain a lot of positions in the 125 because of the way we qualified. It's about an opportunity for us to start in the second row. When I had a tire go down at Talladega, I was ninth and took out 27 cars. If you can be in the top eight in a situation like that you'll be all right.
"Everything's fine. I'll feel better at Rockingham, I can tell you that. I don't think anybody can tell you they've got a real good feeling about it other than Junior and Jimmie Johnson and a few other guys. They seem to be pretty confident, but you don't know if that's just a little publicity stunt."
CASEY MEARS (No. 41 Target Dodge) -- Second fastest for second straight practice
"When you leave pit road and everybody doesn't take off in time it leaves a gap. We're catching a good draft. At the end of the day, regardless of the size of the draft, you've got to have a decent car to be at the top of the sheet. It's always good to be at the top at the end of the day, but balance is more important right now. We've got it
calmed down a lot. The right front tire is still a concern, but we've got probably the least aggressive setup we can have for the right front tire. We can't be any easier on it. It's still showing it's not great. There's some concern, but I think there's concern with everybody right now.
"Guys are talking about being able to go 34-37 laps on fuel, but I think a lot of guys are talking about pitting between lap 27 and 32. We're still tossing it up in the air what we're going to do. I'm sure we'll come in when the group comes in. That's the most important thing.
"I feel good about the 125. Our cars are working well together. If we can make 'em a little better, we'll be in good shape. We've got fast cars. It's just a matter of getting the balance right. Daytona is a lot of fun and there's a lot of tradition to it, but there's also a lot of sitting around. We're ready to go race. If it rains and we have to sit around much more, we'll go crazy."
JEFF GREEN (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge)
"It's exciting for me to step in the 43 car. I grew up in Kentucky watching this young gentleman (Richard Petty) win races and turn sideways winning races across the start-finish line here at Daytona and everywhere else. For me as a young boy from Kentucky, being able to step in that 43 car is pretty exciting. We go to Rockingham next week with that logo (STP) on the hood and it's exciting to hopefully win a race there. First, we've got to look at Daytona. We'll have the STP logo on the B post throughout the season. It'll always be riding with us."
WHAT WILL YOU WORK ON TODAY IN PRACTICE?
"We're just going to try to get our car to turn a little better. I think everybody is fighting that. It's pushing and wearing out the right front tire. Our tire blistered a little bit but not as bad as some I've seen. We went from not good the first practice to about 80 percent. If we can get that extra 20 percent in the 45 minutes of practice we have today, we'll be in good shape if the rain holds off."
WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN WITH THE TIRES DROPPING OFF?
"We made a 15-lap run and that gave us an indication of the way it's going to go. It's just going to depend on who can turn. The other night in the Shootout the track was cooler and the sun is going to make it worse. If it's sunny and hot it's going to be a different story. I don't think the Shootout gave us a good indication of what it's going to do."
WHAT'S THE STRATEGY FOR THE GATORADE 125?
"Well, we can't tear up the car. We need to get up through there and try to win. We need a top-five finish to get a good starting spot for the 500. I think we've got a good enough speed to get in, so we're not worried about that, but I want to win. I ran second here last year and that wasn't very good. I want to win. I think we've got a good enough car to do that if we can get in the right position."
HAVE ALL THE CHANGES CAUSED MANY PROBLEMS?
"A lot of things are different, but a lot of things are the same, too. The rules are a little bit different. We've got a different corporate sponsor for our series. We've got a different gasoline and the tires are different but two or three races into the season you probably won't notice any difference. The races are going to be different. That's going to remind you each week of the differences, but I think we're going to be in for better
racing everywhere we go. I keep my Nextel phone on my side to remind me what series we're running. The Nextel people have been great so far."
FRIDAY THE 13TH IS COMING UP. ARE YOU SUPERSTITIOUS?
"I just laugh at the guys who are superstitious. The only thing I do is put my left glove on first and put my left earplug in first. I don't know why I started doing that. It's just my routine. I don't wear any different underwear or socks on race day. It might work for some guys, but it hasn't worked for me."
RICHARD PETTY (Car owner Petty Enterprises Dodges)
"I always like to see our past sponsors come back and help us out a little bit. Even though STP hasn't been on the racecar I have done personal services for them since they got off the racecar. Fifty years ago my daddy (Lee Petty) won his first championship. Forty-five years ago he won the first Daytona 500. Forty years ago I won my first championship and my first Daytona 500. Twenty years ago I won my last race. That's a long time ago, too. For some reason all these numbers added up. General Mills and STP got together, and I guess they got to looking at the record book. We feel like we've got a good season coming up. Our cars are probably the best they've been in the past six or seven years as far as going into the season. We've had good tests all winter long. Jeff has been there to help Kyle engineer on the car a little bit. We're really looking forward to the season."
DISCUSS TEAM CHEMISTRY
"The driver isn't going to get it done by himself, and the team isn't going to get it done. Sometimes people together seem to get it done. It's just like a quarterback sitting on the bench. Like the Carolina (Panthers) quarterback. He'd been sitting on the bench and they finally put him in the game with the right team and he goes out and wins games. It's the same with race car drivers. I always look back at my history. It's putting somebody in the right place at the right time to do the right job. I look back and I was the right person with the right team with the right people around me to do what I did."
TALK ABOUT THE GROWTH OF THE SPORT
"Before, you had to be a real race fan and you had to look at five or six different stations to find out where the race was on TV. Now you know where they're at.
That's why it's grown. NASCAR has grown so much, it's not only grown out of the south as far as the racing is concerned, but it's grown out of the south as far as the drivers are concerned, too. If all the guys were from North Carolina it might be hard to get people from California or New Jersey to watch the races. If they've got people there they can pull for. We've got a bunch of good drivers from North Carolina, so we're holding our on."
WHAT'S YOUR ROLE NOW AT PETTY ENTERPRISES?
"I'm not interested in being there every day every minute to look after the business, and Kyle was. Go back and look at my history and that's the way my father did me. He just didn't come in and say, 'it's ya'lls.' Every day with every situation that came up he'd say, 'that's what it takes to lead.' That's what I did with Kyle. As long as he could take the lead and get the job done I kept giving him more responsibility. I came in one day and he said, 'what are you doing here?' That meant he was ready to take over."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT NEW MANUFACTURER IN TRUCK SERIES?
"I don't know good, bad or indifferent, but I know as NASCAR grows they need to look at things like that. I really don't have anything bad to say about it. It wouldn't have worked (20 years ago), but times have changed the last five or six years on how people view things."