BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid) COMMENT ON RACING AT DAYTONA "Handling is always a factor at Daytona. It used to be fuel mileage, which helped me win the '87 Daytona 500. Here, if you can be up close to the front, that's...
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid) COMMENT ON RACING AT DAYTONA "Handling is always a factor at Daytona. It used to be fuel mileage, which helped me win the '87 Daytona 500. Here, if you can be up close to the front, that's going to be the key to winning this race. You don't have that extra little bit of room here like you do at Talladega. If it gets down to a long run, the guys who are able to run through the corners flat out time and time and time again will be out front. If you can't run through the corners flat out, you're not going to win the Daytona 500."
COMMENT ON RETURNING TO THE DRIVER-ONLY RANKS "Ray (car owner Evernham) is able to there everyday, and he can make it work. If he sees a void somewhere, he can immediately fill it. I was more of an absentee car owner. Usually mine always progressed to something totally falling apart before I was able to address on how to fix that situation. For him I'm sure it'll be an uphill battle to some extent, but he knows the business well enough where he can focus 100 percent of his attention on that and go to the next step. "I can do all the other stuff now, the media, the fans and everything else without having to worry about do I need to hire this guy or does this guy need to be doing this. That's always been a struggle. I've never been a great person of organizing or delegating things. I've always had to have strong people around me to be able to put that together. Those strong people are hard to find, especially with the way the sport has grown. You get all the good people spread out among all the good teams, it's hard to keep finding those key people to put in place because all of a sudden, if you've got a good guy, you get that knock on the door saying I'm leaving and going somewhere else. "I don't know if your fire burns out. Your focus gets off in another direction. You look back year before last when McDonald's announced they were going to do something different. I was going through so many emotional ups and downs, that shoot, I couldn't focus on the race car. It really showed up in what I was trying to do. I think that's the key part of things you've got to work at. Now I don't have to worry about who's sponsoring the car or what they're doing or anything about it. Just go and do what I need to do as far as media and fans and concentrate on driving that race car. I think that's going to be a whole lot better experience on my side than I could ever imagine." BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT, DAYTONA 500, AND SEASON OUTLOOKS "We ran competitive last year. We finished great down here (third) and had a great Daytona 500. We ran good here in the Fourth of July race and ended up wrecking on the back straightaway. I feel like if you give me the equipment and get me going in the right direction and we'll all get motivated in what we need to do. I think it's kind of a roller-coaster. You have times when things are up and times when things are down. I'm really going to look forward to working with Ray. He can really help me put things together as far as getting everybody motivated to come into this deal and say 'we're going to go and we're going to go to win races and do what we need to do from our side.' "I've got other things I want to be doing rather than just showing up and running in the back. It's still a situation where I enjoy racing. I feel like I'm competitive, and I still feel like we can run competitively week in and week out. If we can do that, we can put ourselves in position to win a race. That's going to be the key part of this whole deal, being able to keep that position week in and week out. The only part of our program that might be a little bit of a question is the engine side of how durable it is, what problems we're going to see. Being able to be in the Budweiser Shootout Sunday will help. We'll run that deal, come back and tear everything apart and see how it looks and see how our power is and go on to the 125s. "Right now, my objective is to go to the race (Budweiser Shootout), do the best we can and come out of it, analyze good, bad or indifferent and see what happened, what's going to happen and go on to the next deal. We'll have a lot of time to sort through a lot of stuff. I feel very confident with the people that stayed with me from the McDonald's transition into Ray's team. Several good, key guys stayed. From that standpoint, I feel very confident. All in all, my stuff is pretty much set. The only determining factor will be power, motor and that sort of thing."
COMMENT ON DODGE'S RETURN, EXPECTATIONS "I'm very confident they've got their stuff together. We've got 10 good teams. They've done a lot of testing, a lot of running. I know Ray's told me the engine department has worked 24 hours a day for a number of days. If they haven't found something, they never will, so I've got confidence in what they've been able to put together. As much support as Dodge has been able to put in this program, I think has been very beneficial. "We have to be realistic. If we come down here and just run like junk, then we're going to have to go back and address that. We're going to have to take it a step at a time. This is a new situation. There's a lot of things new about it. Ray and I were in the office the other day talking about it. If we come out and continue to build the program, and that's what this is, a building block for the next step. Having a lot of guys that were there with me last year helps my situation. On the other hand, looking at Ray coming in, he'll be new to the program. Looking at all the engine development, that'll be new to the program. There's a lot of newness here we've got to work through. As we sort through it here the next several days, then we'll determine how quick we can learn we can work together and find out where our weaknesses are and where our strengths are and continue to build that building block. That's basically all it is. We're building a building block here a step at a time." COULD YOU SEE A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL AS AN OWNER? "There was a light at the end of the tunnel and it was a train coming. I guess when you look at it and you're in the pot you don't realize how hot it is. I think now once I got out and I'm looking back and seeing kind of what Ray is having to deal with and having to build, plus doing a two-car team, I'm just thankful to be out of it, especially being able to be on the driver's side of it. If I didn't have anything to do but focus on the driver's side, that would be a different point. For me, it's gone beyond Bill Elliott. It's gone beyond what I'm able to put together and be able to put the people together. I don't live in North Carolina, and that was a difficult task. "Last year wasn't bad. I knew where my destiny was. Once I got through and said, 'OK, this is the end of Bill Elliott Racing, I want to go drive for Ray Evernham.' Once I decided that, I was fine. At the end of '99 and in the middle of '99, it was a big question. McDonald's announced they were going elsewhere. That was a big blow to me, a devastating blow to me because I thought I had a better relationship than what transpired through that whole deal. That kind of hurt. I guess the biggest part of that deal was how I was going to keep employees coming to Bill Elliott Racing when there might not be a Bill Elliott Racing next week. You can get good people, but sometimes they can't get the training they need to get to the next point. In order to get the people that are already trained and entice them to walk in the door, you've got to have a plan, have a structure and it's a long-term deal that will entice them to come in the door. Those are some of the things I was facing. The credibility of your race team is on the line, and if your credibility is questioned, it's hard to get those people to commit. A guy might say he wants a job. He'll go home and talk to his family and ask where are they going to be next year or in two years. That's always a question. "I think I looked at the '99 season. As I started out and things were kind of on a bad roller-coaster, up and down, I said what I wanted to pursue this to a point and if it doesn't come to that point, then I'll just go in another direction. That's when I started talking with Ray."
WHERE DO YOU EXPECT TO RUN WELL WITH THE INTREPID? "From the standpoint of the car itself, I'd say as good as I ran at Vegas last year, Vegas is a good track for me. We ran good here and at Darlington. I'd say for me personally, Vegas, Darlington or Rockingham would be an excellent place (to win in his Dodge Intrepid R/T). Also, Daytona has been good. A lot of the drivers always stress, that because of the rule change that happened for Talladega, there's a big clouded question of how that's going to affect us down here. I think you've got to put all that together. A lot of these guys don't know what they've really got until we get going. Because the rules are so much different at this particular race track, it's hard to evaluate your year by just what happens in the Daytona 500." DO YOU THINK SOME PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN YOU OFF? "You've only as good as your last race, but the thing of it is, you've got to keep working and you've got to keep trying. I never got into this sport without trying and falling down and getting up trying again. I've been through a lot and I probably understand this sport as well as anybody. I've seen a lot of people come and go out of this sport. I'm here, and I'm going to try and we'll see what happens. I can't guarantee anything, but I do know from past experience that I have run well here. I can win here, and I don't see why I can't do it again. "A lot of the ifs and ands and a lot of the pressure is off. There's a lot of focus on us being the first Dodge in a race, but once I get in that car and put the window net up, all that's out the window. It's just me and what I can make that car do to outrun the other competitors on the race track. That's what racing is all about." "It kind of enticed me to come in and be on the cutting edge of the Dodge deal, and the other side is working with Ray. Between the two, there's a lot of excitement there for me. It's like having a transfusion or something. You've got that new blood, you're ready to go. Now you're back and you're just driving the race car and you forget all that other stuff."
DISCUSS YOUR ROOKIE DODGE TEAMMATE, CASEY ATWOOD "Ray and I talked about it and Ray said, 'I want Casey to come drive the other car.' I said, 'I think that's a great choice.' I took Casey to a couple of race tracks when I carried three or four cars just to let him run one of my cars. I did it at Indianapolis and I did it here. He seemed like a good kid. He's got a good head on his shoulders. I know from watching him race the last few years that he's got a pretty good understanding of what he's trying to do, and even testing with him the last several weeks has got been a unique experience. I think he's got a lot of potential, a lot of future. He's pretty quick. We went to Vegas and he started out and he took it a step at a time. He kept working and kept working and by the second day he was right there. "We're all creatures of habit. The way I drove a car 10 years ago is different from the way it should be today. He can bring me insight of what works better from his perspective. I can learn from him. "He's been great to work with off the track. I love him to death. He's just like a kid. You can have a little fun with him, and Casey's been a lot of fun. I think he brings a new focus, a new perspective to racing. He keeps me in stitches. Just some of the things he comes up with and says. I'll give you an example. We were at a picture shoot in December and the photographer was telling him what to do. I looked over and said, 'just think Casey, if you're good at this stuff, you've got another 20 years or so.' He stood there just a minute and it finally hit him. He had a really goofy look on his face like, 'you're right.'
MORE COMMENTS ON RACING AT DAYTONA "Daytona has always been a unique race track. It's always been a track where you've got to handle. It's not like Talladega where you can race side by side because it's so wide and it's so easy. The corners are a little sharper here, a little tighter corner. It's more of a handling race track and Talladega is more of a flat out race track. You've got to have your car working to run flat out all day long. That's usually what separates the teams as the race goes on. "I'm enjoying being a part of their program. I think it's going to be a great program. Coming to the Daytona 500 as just a driver again is a load off my shoulders. I really don't know what we can do, and I really don't know what anybody else can run. You've seen that enough. The biggest question is because we're coming here with such a drastic rule change versus how we raced here a year ago. A lot of guys say they don't know what to expect, and I think they really don't know. Until you go through the NASCAR tech room, you're really not able to evaluate your stuff. "We need to see where we're at as far as qualifying is concerned and then see where we stack up as far as power-wise and handling-wise with other teams as far as racing is concerned. The 70-lap Budweiser Shootout on Sunday will really help us out. I think it's definitely an advantage to be in that race. It might be a little disadvantage to have to focus on two cars. From our standpoint, we need to be able to have more information so we can determine what we need to do for the 125s and the Daytona 500s."
ARE YOU CONFIDENT? "I'm confident that what Ray and those guys have put together will be able to do what we need to do. We'll know more after practice. I'm looking forward to working with Ray. I think I'd be pretty disappointed if we weren't a top-15 team pretty early into this deal. I guess the only question in anybody's mind is going to be the reliability of the engine, how well it's going to work week in and week out. It's such an unknown from our standpoint. I'm very confident they've got it worked out, but if there is any question, that's it."
COMMENT ON BILL FRANCE JR. "It was great to see Bill France back. He's got that grit. There's something about his generation that reminds me about my dad. They come in and tell it like it is and get by with saying whatever they want to say and go on down the road. Without him, NASCAR would never be where it is today. Dealing with Bill France Jr. over the last few years, when you walk in that trailer you knew where you stood from the start. I totally respect that." -Dodge Motorsports