FOUR DODGE INTREPID TEAMS POSTED TOP 10 PRACTICE SPEEDS IN THE FIRST PRACTICE SESSION FRIDAY. WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Burton posted the fourth fastest speed overall (181.851 mph) and logged the second fastest...
FOUR DODGE INTREPID TEAMS POSTED TOP 10 PRACTICE SPEEDS IN THE FIRST
PRACTICE SESSION FRIDAY.
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton posted the fourth fastest speed overall (181.851 mph) and logged the second fastest lap of all Dodge Intrepid R/T drivers in practice. "If someone had told me a couple of months ago that we were going to be in the top five after the first practice I would have said that would have been some wishful hoping. These guys have worked on these cars so hard, and all of the Dodge camp has. The past six months, we've been to the wind tunnel three times the amount of time we have the past three years with the Pontiac. We've worked hard, and it's showing off today. "We've still got a lot to learn, but everything looks good right now. The times you just saw has to be taken with a grain of salt because a lot of guys were drafting. We'll learn more tomorrow afternoon in qualifying. There's no more pressure this year than there's ever been. I guess we'll have to earn some respect. My hat's off to all of the Dodge camp. I know the sacrifices all the Dodge teams have made to get ready for this race. Ray Evernham spent a lot of time on this when we were running Pontiacs last year. We've just had a tremendous group effort, and I'm just happy for them that it's showing up today. "When we left here this time last year starting the 2000 season, we were probably 25th or 30th on the speed charts. In testing, Terry Elledge (head engine builder at Bill Davis Racing) never gives us what we're going to come back with for the race. We didn't feel like we were where we needed to be with the race car after the Daytona test, that's why we went to Talladega for two days. The team prepared a month for that test. We had stuff we had learned in the wind tunnel that we wanted to try. We were very organized for this test. It went boom, boom, boom, run after run working on the aero package. We picked up about six tenths down there just on the aero. We were hoping we could back it up when we came back to Daytona. Some of it did and some of it didn't, but I feel like we earned what we got today. "That lap was so-so (as far as a clean lap is concerned). I had a guy probably 250 yards in front of me. It probably helped a little bit, but we made some changes, and I think that helped a little bit. We're going to try to back it up without any help this next practice. "Terry Elledge is our ace in the hole. In 1996 and '97 we were blowing six or seven motors a year. Herb Fishel with General Motors contacted Bill Davis and told him that Terry Elledge was available. It worked out that Bill got Terry and ended up our other engine man left. That left the door open for Terry to take charge and he's done a great job. Not only is he interested in the reliability, that's No. 1, just like we have to approach any race, but they're trying to get better each and every week. In the scheme of things, Terry has done a super job. Those guys work day and night. They're a big part of whether we have success or not. "I could tell in the test at Las Vegas that the car was going to be pretty good. I could tell when it got loose and how I reacted, what the car let me do, I felt real good about it aero wise. I knew we had a great Talladega test. We came here after Talladega and we were two or three tenths quicker than when we tested here. We got through inspection. The car is not cheated up. We saw what everybody else ran, so we think we're pretty good right now."
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin posted the fifth fastest lap in the first practice at 181.558 mph. "We were real clean. Nobody was around us. We'll keep working on it. We had a real good test at Talladega, and right now we're six or seventh tenths quicker than we were when we tested here. We went and built a new car. We knew we weren't where we needed to be. That's what I like about this race team. They could have said, 'that's it, that's all we got,' but they went home and built two cars in five and a half days. That's what it takes. You can't quit. I love 'em. They're a great bunch of guys. Some guys got help out there and some didn't. Our lap was legit. A Chevrolet is the fastest, and a Ford is third fastest."
MARK MELLING (Car owner No. 91 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I'm surprised we were second fastest. I thought we might have a shot at the top 10. I think the 88 only ran one time out there, so I suppose some guys will pick it up a lot in the second session. We've gone from bad worry to good worry when you're at the top of the board. You're not so worried about getting in the race. Now you're worried about getting in real good."
BOB WILDBERGER (Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations -- Dodge Motorsports)
"We're ecstatic that we're in the hunt. Now it's up to the teams. They know they've got the equipment they can work with. It's competitive and it's up to the teams to take it from here, but it's a long way to Feb. 18 (Daytona 500), and we know that. Stacy Compton worked for our program in the truck program, and that's one young man who knows how to qualify a vehicle. He's very talented. The Melling Team has more than doubled its staff and picked up a lot of good talent. It looks like they've got great chemistry. It's hard to say who ends up on top, but I can't say I'm surprised. I've got a lot of faith in those guys." STACY COMPTON (No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T)
Compton was second fastest in the morning practice session with a lap of 182.127 mph. "You know how racing goes. Anything can happen at any time. We're pretty happy with that Kodiak-Melling Dodge. A lot of guys have worked real hard to get us to this point, and we're pretty excited. We wanted to unload pretty good, and we've done that. Body Dynamics worked with us on the bodies, and all the guys back at the shop have worked really hard. We got two laps clean. The second time we went out there was some debris on the backstretch, and we had to check up on that. This third time, a car pulled out in front of us and we had to abort that lap. We haven't made but one run, and we're sort of curious to get out there and make more runs to see what we can do. We've got a little bit left, just like everybody else. It's the same as testing down here. Nobody is showing what they've got right now. Some good cars ran a couple of laps, came in and covered up, so we know they're going to be just fine. It's exciting to us. A lot of people said we couldn't run this quick when we came back from testing. It's good for us. It's good for Kodiak and all the guys on the team who have worked so hard. We knew we were straight up when we were here. We knew we had a little speed to pick up. We went to Talladega and got better. We're better than we were when we tested down here, so all the hard work is paying off right now."
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO SAY THE DODGES WERE SANDBAGGING ALL WINTER?
"So were the Chevrolets and so were the Fords."
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)
Andretti posted the 10th fastest lap in the first practice with a speed of 181.185 mph. "That's better than we tested, but obviously we worked real hard. We came here and tried some new stuff. Some of it didn't work and some of it did. We went back to some of the things that did work in the test that we knew were things we changed to. We're making sure we've done all the right things. I would be tickled to death if we could qualify in the top 10. These guys have worked hard, and the 44 and 45 have made big gains, too. We all started with something a little different. Now we're all ending up with about the same thing. We're going to continue to work on that program. Hopefully all three cars will run well tomorrow. That was a clean qualifying lap, but you never know. Maybe the wind died for that lap or something. If it did die in practice, there'll probably be a hurricane in front of me for qualifying. "We wore the chassis dyno out. Buckshot went back to Talladega, and we wore our engine room guys out. We only had certain things we needed to try at the track. The 44 team went to Talladega to test, and we tried what they did and it helped us out, too. I'm optimistic we can get a good qualifying lap. We'll see where we end up."