Robert Pressley, driver of the No. 77 Jasper Engines Taurus, has been a pleasant surprise throughout the testing sessions and first weekend of Speedweeks. He was among the fastest Ford teams at Talladega and Daytona and posted the ...
Robert Pressley, driver of the No. 77 Jasper Engines Taurus, has been a pleasant surprise throughout the testing sessions and first weekend of Speedweeks. He was among the fastest Ford teams at Talladega and Daytona and posted the 12th-fastest qualifying time last Saturday. Pressley, who finished a disappointing 39th in points last year, spoke about his team's resurgence.
ROBERT PRESSLEY --77-- Jasper Engines Taurus
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ONE OF THOSE SURPRISE TEAMS GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND? "It's good that we're on the uphill swing, but the thing is we're not as good as a couple of the Ford teams. The one thing Ryan (Pemberton) had brought to us is that we can't control what happens in the Chevrolet camp or the Pontiac camp. We're a Ford team, so we're looking at where we are compared to all the other Ford teams. There are a lot of good Ford teams, but a couple of them are a little bit ahead of us and everybody else here. We're just trying to be competitive right now and then hope by the race at Talladega in May that we're a little better and then in July we're a little better. It's gonna be hard to be the two Yates teams and to run with them, but that was qualifying. This morning we get to go out and do a simulated race run and we'll just see what we've got. The car is driving awfully good and Ryan seems to think it'll be a better race car than a qualifying car, so I'm looking forward to it."
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE TO PEOPLE AS A DRIVER? "Yeah. My first two years in Winston Cup were with Leo Jackson and we had good equipment and a good race team, but I was a rookie and inexperienced. I didn't really know what I was really looking for and then I joined this Jasper team and in the three years I've been here I think this is a great race team. We've got all the funding we need to make it a winning race team. We've got all the engineering things that we need to make a good race team. We've got the engines, the transmissions, the rear ends. We've had everything, but the only thing we were ever lacking was organization. With the status on myself and what I had been doing the last couple of years and what this team had done, we knew that if we could ever get a crew chief or an organizer in here that it would work. We've had several in here, but they all wanted to go down a different road than what we thought. Whenever Ryan decided to sign on with us last year that it was a do-or-die year. Ryan came in and looked at everything we had and he saw a lot of problems. Those problems that we had made me feel good because we were competitive in some races, but it wasn't a consistent deal. So far this year we've tested Daytona and Talladega and even though that's only four races a year, we went to Las Vegas last weekend and we had a good test out there. We missed that race last year and to go back this year and run as fast as we did makes me really happy. I don't think you're gonna see this team go from 38th in the points last year to the top five or top 10 because there's an elite group up there. We want to be there and myself as a driver, I think I can be there. I've run with them in the past at different tracks on different occasions, but we've got to do it on a regular basis. That's the only way you're ever gonna get noticed in this business -- do it week-in and week-out -- and I think now we can. The thing we can't do is push ourselves to try and put a car in fifth-place when we need to be in 10th. We've got to take what we can get the first half of the year, get some points established, get this team established, and then in the year 2001 come out and show them what we're capable of. This year for qualifying here at Daytona there were several little things that Ryan wanted to do to try and get us a front row starting position. It would have been hard even if we would have tried that, but if we would have messed up we could have very easily been 25th and then wonder if we were gonna be in the Daytona 500."
HOW HARD WAS IT FOR YOU THE LAST 15 RACES OF 1999 WHEN YOU MISSED TWO RACES AND DIDN'T HAVE A SINGLE TOP-20 FINISH? "That was the toughest part. From July of last year until the last race in Atlanta we never had a crew chief. We didn't really have a team manager. We knew that Ryan Pemberton was gonna come on board with us late in the year and we didn't want to hire somebody just temporarily to get us through the year and then have to fire them. That's not what you want to do in this business. You want to build a relationship with your crew and everybody and it was very hard on me. Every week it got harder because the races we should have run good in we weren't. Then you start saying, 'Well, can Robert Pressley do it?' I had a lot of people in the garage area were supporting me and telling me I couldn't do it all myself and things would get better. The owners of this team knew what was going on, but if you were on the outside looking in it was tough. There were a lot of people saying that maybe Robert and Jasper need to go and look at doing something else, but now we've got what we need. We're not where we want to be, but we've got everything we need in the organization and we can show everyone our potential."
HOW DID YOU COPE WITH THOSE HARD TIMES? ARE YOU THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO KEEPS STUFF INSIDE OR DO YOU GO HOME AND KICK SOMETHING? "It's really tough on the team and your family as much as me. I've had success in every bit of racing I've ever done, except Winston Cup. Like I said, my first couple of years were my best years in Winston Cup and then I just got off a little bit and it got tougher. I don't go home and take it out on anybody because it's something I chose to do. The only bad thing was that we didn't get the people in that we needed to make it work. Had we run like we did last August, September and October and we didn't have anybody lined up to come and work for us in 2000, then I might have gone home and kicked something."
HAVE YOU EVER DOUBTED YOUR ABILITY AT THIS LEVEL? "You do and I think anybody in this sport, whenever they start to have a bad run of races they doubt themselves. Yeah, I have doubted myself, but then there were several times that as bad as we were running we'd have some races where we were actually good but the finish didn't show it. So, I did doubt myself but deep down I said I can't do it all the way we're doing it right now. If we get a crew chief in here and it doesn't work out, then we know whose fault it is."
WHEN YOU SEE WHERE THE 88 TEAM IS NOW, DO YOU FEEL YOUR TEAM IS CAPABLE OF GETTING TO THAT POINT ONE DAY? "The Yates team has always been one of the best Ford teams. I think he got there because he worked hard. At one time Robert Yates was just an engine builder, but he had the determination to be an owner and to set his own goals on what he wanted to do. I think with the people we've got here and the determination that everybody's got, yeah, if everything falls in the right place...I mean, nobody wants to win more than this team. Me, Ryan Pemberton, the car owners, all the way down to the jackman, the body-hangers, we all want to win races."
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, finished second in yesterday's Bud Shootout Qualifier after qualifying 14th on Saturday. He spoke about what lies ahead this week.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS WEEK? "We feel OK about it. We'll know a whole lot more after the 125s. I think once we get a full race, a full fuel run, a fuel-tire run on these cars with the new rules, we'll know a whole lot more. But right now I'm fairly encouraged." THE 88 HAS BEEN SO STRONG. HOW TOUGH WILL THAT CAR BE SUNDAY? "He'll be real tough on Sunday, but there's a week between now and Sunday and there are a lot of things that can happen. They're at the top of their game and some of us aren't, but we have a full week to get caught up. That gap will close before the Daytona 500."
HOW ABOUT YOUR ATTITUDE COMING INTO DAYTONA THIS YEAR? "I'm a little more relaxed than I've ever been. I think we're as prepared as we could possibly be considering we had to build all new cars and stuff. We are behind, but we're as good as we can probably be in the situation we're in. I think we've got better equipment, I think we've got better people. I think we're all more ready to go into the year and have a good chance to contend for the championship than we've ever been."
DO YOU HAVE A CAR CAPABLE OF WINNING THE RACE SUNDAY? "I don't know just yet. I think we've got a car that's capable of having a chance. We've got to do some more running and I'll know a whole lot more after Thursday. I think we're pretty decent, but we've gotta find some speed."
WARD IS LOOKING PRETTY STRONG SO FAR. "Their restrictor-plate program has come a long way. They were really competitive on the restrictor-plate races last year and I think that Ward's got a legitimate shot to win the Daytona 500. I'm sure they feel the same way."
Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Tools Taurus, is considered one of the front-runners for this year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year award. He spoke about being part of an impressive rookie crop and his hopes for this week.
MATT KENSETH --17-- DeWalt Tools Taurus
DO YOU THINK YOUR BATTLES WITH DALE, JR. WILL CARRY OVER INTO WINSTON CUP? "I hope so. I hope we're both competitive and we can both race against each other and the rest of the guys."
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU'VE HAD TO MAKE SO FAR? "So far we haven't had to make any, but I think once we get a few weeks down the road here it's gonna be tougher. Daytona, as far as the driver is concerned, there's not a lot we can do with the new rules and stuff like that, but when we go to Rockingham and places like that it's gonna be tough to qualify for these races and tough to run decent. There's a lot of competition and a lot of guys here who have been doing this for a long time. There are a lot of strong race teams."
HAVE YOU AND DALE, JR. TALKED ABOUT BEING THE NEW GUYS ON THE CIRCUIT? "Not really. We don't really talk about that. We know we are new, but there are about seven or eight of us that are brand new this year. There's a lot of pressure coming to Winston Cup and being a rookie and with a rookie field this big, it's gonna be real tough to win rookie of the year this year."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT PRESSURE? "Just do the same things that we've always done and that's go out and try to run competitively and think about racing."
CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE YOUR BUSCH SUCCESS AT THIS TRACK CARRYOVER TO WINSTON CUP? "I don't know about that. All the teams have been here a lot longer with the Winston Cup cars and they've run Speedweeks and all the races that go with it. We're pretty green in that area. We haven't run a lot of races. The 125s, the Bud Shootout, all that kind of stuff, they have a lot more experience than we've got. I still have a lot to learn about drafting and about keeping up with these guys."
DO YOU HAVE TO EARN RESPECT ON THE TRACK AS A ROOKIE?
"I'm sure there's a certain amount of respect you have to earn before people are gonna want to draft with you and run along side of you, but you're only gonna get that by racing against all the rest of the guys."
HOW MPORTANT IS IT TO BE WITH AN ORGANIZATION LIKE ROUSH? "I think it's real important to be with a good team and with guys like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and all those guys. Jack owning the team and Robbie (Reiser) being the crew chief, all of those things are going to be advantages. It's nice to come in with a good sponsor like DeWalt Tools and a well-known team."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE DRAW ON THE EXPERIENCE OF YOUR VETERAN TEAMMATES? "It's real important. I would have never gotten involved with Roush Racing if it hadn't been for Mark getting me in there. He's pretty much been the creator of this team and got me a job in Winston Cup, along with Robbie Reiser, and kind of put this whole thing together for us."
HOW MUCH DO YOU RELY ON MARK? "I'll probably be relying on him a lot more as we get going this rookie year. I'm planning on needing a lot of help, so, hopefully, he'll be there."
WHO DO YOU SEE AS THE ROOKIE FAVORITE? "I don't know. If I had to pick a favorite, of course, I'd pick myself but it's way too early to say. Once we get halfway through the year I think we'll have a better idea, but there are a lot of good drivers and a lot of good teams that are running."