JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T) "I'm looking forward to this year. It hurt a little bit coming in this morning to Daytona knowing what happened here last year. We were back here in July, but it wasn't the same. We were in the ...
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I'm looking forward to this year. It hurt a little bit coming in this morning to Daytona knowing what happened here last year. We were back here in July, but it wasn't the same. We were in the hustle bustle of the season. Earnhardt always got pumped up for this place, especially during February. It's just ironic. We're coming to the first Daytona 500 that I can remember him being here. It's going to bring back a lot of memories. It'll be a long time before we forget about Dale.
"Once we get on the race track we've got a lot of things to test. Sterling had a decent test. We're not as fast by any means as we need to be. My car is similar to his. They learned a lot of things last week, and they had some things they didn't get done. We're going to do it to my car. The neat thing about Ganassi's deal is that the cars are identical. That's the advantage I'm going to have over what I've driven in the past, simply because of the people working on the team have got a real great attitude. Chip's got Andy (Graves) and Tony (Glover) and Ray and my crew chief Doug (Randolph) and Lee McCall, those guys are always in meetings trying to figure out what they did wrong and what they did right. Knowing that everybody in the fab shop doesn't know which car is which. One's the 40 and one's the 41. They really don't know which is which until they get to the paint shop. That's very, very critical. The shocks guys all operate off of one truck. He's really set a precedent in this sport in my opinion of the future of being successful in Winston Cup.
"I'm looking forward to working with everybody on the team. The way he structured it, we've got car chiefs and everything, but we all talk about everything. I think it's going to be pretty neat. I think as you look at what Sterling did last year, considering where he was at in the points the year before last and to be a top five contender in the points and win two races and be that strong with Dodge, that's pretty cool.
"I think Chip's a people person. I think he's shown how to organize a team from Indy cars. You look at what he's done in CART and you look at the success he's had going to Indy and winning the 500 the first time back. You look at a lot of things he's done in the past, and you come and look at what he's done in his Winston Cup organization in just one year. He's made that thing a top 10 team, boom, right out of the box, actually a top five team. That's pretty impressive, and I think that's what he's hoping for with the 41 Target Dodge. He just probably needed some experience in the driver's seat, and I'm glad he picked me. The team we've assembled, a lot of guys worked on the 40. The way Andy and Tony work together, we know what's in everybody's car. It's going to be the best opportunity for me, without question, to win races lately.
"I think I was pretty consistent last year. I think we just made some mistakes as a team in the pits, calling some stuff, just doing some things that probably took us out of being a top 10 team every week. We still had a lot of top 10s. We had a couple of top fives and some 11th-place finishes. I think it all goes back to pressure. Donnie (former crew chief Wingo) had a lot of pressure on him, and just didn't have a lot of support people behind him that these guy's have got, didn't have the chain of command that these guys have got. Donnie Wingo and I are great friends, but it's not a one-man show. Where Donnie has done a great job for me, but I just feel the Target people and Doug Randolph and the support people he has, I just think it's going to be a whole lot better.
"Can I contend for the championship? Time will tell. I'm going to contend for wins. I want to win. Points will fall as they go. Right now, learning the Dodges is going to be critical the first four or five races. We've got to make (qualify for) every race. That's like starting a brand new team. We've got to approach the first five or six races as a new team in respect to qualifying and getting ourselves established in the points. The second thing we have to do is realize we have a car that was third in the points last year and we're going to feed off that car. Our car is the same as that car, and that's going to be a big plus for us starting out the year. Right now, we're just looking at Daytona. We're in the Busch Clash (Budweiser Shootout), so let's say let's go out and win that race.
"We need to qualify for the Daytona 500, and then we've got the Twins and the 500. We'll go home and evaluate what we've got to do for Rockingham. That's the way we're going to approach it. We can't approach it any other way. I'm looking forward to Saturday and Sunday. I've got the Busch car here. I feel like that car should have won the race last year. I feel like we should have won Talladega with that car. My speedway program wasn't good last year. I don't know what they did wrong, but it really hurt me because I love Daytona and Talladega so much. I knew coming into Daytona last year, I had a pretty decent car. The car handled awesome. The gear broke. I knew it couldn't contend for the win. I think this year is going to be a little different.
"Sterling came out of here with a top 10 effort (test), which was OK, but they're not at all happy with that, and that means a lot. They're home wondering what they can do to make that car go faster. If that was last year, they'd say, 'man we're in good shape. Let's go get some coffee.' Not those guys. They're in the shop trying to figure out how they can make it faster. The 41 team was learning what the 40 did so we can get some stuff done they didn't get done and go faster yet. We're hoping at the end of this test we're faster than Sterling, and that will prove that Sterling's car can be faster when they come back. Also, we'll go to Talladega and test. To me, this is the race. I know Indianapolis is big, and we sat on the pole there last year. There's only one Daytona 500. I remember sitting back and watching this race on TV. I couldn't wait for it, and I've been here in person so many years. This is the race. The Daytona 500 is the biggest race of the year without any question.
"I think I was pretty good at Daytona. Look at my record the last three or four speedway races and it's been pretty damn bad. It's because of the equipment. I really feel that way. Sterling likes this place. Bill Elliott runs well here. A lot of guys look forward to coming here. Jeff Gordon obviously like running at Daytona and Talladega. A lot of guys won't say it publicly, but they don't like plate races. I love it. I think plate racing is really neat, especially at Daytona and Talladega. They want to knock the walls down. They want to knock the banks down. They want to do everything. The bottom line is this race sets the precedence for Winston Cup racing for the whole year. It's always been controversy and they should do this and they should do that, but the bottom line is the race is always sold out, the race is always exciting and it sets the tempo for 2002.
"The Budweiser Shootout will be the first race, and we're going to try to win that thing. We don't know where we're going to start. We've got to make a pit stop and we've got a new pit crew. I like it. I like the format.
"I think you can let people in line. You don't want to get torn up in an accident. I think what happened at Talladega last year with Bobby Labonte and them, Bobby couldn't let somebody in line and that's what caused that accident. He knew if he lifted and let somebody in line he was going to the 35th spot. The other guy said if I lift he was going back. They thought they had room to make it and it was a racing accident. Driver error, but the bottom line was the rules forced that. These rules are a lot better. You're going to see drafts. You're going to see breakaways again. You'll see some cars separated. Cars that handle well will be back at the front. You won't have to sit back in the 43rd spot and say, 'well, I guess maybe I'll try to go up front for awhile.' Three or four laps later, you're up there dicing it up. That's not racing at Daytona or Talladega. Those were the worst rules we had, the thing on top of the roof and whatever that thing was on the back spoiler. It did not let us race. It was more defensive racing. It was never where 'if I can get my car handling a little better, I can pass these guys.'
"Now it's going to be an emphasis on handling. Tires may come into play now. Last year, the tires didn't seem to help you a whole lot. This year, the tires are going to make a big difference because of the aero package. The cars are going to rely on the tires to make the car handle now, like it always was at Daytona.
"I don't think you can pick a favorite right now. I think some teams are holding back. I think the Fords are holding back without a question. I've driven Fords so I know. I was unfortunate. All I had was what I had. They used to come by to talk to me, and I'd say, 'there's a problem with this whole things guys. I'm not holding back.' I'm giving it all I've got and we're still a second off. Earnhardt Jr. is going to be a factor in the race again because DEI got strong last year. Chevrolets got some help with that spoiler change and stuff. There's a lot of things that can help the Chevrolets in this program, but we don't know that until the time comes. We don't know that until we get here and start practicing qualifying runs and we see Saturday when all the bull crap stops and we see who's the fastest. We see the Budweiser Shootout practice, and by Saturday you'll know who the real favorite is.
"I think the car makes are pretty close. I think if Chip Ganassi had picked a Chevy or Ford, he would have been successful with it. I'm glad he picked Dodge. I think Dodge overall has really shown they're serious about their motorsports program. To me, that's pretty important. Am I worried about Chevy or Ford? No, I'm not worried about anybody except our own team. I'm worried about trying to do the best we can and help Sterling as much as I can and he help me as much as he can and we'll come out on top. That's what we're hoping for. I'm a team player.
"I want to win. Bill Elliott won the last time for Junior (Johnson) in '94 and I'm the same. Junior made a phone call and said, 'Spencer, you're due.' He and I talked about this Ganassi deal, and he thinks it's going to be a good move for me, without question. That meant a lot to me to hear Junior say that stuff. A lot of people don't like Junior. They don't respect Junior as much as Jimmy Spencer does. They think he's an old goat maybe. Junior could still come back and field a winning team without question. When that phone call came, I thought it was pretty neat. I still consider him a good friend of mine. Anything Junior ever did was first class. He's enjoying life, and there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's neat he's retired that way. I think it was neat some of those people honored him last year, Pepsi at the Southern 500 and stuff like that. I think our sport needs to honor more of the people in the past. The Bud Moores and Wood Brothers and Cale and David Pearson, rather than honoring these politicians.
"I don't like the political stuff that goes on. I'm glad I'm driving for Chip and I don't have to worry about that. I"m driving the car as hard as I can and they'll fix it. That's the way I drove for Junior. I crashed a lot for Junior. He says, 'I want you to drive that damn thing as hard as I can drive it.' I did. That's what Chip expects out of me and that's what I plan on doing, driving as hard as I can drive it and not crashing it.
"It's easy to win a race if you're 150 pounds lighter than everybody else and have 100 more horsepower. You can win the race. It's hard to win races when you've got equal equipment with everybody else. That drives a fine line. That's what made Earnhardt good. He worried about one thing when he came here. He wanted to run that thing as hard as he could drive it. That's what made Earnhardt good here.
"We didn't talk a lot about racing. When I first started we did. I broke a couple of his ribs one time in an accident. Not many people knew that. It was South Boston and the fans (didn't like it). It happened about the 20th lap of the race and they all paid money to get in the grandstands. Me and Earnhardt decided it was time to start beating and banging. He hit the wall hard. Monday morning I went over to the shop to see him, and he was sitting there all taped up. He started poking me in the ribs. We talked about it. He said, 'you know what's going to happen?' And I said, 'yeah. I'm up for it.'
"We carried it on to Bristol. I was driving for Buddy Baker at the time. I was running good, and Earnhardt was running good. We got to racing each other pretty hard. He spun me out. We ended up finishing fourth and fifth. The next time he got in trouble, he parked his car before NASCAR told him to park it. He spun me out and it was clear as day. NASCAR was ready to (park him) and he came right down pit road and parked his car. Everybody thought there was going to be a fight. We were parked right next to one another. He came over to the car and asked me how I was doing. I said, 'this goes all the way back to South Boston?' He said, 'yeah, baby.'
"He got me at Phoenix and I never did get him back for that one. I was running fourth at Phoenix and he was running fifth. He came back the next week and told me he made a mistake and didn't mean to get into me. I think he was right. I think back and it was racing. Earnhardt was the best. Bobby Allison was another one. They knew how to bump you if you were hold them up. They'd make it hard for you to pass, but they'd give you enough room to pass. You race Bobby Allison or Earnhardt or Rusty, and they're going to race you pretty hard. I think that's fine. I think that's what it's about. In Busch, a lot of people got on Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle last year about racing hard. There's nothing wrong with racing hard. Give me enough room to race you and I'm going to race you. A lot of guys just want you to move out of the way and let 'em go. That's not racing."