Daytona Test II: Ford Racing Thursday notes

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, was the fastest Ford after two days of testing in preparation for next month's Daytona 500. Wallace, who will have a new crew chief in Bill Wilburn for 2002, spoke about the test session and...

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, was the fastest Ford after two days of testing in preparation for next month's Daytona 500. Wallace, who will have a new crew chief in Bill Wilburn for 2002, spoke about the test session and how he's adjusting to some new crew members.

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
HOW HAVE THE FIRST COUPLE OF DAYS GONE SO FAR? "On the first day we were real slow, but we actually picked the car up by about four-tenths-of-a-second making different mechanical changes. Today, we're doing some aerodynamic work because it's our last day. We've gone through everything we know to do mechanically with shock absorbers and springs and swaybars and everything to make it as fast as we can. I honestly think we're about four runs away from saying we're totally tapped out. My Bud Shootout car is a car I've been running the last couple of days just in race form to see what it feels like and I've got it driving real nice. I'm looking forward to getting out and drafting with it to see how it's gonna run, but, other than that, I'm pretty happy with the test. There's no doubt in our mind that we're gonna have to have something. Right now, there's now way I can do anything to catch the Dodge or the Chevrolet right now. I think that myself and Ricky Rudd probably have the fastest Fords. I know we've worked just as hard as anybody in this garage area trying to get what we've got, so we'll see what NASCAR is gonna do for us -- how much and if it's gonna get us where we need to be."

IS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT IN MIND AS FAR AS SPOILER HEIGHT? "There's a certain amount in mind, but I'd rather not talk about it. A quarter-inch is not enough, I can tell you that though."

SO YOU DON'T EXPECT TO COME BACK HERE WITH THE SAME RULES? "I expect to have all the rules the same, but I really think that NASCAR will do something with spoiler heights. I don't want to outguess them, I don't know, but I really expect that the spoiler height is gonna be changed. I don't know if it's just gonna be the Fords or the rest of the makes or what, but they've made it real crystal clear to everybody. They said, 'You guys get the first test session done and then we'll get the second test session done and then we're gonna go back and reconvene and tune these guys up from what we see."

YOU'RE BREAKING IN A NEW CREW CHIEF HERE AS WELL. HOW ARE THINGS GOING ON THAT FRONT? "I don't want to say that I'm breaking him in, although I guess if Billy is looking for guidance from me he knows I'll be there to ask, 'What can I do?' I think he's doing really, really good. We've got the same little problems that always happen -- communication problems of who's gonna do what, stuff like that -- because not only do we have Billy as a new crew chief, we've got a couple of new crew guys. I tell you, these three days of testing down here have been really, really good for sorting out who is the best at doing what and it's gonna leave me feeling good when I leave. We might go bang a short-track test out and we might go to a track and just change junk to say 'this is what you're good at,' but I don't think we're gonna need that because I think we're ready to go. Jeff Thousand, my main chassis guy, his wife's mother almost had a heart-attack, so Jeff had to stay home and, boy, do we really miss him. He's our link that holds everybody together. He's the top of the tee-pee and lets everybody flow down, but he'll be back and ready to go for the Daytona 500. He's called us every single day since we've been down here. But Rob Jones, Earl Barban, Jeff Fabian and David Doyle -- we've got some new guys from the 12 car that we were able to get on our team when Roger shut the 12 down, so we've got some good talent over here right now. I can promise you one thing, you can go through every one of these trucks and we've got the cleanest truck. I will promise you that we've got the nicest truck in the garage area with Kay and Rodney (Pickler). They were on that 12 truck for years and I had no idea how perfect they are. I'm so happy I can't see straight."

BILL WILBURN, Crew Chief --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- HOW HAVE THE FIRST TWO DAYS BEEN LIKE? "Busy, real busy. It's been okay, but missing Jeff (Thousand) has put us a little bit out of sync as far as our chain of organization is concerned. We've moved a couple of guys around. We're a little bit slower than we'd like to be, but we're doing all we know how to do, we just can't get any speed. We're working on some things, but we're not coming up with the numbers like the Chevys and Dodges. We're probably gonna have to have a little help in the spoiler area or wherever we can get it because we're definitely behind."

HOW HAS YOUR COMMUNICATION BEEN WITH RUSTY? "The communication with Rusty has been good so far, I'm just glad we're racing at a place like Daytona first because you can kind of knock the rust off of things right off the bat. Everything is going well."

HOW LONG OF A TRANSITION PERIOD DO YOU SEE FOR YOURSELF AND RUSTY? "He's probably gonna have to adjust to me more than I'll have to adjust to him because I've listened to him for 12 years on the radio. I kind of know his moods and what he expects and wants. Now, whether or not I'll be able to give him all of that is yet to be determined, but think after Tuesday of this week when we started testing, I look for us to be successful from that day forward. I'm the only rookie here. He's not a rookie and this team isn't a rookie team." YOU'VE WORKED WITH A LOT OF THESE CREW GUYS FOR THE LAST 12 YEARS, BUT NOW THEY ANSWER TO YOU. HOW DO YOU HANDLE THAT? "Everybody is aware of that and I've even discussed that with some of them. I think they understand that I'm in a different position now. I'm not gonna use this authority against anybody. We're gonna work together just like we always have by being a crew guy for 11 years here. I'm just one of the guys making decisions. The guys are professional enough on this team that they don't even put me in a position where I have to make those kind of decisions. They do their job and we all work together. It's not a situation where I've got to lower the boom on somebody or anything like that. They understand that I'm in a position where I have to make decisions that sometimes might not be popular, but I hope the decisions I make are good for the majority. Everything in that respect is going good so far."

WILL YOU GO OVER THE WALL AND CHANGE TIRES STILL? "No, Jeff Fabian is gonna change front tires. He was with the 12 car last year and he's gonna take over changing front tires. We've got a new front tire carrier too, so, as far as the pit crew is concerned, we've had a few changes."

DID YOU HAVE ANY IDEA ROBIN WAS GOING TO LEAVE? "I had no idea that Robin was gonna leave this team. He evidently talked to Rusty and the owners about some options. I don't know why, but that didn't work out. The first thing I heard about it was when they called me and said Robin was leaving and wanted to know if I was interested in maybe being the crew chief."

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? "My reaction was, 'Are you sure about this?' I hadn't really patterned my career to become a crew chief, although I think I can be one, it's just an opportunity that came along and I'm glad it did. It's something I couldn't pass up."

DO YOU FEEL THE FACT YOU'VE RACED WILL HELP AS FAR AS UNDERSTANDING AND COMMUNICATING WITH RUSTY? "I think so. I think it'll help me a lot listening to him by having been in the driver's seat before. I don't know if I can offer him a lot of advice, but it will help me understand what he's wanting to have in the race car."

During the afternoon session, several teams participating in drafting practice. Ford drivers Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler spoke about their feelings about the draft and testing overall.

JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo Taurus -- "You can come here and struggle for two-and-a-half days and feel awful the way that I felt and then go out and draft and, even though there's not a whole lot you can do, you at least feel like you can be competitive. We're slow, but I think NASCAR is gonna have to do something to help the Fords. They didn't intentionally get us going slow, it's just the way it worked out and with the new rules they had to start somewhere. They've got the Chevrolets fast and they've got the Fords slow, so I think we've got some help coming there. And then we've got to go home and make our cars better. This is a hard sport. The two cars I had here are as good, and you can make a case that they're better than any other Roush car, and we're the slowest. The chassis dyno says our engines are the same as everybody and we're the slowest. I don't always understand everything that I know and I certainly don't understand this. It was a long two-and-a-half days. I'm so glad we got out there and were able to draft and at least it relieved some emotion for me because I was at my end. It's always good to start the year off and have some good tests, but we went to Atlanta and wasted a day and then we came here and spent two-and-a-half days that we felt were wasted as well, but it's a hard sport. Nobody said it was easy."

ARE SIX AND SEVEN-CAR DRAFTS WHAT WE MIGHT SEE IN THE 500 -- SMALLER PACKS? "Things change so much when you get 43 cars out there and I suspect it will be a lot different than it was here in practice. It's always more exciting. The more cars you have and the more passing you have, the more stuff you have going on. We're a little fearful right now that it isn't gonna be as exciting as it needs to be, but I think some of that will take care of itself as more cars get on the race track. It's gonna be okay. It's not gonna be racing like we saw here last year, but we shouldn't have racing like was saw here last year. People need to understand that what we were doing here last year was wrong. The drivers were in a position where something bad was inevitable and that's just not acceptable, so we made the changes and that means it's not gonna be quite as exciting as it was but it was a change that we had to make."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE CARS GOING A LITTLE FASTER? "I think so and I think that may happen. I think before we come back they may end up looking at giving us a different sized plate or something -- something to pick it up a little bit."

ELLIOTT SADLER --21-- Motorcraft Taurus -- "I can run with the guys, but I just can't pull out and pass unless I've got somebody pushing me. I can't pull out and pass by myself, but we got the car comfortable in the draft. I feel we've got something to work with. We ended up like seventh or eighth on the chart, which means we can get some speed out of it and I ran good. We're probably a lot more upbeat now than we were at lunch time, so we think we've got something to work with in the draft. It's not where we want to be, though, because the only time I can pass somebody is if I have a different car pushing me. If I have that, then I can pass somebody."

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FORD NEEDS? "I think we need a half-inch. I mean, you've got two great Ford programs down here with Robert Yates and Penske and they're not even anywhere close. The times they ran, they ran 'em one time and really didn't back 'em up that good. Some of the Chevrolets and Dodges ran the same times over and over again -- a good half-a-second or more faster than what they even ran one time. It's right there on paper, but we'll have to wait and see what happens. If they give us something good, we'll be competitive. If they don't, we still have to come in here and try as hard as we can to make the race first and then try to do the best we can in the Daytona 500. The thing is I'll bet anybody 10 dollars if they want to that if they leave the rules the way they are, I'd be surprised to see more than two Fords in the top 20 come qualifying day. But, we'll wait and see what happens."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Rusty Wallace , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler