The field for Sunday's Daytona 500 will be set tomorrow when the annual Gatorade 125 Qualifying Races take place at Daytona International Speedway. Ford drivers with varying backgrounds in the event spoke about trying to get through the race ...
The field for Sunday's Daytona 500 will be set tomorrow when the annual Gatorade 125 Qualifying Races take place at Daytona International Speedway. Ford drivers with varying backgrounds in the event spoke about trying to get through the race without damaging their primary car and the mindset needed to finish in the top 14 or 15.
RICKY RUDD No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus:
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE FACT THIS TOMORROW IS A RACE BUT IT'S NOT THE DAYTONA 500? "The race means different things to different teams. There are a lot of guys here where that race is the only race they're thinking about. They're not even thinking about the Daytona 500 because some of them may not have points from last year to fall back on. If they don't do well in the 125s, they won't have a Daytona 500. Other guys, like us, we're pretty good in points and with our qualifying speed, the race has a little different meaning to us. We were just talking about things like that. A good example is you want to be as aggressive as you can with the tape on your grille, which is borderline of burning the motor down. For us, that's how we ran the shootout, but we want to make sure we can finish a 125-mile qualifying race and be done with all the tape issues and water cooling issues and oil cooling issues. That means we might err to the conservative side while some guys will err to the aggressive side, which means they might blow all the water out of the motor and not finish the race."
IS THE KEY TRYING TO STAY AHEAD OF THAT TRANSFER SPOT? "Our goal is to get through this 125 in one piece with a good starting position for the 500. I've been fortunate enough to win this race in 2000, but the biggest thing that we want to do is have a car to run in the 500 and come out of it with a good starting position. But, if you go into it and end up three or four wide and have the attitude of going out to win the race or knock the wall down, that doesn't make sense for us in our position. The big picture is the Daytona 500."
HAVE YOU HAD ANY HAIRY MOMENTS IN THE 125? "It's pretty intense. I've been in races where I've run close to the front and won it one time in 2000. I've been back in that transfer spot once or twice and it's not a good place to be, especially when I needed to be in the race because our points situation wasn't strong. It's a miserable place to be. Once you're there, you never want to be there again."
WILL YOU LOOK AT WHICH GUYS ARE IN YOUR RACE? "To be honest, you can't really do a lot of long-term planning. You can plan the first couple of laps. I've got the 30 car, the pole-sitter, in front of me. I've got Dale Jarrett on the outside of me and then Robby Gordon up on the right-front. It looks like the bottom groove seems to move a little bit better at the start of the race, so I'm sitting right where I want to be. I'd like to be able to get out about 10-15 laps and stay on the bottom. That will be the objective, which will probably mean a lot of blocking."
WHAT ABOUT THE PIT STOP THIS TIME? "Everyone's got to do it. No one can afford to put on four tires, if it goes green. They're gonna have to put on two tires or gas-and-go, but most of them will put on two tires. That's a different element than we've had to deal with in the past. Instead of all that pressure being on that driver to go out there and finish in that transfer spot, some of the pressure comes back to the crew. That's gonna affect the outcome of this race if it goes green."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS RACE IN GENERAL? "It's always been this way. It was this way when I came into this sport 27-28 years ago. Does everybody like the format, I think as competitors we would probably like to see the normal deal where you qualify against the clock and go race. But the races are exciting. Some people have said that those are the best races here because you've got a lot of desperation out there and they really make for exciting races. I just sort of roll with it."
KURT BUSCH No. 97 Rubbermaid Taurus:
ARE THE GATORADE 125 RACES THE MOST NERVE-WRACKING RACE OF THE YEAR BECAUSE IT'S NOT THE DAYTONA 500? "For me it's been tremendously nerve-wracking just because the past two years we were so far back in points and we qualified so poorly that we had to be in the top 14. Fortunately, we finished 12th and 11th and barely squeaked by the number. This year is a bit different. We're third in points and we have a provisional to fall back on, so we're in the 500 no matter what, whereas before I didn't have that. So it's a different feeling going into this year's race. We can get some work done in the 125 as far as understanding the draft a bit more. We try to get in that Bud Shootout every year to prepare because it seems we have to do all we can at Roush to help prepare our cars because we're a little bit behind all the time at Daytona and Talladega."
WHAT IS THAT RACE LIKE WHEN YOU'VE GOT GUYS WHO HAVE TO FINISH IN THE TOP 14 OR GO HOME AND GUYS WHO ARE JUST TRYING TO GET THROUGH WITH THE CAR IN ONE PIECE? "You look at it and you study the lineup and when you look at what happened yesterday with a couple of guys wrecking in practice, now you've got some guys in their backups and are starting in the back. So you have to know a little bit about each guy to know what their scenario is, whether they've got a provisional or whether they don't. If you're by the bubble position, that's the worst place to be. If you get towards the front and you work your way into third or fourth, you don't really have many worries. But if you're around that bubble position, where people aren't in the show yet and the draft is still tight, it's gonna be a mad dash to the start-finish line on that last lap. You have to know what everybody's scenario is and keep that in mind."
WILL THE PIT STOP BE A BIG DEAL? "It won't make a tremendous amount of difference, it'll just create a little twist where the crew will have to be sharp and the fuel man has to plug the fuel in. We were real solid in that department at Talladega last year when we had the small fuel cell. We didn't miss a drop and didn't spill a drop. We were one of only eight cars that could stay and make the whole distance. We did that again in the Bud Shootout. We had a wonderful pit stop and got back out without losing any spots. It'll be important, but it won't be as much of an emphasis as people will think."
THE FACT IS THIS IS STILL A RACE AND A RACE YOU WOULD LIKE TO WIN, RIGHT? "Yeah, I'd love to win it. I know I'm not in a position to win just yet. There are two DEI cars in my race and it would be tough to break that brigade. I do have a couple of other Fords that I hope will team up because we know if we do work together, it's a lot better than working against each other."
YOU MENTIONED THE WRECK IN PRACTICE YESTERDAY. IS THAT A WAKE-UP CALL FOR GUYS IN THE GARAGE THAT THEY HAVE TO BE CAREFUL? "Oh, for sure. I know that once we're done qualifying with that primary car we're into race trim and you've got to be cautious. You can't make stupid moves. A lot of guys yesterday had fast cars that normally don't have fast cars and you have to understand that they don't know exactly what they're supposed to do with their cars. You've got to protect your beast and you have to make sure your blue oval is as straight as you can keep it."
DAVE BLANEY No. 77 Jasper Engines Taurus:
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS RACE? "It's usually pretty calm until the last 10 laps or so and then it gets pretty exciting. I'm kind of up in the air about what's gonna happen this year with the pit stop. It may not come into play, but, then again, it may spread the field so who knows? We're just trying to get our car as fast as we can get it here and scratch and claw our way to the front."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR SITUATION? "I think it would be a pretty freak deal to get us knocked out of the 500. I think there would have to be a big wreck in front of the pack of maybe both races. You can think and worry about that all you want, but if we race like we should we ought to be able to make it easy as far as the transfer spot. We'll go after that first and then, if that doesn't happen, then we'll worry about the rest."
DOES YOUR PHILSOPHY CHANGE DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU'RE AT IN THE RACE? "It does depend on what you've got for a race car. If you feel like you can keep going forward with it, you're gonna do all you can do. If not, you're gonna try to protect what you've got, so it depends on what you've got for a car compared to everybody else."
GREG BIFFLE No. 16 Grainger Taurus:
IS THIS A MORE NERVE-WRACKING RACE THAN A REGULAR RACE? "Yeah it is because everybody is trying to get that spot for the start of the 500. Hopefully, the racing in the top 10 won't be as frantic as the race from about 13th to 17th because that's where they're fighting for that transfer spot. Hopefully, I can position myself to stay in the top 10. I'm starting there, so, hopefully, I can stay there and not get in that rat race back there for the transfer spot. I just need to protect my car because it's the only one I've got. I just need to keep that in mind and try to stay out of trouble. I'm gonna try to stay in line and not make a lot of moves. I would like to try and get myself the same starting spot I've got for this race in the 500 if possible."
YOU WERE IN THIS RACE LAST YEAR AND DIDN'T MAKE THE 500. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE? "I just feel more comfortable having been in it last year. We had a pretty good car last year and, honestly, I think our car last year in race trim was better than this one, but we've still got a couple practice sessions to see if we can get better."