Monday, March 19, 2001. Advance material for Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) "We had numerous problems at Darlington. We had some problems in practice. We ran 14 laps Saturday ...
Monday, March 19, 2001. Advance material for Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"We had numerous problems at Darlington. We had some problems in practice. We ran 14 laps Saturday afternoon and never overcame it. I think we dropped a valve there late in the race and just had a bad day. We've been bad and we've been good this season. I don't think sitting on the pole and finishing fifth at Daytona is all bad for the first time out of the box. Since, we ran extremely well at Vegas. We've just been real hot and real cold. The last two races, circumstances got us. We've had several little problems, but we'll keep working and get it squared away.
"At Vegas, we pretty much had the new tires figured out. Yesterday and Rockingham, that particular car we ran didn't seem to like that tire for some reason. We just never had time. Due to our problems in practice, we just never got anything accomplished. I think there's several issues there. The Monte Carlo is awful good right now. That seems to have been the dominant car on this particular tire. I know Jarrett won the race yesterday, but you look at how the race went and the cars that ran really well (were the Chevrolets). That doesn't take anything away from what we need to be doing. We've got a lot of work to do ourselves, but I think going in and trying to get everything organized and with everything that Ray has had to accomplish, he's been the lead guy on the whole program. He's had a full plate, and believe me, I don't know how he's done it. "You might get spread too thin, but only he's the one who knows if he's tried to do too much. I think we can all look at the whole deal and play Monday morning quarterback. We can say, 'we should have done this or we should have done that, or we shouldn't have done this and we shouldn't have done that.' I'm confident that we'll get things straightened out and going in the right direction and not too far down the road. "To go into what he (Evernham) is doing right now, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. I've been through it. I won't say I'll never do it again, but I'd be dang reluctant to ever do it again. It ain't worth it anymore. There's too much politics, too many things going on. It isn't just sitting down, building a fast car and then go race. There's too many other things involved in this stuff anymore. You look at the amount of races we run, and you talk about sponsors putting in the kind of dollars they're putting in today and they expect a lot out of you. With that, it kind of comes with the territory. There's pressure to do well on Sunday, there's pressure to do the things you have to do and a lot of other things. Nowadays, with as much riding on what you've got going on, that tends to be a big pressure cooker. "That year that I won the race (1988 at Bristol) it was kind of a circumstantial deal. Then I came back in the fall and ran really well. The night race that year I finished second to Earnhardt. I just about beat Earnhardt. If we'd had 10 more laps, I could have beat him. I caught him fast. I don't know if I could have passed him in 10 more laps or not. It might have taken 20 or 30. I just had a good combination and was hooked up good. That's the kind of place if you're hooked up good, it's a lot of fun. If you ain't, it can be miserable. I kind of enjoy it. Once you get settled in and get going in the race, and if you're halfway decent, it can be an enjoyable night. There again, it can be a full moon type of night, too. Demons can get you. It really doesn't matter if you're racing there in the daytime or at night. If you're hooked up, it's great day or night. If not, it's miserable. "I didn't like the concrete there at first, but I think I've kind of got the hang of it now. It's just like Dover. I didn't like it there when they first put the concrete down. You have to change the setup a little bit for the concrete. It doesn't seem to give up quite as fast as the asphalt tracks. "The cars weren't as safe 25 years ago as they are today, but they're not going the speeds they were 25 years ago. For the most part, we didn't see the speeds like we're seeing now at Atlanta and Charlotte and Darlington. We have gotten better (with safety in the cars). I've worked hard to get my stuff better from being banged up several times and trying to make it better. I redid my seat. I redid my belt. I redid stuff around me just from things that have happened in the past. "You thought about a lot of things that week (after Daytona). A lot of things kind of went through your head. The more information I got about what happened, and I'm still unsure of the total facts, but man, you can fall out your back door and get killed. I've been doing this a long time and so have a lot of other people. If I'd been smart, I'd have probably quit a long time ago. You have risks in everything you do, and I think when it's your time, it's your time whether you're driving a race car or driving down the highway or walking out the back door. "We might come together tomorrow, the next day or the day after. It's got to continue to grow and get better. It's nothing you've got to slit your wrist over. It's just something you've got to work through. That's where we've all got to sit down and work through it. We've got to determine what we need and where we need to be better and continue to work through it. It took awhile for all of it to come together with Evernham and Gordon. Ray was with Jeff for a long time, year before he came into Winston Cup. He learned to focus on one entity and go from there. Now he's trying to do two. He's got a lot on his plate. I know from owning my own stuff how tough it is. It's not an easy task. "Sterling Marlin and several of the other Dodge teams have been doing well. We just need to work a little harder. That's what it takes. I think we'll be fine. Mike Ford (crew chief) is a good guy. For his age, I'd put him up against anybody. Right now, we're just going through a few things we need to get straight. Goodyear has changed the tire. It's a great tire, but we just had a time getting dialed in on it. A rock got under a belt and slung it off in practice Saturday afternoon and we only got about 14 laps of practice. You really couldn't get any indication of where you needed to start, and with the race starting on points, it made it a tough day. "Bristol is the kind of race track you love to hate. It can be good or it can be bad. If you're hooked up, it's not a bad track. If you miss your setup, it can be a tough place. I really didn't know where I thought we'd be now. We've just got to take it a day at a time and work on getting better regardless of how we do on Sunday. I've got things I've got to learn and get better and continue to work this program and get smarter and use everything you've got to make it better each and every week. "Casey has done well. He ran well at Daytona. He's run good everywhere else. Give him a little time, and he'll be right in there with the rest of 'em. We've all got to learn and work together and get our stuff better together. I think that'll come with time and getting this thing built where we need to get it built. Casey does a good job. He's aggressive when he needs to be aggressive and he keeps his nose out of business when he needs to. I think with just a little bit of experience he'll be right there. "I don't know what to expect, and I really don't care. We've got to get our act together and run good week in and week out, and it's regardless of what the industry sets. You set your own standards. You want to run good and you want to win races. That's what it's all about. "We're trying to get all our stuff organized where we need to be. I think Ray's got his hands full. He's done a heck of a job bringing the program where it's at as a whole. He's been responsible for the whole deal. He's had a full plate. Getting his stuff organized and getting it the way he wants to run it, I think is going to take a little time. "The Dodge engine has been good. We've had little problems the last couple of races. All-in-all, Sterling has run extremely well with it, and it's got a lot of potential. Ernie (older brother Elliott, Chip Ganassi team engine builder) is as focused as I've ever seen him. Tony Santanicola has done a great job with those motors, too. The people Chip Ganassi brought in for that team has helped it a lot. They've really been consistent. "I think when we go back to the tracks for the second time this year, that's when we'll start getting a lot better. We'll have some notes on what we need to be doing. We'll get some testing under our belt and do what we need to do from that standpoint. "I think the key for us and everybody else at Bristol will be survival. Really, that's the way it is just about everywhere anymore. I love the people at Bristol. The track can be good or bad, but that's grass roots racing. It's the kind of racing people love. I've run good on a lot of short tracks, but I guess the speedway stuff has always been my forte. I started out racing on the short tracks, but I didn't race on a lot of them. I used to run real good at North Wilkesboro and the old Richmond track. We've had some good runs at Bristol, too, and hopefully we'll run good there Sunday. It's hard to pass and it really helps to get a good starting spot, so qualifying will be import ant. We'll give it our best shot and see what happens."
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I think you definitely have to have a little different mindset when you change from a big track to a short track. When you've got 43 cars on a small track like that, you've got to take a different perspective toward the race. You've got to keep all your fenders on the car and try to be there at the end and have some car left. Me growing up on shorter tracks is going to help me a little bit. The bigger tracks is where I need a little bit of help. Coming back to the state of Tennessee to race and to Bristol, I've been there and had some success there, so I'm looking forward to it. "We tested at Bristol last week and the test went real good. Bristol is always a real tight field. Everybody is not spread out too far, so you've got to be tough there. We were right up there when we tested with the 18 and the 99 and some other good cars. We felt we were just as good as them, so we're pretty happy with the car. "It was devastating (missing race at Atlanta). We came in with no points and we wanted to make the first four races. If we did that, our goal would be complete. We came up one short of that. Nobody kept their head down. They went to the shop and worked real hard and we went to test at Bristol right after that. We didn't want it to happen, but I think it's going to make everybody work harder and make us a better team. "There's a little bit of pressure. As far as Ray and the team, they're not putting any pressure on me. We're all a young team. Ray Evernham owns it, but as far as the crew chief and the crew, we're all young and we're trying to learn together. They're really not putting any pressure on me. I want to do good. I want to run up front. I put pressure on myself to do that. I'm a rookie driver, and it's going to take a little while, but once we get to racing together awhile, I think we'll be fine and we'll be contenders to win races. "The Busch Series really prepared me a lot for what I'm going through now. The biggest difference I've seen is not in the cars, it's just the length of the races. We go twice as long as I'm used to. It goes back to what I said about Bristol. In the Busch Series, the races aren't really long enough to wear your car down and have a lot of problems, so you're really flat out the whole run. In Winston Cup, the races are so long and you make so many pit stops, and you've got so many opportunities to make your car better on pit stops, you have a lot more time to do what you want to do in the race and that's the hardest part I've had. I had some problems in the Busch Series, just getting hot, but I haven't even sweat in one of these (Cup) races yet. They're really preparing the cars well. The biggest part is not to get you hot. If you don't get hot, then it's not a big problem. You don't have to be super strong or anything to race. You've got to be in good condition. I haven't had any problems yet, but it hasn't been really hot outside yet. I hadn't had a lot of time to work out. I worked out the whole off season. After the '99 season, I worked out a little bit as far as running and stuff like that. After racing season started, I really haven't been doing Monday, anything. "We're making a lot of progress. We're all coming in with a fresh start with the new Dodge and the motor and having a new team. I don't think anybody is really expecting to come out and dominate right now. We're just trying to get better and better every week. I think we'll be a team of the future where we can come in and be real successful here in a few years. Once we do that, then everything will come together like we want to. We want to stay consistent and learn as much as we can and just get better and better every week. If you can do that, then you're doing good. If you can get better and better and learn something new. We want to win rookie of the year. I think that's one of our No. 1 goals. We're not setting really high goals for ourselves this year. We're just trying to learn as much as we can so we can be better in the future. "For the most part, they (setups) are pretty close. Every driver likes little odds and ends things different just to fit their personal style, but for the most part they're pretty similar. I've been real comfortable. We haven't been real dominant, but I get better and better as the race goes on. The more I learn about the track and things like that, you learn something new every lap. There have been times when we've been fast enough to run in the top 10. We've just got to put everything together where we can be consistent and stay up there the whole race. "There's a few tracks I haven't raced on. I've been mostly everywhere in the Busch car, but there's some new tracks, Chicago and Kansas, that we haven't been to, but nobody has. We're going to go test at both of those places. Hopefully everybody is going to get there and haven't raced there, so we'll be on a level playing field. There's a few more I haven't been to like Pocono and Indy and Sears Point. Hopefully we'll get to test at those places and be competitive. "Qualifying is the same for everybody. As a rookie driver and rookie team, it hurt us at Atlanta. In the past we would have had a chance to come back and get the car better and practice and run the second round, but we didn't have that opportunity. Everybody has one chance, so it really hasn't affected us that much. "I've learned more in those three Winston Cup races that I ran last year and running this year than I've learned in a long time. Ray is very knowledgeable and obviously he's won a lot of races as a crew chief. He's helped me out a lot at some of the tracks I've struggled at. He's just a big help. Besides him and Bill Elliott, I've got a couple of guys who already know pretty much all there is to know. It's making my learning experience a lot easier. "Bill is able to help me out a lot on the driving side of things."