DODGE DRIVERS SWEEP TOP FOUR SPOTS FOR PEPSI 400 -- Sterling Marlin won his first pole in the past 69 races. Ward Burton turned in his best qualifying effort of the season. Stacy Compton qualified third fastest to go along with his pole at ...
DODGE DRIVERS SWEEP TOP FOUR SPOTS FOR PEPSI 400 -- Sterling Marlin won his first pole in the past 69 races. Ward Burton turned in his best qualifying effort of the season. Stacy Compton qualified third fastest to go along with his pole at Talladega and second-place qualifying run in the Daytona 500. Rookie Casey Atwood qualified fourth fastest, his first top five or top 10 qualifying effort this season. Add 'em all together and the Dodge Intrepid R/T's swept the top four spots for Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I didn't know what Stacy and them had left. They didn't show much speed last night, but you can't count anybody out in these deals. A lot of guys got help last night. We had a pretty clean lap I felt like. I felt like we had a little bit left, and sure enough, we ran about a tenth quicker than we did last night. All the guys on the Coors Light team did a great job. They worked hard for this. It's a better car than it was here in February for the 500. We're looking forward to tomorrow night.
"We've just got to get us a win. We've been real close all year and let it slip through our fingers. Hopefully Saturday night we can be leading with two or three to go and hold them off. The way these rules are you don't know. You just play your cards right and sometimes it works and sometimes it don't. If you get boxed in, there's nowhere you can go.
"I'd rather be out front. The cars really close up so fast, the closing rate. They can run by you when they come up off the corner. They're running six or eight mph faster than you are, and there's nothing you can do. You're just a sitting duck. Now I guess they're going to have the same rules they had in Talladega where you can't go below the yellow line. It's just going to make it tougher to pass. We'll have to wait until practice tonight and see how things shake out.
"I love this place. It's been awful good to me. My first pole was here and my dad won a qualifying race here. I've been fortunate enough to win three races here and some qualifying races, so the first race I ran here I ran second. I've been coming here since '64 I guess when I was a little kid in the back of a pickup truck watching the race. I've always enjoyed it. I know the tragedy in February was awful for all of us, but I know Dale would want the show to go on, and that's what we're going to try to do.
"I'd say 80 percent of it is luck here. Like in February, I think we started third and got the lead pretty early. You look up and within five laps here come some cars that started 40th, and if they hit it right they're there. That's why it's so tough driving these plate races. You can't count anybody out, and the handling really doesn't come into play with this aero package because we're going 180-183 mph. If I had my rathers, I'd rather be running 195 or 198. You could shake the cars you didn't want around you off and the best handling cars would come to the front. I wish we would get away from all the big packs we've got.
"I can't guarantee you (a Dodge victory this year), but I think we've got a real good shot. Four or five races this year, if it had gone this way or that way, we would have had a win. We've got a great bunch of guys. From this point in the season, I think we're just going to get stronger. We got started off as one of the last Dodge teams and Ernie and the guys doing the motors continue to make the motors better and the fab guys keep hammering out cars and getting the bodies better. I'm just looking forward to the rest of the season.
"I thought we'd win one of the first six races the way the preseason testing went. If things had shook right we might have won one. We just haven't been exactly where we need to be, but we'll get us one.
"Since they put this new aero package in, you could take a car that's a second or second and a half off from what we run tonight and if he can catch everything right, somebody gives him a break getting in, he could jump up here and lead this thing tomorrow night. If you pull out and go and they hang you out, it's just like you lose 10 mph. You slow down and you just have to find your hole and get back in. One thing with this package, the cars do run side by side more than they used to three or four years ago. It's just the luck of the draw when it comes down to the end.
"This place is built for speed. I think we need to run 195, 198 mph. If they took the plate off, it would be too fast. It would be way too fast. When we go to Atlanta and run 190-192 mph on a mile and a half track and come here and Talladega and run 180-182, it's just too slow I think. That's just my opinion, but hopefully we can change something and get the speeds back up.
"I guess it was the Wednesday after Daytona when Michael and Dale Jr. talked, I think everybody went back and watched what happened, it's been 100 percent positive. Tons of Earnhardt fans sent me mail or would come up to me in the garage area or fan club meetings or whatever and apologize. They didn't do it, but they were apologizing for the few that did.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Earnhardt family this weekend, and they're with Kenny Irwin's family, too. Kenny was our teammate last year and it's been a year since he died this weekend, so our prayers go out to his family."
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"We thought we had a shot at it last night after practice. That was a good effort for our team. We just didn't have enough for the 40 car. We're pretty happy. We've spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel with this car and a lot of test sessions. We've worked extremely hard from the time we started building Dodges for these races, so I'm really happy for the race team.
"We didn't know where we'd rank up when we came down here. All the Dodge teams put extra time on these races because we didn't know what to expect. I think the hard work paid off. This may be one place that is a little bit easier for the Dodge than other places, but there are some other places where we've struggled some. Hopefully we'll have a good car tomorrow night.
"Everything was looking good for me the last time down here and with about 25 to go we got a little love tap from behind down the backstretch and that was it. At Talladega, I made a mistake overshooting pit road and the guys didn't see it and jacked the car up. There was a one-lap penalty. I don't think it was a reflection on the Dodges more than us having some bad luck and then making a mistake at Talladega. Definitely (Dodge can win). It's a good race car and they have good race teams.
"We were going to the outside of the 20 car for the fourth position (in Daytona 500). The 4 car slipped up behind me and touched me a little bit and that triggered the multiple car accident. Everything had gone according to plan up until that part. We had led the most laps and I felt like we had a shot at it, but we just didn't get to see the end of the day.
"Wasn't the 18 car running 24th or 25th or something like that and got involved with the top five? The thing about laying back is you've got to lay way back to miss the accident. Then if you have green flag stops, you could be in jeopardy of going a lap down. We've seen a few times where it's played into people's hands, but I think more times than not you've got to race like you do anywhere else."
STACY COMPTON (No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"We lost about 250 rpm's. I don't know if the humidity got to us or what. It was still a great lap. We're pretty happy with it. I think we've got a pretty good race car. Congratulations to Sterling and those guys. They were pretty close at Talladega and I think we bumped them. It was good to see the Dodges up front. We were pretty good at Talladega, but we just didn't last long enough. We blew up a little early. We've got a good race car. Hopefully we can hook up with some of these other Dodges and run all night long.
"At Talladega you can touch somebody and basically turn left or right and get away from 'em. Here if you turn left you're in the grass and if you turn right, you're in the wall. It's quite a bit narrower and it's easier to get caught up here. Hopefully we'll run incident free tomorrow night, but I think it's a little easier to get caught up in an incident here.
"We need some luck. I think that's it in a nutshell. Sterling had a car that was capable of winning at Talladega. Ward had a car that should have won here in February. I think if we can have a little luck, we're capable of winning right now. I think our speedway program is as good as anybody's right now. We're still struggling a little bit on the intermediates and short tracks, but if we can have a little luck, and the stars line up right, I think Dodge can win anytime.
"I'd love to be able to, but asking for a guarantee is pretty tough. In this business you've got to have everything go your way. You've got to have pit stops and luck on your side. Everything has got to be just right. I'll guarantee you we've got teams capable of winning races. Whether that's going to happen or not, I don't know, but I think it should. We've got to make sure everything goes right and have a little luck before that can happen.
"Sitting around and not having any heat in the rear or hubs probably hurt us a little bit, but it was a good run. I think we'll be good in the race. Our team is coming together. We're getting better every week. I think it's a combination of a lot of different things. We're actually a little disappointed, but it was a good run. We've got a good car."
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I feel really good about it. It was a good start for us. You can get shuffled back so fast here. It's good to start up front, but you've got to try to stay up there all day. This is the same car Bill got the pole with here in February. I sort of inherited it I guess. We ran it at Talladega and had a good run there. We had a good run here in February, so we're looking forward to Saturday night.
"The 9 team had built a couple more speedway cars, so I don't know really why, but they let me drive it and I'm pretty happy about it.
"It's a little harder here. This track seems to be more bumpy and it's definitely not as wide as Talladega. Going into Talladega, I didn't think we could run that race caution free, but it's possible (at Daytona) if everybody just stays in line and doesn't try to do too much racing at the beginning of the race. I definitely think we can race here caution free.^Ô
BOB WILDBERGER (Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations -- Dodge Motorsports)
"I think this is another testimony to the single team concept we've talked about. We're trying to figure out what to do to make all the Dodges run good, and everybody is helping each other. What a wonderful and remarkable surprise to get the top four. That's more than anyone would expect, and it's just a great, great surprise, especially at Daytona.
"I'll have to confess. I left the track with some of our folks. We had another meeting, and we were sweating it out. We were at a reception watching TV, and we were trying to figure out what was going on (during rain delay). We finally said to heck with everything else, and we came back to the track to find out what happened, and we were ecstatic when we found out. It was a great surprise.
"It's no secret. Now our goal is to get the first victory under our belts. No one knows when that will happen, but we're sure hoping this is the place. A lot of people are saying it could be. Sterling sure would deserve it. He's been a force for us all year long as all the Dodge drivers have this year. The thing that would be great for us is to bring that first victory home, and if we did that at a famous race track like Daytona, it would be even more exceptional. We've got some plans to bring the whole team up to Detroit to celebrate once that happens, so we're hoping that can happen here.
"Coming into this track, this is the first track we've repeated. Every other track has been a brand new experience for us. The crew chiefs have some materials in their notebooks to figure out how to get a Dodge around the track, and they haven't had that before.
"Let's label it as cautiously optimistic for tomorrow night, but we're ready to throw a heck of a party when it happens."