Dodge different - John Andretti Bristol interview

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Andretti is fresh off a sixth-place finish last week at Darlington. He jumped eight spots in the series standings and will enter Sunday's race ranked 25th. Andretti's career-best finish...

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Andretti is fresh off a sixth-place finish last week at Darlington. He jumped eight spots in the series standings and will enter Sunday's race ranked 25th. Andretti's career-best finish at Bristol came in the 1999 Food City 500. He finished fourth in that event and 33rd in last season's Food City 500. He'll start 11th in Sunday's 43-car field. "The only way to win this race is to pit on the front straightaway and run all day. We're pitting on the frontstretch, so we'll see how it goes. Some guys have won here with beat up cars, but most of them win with pretty clean cars, except for the year that Terry Labonte got crashed crossing the start-finish line. You've got to keep the car clean and be there for the last 30 or 40 laps. "In 1999, we qualified bad on the first day. We came back the second day and would have been 11th or 12th on the grid if we'd done it the first day. We worked on race setup, and the car had a real good feel to it. I don't concern myself with times. We came here and tested and just ran what felt good. What feels good typically is good. Sometimes you can drive another setup a little bit quicker, but you can only do it for two or three laps. You've got to have something consistent. We pitted on the backstretch in '99. We started 26th and had to drive up through there. It took us the biggest part of the day to get there. It does when you start back there. Every time you pit, you lose five or six spots to the guys on the front straightaway. It's like a one step forward two steps back deal. You need long green flag runs, and that's what we got that day. That helped us. "I think all the race tracks will wear you down if you don't get the car right. If you just go out there and ride around, all the tracks are pretty easy. I think the guys who walk around and say they never have a problem are probably drive that way. I think you've got to get up on the wheel and drive up on the wheel every lap. At Bristol, you've got to be up on the wheel every lap. "When you come to Bristol you get more in awe of the surroundings than the race track in a lot of ways. You just look at all the people at the track. I think the first time I came here they seated about 80,000. It's unbelievable now. It's huge. Everything settles in here, too. You get all the carbon monoxide and everything else. You're dealing with a lot more elements than you used to deal with, too. The air is stiller. It's hard to get fresh air in the car. When the cars get going, the air gets going in that direction, too. You've got 43 cars nose-to-tail all the way around the track. "When something happens and you can't see it, it's good to have a good spotter at Bristol. But typically, they've got one eye looking in one direction and the other eye looking in another. They can lose track of you real quick. When they say go low, and there's a car up there hitting the wall, he's more than likely going to come on down. If you're coming off turn two and the accident is behind you, you can still end up in it. You can't see all the way around the track the way it's banked. You're looking up as you go through the corners. When you're coming down the front straightaway, you can't hardly see the middle of the next corner because it's all blocked up. "I never raced on the blacktop here. The guy who did the concrete here I certainly wouldn't have him do my driveway. They can't be proud of it, that's for sure. Obviously it was difficult to do. Now they've got a lot more information when they go to concrete a race track. Dover is concrete and they did a little bit better job there. I'm sure if they redid it here it would be a lot different. Knowing the promoter, I'm not so sure the promoter wanted it smooth. It's like when Humpy Wheeler repaves his tracks, they don't seem to be any smoother. Why repave them? "I see people come on TV and say a finish is going to turn their season around. It's one race. We look at it like we haven't been crashed in two races and we've had a couple of decent results. That's what we needed. I'd say the worse car we had all year was at Atlanta and because we didn't get crashed we ended up 14th. We should have had a couple more top 10s, maybe. We're not in the spotlight and that's OK. You've got to earn your wings, and it's going to be gradual for us. We could pop out at Martinsville or a place like that and win, but Winston Cup is a blink of an eye. After the last race is over with, it's over until you go back to that track. "Guys beat and bang here, and you've got to be lucky to get through all that to have a good finish. It can get real ugly here, and it can get real ugly in a hurry. They fill the seats in the grandstands because it's exciting. I've always said Bristol provides excitement second to done for a spectator. For a driver and an owner, the expenses are pretty high. "I didn't see The King (car owner Richard Petty) this week. He was around. I got to talk to Kyle about some stuff. Really, on Monday, it's back to business as usual. We do so many races a year. You're happy about sixth place because it's in the right direction, but a lot of guys have already finished sixth this year. It wasn't a lucky finish. We drove up through there. Our pit stops were unbelievably good. Our guys haven't got the credit they deserve because we haven't been able to get the final result on the race track. If we had been crashed with eight laps to go on the final restart, nobody would be talking to me about how we ran to the front. It's all about getting in the record books. "This pit crew has been together since about two-thirds of the way into the season last year. We consolidated the 43 and 44 guys. You'll see guys working on the 43 car pitting the 44 and vice versa. We didn't want to break the teams up. That's probably a good thing for Petty Enterprises because it spreads their loyalties around. It's important for the 43, 44 and 45 to all do well. It's not important that the 43 just do well. "The 43 is always going to be the car associated with Petty Enterprises, whether it's the fastest of slowest. That's because of The King. It has nothing to do with anything else. The King said it would become more of John Andretti's car. We'll put Cheerios on it and stuff. It's still the 43 man. Who's he trying to kid? It's The King's car, and it always will be. That's just the way it goes. I'm proud I get to drive The King's car. It's a car that's won a lot of races, and I think there's a lot of respect for the people who work on it and the organization. I'm proud to be a part of the whole thing. I got to meet a lot of great people, work with some great people and when I left in '94 and went elsewhere, I wish I had stayed. "I think I would have possibly had more victories, and we might be in better shape. Any time you change a driver, you take a little bit of a step back. It doesn't matter how the change goes. When I came back, they'd really come a long way thanks to Bobby Hamilton and other things, too. It would have been a lot easier on me if I had stayed. "We were way behind with our Pontiac program last year. Our cars didn't look anything like the Pontiacs that were running up front. We didn't have the time, resources or people to do it because we were already working on the Dodge program. I think Dodge is probably a little bit easier to get close. You've really got to work on the Pontiac. We're behind where we would have been if we had stayed with the Pontiac, but the potential to get ahead is a lot better for us. There's a lot more there with Dodge. If you look at the wind tunnel numbers from Atlanta, it looks like the Ford is the best and everybody else is pretty close. That's kind of ironic considering all that's been said, but I'd say we're closer to the best Dodge this year than we were to the best Pontiac last year. "I think the Dodge will be OK on the short tracks. It's going to get a good measure here because Sterling is running pretty good. Sterling runs good at Bristol. We tested a week earlier than Sterling at Bristol. Our test went well. We had to wait for the snow to melt on the first morning, but once it did, we got out and ran and got a lot of practice in. We got a lot of solid running in and did a lot of testing. We might have changed a couple of springs and three or four shocks. We did a lot of development work. To me, that's what testing is about. To do setup for that day, you might be awesome. If you had 10 hours to set up for qualifying, you'd better get the car quick. For that particular day, to me it makes no sense. We have no idea how we're going to go out and run, plus it'll be harder for me to repeat what I did in the test than for the car to repeat. It's a machine. I can mess up a lot more than the car. "We've got to get in the race before we can worry about racing. You can do a 30-lap run in practice. That'll probably take less than 10 minutes. You can see where you're at and then do another 30-lap run. The tire is real consistent. If it falls off, it falls off just a little. It won't be like Darlington where you make a run and come in and guess or put another set of tires on or guess that the set you have on will feel like the next set you put on. It's much harder to set up the car when the track doesn't give you the same feedback because the grip level changes so much. I was glad we had three hours of practice at Darlington. We went through a lot of things with our car in that practice, and it certainly helped, but 90 minutes here Saturday afternoon will be plenty. "It'll be nice inside the car Sunday, nice and neutral. The temperature (high predicted of 44 degrees) won't affect the concrete track. I always look at it as the outside temperature is the same for everybody. You can get out there and wrestle the car around and you can build your own temperature. "I think we have to look at last year and we have to do better than last year. Last year was a very low year for us. We had nothing to brag about last year other than my team did an excellent job and didn't get rewarded for their efforts. I still believe we've got the best team out there, and I think that's going to make the difference. A lot goes into the final results. "Take Bobby Labonte last year. His throttle sticks at Darlington. He brings the backup car out, takes a provisional and his pit crew gets him out first, it rains and he wins the race. This year, I don't know how many times I've seen that car smoking. I'm sure they're not doing anything different. I'm sure they're working harder like everybody else and they're on the edge, but when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. When you get off that roll, it's harder to get back on it. It's much easier to be off a roll than to be on one. "I think we can win. I think we had the capabilities to win last year. We just have to put ourselves in position to win and then see if it can happen. It's more likely to happen later in the year when we get all our momentum together because like most teams in Winston Cup, on a bad day, this team doesn't dwell on it. If one guy makes a mistake, somebody else just picks him up and everybody keeps going. As bad as last year was, you never heard any bickering from this team. There's never any finger pointing. It's a solid team, and I think it all comes from the management. "The first part of the year, every driver loves every crew chief and every crew chief loves every owner. It's the perfect trifecta. They couldn't be any happier with each other. Then you get to about the 10th race or even sooner now, and they can't wait to make a change. This guy isn't do his job and this guy is not doing his. You get pressure from the sponsors. "We've got great sponsors that understand and believe in us. They look at the final box score and they want us to be up front, but they understand where our program is at. They're behind us just like everybody else. When we're at our lowest, The King is at his best. When we're right there at the front, he's more difficult to deal with. He knows we're going to work as hard as we can work all the time. That's what so good about this team. If we're second, The King wants to know why we didn't win. If you're there, what's going to get you better? If you're 35th, there's no reason to holler about 34th. He knows you understand that's not where you need to be. The other great thing about The King is that you don't have to explain anything to him. It's the same way with Kyle because he drives. He almost knows what you're thinking when you come to tell him something. The King sees so much. I like that relationship with an owner. I don't have to tell him the story. He's already seen it and he gets it. If he's not 100 percent right, he's close to it. "I've never seen so many guys have so much bad luck so far this season. I look at a guy like Jeff Burton. That's the best example I can think of. He should be top five in the points. There's plenty more like that. It's tough when it shows up at the first of the year. It always seems to happen somewhere through the season. Jeff has had all his problems very early. That's shaken up the points. I looked at the points after Las Vegas and something didn't make sense. Those other guys have stepped up to the plate and have done a better job. "I think the engine lease program has helped so many teams. You're not racing against just the 28 and 88 with Robert Yates engines. You're racing against 10 other cars he leases motors to. With Hendrick engines, you're racing against the 10 and 36 as well as the three Hendrick cars, so there's another five. If everybody had to build their own engines, it'd be all shook up again. "We do our own engines. I would never drive for a team that leased engines because I don't believe you get.... It's a very competitive environment. I'm not sayings it good or bad, but I consider myself to be a fair person. I want me to win first. I would be foolish to think they (teams leasing engines) wouldn't want to win first. Not that they would ever give me bad things, but I'd have to believe if there were three engines, all three couldn't be alike. I've seen dyno sheets, and they're not all alike. They might be close, but pretty close in Winston Cup is a mile long. I believe in our engine program. I believe if Petty Enterprises is ever back in a position to win championships, this is the way they're going to have to do it. It's just a short fix to lease motors from somebody."

-Dodge Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Bobby Hamilton , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Richard Petty , Robert Yates