Bob Wildberger, Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations - Dodge Motorsports and Tim Culbertson, Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering, discuss Dodge's performance in the first half of its second season back on the NASCAR Winston Cup ...
Bob Wildberger, Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations - Dodge Motorsports and Tim Culbertson, Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering, discuss Dodge's performance in the first half of its second season back on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit.
BOB WILDBERGER (Senior Manager, NASCAR Operations - Dodge Motorsports)
"We've got two drivers in the top 10 in the standings, and that's a huge accomplishment. We're really proud of that No. 40 Coors Light team. Sterling Marlin and the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates team has been leading the standings just about all season and that says a lot for a second-year team. It's a real tribute to all the talent on that team. Sterling and the guys continue to get better and better, and we're fortunate to have them driving for Dodge.
"Bill Elliott is having one of his best seasons in years. He's eighth in points and has been running up front virtually the entire season. I think Bill will keep coming on strong the second half of the season, and Ray Evernham and the No. 9 Dodge Dealers team will just keep getting bigger and better.
"And what can you say about the Petty organization? They made a major switch to Dodge last year, and they've made many other changes in their organization. It's been a major challenge, but Kyle Petty is leading the way on and off the track for Petty Enterprises. Kyle is 18th in the standings, and it's been one of his best showings in years. He runs strong week in and week out, and we're delighted that Dodge is a part of Petty Enterprises.
"Bill Davis' performance with the Caterpillar Dodge and Ward Burton spoke for itself in the Daytona 500. To win the Daytona 500 in its second season with a new manufacturer is probably even more incredible than any of us understand right now.
"The latest edition to the Dodge Winston Cup team is Ultra Motorsports with owners Jim Smith and Ray Evernham. Casey Atwood is part of Dodge's youth movement. It's a new team, and Casey has a lot of natural talent that will keep developing along with his time behind the wheel.
"I think something that you'll see all the Dodge teams try to use is a blend of talent and technology. You've got to take advantage of the talent behind the wheel, but you've also go to realize that technology plays a big part in today's game, too.
"We're hoping to write that check for a million dollars for Sterling and his team this year for winning the championship. If it happens, that'll be the happiest million dollar check we'll ever write, and we'd be proud to give Sterling or any of our Dodge drivers that 2003 Dodge Viper SRT-10 for winning the title. I've got to admit I chew my fingers every weekend at the race track now. Sterling has been up and down in the standings, but he's leading at the halfway point and we really hope he can stay there through the next 18 races.
"This is our second year back on the circuit, and we're no longer rookies. We're not exactly concerned about the sophomore jinx, either. The Dodge Dealers were behind us all the way when we started, and they're behind us even stronger now if that's possible. In the first 18 races, Dodge Dealers have had activities with incentives or hospitality at 17 of those 18 events. They're utilizing NASCAR to its full advantage, and the dealers say it helps to sell cars.
"We know we have to stay competitive, and downforce is an issue we continue to address. All five of our teams are working hard to improve downforce in compliance with the current rules. The competition is tough, and you have to work within the rules to stay competitive. We'll continue to work hard and hope that hard work continues to pay off over the last half of the season."
TIM CULBERTSON (Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering)
"We started off like gangbusters. We won the Daytona 500 and three of the first five races, so we came out of the gate pretty fast. Then came some rule changes and none of them were in our favor, so we've had to work extra hard to make up for that and we're still doing that. We're working on subtle things. Ted Flack and his engine department are working on new valve trains and lighter components. They're working on horsepower and torque development. We have some aero ideas we're pursuing, and we're working with our teams on those.
"I think the first half of the season has been very successful for Sterling Marlin and the Chip Ganassi team. I don't see any panic there. I see some nervousness, but that's to be expected. It is a very well-oiled organization. Andy Graves (team manager along with Tony Glover at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabataes) says life is more comfortable when you're not leading the standings. That team has a lot to lose right now, but it's very organized with a very strong engineering crew. They've very focused on the championship, and I wouldn't bet against them right now.
"They had a bad break at Chicago and got penalized a lap, and that was a shame. Sterling had a good car at Chicago. I don't know if he could have won or not, but he could have finished in the top five, and that would have been great. There's just so many opportunities to make a mistake in NASCAR, but I'll bet that team doesn't make the same mistake again.
"Sterling has a 49-point lead over second place now, and that's about a third of a race. He could have his biggest lead of the season after New Hampshire if Mark Martin or Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon have problems. It could go the other way, too. Sterling's team will learn from its mistakes, and I'll bet they don't make the same ones again.
"Bill Elliott has performed like a very confident, veteran driver this year. He's quietly moved up to eighth in the standings, and I think Ray Evernham and that team will just keep getting better and better during the second half of the season. A year and a half ago, the 9 team wasn't even a team. Look how far they've come in a short time.
"Kyle Petty's team is night and day different compared to last year. Kyle has been very consistent. He's brought on Robin Pemberton and a new engine program, and they're working hard on consistency. Kyle's leading the charge, and they're getting better each week. I wouldn't be surprised to see them win a race in the second half.
"Since winning the Daytona 500, the 22 hasn't had any luck at all. They've had plenty of mechanical failures, and that's too bad because that's really a button-up team. Bill Davis is a real team leader. He's a smart guy, and I really like his style.
"You don't win the Daytona 500 by mistake or luck. They earned it, and I think they'll win again this season.
"We'll race the Intrepid R/T again next season. We're one and a half years old, and we're not embarrassing ourselves. In fact, we're pretty proud of where the program is right now. We started from zero in 2000 and made some pretty significant gains. The gains we make now won't be that big. Ted Flack is looking for horsepower gains of one or two. We're looking for downforce and drag counts of one or two.
"It's been a great season so far, and we're really not sure where it'll go from here. I guess we're used to being in first place. Ward led the standings after Daytona and Sterling has led it since then. That's almost a victory in its own right. I hope the 40 team can take it all the way to the end. It's hard to win a championship with just luck, but you need a little of it to go along with everything else. I think Sterling and his team have everything else in place. Now if they can just get a little luck to go along with it, they'll be in good shape."