BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Dawsonville, Ga., has won seven races and six poles at Michigan International Speedway. In 46 starts at the two-mile oval in...
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Dawsonville, Ga., has won seven races and six poles at Michigan International Speedway. In 46 starts at the two-mile oval in the Irish Hills of Michigan, Elliott has 16 top fives and 27 top 10s. He swept both events at Michigan in '85 and '86 and won six of eight from 1984-87.
"I kind of had it figured out back then. I kind of lost the handle a little bit this day and time. Back then I ran a different type chassis. I ran a Banjo (Matthews) rear steer. I had it figured out. It seemed to work. I had it set up for that particular race track and everybody else was chasing me. Now that everything has changed and everything has gone to the basic front steer type car of what everybody is running today... Banjo was pretty smart and now that he's not still in business everybody had to reinvent the wheel. I've just not got it figured back out yet. I've had some real good runs up there the past several years. I finished second up there to Ernie Irvan when he came back and won. I've run really well the last several years and always something goofy happens."
COMMENT ON 2001 SO FAR WITH DODGE
"It's been pretty disappointing in some ways. We just can't get on anything going in the right direction. It seems like we're either off a little bit or we get caught up in something. We've had some little odds and ends problems here and there with either this or that. We just not been able to come across and do what we need to do."
DO YOU DRIVE DIFFERENTLY AT MICHIGAN NOW?
"Not really. The race track has pretty much stood on its own. Back then, we ran the bias-ply tires. Now we strictly run the radials. Radials have a little different characteristic, a little different setup characteristic. It seems like if you've got a handle on a certain deal and they change something, it's so easy to lose it. We see that so much this year. It took Jeff Gordon a year to get his squared away over where he was at in the past. Last year he had kind of an off year. Now he's back on and they're doing what they need to be doing. Still, as stuff changes it's hard to keep a handle on it."
HOW DO YOU TACKLE NEW TRACKS LIKE CHICAGO AND KANSAS CITY?
"I tested at Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. I did a Goodyear tire test there. It's pretty similar to some of the other places that I've been on. It's a little bit like Kentucky, a little bit like Vegas. You just use pretty much your basic knowledge from those places. It won't vary a great deal from that. That's basically what you do when you go into it. Chicago, I have no idea. We're supposed to go there and test near the end of the month. Then we'll (have) more of a handle what that race track is like when we get there."
DISCUSS THE NEW GOODYEAR TIRES
"I'm kind of like Jeff Burton and a couple of these guys. I'm kinda lost. This tire is quite a bit different. It takes a totally different setup. Just like Jeff was at Charlotte. He finally figured it out and won the race. He comes back to Dover and don't seem to have a handle on it. It seems like every week until you get a perfect handle on this deal, you're either hot or cold. There's very little in between. Like Gordon Sunday. He was on it and he pretty much blistered the field. He just did pretty much what he wanted to do. Michigan is one of those places if you get hooked up there, you can put everybody else away. You can really make them live hard. Remember what Dale Jarrett did there. Bobby Labonte did it. Several others pretty much ran away with it. You get get hooked up there, if you've got the power and aerodynamics, that's a place you can be dominant if you hit it all right."
DO YOU THINK EUROPEAN TEAMS WILL EVER TAKE AN INTEREST IN NASCAR?
"Well, I'm sure it's going to continue to change in the evolution of the sport because when I got in it, it was more of a regional, not money-oriented type deal. Now today, it's driven by money and a lot of other stuff. That tends to bring in a lot of different people for a lot of reasons. I think you'll continue to see the sport change, some for the good and some for the bad. That's just the way life goes."
CAN YOU NAME ONE AREA THAT'S KEEPING DODGE FROM WINNING?
"I don't think there's no one thing. I think it's just a combination of a lot of little things. As far as we're concerned, I don't know that we're getting the full potential out of the car. I think there's more there to be gotten. I think they're going to have to get some weight off some places with their motor stuff. I think their motor combinations are going to have to come together a little bit better. Probably aero balance, we need to get just a little better. It's just several little things. The teams that are beating you now are the ones that's been winning. That's the ones that are going to be hard to beat regardless. Whenever they come in and have a good day, you just look that much worse, even if you have a good day."
IS MICHIGAN A ONE-GROOVE TRACK?
"It's tend to have gone that way. I think with what we've got into today, we've put so much downforce in these cars that you get around any other car and you can't run. That's the problem I see. Yeah, we've made the cars more comfortable, but if you've got 300 pounds of downforce on the nose and you get behind another car and you're set up to run by yourself, how are you going to handle behind someone else? It's the same thing I think the Indy cars experienced this year. You put so much downforce in the cars and you can't race. If you come back and you have no downforce in the nose when you get behind somebody, it's going to affect the car less than if it had 300 or 400 or 500 pounds of downforce. These cars are generating more downforce they ever have in the past. Now people are getting the cars set up aerodynamically where they're at their optimum heights and they're getting them set up on the race tracks for that and it's bringing this deal to another evolution. That's what I think is going in the wrong direction, but that's only my opinion."
DO YOU THINK NASCAR WILL GO ALONG WITH REDUCING DODGE ENGINE WEIGHT?
"I don't know what NASCAR is going to do right now. Right now I think we're going to have to get our heads together and figure out exactly what we want and go submit it and see what happens."
HAS IT TAKEN A TOLL ON RAY OVERSEEING THE ENTIRE DODGE PROGRAM?
"Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind. I've been there. I've rode this horse many a day for the last six years. I'm going to tell you what. People don't realize how well we ran on the amount of money we got. I think McDonald's ought to be proud over what we've done over the past six years with the kind of money they spent, at least with us. I think the money we generated back for them through whatever and the performance on the race track, yeah, we didn't win any races but I still think we ran well for the type of environment we're in. Looking on Ray's side, he's got his hands full. Coming out building as much as he's trying to build, starting a motor deal, helping Dodge getting their whole program kicked off, submitting everything to NASCAR, everything along those lines. Marketing, licensing, all that stuff, he can't do it all. One person can't do it all. It takes year to evolve into whatever it takes to make all this work, and yes, it does take away. If somebody says it don't, then they're telling you something wrong.
"With all the rule changes and everything else, NASCAR pretty much put a nail in your coffin. Every time they make a rule change, you just don't realize how much it costs at the end of the day to overcome it. I agree some of it is necessary and we need to keep going through this evolution. But from an independent guy that don't have umpteen car dealerships or several other businesses, it makes it tough. It's a tough balance to balance through all this deal. I don't know what the answer is."
DISCUSS THE MUHAMMAD ALI PAINT SCHEME FOR MICHIGAN
"It's a great promotion. It's Dodge's diversity program and from my standpoint it's whatever it takes to help this sport, to get more people involved and interested in it or at least turn on the television and watch it. That's a part of what we're trying to do, build and grow NASCAR."
WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF ONE-ROUND QUALIFYING FORMAT?
"Oh, I love it. To get qualifying done and out of the way, one round is plenty. If you have a bad day, that's tough. If you go in there and you've got everything right... For the most part, we've qualified well all year. I love it. I think it's a great format. I don't know why we need two or three rounds of qualifying."
WHAT MAKES MICHIGAN A SPECIAL TRACK?
"Michigan is kind of a like a super speedway, more intermediate more than other places. It's got gradual corners. Aero plays a part. Motor plays a part. You've got to have the full combination. I think that's what we did the years we ran so well there. We had a good aero package, a good balance package, a good chassis package. Ernie (brother Elliott) built some really good motors. At that point in time, we were really focused on what we were doing. I think all that put it together. I enjoy Michigan. It's the type of race track you can go and race. If you want to run low or high, you can do whatever you want to do there and set your car up accordingly."
RAY EVERNHAM (Owner Evernham Motorsports Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/Ts with drivers Casey Atwood and Bill Elliott)
"I can't say across the board everything hasn't gone like we'd planned. Probably our finishes are the only thing that hasn't really gone as we'd planned. I actually feel like some of the team structure and systems and equipment that we have in place might be a little ahead of where I planned to be at this point, but we just haven't been able to turn that into on track finishes. On one side of things, I'm very pleased with the teams' progress and the way the guys are working and the quality of the cars they're building. On the other side of things, we've missed it and missed some opportunities at the race track. A lot of other people have, too. Obviously we're struggling with some setups. We about had it figured out with the bump rubber thing and now NASCAR has taken the bump rubbers away and we're going back to try to figure this out. It's going to take us a little bit of time."
WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF THE POSSIBLE ONE-ENGINE RULE FOR NHIS?
"I their idea is good. I agree with a lot of things NASCAR wants to do. Sometimes I don't agree with the way they implement them. Sometimes if they're not really implemented properly it doesn't really save you any money. This engine thing, down the road, it probably is a good thing. Probably you ought to give the guys a little bit more notice than New Hampshire. They've got to write some more rules or do a little bit more thinking about it because if a guy cares more about getting into a race than he does finishing a race... If you're just going to get in a race and run as far as you can before you blow up, then a guy is just going to come with a qualifier and some other guys that put motors in that would have been capable of running the whole race are going to end up going home, so that's something that they're really going to have to think about. I don't think they're looking at it for some of the 500-mile races. I think they're looking at it mostly for the short track stuff. It's been done. I know people have gone the whole way on restrictor-plate engines for sure, but you might be able to do it for a two-day show at Talladega. I don't know that you could do it for the Daytona 500, but you could certainly do it at Martinsville and Bristol and places like that because we used to do it.
"The big glitch in the deal is a lot of sponsorships are if you don't make the race you have to pay money back. If you're looking at making the race and then blowing up and not having to pay money back or you've got to make that race, then you're going to go there with a motor that's going to get you in the race and might not live for the race but at least you're in. That's my concern. I agree with what they're trying to do. I want to see how they're looking at making it so it's fair for everybody. They've got to start it sometime, but I hope they're going to have a good system in place so it does what they want. I agree with a lot of things they want to do. I just don't think they implement them sometimes in the best way. Like this bump rubber thing. They take the bump rubbers away and the people that have more money and build their own cars, all they did was raise the snouts on the cars and it leaves the rest of us not being able to run the cars as soft as they are. Their intent was good, but by the same token, they've got to make sure there's no way around it because the person who has the most money and most time is going to find a way around it."
IS HANDLING OR HORSEPOWER MORE IMPORTANT AT MICHIGAN?
"You need horsepower, but you've also got to handle. Most of the tracks we go to, certainly the percentages move back and forth. At Michigan, you need good horsepower and good aerodynamics. If your car is handling OK, you're all right. If you had a terrible handling car, you'd have to get off the gas. At Michigan, you're looking at horsepower and aerodynamics as probably the two key things."
IS NASCAR PHASING OUT THE SMALL TEAMS?
"I don't think NASCAR wants it to go that way or intended it to go that way, but it takes a tremendous amount of money to do this, a tremendous amount. Sponsorship right now is probably three or four times what it was when I came into this sport in 1993. The people who are trying to make their living and do it just off of sponsorship are not going to be able to compete. You end up having to spend much more money than you're bringing in, even with sponsorship. If you don't have the support of another business or wealthy people or factory help or something, I don't know how you could do it. There's no way in the world I could survive if Dodge wasn't behind this program."
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE TRYING TO BREAK INTO NASCAR?
"I'd tell him to learn as much as he could about his profession because the one good thing about NASCAR.... Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt and people like that are naturally talented, but if you're willing to work hard, you don't have to be God-gifted to make it in this sport. You can do it with real hard work and learning your business. I certainly really push kids to get as much education as they can. If it's not college, then it's tech school or trade school or whatever. Even NASCAR's got some school they're starting down here, but you've got to learn everything you can about your business. The best way to start is in a local level and just keep working your way up. It's no different than playing Pop Warner football and then on to high school and college and hopefully the pros. You can do that here, and the good thing about NASCAR or racing in general, it's something that can be learned. You don't have to be born with the natural ability."
COMMENT ON PROGRESS OF PIT CREW COACH TERRA FLYNN
"He's been doing good. He's doing a good job, but it takes awhile to learn this business. He's still a little bit overwhelmed with what we do. He's going to be real good. He has the personality. He has the tools. What he's got to get is the experience, and we've just got to be patient while he gets that. It's no different than Casey being a rookie in the seat. Casey's got a lot of talent, but he's got an awful lot to learn. So does Terra. If you've got a guy that's willing to put in the effort and has the tools, he's going to be a good guy."
WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO PRODUCE BETTER FINISHES?
"What we're working on right now is trying to figure out this tire and body attitude thing. We've been missing on the chassis setup and that's what we've got to get. Right now we're working hard trying to figure out what our chassis wants for springs based on our aerodynamic balance of the race car. That's the piece we're missing. The guys have done a great job in the engine shop. The guys are putting the cars together good. We're just missing that balance at the race track. I think we had some good cars a couple of times and missed some opportunities because of mechanical problems or crashes, but we just haven't been able to put it all together on the same day. Right now, the biggest thing we're working on is getting the spring-shock combination and aero balance where we want it to be. Everybody was ahead of us on bump rubbers. We spent all our time trying to figure out the bump rubber thing. We were getting closer with it. That's gone now and we've got to go back to work and find that balance again."
HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT SEEING BOTH OF YOUR CARS IN MISHAPS AT DOVER?
"When you're up there and you see one car get crashed, and you're thinking, 'oh boy.' Then you see the other one get crashed right behind it... It was hard, but this is something I've made a long term commitment to do. I knew it was going to be hard. I didn't expect it to be this hard, but you've got to be tough. You've got to believe. I'm trying to keep my eye on the long term goal. I know that I can accomplish this with the people I have. We've just got to ride it out. That's not to say that once in awhile you're not going to get your nose bloody. We got our nose bloody, but we're a new team. We've done an awful lot in a short period of time. I told the guys yesterday, you don't lose until you quit. I don't plan on quitting. We're going to keep fighting. That doesn't mean we're going to go back next week and win Michigan and go on and win Sears Point or Pocono. We're going to try, and we're going to keep shooting for those top 10s. My goals from the beginning of the season were to have Casey in the top 25 in points and Bill in the top 15 in points and Bill being competitive, challenging for wins. Those goals are still achievable. We've just got to keep working.
"I think it (second time around at various tracks) will help Casey more than it will help Bill. The big thing we need right now is just time. We have been building cars so fast and trying to get people to work together, we haven't really had a lot of time to analyze the information we have. If there were four weeks to get ready for Michigan, I'd say we'd be ready. If we ran Michigan this week and ran it again next week, I don't think the second time would be as big of a help to us as a little bit of time in between."