Elliott Sadler, Mike Harmon Interview

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES DAYTONA 500, February 8, 1999 Daytona International Speedway (NASCAR WINSTON CUP ROOKIE PRESS CONFERENCE, 2/8/99) There are two Ford drivers competing for the Raybestos NASCAR Winston Cup ...

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES DAYTONA 500, February 8, 1999 Daytona International Speedway

(NASCAR WINSTON CUP ROOKIE PRESS CONFERENCE, 2/8/99)

There are two Ford drivers competing for the Raybestos NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 21 Citgo Taurus, and Mike Harmon, driver of the No. 90 Dunlavey Racing Taurus, will try to follow in the footsteps of Kenny Irwin, who captured Rookie of the Year honors last year in the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus. This year's contenders took part in a press conference in the Benny Kahn Infield Media Center Monday afternoon.

ELLIOTT SADLER -21- Citgo Taurus -- WHAT CONCERNS DO YOU HAVE HERE AS A ROOKIE? "It's pretty tough to get up there and run with those guys, but you don't want to do anything stupid to get yourself in trouble and get any of these guys running for the Winston Cup championship in trouble. It's pretty good to come in here to Daytona, but it might be a little bit unfair to us rookies. It's not like we've had any warm-up games or anything like that. We feel like we're in the basketball playoffs and we're playing the Chicago Bulls in the first game. I mean, everybody's got their best stuff here at Daytona, so that makes it pretty tough on us. But all of us are pretty lucky to have great teams on our sides and, hopefully, we'll just be able to stay out of trouble, learn as much as we can and move on."

IS THERE PRESSURE DRIVING FOR A TEAM WITH THE HISTORY OF THE WOOD BROTHERS? "There is a lot of pressure. If you look at who drove the Wood Brothers in the past, it's like the who's who of NASCAR racing. I feel like an apple right now in a basket full of oranges. I'm kind of new at this deal, but those guys have really bent over backwards for me. They're not putting any added pressure on myself and neither is Citgo. They've gone and got a lot of good resources like veteran crew chief Mike Beam to try to make my life a little easier this year and, yes, there is a lot of pressure. There are a lot of fans who follow that 21 Wood Brothers car and I want to try and do what I can to keep that car as respectable as it needs to be and, hopefully, get some pretty good finishes this year for everybody on the whole team."

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THOSE GREAT DRIVERS WHO HAVE BEEN WITH THE WOOD BROTHERS? "I feel this year is probably one of the biggest pressure years I was gonna have anyway. No matter what team you come into with (in Winston Cup) it's gonna be tough on you. Yes, it does add a little bit to the equation when you do run for the Wood Brothers and the success they've had in the past, especially with David Pearson and Cale Yarborough and Neil Bonnett, Dale Jarrett, A.J. Foyt and Curtis Turner. You've got a bunch of great drivers who have driven for this team and the way I look at it is in a positive way. Hey, I'm a rookie coming into the Winston Cup Series the first time, I need an experienced race team to help me get through the year and that's the way I look at it. These guys got a lot of stability on their side. They've got a lot of family members who work in the shop. They're not going anywhere and I think that's something that makes a great race team these days is the stability and the things you can have. I think that will really help me and shorten my learning curve a lot and make me a better race car driver, hopefully, a heckuva a lot quicker also."

DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE GOOD ENOUGH EQUIPMENT TO COMPETE WITH THE TOP TEAMS? "We have sat down and talked about that. Those guys have brought in Mike Beam, a pretty experienced crew chief. They've gone out and got chassis dynos, they've hired Roush with now a team of Roush people who do all our motor stuff and aerodynamic packages and helping us with that area. So, yes, the Wood Brothers have looked at themselves and they've gone back and spent a lot of money and bent over backwards to take all of that out of the equation. We're building 11 brand new race cars this year, so they're nothing to sneeze at by no means. They feel like maybe they did get a little bit behind, they weren't sure, but they wanted to take that out of the equation this year and, hopefully, we'll be able to do that."

DO YOU FEEL NASCAR IS LOOKING FOR THE NEXT JEFF GORDON. IS THERE PRESSURE IN THAT ASPECT? "Personally, I don't think there will ever be another Jeff Gordon to be honest with you because you've gotta have so many of the things go right and the great things went right for Gordon as far as having great teammates, a great crew chief like Ray Evernham and a great company like Hendrick. It's tough. I think the competition in NASCAR is growing each and every year and it's tougher for a young person to come in, I think, now than when it was 10 years ago in the Winston Cup. It's tough on us and, yes, I think NASCAR puts a lot of emphasis on maybe this guy might be the next Jeff Gordon or this guy or this guy because what's wrong with that? I think this sport needs young people coming into the sport these days. I remember seven or eight years ago people were wondering when the next Earnhardt was coming or the next Bill Elliott or the next Richard Petty. Who was gonna take care of the series when those guys are ready to retire? I think if you look at the great rookie class I think we've got here, and with Dale Little E and Matt Kenseth coming up next year, you've got a lot of good young talent coming in. There is a lot of good young talent coming in that's making this sport healthy and maybe one of us will luck out and be the next Jeff Gordon."

DO YOU THINK THERE'S A FUTURE NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION IN THIS GROUP OF ROOKIES? "I really do think so. I think between us this year and the guys coming in next year that one of us or, hopefully, all of us will look up one day and be Winston Cup champion. I think there's an 80 percent chance that one of us will because I think we all have great futures ahead of ourselves. We're all pretty young and we're all in our twenties. You've got so many experienced race teams out there now that really we were already got ourselves aligned with and the guys coming next year got themselves aligned, so that really helps and shortens our learning curve up a lot. Hopefully, we'll all be successful and have a great time racing against each other in the future."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR IS GETTING YOUNGER? "It is. I remember, I think two years ago I was 21 years old and one of the youngest guys out there and then last year I was 22 years old racing the Busch Series and you've got Casey Atwood who is 19 and Kevin Grubb and Wayne Grubb, a lot of young guys. I think it is getting younger. I think the one who really opened the door to that was Jeff Gordon. I think he opened the door for a lot of young people. It used to be that you didn't see any young people really get into Winston Cup until later on in their thirties and stuff like that. He came in and did such a great job that car owners are willing to take that chance on a young driver that they feel they can mold into the type of race car driver they want to represent their team, and I think that's why you see it getting younger and younger and younger. I think you're still gonna see it going that way. If you walk into that Busch garage right now I bet you there are 12-15 guys under 23 years old that have great race cars under them, so I'm glad to see it happen and I think that's gonna help keep this NASCAR sport a healthy one."

DID IT ENCOURAGE YOU TO SEE GORDON DO WHAT HE DID AT A YOUNG AGE? "I really pulled for him a lot when he first came on the scene and doing the things he could do at that age. I was happy to see it, but it also told other people and told yourself deep inside that if a young guy can really go into Winston Cup and do the things he's doing, maybe the chance will come for me one day and maybe I'll be able to do something close to the same thing or have the same opportunities he's had. We all like pulling for each other. We like racing with each other. We have a great time doing it and we're just looking forward to hopefully doing it for a long time."

MIKE HARMON -90- Donlavey Racing Taurus -- WHAT CONCERNS DO YOU HAVE HERE AS A ROOKIE? "We're coming in here walking lightly wanting to gain the respect of the drivers so they'll run with us and be comfortable with us. We're just taking a conservative approach and earning everybody's approach. I feel like that's the best thing to do at this point."

WHAT CAN YOU CONCIOUSLY DO TO GAIN RESPECT OF THE GUYS IN THE GARAGE? "You don't want to take any chances that you shouldn't at this point. We're out here racing and we want them to respect us as well. You earn that, you don't just get it. We've all been veterans in other series and when the rookies came in I would help them as much as I could and maybe I'd give them a little more room than normal to run with. But you can't roll over. You've gotta stand your ground, but there's a fine line there and as a racer we understand it."

WHAT'S THE CURRENT SITUATION WITH YOUR SPONSOR BIG DADDY'S? "Big Daddy's has agreed to be our sponsor for the year and right now we're dotting the 'i's' and crossing the 't's' and, hopefully, before the 125 race we'll have everything where it needs to be. No, Big Daddy's is not out. No, I'm not out of the car. We're here to run Daytona and, if we need some help, we'll ask a veteran driver to give us help. Through the years I've been in a bunch of different race cars trying to get his car where it needs to be. It's a time-saver deal. Lake Speed came to Montgomery, Alabama one time and couldn't get his car going. He saw me running at Concord a week before and he asked me to drive his car and tell him what I thought. I was proud of that fact, but that's just the way this deal works. One story gets told and by the time it gets three times down the road it's different, but we're doing our best. We're focusing on the race. We're at Daytona International Speedway getting ready to run the Daytona 500. We're disappointed in our qualifying run, but we ran exactly what we expected with the qualifying package we've got. We went out very conservative with our race setup this morning and we hung on. We didn't get in any trouble, so maybe we did that right. We felt comfortable with a conservative setup. We were down maybe 100 rpm of what we need to be running in the draft, but I tucked right onto the 22 car and he couldn't pull away from me. We stayed right there and it's definitely not their first time here. Everything is going a lot better the last couple of days. We want to stay conservative, but we're here to race and do the best we can."

THIS IS A LONG WAY FROM THE SMALL TRACKS OF ALABAMA? "It's definitely a long ways and the road has definitely been rocky along the way but I've had fun. I've won lots and lots of races and, of course, we've had lots of bad days also but that's the deal. We keep scratching and we're gonna keep scratching until we get to where we need to be and then we're still gonna keep scratching. I'm looking forward to getting my feet on the ground here. Everybody knows we need to step the racing up in Alabama and I want to get my situation secured here and I want to get some of the guys I've already chosen a chance to run my Late Model cars. But right now the main focus is Winston Cup. I've worked all my life to be here and I'm gonna do everything I can to stay here."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Casey Atwood , Kevin Grubb , Mike Harmon , Richard Petty , Ray Evernham , Elliott Sadler , A.J. Foyt , Cale Yarborough