BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid) NOTE: Elliott, a 16-time Grand Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver, withdrew his name from the 2003 ballot today. "I want to announce formally that I'm gracefully retiring my name ...
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid)
NOTE: Elliott, a 16-time Grand Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver, withdrew his name from the 2003 ballot today.
"I want to announce formally that I'm gracefully retiring my name from most popular driver. The fans have been fantastic, but I feel like I've been in the spotlight enough, and it's time for me to step back and see what's going on around me. I kind of wanted to do it last year, but things didn't work out. Being the way things turned around, the fans have been great. I don't know if I could ever repay those folks for the dedication they've given me. I'm going to sit back and see what the new names come up to be.
"I don't know what drives them or motivates them. When I came along in my career back in the early 80s several guys were retiring from the sport - Pearson, Yarborough, Petty - looking at that time period and the fan base I acquired then. I was running the other brand of car and was kind of a minority on that side of the deal. I came out of nowhere and I wasn't a name that was recognized. A lot of fans supported me, and I don't know what I can say to ever describe it. I was just one of the few and fortunate that had as long and good of a career as I've had. Even if it ended today, I've had a great career and a great following behind me, not only with trophies for the wins but trophies for the most popular driver. It's something I'll cherish the rest of my life.
"It'll never be broken with the current rules for here and Talladega (making up two laps under green in 1985 in the Winston 500). We ran unrestricted back then. You had probably 10 cars capable of winning the race and a lot of strokers that were just there kinda making laps. Now you've got 43 plus teams capable of winning that kind of race. If you fall down a lap now you find yourself in a tough position because you're going to be hard-pressed to find somebody to help you. Plus, you've got to have a decent car to get back on the lead lap.
"Everybody puts a lot of effort into the Daytona 500. Everybody wants to run well here and everybody wants to win here. This is one of those events you want to have on your resume down the road, from car owner to driver to crew chief to crew member. It hasn't been a factor to the way it played out at the end of the year. Last year Tony Stewart finished last in the Daytona 500 and ended up winning the championship, but that's one of the few races he had problems in.
"You saw Ward come in last year and win the Daytona 500 and then he struggled to midseason. I don't know if it puts bad luck on you or what it does, but it seems like with certain people it tends to do that. Sometimes you get up there and have so much attention and so much goes on around you that you forget about the racing part of it.
"You travel around the country a lot and get to know people in other areas. You get to be good friends with them and all of a sudden that snowballs into another friend and another friend. You've got so many fans in so many places that it's hard to spend time with all of them. I've been very fortunate. I've not forgotten where I came from. I've not forgotten how I got here, and I've not forgotten how hard I've worked to get here. I think the fans have not only seen that in myself but also in the entity of my family that created the race team.
"I don't like to be in the limelight. I never have. It's gratifying. It's great. I can't put it into words. I just feel like it's the right time, and it's the right time for me (to withdraw from driver of the year voting).
"Ray has moved some people around within the team. We've had some guys from the 9 car go over to the 19 car, and we're trying to make that work closer together. Jeremy is a good driver, a good kid. He's definitely got a good future, but we've got to work together. I think any of these multi-car teams, the more success they get, the more they work together. They use all the resources and all the tools to make the team work better together week in and week out. That's where we've got to be better.
"I'm very fortunate to be where I'm at. I've been here a lot. I've seen a lot of things and I've won some races along the way. I'm just happy with where I'm at. Actually the first race I ran down here was the Fourth of July race in 1976. It was back and forth after that. I made a race, I missed a race. Finally I started running all of them.
"I know we've got more work to do. We're trying to get the cars to drive as good as they can and with the smaller fuel cells that'll require a stop a little bit shorter, and that will let the cars that get a little ill-handling if they had to go the full distance, closer together. The pit stop is going to be critical if it goes full green tomorrow. That'll be one side of the coin, and then you don't want to have any problems or make any mistakes.
"It's up to the fans, and I don't want to look at it like I'm giving somebody else a chance. That's not what I'm trying to say. I just feel like I've been there enough times. I'm not going to drive forever, and I look at it from the standpoint that I've won it 16 times.
"It just seemed like I came along at the right time. It was a family-run team. If I started today like I did in the 70s, I'd never make it. We didn't have the money or the resources but we worked hard and got to the next level. Everybody who has ever seen that kinda puts themselves in the same boat. If you work hard and do everything right, you can get to the next level.
"I'll have to commend NASCAR and the guys who are studying this (safety). They've given us more information and answered a lot of questions, questions I had a long time ago and didn't know where to go to get the answers. We have a better understanding of what we can, what we can do inside the car to make it better. We're understanding things we can do in the future, even up to the carbon monoxide situation of Rick Mast. There are always situations I feel we can gain on. I do feel like in the last two years that's the biggest thing we've gained on."