JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Andretti, a 39-year-old driver from Indianapolis, Ind., will start 24th in Sunday's 43-car field. A two-time winner in 271 starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit, Andretti ranks 36th in...
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Andretti, a 39-year-old driver from Indianapolis, Ind., will start 24th in Sunday's 43-car field. A two-time winner in 271 starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit, Andretti ranks 36th in the 2002 standings with a best finish of 15th this season. Andretti has driven for Petty Enterprises since 1998.
"A couple of years ago here we led the race early and a caution flag came out. We pitted and went to the back. We came out last and then we were just like everybody else. Aero is a big thing here, and track position is like everywhere else, critical, but here unlike the short tracks, you've got to handle. If you get in the middle of the pack even the really good cars go average. If you get the right track position, you can make an average car better.
"Typically, you get really tight here. Some people say when you change two tires you get loose. Some people say when you change two tires you get tight. I guess it depends on which two tires you change. If it's going to put you in the lead, under the right circumstances, you might be able to change two tires. Normally you'd want to change all four.
"Kyle has had a real good year. He's qualifying good and he's racing good. He's staying away from the melees and he's also not having the problems that usually haunt Kyle. I don't know if he sent his problems to me or if I already had 'em. Things are not always working for him, but they're not working against him so much anymore.
"We all still have to get better. Every position has to get stronger as we shore up weak places. Everybody has got to keep an open mind so we can get back to where we were three years ago. We're probably not back there yet. It's going to take some time, but with Robin Pemberton and the engine program, it's definitely coming quicker.
"You need a bunch of engine everywhere. People look at Martinsville or road races and think you don't need a lot of horsepower, but you need a good engine everywhere. I think for years Robert Yates proved that. You can't make a car with an average engine a great car. If you've got a good engine, you can make it a great car. I think a great engine will make an average car good. If you've got both sides good, then your chances of running up front are much, much better. As the engine program moves up, the other program needs to step up. I think it's hard to measure that stuff.
"Sometimes you come to a track and you've got a better plan. We come to California only a once a year and we've only been here five times. You're still learning the race track. Not many people come this far to test. The cost and time and schedule prevents that. California is just a flat Michigan to me. That's the way it feels to me and that's the way it drives for me. That's the direction and balance of the car goes, too. You could repave this track and it still wouldn't have much grip. It's not like repaving a higher banked track where you'd have more grip.
"I got to see an old friend of mine out here yesterday that I haven't seen in a long time. His name is Jack Gardner. I used to drive a sprint car for him, and I lived with him and his family for awhile. He's from Orange County. They own a plumbing company, and they're really good people. It was really good to see him. He spent the better part of the day with us, and he's coming back today. I drove for him almost a full season one year. This was right before I started racing Indy cars. That actually got me my Indy car ride. They love to race, and they do anything they can to win. They quit racing for awhile, now they're running sprint cars again. They're running tonight. I'd love to go, but I'd be out late.
"Jack came here the first year we ran, and he came to Sears Point once. He spent 30 minutes talking to The King yesterday. I see The King more lately. I've seen him more the last couple of weeks than I have the past year. Kyle's his son, and you have to feel good when things are going right for your son.
"I didn't give up on the Indy ride this year. Kyle and I sat down and talked and decided we'd wait and talk about it in the future. It's disappointing, but it's not like I've done it the last six or seven years. I'm not learning to deal with it any better, especially when you could almost see it and then it goes away. There were some really good opportunities.
"This is probably going to be one of the most competitive 500s they've ever had. Last year the field was as tight as it's ever been. This year they're going to have even more people and more funded teams. It would be an unbelievable year to go back. The pressure would be on, just to qualify for it. It always is every year, but some years are easier than others. Now it's going to be real difficult. If you do the sleepless nights in Winston Cup then you can do the sleepless nights in the month of May.
"I ran both races in '94. Actually, I think I was well prepared for it in '94, but nowhere near as prepared for it as I would be today. Back then I wasn't training much. For the last eight years, I've been with a trainer. I train every day I'm not at the track, and that means every day in the winter. I go to Indy to see the trainer, and he's taught me a lot. I actually sent him over to Jeff Burton once. I do cardio, then weights, cardio then weights.
"I don't see Indy as being something the last time I did it was '94. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I don't think it is. We got pretty close this year.
"The results this season have been disappointing. We've run better than we've finished. We've had some great cars and we've had some not so good cars. We finish every time we have the not so good cars. If we've got really good cars, we don't finish. I'm discouraged. I'd like to swap around some of those situations. I'd take the motor out of the Martinsville car and put it in the Vegas car. We just don't have engine failures. The worst that car was going to finish at Martinsville was in the top 10. I felt like it was capable of the top five, and if you've got a top five car in this series, you're capable of winning. You've just got to get yourself in the right position.
"I don't know what kind of car we have here, but we're going to five out pretty soon. Hopefully, it'll be a good car that gets a good finish."
CASEY ATWOOD (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Atwood, a 21-year-old driver from Nashville, Tenn., will start 12th in Sunday's 43-car field. Atwood posted the fastest qualifying speed by a Dodge, and it was also his best qualifying effort of the season.
"We were a little bit off in practice this morning, but the car is there. We've just got to find where we need to be. We're just a little bit off, but we're making a lot of changes now to make it a little bit better. It's so hard to pass at these kind of tracks because you get so aero tight behind people. It's hard to run in a group. It's hard to pass, and track position means a lot at a place like this. We've got a pretty good starting position. I hope we can just keep it there. If we get back in the pack, it's going to be hard to make it up.
"We've been working really hard. We got behind a little bit at the beginning of the season on some of our stuff. I feel like it's just now coming around. This is a good car. It's a brand new car with a brand new body, and I think it's pretty good.
"I just bought a house, and I hope I'll get to move into it in a couple of weeks. I've got to buy everything for it. I've got some incentives now. I've got to run better because I've got a lot of stuff to buy.
"The same group is up there every time you look. I just hope to become one of them soon. We're just creeping up on it right now. We haven't had much luck this year. We've been turning it around ever since Bristol I feel like. We've had pretty decent cars, but we get caught up in wrecks and different stuff has happened on pit stops, but I feel like our race cars are getting pretty good.
"Red Dog (crew chief Buddy Barnes) is on the radio with me now, and it's getting pretty good. We got behind with some people that were in place at the beginning of the season. Red Dog is trying to fix the problems we had, and it ain't easy to come in in the middle of the season and make changes. It's easier to get all that stuff done during the off season and we didn't have that luxury. He's got a hard job, and he's doing pretty good so far. We're not going to turn it around over night. Getting all the guys together on the team and getting the right people in place takes a little while. We'll get it. Last year on the 19, it took us about the whole season before we started running good over there. Hopefully, we'll get it a little quicker over here.
"We've just got to keep getting experience as a team. Once we do that, we'll be all right. If we could finish top 15 Sunday, it would be nice. We haven't had a top 15 this season. Anything ahead of that would be a bonus."
COMMENT ON SENDING DARRELL WALTRIP A GOOD LUCK CHARM
"Darrell was always my favorite driver. It was the year he got hurt in Daytona and broke his legs and stuff. The year after that at Daytona, I always wore a little guardian angel pin on my race suit when I drove go-karts. I wrote him a letter and told him to wear the pin at Daytona to keep him safe and that when I grew up I wanted to drive for him if he was ever a car owner. I was just a kid, maybe 10 or 11. Darrell didn't know who I was back then. I was just a kid racing go-karts. I think he just found the letter a year ago. He was looking through some boxes and scrapbooks or something. He brought it to Charlotte and showed it to me. I remember doing it. Darrell was from the same town as I was from, and I guess that's how it started. I just admired the way he was on TV. I'd always watch him. When I first started go-karts I was No. 17. When I moved up to cars, there was always already a No. 17. I always liked that number. That was my number and nobody showed up with it in go-karts."