Ford Daytona Friday Practice

It's been nearly three months since the last NASCAR Winston Cup race and a number of Ford teams have made personnel and facility changes to their operation. Following is a breakdown of what each team has done during the off-season in an attempt...

It's been nearly three months since the last NASCAR Winston Cup race and a number of Ford teams have made personnel and facility changes to their operation. Following is a breakdown of what each team has done during the off-season in an attempt to improve their performance in 2000.


Rusty made news during the off-season when it was announced he suffered a hairline fracture of his right shoulder blade after taking a fall on the ski slopes with his two sons...the accident, which occurred on Dec. 17, was not serious and he is back at full strength going into Speedweeks... Rusty tested the car at Daytona last month but struggled both days...his fastest lap was 186.227 (48.328 secs) on day two which was 14th-fastest... team announced that they have signed a three-year deal to continue running Ford Tauruses.


The biggest move for this team was trying to get the driver day after the '99 season finale in Atlanta, Martin underwent successful lumbar fusion surgery by Dr. Chuck Kollmer...Martin's condition was diagnosed as spondylolisthesis which meant part of the bone was broken in the back...that caused instability and allowed the bone below to slip...the slippage put pressure on the nerves and caused Martin's discomfort...he was forced to lay down for as much as 22 hours a day after the surgery...Greg Biffle tested the Valvoline Taurus at Talladega and Daytona, but Martin did go out for three short runs and a 45-minute drafting session on Jan. 21 during Ford's two-day Daytona test.


This will be Compton's first full year with Melling Racing after competing in three of the last four races in '99 -- Rockingham, Phoenix, Homestead... team named Jerry Pitts crew chief in January...Pitts had brief stints as crew chief last year for Bill Elliott and Hut Stricklin before that team disbanded... team has a new sponsor this season in Kodiak, which moved over from the No. 41 also moved into a new race shop during the off-season in Concord, has upgraded its program by adding a chassis-building operation in addition to hiring an engineer and five other fabricators and will have engines supplied by Ernie Elliott...Compton posted the fastest lap at Daytona testing this year for all teams with a mark of 187.911 mph (47.895 secs).


Brett Bodine continues to be an owner/driver as 2000 begins after his proposed sale to Richard Hilton fell through...despite that setback, Bodine still has the Ralphs Supermarket sponsorship and is ready to improve on his '99 season...hired Greg Ely as crew chief during the winter...Ely served in a similar role late last year with Ted Musgrave on the No. 75 team...Bodine will also be getting his motors from Ernie Elliott, switching over from Jack hired Dan Sutton as head fabricator and Cully Carraclough as chassis specialist.


There have been no major changes for the Mobil 1 team as Jeremy Mayfield and Peter Sospenzo prepare for their first full season together... this will be their first Daytona 500 as a driver-crew chief tandem after Sospenzo tookover the head duties at Charlotte last May...Mayfield had a good test at Daytona last month posting a speed of 186.908 (48.152 secs) on the first day of the two-day his teammate Rusty Wallace, Mayfield also signed a three-year extension to drive Ford Tauruses for car owner Michael Kranefuss.


Robby Gordon will be making his return to NASCAR Winston Cup racing with his own team...Team Gordon involves partners Mike Held and John Menard, who also worked with him in the CART Fed Ex Championship has formed a partnership with Irvan-Simo Racing and will be leasing all of that team's personnel and equipment for hired Fred Graves as crew chief in January, who formerly worked at Hendrick Motorsports...also hired Doug Louth, former Ford Racing and Vehicle Dynamics engineer, to head their engineering department...Peter Guild will build the team's motors.


Even though the Fenley-Moore Motorsports team is still searching for a full-time sponsor, they've hired a full-time driver in Derrike Cope... Cope drove once race for this team last season with that being at Charlotte in has retained Joey Knuckles as crew chief and has built an entire fleet of 2000 Tauruses at their race shop in Spartanburg, S.C.


Despite gaining the first pole of his NASCAR Winston Cup career in the final race of the '99 season, and posting a 25th-place finish in the standings, sponsor TV Guide opted not to return in 2000...despite that setback, things are still upbeat as the duo of Lepage and crew chief Pat Tryson look to build on their chemistry from a year ago when they placed 5th at Darlington and had a chance at the Winston No Bull 5 in plans on moving into its new race shop in Concord as early as March.


One of the leading contenders for rookie of the year honors, he has impressed everyone in his seven previous Winston Cup events...subbed for Bill Elliott in '98 at Dover and finished 6th and replaced an injured Bobby Labonte last year at Darlington and finished 10th before qualifying for five races with his own DeWalt team...Robbie Reiser will serve as crew chief, just as he did for Kenseth in the Busch is operating out of Roush's new facility in Concord, N.C. and sharing space with teammate Chad Little...besides his full-time Winston Cup effort, Kenseth will also compete in 20 Busch races.


The Wood Brothers will be celebrating their 50th year in NASCAR Winston Cup racing with high hopes...driver Elliott Sadler came on strong in the second half of his rookie season and finished 24th in the point hired Newt Moore, former crew chief with the No. 9 and No. 77 teams last season, as a shock engineer during the winter... Moore will also be in charge of the team's new satellite shop in Mooresville, N.C., where chassis will be built and bodies hung before being sent to the main shop in Stuart, Va.


Jimmy Spencer has a new sponsor and a new number in 2000...after R.J. Reynolds opted not to renew its sponsorship, the team changed numbers when Big Kmart came on board...the biggest change for the team came when car chief Larry Carter moved over to the No. 66 team to serve as teammate Darrell Waltrip's crew has also entered into an agreement with Robert Yates Racing and will have their motors to run in 2000...Steve Allen will be overseeing engines for the 26 and 66.


After six years as an owner/driver, Rudd closed down his operation to join Robert Yates as his full-time driver...crew chief Michael McSwain followed him from the former No. 10 team, along with eight other team members...there have been no departures from last year's 28 team, which still includes Raymond Fox, who served as interim crew chief the final month of the season...although Rudd has changed teams his surroundings will be familiar because Yates purchased his old race shop and plans call from the team to move in sometime later this month or early March...Rudd had the second-fastest speed at Daytona testing last month with at 187.699 mph (27.949 secs).


A couple of NASCAR Winston Cup veterans will be in charge of the new PPI Motorsports entry...Joe Garone, former crew chief for Bill Elliott in '98, was hired last year as team manager for Cal Wells while Doug Richert, who served as crew chief for Kenny Irwin last season in the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Ford, will handle similar duties for is currently working out of a temporary complex in Hickory, N.C. while a permanent facility in continues to undergo construction...Pruett had never been behind the wheel of a NASCAR Winston Cup car until he tested at Darlington one day after the CART season finale in California...has received testing help throughout the off-season from Ted Musgrave...came out of Daytona testing in good spirits as he posted the third-fastest lap of 187.465 mph (48.009 secs).


As Darrell Waltrip embarks on his Victory Tour this season, which will mark the end to a brilliant career, he has some new faces to help him try and get that 85th career win...Larry Carter has moved over from teammate Jimmy Spencer's team to take his first crack at being a NASCAR Winston Cup crew chief...had the fastest lap in draft practice during Ford's Daytona testing last month with a speed of 190.050 mph.


Wally Dallenbach hopes he's found a long-term home with Galaxy Motorsports and owner Darwin Oordt, who will be entering his first full year on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit after buying the team from Butch Mock midway through ' picked up Cartoon Network as its primary sponsor after Remington opted not to return...hired Wayne Orme as crew chief after he served a majority of last season in that role for Bill Elliott.


Robert Pressley comes to Daytona with a great deal of optimism, mostly because he has a new crew chief with a proven record...Ryan Pemberton has moved from the No. 36 team where he started that operation from scratch and turned it into a weekly contender for poles and victories...made his presence immediately felt at Ford's Talladega test in January when Pressley recorded the fastest time on the first day of a two-day test session at Talladega at 189.597 mph...backed that up by having the fifth-fastest time at Daytona testing at 187.036 mph (48.119 secs).


Now that Dale Jarrett has his first Winston Cup championship out of the way, he'll concentrate on trying to regain that form in 2000...crew chief Todd Parrott is back, but there have been some changes from last season most notably on the pit crew...five former Rainbow Warriors have moved from Jeff Gordon's team to Jarrett's, which has freed up some time for some of last year's crew...the new pit crew members are Barry Muse, Mike Trower, Kevin Gilman, Jeff Knight and Darren Jolly.


The 2000 season has already gotten off to a good start for car owner Junie Donlavey, who secured the Hills Brothers Coffee sponsorship last month for at least the first two races of the season...Ed Berrier will drive for the Richmond, Virginia-based team after he piloted the No. 90 Taurus four times in 1999...his best finish came in the season-finale in Atlanta when he finished 25th...besides being the car owner, Donlavey will also be handling crew chief duties during Speedweeks.


There have been a couple of off-season changes for Elliott, who has decided not to hire a crew chief...the 94 team will employ a crew chief by committee philosophy...Mike Ford, Kevin Cram and Troy Raker will make joint decisions on the car's setup each week...Cram was crew chief for Stacy Compton in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last season and will oversee production and direct communication...Ford, who was a suspension/brake specialist and jackman for Dale Jarrett last year, will be car chief while Raker, who worked last year as an engineer for Ricky Rudd, will oversee fuel strategy on race day...Elliott had only one day of testing at Daytona last month after missing one session with the flu, but made the most of it...posted the fourth-quickest lap of the entire two-day test at 187.313 mph (48.048 secs).


The biggest move for Chad Little and his team came during the off-season when they moved from their former shop in Mooresville, N.C. to a new facility in Concord, N.C. where they share space with new Roush Racing teammate Matt Kenseth...despite the move, team was busy over the winter building four new cars from the ground up...hired four new over-the-wall crewmen who will pit the car on race day (Robert Melton, Rodney Fetters, Nick Bailey and Scott Cluka)...Harry McMullen has been given added responsibilities as general manager for the 97 and 17 teams.


The 99 team made a couple of personnel moves that will change its look on race day...crew chief Frank Stoddard has decided not to continue going over the wall and changing front tires...he will concentrate solely on race strategy while Mark Armstrong, who changed tires for Rusty Wallace last year, has been hired to fill that void...Tony Enderly has also been hired to change rear tires, but other than that the most noticeable difference is a change in the paint scheme for Burton's Taurus.

DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- WHAT MOTIVATES YOU NOW? "Just the thrill of victory. It's got nothing to do with money, it's got to do with accumulating victories, major victories, and trying to add to our championship." HAVE THE DEMANDS ON YOUR TIME CHANGED A LOT SINCE WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? IS THAT WHY YOU SHAVED YOUR MOUSTACHE? "No, I didn't do it to try to stay away from anything or to try to fool anybody. The moustache deal is just something I wanted to try. As far as the obligations to the sponsor, I'm fully aware that there's a huge obligation for being a champion to our sponsors and I'm prepared to make the sacrifices. This is something that Kelley and I sat down with our kids and explained, 'Hey, this is gonna be a year that I'm gonna be gone a lot. There are gonna be a lot of things required of me.' They understood that because this is what I worked my life for, to get ourselves in this position, and, if nothing else, I want to be known as a champion that was really good for the sport and was able to oblige everyone that we could possibly oblige and do what we could to help increase awareness in the sport and help the sport continue to grow." HOW HAVE YOU BECOME A BETTER DRIVER HERE AT DAYTONA? "As far as me becoming a better driver, certainly I feel with more experience that I've become a better race driver, but, along with that as my equipment it's amazing how much better driver I became. You have to have the equipment and the people around you and Todd Parrott is a big reason for the success. He, Robert Yates and Doug Yates give me equipment week-in and week-out to go out and get the job done. As far as the Daytona 500 patience is what it's about. The first 400 miles are for show, to get yourself in position to see what everybody else has and to see what you have -- where your car is the best and what you can do. You use those last 100 miles to position yourself and try to get in the right spot so you can make the moves. If that means that your car works better out front, you've got to get yourself in the lead to try and make them pass you. If you feel like you've got a car capable of making a pass late in the race, you get yourself in a position to set someone up." WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR YOU TO JOIN YOU DAD AS A CHAMPION? HOW SPECIAL WAS THAT? "Very special. It's something that I knew was very special to my dad. This was something that I could kind of pay my dad back. Obviously, I couldn't pay him back with money or anything else, but a championship was something we could enjoy as father-son and knowing that there's only one other father-son team to do it is very, very special to us. It's kind of a thank you to my dad for all of the hard work and effort on his part." HAS HE GIVEN YOU ANY ADVICE ON HOW TO HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF TRYING TO REPEAT AS CHAMPION? "I think we've talked a little bit about it, but we have to do the same things. The first thing we can't do is lose sight of why we are here and that was because we won a championship and that's what we want to try to do again. Obviously, the first and foremost thing in my mind is getting our race car good and being able to concentrate on that. But we also have to make sure we take care of everyone's needs, again, to help this sport continue to grow so that it's something good for my son and others that come along." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HAVING A VETERAN TEAMMATE LIKE RICKY RUDD? "Ernie Irvan had a lot of experience and we did well as teammates, so I'm looking for those same type of scenarios with Ricky. He has winning experience and I'm really looking forward to working with him. The times that we've had so far at the test sessions have been great and I think Ricky and I are a lot of like. I think what we want is the opportunity to go out every week and race hard and know that we have the opportunity to win. Neither one of us are sitting here looking to pick up the paper and read our name in the headlines or anything, all we want to do is be able to go out and race. We've been asked the question as to who is gonna get the better engine or what are you gonna say if Ricky starts to out run you? I'm gonna be happy for Ricky if he can do that. He's a great guy and he's a credit to our sport. I would like to think that if either one of us do well that the other had a hand in making that happen." WHAT SEPARATES THIS SPORT FROM OTHERS AS FAR AS THE INCREASED INTEREST? "I think we definitely are one of the major sports. If you look at attendance I think you'd have to say that we're in that category. This is a national sport, it's not just a southeastern or regional sport it's big league and I think there are a couple of reasons. The media and TV have helped the fans get closer to our sport and understand more about it and, again, there's an attraction there with competition. That's what our United States is built on is competition, and I think that people see this is good, positive, clean competition. Even though we're out there trying to beat each other week-in and week-out, you don't pick up the paper reading about having to go get guys out of jail or anything else. That's not a slam against any other sport, but we have a very good family sport with family values and I believe that's what people want to see. Plus, everybody drives a car. They've driven one too fast sometimes, I just hope they have their seatbelt on when they do, so they can kind of identify with what we do." HOW DO YOU LIKE ENTERING A SEASON AS THE GUY WITH A TARGET ON YOUR BACK? "Oh, it's nice so far. It's great. Coming in as the championship team we realize that people are gonna be watching what we do and paying attention to what contributed to our success and I think it's nice. Hopefully, we'll be able to withstand their challenges and maybe have another championship."

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- "We'd really like to get off on the right foot at Daytona. Last year we did really, really good...we led a ton of laps, thought I had the 500 won and lost it right there with 10 laps to go. We went into the next race at Rockingham, I think we finished fourth or fifth or something because we had a lot of momentum going out of Daytona. Yeah, we were disappointed that we didn't win the 500, but we had a great run. I mean, we qualified great, ran good in the 125 and then the 500 two years in a row so it's important. If you get off on a bad foot, you could get real behind right off the bat." HOW GOOD DO YOU FEEL YOUR CHANCES ARE OF WINNING THE 500 THIS YEAR? "I think I've got just as good a chance as anybody right now. Everybody will tell you this is the reset point, meaning that everybody's on equal ground right now. Our guys have been working just as hard as anybody out there and we hope we've got the right combination. You can't believe how much work we've done to the 2000 Taurus getting it prepared for the Daytona 500. We've got some really great short track cars, we're ready for Rockingham and Atlanta with all new pieces, so I'm hoping that's gonna pay off for us." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHANGES YOU'VE MADE SINCE LAST YEAR? "Well, we've changed some crew members, over-the-wall-guys, and our pit stops have been incredible. We've done a lot of practicing, probably over 100 practice sessions during the off-season, so we feel like we're really prepared over the wall. Our cars on the track, we feel like we're really prepared there. We've got good downforce numbers and I think we've got the 2000 Taurus performing as good as anybody I've heard so far. We went to some testing this year away from Winston Cup tracks like Lakeland, Florida and some other tracks just to verify what we saw and right now it's all thumbs up." WITH THE CHANGE IN STYLE OF THE TAURUS, HOW BENEFICIAL IS IT TO BE IN THE SHOOTOUT SUNDAY? "I think it's beneficial to be in the shootout because it's just a great practice session for the 500, to know the car drafts good and handles good. I've always loved being in that race because, to me, it's just an extra chance to get everything right for the 125 and then, if you've got it right for the 125, then you're set for the 500." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STRATEGY COMING INTO THE 500? "Now when I come to Daytona I think I can win the thing. I'm coming here to try to make up for what I lost last year. I led the most laps in the 500 and the Firecracker (July's Pepsi 400) and, in my mind, we've got a car that can run that good again. We did a lot of drafting down here during the off-season, during the Daytona testing, and the car drafted great so I'm pumped up about it."

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE 28 CAR AND HOW THE FANS FEEL ABOUT IT? "I think you have to look back. Davey (Allison) and I were friends even though I think a lot of people saw as arch-enemies that time we got into each other at Sears Point Raceway in the early nineties. Basically, I ended up finishing second and Davey won the race, but there were some hot feelings and it took a couple of years for that to blow over, but I had a lot of respect for Davey and what he had done. He was a very fierce competitor and the team was accomplishing great things. They were on the verge of winning the championship and then, tragically, Davey is gone. But I didn't realize the amount of support that team has from people that just follow the team no matter who is driving the car. It's kind of a neat situation because I've been able to carry a lot of my fans who have followed me through my career but I've also inherited a lot of fans that just follow the 28 team. The fan following that this 28 Texaco Havoline team has is probably unlike any other team in this sport and that's because of Davey and Ernie." HAVE YOU FELT THAT ALREADY? "We get a lot of fan mail and a lot of comments from fans saying things like, 'We hate to see you have to shut your own operation down, but if you had to make a change we couldn't be happier for you and Robert.' So we've got a lot of fan support behind us." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SPRING CHANGE? WILL THERE BE MORE EMPHASIS ON THE DRIVER? "I'm not really sure yet. I think more emphasis right now is on qualifying. There's a lot of emphasis on who built the slipperiest, lowest drag race car and then what engine company did the best job with horsepower over the winter because it takes out all of the little tricks of the trade that everyone had to lower the car on the ground. I sort of hated to see the rules change. We sat on the outside pole here in July and sat on the outside pole in Talladega in October, so we had it figured out. I hated to see that go, especially with Robert Yates horsepower, but it's probably for the betterment of the sport and they did the right thing in changing the rules. I support NASCAR 100 percent in what they're doing and I know all the drivers will like it a lot better. But it's a big question mark. I think the Daytona 500 race will be exceptionally good because what you had was those cars that were uncomfortable to qualify with, more and more the race setups were going back to that type of a feel so I think you'll see three-abreast racing at Daytona lap after lap. That's something we haven't seen here in many years. We've seen two-abreast, but we haven't seen three-abreast. We'd see it a little bit in practice, but as soon as the tires got worn and got slippery they'd go back to two-abreast. I think you're gonna see three-abreast racing the whole race." IS IT BITTERSWEET BEING HERE WITHOUT YOUR OWN TEAM? "Not really. A lot of people were asking if I was torn up by having to shut my operation down, but I'm a firm believer that things happen for a reason. We worked it hard and we had some success, but it was time. We weren't able to raise the money it was gonna take to put a first-class team out there and I didn't want to be a part of something that was just out there, I wanted to be part of a winning effort. I saw that wasn't gonna happen, but what I didn't expect to happen was to have one of the winningest teams offer me a ride to come and drive their race cars. That's probably the most welcome surprise, but had I not had that opportunity there might be some regrets, but not with the way things turned out." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DIRECTION OF THIS SPORT? "So far I don't think you could make better moves than what NASCAR's made as far as steering this sport in the direction where it's headed. We don't need to lose sight that the fans that built this sport, that created this sport, that have followed us, we don't want to lose those fans either. I think we're in good hands. I think NASCAR has a lot of smart people who know a lot more about that part of it than we do as competitors. Do we need to be in Vegas versus say a Martinsville? I've got my feelings. I think we need to be at both places and, if you do anything, cut back to maybe one event a year at these smaller tracks where everybody gets one event. Then there's room for expansion."

AS FAR AS THIS WEEKEND GOES, HOW BENEFICIAL IS IT TO BE IN THE BUD SHOOTOUT? "What I get out of it is a race under our belt coming into one of the biggest races of the year. I get a tune-up race under my belt. Yeah, we'd love to come in here and win this thing, but, if we don't, it's been a good tune-up race to get us prepped for the 125. Any extra seat time, especially in a new situation like this and in a true race environment, is particularly beneficial."

MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE ROLE PATIENCE PLAYS IN THE DAYTONA 500? "This is a long race it seems like. It's not necessarily always the fastest cars that get the top 10 positions and sometimes you're shocked when the race is over with who winds up finishing in the top 10 here at Daytona. It's real important to be patient and to try to see the light at the end of the tunnel." YOU MUST BE ANXIOUS TO GET GOING AFTER YOUR OFF-SEASON? "Yes I am. I feel good, I'm ready to go and I'm ready to get started racing. It's been a long time. My back feels great. I've been in the car one time." HOW MANY YEARS HAS IT BEEN SINCE YOU'VE FELT THIS GOOD? "It's been quite a while -- a couple years or maybe more. I don't know, but all I know is I feel a whole lot better now than I remember feeling." ARE YOU AT 100 PERCENT AS FAR AS RECOVERY OR DO YOU HAVE A LITTLE WAYS TO GO YET? "I'll be recovering for a long, long time. If you want to get technical I'm still recovering from my broken knee because it's not as good as it was before, so, evidently, I haven't totally recovered. My knee may never recover, I don't know. I'm in a whole lot condition to drive the race car now than I was a year ago and, certainly, better than I was 24 hours after the accident here in July. I'm doing everything I was doing before the surgery now and I will continue to get even stronger for quite some time." DO YOU REMEMBER COMING TO YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500? "I remember the first time I drove at Daytona for the 500 and that was in '82, but I also remember coming down as a spectator in the early seventies and sitting in the stands. Things have changed and had changed by the time I got here in 1982, but this is incredible. I don't know. I'm still just the hillbilly from Arkansas that sees myself as racing dirt every Friday and Saturday night. I don't see myself as the fans see me today." DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT KIND OF SEATS YOU HAD WHEN YOU CAME AS A FAN? "They must have been pretty darn good seats because we were in the tri-oval and underneath the covered part of the grandstands, so I guess those were good seats. It wasn't very good for me because I was probably about 12 years old and it seemed bigger than the world to me. I couldn't hardly see anything being a little guy and everything, but it was really exciting." WHO DID YOU GO WITH? "My dad and some friends. I don't remember anything about the race, but I remember about the trip and all the fun we had." CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SHOOTOUT AND LAST YEAR HOW THINGS CAME INTO PLACE FOR YOU? "I could tell you that I planned it that way and that I was real good and real skillful and everything I did was brilliant, but, really, I'll tell you the truth was I was lucky. Everything I did happened to be the right thing. It wasn't because I was smart or brilliant it was because I was lucky. In a short race like that you have to have some good fortune. You can't plan every move to be right because everyone around you has a bearing on what you did being right or not right, so it's a race for the fans. It's not a big strategy race and it's not a big driver skill race or anything else, it all comes down to being the way Winston Cup racing kicks off their entire schedule and treats their fans." IS THIS YEAR'S SHOOTOUT MORE IMPORTANT THIS YEAR THAN PREVIOUS SEASONS BECAUSE OF THE NEW CAR AND LEARNING ITS NUANCES IN RACE TRIM? "Only a little bit. I think you can use that, but you can also learn that in 30 or 45 minutes of practice. Yes, a little bit, but it's not gonna have a major impact on the outcome of the Daytona 500, it'll only have a small impact on how the first hour of drafting practice goes for some of the folks."

DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus -- ARE YOU A LITTLE SENTIMENTAL COMING HERE THIS YEAR SINCE THIS IS THE LAST TIME AS A DRIVER? "It depends. I'm sure there are certain things that could happen that would be very emotional. A win, to run good, to qualify good, to perform well here would be exciting. I have to be guardedly optimistic. I've been in this situation so many times where I thought I was gonna have a good car, thought I was gonna run pretty well and then get really disappointed, so my excitement doesn't come out until it actually happens. I've lost races on the last lap and I've won races on the last lap too, so being around as long as I have you're never overly confident. You always guard your feelings and keep 'em to yourself, but if anything happens that you get excited about then you'll definitely know it." DOES YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500 SEEM LIKE YESTERDAY? "It really does. I mean, 1972...actually I came here in 1965 believe it or not and you know what I drove? A '58 Ford. We brought a Ford down here from Owensboro, Kentucky, me and a bunch of my buddies that I'd been racing at Whitesville Speedway there in Owensboro. We streamlined that bad boy up and brought it to Daytona and ran in the Saturday race. We did really, really well. The car was running in the top five with 20 laps to go and the alternator broke and shorted out the wires and killed the engine. It stopped on the back straightaway, but '65 was my first time here and I was back again in '70 with a car we built in Nashville. I ran the Busch race just about every year up until '89, but it doesn't seem like it was that long ago. I still have memories of all those races, good ones and bad ones. I think about it a lot of times and can't believe it's been 30 years, but I'm only 53. I'm not that old, I just started early. That's the whole thing." DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE JUST IN YOUR PRIME NOW? "I know in the right situation that would make a big difference and I think we're closer to that this year. I know the level of commitment I'm willing to make if my team and I get off to a good start. I've been working out, I've been running, I've been lifting weights and I've been kind of watching my diet, I'm not real good at that, but I'm physically and mentally ready to go. I'm emotionally ready to go and I want to have a good year. It's real important to me to try to have a good year and go out with my head held up. I don't want to walk out of here kind of behind the crowd. I want to be right at the front walking with my head held high." DO YOU TAKE IT ONE RACE AT A TIME OR DO YOU HAVE GOALS THAT YOU'D LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH AS A WHOLE? "Well, because of this team and everything you just have to kind of take it a race at a time. We know we're better. We know our car is better, we know our motors are better, we know our pit crew is better, but we've gotta prove it to ourselves. One of the big things that would help me and my time is to prove to ourselves that we're a good team, to prove to ourselves that we can be competitive and that we are a contender. That would mean a lot to all of us and give us some confidence that we don't have. We need to have some good runs and get our spirits up. We've been kind of beat up. At the end of last year we missed two or three races at the end of the year and things didn't go very well, but if we could get off to a really good start and get some confidence and prove to ourselves that we're pretty good, that would make a huge difference in how we do all year long." HOW DOES YOUR TV DEAL NEXT YEAR AFFECT YOU? "If it wasn't for that I believe I'd be very sad about this being my last year as a driver, but I've already gotten involved. I went to a couple of football games with John Madden and Pat Summerall and I got excited doing that. I saw the potential there for me and FOX has made a huge commitment to me, I'm their lead analyst. I'm the only guy they've hired so far, so they've made a big commitment to me. If I had nothing to look forward to and I thought, 'Boy, this is it, I'm done,' I'd probably be a little sadder than I am but because I've got that to look forward to I know I'm gonna be back here next year. I won't be putting a helmet on, I'll be putting a headset on, but I will be back here next year."

JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus -- HAVING FINISHED IN THE TOP FIVE THE LAST THREE YEARS, IS YOUR MAIN GOAL NOW SIMPLY TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Our goal is to contend for the championship. What contending for the championship means is being a part of the mix the whole way through the year. I think we've gotta do that, it's time to do that. Whether we can do it or not, I don't know, but I feel like it's time to do it and I think we're prepared. I think we've got the best group of people we've ever had, I think we've got the best equipment we've ever had. Certainly, I've got three years of experience of running in the front and understand that a little bit better, so it seems like now is the time." DO YOU FEEL YOUNG TEAMS HAVE TO LOSE A CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE BEFORE THEY WIN ONE? THEY HAVE TO GAIN THAT EXPERIENCE FIRST? "Now that we've lost some of them, yeah. (laughing) I think you have to experience the whole thing. The first year I went to Atlanta I was racing Terry Labonte and Dale Earnhardt to finish in the top five in points and I was a nervous wreck, a nervous wreck just trying to finish in the top five. This year I went to Atlanta battling for a top-five spot with Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and I just went down there and never even hardly thought about it. Even though it's not championship level, I think it explains having been there and done that. Doing it and experiencing it is really important, not just for the driver but for the team. It's a stressful time when things are going well and it's a stressful time when things aren't going well and you have to know how to handle both ends of the spectrum. I think we've had a mix of good and bad and, I believe, we're ready for it. I think mentally we're strong enough. I think Frank (Stoddard, crew chief) has matured a lot, I think I've matured a lot and I feel like we're mentally ready for it." PEOPLE ARE TALKING TO YOU ABOUT CHAMPIONSHIPS, BUT IS THAT A PROCESS YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH IN YOUR OWN MIND? "You can't have confidence, unless you're overconfident, without having success. The reason that I'm talking about a championship and people are talking to me about the championship is because we've been a consistent runner for three years. I'm not saying we're gonna win the championship, I'm saying I hope we can contend for it, so I'm willing to have that conversation whereas three years ago I wouldn't even have wanted to listen to that. To me, that would have been a ridiculous conversation. I think your experience at a certain level is what dictates when you feel you're ready to step it up. Some people are just confident no matter what happens. They just say, 'I'm gonna win the championship or I'm gonna win races,' and even though they've never done it or been close to doing it they feel like they can. I'm just not that kind of person." DO YOU WAIT UNTIL MAYBE MIDSEASON UNTIL YOU START THINKING ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP BECAUSE THERE ARE POINTS IN EVERY RACE? "You are not going to win the championship until the end of the year, but you can lose it earlier than that and that's the way we are approaching it. We don't want to do ourselves damage so that we can't be in contention to win the championship, so, for me, we look at the points because that's how we judge ourselves, but what I'm looking at is what position are we in as far as being able to still win the championship. It's not so much are we in fifth position or third position or are we leading it, it's where are we and what do we need to get done in the future so that we can have a chance." DO YOU WISH THE CHAMPIONSHIP WASN'T SUCH A BIG DEAL AND WE COULD JUST TALK ABOUT WINNING RACES? "I haven't thought much about it. People talk to me about the points system and, to me, it's a non-issue. It is what it is and you have to prepare the way the rules are written. You can disagree with being able to have man-to-man defense in the NBA, but if that's the rule that's the rule and you have to do it. I really don't think that much about it. It is a more grueling process, surely. If you just went to each race and said, 'I'm here to win that race and that's the only reason I'm here,' and at the end of the day you went home and what you had was what you had...the Winston is no stress at all. You just go there and you do what you can do and, if you don't win, then everything else wasn't good. There's very little stress involved in that. There's also not a whole lot of people who would want to watch a whole lot of that, so you have to have a champion and the only way to judge a champion is with the a points system." IS THERE ANY STRESS IN THE SHOOTOUT THIS WEEKEND? "The only stress for me in the Shootout is to try to win and, to me, that's not much stress at all. That's what we're here for. We're here to try to win both of those races, but it's real low pressure because barring getting hurt, whatever happens isn't gonna impact the Daytona 500 or the points hardly any at all."

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- "We had a good practice run this morning, but this last lap I just made here I got in the draft so it's really an erroneous time. I wouldn't pay any attention to it, but I've really got a solid top-five, top-10 car here right now. We'll just have to wait and see tomorrow. There are a lot of guys holding back and there are a lot of guys putting qualifying motors in that are gonna help them." WHAT DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE IN QUALIFYING TOMORROW? "About a 47.20. I don't know about miles per hour, but probably about a 47.20 lap time." WHAT ABOUT THE FORD-CHEVY SITUATION. WILL IT BE A FORD DAY IN QUALIFYING LIKE IT WAS TODAY IN PRACTICE? "I hope so, but it's way too early to tell. I'm looking at the Pontiacs, they've got something up their sleeves right now."

SCOTT PRUETT --32-- Tide Taurus -- "We gained a lot. We were hoping for more actually, but we're cautiously optimistic. It will be interesting to see where everybody shakes out tomorrow. We're showing all of our cards, so we'll see how many more aces these guys have to play and see how things shake out. It's hard to know. This is a whole new game for me. If we were in an Indy car weekend I would know what other guys are gonna do. I know how much speed they could possibly pick up, but here I'm a fish out of water." IT MUST BE GOOD TO BACK UP YOUR TEST TIME? "It does. We're cautiously optimistic. There are a lot of strong guys here and a lot of guys that know a lot more about going out there and ripping one off in qualifying than I do, so we're just gonna see what we can come up with for the Tide car. We can think about it tonight and put all of our best pieces tomorrow and, hopefully, get a little bit of a break with Mother Nature and have a good run."

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus -- "We're right there. We're knocking on the door anyway, so we've got a shot at it. There are no guarantees, but we've got a shot at it." YOU SAID DURING TESTING THAT IT WAS HARD TO GET A GOOD READ ON WHO HAD WHAT. DO YOU STILL FEEL THERE ARE SOME TEAMS THAT HAVEN'T SHOWN THEIR HAND? "I don't think it's a question right now. I don't want to beat up on them, I want to wait and see. I'm more curious than I am anything and I'm gonna reserve my opinion until I watch them qualify. We'll see if it's legit or not. I don't want to make any enemies out of those guys, but we'll see if it's legit or not because the Taurus went through a deal like that. Nobody believed us and we still didn't get any help, so let's just wait and see what happens on that."

DARRELL WALTRIP --66- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus -- "It's the same old thing you hear everytime somebody gets a new car or gets a new this or a new that. Wait until tomorrow. You've gotta realize something, I know them guys with the Chevys have been testing at other race tracks and they love their cars. What they want is the best of both worlds, just like what everybody would like to have. They want a car with no downforce here and no drag, so they can have a car with downforce and drag at the other race tracks. You can't have it both ways. We have the problems in reserve now. We've got a car like they had last year and they've got a car like we had last year, so their engineers and our engineers must have got together. I don't know what they came up with, but it made us happy and it made them mad I guess. That's what it is, everybody wants the best of both worlds and when you come here and Talladega, you can't have it both ways. They had the best car. They had the best car."

RYAN PEMBERTON, Crew Chief --77-- Jasper Engines Taurus -- "We feel good about what we've done and what we've been able to accomplish in a short period of time. DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO BACK UP YOUR TEST TIME AND SHOW PEOPLE THAT IT WASN'T A FLUKE? "That's OK. My peers who know me know it's not my style. There's no need for me to come down here and lay down a number that's artificial. It doesn't do us any good and if it does anything it hurts you. We didn't need it. We've got a good sponsor and we've just come down here to learn. We've built two good race cars with one being a little better than the other and right out of the box we feel good about it. Some of the guys in the shop get mad when you go through the garage and hear people suspecting that we're doing something that's not right and, to me, it feels good when people think that. In a way you want to let them think that and then come down here and bust off a good lap." YOU CAME FROM A PONTIAC TO FORD THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE SPEEDS IN PRACTICE? "It happens every year with new body styles. Somebody is always lobbying to make a change or gain and advantage on one side or the other. I haven't heard anything from the Ford teams since day one because I think they were just concentrating on working hard on this stuff, but I've heard a lot from the other side saying that Ford has an advantage. They've spent a lot of time talking about it, but myself I can't worry about it. I think the rest of the Ford teams have just worked on making their own product better. I think that the makes have the ability to be equal and the better teams that work harder on their stuff are gonna be up front. I think you can see that now, the bigger teams like the Penskes and the Yates, they're up front and we know how hard they've worked over the winter. They've been able to do more things than I've been able to do throughout the winter and it shows, they're a little faster than we are right now, but we're competitive. I think everybody just really worked on their own cars and I think it's showing up right now."

ROBERT YATES, Car Owner --28 and 88 Ford Tauruses -- BOTH CARS ARE IN THE TOP FIVE IN PRACTICE, ARE YOU HAPPY? "Well, actually I know on the 28 that's a bogus speed because it got a lot of drafting help. I think it's pretty decent, though. We've worked hard on the speedway program and we don't really have anything that will a big plus for us when we leave here so much, but we've been out of the hunt for two years here. We've had too much drag on the cars, so we struggled. The Monte Carlos, they've sort of done what we did. They've got an excellent car when you leave here, but they're struggling a little bit here. We had to struggle for two years, so I don't see why they can't have to suck it up. I mean, they'll race good but qualifying is almost everything here until the Sunday of the race." IS THIS JUST PART OF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A NEW CAR COMES OUT? "NASCAR has to create a level playing field. Chevrolet has asked for something that would have a lot of drag in there and got it, the same as we did. Our team pitched a fit about it in '98 and it was tough for qualifying. In the top 15 guys you didn't see but one or two Fords in it -- the guys that really got their cars down low. Maybe we've learned to watch out what you ask for. I was just telling Jeff Gordon, I said, 'It looks like we're looking at the opposite side of the page from last year.' But NASCAR has a tough job. They have to try to help and make it be equal, but it's just a case where Daytona and Talladega are so unique to everywhere else. They take half of your horsepower away and every ounce of drag really puts you two or three tenths behind when you're struggling for qualifying positions. But when you leave here you like to have all that downforce pushing down on those tires and, certainly, they'll race extremely well when they leave here."

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Brett Bodine , Derrike Cope , Wally Dallenbach Sr. , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jimmy Spencer , Greg Biffle , Robby Gordon , Hut Stricklin , Robert Pressley , Stacy Compton , Ted Musgrave , Chad Little , Ed Berrier , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler , Doug Richert
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Yates Racing