Ford Driver Darrell Waltrip Interview 99-02-08

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES DAYTONA 500, February 8, 1999 Daytona International Speedway DARRELL WALTRIP -66- KMART TAURUS -- YOU WON THE DAYTONA 500 10 YEARS AGO. WHAT WAS THAT WEEK LIKE? "It was kind of bizarre really...

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

DARRELL WALTRIP -66- KMART TAURUS -- YOU WON THE DAYTONA 500 10 YEARS AGO. WHAT WAS THAT WEEK LIKE? "It was kind of bizarre really because Goodyear and Hoosier was here then. Goodyear had a problem with their radial tire. I think that was the first race they brought them. I qualified on the outside pole on the front row on Goodyear tires. I was one of the few cars that stayed on them. They told people if they wanted to get off of them they could. Once we qualified and got to practicing, the guys from Goodyear came and said, 'Look, you've got to get off of them. We don't feel good about them, we're not comfortable with them, and we want you to change.' They recommended that we do it, but NASCAR wouldn't let us do it except if we did it in the qualifying race. So we started the qualifying racing, and run a little bit of the qualifying race, and we come in and changed and put four Hoosiers on the car. When we did that, they were a different size. They were just totally different than what we had had on the car. The car drove terrible. So as soon as the qualifying race was over with we started chasing the car adjusting to the Hoosier tires, and fortunately we were on the front row. We started changing the car. By Sunday we were decent, but we weren't anywhere near as good as we had tested and run. We could hang on, and we could keep up. We led it every now and then, but we were not the car to beat. Kenny Schrader and Dale Earnhardt, those two guys I know for sure were faster than I was, and there probably were some others. It came down to the end of the day, and because we wasn't running that good, and wasn't able to lead, and wasn't able to do anything but draft -- there were 55 laps to go when we came around to get one to go. We came in and topped off, and had to go to the end of the field, but we were full of fuel, with the idea that if we got another caution maybe we wouldn't have to stop again. We didn't plan on, at that point, going to the end. When the green came back out, there were 54 laps to go. the most anybody had gone all day were 52, and most guys couldn't go but about 50. We started running along there, and we were talking, you know, can we make it. I said if you tell me now we want to do it, we'll try to do it. That's our only chance. We've got a chance if you want to do it. I can hang on, and I can back out of it every now and then, and we'll see what happens. And low and behold, with about 20 to go, 15 to go, Earnhardt, Schrader, that whole crowd started peeling off one at a time. It come down to there was a couple of cars trying to make it like I was. Alan Kulwicki was one of them. With about five or six laps to go, all of a sudden he got a flat tire. I was drafting him thinking, if I can figure out to pass this cat on the last lap and don't run out of fuel, I might make it. He dove into the pits. I didn't know he had a flat tire. I just assumed he had run out of fuel like everyone else. And the last four laps of that race were incredible. From then on, I wasn't watching anything but the fuel pressure gauge, and trying to find people to draft with that would pull me along fast enough that I wouldn't get caught by the other guys, but not so fast that I had to run wide open. It ended up that I drafted Terry Labonte in the Budweiser car about the last three or four laps of the race. He was pulling me along just fast enough that Dale and Kenny never caught me. The last lap of the race, I don't know how the thing made it around. It was out of fuel. It came off of two, and it was about to quit. It kind of backfired and choked a couple of times, and it caught on and pulled down the back and came on. In the third turn I looked off the fourth turn and thought I don't care if it runs out now or not. I've got it made. I can coast across now. That's what we did. It was incredible. It was not bad enough that I'd been trying to win this thing all these years. There were other years I had much, much better cars, but never won. And here I am in a car, that in my opinion wasn't the best car I'd ever had here, and here I am about to win this race that I'd been trying to win for so long. And the emotion and the drama of running out of gas, and are we going to make it, and it's the first time I'd ever won the race. It was so much. It was a fun day, but it was sure nerve wracking. Of course when it was all over with, you could just release, and in winners' circle I released pretty good. It was fun."

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THEN. "It was a good year for me. "We won six or seven in 89. I won the most popular driver that year. Rusty spun me out in The Winston. I went on to win seven races, I believe it was seven races. I won Charlotte, Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol. I won a lot of races in '89. I had a great year, and I think I finished fourth in the points. That was a fun year. Ninety was disastrous. We got off to a slow start, the team was. I got hurt here in July of '90, and had to sit out about six or eight weeks with broken up limbs. And that was really sad. I was pretty sure I won North Wilkesboro. I wouldn't want to go down and argue with Brett Bodine about it, but I'm pretty sure. I think if most people were honest and told you what really happened there that day, I won North Wilkesboro. But he got the win nonetheless. That's the only one he ever won, so I guess it was meant to be. That was in '90. That was kind of how the year went. I come here and got hurt. Later on, I got back in the car, and had a great finish to that '90 season. I finished in the top-five in those last seven or eight races I was able to run, and finished 20th in the points after missing a lot of races. I still ended up pretty good, and was the most popular driver again and that was gratifying. In '91 I started my own team, had a couple of wins that first year, finished in the top-ten in points. In '92 I had three wins, and finished in the top-ten in points. Then I guess in '93 things started to go off a little bit for us. We started doing our own motors. We started to do more and more and more to try to become independent and self-sustaining. The more we tried to do, the further behind we got. We changed the organization around a couple of times, different crew chiefs and things. In '95 I was starting to feel like I might have my legs back under me and that we was making progress. We went into The Winston at Charlotte. That weekend we was 10th in the points. I was fourth at Martinsville, and had had a chance to win. Rusty won the race, and I was fourth. Went to Talladega, and run fourth. Went to Charlotte with a really fast car, felt like I could win The Winston that last ten laps. Earnhardt crashed me into the wall and broke three ribs and messed up my shoulder blade. I was history the rest of the year. It took me most of the year to get over that. Even though it didn't look bad or I didn't appear to have anything wrong with me I was hurting pretty badly. In '95 the wheels really ran off after that. In '96 it was a disaster and so was '97. It became obvious to me, and it became harder, and harder and harder to keep the people happy, the sponsors happy, and NASCAR happy, the family happy. I couldn't keep anybody happy. It was just too much weight to bear. Something had to give. You've hear the old saying, "you're lost but making good time", but I wasn't making good time at all. But now I'm on the right road home. I feel like this team will get better, and better and better. I'm sure once if we can get ourselves organized, we have the resources and the people, we just have jot got to get our organization put together. I think we can be as successful as 90% of the other people out here."

YOU HAVE HAD SEVERAL DAYS IN THE TAURUS. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT? "So far I've enjoyed driving it. I drove the 88 in Japan and qualified fifth and was running really good and got wrecked. We've been to Greenville, South Carolina and tested, and I was happy with car I took there. The Taurus I have here for the Daytona race is going to race really good. I'm comfortable for the 125's. Our Rockingham car should be decent. It's kind of hard to make any assessment about where you are in Daytona because at Daytona with the difference of the cars. But once we are at Rockingham and Vegas I think I'll have a real good idea about the car and it's potential and what we can do."

YOU MENTIONED A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE NASCAR DO AWAY WITH THE CHAMPIONS' PROVISIONAL. WHY? "Well, it became a real source of aggravation to me. Quite frankly, I don't know why they don't just start the fastest 43 cars, and be done with it. But if you did that then there are people, and myself included, who would miss the race, people who run all of them. Then you'd have people showing up occasionally, who only run every now and then who would knock out people who run every week. I think there has to be some loyalty by NASCAR to the people "who run every week, and there certainly has to be some loyalty by NASCAR to champions who are still out here competing, and still trying to carry the torch. From that prospective, the champion provisional is a useful one. People don't realize or they don't understand what they are talking about. That's the big problem. If you asked somebody, explain what a provisional is. They wouldn't have a clue. They think it goes to the driver. It doesn't. It goes to the car owner. I was in the top 25 in driver points just about the whole year (last year), but I had no provisionals available to me as a driver because of all the car owners I drove for, myself at the beginning of the year, Dale Earnhardt in the middle of the year, and Tim Beverly at the end of the year. They were out of the top 25 in points, so they had no car owner's provisionals. Normal car owners get eight provisionals. These cats I drove for didn't have any. So the only provisional we had to get into the race was a champions provisional which we used. I know it appeared to be an ugly situation, and trust me, I didn't like it either. But it wasn't as ugly as it seemed or as people painted it to be. It wasn't that we wasn't trying. It wasn't that we were necessarily knocking anybody else out of the field. It was just the fact that that was the only provisional I had, and they were unlimited. That may have been a source of aggravation to some people, but man I've been doing this for almost 30 years, I've won three championships and 84 races. Getting into the race on a provisional, is that not a perk that all that time and energy and everything. If that's all there is, I mean that's all I have today. They're not giving me a trophy every week. They're not giving me accolades every week. So if getting one little starting spot in the field is all there is left, I guess that's a reward for all that hard work."

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THIS DAYTONA 500? "You never know. Quite honestly, if you go get the top 20 from last year's race. You shuffle them all around, and those will be the top 20 from this year's race. You get the top ten from last year's race, shuffle them all around, those same guys are going to be in the top-ten again this year. And there may be a couple of surprises. But on the average I'd say that's a pretty good predictions. For us, my goal for this team is for us to be on the lead lap at the end of the day, and get all we can when it comes down to that last shootout. And there usually is, when it comes down to that last 10 or 15 or 20 laps to go, there will be a caution. And that's when you suck it up, and that's when you see what you're made of. Otherwise, try to stay out of trouble, and try to miss those big accidents, and try to be around at the end of the day and be in the lead lap. If you can do that, you can get a great finish out of this. And that's what we need, a great finish. We don't need to look like heroes. We just need to leave here with a finish so we can build and get ourselves started off here with a foundation to build on. Then we can go on."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Brett Bodine , Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Alan Kulwicki