The inaugural Las Vegas 400 was a Ford runaway as 13 of the top 14 finishers all sported the Taurus signature on their front bumpers. The leaders of the pack were Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Taurus, and Jeff...
The inaugural Las Vegas 400 was a Ford runaway as 13 of the top 14 finishers all sported the Taurus signature on their front bumpers. The leaders of the pack were Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin, driver of the No. 6 Valvoline Taurus, and Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus. Both drivers spoke about that race and how it impacted their respective 1998 seasons.
MARK MARTIN -6- Valvoline Taurus -- HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WIN THE VERY FIRST RACE AT A NEW FACILITY LIKE LAS VEGAS? "It's sort of a first time for me. We missed out on our opportunities at New Hampshire, Texas and California. We ran well in all of those inaugural races, but for whatever reason, we didn't capitalize on them. The press asked a lot of questions about it (winning an inaugural race) and I never really put that much stock in it, but after I've experienced it one time I sort of view it in a different light than I did before. But, you've got to remember, Jim Fennig, myself and Jack Roush are more interested in making history than enjoying it. Whatever success we have pretty much comes and goes kind of fast for us. It slips by us pretty quickly because we focus on the next opportunity. "The win at Las Vegas was real, real special. I don't play up hardly anything, ever, but that was an incredible race track to drive on and it was an incredible win for us. That was the third race out of the box for a brand new team that I had really hung myself out on a limb by leaving a championship-contending race team to go do that deal, so it was a big relief. I remember it was kind of like being caught in a tornado or something (all the post-race activities), but when everything was finished and I lifted off out of there in a helicopter and I looked down, it hit me what we had accomplished. Until then when you win a race it's not, 'Oh happy day celebration,' its get these hats and these pictures done. Then its get this deal done and let's get to the press room and all that. You don't really have a chance to even comprehend what you've done. You push, push, push to meet everyone's deadline and schedule. I had not a clue, really, of what we had done until I was finished and I looked down on the speedway. That's when I remember thinking, 'Wow, we just won the inaugural race at one of the coolest race tracks I've ever driven on." HINDSIGHT BEING WHAT IT IS, CAN YOU LOOK BACK NOW AND SAY THAT WAS ONE OF THE BIGGEST WINS OF YOUR CAREER CONSIDERING THE NEW TEAM AND ALL? "I think for the last 20 wins I've had everyone's always asked me what's the biggest win? What's the most meaningful one? And everytime I usually say it's your last win. But I have referred to that win throughout '98 as being a little extra special, more because we won it as a brand new team with all brand new people. The crew chief and truck driver were the only familiar faces I had to work with. Yes, it is the most special win of my career, but as far as the season goes, it's kind of like winning a race afterwards. The season is such a whirlwind that I didn't have a chance to reflect on that. You could say that set the tone for the year because we went on and won six more times and The Winston, but we didn't feel that. We just did our job everyday. Just like we failed miserably at a few of the races, we also went out and won in spectacular fashion in some other races. Those wins and those failures weren't really influenced by the win at Vegas, I don't think. I think we were inspired to go win everything that we could win and that's kind of how I view that."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO ALREADY HAVE A WIN IN 1999? "Last year was the first time in my Winston Cup career I've won early in the year and it was just a huge relief for every reason. But this year is a new year and you've got to remember I didn't win a race in '96 and I had a good team and good cars, but I just didn't win. I'd run second. Everyday that I was hooked up, someone else was hooked up better. Since then I've sort of always been afraid that that was gonna happen. It's just like someone becoming aware of their own mortality. After that happened I know now that every time I win, I know that could be my last one that I ever win, ever. I didn't think about that before '96. What I'm getting to is to say, 'Wow, we've already won in '99.' I don't have to worry about not winning and, as a matter of fact, it's very possible that I could win more races in '99 than I ever have in any other year. It's possible because of my race team, not because of me. That's a pretty nice feeling because I do know, just like Rockingham, I take a little extra time to do all the things like crossing the t's and dotting the i's after every win now because I realize that could be the last one." WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS DRIVING INTO VICTORY LANE? "There was so much emotion of relief and accomplishment. Jack and I don't get a chance to feel like great comrades. We don't get a chance to spend that much time together (in victory lane). We don't get to savor that moment. After taking all the pictures, he goes off to tech typically and I go off to the press room, so you only have a little small window to really feel that success that you feel from a partner. I feel like we're partners in this success and it's a really cool feeling, it just doesn't last very long, unfortunately. So it was a neat feeling for me and Jack, for Jimmy Fennig of course, and for the best bunch of young 25-year-old race crew guys I've ever worked with. What's cool is that they've been to victory lane a bunch more since then and, to me, I don't feel like I'm delivering that to them. I feel like they're doing it and they're earning it, but I think it's really neat because most guys their age are still working on teams that are funded and equipped to probably not win races. For me, it's real nice to see young guys like that get a chance to get with a race team that can take them to victory lane that early in their career. Most of my race team is very young and very mature. They're also experienced, but it's amazing to me to look at a lot of these guys that work on my team and say, 'Gee, they're still kids, but they're serious about winning races.'"
JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- YOU OBVIOUSLY HAD ONE OF THE BEST CARS IN LAST YEAR'S RACE, BUT HAD SOME PROBLEMS. DID THAT KIND OF CHARACTERIZE THE WAY YOUR FIRST HALF OF 1998 WENT? "We actually fought back from the back twice. I don't remember the situation very well, but I remember having to go to the back twice. I think one time I got called for a pit road violation and then the other time something happened on a restart or something, I don't remember very clearly but twice we had to come from the back. We had a really fast car. It's one of those races where you look back on and you think, 'That's one we let get away from us.' But, on the other hand, you have to do all those things. You can't win Winston Cup races making mistakes, you have to be very precise with what you do and we learned a lot from the early part of '98, and that's one of the races that we look back on thinking we let ourselves down. We did it because we made mistakes. The moon didn't line up with Jupiter and tell us that we can't run a good race, we did it to ourselves and that's one of the things we learned from early in the year." YOU CAME FROM THE BACK TO THE FRONT TWICE AND FINISHED SECOND. DOES THIS TRACK ALLOW YOU TO DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT EASIER THAN OTHERS? "Certainly the wider the track and the more passable the race track is the more chance you have to come from the back without a problem. If you go to Dover and you mess up that many times, you're dead in the water. But you can do it a little bit easier at Las Vegas. You can't do it and expect to win. You can start in the back and still win and early in the race you can go in the back and still win, but you can't late in the race go in the back and expect to win. It's just not gonna happen. We had a really fast race car and couldn't pull it off. You have to have track position to win these races." A LOT OF DRIVERS TALK ABOUT HOW GREAT THIS TRACK IS FOR RACING. DO YOU GET EXCITED WHEN YOU SEE IT UP NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE? "The track is so new to us that the first run there was fun. It was an exciting race for the drivers because you could drive where you wanted to go. The race itself wasn't very exciting, but the track has potential to be one of the best racing facilities that we go to, and I think that anytime you go to a race for the first time somebody always seems to hit it. Mark hit it and we hit and the 26 hit it. Some people hit it that really ran well and put a hurtin' on everybody else because we got ahead of everybody. But as the race track gets older, then that gap will close and you'll see better races." SINCE THAT LAST VEGAS RACE THE RULES HAVE BEEN CHANGED AS FAR AS AIR DAMS AND REAR SPOILERS. WILL THAT MAKE FOR A BETTER RACE THIS YEAR? "The spoilers and air dams making better races is yet to be seen. I think you will be able to run side-by-side, where before it was very difficult to do. Now whether the spoilers and air dams will put people in the position to run side-by-side, you know if you had a 10th-place car at Las Vegas and everybody just put spoilers and air dams on, you'd still have a 10th-place car. So I think you've gotta figure out how to get your car driving as good and going as fast as the guy that's leading, and if the spoilers and air dams narrow that gap, which they may very well do, then you'll see better racing."
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, won the pole for the inaugural Las Vegas 400, but ended up 40th after suffering a blown engine with 58 laps remaining. He spoke about what he likes both on and off the track in Las Vegas.
DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT LAS VEGAS BESIDES THE RACE TRACK? "I like the city, personally. It's a great race track, a great facility and a fun race track. It's one that was built where we can race. We can race side by side, you can race on the bottom, on the top and in the middle, so there are really three grooves that you can race on and that makes it fun as driver. You can't always get your car with every set of tires to run on the bottom, so it's a unique race track. There's not a ton of backing and there's kind of a different frontstretch that allows for some fun side by side racing and making some passes. That part is fun. When you're not at the race track, if you can't find something to do in Las Vegas you're kind of lost because it is a fun place. It's a fun place not just for people who like to gamble, there's a lot more to do, there's a lot of entertainment and a lot of fun." IS IT TOUGHER TO RACE THERE BECAUSE THERE ARE SOME DISTRACTIONS? "I don't think it's tougher. I think it makes you kind of relaxed when you get to the race track. There are a lot of things to do and you enjoy yourself when you're away from the track. A lot of places we go there really is absolutely nothing to do, so you spend your time sitting in the motorhome and basically doing nothing or sitting in a motel room doing nothing. In Las Vegas, you can find something to do that's enjoyable and kind of get your mind off the race track for awhile, so when you do get there it's fun."