NASCAR Winston Cup Ford drivers will be hoping to duplicate last year's success in the TranSouth 400 at Darlington Raceway this Sunday as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series makes its annual visit to the circuit's oldest superspeedway. Dale Jarrett...
NASCAR Winston Cup
Ford drivers will be hoping to duplicate last year's success in the TranSouth 400 at Darlington Raceway this Sunday as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series makes its annual visit to the circuit's oldest superspeedway. Dale Jarrett took the checkered flag for the second straight year in the event and led a parade of four Fords in the top five as Rusty Wallace, Jeremy Mayfield and Jeff Burton finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, has an opportunity to tie David Pearson's record of three straight TranSouth 400 victories this weekend at Darlington Raceway. Jarrett spoke about that possibility and what makes Darlington such a difficult track.
DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU WIN THREE STRAIGHT AT DARLINGTON? "I think we can, but there are two guys that run as well there as what we do and that's Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon and we'll have to race them. We've been pretty fortunate to run well at Darlington most of the time and to win back-to-back spring races, I think that we can, but it's a tough race track as always. It's not like it's getting any easier and with each race it just becomes a little more difficult with the pavement wearing out, so it will be interesting. A handling race track is what it is and we didn't run as well there in September as what we normally run, and we tried some things that really were a little bit different, so we'll get back to our normal setup and see if that works."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE ABOUT DARLINGTON? "Not to hit the wall is the biggest challenge. I'm not trying to be smart, but that's a challenge -- to run hard and keep the car out of the wall. There's a very, very fine line now because not only in turns one and two are you right against the wall, but to run fast around there you've gotta let the car slide right to the wall in three and four. Just a little bit of a slip and you can take what could be a pretty good day and turn it into one that's not so good."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT POSSIBLY TYING DAVID PEARSON'S RECORD OF THREE STRAIGHT WINS IN THIS EVENT? "That would be pretty amazing because I've always considered David Pearson the master of Darlington as well as a lot of other race tracks. That would be pretty neat to be able to do something like that because growing up around the sport, David was always a hero of mine. The things that he's been able to accomplish in this sport just amazes me. Maybe we can do that, but it'll be tough."
Despite pitting on the backstretch, Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, nearly pulled off a miraculous victory in last year's TranSouth 400 before settling for fourth place. Mayfield recalled that race, which marked his fourth top-five finish in the first five races of 1998.
JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR AND WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING THAT FORCED YOU TO PIT ON THE BACKSTRETCH? "We never could pinpoint what our problems were last year, but it was a typical qualifying effort for us and we just didn't qualify good. We messed up and started in the back and on the backstretch pitting. We worked hard after that even though we were discouraged because everything was going good for us up to that point. We just worked really hard on the race car and got it good for the race and just started working our way up there. All of a sudden we took the lead with about 40 laps to go and I thought, 'Man, we're gonna win this thing if no cautions come out,' but there ended up being a caution. There's nothing you can do about it, you've just gotta suck it up and go on and that's what we did."
WHO MADE THE DECISION TO TAKE ON TWO TIRES MIDWAY THROUGH THE RACE BECAUSE IT HELPED GAIN A LOT OF TRACK POSITION? "We both kind of make those decisions (crew chief Paul Andrews and Mayfield), if we feel like it's gonna help us with track position. We may lose a few spots just because we only got two (tires), but if it's gonna help us then we both decide what we're gonna do. If I feel like it's gonna hurt us and he thinks it'll help us, then we've gotta make our minds up what we're gonna do, but I try to help make a lot of those decisions."
EVEN THOUGH YOU FINISHED FIFTH IN THIS RACE LAST YEAR, DID YOU AND YOUR TEAM FEEL LIKE YOU HAD WON? "Oh yeah, we felt like we had won and we knew that we beat ourselves. It's nobody's fault but our own for not qualifying better than what we did and we all knew that, so we just took it and moved on."
IS DARLINGTON THE KIND OF TRACK THAT CAN BEFUDDLE A TEAM WITH QUALIFYING? "Man, you never know at Darlington -- in the race or in qualifying. I like it. It's one of my favorite race tracks, but it's tough. There are a lot of unpredictable things that go on and it just happened to be qualifying for us last year."
IS THERE ONE PART OF THAT TRACK THAT GIVES YOU FITS? "There's not really one spot it's just slick. It's an old race track. You run high and right against the wall where there's no room for error. There are a lot of things that go on there and it's really hard to just pinpoint one. There's not a lot of grip, you slide around a lot so you've gotta have a really good setup and a really good race car."
DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE IN BETTER SHAPE AT THIS STAGE THIS SEASON COMPARED TO LAST YEAR WHEN YOU STARTED OUT WITH FOUR TOP FIVES IN THE FIRST FIVE RACES? "We're in a lot better shape than we were last year going into this race. I've said that all year about every race we've been to. We've had a little bit of trouble, but while we're running on the race track up to this point, we've been in the top three, have led races, and run in the top five. We've just had some things go wrong that we really couldn't figure out what it was, but we're in definitely better shape than we've ever been and really in better shape than what we've been running right now."
WHAT IS THE KEY FOR YOU AT DARLINGTON, SAVING TIRES? "It's the same as normal, save the race car and take care of your tires so you can get to the end of the race without anything happening. If you can do that, most of the time you'll be in the top five."
Ted Musgrave, driver of the No. 75 Remington Arms Taurus, has had a great deal of success at Darlington Raceway with two top five finishes in the last four TranSouth 400s. Musgrave placed third in 1995 and then captured the runner-up spot in 1997 after a thrilling 20-lap duel with eventual winner Dale Jarrett.
TED MUSGRAVE -75- Remington Arms Taurus -- IT SEEMS YOU ENJOY SOME OF THE TRACKS CONSIDERED THE TOUGHEST ON THE CIRCUIT LIKE DARLINGTON AND POCONO. IS THAT THE CASE? "Yeah, I guess I'm just out of the ordinary. I love Darlington. That's a real driver's race track. You've really gotta concentrate and get a good handling car and get a good feel for the throttle. I like that type of a race track. Darlington is different, both corners, because it's not the same thing. (At some race tracks) you go through one corner, if the car does something different there, you know it's gonna do something the same on the other end. At Pocono and Darlington, no. Whatever happens in one corner, the car is going to do differently at the next corner, so you have to approach it differently. I kind of like that because it makes you think more. If you get in the same routine at different race tracks where it's the same thing all the way around, it gets kind of boring, so I love these kind of race tracks."
YOU'RE NOTED AS A GOOD CHASSIS MAN WITH SOUND TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE, DOES THIS TRACK MAKE YOU THINK MORE? "Well, maybe that's true. Maybe I just need to be smarter as a driver and maybe not as smart of a chassis person, but that's the way I grew up. I had to build my own cars, work on them, maintain them, and learn all about them and do all my own adjustments. That kind of put me in that category right now. Don't get me wrong, I like that type of deal where you get to a race track like Darlington where you've gotta be really good on the tires."
DO YOU HAVE A HANDLE ON THE TRACK NOW SINCE THE RECONFIGURATION? "The race car doesn't know where the start-finish line is at. It's the same race track, the same corners, they didn't do anything. The only thing it did is just create a different scenario on the start of the race and re-starts. That's the only difference right now. Other than that, you take your same setups and everything. They just painted a white line on a different spot of the race track is all they did."
WITH THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD AT DARLINGTON, WILL THAT FIRE UP YOUR NEW TEAM? "I hope so. When you go to the race track with a new team and you say you've never gotten around this place, it may hinder you a little bit. I like going to places like Darlington and I'll be able to say to these guys that I get around there well and show them that we can excel at certain spots. Each and every race is really important for us right at this moment. We had a little stumble (at Las Vegas), but we need to gain it back. Now we're coming to some race tracks in the near future that I really like and, if I don't have any misfortunes, that's where we're gonna get a lot of points."
YOU SAID THIS RACE TEAM WOULD WIN A RACE IN '99. IS DARLINGTON A PLACE YOU'D EXPECT IT TO COME BEFORE SOME PLACE ELSE? "I don't know. We should have a good run at Darlington, but places like Michigan, Pocono, California, there are a lot of race tracks coming up that I really like and I know I can get this race car around really good. With the horsepower we've got, I think that was lacking a little bit to get a win at some places, so it may not be Darlington. I hope it is, don't get me wrong, but I'd be really disappointed if we didn't run good at those other places too."