Ford Friday Fontana Notes

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, comes into this weekend's California 500 trailing NASCAR Winston Cup point leader Jeff Burton by 40 points. He spoke about a variety of issues during a press ...

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, comes into this weekend's California 500 trailing NASCAR Winston Cup point leader Jeff Burton by 40 points. He spoke about a variety of issues during a press conference while waiting out the rain.

DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE LIFESTYLE YOU LEAD WITH THE PLANE, MOTORHOME, ETC? "It's more of a necessity to have those things. In order for me and people like Mark, Rusty, Dale, Jeff, a lot of the guys, in order for us to have any type of a normal family life, whatever that may be, to see our family and still conduct our business and take advantage of the opportunities that we have right now in our career, these things are a necessity. It took awhile for me to get my accountant to understand why I needed an airplane because he was so totally against it. It's not because I want everybody to know I can afford to buy an airplane, it's because I can get to an appearance in a day and be back home to put my kids to bed that night. That's what's important to me. Or, I can wait until Thursday to come to California and still do an appearance that afternoon for Fleetwood instead of having to come out commercial and leave a day early, so it gives me an extra day at home. The motorhomes, I'm fortunate to have a sponsor in that respect, but it's great to be able to spend the time with our families right there at the race track. You're not spending all your time driving back and forth to the race track and staying in motels. It's become a way of life for us to conduct our business because of the popularity of the sport and the demands on our time." IS IT FRUSTRATING NOT TO HAVE WON A RACE YET THIS YEAR? "I guess because we're fortunate that in the last few years we have won some races and I like to think that when we get down into the last few laps of a race that I know how to take care of business at that point in time and I haven't done that this year. I've had a couple of opportunities. Rockingham, we were very fortunate to finish second, so that wasn't an opportunity to win a race, we just got in the right position at the end of the race. Bristol, I felt like we had a real chance at winning that race. We caught Rusty with about 25 laps to go and then the caution came out and that took our chance away because of how our setup was that particular day. Texas, we were in the last 10 laps of a race and I'm supposed to be able to keep somebody behind me at that point in time, so I was disappointed that I let that race get away. Last week at Talladega, I thought that I had myself in a position, but I also realized that there wasn't a Ford out there that got in front and stayed there very long and there were too many good race cars behind me. I felt like on that particular day my chance was gonna come with help and trying to make a pass at the end and I just never got that opportunity. Maybe it is a little frustrating, but on the other hand I know we have 25 races left and we're doing the things right now without doing the best that this race team can do. We know we can do much better than what we've performed to this point and yet we're only 40 points out of the lead, so that's very satisfying that we've been able to accomplish what we have this year." WHAT DO YOU DO DURING THE DOWN TIME WITH THIS RAIN? "I've tried to help my golf game this morning watching the Golf Channel, basically. Certainly we talk about, 'What if it rains the rest of the afternoon?' Tomorrow is gonna be a very tight day and basically what happens is we lose our practice time for the race. Tomorrow will be probably an early morning practice and then qualifying and then probably just Happy Hour tomorrow afternoon, so you travel all the way across the country and get one hour of practice before the race. That makes it difficult, but that's where good notes come into play. Even though we didn't get to the halfway point last year before something happened to our car, we have to go back to the first year when we ran the whole race. We'll look at that so we can be best prepared whenever we do get that practice time, that we'll be ready for any type of changes and have a good list as to what we want to accomplish." WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE WEATHER? "I don't know. All we can do is hang out. If they can get it dry, then that'll be great that we can get something in this afternoon. It doesn't look good as cool as it is, it will probably take awhile to dry this race track. What it's also gonna mean for me is more than likely I'm gonna miss the Busch race, which was gonna be one of the two or three I was gonna run this year. Again, my Busch team travels across the country and we won't be able to make an attempt to race, but that's the way it is. From that standpoint, somebody said you might get in on a postmark, but I'm not even sure I would take that opportunity if I know that if another guy who is a regular in the Busch Series, if he was next in line for that, I think we'd give up that opportunity to even do that anyway. We would let them have that spot and we'll find another race to race in. There are a lot of things the rain brings, but, as we all know, we can't do a thing about the weather and we'll just make the most of the weekend. The rest of it looks good and it should be a good weekend of racing." DO YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF RACE YOU'RE GONNA HAVE HERE? "This race track is a little bit different in that you know you're gonna have a lot of close racing. It's extremely fast, but there are a couple of grooves here. At Martinsville, you know that if your car doesn't work right on the bottom all day that you're not gonna have much of a chance, but at a place like this you might miss the setup that works the best on the bottom, but I found a groove last year starting so far back after wrecking in qualifying, that I found another way around. I got up a couple of grooves and found a very fast way around, so I think you go in with an open mind that this can be a wide-open race and there are a couple different places to race on the race track. The main thing is you go in here knowing it's a wide race track that's gonna let you have fun racing." FORD HOLDS THE TOP THREE SPOTS IN THE STANDINGS. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS, DO FORD'S HAVE AN EDGE? "No, we don't have an edge. We have three good race teams. Obviously, Rusty is another one that's good and is making a comeback or was until he got into the accident last week. Jeff Gordon has had his problems, but he's still very much within striking distance. I heard somebody say that they weren't sure that they could make up that point differential that they have now and, of course, you have to laugh a little bit at that. Then you have Bobby Labonte who has a very strong race car and race team. I think that we've just been fortunate that Mark, Jeff Burton and myself were all in the same accident at Daytona and we've pretty much been fortunate, other than Mark having his problem at Texas, Jeff Burton and I haven't really had any problems other than that. We may have one off day, but the rest of the time we've pretty much been in the top five, so I think that we just have good teams that are taking advantage of the opportunities that are there and we've been fortunate to stay out of trouble. Jeff Burton has won a couple of races and Mark has won a race, something we haven't done yet, but we feel like we're ready to at any time. I feel much better about our race team and our chances to win right now than I did say five or six races ago, whenever we were finishing OK but really weren't performing that well. The last few weeks we've performed much better and I think that we're ready to get into victory lane. As far as an edge, I don't know that anybody has an edge right now. It seems the three makes of cars are very competitive. You see a lot of Pontiacs up there and that's not to take away from any of them because they have good race drivers and some good teams. I think certainly the 18 car is the best of that bunch, but Tony Stewart has done a terrific job of being there and I think he's certainly benefited greatly from having a teammate like Bobby Labonte, who has gone in there and made that race team really good. He's getting the benefits that Bobby has worked hard to put there and that's helped him a lot. Tony's got a tremendous amount of talent and he uses his head on the race track. Then you have John Andretti, Ward Burton and Kyle (Petty), they're all doing a good job so the Pontiacs seem to be very strong, but as far as anybody having an advantage, I think things are close and that's what NASCAR wants."

DOES IT BOTHER YOU WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS EARLY? "No, I think it's nice that we have the talk about the championship. It's something that you have to concentrate on right from the very beginning. I'm not sure that's something I realized until four or five years ago, that you have to race every single race with that championship in mind. I think it's what keeps everyone talking about NASCAR Winston Cup racing because you can't have an off week. You can see how that can affect you, just as Rusty and Jeff Gordon had a down week last week and getting involved in the accident and putting them a little further behind than they want to be right now. The beauty of it is that you can say even though we're behind, we've got 25 races left. We've got a long time to go. We know everyone's gonna talk about the championship every week, so it's great for our sport that it is like that." IS JEFF GORDON STILL THE MAN TO BEAT? "Yes, Jeff Gordon is still the man to beat and that's not to take away from Mark Martin or Jeff Burton or anyone else. Jeff and his team are still the ones to beat simply because they've won championships. The rest of the guys that are up there in the top five, he's the only one to win a Winston Cup championship, so the rest of us have to prove that we can do that for an entire year." WHY ARE YOUR CHANCES BETTER AT WINNING NOW THAN FIVE OR SIX RACES AGO? "I feel like the spoiler and air dam rules, we were a little bit hesitant in exactly what it was doing with our race cars and making changes from setups that we had last year with the Taurus. We didn't realize it was gonna affect the Taurus quite as much as what it has, so we've had to go back to things we were doing in '96 and '97 with the Thunderbird. It seems now with this type of spoiler and air dam that maybe this car is a little bit closer to what we had then, so we've gotten back to that. It just took us a few races to realize that." HOW DIFFICULT IS IT BE CAUGHT UP IN A WRECK AND WHAT IS THE FALL OUT OF THAT FOR THE ONE WHO MIGHT HAVE CAUSED IT? "I think what you do is if you're the person who created the problem, you certainly feel bad about maybe not making a smart decision at that point in time during the race. As far as looking at the other guys, you know things can happen and sometimes we get ourselves in position that, unfortunately, we can't get out of without something going wrong. I think that was the case the other day. Mike Skinner, and I'm not saying that he was the cause of the wreck, but he was the one I saw in the grass down there and that's not a good place to be at 200 miles an hour. But I think he got caught up in that he had been at the front of the pack and worked his way there and then he got shuffled back and then he worked his way all the way back there again, and it seemed things were just kind of riding for a minute and all of a sudden he's got somebody trying to take the spot and actually probably put him in the middle and he's gonna lose 15 spots. Just for that split second your competitive instinct takes over and it's like, 'I'm not ready to go back that far again, yet, even though we've got a hundred and thirty some laps left in the race.' I'm sure he's saying to himself he would have been better off getting in the middle, just like I said to myself at Daytona that I would have been better off giving a little more room at that point in time. It's a quick decision you make and I don't think there's anybody out here that thinks what happened last week -- certainly it could have been avoided -- but your competitive desires and instincts take over and you just don't want to lose that spot at that time. I don't know that there's anybody who is mad at Mike Skinner for that or Tony Stewart or whoever was involved in creating the situation. It's just a situation we have to deal with. That race is over and hopefully, not just the ones who created it, but that everybody looks at that. I did notice that in the next 140 laps of that race, even though some guys blocked, they didn't block nearly as far down as what we had been early in the race. I found myself with my left sides pretty close to that (grass) one time, even before that incident happened, but I didn't see that kind of thing happening after that. We do learn, but sometimes we're a little bit slow to learn. We come here to California where we know we have a wide race track and Talladega is behind us. Hopefully, when we go back to Daytona in July, everyone will remember the situation that was created at Talladega and the situation at Daytona earlier in the year and we can get that behind us and we won't have those problems." RUSTY THOUGHT A NASCAR CAUTION MAY HAVE CALMED THINGS DOWN EARLY IN THE RACE. IS THAT A GOOD IDEA? "What I was getting kind of excited about was that we were getting to that one point of making that first green flag pit stop. That was gonna spread everybody out a little bit, at least it tends to, so I was hoping we'd get to that. It seems that cautions only create maybe more cautions for us, so it bunches the cars back up and creates more problems. I understand his thinking that it might have calmed everybody down because here we've started the race and we're this far in it and everybody's all hyped up and gotten away with a lot of passes and cutting people off. Eventually, it was gonna bite us and it did. We were within five or six laps of making that first pit stop and it may have been a whole different race if we could have done that, but we just didn't quite get to that point." WHAT ABOUT NEW RACE TRACKS AND THE SHAPES AND SIZES OF THEM? "You'd have to ask Bruton why they do their tracks like that. They've produced some good races at some of the tracks, but this is just a great facility. Here and at Michigan, if you can find better racing than what we have at these two facilities, it would be hard to do. I kind of wonder why somebody hasn't gone and built another Bristol somewhere. If you get better racing than that... I mean, it's hard racing for the drivers, but the fans love it and they can't build enough seats up there. They're trying to figure out, I guess, how to put more up there somehow." HOW DOES THIS TRACK RATE AMONG THE 1.5 TO 2 MILE TYPE OVALS? "There's not a lot of banking to it and there's more than one groove on the race track. It's plenty wide for us to make passes on and if you make a little bit of a mistake getting in on the inside, you have room to go up the race track. The same at Michigan. At a place like Michigan, we end up all the way against the wall sometimes before the race is over and that's fun. I would say this would be a driver's choice -- here and Michigan -- if you were gonna build a new place."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Burton , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Mike Skinner , Mark Martin