There has been a lot of talk about this year's rookie crop, and rightfully so, but the veterans have served notice in these first three weeks that they're not going to disappear without a fight. In looking at the starting grid for ...
There has been a lot of talk about this year's rookie crop, and rightfully so, but the veterans have served notice in these first three weeks that they're not going to disappear without a fight. In looking at the starting grid for tomorrow's CarsDirect.com 400, this new "rivalry" is even more apparent. Veteran Ricky Rudd will start from the pole and is one of three drivers in the top six who is 40 years old or better. Scott Pruett and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. lead the newcomers as they start second and third, respectively.
Bill Elliott, 44, got his season off to a good start by winning one of the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying races during Daytona Speedweeks and then posting a third-place finish in the Daytona 500.
BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus --
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RESURGENCE THIS YEAR?
"I feel like the next critical step is gonna be the next two or three races and then get us some cars built and then get a toehold on what we're gonna do the rest of the season. I feel like I'm gonna have a good year, I've just gotta get a few things worked out and kind of work through that part of it. I believe we'll be OK."
LAST YEAR SOME PEOPLE STARTED TALKING ABOUT MAYBE YOU SHOULD GET OUT?
"Well, as long as I feel like I'm pretty competitive. I think last year a lot of races I ran good, I didn't have the finishes to reflect where I was at, I had a good car at several places. I think coming to Daytona this year kind of redeemed a lot of things and put a lot of drive back in me. Last week, we had just a few fluke things happen that hurt us in the race, but, all in all, I feel like we've got a good group of guys that have really worked hard. They've worked hard on their effort coming for this weekend and this is a good race track for us."
WHAT ABOUT THE FACT THE DRIVERS 40 AND OLDER HAVE GOTTEN OFF TO SUCH GOOD STARTS?
"I think the young guys that come in, yeah, they're making it harder for the older guys but I think the older guys are re-learning what they're doing. Just like Dale Jarrett winning the championship last year at his age, which, he's a little bit younger than me but when I look at the deal I don't feel that old. I'm gonna continue to work hard doing it as long as I can and as long as I enjoy doing it."
AFTER WINNING THE WINSTON MILLION, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FINALLY HAVE A CRACK AT THIS NO BULL 5 BONUS?
"This is the first time that they've had this program that I've qualified for it. If they would have had this program in '97, I would have been eligible for it for a number of races and I had an opportunity to win a race or two. It's a great place, it's a great race track, it's probably one of my better race tracks I run as far as the short tracks and stuff and I just feel like it's a great opportunity for me and the whole team."
Dale Jarrett, 43, became the second-oldest NASCAR Winston Cup champion when he took the title last year and he's off to another good start this season. He won the season-opening Bud Shootout and Daytona 500, and is currently leading the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus --
IS IT FUN TO TRY AND KEEP UP WITH THESE NEWCOMERS?
"I guess the young guys just have a little bit more nerve -- two-tenths more nerve than what I've got (referring to Dale, Jr. in qualifying yesterday). You know that he's (Dale, Jr.) is gonna be a great talent and you get to a place like this where being smooth but aggressive is good and that's what he is. I mean, he does such a good job with the race car, but it seldom seems from the times I've raced with him and watched him that he overdrives the car. He gets the most out of it. This is the kind of place that I think he can shine, and, hopefully, we'll give him a run for his money on Sunday."
BUT YOU, RUSTY, ELLIOTT AND EARNHARDT HAVE ALL SERVED NOTICE THIS ISN'T JUST A YOUNG MAN'S SPORT.
"Well, you can run fast but you've gotta run long in this business, that's the main thing. I think that's where we've got them a little bit right now is you have to know how to finish it off and what you're looking for over 500 or 400 miles. Those are just things that Junior and Matt Kenseth will have to learn and they will learn that. They're very quick learners, so we've gotta get it while we can because before long it's not gonna be there for us."
BUT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GO QUIETLY ARE YOU?
"We're not gonna go quietly, no."
YOU TALKED LAST YEAR ABOUT THE DESIRE TO REPRESENT THIS SPORT AS ITS CHAMPION FOR A YEAR. THIS IS ONLY THE THIRD WEEK BUT ARE YOU SAVORING A LOT OF THESE OPPORTUNITIES AND INCREASED VISIBILITY?
"Yeah I am. It's pretty cool for me to represent this sport. I am starting to see that I am the one that's called on a lot to do things like speak and represent us when we have things going on, but I'm having fun with it. The fans have been just great everywhere that we've been, so I'm having a good time. It's a lot of responsibility and a lot of work, but that's exactly what I've worked all my life for is to get that chance."
Jeff Burton, 32, has finished in the top five of the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings each of the last three seasons and has seen both sides of the veteran-rookie battle. He is the teammate of veteran Mark Martin and rookie Matt Kenseth at Roush Racing.
JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus --
YOU'RE NOT REALLY A ROOKIE OR A VETERAN, BUT YOU DO HAVE EXPERIENCE.
"There's a lot to be said about having experience and there's also a lot to be said about not having experience. There are some advantages in not having experience, but there are more advantages in having experience. These are the best race car drivers in the world and just because they're not 33 years old or 28 years old doesn't mean they can't still do it, so I don't put a whole lot of faith in that deal about the young guys are gonna beat up on the old guys because these guys race the hell out of you."
DO YOU THINK SOME OF THE GUYS RESTED ON THEIR LAURELS?
"What happens is when you have success doing something it's difficult to let go of it. If you've always gone to Charlotte with an 1800 in the right-front, a 1200 in the left front and a 350 and a 400 in the rear and that runs well, then you know that. That's what I was talking about earlier, that experience is good. But when somebody comes in with a whole new idea that works better than that, your mindset is 'I know this works.' You don't want to let go of what you know works, so it is a problem not only for older drivers but any team that has had success. That's the toughest thing to do is to adapt to changes. You look at Richard Childress, you look at Richard Petty, you look at all those teams that have a lot of success, there is a time when they don't have as much success because they're holding on to what works or they haven't adapted to something new -- not because they're holding on just because they haven't caught on to it. They were doing it at the best for a little while, but somebody else finds a better way to do it."
HAVE YOU LEARNED A LESSON FROM THAT?
"I understand it. I mean, I see people doing it, but, at the same time, it's hard to say you can fix it. Just because you're trying something different doesn't mean that it's better, so when you build race cars and stuff you have to rely on your experience. When you set cars up, you have to rely on your experience but you also have to be open-minded. That's a tough line to draw. It's really difficult to decide are we doing stuff an old-fashioned way or are we being progressive. It's really hard to determine which way you're doing it."
Mark Martin, 41, has finished among the top six in the final NASCAR Winston Cup standings in each of the last 11 seasons. Martin, who has 31 career victories, is scheduled to start fifth tomorrow.
MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline Taurus -- HOW DO YOU VIEW THIS BUDDING RIVALRY BETWEEN THE YOUNG GUYS AND THE VETERANS?
"I really don't see much of a rivalry there. We're trying to hold our own and they're trying to get there. That's always the case in this sport. I remember there was a changing of the guard back in the early eighties where no one penetrated the Benny Parsons, the Buddy Bakers, the Darrell Waltrips, Yarborough, Petty, Pearson and these guys, no one penetrated that. It just couldn't be penetrated and finally it happened and you thought, 'Oh my goodness, this is gonna ruin the sport. All these new names, or relatively unknown names, are gonna be the downfall of the sport,' and it wasn't and it won't be when this group phases out. The new group is working on phasing in at this time and that's gonna be the nature of this sport forever. There are gonna be old favorites and there are gonna be new exciting newcomers."
THIS IS A SPORT, THOUGH, WHERE EXPERIENCE COUNTS, RIGHT?
"I think if we were racing Formula One or Indy Cars, I think we'd be out of a job. That's a place where experience can't overcome enthusiasm and bravery if it's associated with youth. In this racing, experience means more than bravery and youthfulness. Although that's pretty powerful stuff, it still can't totally overcome experience in Winston Cup racing."
AS FAR AS THE RACE GOES, THIS IS YOUR KIND OF TRACK ISN'T IT?
"It could be. We've got a great race team, great cars and the car is working well this weekend. This is just one of the best race tracks that, I think, a race car driver could ever hope to race on. I can't think of a better place to be in the running for this (No Bull 5 bonus). We've had quite a bit of success in our careers and we've been pretty fortunate to have made a few dollars, but the opportunity to have a chance and make a fan a millionaire is pretty special to me. It's a lot more special than anything that could come out of this for me personally."
Matt Kenseth, 27, is one of the many heralded members of this year's NASCAR Winston Cup rookie class. He is scheduled to start 21st in tomorrow's race.
MATT KENSETH --17-- DeWalt Tools Taurus --
ENTHUSIASM VERSUS EXPERIENCE, WHAT WINS?
"Experience usually prevails from what I've found. I'm just trying to learn all I can. I know my first year in Winston Cup is gonna be really tough and there's a lot to learn from guys like Mark and Jeff. There's a lot to learn and it's gonna take a long time to figure it all out."
YOUR ROOKIE CLASS HAS HIGH EXPECTATIONS, BUT IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN OVERNIGHT IS IT?
"There's a lot of expectations and a lot of people talk about things but it's gonna take awhile. Winston Cup is extremely tough. It's the top division of racing that there is and it's gonna be tough to try to win races over here. It's gonna take a lot of time and I don't think it happens overnight for anyone."
WHAT ARE YOUR PROSPECTS FOR TOMORROW?
"I really like the race track, but I've never run well here. I've had a lot of problems here for some reason and I have a real hard time finding what I need in a car and making it work for me. I don't know why. It's a real simple race track to drive I've just never run real great. It's so unpredictable for me still. I mean, we've had a couple of real, real good runs in Winston Cup and we've had a couple of real, real bad runs in Winston Cup. Going from Saturday practice to Sunday race, I don't know what to expect yet. If we're a little off we're last and if we hit the setup right on we can run in the top 10 or top 15, so I don't really know what to expect."
Jeff Burton's victory in today's Sam's Town 300 extended Roush Racing's winning streak at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to four. The streak began when Mark Martin won the inaugural Winston Cup race in 1998 and continued when Martin won last year's Sam's Town 300 and Burton captured the Las Vegas 400 Winston Cup event.
MARK MARTIN --60-- Winn-Dixie Taurus --
"We had a great run with the Winn Dixie car and good pit strategy but we didn't make it to the finish line first. You win some, lose some."
THAT'S A HEARTBREAKING LOSS ISN'T IT?
"It's kind of hard to get beat there right at the end, that's never easy to take, but the Winn Dixie team did a great job with the car today and we overcame some problems. We had some great pit strategy and a good handling car and I guess that's the way it goes. I'm sure Jeff Burton had it planned that way."
TO GO THROUGH WHAT YOU DID TODAY SHOWS WHAT GREAT EQUIPMENT YOU HAVE.
"It's just a great car. That's the same car we ran at Rockingham and it's my favorite car in the stable and being this is gonna be my last year I'm gonna run this series, we wanted to go out and try to win every race and we're giving it all we've got."
JEFF BURTON --9-- NorthernLight.com Taurus --
"I saw Randy Lajoie was on the bottom and I thought he was pulled over to let Mark go and then I realized that he was still on the lead lap and maybe he was racing. They were running side-by-side right in front of Mark and they were holding him up. There was nowhere for him to go, so I was hoping they would keep doing that. I didn't see any contact or anything, I don't know what happened, I just saw one car start to lose it just a little bit and I turned left real hard. Mark was up high and all he could do was slow down. He was so high he couldn't just turn left, he had to turn left and slow down. I never had to slow down ."
YOU STARTED LIKE A JACK-RABBIT, BUT HOW WAS YOUR CAR AFTER THAT?
"It got tight, which my Winston Cup car always gets loose and my Busch car always gets tight and it did it again today. It got tighter as the race went on and that will be exactly opposite tomorrow."