After a rare weekend off the NASCAR Winston Cup Series returns to action with the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night. Recognized as one of the best short tracks in the country, Ford drivers spoke about ...
After a rare weekend off the NASCAR Winston Cup Series returns to action with the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway Saturday night. Recognized as one of the best short tracks in the country, Ford drivers spoke about returning to the three-quarter mile facility.
Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus, reached victory lane the last time he was at Richmond by outdueling Jeff Gordon in the Exide Select Batteries 400. Burton, a native of South Boston, Va., has led the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings for the last six races and currently holds a 55-point advantage on second-place Dale Jarrett.
JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RETURNING TO RICHMOND? "Richmond is a lot of fun. Richmond is a track, I think, most drivers enjoy. It's good short-track racing, but it's wide enough to have a good show. I think it's one of the most fun race tracks we go to and I look forward to going there every time."
BOTH RACES LAST YEAR WERE EXCITING. DOES IT MATTER WHAT THE RULES ARE AT A PLACE LIKE THAT? "That track is just a great facility. They have figured out how to put a sealer on the race track that helps the race track stay good and grippy. It opens up during the race where a bigger second groove develops, which makes great racing. It's probably the best short track in the country."
YOU SAID EARLIER THIS YEAR YOU AND YOUR TEAM ARE TAKING THIS YEAR IN SEGMENTS. IT HAD TO BE GOOD TO REFLECT THIS PAST WEEK ON WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW WASN'T IT? "That's exactly what we did. We looked at we've done so far and what we need to do to improve because we do need to improve if we're gonna have a chance to win the championship. We took this time off to get prepared a little bit better for the upcoming races and to also look at what we've done and try to improve on that. At our next weekend off, we hope to be in the same position that we're in now, but if we're gonna do that we have to improve in some areas. We're focusing on that and we really took this week to look at where we need to improve and we diagnosed that, so, hopefully, we can do what we need to in order for that to happen."
IF SOMEBODY AT THE START OF THE YEAR SAID YOU'D BE LEADING THE POINTS AT THIS STAGE WHAT WOULD YOUR REACTION HAVE BEEN? "I'm not saying I thought we'd lead the points, but we felt like we have a really good race team. We've been in contention for top five in points for two years in a row and we thought during the last third of last year that we were as strong as anybody with the exception of the 24. At times we were as strong as they were or stronger, but we didn't capitalize on some of the things that we needed to capitalize on. It didn't get a lot of media attention because we were finishing third and fourth when, in fact, four of the last six races we were leading or running second real late and didn't win. We looked at that knowing we could run up front. We felt if we could prepare the cars, if I could keep it out of trouble, if we could be as competitive as were at the end of last year, then we could come out of the gate strong and we've been able to do that. Again, we've got to be better. If we want to win this championship we've got to be better than what we've been. We're really not wound up about leading the points. Leading the points has gained some attention for us, but other than that, leading the points doesn't get you anything right now. It's all about leading the points at the end of the year. Our goal going into this year was to go into the last race of the year with a chance to win the championship. That's what we asked for and, so far, we've put ourselves in that position, but that could go away really quick if we're not careful."
Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, has finished seventh or better in 19 of his last 20 races at Richmond since 1989, including six victories. Wallace goes into this weekend's race in seventh place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, 327 points behind Burton.
RUSTY WALLACE -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO YOU SAID BRISTOL WAS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK, YOU WON THERE, AND RICHMOND WAS PROBABLY YOUR SECOND FAVORITE. OBVIOUSLY, YOU WOULD LIKE THE SAME RESULT, RIGHT? "Yeah, there are some big changes there. I haven't tested there, I wish I could, but we're just running out of tests with all the stuff we're doing. I feel confident we'll get there and we'll run good and have a good race. I was on the pole there last time, so I'll have to sit back and see how close the setups will be, it'll probably be pretty close."
DO YOU KNOW WHICH CAR YOU'RE GOING TO TAKE? "Yeah, we're taking 'Banker' to flatty."
IS THERE ANY REASON YOU FEEL SO AT EASE AT RICHMOND? "I think one of the reasons I'm so comfortable at Richmond is I just like the whole atmosphere about it. A lot of times it's not the whole race track that you like so much, it's the atmosphere that you go to. You've got a good hotel you stay at, you've got good friendly people, it's easy to get in and easy to get out. You go to some race tracks and it's not like that, but the Sawyers are such cool people. They treat us really great and that's one of the reasons I like going there, although the track is great and I've run good there. That is the biggest reason I do love going there, but the Sawyers are a big part of it too. The shape of the track is good and it seems when I go there, even when I'm bad, it seems like I finish in the top five, so that's a great feeling."
LAST YEAR YOU AND JEFF GORDON GOT TOGETHER. WAS THAT A CASE OF JUST TRYING TO HOLD YOUR GROUND? "We were running out of laps and he was trying to pass me on the outside. We both went in the corner hell bent for heaven and my front end broke loose and went into his quarter panel and around he went. That was it."
THE WAY RICHMOND IS CONFIGURED IS IT THE "PERFECT" RACE TRACK? "I think it is. I think it's the most exciting track we run. I don't think race tracks oughta be bigger than a mile anywhere."
Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 10 Tide Taurus and a native of Chesapeake, Va., will hope to give the hometown fans a thrill this weekend as he looks to extend his victory streak to 17 consecutive seasons. Rudd owns one career victory at Richmond with that coming 15 years ago when he won the 1984 Miller High Life 400.
RICKY RUDD -10- Tide Taurus -- WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HEADING BACK HOME? "I've always liked the area -- the people, family and friends in that area. It's a big race for us, it always has been. The only apprehension I have going in there is that we're going there untested. Michael McSwain came on as our new crew chief and with Charlotte and stuff going on, we would have liked to have gone to Richmond and tested, but right now the shop is kind of torn apart. We're rebuilding, so there aren't a whole lot of cars around. We're building up an arsenal, but not enough to be able to go up there and test, so we're really gonna be a question mark there. We're going with some stuff we haven't run before on a short track, so we'll see what happens."
IS THIS THE KIND OF TRACK WHERE, REGARDLESS OF RULES, IT'S ALWAYS A GOOD RACE? "I think it's a perfect track for the speed we run there. You're able to drive it like a short track, even though the speeds are higher than a lot of short tracks we run. Aerodynamics aren't super critical, it's back to just good ol' handling principles and getting the cars to go good through the corner. The race track itself is a two-groove race track. A lot of places we go this day and time aren't two-groove race tracks. If you happen to catch yourself behind, you've got two lanes of race track there whereas a lot of tracks we go to you've only got one. From a driver's standpoint, it's a lot less frustrating to run a track like that knowing you've got good equipment, but track position is not as critical as it is at other tracks. If you've got a fast car you can go to the front, but if something goes wrong on a pit stop, you can still work your way through there. It takes a little time, but you can still work your way through the pack."
EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE SOME QUESTION MARKS IS IT GOOD TO BE GOING TO A TRACK LIKE THAT? "It's a track I like to run on. We had a chance to win this race last year. We were running third when the caution came out late in the race and when the green flag came back out we quickly got into second and took a chance on passing for the lead when I got in that oil dry (where Wallace and Gordon made contact) coming off of turn two and spun out. We ended up coming back and finishing 11th."
DOES IT SEEM LIKE 15 YEARS SINCE YOU WON THERE? "In a way it does seem like a good while back because the old track, it seemed like we had a better record than we do the new track. We've run well at the new track, we've been on the pole before and run well, but the closest we've ever come to winning was probably at this race a year ago."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR NEW CREW CHIEF MICHAEL MCSWAIN? WHY DO YOU FEEL HE'S THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB? "I sat back and I've watched him and he's a real good people person. He knows how to take the people around him and get them to rally. We operated without a crew chief for three or four weeks and that was an opportunity to give the guys we had a chance to gain confidence in one another. With this group we went to Talladega and qualified seventh, and had a good shot at running in the top 10. Even though that didn't work out, they did a good job. Mike brings in leadership and he's able to get the guys to pull together. We've been doing that anyway, so I think bringing him in is going to make things work even better. From what I saw, he's worked with some teams that probably didn't have the financial resources that we had with limited personnel and was able to do good things with them. I watched him take the 77 car to a third-place finish at Texas and he had Rick Mast well up in the top 15 in the points for most of the time he was there. Wherever he seems to go the cars run good and that's what I saw in him."