Ford Racing Talladega Preview

After two straight short-track races, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads back to the superspeedways and there is none faster than Talladega Superspeedway. Three Ford drivers who have posted dramatic victories at the 2.66-mile oval spoke...

After two straight short-track races, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads back to the superspeedways and there is none faster than Talladega Superspeedway. Three Ford drivers who have posted dramatic victories at the 2.66-mile oval spoke about Sunday's DieHard 500 as well as reliving their past triumphs.

Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus, won the first of his two Talladega events in 1985 at the Winston 500. What made Elliott's triumph so memorable is that he fell two laps down while his team repaired an oil leak and then rallied to make those laps up under green and win going away.

BILL ELLIOTT -94- McDonald's Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT 1985 WINSTON 500? "That was during the good ol' days. We had everybody covered and it was one of those races that we were fast and everybody was doing everything they could to beat us. Everything was just perfect and I think everybody kind of overcompensated and was trying some crazy stuff because a lot cars blew up and fell out. There were really a lot of motor problems because it was one of those races where they ran so fast for so long, regardless of what I ran."

WHAT CAUSED YOU TO GET TWO LAPS DOWN? "We had one of the return lines to the oil tank at the oil pump come loose. I came in, they tightened her up, and went back out."

WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS KIND OF LIKE, "OK, I CAN MAKE IT UP?" "No, my thought process was, 'I guess it's gonna be a bad day.' But everybody fell out. I think the biggest thing was that I had a really good car by itself. Back then they didn't dictate spoiler or anything. Cale was probably the next best car, but he was trying to run by himself and he had no help because everyone else was torn up. I was running so good that he couldn't run with me, so it was wild."

A LOT OF THINGS HAVE CHANGED SINCE THEN. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "From the fans side, they love the way we race there. From the drivers side, it's one of them places you just dread to go because you know two things when you go in the gate. You know something's gonna happen, you just don't know to who and when. I mean, you know it's gonna happen as soon as you drive in that gate and that's the scary part to the whole deal. All you do is pray that you get to the first green flag stop and you pray that you get to the next green flag stop because that has a way of shaking people apart. I even made the comment, and people thought I was crazy, about putting smaller fuel tanks in the cars for those races, so they would have to stop more. At the beginning of the race everybody is a little more calm. The closer it gets to the end and the more you keep all those cars on the lead lap, it's just like sitting on a time bomb or sitting in an electric chair with a kid playing with the switch and you're trying to get out. It's like the clock's ticking and the longer you go you know something's gonna happen. Then everybody gets more aggressive and a little hotter and a little of this and a little of that and finally it happens.

HOW WOULD A SMALLER GAS TANK AFFECT PIT WINDOWS? "I guess we go close to 50 there, you might only be able to go 35 and then that way it would tend to help shuffle that stuff out and get it better organized. That's what I considered."

UNFORTUNATELY YOU GOT CAUGHT UP IN AN ACCIDENT A YEAR AGO AT THIS RACE. DOES THAT WEIGH ON YOUR MIND WHEN YOU GO BACK? "I've made it through a couple restrictor-plate races since then, but, man, that was a bad deal. I probably had the best speedway car I've had there in a long time. We ran well and hated to end up a victim of somebody else's mistake."

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, earned his first NASCAR Winston Cup victory at Talladega last fall when he won the Winston 500. Jarrett now owns three restrictor-plate triumphs, including his Daytona 500 wins in 1993 and 1996.

DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU MAKE A BETTER CAR OUT OF ONE THAT WON THE LAST RACE AND FINISHED THIRD LAST YEAR AT TALLADEGA? "We're taking the same car that we won with. We had built a new car, one that they call a high frame rail car where, for qualifying, you can really put all the soft springs in it and everything, but we put them both in race configuration (at the Talladega test) and this car (the one he won with last year) was consistently faster and that's what we're after."

LAST YEAR THE LABONTE BROTHERS WERE BEHIND YOU. DID IT FEEL LIKE TWO ON ONE? "You can start thinking that, but then you get in a race driver's frame of mind and you realize it didn't matter if they were brothers or not, they wanted to each win the race, so they were only gonna help each other to a certain point. They both wanted to be in second place because they knew if they could get in second and third, the guy that was in second was gonna have a really good chance at winning. The best thing that happened to me there was everybody tried to get in second because they knew they could pass me, and they probably could have, but they couldn't decide who was gonna be in second so it all worked out in my favor."

Jimmy Spencer, driver of the No. 23 Team Winston Taurus, has two career NASCAR Winston Cup wins and one of those came in 1994 when he literally beat Bill Elliott by a nose to capture the DieHard 500. Spencer was second to Bobby Labonte a year ago at this race and followed that up with a fourth-place finish last fall.

JIMMY SPENCER -23- Team Winston Taurus -- YOU'VE HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS AT TALLADEGA. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS GOING INTO THIS RACE? "It really goes back a long way. The first time I ever went to Talladega I rode down with Buddy Baker and it was special because all he said the whole way day was this was the greatest race track in the world and the fastest. Buddy had won a lot of races there and I think that was instilled in my mind for my first Winston Cup race ever there. We ran pretty good and I think it's ironic that Darrell Waltrip and I are teammates now because he took me out of my first-ever Talladega race. Darrell said it was a rookie mistake and he might be right, but I think what Buddy told me has been instilled in my system because I look forward to going to that race track. When I talk to any rookie, I try to tell them the good sides of the race track and not tell them the bad sides. "Talladega is an awesome place. We've been very lucky there. We've missed some big accidents and run in the top 10 a lot. We've even won a race there and had two decent runs last year. We almost beat Bobby (Labonte), but the whole race Bobby and I worked together. We had worked together at Daytona and it worked well for us there, so I think you've gotta put yourself in a position to run good at Talladega. A lot of times when you get with another car your car really seems to perform well and it did last year with Bobby. We don't know who it will be this time, but, hopefully, we can work a deal with somebody like that and stay together. Hopefully, we'll be a little bit better than that guy and we'll win and he'll be second."

DO YOU RECALL WHAT HAPPENED DURING YOUR FIRST TALLADEGA AND THE INCIDENT WITH DARRELL? "I came down pit road and he pulled right out in front of me on pit road. I swerved to miss him and caught him with my left front and busted my oil cooler and stuff on my car. He said I was going too fast. That was before pit road speed was in effect. I just had a great pit stop and I think they were trying to get out in front of us. No matter whose fault it was, it cost us from having a good day, so you learn not to make those mistakes."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RACE YOU WON THERE? "We had a good car. We had run fourth during the spring and got shuffled out there towards the end. We felt like we really had an opportunity to win that race which was the Winston 500. When I went back the second time there I said to myself that I wasn't gonna let that happen again. We had a good car all day and I never really pushed the issue. I sort of stayed in line and didn't get anybody mad at me and with about 20 laps to go the big man, Junior (Johnson), came on the radio and said, 'I believe you need to do her now.' We got to the lead and we were able to hold on and beat Bill Elliott at the end to win."

WAS IT MORE SPECIAL TO WIN THERE ON THE FASTEST TRACK ON THE CIRCUIT? "I think winning a Winston Cup race anywhere is important, but for me personally, most of my races before I started Winston Cup was always at Daytona. I never went to Talladega, but I watched it on TV and it was so exciting because you always had 20 car drafts and you never knew who was gonna win. I don't think the best car wins that race all the time. I think that it's a lot of strategy and being at the right place at the right time. You don't want to make people mad at you all day long. You get yourself mad by letting them in and stuff like that, but I guess it's called experience or patience or whatever you want to call it, but the key is to put yourself in a better position to win."

DOES IT SEEM LIKE YESTERDAY WHEN YOU WON THERE? "I think you always remember what you've done in the past at a race track and I don't think it's something that's really, really fresh in your mind. Every time Sunday is over, there's always next week and that's the way you've gotta look at it. If you try to live on your laurels of what you did in the past, this sport will eat you alive."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Buddy Baker