MIKE SKINNER, NO. 4 KODAK PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: YOU WERE FASTEST IN BOTH SESSIONS TODAY...THAT'S A NICE START FOR YOU IN THE PONTIAC... "Yeah, it really was. They've been telling me that 'Wider Is Better' and I'm starting to believe it. I'm...
MIKE SKINNER, NO. 4 KODAK PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
YOU WERE FASTEST IN BOTH SESSIONS TODAY...THAT'S A NICE START FOR YOU IN THE PONTIAC... "Yeah, it really was. They've been telling me that 'Wider Is Better' and I'm starting to believe it. I'm really, really proud of our new 2003 Pontiac. This team has obviously done a lot of work over the wintertime and I'm very proud of all the guys. We've got new people that have come in. Tony Furr has come in to help Chris Carrier and Tim Weiss to kind of head things and run things. This business has gotten to the point where we've all got pretty much to the same parts and pieces and it's all about people and technology. Gary Grossenbacher has come back and re-joined the team in a technical support and engineering department.
"I feel like there are just going to be a lot of positives this year. We had an awfully tough year last year. It just seemed like we couldn't get a break. I don't know how many motors we blew up, but it was a lot. We ran out of gas a lot. The driver made some mistakes. We just really couldn't do anything right. Hopefully, that will all turn around this year. I think everybody is focused right now. I'm in good physical and mental shape.
"This is a great way to start the year. We rolled off the truck in decent shape, I think.
"The car felt good all day. I think the car will run faster. We haven't blocked off or anything. But, I talked to Tony [Stewart] (second fastest) and I know he hasn't, either, so I think both cars will run a little bit faster. How much? I really don't know. There are a lot of unknowns with our new Pontiac right now. We don't know how much tape is going to help it. I don't look for it to go a lot faster, but I think we can run a little faster than we ran today."
CAN YOU TELL MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE, GOING FROM LAST YEAR'S CHEVROLET TO THIS YEAR'S PONTIAC? "Absolutely, there is quite a bit of difference in it. But, if you think back at what NASCAR had to do to make the Monte Carlo competitive with the Dodge and the Ford Taurus - we were running a lot more kick-out in the nose. We had a lot of crutches to make the Monte Carlo as competitive as it was. I think what NASCAR has done - and my hat is off to them - hopefully, this will work out all year - they've got all these cars now to where the measurements are pretty close to being the same. The one car doesn't have to be a lot wider or narrower or taller or bigger spoiler or different valance heights. I think that's all a bunch of malarkey. I think these cars ought to have the same spoilers, the same everything and make us work on the cars. And, if the car isn't fast enough, then give the manufacturer a change that will make the car competitive without crippling your competition. I think we were crippled a little bit at times. I don't think our cars were bad as we ran. I think we had better cars than what it showed. It was just our first year together. We have a single-car race team competing with an awful lot of multi-car teams with a lot more technical support. Pontiac is giving us a lot of technical support right now. We're a little bigger fish in a smaller pond. But, the thing about the smaller pond, with our smaller group of Pontiacs we're getting more individual attention.
"I think when you have a small race team, like Ricky Craven's team or our team - they're smaller race teams than Hendrick and Roush and all these people - I think we need the support a little bit more than they do. They have all their own engineering staff that they can pretty much handle it on their own. I can't say enough for Pontiac and General Motors and Kodak, for that matter. They've really stepped the program up. I think it's going to be a lot better year for us."
DOES THIS TEAM FOCUS MORE ON DAYTONA? "Not really. We're focusing really, mainly, right now on our flat-track stuff. That's where we struggled the most. We're really, really focusing hard on that. We've got a test planned at Vegas. We're going to do some other non-NASCAR tracks that the Cup cars don't run and do some flat-track testing - probably quite a bit of it. We ran pretty good at Rockingham toward the end of the year. We had some really good runs at Texas and Charlotte. We were competitive at those places a lot more than our finishes showed for it. We had something happen during the race, whether it was a mechanical failure or run out of gas or whatever. But, where we're struggling the most right now is on the flat tracks and that is where we're going to put our main focus.
"Everybody always puts a lot of focus into the Daytona 500. It's the 'Super Bowl.' NASCAR racing is the only sport I know that has its Super Bowl the first race of the year."
ARE THESE CARS THIS YEAR A LITTLE 'DRAGGIER' THAN LAST YEAR'S CARS OVERALL? "Speaking for the Pontiac, we probably have a more balanced race car and we probably have a little more front downforce, which might make the car a little bit draggier. The plus-side of that is when you get a lot of laps on the tires, that's going to pay dividends. Right now, on the overall speed, it might be off just a little bit. But, I think there is more speed in them. We did not do a total banzai, block-off run today and I know Tony didn't either because I talked to him."
WHAT DOES YOUR PERFORMANCE TODAY DO FOR YOUR OUTLOOK ON THE START OF THE SEASON? "When I came here years ago, I tried to make the race one time with Thee Dixon and didn't make it. Then, I came back and sat on the pole for the ARCA race with Richard Childress and then came back and sat on both poles in '97. The first pole and the first day of testing with Richard Childress' team, I thought, 'Man, this is easy. This is just like the Truck series. We're going to kick these guys' butts.' It didn't take long to get humbled up on that deal. This is a tough arena over here. Topping the chart in one day of practice isn't going to be no insurance that we're going to come in here and win the Daytona 500. But, we've had an awfully competitive race car when it wasn't near this fast. When the green flag drops and we're out there in that draft, I think - if the car is this fast now - it will draft even better, so I'm excited about that.
"I know that there were times with the '31' car, if we had a real fast car in practice and we could get that thing to run around other cars, as you guys all saw, there were three or four of these restrictor plate races that we pretty much had in the bag and one thing or another would happen. But, you've just got to keep knocking on that door and hopefully one day it will come open."
DID YOU GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO ANYONE TODAY TO SEE IF THE NEW RULES WILL HELP DIMINISH THE AERO PUSH WE SEE SO MUCH HERE? "No, but we did at Talladega, and the answer to that is, 'No, we're still going to have the aero push.' These cars are pretty aero-dependent. When aerodynamics plays as big a role as it does in this sport with these big cars you're going to have that. I just don't know how we're going to get away from that. I can tell you this - the car is more balanced and in yaw - when the car is turning - it doesn't load the back of the car way up, so it still has some front downforce. So, I think it will be better. Is it gone? No way."