Indianapolis Ford Racing Friday notes

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus - "Well, it felt awfully good, no doubt about it. It was circumstances leading up to the pole run. We really didn't know what we had because we had to run a backup car because we destroyed the...

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus - "Well, it felt awfully good, no doubt about it. It was circumstances leading up to the pole run. We really didn't know what we had because we had to run a backup car because we destroyed the other one at Pocono a couple of weeks ago, so we really didn't know what we had until we got back. The guys worked hard on it and it turned out to be a good day."

HOW SPECIAL IS IT TO RETURN AS A PAST CHAMPION? "It feels awfully good just to come back to the Brickyard. We've been fortunate enough to be able to win here in the past. We've had some runs here, even without the win. We're sitting in a really good position to maybe try to duplicate a win. A lot of guys, it's gonna be very competitive, but we're sitting in an awfully good race car this week, so I'm really excited about it."

ON BEING 10TH IN THE POINTS STANDINGS. "Well, the points are, they're sort of mixed emotions. We were sixth in points a couple of weeks ago, one major wreck we had last week early in the race really shuffled us back to 10th. I think the key thing is that we're not out of the points hunt yet, maybe out of the win situation, realistically, but not out of the top three or four. An opportunity, I think, a couple weeks ago we were less than 20 points out of fourth, so it can turn around that quickly for us. So, we're happy about it. We think we're gonna end up well, hopefully a top five."

WITH A RACE AS LONG AS THIS, IS IT A MAJOR ADVANTAGE TO START FROM THE POLE? "I think as long as your in the top 10 somewhere it's advantage because you don't have wear your equipment down in the first part of the race, and the farther you get back in the field you end up with the air back there gets mixed up pretty badly and your car tends not handle as good as it does in the front of the pack. So, our goal is starting off right, we got good track position, and the trouble we're gonna have is making sure that we maintain that all day."

POINTS ASIDE, HOW HAS THE SEASON PROGRESSED WITH YOUR NEW TEAM? "We're real happy with the way things have gone. I think in a lot of ways we're way ahead of schedule. The only negative is we haven't won yet, but realistically we didn't expect to win until in the second half of the season. Our goals were to try start logging top-five finishes and we've been able to do that, I'm sure exactly of the stats, but it's been quite a few top fives. Unless we have some type of a malfunction or something during the race, right now, generally we can run in the top five. And, you do that frequently enough and a win will come. That's kind of been our strategy and seems to be working out that way so far anyway."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSISTENT SOLID RUNS. "Just good solid runs. Like last week at Pocono, at the midway point we had run as high as second on the race track, worked our way back, and had run as high as second just out of simply passing a lot of race cars, not inheriting any of that position, and we were getting to pass Rusty at one point, and right then was a scheduled pit stop. So, we ran very well there and I still think we could've been a major factor at the end of the race. Unfortunately we didn't get there. It seems like the days that we have really standout days we have not been able to capitalize. Both Poconos were standout days we weren't able to capitalize. Martinsville early in the year was a good race for us. But, we've been solid just about every week now."

THIS IS THE TYPE OF RACE TRACK WHERE YOU AND ROBERT YATES RACING TEAMMATE DALE JARRETT CAN DO VERY WELL. "What I think we've got going for us, this track has been good to me as a driver and it's been good to the team from the standpoint of the cars seem to do well here. So, looking at it from that angle, I feel like we've got the best situation going. We've got a very fast car. You've got two drivers who get around here very well. So, I'd say we're definitely looking forward to Saturday's race."

TOMORROW YOU'LL START ON THE POLE AND NEXT TO YOU WILL BE DARRELL WALTRIP. THAT'S A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT THIS YEAR. "Yeah, a little bit. There's no doubt that Darrell had one of the best runs he's had in many, many years. Just a tremendous effort. Hate to be the guy who bumped him out of the pole, but the way I look at it, he's still on the pole, he's just on the outside."

HAVE YOU GIVEN THOUGHT ABOUT KENNY IRWIN AND HAD HE BEEN IN THIS CAR, AND NOW THE CAR IS ON THE POLE? "It's Kenny's hometown right here. The team, these guys worked with Kenny for over two years, you gotta lot of guys that were very close to Kenny - and you can tell that it's on their minds right now. A lot of these guys are thinking about the situation and can't help but probably reflect back a year ago, and I know all of these guys would love to come in here and win a race for Kenny."

WHY DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAMMATE, DALE JARRETT, HAS BEEN ABLE TO RAISE HIS LEVEL IN THE BIGGEST RACES? "I think it goes beyond just Dale's driver ability. He knows this race track probably as good, if not better, than anybody. Certain drivers shine at different race tracks and he's probably been the guy to beat here. I think when you come here you think about who gets around this track probably the best in race conditions, and Dale comes quickly to mind. His team is the same type of a team. It's led by a lot of veterans. You got Todd Parrott, crew chief, and he knows how to rise to the occasion, makes sure he brings his very best equipment to this race track. He knows what his best equipment is. He brings that set-up to the race track. So I think it's a combination of all of the above. Dale being a great driver at this race track, Todd Parrott as crew chief knowing what kind of equipment to bring for him, and Robert Yates on the engine, Doug Yates on the engine program, knowing what kind of motor combination to put under the hood." HE'S ALSO WON DAYTONA THREE TIMES... "He definitely seems to arise to the occasion at the big races. We were at a function last night and Darrell Waltrip was talking about it. I think, if I'm not mistaken, I don't think Dale knew the number but he asked Dale how much money he made this year and he didn't really, I don't think he knew the number. He honestly didn't know. I think Darrell had been reading statistics and I think it's four million dollars to this point, I think, and they had a lot of fun with that one after a while, but Dale seems to rise to the bigger races. For some reason he just seems to pull a little extra out." DO YOU

HAVE ANY THOUGHTS YOURSELF ABOUT WINNING THIS RACE FOR KENNY? "Kenny and I, I'm not going to mislead you and tell we knew each other very well and we were very close, I had a lot of respect for Kenny. I think the team was very close to Kenny. I think everyone on this team would love to see something great happen this weekend. I don't think there's any question about it, they'll dedicate it in Kenny's memory. Kenny came on this team probably at a time it wasn't ideal for a rookie to step into it. I think Kenny had a bright future, this ride just wasn't set up correctly for a rookie to step in. But these guys were very close to Kenny. I knew Kenny not that well, but a lot of respect for his abilities and future he had."

IS THIS RACE ONE OF THE MORE COMPETITIVE RACES? CAN ANY ONE OF A DOZEN DRIVERS WIN IT? "Well, I would hate to try to predict winners here. In '97 we qualified in the top10 and if you asked to predict Ricky Rudd was gonna win the Brickyard, my name wouldn't have been in that hat. So, I think this race lends itself to that type of a situation. It's almost impossible to predict a winner here because you get back into the unusual situation where track position becomes so important at this race track, and the things that you do to gain track position are a little unusual. Fuel mileage plays a factor. Gambling on a two-tire stop instead of a four-tire stop. All those things will play into the outcome of this race. If it went green the entire time, green-flag racing, it'd be much easier to predict winners, but this race never does that."

ARE YOU CONFIDENT ABOUT THE RACE? "I feel like we have the opportunity to win again, but I think the competition has caught up a lot -- not only here but a lot of places, but, in particular, here. I mean, this is obviously what we're focusing on this week. Last year, I don't know that you can ever have a perfect race, but that was as close as it could come because we did everything just like we needed to do. We had a good qualifying effort, we got the lead, we led the laps. The pit crew did a great job on the green flag stops of keeping me out front and then Todd made the right call with getting two tires at the end and that kept us out front, so everything went just as we planned. If you could sit down and write out a script, that's what you would want to do, so it's gonna be tough to top that but I still think that we have a very good shot at winning."

ARE THERE MORE VARIABLES IN THIS RACE? "I think it takes the most complete package here of anywhere that we race. You can look at Daytona, and, obviously as we've talked, it's still our biggest race, but there are some things there that you can get by without having that you have to have here. In a race car, it takes the total package. You have to have a really good engine because of the long straightaways, you have to have a good aerodynamic package to get down the straightaways, but yet be able to get through these flat corners. And then you have to have a good handling package or you're not gonna be able to utilize the horsepower that you have. And then track position is important, so the pit crew has to do their job because if they put a dominant car or a very good car back in fifth or sixth or 10th place, then you're gonna have a hard time because of the competition and how tough it is to pass here. So I think here, more than anywhere that we race, you have to have the total package to get to victory lane."

WHAT ABOUT THE PRESSURE? "There's a lot of pressure, but I think just being able to come here and race kind of outweighs that pressure. You know it's a big race, you're a little more nervous at the start -- kind of like the Daytona 500 -- but once you get into the flow that kind of goes away, but there is a lot of pressure. I think we put a lot of pressure, I know I do on myself because I know how big this is and it only comes around once a year. You hate to have to wait another whole year if you don't win to get that opportunity to come here and get into victory lane again."

WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO RAISE YOUR LEVEL HERE? "I enjoy what it takes to win at these pressure-packed events. I think we've worked extremely hard, not that we don't work hard every week, but in particular we pay a lot of attention whenever it comes to the bigger races. I enjoy the challenge that it takes knowing that everybody is here and at Daytona with their very best equipment. Everybody has been here testing like we do at Daytona. All of the other races you don't see everybody go to those places and test other than Daytona and Indianapolis, so I know that everybody has their best equipment and they're the most prepared for any race that we go to and that challenge is one that I like. I like to know that when we win, we've beaten the best at their best and I like that."

HOW IS THE START OF THE RACE HERE? "The start here is very tough. You know that if you're in that outside line you've got to get to the inside and you certainly don't want to get yourself into trouble early in this race. It's 400 miles and you're gonna have opportunities, but yet you don't want to go back 10 spots because you know how difficult it is to pass, so there's a fine line of just being patient and getting yourself in line. Everybody starts out with that mindset at the beginning of the race, but as soon as that flag drops it seems like that goes out the window, so this is a tough start --everybody funneling down into that first corner."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STEALTH RISE IN THE POINT STANDINGS? "We've learned a lot. I've talked all year about the new generation Goodyear tire and that was the biggest factor in what we found early in the year -- that we just weren't getting a handle on it. We've worked hard in a lot of areas to ensure that we are learning and know what it takes to run with this tire and to be competitive. We were struggling to be a top 10 car and trying to get ourselves to the top five, that was like a victory for us. Now, we've got ourselves in the top five battling for victories and as long you run there, you're gonna be able to get some wins. So, we're back on track so to speak. I like what I see with our race team -- what we're doing, the people that we have. Obviously, we had to replace some people that we had lost and it takes some time to do that, so I think it was just a combination of things, but we're headed in a direction now that can win us another championship."

DOES THIS CHAMPIONSHIP COME DOWN TO PATIENCE AND POISE? "Obviously, the championship comes down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes. That's what you see. You can't get overly excited at any race track, you have to be patient and take the opportunities when they present themselves to you. If you start trying to make things happen, then you're gonna run yourself out of it probably, but the people we're battling have been there. They know the same things we know about this, so it's gonna take us making a lot of right decisions and getting ourselves in the right spots -- keeping ourselves out of the wrong places more than anything -- and we know how to do that, but so does Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Burton and Mark Martin and Tony Stewart -- all of these guys -- Ricky Rudd, the top 10 can still win this championship and we just have to be smarter than the rest of them. We've got to get back into victory lane. Certainly, it's gonna take some race wins to be able to challenge for the championship, but the biggest think in these last 15 (races) is we have to be consistent and take those wins when the opportunity presents itself."

IS THERE A DIFFERENT MINDSET WITH FIVE OR SIX GUYS BATTLING FOR THE TITLE INSTEAD OF ONE OR TWO? "No, I think what you've gotta do is you have to race hard -- you race to win. I'm not really paying attention to what Bobby's doing or what Dale's doing or any of the other guys, my main concern is our car and getting it to the point and the level each week that we can challenge for victory. The days that somebody has hit on a better setup than us, then we've got to get the most points that we can. You can't keep up with what everybody else is doing, you just have to do your job and keep your mind and focus on your race team because then things will work out."

WHO DO YOU VIEW AS CHALLENGERS TOMORROW? "I could sit here and go down a whole list of people that have an opportunity to win this race. Obviously, I think both of the Yates cars have that chance. We start first with Ricky and fifth with us and I think we have a good opportunity to bring Robert Yates another Brickyard victory, but Dale Earnhardt tested well here and has run well and you can tell he's pretty excited about his chances. Bobby Labonte is going to be there, he's been up there in the top three the last three of these, I believe, so there's just an endless number. If it comes down to strategy towards the end and if something different can happen, then we might have a winner from somebody that you thought during the day was gonna win, but any of a number of people can win this. I think it's pretty wide open."

JEFF BURTON --99-- Exide Batteries Taurus -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT COMING TO INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY? "This is history beyond what NASCAR has. I have a lot of respect for the things that were done here way before we got here. We have been a small piece of the puzzle that has made this race track great. We're a little small piece. So much was done here before we got here and the history here goes way, way beyond NASCAR. NASCAR is a great organization and a great sport, but there are things, again, that have more history to it and Indianapolis Motor Speedway does. It means a lot to come here and it means even more to run well here and perform at your best. When you come to a place like this and perform at your best it gives you a good feeling."

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- WHAT HAPPENED WITH JEREMY'S ACCIDENT? "I just can't believe how close it was that I was right in the middle of that deal. We were drafting together. What happened was that both team cars, we came down the front straightaway -- Jeremy was waiting on me -- I pulled in the front and he pulls in behind me and we go flying down the back straightaway bumper-to-bumper getting ready to run together and all of a sudden I see the 33 car up in the gray area. I was focusing like 'what's going on there' and just about the time I saw that my car turned dead sideways and slid down the race track and went all the way up in the gray. I was fighting it all the way trying to keep it out of the wall because I hit the oil and about wrecked the car. Then I glanced in the mirror and saw Jeremy's car flying apart with smoke everywhere. But what happened was he was behind me. We were running and I hit the oil and he must have got just a little bit more of the oil than I got and he went right around." SO DID YOU SPIN? "No, I did not spin. I slid, but I never did spin. We could have taken both team cars out right then. We were bumper-to-bumper. I went dead sideways and he didn't make it."

DID THE 33 ENGINE BLOW? "No, the 97 car. The 33 hit it and he about crashed. I hit it about crashed and Jeremy hit it and did crash."

AS FAR AS THE RACE, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE TOP 10 IT'S LITTERED WITH MARQUEE NAMES. IS IT NICE TO LOOK AT IT AND SEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT? "I've gotta be honest with you, I don't look at it that way, I really don't. I look at them all as competition. I look at the guys that I think are gonna run fast. I watch the guys that have been running fast all through practice and those are the guys I'm focusing on. Yeah, it's cool to see Darrell Waltrip in the front row. With just a little bit of something he could have been on the pole, that would have been unreal. That would have been good and I would have been happy for him, but the first practice is a race all of its own and then when qualifying starts that's another race. I was more upset and thought I was gonna get the pole. I had a real fast time and made some adjustments and overshot. I got the car too loose for qualifying and fell back to 10th, but that's my best start here. I usually don't qualify good here, but I run good in the race. I've been real happy with my car in practice. It's been fast, we've brought our very strongest engine ever here for the race and it's flying in practice. I'm real happy with it. Our engine that we're sticking in for tomorrow's race is a really neat piece. It's so neat that we're not even gonna run it today. We're gonna put it in cold turkey tomorrow morning and then start the race because we don't want to put any miles on it."

SO YOU WON'T RUN THAT MOTOR THIS AFTERNOON? "We've got a motor that's fairly close to it in the car right now and it's running strong. We're using that for practice and when it's over and we get done today, that motor comes out and the race engine goes in. We'll run today, but not with that (the race) engine. I've never done that. We've had to do that when we wake up on a Sunday morning and there's something wrong with the motor -- maybe they find shavings or something in the oil -- you put a fresh motor in and you go. There's nothing to it, we feel totally confident, but we're doing it this way because we want to keep all the miles off the engine."

WHAT MAKES THIS RACE IMPORTANT TO YOU? "What makes this race so important to me is that this race track is so important to my car owner, Mr. Penske. He's always wanted to win here in a stock car. He'll be here tomorrow morning, he's all excited and been talking about it for two months now. He's all excited about it. We've targeted it with engines and our best cars. This is our new Penske chassis, the whole deal, so it's more important for me to win this race for Roger. My most important race is the Daytona 500 and you know, quite honestly, that's probably still his but he wants this thing bad."

Second Round Qualifying

BRETT BODINE --11-- Ralphs Supermarket Taurus - "He (brother Geoffrey) come over and told me and said, 'Look, I'm telling you, new tires are going to make a big difference in this race car,' he said you just gotta believe in 'em. You know, he said, 'You gotta run down in the .20s anyway,' and who ever thought it would run down in a track record?"

ON HIS RECORD LAP. "It was just an unbelievable lap for us. I made a mistake yesterday, right before qualifying I got the car in the fence off the fourth turn and the guys just scrambled to get this thing together, just to make a lap yesterday. And then they just worked their tails off this morning, trying different combinations, throwing at it to see which Mike thought was the best. I just give him the input and he made the decisions on what set-up to run. Geoff come over before qualifying and he just gave me a word of encouragement. He said those new tires are gonna make a difference, man, he said just go ahead and do it. And I thought it would still run good, but I didn't think it was gonna run that fast."

THIS IS A SHOT OF ADRENALINE THAT THIS TEAM HAS BEEN THIRSTY FOR. "Oh, really has been. And I'm so proud of our sponsors, Ralphs Supermarkets and all our associates, just a solid effort for this race team. You know, people get down and out, we were down and out right up 'til qualifying, and this is what it's all about so keep digging."

WHAT RUNS THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU MAKE THE LEAP FROM LOOKING TO QUALIFYING TO SETTING A TRACK RECORD HERE? "You go out there and try your hardest, and whatever it gives you, it gives you. And, I had no idea that our best effort could be that good, but I'm really happy that it was. This team deserved a vote of confidence, and we got it."

WHAT ABOUT THE WORK THAT WENT INTO GETTING THE CAR READY BOTH YESTERDAY AND TODAY? "Just a tremendous amount of work. I got into the fence just prior to qualifying yesterday, and the guys had to straighten the front suspension, the body, the rear suspension. They just threw it together to get a lap in yesterday and worked real hard today to make it go fast and I guess they did a good job."

ROBBY GORDON --13-- Menards/Turtle Wax Taurus - "We missed the grip lines. We were about a second quicker than that this morning, and for some reason when the sun came out on tires we had to qualify on, they just did a four-wheel slide, hit the wall in turn two, did a four-wheel slide coming off turn four and just barely grazed in four. That's about all I had, you know, that I could get out of the car. It's obviously frustrating because I thought we had a better race car than a qualifying car and now we're gonna obviously miss the show, have to go back and regroup and hopefully be better prepared for Watkins Glen."

TOUGH TO PREPARE BECAUSE IT WAS A COMBINATION OF SUN AND CLOUDS? "Not so much that it was consistent, we're just not having any luck on our side right now."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Darrell Waltrip , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Robert Yates , Mark Martin