This Week in Ford Racing NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, is a two-time champion of the Brickyard 400, which is the next stop on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Sunday afternoon. Jarrett, who is still ...
This Week in Ford Racing
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, is a two-time champion of the Brickyard 400, which is the next stop on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Sunday afternoon. Jarrett, who is still within striking distance of the top 10, was this week's guest on the weekly national teleconference.
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus
THE 88 TEAM HAS MADE A BIG CHARGE OF LATE. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TURNAROUND?
"I guess it's been an ongoing process, really. Mike Ford came in at the end of last year for us to start our campaign for 2004, and I think Mike would be the first to tell you that what he expected to come into at Robert Yates Racing, knowing that we had slipped a little bit, that we were actually further down the ladder than he thought. There were a lot of problems within our organization and there was a lot more work to do there than what he anticipated. I think this has just been a matter of the time that it takes to really reorganize an organization such as ours. It's been a huge undertaking for everyone involved, but we think we now have found over the last two months the direction that we want to go with our chassis and our body configurations. I think we've learned all of that and it's helped us to build some more cars and compete well. Certainly, Doug Yates and his people at the engine shop have done a tremendous job in getting the new heads from Ford Motor Company and putting those into work, so all of that combination has helped us tremendously. We still have some areas that we have to improve in, certainly. We haven't been to victory lane yet, but that's a tall order for a team that really is rebuilding. Now we find ourselves in a position that we could possibly get into the top 10, so we just have to work hard and continue to do those things. But it's been fun to see this group rebuild and get back to a good form of racing."
WHY DO YOU DESERVE TO BE IN THE TOP 10 AFTER 26 RACES?
"Because we're great competitors is the first thing and we're nice guys on top of that (laughing). Are we a top 10 team? And I don't mean this in a wrong way, but, as I've said, we are rebuilding. I think that Mike and myself and even Eddie D'Hondt and probably Robert would tell you that we may not be exactly what you'd look at as a top 10 team competing week-in and week-out up to this point - especially up to the first of June. Since that time, we have become closer to a top 10 team, but I think we could be a very exciting team in those last 10 races because of the different type of race tracks that we go to and the success that we've had at a number of those race tracks. So I think that we could be a team that could make a difference in those, and a team that would really be hitting its stride at the right time if we're able to capitalize in these next six races to put ourselves in that position. So I think that's what it was designed for - for teams that not necessarily have done well in the first 26, obviously you have to do that, but for teams that are kind of hitting their focus and making things happen at the right time, which would be for those last 10 races. I think we are a team that could be very dangerous in that type of a situation because we haven't really been looked upon to this point as a team to be reckoned with, but I think that we're getting to a point where people now know that they do have to outrun us to have a good day."
IS THE BRICKYARD THE KIND OF RACE THAT GIVES A DRIVER MOMENTUM TO CARRY HIM TO THE FINISH?
"I think this weekend could be huge for anybody in that eighth position back through 15th - that could take some momentum from Indy. We know what it's done for us in the past when we've won this race and it could be huge for us. It's a race that a lot of cars finish on the lead lap, so if any of your competitors that you're racing for those points there should happen to have a little bit of an off day or any type of problem, then it could be a huge swing in points. So this weekend is gonna be very big and, obviously, having won there in the past and having a good test a couple of weeks ago, I feel very good about our chances and what that could do for us to get us into that chase for those last 10."
IS IT FAIR TO QUALIFY ON SATURDAY MORNING AS THE DAY AND TRACK GETS HOTTER?
"It's certainly a situation where it's gonna be beneficial to a few drivers and then it's gonna be hurting probably more than what it's helping because as it starts to heat up, the race track changes tremendously. Those guys that get probably the first 15 spots are gonna be the ones that are really gonna have an advantage, so I understand what they're doing and what works for each track. It doesn't necessarily work for the competitors each time, but that's what we have to deal with. I would say it's probably more of a situation that would be disheartening to a team that's just trying to make this race and doesn't have points to fall back on or anything like that. I would say that draw on Friday, whenever they get their qualifying position, could make or break their opportunity to get in the Brickyard 400. You'd like to see it to where it's closer and maybe more fair for everyone involved, but I know that they like to have and keep a lot of activity going on around the speedway. If you just showed up and all we had was practice, it's not like we have a secondary event or anything like that because the Busch race is not at the speedway. So I understand what they're doing. For that, I think that we compensate and take what we can get and go on with it."
IS IT DISRUPTIVE AT ALL OR DO YOU GUYS GET INTO A ROUTINE?
"It is something different and I think that change is always good. Obviously, I'm in a sport that changes on a pretty regular basis, so having one weekend like that and understanding the magnitude of this race and why they're doing what they're doing, I think that once you understand that it's no big deal. We go with whatever the schedule is for that particular weekend and make it work for us. It's not like we're missing out on any practice time or anything, this is just what works out best for the speedway and keeping their fans involved and making the most of the weekend."
CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR TITLE IN '99 TO THIS NEW FORMAT? HOW WILL THIS YEAR'S CHAMPION BE COMPARED AND DOES THIS YEAR HAVE ANY SIMILARITY AS FAR AS CHASING THE HENDRICK TEAMS?
"Yeah, that's who we had to beat in '99, but as far as the comparison - I don't think we've ever gone back to 1972 or whenever it was that we really started looking at this or even back to the sixties when my dad was winning championships and compared how they tallied points at that time, which was different because it was based somewhat on the miles of the race and things like that. There's always gonna be changes throughout. You go to the NFL and they don't compare the Super Bowl champions of the past when the rules were a little different and before they had instant replay and reviewing all of that. So I think this will be fine. The one guy right now that is hating that the system changed is Jimmie Johnson and his team, who have a tremendous lead. When I look at them, I see a lot of the same things that we did in '99, the same things that Jeff Gordon has done in the years that he's won and when Bobby Labonte won and Tony Stewart won and, as Matt did last year, they were very consistent at what they did as we were. We didn't have failures. We didn't have part failures. We did the right things on the race track and made the right calls and won races, so when we get to the end of 26 races, that's gonna be gone for those guys. So that's gonna be something totally different, but I don't think it's gonna change the way that we look at whoever the champion is. Could that be us if we get into the top 10? Certainly, it could. But the Hendrick teams are the teams right now that you're gonna have to beat if you're gonna contend. They seem to have everything in order right now and that's kind of the way we were in '99. We seemed to have everything in order. We had no engine failures. I think we were involved in maybe one or two accidents throughout the year. We finished in the top 10 29 out of 34 races that year and that's the kind of thing you see those Hendrick cars doing right now. They're doing everything. They have the aero package. They have their chassis package figured out and their engine combination is just awesome. I think that everybody out there is chasing and trying to measure up to them right now. We're doing a good job with that, but they seem to have everything in place. So if you have any thoughts of winning this championship in 2004, then you're gonna have to beat Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, for sure."
HAS THIS SEASON GONE LIKE YOU THOUGHT WITH THE YOUNG GUYS BEING IN THE TOP 10 AND THE VETERANS WAITING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THEIR EXPERIENCE?
"I don't know. When I sat back, I knew our situation of trying to rebuild this year and I don't know what my expectations were. I think it was a matter that we improve throughout the season. I don't know that I would sit down though and say I honestly thought that Rusty Wallace and Mark would be factors in this. Certainly, Mark has that opportunity there just as we do to get involved in that 10-race shootout, but the young guys have done a tremendous job. They're with good teams and they have great equipment, so there's just a lot of talent out there. I think it's a matter, you know Mark himself was in somewhat of a rebuilding process because last year wasn't the year that he hoped to have, so I think it's more that we've been on the outside a little bit trying to figure out the new way the cars are set up, the way they drive now is totally different and the things that you have to apply to them is totally different. I think that took all of us a little bit of time, but I would say if we are able to get in that position to solidify ourselves in that top 10, that because of the experience that we have that could certainly benefit us at the end of the season."
DO YOU SEE THIS AS A TRANSITION YEAR FOR SOME OF THE VETERANS?
"I think what I'm looking at as far as myself, I know that this isn't something I'm gonna do for 10 more years. I can assure you of that. How many, I don't know. But I know that I have two more years after this that I'm gonna do this and I wanted to lay the groundwork here to get our team back to where we could compete at a high level. That could benefit us for the next two years and knowing that it was gonna take the majority of the season to accomplish that. So that was basically what I was looking for with our team. Now what will happen after the 2006 season, if I'm still competitive and want to move on and feel like we have continued to put this work in progress that we can be competitive week-in and week-out, then I may continue on from there. But we'll just have to see that as we go, but I looked at this year as one to help us rebuild and solidify ourselves for the next two years coming up."
HOW FRAGILE IS SUCCESS IN THIS SPORT RIGHT NOW?
"A lot more than I ever imagined. I guess I was thinking that once you reached that level, and then back early in my career didn't know if I would ever get to that level of success, but after achieving that and establishing ourselves as one of the teams to beat week-in and week-out, you didn't ever feel like you would fall down that other side. But you've seen it happen in our sport and in a lot of other sports too. A lot of drivers have gone through the very same thing with teams and with the competition that way that it is this day and time, I think that opportunity is there even more so now because with the number of teams that have the backing with the personnel and the driver abilities that are out there, it only takes a little bit of being off and you find yourself really struggling. We were more than a little bit off last year. We found ourselves moving totally away from the things that made us successful and we had to really search and find the person and the people that were gonna make that possible. As much as we talk about the driver in this business and the amount of credit and blame that we do get as the driver, it's still all about the people that we put in place and having that leadership and direction that makes us successful. So it is very fragile. It makes you appreciate those times even more. I know that when I do get back to victory lane I'm gonna appreciate it more than I ever have and, hopefully, we'll have a lot of those to come. But it's a very difficult business at this point in time."
COULD YOU SENSE THINGS SLIPPING AWAY?
"I saw it coming a little bit, but not to the point that I ever thought we would get in the position that we were last year. I just felt like we had enough information and people around us that we couldn't fall that far, but even though I spend a good bit of time at the race shop, there were so many things going on that I wasn't aware of that were putting us further behind. I think that it was slowly slipping away, but I think the majority of it came at once and that was probably about a quarter of the way into last year - whenever we basically didn't have a direction of who we wanted running our operation and what direction we were going with our chassis and bodies. From that point on it totally slipped away from us."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE IN A REBUILDING PHASE NOW?
"I'm not frustrated. If we weren't getting anywhere in our rebuilding here, I would probably be frustrated, but I feel like we've made great strides this year. Again, unless you're right there on the inside and know how far down we've gone, I'm not sure that you can really appreciate where we're at. Even though there are still areas we have to improve in, I think that we're working hard to make those improvements and I see those improvements coming slowing in some areas, but I do have some time here. And because I love to compete and because I understand the nature of the business and being a part of it for such a long time, I understand that these things as quickly as we want them to happen don't always happen like that. So I'm very upbeat. Again, I love doing what I do. If I didn't see that progress, then things may be different. But I do see progress. I enjoy working with the people that I have working around me now. I have a great teammate in Elliott Sadler that makes this business fun, not only on the race track but away from it because of the friendship that we have. He's somebody I have fun playing golf with and just hanging out with and he's truly a good friend. To see not only my team with the 88 guys rebuilding and having success, but to watch Elliott and his team having success too gives me a lot of satisfaction there. If I didn't believe we could take this all the way back to the top, then it might be a little different, but I believe we can do that."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMPETING SPONSORS IN VICTORY LANE? JIMMIE JOHNSON WAS FINED TODAY FOR WHAT HE DID IN VICTORY LANE SUNDAY.
"We've always had this and Mike Helton has explained that in our driver's meeting a couple of different times and I know they have talked with certain drivers. But this isn't something that's totally new. Obviously, because of the exposure that we have now, it's a little more magnified, but there always has to be room for all of these people. Each of us have different sponsors that may conflict with a race sponsor or a victory lane sponsor or something of that nature, but you have to make sure and understand that there is room for all of that. This is the first I've heard of this, but I'm sure that's something Jimmie's sponsor felt very strongly about and probably have been pushing pretty hard with that, but there's a balance that you have to strike. I think at times this in your face attitude that we have with some things needs to be toned down a little bit. NASCAR has warned us about this - the actions in victory lane. We've won races that were sponsored by other car manufacturers other than Ford and had all of their stuff in victory lane and we made it work. I'm a Coca-Cola driver and I've won races sponsored by other brands and we made all of that work. There has to be some respect there and make sure that we aren't pushing these others out because, again, I think we've all come to see how fragile these sponsors can be and getting these sponsors involved in our sport is very crucial. Once we have them involved we need to do everything we can to keep them around."
SO PATIENCE IS KEY?
"Patience is very key. I know all of these sponsors put in a lot of money and they want their product to be the only one there, but you have to understand that everybody is doing their part to make this sport what it is and it takes everybody involved. So, yes, patience is key."
HOW DO YOU SEE THINGS SHUFFLING AROUND THESE NEXT FEW RACES?
"My answer to that would be that this is far from over. Certainly, if you had to look at it right now, Jimmie Johnson and his team are the strongest ones out there. Jeff Gordon and his group have shown that they're ready to be there week-in and week-out too, but there's a lot of things to be learned from this point forward. We have a lot of racing to do and guys are gonna do a lot of testing, whether it be at the tracks we're racing at or somewhere else once you get to that point of those 10 races. You have to understand that in those 10 races it only takes one slip up and that puts everybody pretty much in the mix. I would say that anybody in that top 10 is gonna have momentum, especially guys that come in that may just get in there late like our team. I think we're getting better each week and I think we could be a very dangerous team to those guys, if we're able to slip into that top 10 with the momentum that we have going into these last 10 - if we are able in the next six races to get ourselves in that position. Ourselves, Mark Martin has run extremely well. You have a lot of guys that could be very dangerous to them, so saying that it's not up for grabs would be totally the wrong thing. Those guys have proven, yeah, right now in the old point system those would be the two guys you'd have to look at. But with what we have for this year, I think it's totally up for grabs."
COULD SOME TEAMS BE SAVING THINGS AS FAR AS EQUIPMENT AND SHOCK US LATER ON?
"I think that's a possibility. Even though as competitive as we are, if we have something we pretty much want to get it out there and not only test it, but show as early as we can that we're a team to be reckoned with. There may be things that you have found that you can take to another level and that could be something that you're saving for one of those tracks in the last 10 races - that it works better at that type of track than something we're gonna see in these next six, so that's very possible you could do that."
SHOULD GUYS JUST MOVE AWAY FROM THE CAR AFTER THEY WIN? DO YOU HAVE A LOT TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU GET OUT OF THE CAR IN VICTORY LANE?
"They're obviously remembering what they need to do, so they shouldn't have a problem with that. That's exactly the advice that was given by Mike Helton and I'm sure it's been talked about a number of other times besides just at the driver's meeting. If there is a problem or a conflict there, walk away to another spot. The TV cameras and other cameras are gonna go wherever you go. So if that's not what you want in your picture, go to where that's not in your picture but let's not disrespect these people that have put up a lot of money to be a part of our sport."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE TRACK AT INDY?
"I was totally in awe the first time. It was even better than a dream come true because I just never envisioned myself having the opportunity to get into a race car and be competing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was certainly bigger than life and an opportunity that I will always remember that was given me by NASCAR and Tony George and his family for allowing us to come there."
HAVING WON THIS RACE TWICE. HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS YEAR'S EVENT?
"We approach it in a way that we're coming there to win this weekend. We had an excellent test. We're bringing a car that we've had the most success with this year. It did great on the test and I'm really excited about our chances. I look forward to the race for a lot of reasons. It's one of our biggest races. Everybody there just treats us fantastic and the fans just continue to support this race. That gives you just a great feeling about the weekend and I feel that this is our opportunity because of the success we've had. I know what I need to feel in the car for us to have a chance and I know that our people have worked extremely hard in preparing this car and engines that will allow us to run up front for this weekend. So I'm excited and, hopefully, that excitement will carry us over to, if not a victory, to a really good finish."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO BE A THREE-TIME WINNER AT INDY?
"That's quite a special opportunity. As I look at the people that have raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, whether it be in the Indy-style cars or our stock cars, and the opportunities that have been there, and to know that I'm one of a very select group that has multiple wins there means a lot. And to try to get that third, we're using it as motivation and inspiration to try to join that group. Again, never thinking that I was gonna have the opportunity to race there and knowing that this weekend I'm going back there with the opportunity to win a third race is pretty incredible. I don't know if I can express it in words as to how much it would mean to me for people to understand just how much I appreciate - not only the opportunity that we have to race there - but for the opportunity to be in such a select group."
JASON RACED LAST WEEK AT POCONO. HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN HE'S OUT THERE?
"It's a little different. Before the race I'm obviously aware of it. During the race while I'm racing it's not something I think about, but anytime the caution comes out then you're thinking and waiting to hear if that may be him. You're certainly hoping it's not, but I'm excited for him. I know that he would like to get a little more competitive and have the opportunity to learn a little bit more at it, but I'm excited that he gets those chances."
WHAT DIFFERENCES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE SPORT AS FAR AS ENDORSEMENTS AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE?
"Probably the biggest thing is that winning races - the Daytona 500s and even winning the championship - wasn't anything in comparison to what the new TV package and, in particular, my association with UPS and Coca-Cola has done to put my face out there and be more recognized than ever before. Certainly, since my relationship started with UPS - with the commercials that we've done - and also with Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola, we haven't had the success that we had a few years before that, but I'm recognized in more places and by more people than ever before. I think that's what it's done for me. It's opened up doors and opportunities for me in other areas. It's been a lot of fun to do with these commercials and it's just been a blast from my standpoint. But I do know that no matter where you go in the country that our faces are recognized and I think many of the other guys will tell you the same thing."