Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion, is a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 and is the defending pole-winner for the Great American Race. He also held a press conference during a break in testing for next month's season...
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion, is a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 and is the defending pole-winner for the Great American Race. He also held a press conference during a break in testing for next month's season opener.
DALE JARRETT -- No. 88 UPS Ford Fusion
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN AGAIN? "Yeah, you like to think everytime you come here you have that opportunity at least, but you look at it and we've had kind of a dry spell as far as running well here. We've won some poles and things, but that's not really what we're after. We're after trophies, but that's the wrong trophy. I believe that with the change to the Fusion that that's gonna allow the Fords to get themselves in a position to be more of a factor in the Daytona 500 this year. I think that I'm correct in saying that a Ford hasn't won since we did that in 2000, and I think if you look back you probably won't see many laps led by a Ford during that time. So I believe the Fusion is gonna allow us to, again, be more competitive and have that opportunity again, so I'm excited about it. So far in the day-and-a-half that we've had, we've kind of changed our thinking as to what we wanted to do here. We made some chassis changes with one of our cars to hopefully get a piece that would really drive much better than what we've had here the last three or four times. This has become such a handling race track. Like I told the guys over the winter, 'I'm willing to give up some speed, if we can get me something that I know come Sunday afternoon in the Daytona 500, while the other guys are maybe having to feather the gas a little bit in different parts of the corner, if I can stay wide open, then that's what I'm after. So we've worked extremely hard and, so far, that's what we've seen. We're giving up a little bit on the clock, not much because everything is so close, but hopefully that will pay off. We'll be able to see some of that tomorrow in drafting practice, but, hopefully that direction will benefit us greatly when we come back here."
CAN YOU CONTRAST THE DIFFERENCE ON HOW COMPUTERS HAVE GOTTEN INVOLVED IN THE SPORT? "I was thinking earlier this morning. It's funny you asked that question, I can remember one of the first times I came here in a Busch car to test and I got permission from Waddell Wilson and Cale Yarborough, they were here on a private test and that was when everybody came at different times. I built this Busch car and actually put the body on myself with the help of the two guys that worked for me and we really wanted to test it. We put the body on with strings and going down the side of it, and I rolled the metal with an oxygen tank and had different sizes of those to do that. Then we would come here and you would test and, as you made changes, all you had to go by was a hand held stop watch. Now, if we go out and we can pick up five-hundreths-of-a-second with a change, then that's great. But we know that if we did that, that that's the right time -- that it wasn't somebody being a little excited and clocking it a little bit early. So that's just a very small part of what it is. I literally sit in the car now and, unless I'm changing back and forth between the two, and the engineers look at what took place the run before and I'll basically tell them what I felt, if anything, with the car and then they look at everything else with the attitude of the car and exactly what did happen from run to run and what may have made a difference -- if we've picked up or if we've slowed down. So it's incredible what has taken place. I think that's why we see so many competitive teams now because not only with what NASCAR has done with templates and things, but the engineers we have involved now. There are so many smart people in this business. Not that the people before weren't smart, but these people are smart in a different way and have a much better handle on what they're trying to accomplish, instead of just trial and error as we were before."
HOW MUCH DID THE CARS CHANGE FROM DAYTONA TO YOUR WIN AT TALLADEGA LAST YEAR? "I think I have a brand new car here and the other car is the car I won Talladega with, so it wasn't the one I won the pole because I didn't want to drive that car anymore. I ran it at Talladega the first race and that was it for that car pretty much, so things have changed a lot. I think even though we have a new body style here, a lot of the same things you can incorporate. When we looked at the wind tunnel, we saw what we had. We have a little bit better car from the wind tunnel numbers, so we knew that was gonna help, but we still had the issue of the cars not driving as good as what we needed to. And I say we, I speak of Elliott and myself. I spoke with him everyday after his test last week, and we were kind of fighting the same thing, so once we saw that and once his drafting practice was over on Wednesday -- actually after the morning session was over -- we started making some serious changes to one of the chassis of our cars. So we feel like it's totally off the wall from what we've done in the past, and that's the kind of thing that Tommy Baldwin and Slugger have brought to our team because what we were doing was different than what they've done, and, obviously, Slugger has had quite a bit of success here over the year -- even since we've had our success -- so things have changed and that's what they've brought to us is a better driving car. I think that we look at these two race tracks now -- and I speak of Daytona and Talladega -- as totally different animals. I don't think that if you have a car that runs good at Talladega, I don't think that you can bring that car here and be competitive with that car. Now, you may take a car that runs well here and you can go to Talladega, and you won't qualify very well there, but you might be OK once you get in the race. But, again, if you go there with a car and just like the car that I have here from Talladega, that was a very good race car, although it didn't qualify extremely well at Talladega -- it was OK -- but it ran good in the race but it's still not as good a driving car as what my other car is. Just keeping the tires on the car here and staying wide open in the gas. Everybody talks about that's all you do is run wide open, but when you get into the race and you start losing some of that handling and losing some of the grip of the tires, the person that can stay wide open -- and that's what DEI has done well over the years -- that those guys have been able to stay in the gas when everybody else is having to pedal just a little bit. I think that's what Tony did well here is he's able to stay in the gas, so I think that's gonna be the key."
HOW MUCH MORE HARDER IS IT TO WIN THE TITLE THAN IN '99? "I remember something that someone said a long time ago, whether it's winning a race or winning the title that part hasn't changed because you still have to beat everybody else to do that. But I think because of the level of competition -- it used to be and I'll go back to '99 -- if we had an off day we could still run in the top 10 most of the time. I think I'm right in saying that in that year we finished in the top 10 29 out of 34 races and in some of those days we didn't run extremely well, but because the competition wasn't as keen as it is now, you can have a pretty reasonable day in this day and time and be lucky if you run in the top 15. So things have changed that much, so when you see that you realize if you have just a little bit of an off day you're gonna finish outside of the top 20 and those points don't add up very fast. So that's what makes it more difficult now is because you have so many teams there that can make you go from a reasonable day to a really bad day with either just missing the setup or having a slight problem. I think that's why it becomes so much more difficult to get in the chase and then from that point on to go on and win the championship."
WHAT'S HAPPENED AT RYR LATELY? "If I had to say, we've drastically changed one of our cars from the other, and I think that's what we've been doing. We had so much success for a long time that we felt like we might have been missing it aerowise more, and we kept trying to make up for what we were losing handling by doing some things aerowise. That really wasn't where we were having our problems. We could run fast laps, but we couldn't drive the cars when we got in traffic and in race conditions. Now with everybody bunched right together, you better have something that you can drive because if you don't, you're either gonna get knocked out of the way or they're gonna pass you and get to the inside of you. So that's why we've had to change that. You look at both Richard and Robert, they both had a lot of success over the years but times have changed a lot and you've got to be willing to make that change at some point in time and we've been a little slow to react to that because of the amount of success we had here for so long. I can't speak for Richard and their team, but certainly at our organization we have to do some different things because to get the proper attitude of the car and be able to carry the speed where you need to carry, it takes something different than what we won races with from '96 to 2000. You've got to do things a lot, lot different."
WHO IS THE LEADER AMONG DRIVERS IN THE GARAGE? "That's a good question, but I would say probably Jeff Gordon comes as close to that as anyone. I think that everybody in the garage area has a lot of respect for Jeff and I think because of what he's accomplished and the way he's gone about it that NASCAR has that same respect for him. I would have to say that Jeff would probably be at the top of the list right now."
YOU'RE NOT ONE OF THOSE? "No, probably not. I don't know why, but I don't know that I ever tried to take that. To be quite honest, I didn't want to be compared to Earnhardt because I think everybody would come up short in that respect. He was such a leader and was so well respected by everybody. This isn't to slight Jeff, but he doesn't carry the weight that Dale did even then, so I'm not sure exactly when you'll see that. Obviously, Junior carries a lot of weight with the fans and with the media and sponsors, but I don't know that he wants that obligation as far as being the kind of go-between between the drivers and teams in NASCAR like Dale did."
WHERE WOULD YOU RANK YOUR TEAM AND WHAT KIND OF NUMBER? "As far as a number, you'd be hard pressed to say that right now looking at it that you could put us any better than really the 15th spot that we finished in the points last year. I think that's where we finished -- somewhere in that area -- simply because there are a lot of unknowns with our race team right now. If you look at it on paper, and obviously that doesn't get to the playing field or the race track in this case -- that's why we go out and have the races -- but if you look at it we've improved our team immensely in a lot of areas. We have a better product with the Ford Fusion. We have a better engineering staff than we've ever had at Robert Yates Racing and we have two very hungry crew chiefs that have come in to take over and lead this group. So I would say that the potential is there for both teams to be in the top 10 and make the chase, it's just a matter of us going out and making that happen now."
CAN YOU TELL A BIG CHANGE IN THE FUSION FROM TAURUS OR HAVE COMMON TEMPLATES MADE THE CHANGE MINIMAL? "I think it's a combination of things that makes the Fusion better for us. Yes, because of NASCAR's regulations with the templates, that makes it a much easier process for us to take a new car and know what we have from there because all of them are pretty much the same in that respect. What we know with the Fusion -- the Taurus in 1998 was given to us -- a car that was already built, that was already a very good passenger car, a very good family car, a four-door sedan and Ford said, 'You all make this into a good race car.' That's what we had to work with and that's really been Ford's policy for many years. They weren't gonna build a passenger car that was just strictly for us to go race. If you look over the years and the history of manufacturers trying to do that, they didn't sell very good. Obviously, as much as we'd like to think that the manufacturer is just involved in this because they think we do a great job, that's not it.
"They enjoy the racing and they know that there's a benefit to it, but ultimately it's to sell vehicles, and our job this year and in years to come is to sell these Fusions. But with the Fusion -- starting a couple of years ago as this car started to get into the works -- they did come to the teams and asked for input as to what would make it better. What small things. They weren't gonna totally change the design of the car, but what small things could they incorporate that would give us a better race car -- something that would be easier for us. The changes that were made have made this a better balanced race car for us, so therefore we might not have to try to trick the car as much as what we had to with the Taurus at times. Obviously, a lot of guys figured that out a lot of different times, but the Fusion should make our jobs much easier in that respect."
ARE THERE ANY BIG-PICTURE ITEMS YOU SEE OUT THERE? "I don't know that it necessarily concerns this season. I think the thing that we have to keep in the forefront all of the time in any thinking or any changes we're gonna make is what product are we putting out there for the fans. As this becomes more expensive for the teams to do, more expensive for the sponsors, more expensive for you all to come and cover this, it obviously costs the fans more, too. So we have to make sure that we're putting a product out there that they're gonna enjoy coming to watch. Obviously signing the new TV deal is a lot of money, so you have to have a good product. I think we have to be careful in how we're going about that, and I'm not gonna sit here and say that I'm against the car of tomorrow because I haven't driven it. I've seen it and I've seen pictures. I'm not sure that's totally the right direction. I understand a lot of the thinking behind it. Obviously all of the safety stuff everybody is for -- that's a great idea. Trying to make the competition better by building a boxier car that, to me, looks more like a half-truck in the front and the rest of it car, I think we have to be careful there -- that the manufacturers don't lose their identity because as we were just talking, that's very important to them that as we race on Saturdays and Sundays that people are ready to go buy that vehicle on Monday and Tuesday. I've said this a number of times and NASCAR has talked to me over the last couple of years I really would like to see -- and I'll preface this with I have nothing against speed. If I didn't like speed I wouldn't be in this business, and it has nothing to do with being 49 years old because I still like to go as fast as we can go. That's what the thrill of all of this is, but I think the side of competition is being challenged because the cars are going too fast and we can't run side by side, which is what this sport was built on. I think that we seriously have to consider downsizing these engines. If you look over the years, from the time that I started this business full-time in 1987, a good engine at that time had somewhere between 620 and 640 horsepower. Since that time, and it's been not quite 20 years now, we've got better tires. Goodyear does a tremendous job there. We have more downforce than we've ever had with these cars. Those two things alone should allow us to run side by side better and longer if you just looked at those two things. But because now you have to have 850 horsepower to have a good engine, that's 200 more horsepower and that's where the speed is coming, so therefore we need all of this race track and all of that air and all the grip of the tires to even go out there and run that speed by ourselves. So we can't put on the show that we need. It wouldn't be a big deal other than you're not gonna see or talk about track records being set and things like that, but I don't think anybody really cares about that. It's about Sunday and that race and we have to put that product back out there. So if we slow these cars down, if you took us out on Friday -- and I'm not talking about here because of the restrictor plate -- I'll use California because that's the first non-restrictor plate race. If we went out on Friday and ran with the engines we have now and we were going 200 miles an hour down the frontstretch and you came back on Saturday and put a smaller engine in the car and we could somehow reduce that speed by 15 miles an hour on the straightway, I'm not even sure it would take 15 miles an hour but I'll use that. If you did that, first off the fans couldn't tell a difference watching that car go down and you would see a whole hell of a lot better racing through the corners with what we could do then. I think that's what we have to keep our eye on."
HOW BIG WAS YOUR TALLADEGA WIN AND CAN YOU CARRY THAT MOMENTUM? "Certainly Talladega was big for myself personally because we'd come close a few times, but being able to seize that opportunity and knowing with the car and everything going right that you can still get the job done. I think it gave our team a lot of confidence. We probably had been criticized a little bit and didn't really care about that because my job is to get my car to the finish and do as well as we possibly can about hanging back at times at these race tracks, but my job, again, is to get to the finish and have a car that I can have a chance with at that time. So I think it showed everybody that it's not necessarily for everybody, but that's the way that I've gone about it. I think if my car drives as good as what I have here, then I won't have to worry about doing that when we get back here. Anyway, it helped us a lot. I think it gave us a lot of momentum. Even though we've made a lot of changes, the people that we brought in, that was a key factor too in helping get some of those people there -- to show them that we still could win at Robert Yates Racing. Even though Elliott had won twice the year before, he hadn't won and obviously didn't win, but we felt because of the way he runs and that victory, and a couple of other runs late in the year, helped attract some people to our race team and that's gonna make us a very good team and give us a lot of optimism. I'm sure you all haven't heard that over the last two weeks with everybody being here and being excited, but it sounds like you've got 45 teams or so that have probably come in here and said they could win the championship, but we're not different. That's what we're here to do, too."