JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Andretti will make his ninth start at Phoenix in a Winston Cup race on Sunday, but he has plenty of experience in IndyCars at the Desert Mile. Andretti won the pole, led 97 laps and finished...
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Andretti will make his ninth start at Phoenix in a Winston Cup race on Sunday, but he has plenty of experience in IndyCars at the Desert Mile. Andretti won the pole, led 97 laps and finished eighth at Phoenix in '99. He finished sixth here in '98. Andretti is ranked 29th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings with one top five and two top 10 finishes this season.
"I wish we could have won the pole, but I couldn't tell you who was on the pole at the last race. Sometimes I can't even tell you where the last race was. It's only important to win. Qualifying well is a step in the right direction. Hopefully it'll keep you out of a little bit of trouble. I found out at Kansas it doesn't matter where you start. If it's going to happen it's going to happen. I started 12th on the outside at Kansas and it happened on the first lap. "I've tested a lot here in IndyCars. We'd test here and then go to Firebird for road course testing. We'd basically spend a whole week in Phoenix and then come back and test again. It was a busy winter, coming to Phoenix a lot. I've got a lot of laps here, but mostly in Indy cars. "I feel more comfortable with our race trim package than I do with qualifying. We struggled the first third of the season with qualifying. Now we're back in stride, qualifying closer to the front. We've had a history of being good qualifying. Now our racing is better than our qualifying. We've got to get both to match. "We had three good cars at Talladega, and the teams did real good jobs. Here, to see that 45 at the top of the board in practice was really cool. I was really pulling for Kyle to get the pole. That would have been awesome. I don't think anyone would have been unhappy about that. Kyle has had a lot of influence in this sport and with people in this sport. They know how much he's been through. It would have been a just result. I think the year I sat on the pole here, I two-tired and he four-tired on the last pit stop and he beat me at the end. It was a good result for him. We fell back. We had won earlier that year on a two-tire stop. "I like this race. They don't have many cautions here, it doesn't seem like. I think the track is fast enough they can cut a lot of laps pretty quick and slow enough that if a guy runs into you, you can sometimes save it instead of bringing out the yellow. "This new tire here is harder. It's been harder everywhere, but at a track like this where the surface really doesn't have any grip, the harder tire is really going to change things for the race. We looked at the difference in the truck qualifying and the race pace, and it was really slower. We're going have to wait and see what the Busch guys do because that series is closer to ours. "The guy to beat probably is Jeff Burton. If you can outrun him, you'll be in good shape. Ricky Rudd is good here. Rusty Wallace has a good record here, too, and so has Tony Stewart. You've got somebody in each make, hopefully we can be the Dodge that everybody needs to outrun. This is the car we ran at Richmond, and we're going to take it to Loudon if it survives here, but all of our cars are pretty similar. "Business as usual for next year. I made a commitment to Kyle and The King way back when. They asked me if that was going to be OK, and I told them I'm going to stay. I believe in the guys on this team. It's a great team and once we can close in on the parts and pieces part of it we'll be in good shape. I think Kyle made a good move with the engine program, and when you get to the chassis program you're just not sure. That's an ever evolving situation. This year we ran the same chassis everywhere, which is not the way to go. I think it put us behind, but in some ways it might have helped us, too. We didn't have to worry if it was the chassis or body or what was it. We more or less concentrated on the bodies and got them better. We were comparing chassis to chassis. I had a car here or there I didn't like, and we just threw it back in the system and kept the ones we liked better. It's a good system, but now it's time to go forward. The guys that won races last year run different stuff the same races the next year. Just because you won before doesn't mean you're going to win again. That only worked back when The King raced. Every time he went back, he won again, him or Pearson or Yarborough. I watch the old tapes. "I think you can roll one season into the next. Hopefully we can end the season on a high note. That doesn't mean you're going to start the next season on a high note or go one way or the other. It just gives people confidence within the organization to get you through the winter. Then you've got nothing to prove except when you go back to Daytona. "You've got to have a pretty good day to win. Things have to go right, and at the end of the day has got to be when you're at your best. You'll be racing with a guy and pretty much have him under control. He'll end up driving away from you and end up winning the race. You sit there and wonder how that happened. I don't think any race bothers me more than Indianapolis (Brickyard 400) this year. I don't think the right car won the race. It's frustrating to me because we were in position to do so much better. There was a lot of luck in that. "It seems like you do something and think you're doing the right thing and it ends up being the wrong thing. This year you don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I've pitted and the caution came out. I told 'em at Charlotte after it happened to us the second time, I said, 'why are we getting upset? You know it's going to happen. You roll down pit road and NASCAR is going to throw a caution whether they need it or not.' "I know that's not the case, but that's the way it seems. I know a lot of other guys feel that way, but if you look at them, it might have happened to them twice during the year. We have it happen once or twice a race. We've got a lot of work to do. Our fuel mileage and engine reliability have been really poor this year. I don't know how many races within 10 laps I've either broke or run out of fuel. We just don't get mileage. Other Dodges are getting mileage and making power. We need to kick up that end of it. I've broken more times this year than I have my whole Winston Cup career. I'm not knocking our engine program. It's just the evolution of a new program. When you're trying hard, it seems like the harder you try the further back you get. Sometimes I think we were guilty of that this year. "Just look at the Dodge program. It's coming along. Never once this year have to blamed Dodge for being the culprit of our season. We know the package is capable of doing more than what we've done to it. For us to make it better, and at times I think we've had good cars and really done the right thing. I think we've had really good cars in some races, but nobody paid attention. Forty-three guys are out there to write about and talk about and each of them have their own story. "We don't see The King as much because of the three teams, but I really respect The King. He's got a lot to contribute, but he's really let Kyle take the reins and not tried to climb on the same horse. That's got to be near impossible for a guy who not only has run the company for so many years but also for a father. I don't think I could do that with my children. I'd still be in there pushing them out of the way and telling them what I thought. I think The King is a really good leader because he hires somebody and lets them to their job. He didn't hire Kyle, but he's letting Kyle do what he thinks is right, whether it's right or wrong."