Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup race at Kansas Speedway in 11th place in the point standings. He, along with crew chief Todd Parrott, spoke about this year's championship battle and...
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup race at Kansas Speedway in 11th place in the point standings. He, along with crew chief Todd Parrott, spoke about this year's championship battle and Sunday's event as part of the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference.
Part 1 of 2
DALE JARRETT --88-- UPS Taurus
YOU SAID RECENTLY JEFF GORDON WAS THE GUY TO BEAT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. DO YOU STILL THINK THAT?
"That just shows what I know (joking). I don't think by any means you can count Jeff Gordon and his race team out. I know Rusty is right there too, but, certainly, two out of the last three weeks, and even at Loudon, it wasn't a typical race for Jeff and his team. I know at Richmond they had some problems and again this past weekend. They put themselves in a position I know they didn't want to be in -- getting that far behind -- but I wouldn't count 'em out. I think you probably have to look at the top three guys right now. They seem to be moving their way forward. Sterling is certainly not out of it, but he has kind of made his way back to fourth, so the momentum has to be with Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Mark is obviously a veteran who knows a lot about winning races and racing for championships. Jimmie Johnson and his team have just performed great all year. It's been quite an amazing story and would be a great story to show everyone that there's hope no matter what position you may be in your career of coming in and challenging for a championship. Tony Stewart is the guy that I look at that now is the guy, if you look at the tracks that we have coming up, that has the opportunity right there in front of him. I think he performs well at all of these race tracks. Hopefully, I'm not jinxing him maybe like I did Jeff by saying that, that wasn't my intention, but he would be the guy -- if I were Mark -- that I would keep an eye on."
YOU DON'T REALLY REMEMBER THE KANSAS RACE LAST YEAR DO YOU?
"Yeah, I don't remember anything. It's kind of strange. It was actually the first time I've had a concussion, especially one of this magnitude. I don't remember arriving in Kansas City. The only thing I do remember is that entrance into turn one and getting tapped. From that point, I don't remember anything before the race started and I don't remember anything after that until I was getting on the airplane to come back to North Carolina. So it's all kind of wiped from my memory. It'll be like my first time at Kansas City. I don't remember the garage area. I know the shape of the race track just from the past and knowing it's a lot like Chicago, but from actually being on the track, I don't remember any of that. So it'll be interesting to get back there. I don't even remember where the motorhomes are parked or what shape the garage area is, so it'll be interesting going back there. I'm looking forward to it. We're taking the same car that we ran last weekend and the car that won both races for us this year, so it's performed very well. I know we should have a good car and, hopefully, a good weekend."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SEASON
"I think the first thing that comes to mind is it's a year that I'd say, 'What if.' What if we would have made it through and I got tapped on the very last lap of the very first race of the year and went from possibly finishing fourth to finishing 14th or 15th. If I don't quite move too far to block Jeff Burton to try to help give me the push at Daytona the second race. That's what I look at. You look at 310 points out, I could easily come up with that but we all could. Everybody's been in that position and it's been a year of inconsistency for us. That's basically been it. We haven't performed at the level that we needed to week in and week out, and it seems that everything has contributed to that. We uncharacteristically had a couple of engine problems earlier in the year and you don't expect that to happen to cost us points. I've created some from a driver's standpoint as far as making mistakes. Our pit crew, at times, has put us in a position that we shouldn't have been in, so you look at everything. We've missed the handling a couple of times, so it's just been very inconsistent and, unfortunately, it's put us in this position of trying to make up a lot and get ourselves back to that top five that we've been accustomed to."
DO ENGINE PROBLEMS AND INCONSISTENT PIT STOPS LEAD A DRIVER TO TRY AND PUSH TOO HARD?
"It certainly can, yes, and you'd like to think that when you have the experience that someone like myself has that you don't let that get to you, but you do fight it because of how competitive things are this day and time. You try to make the most of opportunities that you have and when you have a little bit of a setback, then you start to press a little bit. There were times in a couple of races that I found myself in a position after being up front maybe, that we did something a little wrong and I was trying to make that back up and got myself in a position that I didn't need to be in, so you do find yourself pressing. Again, it's very difficult to win out here right now, even though we've got guys like Matt (Kenseth) has won four and Jimmie Johnson has won three. It's difficult and you want to take advantage of that, so with the competition as close as it, it's easy to find yourself in those positions."
IS THIS A YEAR OF LEARNING AND, IF SO, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?
"Patience is something you hear us talk about all the time and I think I've learned that quite a bit. I've also learned that right now, within this sport, that things are changing and they're changing at a rapid rate. It's almost gotten to the point that as you look around at a lot of these young teams, and I'm not speaking just necessarily of the young drivers, but the teams that maybe haven't been together as long. You've got new crew chiefs and teams that are building and they're taking a lot of chances and doing things a little bit differently. There is technology and computer data that they get not only from the tests, but they're willing to put in there. They're not just guessing at springs or shocks and saying, 'This is what we need to do,' they're using a formula now and that's changing the way you look at things and do things within this sport. Todd and I have talked about this some, so I think that we've learned as much as anything that we have to be willing to adapt and change, and that's something we're gonna have to continue to do if we're gonna stay competitive in this business."
WHO DO YOU ROOT FOR TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP NOW -- A VETERAN OR A YOUNGER DRIVER?
"I think we would certainly like to see a Ford win and Mark Martin has given a lot to this sport, but I couldn't sit here and say that I'd rather see him win than Jimmie Johnson, who has come in here and made a great impact on this sport. Tony Stewart is a great driver and individual that would be great representing our sport. Sterling has been at this a long time and it's been a long time since Rusty has won a championship. Of course, Jeff is trying to get to that level of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven, so you can't pick a favorite there. I'm gonna try to go out there and outrun 'em all and make their life miserable in that respect -- that they're not gonna get there as easy as they thought. But I think that there are a lot of good stories and whoever ends up winning this championship, it'll be well deserved and they'll be a great representative for us."
WHAT MAKES MARK MARTIN TICK AND IS THERE ANY SENTIMENTALITY IN THE GARAGE FOR MARK?
"I think especially for the people that have followed this sport, you have to know what people like Mark Martin and Sterling Marlin, in particular, what they've done, the sacrifices they've made, how long they've been at this. They've accomplished a lot and won a lot of big races, they just haven't gotten that final piece of the puzzle and that's putting a championship piece in there. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that wouldn't want to see one of those two guys win just because you know they're getting closer to the end of their careers even though it's not like they're gonna retire next year. Most of the other guys you see up there are gonna have more opportunities, so there's a little bit of sentiment there that you would like to see that happen. As far as what makes Mark tick, he's just a competitor. Mark Martin is a tremendous race driver. This is what he does and he'll be the first to tell you that he doesn't do a lot of things. This is his business, this is his life and that's what he's made it. It's been that way probably for as long as I can remember when I saw him come along and he was just a kid then. He's the ultimate competitor. He wants to go out and win and do his job. He's a tremendous talent behind the wheel. I don't know that there's anybody else out there that can do a lot of the things he can do with a race car, so it's just that competitive fire and spirit inside him that makes him good and that's gonna make him be tough to beat down the stretch."
DO YOU HAVE A GOOD MARK MARTIN STORY?
"Mark's just a good competitor. I can think of a number of times that we've raced. I think back to Michigan trying to outrun him there a number of times. I've beaten him and he's beaten me. I don't know that there's one particular story, I just know that when you race Mark Martin, you've got a battle on your hands. Now, I could get to the side of it this year that we've had a couple of run-ins where I've ended up on the wrong end with the way I look at it, but that's just things that are gonna happen. He's just a great competitor and I really enjoy racing with him."
DO YOU THINK THERE'S A GENE THAT JUST MAKES PEOPLE WANT TO GO FAST? IS IT HEREDITY?
"I've never really thought that really mattered, I think it's just the opportunity that you have to be around it because most people aren't exposed to that in their life. If you don't grow up around racing, a lot of times you don't get that opportunity to get that in your blood at a young age to see what speed and competition within racing is about. Then again, if you look at Dale, Jr. and how much he is like his dad, you've got to think that maybe there's a case there where you could say, 'Yeah, you do inherit this.' As much as I always thought that there wasn't, that makes me believe that, hey, maybe there is a little bit that you get in your genes from your dad or brother or uncle or something along those lines."
IS THE PROBLEM YOU FACE NOW THAT THERE ARE SO MANY DRIVERS BETWEEN YOU AND THE LEAD?
"You're exactly right, that's why we don't really consider ourselves in the hunt for the championship. If it was just Mark Martin that was 310 head of us and then we were only 130 or 140 from the guy in second, that's one thing. That's something that could be do-able because that's a couple of bad races by the guy on top and you've caught up a lot of those and you make it do-able. But, here, you've got four guys that we're over 250 points behind so that's what makes it difficult -- to think that all of those guys within eight races would have enough problems for us to catch up. What we think about now is making our program better. We're not giving up on 2002. What we want to do, and our focus is right now even though it's very difficult because of the guys between us, is trying to finish fifth. We want to keep that alive. We have a lot of pride in what we do and this race team has never finished out of the top five in the final point standings, so that's our goal right now is to get ourselves positioned there somehow, someway, and the way we go about that is trying to win races week in and week out. We take our very best car and then try to make sure that we have the team and the people assembled and thinking in the right direction to get ourselves ready for next year."
Jarrett, Parrott press conference part II