JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations) NOTE: Three Dodges qualified in the top five for Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 and six will start in the top 10. Three Dodges finished in the top five at Rockingham and six Dodges scored...
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
NOTE: Three Dodges qualified in the top five for Sunday's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 and six will start in the top 10. Three Dodges finished in the top five at Rockingham and six Dodges scored top 11 finishes. Although Dodge is still looking for its first win of the season, the three-way manufacturers' race is virtually deadlocked after the first two events of the season. Chevy and Ford are tied with 13 points and Dodge has 12. John Fernandez discusses the recent strength of the Dodge teams.
"Coming out of Rockingham, we qualified well and raced extremely well. It was probably the best points per car race we've had since I came on board last year. I think on our top six cars we had 155 points, but we didn't win the race. That was the down side of it. Coming here I was a little apprehensive because I didn't know if Rockingham was a fluke or not. Obviously it wasn't. I think the Evernham, Penske and Ganassi teams really did a tremendous of work over the winter, and it shows. They've done a tremendous job, and Kasey Kahne has been a tremendous help to our program.
"You've also got to tip your hat to Brendan Gaughan. He qualified eighth here. He put his foot down on the second lap and did it. We're real happy about that. I think Brendan is doing a great job in the races. He's had two top-20 finishes and obviously Kasey had a really good run at Rockingham (runner-up to Matt Kenseth). I'm looking forward to Sunday. We'll see how we do racing the cars.
"I think we've got good cars. Sterling Marlin is typically not a good qualifier, but I know he's going to race well here. He likes this track, and he had a good run at Rockingham. He was steady all day long.
"We've got depth. That's the big difference in last year and this year. Last year it was Ryan Newman. If Ryan didn't do it, we were kinda cooked. This year, I think Jeremy Mayfield is doing a tremendous job stepping up his game. He started that last year and he's continuing it. We lost some depth in Bill Elliott. He finished the season as strong as anybody last year, but obviously Kasey Kahne has picked up the slack there.
"I think Rusty Wallace has new enthusiasm with his new crew chief and some new faces on that team. Matt and Ryan are plugging away as normal. Those guys are rock solid. Brendan has a new team with a lot of new faces on it. They've done extremely well. Casey Mears had a good qualifying run here. That's probably the best I've seen him in qualifying. He had a really good race at Rockingham. I'm hoping he continues to step it up. Jamie McMurray is going to do well this year. He had as good a car at Daytona as Earnhardt's car. I thought the 8 and the 42 were the best two cars there. We just never got a chance to race for the win late in the race. In the middle of the Rockingham race, Jamie ran down Matt Kenseth and took the lead. He got caught in that little green-yellow, green-yellow whatever the heck went on there kind of deal.
"By the way, I do think NASCAR made the right call there. I talked with Chip Ganassi after that and we went over it in detail. After we understood what the rulings were there, I think we agreed that NASCAR did make the right call. It was obviously confusing at the time."
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge)
NOTE: Marlin, the 2002 winner at Las Vegas, is the only driver to score three straight top 10 finishes at LVMS. He'll start 23rd in Sunday's 43-car field.
"We just worked on race runs in practice yesterday, so we're not really concerned about where we're starting. It's all going to come down to handling. We saw the tires give up when we tested here, but they didn't give up as bad yesterday. We slowed up about a second after 20 laps. I saw one of those Chevy drivers fall off about a second after 10 laps.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow, but I think we're going to have a good race. We might see a little follow the leader. It just depends on how things get strung out. We haven't seen a lot of close racing here, but that could change. If we can get up front and check out, I don't really care what happens behind us. It's been almost two years since we've parked this Coors Light Dodge in victory lane. We had a good run at Rockingham, and we're counting on keeping that momentum going here.
"Las Vegas is a fun town, but I don't do any gambling. I guess most of my gambling is done on the racetrack. We'll roll the dice if we have to Sunday. I know Lee (crew chief McCall) and the guys will have the car ready to race, so maybe we can end this losing streak and go on back to the house and get ready for Atlanta."
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Georgia-Pacific/Brawny Dodge)
"You're going to have to have a car that drives good. I think that's been evident in every race. The new tire has made handling more critical than it's ever been. It was critical at Daytona. It was critical at Rockingham, and it always is, but it's going to critical here. It's going to be an aero struggle, but it's going to be critical to make the car handle all day long. I think that's going to be the big issue.
"The tires are going to give up, but that's not bad. I don't think give up is bad anywhere. I don't know why all of a sudden everybody thinks give up in tires is bad. Tires used to give up all the time 20-30 years ago. Technology just caught up, and now they can control their technology. They can manipulate it, so they put give up back in tires, and there's nothing wrong with that.
"It's good because it makes the car have to handle longer. If tires hold the car lap after lap after lap, it doesn't make any difference how the car handles. Once the tires give up and the car starts changing and the characteristics whether it pushes more or less or whether it's loose or whatever, the tires will accentuate that fact. When they do it, I think give up is good. It'll take guys that know what they're doing, and they'll win races while the other guys will be struggling a little bit.
"It takes you in a different direction. If bias ply was 1980 and a radial was 2000, then it doesn't really take you in a straight line. It takes you to the left or right somewhere. It's a little bit of a bias ply and a little bit of a radial. It doesn't really take you backwards in any chronological order. I think they've done a good job of welding those technologies together."
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
"I think we're pretty good. We weren't fast in the second practice, but we were fast in race trim. It was a lot like the whole run. We didn't get a chance to put a fast lap down, but we also didn't make it out with the first group of cars. We were making changes on the car, so when we got back out the track already had heat in it.
"At the end of the run, stickers for stickers, we feel like we were as good as anybody out there. We ran 15-20 laps at a time. It seemed like a lot of other guys gave up quicker, so I think we're all right.
"I don't know what kind of race you'll see tomorrow. You'll see passing, but I don't think it's going to be two-wide and three-wide racing.
"We're having fun, racing hard and trying to get better every week. The biggest thing is our momentum is still rolling. Our morale is real good.
"It's pretty impressive to have those three Evernham Motorsports Dodges starting in the top 10. We're all three running pretty good in race trim, so you might see an Evernham day tomorrow. That'd be great.
"Kasey is a talented driver, and he's got a good team behind him. He's done a good job. Ray has kept the right people behind him. Really, the whole group is working good together right now. We've got Wild Bill down there helping out this week. Our team gets better and better every week. This is the best we've been since I've been here.
"We're just working on the little stuff now. The good thing about it is there's so much potential left. We haven't come close to peaking yet, so I'm real excited about that."