JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid) -- Third fastest in first Saturday morning practice session. "I like Martinsville. It may be a short track, but it's nothing like Bristol. At Bristol guys hit each other and a guy 10 cars back gets...
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid) -- Third fastest in first Saturday morning practice session.
"I like Martinsville. It may be a short track, but it's nothing like Bristol. At Bristol guys hit each other and a guy 10 cars back gets hit and spun and knocked out of the race. It's a little bit like a Talladega or a restrictor plate race where when one thing happens other things happen. At Martinsville, the speeds are slow enough down in the corners and guys are braking and stuff, they seem to stay out of trouble. Even if you get spun usually you don't hit anything and you keep going and come on back. I think it's a great place to race, and it's a big part of Winston Cup racing because you've got to be able to win everywhere and you've got to be able to run good everywhere, and Martinsville is unique in that respect.
"I'd still like to run it (Indy 500). I think right now the IRL basically is in a state of transition in some respect in that they've got new engine programs, they've got new chassis and obviously a lot of new teams, too. The biggest issue is is there going to be enough equipment and other things to go through. A lot of teams have taken on additional cars for the race, but they also have test drivers sitting in and other circumstances exist so you can't get in those. Looking at it, it doesn't look strong, but the possibility is still there. We're still working on it. Obviously next year, if you look at it now because last year we weren't looking at the Indy 500 for this year. We were saying we'll see if we're going to do it or not, but the end of last year we sat down and said is this something we're going to do or not. Who knows where it's going to go, but right now, it's not in the best position it's been in. I would love to be there because it's Michael's last race. I spoke to him, and he swears it's his last race. I guess we'll see.
"It's not that there's not people who don't want to run it. I think the engines, this is going to be their first real test of durability. I think the manufacturers are really concerned. You're there at Indy for a long period of time. If they come out and have a mechanical problem with their engine that they haven't anticipated over a duration of 500 miles or a lot of miles, that could put them in a real bind. They don't want to put their existing people in that kind of bind. You don't want to go there and be left the guy hanging on the outside, either because they have an engine shortage or a parts shortage or anything like that. I think teams are playing on the conservative side and going from that.
"You can buy a lot of foreign cars that are made in the United States now. It seems that if you look at it, they'd want to be in the best playing field. Obviously Winston Cup is a great place to showcase what you can do. You can argue Formula One and all the technology, but if you've got enough money you can do what you want. In Winston Cup, even if you've got enough money you can't do anything you want. I think it makes it much harder to be successful here than it would be somewhere else. Having said that, I think they're competitive people and if that's the direction it's going to come, then that's the direction it's going to come. Look back to Formula One, I think the manufacturers are a little afraid it's becoming such a manufacturers oriented series that they're relying on it. I don't think that's the case in Winston Cup. It never has been and it probably never will be. There's always going to be Winston Cup racing.
"I think that series (IRL) is gaining more strength and momentum. I don't think they're relying on any one manufacturer. There's not manufacturers' teams running. I think that's the biggest problem when you get in that situation. Where if they own part of the team, they can come and go as they please. If one of the manufacturers leaves, I think another would be willing to step up. Last year CART lost all their engine manufacturers basically and they came out with a way to create a solution that works for them. I don't see it being a problem. I think it's good to have competitiveness in any series. It also makes it tough on a driver to sit outside and say, 'I want to be with them because they've got the best stuff.' Then next week those guys have something better.
"I think there's a lot of different circumstances that go into that. First of all, Jeff Gordon wasn't trying to take the lead away from Matt Kenseth (at Texas). He was trying to keep cars that could potentially beat him in the championship a lap down that were already a lap down. I see that as a whole different set of circumstances than a guy taking a cheap shot and passing from 16th to go to 14th. I think that's the gentleman's agreement. As far as racing back, when I first came to Winston Cup, I said to myself, 'why do we race back?' If you're going to get lapped, you can be courteous to the leader and the leader can be courteous back to you. That's being a gentleman. I think if you let the guy go, and then he keeps you a lap down, then obviously when you get next to him on a restart you're not going to be the gentleman he wasn't. It all works out. We race each other so often that you just try to work with each other. I remember when we got a lap down here, and Gordon didn't want to give me my lap back here. We ended up coming back and winning the race. He knows what's going on out there. He was playing things in his favor, not only on that day but for the whole season. That was different and it wasn't a dangerous situation at all. Matt was going pretty slow I think. Had it not been his teammates... because he's racing those guys for the championship, too.
"I raced back under green (to win at Martinsville). Actually I was real fortunate. I passed Earnhardt, and he was getting ready to go a lap down to Gordon. When I went by, I could see Earnhardt in there and he was stretching his arms and adjusting the radio and getting ready. He was ready to go to battle. When I went out of sight, Earnhardt was still in front of Gordon. I had help. Once I got around, I got away and took off. Actually, I think I drove all the way back to the top 10 before the caution came out. We had a really fast car. It was just a matter of getting it back.
"I think everybody likes to have the weekend off. A lot of teams used to try to plan tests around it and other things. Now they're not planning so much. They're trying to get guys, not only back at the shop to get caught up and get them to get more relaxed and get in the groove and recharge your batteries. This month and next month, we get more time home than we get all season. It kind of spoils you a little bit. You get back in the groove and then all of a sudden here comes August and you're in for the long grind. I think it's too bad it's a holiday weekend because my son doesn't play soccer. I've still only been to three of his games, and I've had to make some unusual travel plans to try to make those. I'd like to get to see more of his games, but that's what we all give up and that's what that week presents - time to spend with the family. Hopefully everybody will get the time off to do that because I think it's good to get going again. Do we need it? Yeah, we need it in a big way to get ourselves back in. We've had some problems. We've struggled qualifying as of late in a big way. Two are easily explainable, probably three of them. So, it's not like we're sitting there not knowing where we're going. We've got to get things like that fixed so we can not have so far back to get to the front like we're going to have to do Sunday.
"This is one of the most difficult pit roads we have because of the curved pits. The pits go down around the corner. Guys are getting in and out of those and when they come out, they can't see you coming. When you're going around the corner, you wonder why the guy hit him. That A pillar is bigger than your street car's A pillar. When you turn, you can't see a lot of what's going on to your left. It makes it very difficult. What worked out at Bristol could have worked out here, although we wouldn't have a garage, but that'd be OK. We're used to working without garages here anyway. It's just the circumstances that it is. I've had it where they (pits) are so confined that the NASCAR official looking at the car in front making sure it's got all the lugnuts on, I've almost hit him. I had to stop because he was doing his job but he wasn't watching me. That's hard. They're in a difficult situation. Hopefully on Sunday NASCAR will tell them not only to watch the lugnuts but take care of themselves first. I know they always do, but here you don't think about that the guy behind is going to be gasing it up. We saw what happened at Atlanta on pit road and that's a pretty wide pit road. It's all straight. It could be a lot bigger here.
"The crew chief has to help you the most. He's right down there. The spotter can help a little bit, but the crew chief has to be the guy to get you out. You've got to help yourself a little bit, too. You can't just gas it up and turn right and go out and expect everybody to think you're the man and you deserve to be there. I don't remember the last time a guy pulled out that made the last payment on the race track. Some of them think they own it. They're the guys who deserve to get crashed. The ones who work with everybody else, you can get crashed on this pit road. I've had a guy stop in front of me and I stop and the guy behind it's like an accordian. He runs into you and he pushes you into the guy in front of you. You see it on the streets of Charlotte when it drizzles a little bit. It happens. This is a tough one because there's no place to go.
"I think if 42 drop out and I was the only one left, I think it would be a great race. Who cares about being bored? They'd still give me the trophy. I think what he (Jeff Gordon) was saying was it's a bit crowded out there. Everybody runs the same speed for 20 or 30 laps. It's tough to maneuver around anything or get away from anybody. There's going to be 15 cars a little bit torn up. I think the fall race here last year, the car that finished 43rd was four laps down (41st-place car was four laps down). It was pretty remarkable. To think that 15 cars will be out, at Bristol, absolutely. Here, I think it could go either way real easily. At Bristol, put your money on it. That's why they sell the place out.
"If you do that (smaller field at short tracks) you'd better do it everywhere. What's fair is fair. You can't tell 40 guys supporting the series all the way around and then tell them OK now because we're here you can't participate. That's why we've got the 43 at these tracks. Hopefully we're professional enough to make it work. If they're going to do something different, they'd have to do it everywhere.
"I can be pretty relaxed tomorrow if we get the car working the way I want it to work. Not because I'll be able to pick my way through the field, but if my car is fast they're not going to be able to lap me. If they do lap me, then I should be able to get it back. It's one of those situations where I'm just going to worry about what I'm doing, but I think you've got to be concerned about when you go and how you go. Here, the brakes are so critical, keeping the nose on the car. It kinda becomes a two-lane race track. The inside is pretty fast, but the outside is pretty good. Guys will jump on the outside and be up there, and pretty soon it's like being in a lane of traffic. You think that's the lane to be in because they're really flying. You get up there and pass about 10 of them and you're thinking that was a good decision. Pretty soon your lane stops and they all go back by you plus more. It's really tough to figure out. As the race settles down, you'll see cars that qualified up front that aren't as good. It's a tight field. You could qualify here or here and you don't know why. It's just a matter of hitting the spot and getting a decent lap for that time and then not racing good. I've seen guys qualify up front here and then they don't race good. They qualify, but they can't race. They don't get their cars set up as well for the long runs. We'll see how it all plays out. The first 30 laps you can't do anything. We get an early caution and we get in the back. We're refueling and we're pitting. We're doing all those things and then pit strategy becomes a big part of it. It'll be a big part of it. If you're in the back, you're going to stay in the back. You're not going to drive through all these people.
"I'm a little bit concerned about going back there (Indy) this year, but it's Indy. I want to get back there. I'll be back there some year. It may not be this year, but it'll be some year."