Martinsville John Andretti preview

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Andretti scored the highest finish of the season for Dodge two weeks ago at Bristol with a runner-up performance. He won the 1999 spring race at Martinsville, giving Petty Enterprises its...

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)

NOTE: Andretti scored the highest finish of the season for Dodge two weeks ago at Bristol with a runner-up performance. He won the 1999 spring race at Martinsville, giving Petty Enterprises its 271st career victory. The 38-year-old Bethlehem, Pa., native, who now lives in Indianapolis, will make his 235th career start Sunday at the .526-mile track. Andretti has two top-10 finishes in the first seven races this season and ranks 18th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings.

"I don't know why I like going to Martinsville, but I always have. I enjoy racing there. You've got to get the car to do a lot of different things, but it really doesn't do anything particularly right. You've got to worry about the brakes, keeping the nose on the car, running into people. With all those things, it's pretty tough at Martinsville because it's pretty close quarters for 43 cars. It's the smallest race track we run on, the flatest, the slowest, and probably one of the more difficult ones just because of those things. I really hate qualifying at Martinsville because it's real hit and miss for just about anybody, but more for me than normal. I can cut a really good lap, or I can start in the mid-pack or even in the back, so no matter where we are, I know our team will do a really good job. They've done excellent pit stops, and we'll get up there.

"Dodge teams have proven and Dodge has proven that they can run good anywhere from the front row starting spots at Daytona all the way to Bristol where we ran really competitive the whole day. I think if circumstances had been different, I think arguably we could have won that race. The teams have done a good job, and Dodge has done a great job assisting all the teams to get them up and running. I think everybody looked at Petty Enterprises at the first of the year and we got off to a little bit of a slow start, but now we're starting to get a little momentum underneath us. A lot of that has to do with Dodge, and a lot of it has to do with what's going on at Petty Enterprises. I feel really good about the situation. I feel like we can go to any race track and be competitive and have a chance at winning the race. Basically we have all the tools from Dodge, and it's up to us to make it work.

"Our run at Bristol was the direct result of us testing there. We keep working and keep striving toward making things better. You can't worry about the things that are out of your control, and the first few races we would have had much better finishes if things had been more in our control. We were getting caught in accidents. Right now, in all honesty, the biggest concern I have is looking at our engine program and our reliability is not very good at this point. We need to improve on that if we're going to have finishes. You've got to have powerful engines, but you've also got to have reliable ones. That's a tough nut to conquer, but that's why you have the best people in the business working for you, and we have some great ones. We're going to overcome it. How quickly we can is going to determine how good we can keep going."

COMMENT ON TALLADEGA
"I've heard about the Talladega situation. I've heard some comments. I haven't talked directly to anybody about it. When you look at Talladega and Daytona, you're looking at two entirely different race tracks. I think you're always going to have two different kinds of racing at each one. There's a lot more room to move around at Talladega. The three abreast racing at Talladega is pretty easy. At Daytona, it's pretty difficult. Four abreast at Talladega is like three abreast at Daytona. You've got a lot more room to move around and maneuver. Restrictor plate racing is always going to be in tight packs. We had two races at Talladega last year with two different sets of rules. I think the races, except for the very end, looked pretty similar. It was just one big pack running around. At the end with the new rules there was a lot of shuffling that went on, which under the old rules wouldn't have happened. There's a lot of things on everybody's minds right now. Daytona was less than two months ago, and people are still thinking about what we could have done different or what we can do to make it better. I think that's always important to be looking at. I do believe that NASCAR is always looking at that whether it's publicized or not. It's obviously important to them, too."

COMMENT ON MICHAEL ANDRETTI GOING BACK TO INDY
"My thoughts are mixed. I think it's great. It's a place we all grew up aspiring to as Andrettis and part of the Andretti family. It's just I'm kind of the oddball in stock cars. I lived there and went to high school down the road, and the Indianapolis 500 was everything. It still is in a lot of ways. It's so important to me. That's where the mixed feelings come in because on the other side I'm really jealous and upset that he gets to go back and I'm not going to be there. Maybe the opportunity will come some time. It hasn't in the past, but it'll come in the near future and maybe we can be teammates at Indy. That would be ideal for me because I think the world of Michael and he certainly should have an Indy 500 in his back pocket just like his dad should have 10. It would be really important to get as many opportunities as possible to win the Indy 500. It's something for our family, having only one win there doesn't speak of what really has happened. Everybody knows how competitive Mike and Mario have been there. I think we really had an opportunity to win a race there. It's not the way it's supposed to be. It'd be nice to go back and set the record straight and get a lot more Andretti wins there. The Brickyard 400 would be a nice place to win one, too.

"We talk, but only if I initiate the call. We talk about a lot of different things. Actually I talk to my uncle (Mario) much more frequently than I do Michael. We talk about stock cars. We talk about everything. Michael seems to be going east when I'm going west and the other way around. It's difficult to catch one another, but we do talk occasionally and keep up, especially when we do well. Doing well by our family standards is only by winning, so that's one call that you always end up making."

DISCUSS '99 VICTORY AT MARTINSVILLE
"We spun out early in the race, probably in the first hundred laps or so, and I thought 'this is not good.' Not only did we get spun out, we got lapped. I felt like we had a car that was capable of winning, and we just kept working and kept working. We ended up unlapping ourselves under green and drove up to the top 10 under that same green. At that point, I knew we were back in the game. We'd used the best of 350 laps or so to get back to that point. We didn't have much time to make it all happen, but there at the end, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace were battling each other as hard as they could. They were wearing each other's tires out. Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton were up front doing the same thing for the lead. There I was riding in fifth with real old left-side tires, so I just kind of rode and watched all this happen. Pretty soon, when they got all sorted out, they weren't running very fast anymore because they wore their tires down. Basically I just drove around most of 'em until I got to Burton. He was the hardest one, but fortunately for us we were able to get him with two or three laps to go and pull away and win it. It was a big, big victory. Not that they all aren't, but the way we did it and also, we really felt like when we went up there and tested that we had a car easily capable of winning. To be able to pull it off and tell yourself what we do believe is right, and the world is round again. We thought we were capable of winning, and we proved it. Hopefully we can do that again there soon."

DISCUSS YOUR ROLE AT PETTY ENTERPRISES
"All teams help each other. We try to support one another. It's best if you have three teams that are just flying because they can really feed off each other. If you find a little something here and they find a little something there, you just keep getting better and better. It becomes more difficult when you have one team doing the majority of the work because they're only getting as good as they're getting. I think we're more capable as a team and as a group to help each other. As we get everything going in the right direction, it's going to take one piece at a time. We're the team with the most experience and the most time together, and it only makes sense that we're at the front of it. I think the other two teams are really good quality teams with good quality people. We know that they've really contributed a lot. You just don't see it in the papers as much."

DISCUSS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RICHARD PETTY
"The King has always been a hands-on owner. He's been great to work with, The King and Kyle, both. They see so many things that you don't have to come back and explain. For one, Kyle gets to drive the car and it's just like we're driving. He gets a first-hand opinion of what we come back and say, but The King sees a lot of things. It actually amazes me. He picks up the smallest details and he's really been good to work for. If you're struggling, he's there to help. If you're at the top, he's there wondering why you're not staying there and doing even better. He was probably harder on us for running second at Bristol until he saw the frame was broke and we smashed the right side up pretty good and towed the front out than he ever would be at like Texas where we had an engine problem and didn't run. He understands. He knows both sides of the coin."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN WIN ON ANY TRACK?
"I think we're definitely going to be more competitive at some places than others at this point because I don't think we've shored up every corner of every piece we have in the puzzle here. I think that's what it takes to be able to win everywhere. The engines guys have to be right on top of it, the chassis guys, the aero guys. Everybody has got to be peaking to be consistent. That includes the driver and everybody. I think we're all pushing as hard as we can to get there, and there's certainly nobody leaving anything on the table in any of those areas. It's just that we're not at 100 percent in all of those areas, and that's what it takes to be capable of winning anywhere we go. There's no question that we've got the people to do it, and we can do it. It's just taking us awhile to get there."

TALK ABOUT YOUR CREW CHIEF, GREG STEADMAN, AND WORKING WITH JUST THREE CARS IN THE FIRST SEVEN RACES
"Our three cars are pretty similar. We've been pretty fortunate that any time we do any damage to 'em, except for Daytona, it's been all cosmetic. They take the right sides off and put new ones on. We've been pretty fortunate and when you keep working with the same cars you learn what they like. Even though you try to build 'em all they same, they're all a little bit different and have a little different personality. That's where Greg's role comes in. Greg is a crew chief that no one really knows. I told him last year that there's good and bad that came out of last year. The bad was that we really struggled with everything. I think the world of Greg Steadman. I think that he's a phenomenal crew chief and I really enjoy working with him. I think we click really well together. The bad was the running. The good was nobody paid much attention to him, so we don't have people coming trying to steal him away from us. That's the good part. He's going to be a championship crew chief some day. I just hope it does it with me."

TALK ABOUT QUALIFYING AT TEXAS
"I was not pleased with what happened during qualifying at Texas. I don't think anyone would be if they were put in my position, whether they race, don't race, like me or don't like me. It's a situation that's not one that should have happened. To me, your qualifying and starting position and everything was on the line. We had to take a provisional. We could have easily gone home. The race track is so important, and I know it's difficult, but in this case it wasn't that difficult. It should have been kept in the same condition for everybody. If a guy drops oil in front of you, maybe the guy gets to put stickers on his car and has to go again in his own oil. It's not very easy to go 200 mph and go flying into the corner and now it be guesswork as to whether there's going to be something on the ground or not. They do a great job, but in this case, I think it could have been done better."

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION ON THE NEW GOODYEAR TIRES?
"I think in a real positive way that Goodyear even shocked themselves with the performance of the tire they brought out. I don't think they thought that 'well, we're going to build this tire so tough that it's going to be hard to get a hold of anything, but that's OK because it's all going to be the same, but it's going to be durable.' I think they surprised themselves. When I talked to the Goodyear engineers they can't even believe how well the tire has performed and how quick we run with it and all things that have gone with it. They said they've learned a lot because of that. I think we've learned a lot. They keep the construction pretty similar if not exactly the same at all these tracks we go to, and it works out really good. When you get the same construction and pretty similar compounds at some races like Vegas, Rockingham, Darlington and Bristol, was all the same tire, it really helps get consistency within your team. It helps all the teams, especially the ones that can't do a lot of testing or don't have the manpower to figure out a tire in just a couple of practice sessions. I think it's a great thing, and I've been really happy with it. I'm ecstatic with the job Goodyear has done on this tire because it's actually fun to be able to go out there and get on something that feels really good and you know they've done a great job in making the tire durable as well. Look at the races. You just don't see problems like you used to. Knock on wood, but I think they've done a great job."

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION OF RULE CHANGES FOR DIFFERENT MANUFACTURERS AT TALLADEGA?
"If you look at the Chevys, they probably had a leg up on everybody at Daytona, especially in race trim. I don't know what happened in qualifying at Daytona. I don't know how those two Dodges got up there. I guess they just know how to drive Daytona better than we do. That to me was as much a surprise as anything with those two Dodges on the front row at Daytona. In the back of my mind it made me feel good because here's the true potential of the car. We just need to work at it maybe a little bit different and get the same thing out of it that they got. I always hate going to a race track with a rule change, especially if it's going to enhance somebody else's performance because now you don't know where you're at again. We've worked really hard on our cars and hopefully our Dodges will step up one notch at Talladega, and we'll be right there.

- Dodge Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Mark Martin