ERNIE IRVAN FEATURE Kmart 400 Advance Michigan Speedway June 12, 1999 Note: Ernie Irvan claimed his best starting position of the season when he qualified second Friday for the Kmart 400. It's only the second time this season he's qualified...
ERNIE IRVAN FEATURE Kmart 400 Advance Michigan Speedway June 12, 1999
Note: Ernie Irvan claimed his best starting position of the season when he qualified second Friday for the Kmart 400. It's only the second time this season he's qualified in the top-10 in his Pontiac Grand Prix. Irvan talks about his team's struggles to turn the season around.
ERNIE IRVAN (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "Nothing has happened suddenly to turn things around. Ninety-nine percent of the time I just let everyone do their job. It's not that people here aren't doing their jobs.
They're all doing it real good. I just told (team manager) Jay (Frye) the other day, 'Today, it's all changing. It's all going to work.' This is the same race team that before I got hurt last year, we were going to finish in the top-10 in points. That's not a whole lot to brag on, but it's a lot to brag on today. This is the same race team. It's the same motor program and ninety-nine percent of the same employees. So do we need to make a major change or do we just need to continue to work like we know we can? It hasn't been a lack of performance problem the majority of the time. Our qualifying program has not been very good, but today it's second. It hasn't been a lack of performance in the races. It's just been a lack of finishing, whether it's I wreck and it's my fault or somebody else's fault, it's just a wreck."
HAS YOUR POOR QUALIFYING RECORD ATTRIBUTED TO THE WRECKS CONSIDERING YOU'RE IN THE BACK OF THE PACK WHERE TROUBLE IS MORE LIKELY TO HAPPEN?
"You can't ever weigh that all out and say, 'That's no problem.' You can't say that. It's always positive to start in the front. Most of the time when you start in the front you've obviously got a fast race car. End of story. That's the same thing with us. When we get our qualifying program going in the right direction then we're going to get our race program a little bit better. That's going to make it where we have better race cars week in and week out. The motor program has definitely stepped up in the last month. Those are things that are going to help. We did lose a motor at Charlotte, but anytime you're pushing the envelope you're obviously going to make the motor suffer for it. As a driver I catch myself pressing all the time. That's just human nature. If you're behind you're going to press harder. I guess that's just human nature. When you get to be my age with the experience that I have those are the things that you want to say, 'We've got a 20th-place car today, we're going to take it home in 20th today.' Obviously, we need to fix it and be able to work on it. If you're going back to the shop every week with a torn up race car then obviously you finished 35th and you also had to work all week to be able to get your cars fixed back up. That obviously sets race teams back. What we've got to be able to do is get on a roll and there's no reason why we shouldn't start this week. We wanted to start last week and the week before. We've got to be able to get on a roll, get some top-10 runs and be able to start marking them up on the board. Then everything else will start fixing itself. Things like the points and the people out there saying that maybe Ernie Irvan has lost it and he can't drive anymore.
Some people are saying Ryan Pemberton can't crew chief. We've got to a nswer all those critics. I just feel like with all the people we have here, the people we're trying to hire here every week to better enhance what we have, that things will get better and better."
CONSIDERING WHERE YOU QUALIFIED IS THIS THE BEST OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU TO SHOWCASE THE TEAM'S ABILITY IN A RACE?
"I think for sure that's the case. When we ran here at Michigan last year we ran really good. We finished in the top-10. And then when we ran here at Michigan in August last year we qualified on the pole and led a lot of the race. We ended up sixth, but it was a positive and something we could build on. That's why we came back here with the same Grand Prix. I feel like we should be able to race good. That doesn't mean it's guaranteed, but we should be able to race good."
TALK ABOUT PONTIAC'S IMPROVEMENT AS A HOLE THIS SEASON.
"There's no way we can sit here and say, 'Well, our problem is we're underdogs with the body.' When you have the finishes that the Pontiac body has posted this year, you're arguing against too many impressive numbers. Our only worry is that before we get to start excelling as a team with our Pontiac body, NASCAR will make a rule change. We want to join in on the success before it's too late. We're looking at what the other Pontiac teams are doing, looking at their bodies. But they're not going to to tally open up and tell us what to do. That's not what racing is all about. They're competing against us just like we're competing against them.
We do look at some of the other Pontiac bodies and see if we need to try some different stuff. There's no doubt we're doing that. We're just on the cutting edge of trying some different stuff, different than what we ran last year."
HAS TONY STEWART SURPRISED YOU?
"In one way it's a surprise. The first way it's a surprise because most of the time, rookies, no matter what, come in and they tear up a bunch of stuff. Tony Stewart is a great race car driver. He's right on the playing field with a guy like Jeff Gordon. There's no way you can just take his abilities and toss them into a pile. He's a great race car driver and he's been a very smart race car driver.
The Winston Cup cars kind of fit him better than the Busch cars did. I think that's enabled him to stay out of trouble a lot more."