Monte Carlo Loudon qualifying

Steve Park, No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 5th -- best career Winston Cup start at NHIS): "My hat's off to this entire Pennzoil crew. We made a pretty big call right there at the end of the last practice and it worked out for us.

Steve Park, No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 5th -- best career Winston Cup start at NHIS): "My hat's off to this entire Pennzoil crew. We made a pretty big call right there at the end of the last practice and it worked out for us. It was good our first lap and not so good our second lap. But it felt good. I was hoping it would be for the pole. I love being home in New Hampshire. I was driving my heart out trying to get a pole - not only for this Pennzoil team and the New Hampshire fans. It's great to be home. Hopefully we can do something on Sunday. We've had a string of bad luck. We want to put this Pennzoil Chevrolet back on Victory Lane and there's no better place to do that than here in New Hampshire.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 29th): "It ain't going to be great, but we ain't going to be awful, either. We'll just have to wait and see where it puts us."

Rick Mast, No. 50 Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 19th): "We made a couple of adjustments on the car to try to go for it a little bit and push the envelope. We shouldn't have done that. We should have left it alone. Running a flat (.00) seems like a real good speed right now. I love this racetrack, and hopefully we'll be good on Sunday."

Robby Gordon, No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo qualified 6th): "This is the best opportunity I've had in my Winston Cup career. With a championship team like this, the Richard Childress Racing team, and a sponsor like Lowe's, I'm really excited to have the chance to drive this weekend (substitute for the injured Mike Skinner). Unfortunately it comes at one of my weaker racetracks right off the bat. I don't think I'm that strong on one-mile racetracks. It's something that I don't have a lot of experience on and I'll be happy if we can get in without having to take a provisional today. We'll race better than we qualified, that's for sure."

(Is this such a good opportunity that you'd give up a ride that you could have had for the rest of the year?)

"I felt that I needed to see if it was me or the equipment. I definitely showed today that I have a weakness on short tracks. I'll gain more experience. I haven't raced a track like this since 1997. (Knowing that this could be a three or four race deal, do you have to be careful not to get ahead of yourself?) "That's really what I want to do. I'd be really happy to come out of these racetracks without tearing any of Richard's equipment up. This is Mike Skinner's ride. He'll be back soon, so the last thing I need to do is to put him in the hole - including points and everything else. I'll do the best job I can to try to finish." (How is this going to help you in the long-term, for 2002?) "It shows that some of the best teams in Winston Cup, the owners, take a look every once in a while. The most important thing for me is to do my job and drive to the best of my

Bobby Hamilton, No. 55 Square D Chevrolet Monte Carlo (qualified 4th): "I don't think it'll hold up but it'll definitely get us a good starting spot. This was the first time I'd run it and been happy with it since we've been here. It seems that people that go out on new tires have a faster time on their first lap."

Joe Nemechek, No. 33 Oakwood Homes Chevrolet Monte Carlo: "For some reason, I just didn't have the grip that I had in practice. I got a little bit loose, and wriggled around a little bit. It was kind of hard getting off the corners. When you don't do that very good, you're not going to go very good. But it's going to be a good car. We usually do exceptionally well here and this car drives really well. We're going to work on the race day set-up."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo (race pole-sitter, 100th pole for Hendrick Motorsports) "You just never know what you're going to get. We were pretty decent in practice, but we were real tight most of the day. The guys just did a great job freeing the car up. It was a great team effort. We just never gave up on it. We went out there and put two ends of the racetrack together and made a smooth lap out of it and come home with Hendrick Motorsports 100th pole. We're pretty proud of that."

(How different do you have to drive with the new tire?) "With the new sealer that's on the racetrack, not a whole lot. The tire's got less grip, but the track has more grip. It's kind of a compromise there. It's a narrow groove right now and I'm looking forward to the trucks and the modifieds running and our practices, and getting that groove worked in there. It should be a great race on Sunday.

(What about your chances now?) "Well, I certainly like my starting position but it's going to be a long day. We've got to hold on to that track position the best we can. But one of the things I was shooting for this weekend was a good starting position. We're pretty proud of our effort today."

(How do you like the track?)  "I'm real happy with the sealer and the
transitions into the corners are nice and smooth and consistent.  I think
that the groove is real narrow.  We were pushing pretty bad at the beginning
of practice.  We kept freeing it up. Finally we hit on something there right
before qualifying. I tried not to overdrive it and be real smooth.  It's a
good car.  It gave us a good lap and it did everything I wanted it to do.

"I think the only thing you have to compare it with is Richmond because we had this same sealer there. It does take some time to work it into the racetrack and then work an outside groove in there. The characteristics of this racetrack carry you to the outside. So we should eventually get something going out there - at least more so than we have in the past, I hope.

"In the past, we really haven't had much of an outside (groove) here. You could run out there, but to run side-by-side in the corner and off the corner has taken quite a while. I'm hoping with this new sealer there will be a little more grip to where you can feel a little more comfortable out there. But it's a totally different comparison from Richmond to Chicago. High-banked, real fast racetrack - there really was no outside groove there (Chicago). Unlike New Hampshire, it could take a couple years before they get an outside groove. Here, it'll only take a couple of races."

(Did you share the concern about one qualifying lap vs. two?) "I think they underestimated the sealer. I think there was no reason for us to run two laps. One lap was fine. You had instant grip just as soon as you left pit road. I think that they could have made that call today after we were all slipping and sliding around and enough of us went up to the (NASCAR) trailer and said we needed two laps. I think they jumped the gun a little bit on that. But it worked long as it's the same for everybody."

(Does getting the pole here give you a boost for the last half of the season?) "We've got a lot of racing to do. To think that a pole is giving me an edge toward the championship right now at this point in the season is a little crazy, I think. What I'm more excited about is that we are on the pole for this particular event. This is a good place to have good track position and get a good place to pit the car on pit road. We came in here trying to bounce back from a down weekend in Chicago and wanting to get good track position for this race. It's extremely hard to get. Plus, we didn't know what the sealer was going to be like. Once we get some racing in the guys will be able to move from the back to the front. As far as the championship is concerned, we've just got way too much racing to go to worry about that right now."

(How do you feel about starting the second half of the season in a dead heat - like starting from scratch?) "That's the way we're looking at it too. It's like we're just now starting. We can look at the last two weekends and focus on losing a lot of points, but at the same time I look at it as pretty good to have had a bad couple of races and still be leading the points - technically. We've got a great team right now and we have good strong cars. We're going to a lot of tracks that we run well at. I don't know of any tracks that we don't run decent at. We're excited about the second half of the season. Somebody mentioned to me that it's kind of like football game where you're just waiting for the fourth quarter. We're still not at the fourth quarter. We're just playing the game, running the races doing the best we can and hoping we're in contention when we get to the fourth quarter where it really counts."

(How important is winning the pole for the team's morale?) "It's certainly good for the team, good for the morale, to have the type of day we had today. I never was thrilled with the car all day today in practice, but we kept working on it. And then we went out there and picked up (speed) and got the pole. It gets us pretty fired up. But anything we can do that helps us bounce back from what happened at Daytona and Chicago - whether for qualifying or fast in practice, or whatever. It's important for us to get back on track as quickly as you can. When you have a tough weekend, it can start to wear on you."

(Why has this been such a good track for you?) "I don't know. It's a track that you really have to be smooth on. You really have to be precise and hit your lines and your marks. You've got to have a car that turns in the middle of the corner real well, and you have to have pretty good horsepower to get up off these corners down these long straight-aways. We've won races here where we've just out-strategized 'em on a two-tire stop. We've had races here where we just flat out-ran them. It's hard to really pinpoint it. I haven't really been very good on flat tracks throughout my career. But this is one flat track that I've been pretty good at."

(Did the sealer cover-up any lines that you used to use on the track?) "Yeah, thankfully the trucks got to run and it was very hard to see the line that you need to take getting into the corner. When we first started practice, I kept turning in and going over the apron getting into the corners because I couldn't tell where the edge of the track or the groove was at. It was real narrow getting in and you didn't want to get out of it. As the day went on I kept creeping out there more and more and driving deeper and deeper to get a better feel for it. As the day went on, a line started that you could see. It's still black, but you can see where rubber has laid down. I think by tomorrow, we should start to see a little gray - at least a difference between where the sealer has been worn down and where it's fresh."

(How important is it to have a big points advantage toward the end of the season?) "I know that we've got to have good runs. But three or four weeks ago we were one hundred and some points up, and now we're dead even. As long as we're in contention and we have a shot at it (the championship) when it gets down to those last five races, that's what I'm shooting for. Yes, I'd love to be three or four hundred (points) up when we get to that point. But I know how many factors there are in the sport. It's so competitive. To me, what makes a championship-caliber team and season is knowing your ups and downs and getting through them. The guy that does that the best at the end of the season and is the most consistent is the guy who is going to be the champion. I'm just trying to let some of the downside roll off our backs and re-focus on the next race. When you've won three championships, it makes it a little easier and takes some of the pressure off. It allows you to not put so much attention on one or two bad finishes. What counts is that you're in the hunt."

-GM Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Joe Nemechek , Robby Gordon , Rick Mast
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports