JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations) COMMENT ON WEB SITE REPORT THAT ONE OF THE BIG THREE MANUFACTURERS IS GOING TO LEAVE NASCAR "I've heard the rumor, but obviously we're not involved in it. I haven't heard anything ...
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
COMMENT ON WEB SITE REPORT THAT ONE OF THE BIG THREE MANUFACTURERS IS GOING TO LEAVE NASCAR "I've heard the rumor, but obviously we're not involved in it. I haven't heard anything from General Motors or Ford that indicates they're in any jeopardy. Obviously their total companies right now are having a tough time in the marketplace, but that's happened before and it'll happen again I'm sure. As far as I know, GM and Ford are still committed to NASCAR and committed to racing in the Cup Series. As far as I know right now it's only a rumor."
HOW LONG IS DODGE'S CURRENT COMMITMENT TO NASCAR? "I don't think there's anything set out there right now as far as how long we're committed for. I think we still believe it's the right place to be to show off the image we're trying to project for the Dodge brand performance, the capableness of our cars. Quite frankly we're just getting in position now to win some races and show some strength with our program. They're starting to mature to the point where hopefully we can take a run at it this year. We've built up our drivers to the point where we've got four or five capable drivers with some young guys coming along. That's strong. It's the second year for the Charger, and it's starting to show some strength. You've heard me say this before. Inherently that's a better car than we've ever had. It's taken awhile to figure out and there were some complications last year, but I think we've shown and demonstrated this year that the car is capable of winning races. We've won three of the first seven and we probably should have won Daytona. We had a good enough car to win there, but it was a we just didn't win kind of thing. I'm pretty comfortable with where we're at. We've got a long way to go before we want to quit."
COMMENT ON MATCHING THE NUMBER OF 2005 WINS ALREADY IN 2006 "Everybody tends to look at the wins. I felt that last year we started to lay the foundation to strengthen ourselves with some of the drivers we were bringing along -- the guys we had in Busch that we brought up to Cup. I thought the car was good. We needed a year with it to take notes and figure it out. Each year I've seen a progression and seen our program get stronger and stronger. Ultimately that ends up in winning races and winning championships, and I think we're starting to get to that level."
KURT BUSCH IS THE DEFENDING RACE CHAMPION AND WAS FASTEST IN THE FIRST PRACTICE TODAY. IS HE THE GUY TO BEAT TOMORROW? "He's looking good out there right now. Kasey Kahne looked good, and he did a good job at Texas. Bobby Labonte looks like he's got a really quick car. Scott Riggs looks really strong. He's not the fastest car out there on a single lap, but if you look at him over the long haul, he's got a car that's really consistent out there, and that's what's going to win this race. One lap is nice, but I'd rather see a car that doesn't drop off so much and his car looks to be doing that. So does Kurt Busch's. I think Kurt is going to be really strong."
DO YOU THINK IT'LL BE IMPORTANT TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS MORE THAN USUAL DURING THE RACE SINCE IT STARTS IN SUNLIGHT AND ENDS AT NIGHT? "We saw that yesterday in qualifying. Qualifying wasn't about how fast your car was. It was about where you got the draw. The 9 had a car that you could argue was a top five, but it was definitely a top 10 and I think it ended up 19th."
SOME DRIVERS SAY THERE'S A SMALL WINDOW TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS ON THE CHARGER. DO YOU AGREE? "I think last year it was a knife's edge. This year it's a little box. We've got to make it into a big box, and it's just a matter of continuing to learn the car and understanding the car more and more. I thought you saw a good example of that in the two wins Kasey Kahne had. If you remember at Texas, the car wasn't all that good. He was on the pole and dropped back to seventh or eighth, by the way that's the maturity of Kasey these days. He didn't try to overdrive the car. It was a seventh-place car so he dropped back. The crew did a fine job of figuring out what he needed for the end of the race and at the end of the race he was better than everybody else out there and that's why he won. That's what you need."
COMMENT ON DODGE'S DEPTH THIS SEASON "I think Reed Sorenson is going to be special. He's going to come along, and we have gotten stronger this year. We've got more depth. We've got a good blend of some older drivers with Bobby Labonte. Bobby is going to do a great job, and the Pettys have done a good job of picking up their program over there. Some guys are two or three years into our program and some young guys like Stremme and Sorenson have made us deeper. Stremme has a new team over there. People are looking at it and asking what's wrong with David Stremme. I don't think there's anything wrong with David Stremme. It just takes awhile for things to gel. They made some changes over there, and he was 21st at Texas. If he can get a top 20 here that's something he can start to build on. Those guys will get their confidence and they'll come on."
THE TOP FIVE DODGE DRIVERS IN THE STANDINGS ARE ALL IN THEIR 20s. "Arguably our best drivers are all young. They're in their third or fourth years. They're veterans, but they're early in their careers. They're still maturing. That's one of the things I really like this year. Our young drivers are showing a lot of maturity. They're starting to show they can win races."
DO YOU THINK SCOTT RIGGS MIGHT BECOME THE FIRST DRIVER TO MAKE THE CHASE WITH ONLY 25 STARTS? "He just might. He really looked good at Texas and Atlanta. They've got some things to sort out, but that's a new pit crew he's working with. The crew let him down at Texas, and there's no doubt about that. I'm sure they're going to work their tails off this week and not let him down again."
A WIN HERE WOULD PUT DODGE AHEAD OF CHEVY IN THE MANUFACTURERS STANDINGS. "I'd vote for that, but we've been so bad here at Phoenix if we get a bunch of top fives and top 10s that would be great. A win would be icing on the cake, but sometimes the cake is sweet enough."