Pontiac crew chiefs'' thoughts on Daytona 500

The following are quotes from two Pontiac Grand Prix crew chiefs, talking about preparing and strategizing for tomorrow's Daytona 500 within the confines of the new shock package and other changes for the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season/ TOMMY ...

The following are quotes from two Pontiac Grand Prix crew chiefs, talking about preparing and strategizing for tomorrow's Daytona 500 within the confines of the new shock package and other changes for the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season/

TOMMY BALDWIN, CREW CHIEF, NO. 22 CATERPILLAR PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

How much will the work of the crew chief determine the outcome of tomorrow's race? "There are a lot of characteristics in the car that NASCAR mandated on our shock and spring package that we have to live with, but it's up to us to make it the best that we possibly can because whoever does that will win the race. Daytona tomorrow is not going to be a normal Daytona. It's going to be a handling race just like Rockingham, or Las Vegas or places like that. So it's going to be up to the car that can handle the best and real good pit stops to keep the car out front in that clean air."

Is this weekend like racing somewhere you've never been before? "Yes, but I think I'm fresh enough to where it's not bothering me as much as it is all the old-timers here. I'm not crying about it. I'm just going to try and fix it because I know if I worry about what everybody else does and I just concentrate on what makes the racecar go fast then I'll be better off."

Does it make your notes obsolete? "That happens pretty much everywhere else we go. Everything is changing so fast that it's up to making good judgement calls on what the car needs and going from there. Notes are notes. We'll leave here with a different set of notes than we had in July and we'll come back in July with a different set of notes that we had in February. We'll just throw everything we know at it and see what happens.

How has Ward (Burton) handled it this week? "He's frustrated at times when he gets in a position where the car handles worse. We've made a lot of gains since we've been here and it's helped his confidence. We qualified well, we ran up front during the 125s, and we practiced good on Friday so we know what we've got. We think we can run in the top five most of the day. If we stay out of trouble and have some good pit stops maybe we can make a run to win this thing."

If you are in the top five with a few laps to go, can you win this race? "Yeah, because this happens every year. People that contend in the 125s and stay single file do that to play it safe. But when you're racing for the Daytona 500, you will drop down, you will try something and that will open up a hole for somebody to try something else. It's not going to be as dull as everybody thinks it's going to be."

Have you been rolling around a pit strategy to get him to the front tomorrow? "We've been talking about some situations that we're going to get into tomorrow and how we can capitalize on those things. We just have to do some of the same things that we did last year. Have some real fast pit stops, and pass some cars on pit road so we don't have to pass them on the racetrack."

Is pit strategy more important tomorrow than it ever has been? "For the Daytona 500, yeah. You got to have about 20 laps to go as fast as you can in a long run. The last 30 to 35 laps it's basically going to be 'hold on' because the car is going to be pushing. But if you can keep that car from pushing until lap 30 instead of lap 20, then you're going to have a 10 lap better run than everyone else. You just have to keep not worrying about what they're doing and try to make what the did go faster."

SAMMY JOHNS, NO. 36 M&M'S PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

Is the race more in the hands of the crew chief at this point? "I think it's more out of the hands of the crew chief than anything right now. I mean, they've got it blended where you can't do a whole lot with the car. You can't do anything with your shocks, you can't really do anything with your rear springs, it's all aero package and it's been tough. It's been pretty frustrating. I'm ready to go to Rockingham where we can start working on the race car again."

How will the race be won tomorrow? "Basically what you rolled of the truck with is what you have to race with. It's going to be the best aero package and the driver that can deal with the car moving around a lot and being tight because we're having a hard time with getting the car straight up. The cars just want to move around a lot and it seems like whatever you try to do you can't get it out of it. The car moving around has been real difficult."

Just how difficult has it been? "It's been tough. You have to do a lot of things that you never thought about doing in the past. Just trying to search in a lot of different areas to try and make the car work better. And it's been tough but I feel we've done pretty good with it. We're definitely not giving up. We've been plugging at it all week and I feel like we got the car better and we're still going to try and win the Daytona 500."

Does it make everything you've done here in the past obsolete? "Being that I've only been here for four years we've been holding the cars down for four years and basically I'm not even looking at my notes. I would think that some of the veterans that have been doing this for a lot of years could go back to their older stuff and maybe learn something. It's more along the lines of what they used to do years ago with the exception that you can't mess with the shocks."

Do you have a solution in your mind that you think will work? "I've thought about it, had some ideas, thoughts on it, but I understand what they're under. It's a tough deal for them (NASCAR). We were getting too fast, we were getting out of control with holding the cars down. What do you do to fix it? I don't know. I mean the truck race on Friday was pretty decent. That looked like the old Daytona. It's unfortunate that they had the big crash like they did, but that looked like the Daytona races I remember when I was a kid. What I saw Thursday wasn't racing at Daytona. It's a tough deal. A lot of things you think they could try to do to slow us down would probably make us faster. They've got a tough job and they're doing the best that they can with what they got. More rebound in the shocks would be great but they would make us faster too."

How has Ken (Schrader) handled this whole situation? "He hasn't really been that frustrated. Thursday he was frustrated when the car went to pushing but that was the first sign the car gave us all week that we were going to push like that. So that kind of frustrated him. He just feels that he's going to have to run the car a lot looser than he would probably want to. But he's been taking it pretty good. He still feels like he can win."

What will it take to move a guy through the field on Sunday? "I think it will be more frustrating for Kenny and he has expressed that in practice. He said in practice that it depends on what group of cars you get with on how good you're going to be. If you're with one class of cars then you're going to run a certain way and if you're with another class of cars then you're going to run completely different. He's had the same deal where you get right up beside somebody and that's all you can do. Without help, you're not going to do anything."

Is there anything you can do in the pits that will give you better track position? "It's going to be tough but I laid awake last night thinking about it. Track position is going to be everything. Being out in front is going to be the place to be and having the air on the nose will keep your car turning. Track position is going to be very critical. We'll deal with it as it comes but we'll definitely be thinking along the lines of pit strategy to get track position. I feel confident that we can do that because the pit crew has been working hard all winter so I know we have the crew to keep him up front for the whole race."

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Series NASCAR Cup