Pontiac Driver Talk About Fast Start to Season

NOTES AND QUOTES Primestar 500 March 23, 1999 Note: Pontiac is off to one of its strongest starts in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition. After five races, Pontiac drivers have compiled two poles, two runner-up finishes, four top-five and...

NOTES AND QUOTES Primestar 500 March 23, 1999

Note: Pontiac is off to one of its strongest starts in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition. After five races, Pontiac drivers have compiled two poles, two runner-up finishes, four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. Pontiac has two drivers (Bobby Labonte and Ward Burton) ranked in the top-10 in the point standings. Another two (Ernie Irvan and Tony Stewart) are ranked in the top-15. Last year after five races, Pontiac drivers compiled two poles, one win, two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Pontiac had one driver (Labonte) in the top-10 in the point standings and one other (Burton) in the top-15.

Pontiac drivers have been on a roll particularly in the last three races. In that span, Pontiac has had no less than three drivers in the top-10 each race and last Sunday at Darlington placed four drivers in the top-10.

Pontiac drivers talk about their stable's fast start this season:

Note: Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix driver Ward Burton has three consecutive top-10 runs and has moved up from 29th to seventh in the point standings over that span.

WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think the parity to start with is better this year than it was at the start of last year between the Ford, Chevrolet and Pontiac. At the same time, we've had this body for quite a while now. We tried to improve on it at the end of last year (with a new designed nose), but everybody decided to leave it as it was. That probably helped everybody because we just had more of a database to draw from because we stayed the way we were already existing. As far as my team, Tommy Baldwin has the team really well organized and things are structured really well. The motor shop is doing a fabulous job. We're just real excited about the possibility of being one of the most consistent Pontiac teams every week. We know we've got some weaknesses as a team we've got to address. We're not a perfect race team by any means and we try every week to try and get better."

ARE THE RULES EVEN FOR THE MAKES RIGHT NOW?

"The rules are probably why the makes are so even right now. I still think the Ford Taurus is better for downforce. They ought to be. They built a car that won't fit any production stock car out there and I think if we could go do that we could make one better, too. I'm not bashing on them. I don't think it's a whole lot, but after you've run a long run at the end of a long run I think that's when it shows up the most."

HAS THE GREATER NUMBER OF PONTIAC TEAMS (NINE) AND THE STABILITY AMONG A NUMBER OF THOSE TEAMS HELPED?

"Yes, definitely. There was a time where Pontiac simply just didn't have enough good teams. Nothing against the teams that were there, but there just weren't enough front-running teams. Even last year, Joe Gibbs' team was the most consistent. I think we've turned the corner where our average finish since Tommy's come onboard (second Dover race last season) is pretty good. We're going to hopefully keep improving so we can close that gap up even more."

Note: STP Pontiac Grand Prix driver John Andretti posted his first top-10 finish of the season last Sunday with a ninth-place run at Darlington.

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "You've got to remember, the numbers are always against Pontiac. When you go into a race, the numbers weigh heavily against them, especially when you look at the number of teams running which particular makes. The longevity of some of those teams with the other manufacturers means a lot. Pontiac has been with Petty Enterprises for a long time, but they really haven't been that long with Joe Gibbs and some of the other teams. A lot of their alliances with teams are brand new. In reality, that's not comparing apples to apples. If it was a third of the field, a third of the field and a third of the field and everybody was dealing with the same level of teams, then I think the results would look different. If one guy has a problem, there goes a huge percentage of the Pontiacs out of the field. Of course, not everybody hits the setup every weekend, too. So, already you're missing two or three of them. Nine teams is a bigger and better number of teams for Pontiac, but you've still got to remember a new team is one of them (Rich Bickle) and you've got two rookie teams (Tony Stewart and Buckshot Jones). Essentially, you've got three new teams and two of those with rookies, so how many of those nine can you really count? I think as time goes on, it's going to prove those are all quality teams, but it isn't a deal where Pontiac can snap its fingers and it's going to happen. It takes time. It would be like if we switched over to the Taurus. We would not build as good a Taurus as these guys that have been building them for a long time, unless we hired all the people that are building them. I don't think Jack Roush or Robert Yates would build anybody a Taurus. You'd be starting at ground zero. Pontiac's number of teams may have come up, but they're still are factors to consider. I'm not trying to make any excuses for Pontiac, but if you look at things legitimately, is it a well rounded pictures when the other two makes have so many more established teams? No."

HOW WOULD YOU RATE NASCAR'S HANDLING OF THE RULES?

"NASCAR has obviously had its hands full the last few years. Anytime a manufacturer brings in a new car you don't know what to believe or who to believe. It's tough to get the playing field somewhat level because you have so many different team and driver combinations. It takes time and they've had some time and they've done a good job with it. They've really had their finger on the pulse. The new Monte Carlo is going to be coming out and it will throw things back into the air again. They won't no where things are at, but they can only do so much. As time plays out, they always get it right."

IS THE PONTIAC ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD WITH THE FORD AND CHEVY?

"I think for sure we can win races with the Grand Prix. I don't believe the Pontiac is keeping us from winning races. I think in a lot of cases we've even benefited from running the Grand Prix. It's got some good characteristics to it and we work with those. It's like any team, it's the team that makes the difference. Our cars may have the same name on the front grill, but not all cars are built alike. I think a lot of it rests with the teams to make the most of them. The King told me this, 'Until you're the best one, you've got to keep working.' Bobby Labonte has been the Pontiac goalpost. If we can get to him on a consistent basis then we'll be even better judges. Bobby seems to do just fine with the Pontiac. We did pretty good with it last year. I'm not going to sit here and say if we don't win a race it's because they have this and we have this. I don't think anybody can right now. It seems to be pretty level. Every now and then maybe one car will hog the front, but is that really the manufacturer or is it the team and driver?"

WOULD JEFF GORDON MEET WITH AS MUCH SUCCESS IN A PONTIAC?

"Yeah, I think so. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin have been with teams that have a lot of continuity. Teams that have been together for four or five years and have had success for several of those years, they can figure a lot of things out. I can't say they would have had the same kind of success when some of the new models came out. When Pontiac comes out with a new car hopefully we'll get three or four races where we can really stomp on them. Overall, the results column wouldn't look too much different except for the years of introduction of a new car. The rules tend to bend toward the new car that's coming in. That's the way its always going to be because it's so hard to read and you want to be fair. If I have the answer, then I'll speak up. If I was in NASCAR's shoes, I don't know how I could do it any better than they do. You don't like it when you see one make dominate and you may think it takes too long to straighten things out, but in reality they manage things and don't just judge off reactions like a competitor would want them to do."

DERRIKE COPE (No. 30 Jimmy Dean Pontiac Grand Prix): "I don't think the rules are that far off. I think every make is fairly competitive right now. It just depends on your own team situation. We're capable of qualifying better and we aren't. Many of the other Pontiac teams seem to be doing well and running competitively. This is probably the best Pontiac as a group has been in awhile. A lot of the Pontiac teams have remained in the stable for a few years now. It's important to work with the same car year in and year out. You have to stay up on so many fronts that evolve or you can fall behind and look worse than you really are. Pontiac has some good teams that are working hard. The resources are there. I think at this point with the rules the makes are about as even as you could make them. I think the rules are in good shape. I think they're as good as you could ask for until the Monte Carlo comes in and then we'll see from there."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Rich Bickle , Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Ernie Irvan , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Tommy Baldwin , Mark Martin