Pontiac Racing- Charlotte Favorites and Darkhorses

Note: Pontiac Grand Prix drivers, crew chiefs and owners rate their favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. They also discus the chances for Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. BILL DAVIS, owner (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand...

Note: Pontiac Grand Prix drivers, crew chiefs and owners rate their favorites and darkhorses for Sunday's Coca-Cola 600. They also discus the chances for Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

BILL DAVIS, owner (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "We finished second here in the fall and led a lot of the race. I think we've got a real good chance to have a solid, top-five run. That's what it takes to win a race. You've got to be there in the top-five and then when it's your day it's your day. I don't think by any means out of the realm of speculation that we can win this race. The million deal just adds more excitement for us. We couldn't work any harder. We couldn't put ourselves in any more pressure no matter where the race is. We don't even know what they pay. That's not even an issue. We just want to win a race."

Favorites: "I don't know is there is a clear-cut favorite. I think Bobby Labonte is going to run real well. There's no question about that. I think Tony Stewart is going to run well. Mark Martin, of course, is going to run real well, and of course Jeff Gordon is going to run real well. I don't think anybody has shown a dominant hand. I think right now there's probably 10 cars that could be there."

Darkhorse: "I guess if I picked ourselves most people would consider that a darkhorse."

On Tony Stewart: "He's got a real fast race car and he's a real smart racer. He'll be there. He'll have a good, solid run. He may not be a race winner, but he'll have a good, solid run."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "I think he'll have a solid run. I think Junior is going to come over here, pick right up, and run real well. People talk about a learning curve and an adjustment curve and all that, he ain't gonna have that."

ROBBIE LOOMIS, crew chief (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "We should be pretty good. Last year we qualified in the 600 a lot better than we did this year and we wound up finishing sixth or seventh. Right now we brought the same Pontiac back this week (from last week) and we've been happy with it so far. Hopefully, we can be a solid top-five car."

Favorites: "It's Charlotte Motor Speedway. It's hard to bet against Bobby Labonte. Gordon and them, after their tire trouble out there at Texas I think they may wind up being a little on the conservative side. They practiced more this morning than I've seen them practice all year. I heard he was real unhappy with his car the other night. I wouldn't bet against Gordon, Jeff Burton or Bobby Labonte."

Darkhorses: "Stewart or Skinner."

On Tony Stewart: "This is a place where it's easy to pass. After they get 15 or 20 laps on their tires, as good a race car driver as that Stewart is and that team, I think he'll come up through there."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "You know I really can't make a fair judgment on him because it's a whole different league when you get here. You look at guys like Stewart and he did nothing in the Busch Series and he comes here and he's setting the world on fire. Look at Matt Kenseth. He wins over there and he's run good in a Cup car a couple of times. I think the jury is still out on Junior. We'll have to wait and see what he does."

JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "We're pretty good. I go by feel. I don't go by time. The feel is pretty close. It's still guessworking into the night. Last year we were pretty close, but we probably missed it by a little bit as it got cooler. I think we'll be in pretty good shape. We'll be in better shape than we were for The Winston, I can guarantee that."

Favorites: "It's pretty much the typical group. We're probably in the five through 10 half of that, and we'd like to get a little bit better. The favorites are obviously Gordon and Bobby Labonte. They've won here before. It's kind of their track. Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett. You might as well name the top-four in points or whatever."

Darkhorses: "For sure a guy that could win here that wouldn't be a surprise to me, but I'd guess he'd be considered a darkhorse because he hasn't won here is Jeff Burton. He's probably the guy most likely to win that hasn't won here. He runs good here all the time and he runs good everywhere, so he and I guess the rest of us are darkhorses. Obviously, if we win then it's a surprise. That's what they'd say, but it wouldn't be a surprise to us."

On Tony Stewart: "Tony's got a real strong team behind him and that makes all the difference in the world. He may go to the back of the field but it won't be long before he's cutting his way up through. It's going to look pretty cool for a while and then it's going to slow down quite a bit, too, because the closer you get to the front, obviously, the tougher it gets. Tony's going to do just fine. If everything goes according to plan at Indy and they get all the race in and it's under sun, which it looks like it's going to be and he gets back here in plenty of time, he's going to have some time to sit down a relax. He'll have just enough time to relax, get ready and get back in the car. Actually, I felt better than probably all the guys that sat around all day. I didn't have anybody wanting to just talk to me, nobody taking up my time. Seriously, you're in racing mode and you show up and you're already in racing mode. That's what we grew up doing, one race to another to another to another. We grew up on the short tracks, too. You practice, qualify, race and do the feature and then go home. Tomorrow's going to be a piece of cake for him as long as the weather cooperates and it looks like it's going to."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "I think it's hard to read. Qualifying is one thing and racing is another. He should run well. He's got good equipment. If he doesn't run good that shouldn't be a surprise either because it can go either way. Winston Cup is not a piece of cake by any means. Coming in and doing well, running in the top-10, he's going to find out as well as everybody does, there's no gimmes here. You earn everything you get. You don't even luck into a top-10, unless it rains on the race track. Even then you don't luck into it because if it rains and they call the race we're already halfway and you've earned your way to be in the top-10."

BUCKSHOT JONES (No. 00 Brunswick Pontiac Grand Prix): "If you'd have asked me 15 minutes ago (just before the end of the first practice) I would have probably told you we're going to be awful. We just have been tight, tight, tight getting into turn one. Everything we'd been doing hadn't helped it. Finally, we hit on one thing that helped it. Man, that makes you feel a lot better. I think we're going to be pretty good. We're a new team so it takes us a little longer to figure the things out. As long as we can make the right calls, that's the big deal. A lot of people have experience here and as the track changes they know what to go to. We don't know a lot. But I'm going to go around and talk to some other people. Ricky's (Pearson) going to talk to a couple of crew chiefs and get a little bit of help and see what they're going to do."

Favorites: "You've got to say Gordon. Always. I'd say Jeff Burton. He looks like he's running pretty good. And you can never rule out Bobby Labonte here. Never. I think he sandbags a lot here. If he's not sandbagging, then he's just getting himself comfortable. When it comes down to it he's there."

Darkhorse: "Tony Stewart."

On Tony Stewart: "Tony's got a long day ahead, but he's run long races before. I don't know how it's going to affect him running Indy. Tony's a good racer. I think he's surprised everybody this year. I'm not saying we didn't think he was a good driver. I think he's a great driver. He's done really well. He seems to be patient and he doesn't stick his nose in places that cause you to get in trouble a lot. That's the big thing I've seen all of this year. His teammates with Bobby Labonte and he's going to have a good setup. I think he's going to be around there at the end. That's what it's going to come down to is whoever is up there running in the top-five at the end."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "I don't know what he's capable of tomorrow. Earnhardt's a good driver, too. He knows how to keep his nose clean. He's had a lot of bad luck this year. He's been involved in a lot of stuff that wasn't his fault. He seems to be taking it really calmly and with patience. I think he'll be pretty good out there, too, tomorrow night."

KYLE PETTY (No. 44 Hot Wheels Pontiac Grand Prix):  "It's hard to say.
Real hard to say.  We're not fast, but on long runs you're as good as 99
percent of them.  That's what amazes you.  I think we're OK."

Favorites: "I'm going to go with Mark (Martin), Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. Those three because they're consistently there, there, there, there, there. I don't care what they run in practice, top speed. I'm just watching them run their regular stuff and those are consistent guys and I think they have a shot at doing something. Bobby Labonte should probably be a favorite, too, I don't know why I left him out."

Darkhorses: "I'm going to pick two Pontiacs for darkhorses. I'm going to pick John (Andretti) and Tony (Stewart). I don't consider Tony a favorite because he's not raced here. That's the only reason I'm going to call him a darkhorse. Andretti's team is consistent. They can run a fast lap. Like this morning he was 15th- or 16th-fastest. I was like 38th-fastest. He can run a fast lap and still maintain. I can't run a fast lap, but I can maintain. It's that lunge that you need. If it comes down to a 15- or 20-lap run at the end of the race, they've got a good shot at doing something and being there. I think they'll be pretty good all night long. I think they learned a lot the other night in The Winston with their stuff that helped them when they came back. They came back from The Winston and here and picked up like four tenths from the stuff they learned in The Winston. I think they've been improving every day where we came back and weren't as good with the car we brought. We've struggled a little bit. That's why I say we're just consistent."

On Tony Stewart: "I think he's with a good enough team, a good enough group and he's a good enough driver with Bobby Labonte to help him. He gets help from Bobby and his crowd and Jimmy (Makar) that he ought to be able to get some help and a leg up on where he needs to be. They have all year long. I think that's one of their strongpoints compared to other rookies running. They're able to go to Bobby and talk where the other teams don't have that advantage right now. I think from that perspective, if he puts his stuff together and ends up like he did the other night, then he's got to come out pretty decent."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "It's hard to say. Adrenaline is going to carry him a long way. But you've got to remember, he's running a Busch race today and running a Winston Cup race tomorrow for the first time ever. I don't care if you're 22 or 23, go ask Mark Martin, it drains you. It drains you running those two races, especially not knowing what to expect. He knows what to expect in the Busch race, but he's going into a Winston Cup race and he doesn't know how hard he's got to drive, how long he's got to do it and what's going to happen. I think he'll run good. I ran with him this morning and his car looks really good. He's a good driver and you can't take that away from him. I don't think he's going to be a factor. I'll be surprised if he's a factor for the win. He's potential top-10, top-15."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think we're running really well. I think we've been a top-five, top-eight car since we got here. We kind of made a little mistake in qualifying and it cost us. We have to start in the back anyway, so I guess if this is one of those weekends to have it happen that's OK. We could have picked a little bit better pit, though. I think if we can be real patient because it's a long race, pick cars off one at a time, I think we'll be all right. I think we've got a car good enough to run up front. I think we've got enough adjustability built into it that we can work on it as the day goes. There are a lot of things we can't control and that's the cars around us, the wrecks and things like that. Hopefully, there won't be any of those."

Favorites: "I'd have to say Bobby (Labonte) has been extremely strong the last week he's been here. I think the 99 car is pretty strong. Other than that, outside of those two, I don't think there's any real favorites. I think there are a lot of cars that can run third to 10th, but I'd say Bobby, not because he's our teammate, but because he's been really strong since he got here. He's very confident and he runs very well here. He's got the confidence. He's starting up front and he can maybe dictate how fast he wants the race to go and things like that. I think he's probably got the strongest car right now."

Darkhorse: "I tell you who's looked good and surprised me is the 3 car. He qualified really well which is kind of unusual for him here. He was good right off the truck. His times weren't all that bad yesterday afternoon in practice. I was talking with one of his guys yesterday and he said he was fairly happy with is car. He never shows his hand until they drop the flag and it's time to go and then he gets up on the wheel and he'll go. I don't know if you can call hi m a darkhorse because he's pretty much been the master of most of these race tracks, but I mean because he hasn't run as well as he'd like to over the last few years. He's probably got a good shot at it."

On Tony Stewart: "The only thing that really concerns me is that we can't control certain things. We can't control the other cars around us. That's all that concerns me. Tony, as far as him having the ability to get to the front and the car being good enough to get there, I think we can do that with no problem. I think he's handled most of it (double duty) really well. He knows it's an inconvenience for everybody on both cars. He tries real hard when he comes here to just focus on this. I'm sure he's doing the same thing when he leaves here. Then he starts thinking about that and trying to focus on that. We couldn't be happier. We missed a couple of practices, but they weren't anything that hurt us. They were in the middle of the day when it really doesn't mean a whole lot to us. We're going to go back basically to the way we were in The Winston. I'm sure I'll be sneaking up in the lounge watching a few minutes of the Indy 500 here and there. I always tried to watch that race growing up. Racing is racing. I caught myself watching a Sprint car race last night. If it's on TV it doesn't matter what it is, I'm going to watch it. I'd maybe watch a hockey game before the NBA playoffs right now and that's about it."

On Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "He's a great driver. He's shown that. He qualified really well. It looks like they kind of struggled yesterday, but watching him this morning in practice, I think they've gotten their car a lot better. I don't know if you can ever count him down. I think he's kind of like Tony. He's got a lot of natural talent and he's going to figure out a way to use it."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Mark Martin