DETROIT, Aug. 28, 2001 -- You have to walk before you can run. And while not all teams share the same level of resources, those fighting to make the field can match the effort put forth by a championship team. Hard work is one common thread that...
DETROIT, Aug. 28, 2001 -- You have to walk before you can run. And while not all teams share the same level of resources, those fighting to make the field can match the effort put forth by a championship team. Hard work is one common thread that runs through every race team in the NASCAR Winston Cup garage. Projects and expectations are different, but hard work is the basis for it all.
Pontiac driver Rick Mast and his crew chief Barry Dodson have been together for a little over a month since Mast joined the team at Pocono in late July, and the two have worked feverishly to improve their operation. Five races have been run during that period and the team has responded by qualifying for four of them, which seemingly ends a drought that lasted through most of June and July.
With 12 races left on the 2001 schedule, Mast, Dodson and the rest of Eel River Racing are hoping to take the next step from simply qualifying to becoming competitive. They showed signs of that at Bristol Motor Speedway last weekend and are now hoping to further their effort at Darlington Raceway this weekend.
Rick Mast, No. 27 Duke's Mayonnaise Pontiac Grand Prix
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS NOW AFTER BEING WITH THE TEAM FOR MONTH?
"We haven't really sat down and talked about goals, but I know what they are and it's just to get this thing to where we don't have to worry about missing races. I really equate this deal to when I first when to A.J.'s deal (A.J. Foyt Racing) last year. They had trouble making races - I missed three out of the first four races when I first went to that team. But then in the second half of the year, if you look at the second half points, we were like 18th in the points from midseason to the end of the year. We just went in there and fixed a lot of stuff. It sort of looks like the same kind of deal here. It's just a matter of getting everything right and the way it's supposed to be. If we do that, you can stop worrying about missing races and can get to where you start running good again.
"That's the way Bristol was for us. The sad part was that we really didn't get to show it because we got wrecked so early. But that was a good spark for me and for Barry [Dodson] and most of the guys because we did stuff that we know how to do on the car and it responded the way it was supposed to. It's still going to take a little bit of time to get it all weeded out and get exactly what I like.
"But, the owners (the Birminghams) are super people. They're real sincere and they seem to be in the sport for all the right reasons. I've been with some owners before that are really in the sport for all the wrong reasons. I'm not really sure why those people are in the sport, but this group seems like they know what they want and know how to go about getting it."
ON THE CORE GROUP OF TEAM MEMBERS THAT HAVE STAYED WITH THE TEAM THROUGHOUT THE SEASON:
"When I got here, through all the trouble they'd had, they really didn't seem to be that downtrodden. A lot of times when you come into a deal like this and the guys are real dejected by the time you show up, but this bunch really didn't seem to be that way. I don't know if that was from Barry or if they are self-motivating or exactly why, but they were in pretty good spirits when I got here. Now, by being able to race each week, they've definitely gotten better.
"There is a pretty good core group here and that (building a core group) is kind of hard to do in our sport. But, there is a good foundation of guys here to build from as we try to expand this race team and make it bigger and better. Now it's just a matter of taking everything that surrounds them and getting that right."
Barry Dodson, Crew Chief, No. 27 Duke's Mayonnaise Pontiac Grand Prix
ON THE RECENT IMPROVEMENT IN THE TEAM SINCE RICK MAST TOOK OVER AS ITS DRIVER
"We actually struggled with the race cars a little bit at the two races prior to Bristol, but at Bristol we had one of the best race cars that I've had up there in several years. We just got run over a couple times during the race. But I feel like we made tremendous gains as far as Rick and the race team. I think we all gained a lot of confidence back in ourselves and hopefully set the tone for the rest of the year. I think that carried into our Richmond test earlier this week and hopefully it also will going into this weekend at Darlington."
HOW MUCH HAS THE LAST MONTH HELPED YOUR TEAM?
"It's helped tremendously. I've learned what Rick likes. He's got a feel that he is looking for. I can trust him when he says, 'The car is good,' it's good and I can trust him that when he says, 'We've got work to do,' we definitely have work to do. That makes my job a lot easier having that experience that money can't buy. You can only get it with time on the racetrack and he's got plenty of that."
HAVE YOU HAD TO ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS THIS YEAR?
"I had to readjust them until we got Rick in the car. Our goal is just to improve from now until the end of the year. We need to keep making these shows and finish them. Like I said, we were thrilled with the race car at Bristol. We had a car that could have run way up front and if things fell right for us, as they did for Elliott Sadler in the spring, we could have ended up with a similar result. That's turning the corner in a very short amount of time."
ON THE CHALLENGE OF BEING A SINGLE-CAR TEAM
"We're a single-car Pontiac effort in our second year. We're racing against Joe Gibbs, for example. That is a multi-car team in its 10th year. I get seven tests, they get 14, Roush Racing gets 35. How do you compete with those synergies? It's hard to do. So, I think for us to be a single-car effort and continue to make these [shows] and continue to improve like we are this late in the year, I think it says a lot for us. Our intent is to be competitive by year's end and I think we'll do that."