NOTES AND QUOTES Pepsi 400 Preview June 29, 1998 Note: John Andretti is the defending Pepsi 400 champion. Last yearâ€™s win was his first as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver. He enters this yearâ€™s race under far different scenarios.
NOTES AND QUOTES Pepsi 400 Preview June 29, 1998
Note: John Andretti is the defending Pepsi 400 champion. Last year’s win was his first as a NASCAR Winston Cup driver. He enters this year’s race under far different scenarios. He’s with a new team in the STP Pontiac Grand Prix, and this year’s race will be run under the lights for the first time ever.
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think your first win is always pretty special because you usually have to work longer for your first one than you do for the ones thereafter. I’m hoping that’s the case.
I was telling Robbie Loomis the other day Jeremy Mayfield is going to find out that losing stinks pretty bad, but after winning it stinks a whole lot more. Everything changes when you get to victory lane. I think it changes the way other drivers look at you, too. I’m with a different team, but we’ve had fast cars at both Daytona and Talladega this year. Kyle and I went right to the front at Talladega. We’ve done a lot more work in that area, and our engine program with Rick Mann has really gotten better. I’m sure all the other teams running SB-2s have as well, too. I guess the good part of it is that the benchmark is a Pontiac. (Bobby Labonte’s Interstate Batteries Pontiac won the pole at Daytona and won the DieHard 500 at Talladega.) So we know we can sit on poles at those races, and we can finish first and second in them. We qualified good at both Daytona and Talladega, so we’ve got competitive cars.
"I’m looking forward to going back. I don’t give up any race anymore. Every race track we go to we’re going to learn something and get better and better. There are going to be days where we’re not as good as what we feel we should be, but we’re growing to bigger and better things.
"I wasn’t upset at Talladega last year (when he almost won his first race). Obviously, I would have loved to win the race, but I played it out in my mind and they had either Mark Martin or myself to pick from (in the draft). They picked Mark Martin. It only takes one guy to pick him and then the rest are going to follow. I mean, the guy has won a lot of races, and maybe they were thinking this other guy doesn’t even know how to get up there. I know when we went back to Talladega last year I was running up front like eighth behind the Labontes, and I had them tell Schrader that when I got there that we needed to help each other. Word came back and it was, ‘Yeah, if he can get here.’ We ran second to Kenny and our car was quicker than Kenny’s. Terry and Bobby got a run on us and we ended up third. Tony Furr did a great job with our car and our motors were good everywhere, but they were just killer on the restrictor-plate tracks. Our whole focus last season was on winning a race. We only had realistically six to eight chances at winning one.
"There’s a funny story about how I felt prior to that race last year. My little boy, Jarett, was always asking me when I was going to win a race. We were sitting up in the motorhome the night before the race. It was just he and I sitting in there and I said, ‘Jarett, who do you think is going to win the race tomorrow?’ He said, ‘I don’t know,’ and I said, ‘You’re dad.’ Unbeknownst to me, he went to Bible Club and told them, ‘My dad is going to win the race.’ Mrs. Jackie said, ‘Well, we’ll just see,’ because she hears different things like that and Jarett never had said things like that. But he said, ‘No, I’m telling you!’ With 25 laps to go Mark Martin was leading the race so they come over and get Matt Martin. Jarett said, ‘I don’t know where you’re going. My dad is going to win.’ He’s not even watching the race and doesn’t know what’s going on, and Mrs. Jackie was already prepping him, saying, ‘Well Matt is used to going there (victory lane) and you’re not. That’s just the way things are right now.’ About two laps later here comes Renita, who helps us with our kids and she came over and said, ‘Come on, Jarett, we’re going to victory lane.’ Mrs. Jackie told that story for almost a year and then she told it to me. Nancy had told me only once. I told Mrs. Jackie, ‘I hate to burst your bubble, but I may have had a little influence on him.’ That’s the only time I’ve told him that. I just had a feeling we were going to do it. We weren’t as good as we needed to be, and we made a couple of changes on race morning. The car was good. I guess I need my son to come out more often to races these days.
"I like the change to night, except for I like racing on Saturday during the day and being back home on Saturday night. If they had made it Friday night, man, we would have been popping champagne bottles and everything. We’d really be happy because then we’d get part of Saturday off and all of Sunday. I think going to night is going to be better for everybody; the fans, competitors, because Daytona in July is a hot, hot race. It takes a toll on everybody. NASCAR has got to have the toughest fans in the world. You go to any other sport and it’s usually not so bad. You usually know it’s going to be three hours, but when you go to a Winston Cup race you don’t know how long it is going to be. They will sit out there in that brutal sun all day long. They don’t live 15 minutes down the road, and they don’t have to battle 30,000 people. They’ve got to battle through thousands more in traffic. I think it’s good for everyone they’re going to a night race. It’s cooler weather and Florida weather is more predictable at night than it is during the day. But the way it’s looking in Florida right now, they need the rain and it’s looking like that would do more to help us get the race in right now.
"When you go to Daytona in July it’s slick, real slick, so you’re sitting there gambling how far you want to go setup-wise. Now you can probably just put the Daytona 500 setup in there. The track will tighten up some I’m sure. It will be a whole lot better because you can get a whole lot more aggressive with it. On the other hand, it takes a little bit of the equation out of it. Now everybody is just going to put on the killer bee stuff instead of saying, ‘OK, I might put this stuff on, but if we go long runs I’m going to need something more to handle in order to stay wide open.’ Now there’s little question you can stay wide open all night. That was the only restrictor plate race we had to worry about that.
"As far as I’m concerned, I thought we would have won six races by now. That’s how much belief I have in this team. Once we get on track, we’re going to start pecking them off one by one."
Note: Kyle Petty’s best finish this season is an 11th in the season-opening Daytona 500.
KYLE PETTY (No. 44 Hot Wheels Pontiac Grand Prix): "It ain’t going to be no different. I’ve been running in the dark down there for 20 years, so why should it be any different for me this year? We didn’t test down there. That’s because during the course of the Winston Cup season you only get seven tests, and you’re going to use two or three of your tests on speedway races anyhow. Speedway races only account for four races. In the preseason everybody goes to test at Daytona once and Talladega once. You end up using two or three of your tests then, so we didn’t go to test under the lights.
"The only thing I really anticipate about being different is that the race track may not get as slick. There’s always two races at Daytona. There’ the 500, and then the 400 is always a totally different race at Daytona. The 500 is a speed race at Daytona and the 400 is the handling race. This will make it more like the 500 just from a chassis point of view. The sun is not going to be out to draw up the oil and stuff from the race track and make it slick. When it’s not slick it’s back to being a speed track.
"I like it better as a handling track. I’ve always run better there in July. I’d kind of rather have it go back to being a handling track. I really don’t think it’s going to be a lot cooler. Last year when they started talking about it, you go back and check last year’s weather reports, it was still 92 or 93 degrees at 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night during July. The sun’s just not out.
"I think it will be a good race. I think there will be a lot of sparks just from the fact that these cars run right at the bottom of the race track, and they scrape and throw stuff and that’s always a sight at 180 miles per hour for the fans. As far as the race itself, it will be the same as far as the fact there will be three or so cars that are really good and everybody else will just try and keep up.
"I like night races on Saturday night because it gives me Sunday off. That’s the only reason. It also gives us a rain date on Sunday. It takes the pressure off us as a group of drivers, team owners and stuff, it takes the pressure off us of having to come home Monday and do a turnaround and get ready for the next race. It takes that pressure off of you. I think it’s good for the fans because they can come, watch a Saturday night race and come home Sunday and still not miss a day of work.
"There won’t be any problem running at those high speeds at night. It’s so well lit. Musco Lighting does such a great job that only the fans know that it’s dark. When you’re out there riding around you’re just looking at the race track, looking at the cars in front of you. You just see that. You don’t see the sky with the clouds behind it, the sun coming up or the sun coming down. You do see the sun in your eyes, but you don’t see it a lot of times. At night, you’re just racing in a black hole somewhere. You don’t pay that much attention to it. From a driving point of view, I know there’s a lot of hype and a lot of stuff going on, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal.
"We’re cautiously optimistic. Our problem is we tore up our car at Talladega. All the testing we did over the winter, you can kind of throw some of that out. I don’t know. We’re just going to have to wait and see when we get to Daytona. A lot of times you can go to Daytona, and you don’t have a speed car and still run good because it’s a handling track. I’m hoping what we’ve got down there this time will still be good for a handling car, and speed won’t be as much of a factor there."