Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, came into the media center during a rain delay in testing for the Daytona 500 to discuss a number of issues going into the 2005 season-opener. DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus WHAT DO YOU THINK...
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 UPS Taurus, came into the media center during a rain delay in testing for the Daytona 500 to discuss a number of issues going into the 2005 season-opener.
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE INFIELD CHANGES AT DIS?
"I didn't know where I was and still haven't figured all of this out. Thank goodness Penny (Copen) has been able to lead me around to most places. Like Kyle Petty said when we were talking about it last night, I was glad when I got on the race track because that hasn't changed and I knew where I was at that time. It's incredible what's been done in here in what I consider a short amount of time with everything that has taken place. I think the fans that have the opportunity to come down in here and view all of this are gonna be very impressed and excited about that. It should be fun and interesting to see how all of this goes. As far as the race track goes, it's the same old track. Obviously we have a little change with the patch down in one. I don't know how that's gonna affect when we get out in race trim and do a little drafting.
"I don't see it being a problem or anything. The testing has gone well so far. I'm pleased that some of the things we've worked extremely hard on with these cars - we literally started building back in September of last year and had them in the wind tunnel quite a bit - and of the three pages of things we wanted to try to get through here at the test, and obviously you don't ever get through all of that, but the things we saw that might be beneficial from the wind tunnel have actually translated into some speed here on the race track, so that's always nice when that happens.
"Many times you come here and you make change after change after change and you get across the start-finish line and you look at the timer on that second lap and you're saying, 'Just show me something a little different.' The last time you ran a 48.90, this time you ran a 48.89 or a 48.91 or .93. You see the same numbers and you want to think it's stuck, but we've been fortunate to see some gains. We may make three or four runs and not see anything happening much, but then we do find one thing that picks us up half-a-tenth or a tenth and that's a big gain out here. So it's been kind of a fun test."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RUSTY AND MARK IN THEIR FINAL YEAR?
"Both of those guys have had great careers. They've meant a lot to this sport. The only thing aside from losing two good friends out here that are my age and we have things in common to talk about would be the questions that come at me now about when I'm gonna retire because we're basically the same age. My answer to that is I started later than they did, so I'm gonna try to drive a little longer than what they are, but I wish them both the best in their last year. When you see that happening to two good guys, and obviously Terry is cutting back too. Those people have meant a lot to this sport and you'd like to see them have a lot of success here to go out on a good note."
CAN YOU REFLECT ON THE POINT SYSTEM?
"I'll be talking a different tune than I was last year. I'm not sure if this is the chair, but it was in a place similar to this last year when I was totally against it and expressed those feelings. Myself and others, that changed after we saw what was going on with it - the amount of exposure that it brought to our sport - the attention - the excitement. Those races, starting probably at race 15 of the season through that 26th race was just incredible. There was as much excitement and pressure there as what I ever remember racing for a championship when I won in '99 and racing for championships a few other years. It was just amazing. How could you argue with something. I wasn't part of those last 10 races as far as racing for the championship, but how can you argue with something that came down to the final lap of the final race and having any one of three guys having a chance to win the championship.
"My hats off to Brian France and George Pyne and those people that made that most difficult decision and make that huge change - to have the foresight to see that that type of finish could be a real possibility. I think it's great. I'm literally for it now. I think that it's brought a level of excitement to our sport that we haven't seen in a long time. The coverage that everyone got in those last 10 races was just amazing. I don't know if they have any changes planned, but if it's anything like that, I'll be for that too probably."
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR SKILLS ARE FROM A DRIVING STANDPOINT?
"Obviously, something has to change there as time goes on, but I'm not sure where that comes in. I think that it may be different with different people. As far as myself, I think that physically I'm definitely in better shape than when I started this back in my thirties.
"That part of it I'm not concerned with. I still see well and I still enjoy this so much that I don't think there's any part of me physically that is keeping me from winning races or competing weekly in a good way. I'm not sure when that will come. I'm sure there will be something that will make that light go on in me that says, 'OK, it's time you stop doing this.' I think that certainly there is a lot to be said for experience when you get to be this age that you can maybe look at things and do things a little bit differently.
"I think, as much as anything, you hear people talk about the rigors of the travel and all the appearances we have to do, so I've taken a little bit different look at that and tried to approach it a little differently and try to make my schedule more friendly to myself and my family to where it doesn't wear on my physically in that respect. If anything is gonna wear on me physically, I want it to be the actual racing itself. I don't see that there's anything that these young guys that are 20 and 25 and 30 years old, they're great race drivers and very good talents, but I don't see anything that makes me, because I'm 48, physically not be able to do the things that they can do. Hopefully, my experience comes in somewhere along the way that will allow me to do things as well if not better than what they can."
HOW HARD IS IT DETERMINE IF IT'S THE CAR OR YOURSELF WHEN THERE'S A DECLINE IN PERFORMANCE?
"That's the $64,000 question I guess. You try to figure that out, and I'll use a word that always creates a debate but for lack of a better term, when an athlete gets at this time of his career you start wondering what it is, in particular this sport. Obviously, if it's a football or baseball player or a basketball player you kind of know that because as much as those are team games, you can see that it's your skills that may be declining. Here, we have that factor of team and car, so trying to determine which it is in that respect. Now is it the fact that I'm not being able to relate to changes in this sport as much so I'm not being as effective as a driver.
"Maybe it's not that my skills have deteriorated, it's just that I'm not able to give the feedback that I need to with the way the cars have changed, the tires and all that. That's something you have to weigh on. You think a lot about it. I think a lot more about that now than I ever have, obviously before. In knowing when is gonna be that right time, I think I've made this statement before. A lot of people have to make it on their own and it will ultimately be my decision, but I have three very good people in my life that I feel can help me make that decision at the proper time if I'm not able to see it clearly myself. And those would be my car owner, Robert Yates, who has become a great friend to me and someone that I know is totally up front and honest with me and me the same way with him, so we have that type of a relationship.
"My father, who we discuss everything about my life, so I know he won't hesitate if he sees something there. And for those of you that have met my wife, Kelley, know that she's very candid and has never hesitated and won't hesitate to let me know because she, just like myself, doesn't want to see me go down that other side. I've been very fortunate in the many years I've been in this sport to be associated with a lot of good people and teams and have a wonderful career, and I don't want to slide down that other side. So I think that I can rely on those people and hopefully know when that time is here."
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR TEAM HEADING INTO THE SEASON?
"A much better race team, a much better prepared team. Mike has done a really good job. When he came there last year, and he'll be the first to tell you, that about three or four months into it he was totally overwhelmed at really what he was having to rebuild. He had no idea really when he took the job exactly everything that had taken place there, and maybe more a lack of what hadn't taken place. Right now, last year going into it I had no idea if we were gonna be a top 25 team, run where we did in 2003, or were we gonna get ourselves back to respectability and that's what Mike built. Now we have cars sitting in the race shop ready to go testing. We obviously have had a good test here.
"We have tests at Lakeland, Las Vegas, California and even the two days that we're off here on Monday and Tuesday during Speedweeks, that we're actually not on the race track, we're going back to Lakeland to do some testing with our short track stuff. So we're pretty intense on making sure that we're ready when this season starts and I view us right now being a top 10 race team. I think we showed towards the end of the year that we had those capabilities. When we got to race 26, yeah, we didn't make the top 10 and we weren't exactly at that time a top 10 team, but we have made improvements and I'm pretty excited about that. I honestly think that if we get started like I think that we are going to, we can show that we can challenge for a championship again and win some races."
WAS IT A LIFT TO SEE ELLIOTT MAKE THE CHASE?
"I think there's no doubt that. Not only do we get a lift from seeing that, but seeing how they did it and what areas they were working in was a big help to us. Mike is very good at taking the resources that he has around him and putting them to good use and that meant using Todd's abilities and his engineer, Kevin, to our advantage and they've been very good in helping us. So not only watching them, but working closely with them gives us a lot of hope for our race team."
DO YOU FEEL DECISIONS IN THIS SPORT ARE BASED ON MARKETING AS OPPOSED TO PERFORMANCE?
"I think I understand the question, but I think it's still gonna be a performance-driven sport regardless. You have to perform. In my case of being here for a while, what I've done in the past certainly may help in that respect. But these companies that are becoming involved in this sport pay a tremendous amount of money to be a big part of it and they want results. I'm fortunate to be associated with a sponsor that views this, and I'm talking about UPS, views this as an opportunity for them to do a lot of things around our race team and around the races and the different tracks.
"Anything that we do on the race track is a bonus, so not many people maybe have that luxury of being in the position that I'm in. They do such a great job of marketing this, aside from our performance on the track, that it takes a lot of pressure off of our team to realize that, yeah, we still want to do well because that's what we're here to do, but I think that even though some decisions may be made based on who can be marketed better than someone else, it's still a matter that you have to get the job done. It's like having a name like Jarrett or Petty or Waltrip or whatever it is. You might have that name, but if you don't perform that name is not gonna do you a lot of good."
Continued in part 2