BILL ELLIOTT (No. 91 Evernham Motorsports Dodge) "I'll be here the whole time (Speedweeks), just any way I can help out. If things had been a little bit different, I probably would have tried to work on running the 500. I felt like at this...
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 91 Evernham Motorsports Dodge)
"I'll be here the whole time (Speedweeks), just any way I can help out. If things had been a little bit different, I probably would have tried to work on running the 500. I felt like at this point in time and as late as everything came together, I didn't want to take away from Jeremy and Kasey trying to get all their focus on the 500. The 500 is such an important race for Dodge and the race team as a whole. To me, that's the key part. I feel like if I can contribute by running the Bud Shootout and be a part of that and then help them through the 125s and 500 -- Jeremy or Kasey either one."
HOW MANY RACES WOULD YOU LIKE TO RUN THIS SEASON?
"Right now, we're still looking at different stuff. Hopefully, (we can run a) minimum of five. We've got three slated. Worst case scenario, hopefully we could do five. Best case scenario, I'd like to run about 15."
TALK ABOUT HOW YOU AND RAY EVERNHAM ARE FACING 2004 SEASON
"I told him all we needed was a bottle of Geritol. You come in with a different mindset. I guess with me not facing the whole season and I didn't realize what a grind that was over the last number of years. When you go through so many ups and downs in the season... You typically come to Daytona and test and if the team chemistry is not there, it makes for a miserable start to the season. Then you start chipping away at the race, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and all that becomes such a grind it makes it difficult. Now I'm coming in with a whole different attitude from the standpoint that I'm just trying to contribute any way I can and help the team as a whole and being able to say, 'I'll run this race. I might run this race. I might run a truck, a Busch car, go run my dirt car.' I've got a lot of things slated. I've just got to put the pieces of the puzzle together and figure out exactly what I'm going to do, but the main goal is to help Ray get his organization better in any way I can help and then go from there. We were having a good time (yesterday). The last couple of days have been really good. Things have clicked together very well. We've learned a lot of things and hopefully we can relate it to Jeremy and Kasey when they come back and it'll help us as far as the Bud Shootout is concerned."
ARE YOU BASICALLY RUNNING AN R&D CAR?
"You could call it that. Ray is coming out with his own chassis, and we're going to research that and help get that started. What races we'll slate to run that, I don't know. The car I had that ran so well last fall is the car I'll run at Vegas, so we've got a lot of pieces of the puzzle out there and now we just need to mesh it all together. It's kind of a different role for me, and it's a unique role for me. I'm not necessarily walking from it. I'm contributing in a lot of different ways. I've got a lot of knowledge over what's gone on, just like coming here and unloading on Tuesday. There were a lot of things I thought we could work through and get a little better. Some of it worked and some didn't work. The years of input are hard to beat in several different ways."
IS THE POINTS PRESSURE OFF AND NOW YOU CAN JUST GO OUT TO WIN?
"Yes, very much. I can already see that at this point, from the testing side of it. Going out and you don't have to worry about points and a lot of other different things that dictate 'do I make this decision or do I make that decision?' You've got to put things more on the ragged edge. Typically the way the races have gone, especially this past year, some of the guys have got their stuff together and have been able to have it all and win races. Just like us at the very tail of the season, it seemed like we got everything together and it worked well. We're going to try to take it to the next step and see if we can't make us better as a whole race team."
HAVE YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY YET TO CUT BACK?
"It's still been very hectic. I've been trying to, but it's not happened yet. There again, when I walked in down here, it just seemed like I had a whole different mindset toward the season. It's like, man I can go out and do different things and look at things a lot differently. I think sometimes that's a good side of it. Whether I do this two or three years down the road and then decide what I'm going to do from that standpoint. I think probably a lot of guys will look and see what I'm doing, especially at the age that I'm at. Maybe that's not a bad thing to do. The stuff off the track, I really haven't had time to change. I've been doing stuff. I help Ray to promotional stuff. We've still got a lot of things going on, but I think that'll change as the season progresses. We've still got a lot of things slated to do. I've got a good friend of mine back home, Ray Cook, who runs a late model dirt car. I think he starts the first week of February, and I'm going try to help him some and run with him some. I've got a lot of things slated that I want to do. My first goal is to try to take care of Ray and make sure I can contribute whatever I can from my side and then move on."
DO YOU HAVE EQUIPMENT TO RUN BUSCH OR TRUCK RACES?
"I've got a lot of stuff left from the McDonald's days other than just getting the parts and pieces. I mentioned to Bobby Hamilton. We were at the Detroit Auto Show Friday night, and I talked to him a little bit. I told him if something came up to give me a shout. If a certain deal comes up that sounds good, I might go run a Cup car. I might run a truck or Busch car. I'm so flexible at this point in time. The money is not the same, but if I was in it for the money I would have quit a long time ago. That's my favorite saying now. That's very true. I could have done things differently to this point, but I'm very happy with where I'm at right now. It's kind of a new era for me. It's a new look. One side of you says I'm going to miss all the races and the other side says, well, I'm not going to miss 'em. When it comes Monday morning and you're beat up from running 500 miles on Sunday afternoon, that I'm not going to miss."
WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE IN A DODGE IF YOU RAN OTHER SERIES?
"Yes, I would be."
OPINION ON ALCOHOL COMPANY AS A SPONSOR IN SERIES
"It brings another avenue of money into the sport. I'm not opposed to it at this point in time. I don't know if I'm totally for it, but I'm not necessarily opposed to it. I drove beer sponsored cars for 10 years. They're the kind of people that have the money, and I always tried to look at it as doing things sensibly. It's all about that mesh. I feel like it's a good avenue, and I'm not opposed to it at this point in time."
IS THIS A DEAL WHERE YOU CAN DEAL WITH THINGS MORE IN YOUR OWN TERMS?
"Probably so, looking at it from that standpoint, very much so, and being able to be flexible. You've got to understand when I started running all the races in 1983, you had a 28 or 30-race schedule. Then every year as things progressed they added more. That one more turned into 38 events counting the Shootout and Nextel Cup Challenge or whatever it's going to be this year. With that being said, that's a tough grind. If you start in February and end in November and you're back here testing in January, I don't think people really realize what a grind that really is. It's not only physically for the drivers, crews and everyone involved, but just from my standpoint, man, I need a timeout here. I've done this for so long, I'd just like to see things from the other side a little bit and still enjoy some parts of the racing. I don't think I could just totally walk away. That would be the hard part of it. I think I've got a lot of feedback to give to Ray, and Kasey and Jeremy. Jeremy and I have been pretty close over the last two or three years, and any way I can help any one of them, or help Ray as a whole or the Dodge program, that's basically what I'm here to do. As long as I can stay current and keep up with that side of it, those are my goals and that's where I want to be."
ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE A LOAD OFF OF RAY?
"We've gotten a lot closer over the winter. We've done a lot more stuff together. I feel like I can take a lot of that burden off of him. We've talked extensively about that, not only from the knowledge of the business side from running my own deal for six years, but some of the things he's going through with his side of the business and the promotional side. What helped me coming to Ray's deal, I had either Jeremy or Casey Atwood there in the past to brunt some of my side of it. Now, I can turn around and where Ray spreads it thin, then maybe I can be plugged in and helped everybody as a whole. Instead of just walking away, which didn't make sense, as long as I can stay here and be a part of it and give input, that's what I'll do."
WHERE WILL YOU WATCH THE DAYTONA 500?
"That's a good question. After the 125s, who knows? I may be in it. We'll see what transpires, but right now I don't know. I'm just here to fit in anywhere I can. I'm just part of the puzzle. Plug me in wherever I need to be. If something came up, I'm sure Ray would entertain the idea. I'll leave it at that. From the other side of the coin, with the way it stood today, I don't want to take away from those two guys' efforts with them running a full season. As of today, not being well enough prepared to do that, but things could change. We're kind of flexible. We'll roll with the flow. Right now, for sure we're going to run the Shootout, Vegas and Texas. From there, we'll see what transpires and we'll adjust as we go along."
IF SOMEONE CAME ALONG WITH A MILLION DOLLARS FOR YOU TO RUN THE DAYTONA 500, WOULD THAT BE ENOUGH?
"Pay me. Write the check. It isn't about money from my side, but it is about money to run the car. It takes money to run the car."
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CAREER PROGRESSING FROM HERE?
"What I'd like to do is do this for about three years. That's kind of my goal, maybe come next year with a little better plan. We'll work this year out and work some of the bugs out and access where we're at. I never really want to quit driving. Maybe retire from this level, but whether I go run a Busch car or truck, always have that option. I've run the truck two times for Jim Smith. The first time I ran second at Vegas and the next time we had motor problems, but we were running well. That's part of the sport you can expand out and go to the grassroots fans. Now is a time for me to give back. I can be myself, be more laid back and do more with the fans."
ARE OTHER DRIVERS TALKING TO YOU ABOUT YOUR PLANS?
"Rusty said he envied me from the standpoint of what we're trying to do. I wish we'd had it planned out a little better, but it'll come together. I think things will be well received when we get things in place. I think for the most part, it's been whatever I feel like. Nobody does anything forever. That's just a given fact. It's still good to see you're going to be around the sport and compete in some events. It's kind of a bittersweet deal."
WHEN DID YOU ACTUALLY MAKE THE DECISION?
"Probably more in the fall. It hinged on a lot of things. Ray wanted to put the deal together with Kasey and it depended on how all that came together. I couldn't say anything until all that came together. The other set of the coin is, I didn't want to take anything away from the raceteam. We focused on racing, did our best and that was our goal. That (Mike Ford's plans) had something to do with it. Sammy Johns and Ray will tag team me this year. I'll do quite a bit of testing. We really haven't run the soft tires yet except here. We're going to Vegas in a couple of weeks, and we'll know more about it then."