Rockingham Ford Drivers Preview

AC DELCO 400 PREVIEW North Carolina Speedway WITH ONLY TWO RACES REMAINING IN THE 1998 NASCAR WINSTON CUP SEASON, THE MANUFACTURERS' CHAMPIONSHIP IS STILL VERY MUCH UP FOR GRABS. RUSTY WALLACE'S WIN AT PHOENIX LAST WEEKEND GAVE FORD A...

AC DELCO 400 PREVIEW North Carolina Speedway

WITH ONLY TWO RACES REMAINING IN THE 1998 NASCAR WINSTON CUP SEASON, THE MANUFACTURERS' CHAMPIONSHIP IS STILL VERY MUCH UP FOR GRABS. RUSTY WALLACE'S WIN AT PHOENIX LAST WEEKEND GAVE FORD A ONE-POINT LEAD OVER CHEVROLET (223-222) AS FORD SEEKS ITS SECOND STRAIGHT TITLE AND FIRST FOR THE NEW TAURUS. HERE ARE SOME COMMENTS FROM FORD OFFICIALS AND DRIVERS CONCERNING THE MANUFACTURERS' BATTLE.

DAN DAVIS, director, Ford Special Vehicle Operations and head of Ford's worldwide racing program -- "It's pretty interesting in that for me personally I've been on the job since November 1 of last year, so now we're going on one year with this assignment for me.

"One year ago we were the manufacturers' champion with the Thunderbird. We were looking at the Taurus and we really didn't have anything built. We didn't have this and we didn't have that and everyone was panicked. There was the question about who was going to run a Taurus and who was going to run a T-Bird -- all these hard decisions. Now, one year later, Taurus has turned out to be a very good car. I think the teams will unanimously say that it is a good car, a better car than the Thunderbird was and a car they've worked hard on to get it where it is.

" It's a very satisfying year, I think, for Ford and for the drivers and the teams. It didn't look so good in the beginning. We had confidence. I think Ford had pretty good confidence with all the data we had, but you can't give that confidence to the teams with engineering data and other things. They want to see the performance on the track and they want to see the performance in the races. There are so many variables for them. They want to see it in action, and now they have and in my mind the season has been an incredibly good one. The fact that we were in the hunt for the driver's championship with some strong drivers and teams, and the fact that we're in the hunt for the manufacturers' championship is extremely rewarding. I think we've set the stage for next year where Taurus will be a very powerful force to be reckoned with."

ARE YOU SURPRISED TO BE THIS CLOSE IN THE MANUFACTURERS' RACE WITH A NEW CAR? "I'm a little bit surprised. I guess I would say more surprised at how close we are to the driver's championship than I was the manufacturers' championship because we have so many very, very strong Ford teams that they really contribute to the manufacturers' championship. So with a lot of strong teams you've got a better chance at the manufacturers' title. Strong teams are a help, but they don't assure you a driver's championship. What's surprising to me is just how strong some of the drivers are and how close we were to the driver's championship this year."

HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT TO BE SO CLOSE TO THE DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP AND COME UP SHORT? "We're really proud of our effort. In many, many years, with the record Mark Martin has this year, he'd be champion. I mean, you can look at it that way and say, 'Well, in a lot of normal circumstances we would have produced a champion in the first year with the Taurus.' But, of course, the 24 car with Jeff and Ray has just had an extraordinary year, more so than I think most people would say would be normal, and they deserve the championship because of that. That was what we were up against and we just couldn't match it with the Taurus this year and with our drivers. Next year, with a year under our belt with the Taurus, I think we'll be stronger and we'll have more for them.

It's gonna be exciting."

RUSTY WALLACE -2- Miller Lite Taurus -- NOTE: WALLACE HAS BEEN FORD'S TOP FINISHER FOUR TIMES IN '98, INCLUDING SUNDAY'S WIN AT PHEONIX: "It's something for the manufacturers, it's a good deal for them. It's a good deal to go back and say, 'Hey, we had the best car.' I hope we win the manufacturers' championship because Penske Racing designed the car and that would give us a lot of joy to, to say we've done that much for Ford. Ford's been real appreciative with everything we've done for them and I feel comfortable about that, so the championship this year is important to me because Penske Racing designed the original Taurus and it would be great if we could win it."

JEFF BURTON -99- Exide Batteries Taurus -- NOTE: BURTON HAS WON TWICE IN '98 AND HAS BEEN FORD'S TOP FINISHER THREE TIMES. "We wrapped it up last year for Ford at Martinsville and that was pretty neat for us. It's not something we focus on, but we don't focus on championships either. We focus on finishing the best we can every week, but with the Taurus coming out and with as late as we got started on it, if we could win it then that says a lot for the quality of these teams. We had very little development time with the Taurus and the templates were issued so late into the year that we didn't get much testing time with it, so, if anything, it would just mean that we as teams have done a good job of getting the car ready." WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE THE GUY TO CLINCH THE MANUFACTURERS' TITLE? "That was really neat. I remember seeing pictures of Rusty (Wallace) when he clinched it one year for Ford. I remember seeing pictures of him with his T-shirt on and I said, 'Man, that's cool right there.' And then to have a T-shirt and do that in victory lane, that was pretty neat. Anytime you see somebody else do it that you look up to and then have an opportunity to do that, it's pretty neat."

DALE JARRETT -88- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- NOTE: JARRETT HAS BEEN FORD'S TOP FINISHER SEVEN TIMES IN '98. "I think that it's definitely something we look at. It's not at the top of our list like it is for the manufacturer, but it is something we want to try to accomplish if we possibly can. We work hard for Ford Motor Company trying to ensure that we accumulate as many points as we possibly can. Obviously, it's something that is very important in the corporate world.

We realize how important that is to keeping the manufacturers involved and providing us with the things we need to have winning race teams."

RICKY RUDD -10- Tide Taurus -- NOTE: RUDD SCORED HIS FORD MANUFACTURER'S POINTS WHEN HE WON THE NAPA AUTOCARE 500 AT MARTINSVILLE IN SEPTEMBER. "I think the teams take a lot of pride in (the manufacturers' championship). I know the manufacturers take a lot of pride in it. I know I've been involved in those battles where it comes down to the wire like it is right now and it's real important for the car manufacturers. I wouldn't say it's bragging rights, but I'm sure the car companies spend a lot of money in this sport and I guess it's one way to justify it, whether they can sit there at the end of the year and say, 'Well, it all paid off, we won the manufacturers' championship.' I guess it's bragging rights. It ties back to the marketing program, how the car companies justify their existence in racing. But, besides that, it's a little bit of pride. Most of these car owners are loyal to the cars they race, the car owners more so than the drivers. Driver seem to hop in and out of different cars, but there seems to be a loyalty there with the car owner and the brand of car that they race."

AS A SINGLE-CAR DRIVER/OWNER WHO GOT OFF TO A SLOW START WITH TAURUS, ARE YOU SURPRISED THE CAR IS IN THE HUNT FOR THIS CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think if we were having this conversation back around January I think everybody would be laughing at you and probably say there's no way. I think early on we saw the Taurus was gonna be a good car on the short intermediate race tracks and it was gonna be a little bit of a problem on the major speedways."

TED MUSGRAVE -13- First Plus Financial Taurus -- NOTE: MUSGRAVE WAS FORD'S TOP FINISHER AT MARTINSVILLE IN APRIL WITH A SECOND-PLACE FINISH.

"When it comes down to the last race or two and it's up for grabs, you're gonna be the hero if you're the guy that pulls it off. It's kind of like the same situation when Goodyear and Hoosier were fighting against each other that one year. During qualifying it was always who's gonna be on the pole, was it a Hoosier car or a Goodyear car. At Martinsville, (Geoff) Bodine was on the pole with a Hoosier car and I think I was the last car to qualify and I got the pole away from him. The Goodyear guys were all excited after that. This is the same thing. If it gets down to the last race at Atlanta, there's not only gonna be the title chase for the championship, but the manufacturers' championship too. It's kind of neat how it comes down to the last couple races. I'd much rather have it locked up right now, but it would be really neat to be the guy in the Ford camp to pull it off and be the guy who hit the home run at the end."

JEREMY MAYFIELD -12- Mobil 1 Taurus -- NOTE: MAYFIELD EARNED HIS FIRST FORD MANUFACTURER POINTS WITH HIS THIRD-PLACE FINISH IN THE DAYTONA 500 AND HAS BEEN THE TOP FINISHING FORD THREE TIMES THIS YEAR. "I'm glad we can finally contribute to something like this manufacturers' race. It makes you feel good to be able to do this and I'm just real excited about it. I've been with Ford ever since I've been in Winston Cup and I'm just grateful that I've finally gotten in the right situation where I can contribute and it's a great feeling. To us, Ford has backed us and done a great job for us and we're proud and glad to be a part of it.

We're just happy we've been able to contribute this year."

SOME UPDATED MANUFACTURERS' STATISTICS:

* Ford has had eight different drivers score manufacturer points this season, including four who have been the manufacturer's top finisher at least three times: Mark Martin (11); Dale Jarrett (7); Rusty Wallace (4); Jeff Burton (3); Jeremy Mayfield (3); Jimmy Spencer (1); Ted Musgrave (1); and Ricky Rudd (1).

* Chevrolet has had five different drivers score points, but only two have led their manufacturer more than three times: Jeff Gordon (21); Terry Labonte (4); Dale Earnhardt (3); Bobby Hamilton (2); Joe Nemechek (1).

* Jeff Gordon has been Chevrolet's top finisher 21 times in 31 races, including 16 of the last 18. In the last 18 races alone, Ford has gotten points from six different sources led by Mark Martin (8 times); Jeff Burton (3); Dale Jarrett (2); Jeremy Mayfield (2); Rusty Wallace (2); and Ricky Rudd (1).

* Ford has dominated in terms of top finishing positions all season. Through the first 31 races of 1998, Ford has produced 93 top-five efforts out of a possible 155 while Chevrolet has posted 47 and Pontiac 15. * Those 93 top-five Ford efforts have been registered by 14 different drivers with five of those having 10 or more: Mark Martin (20); Dale Jarrett (17); Jeff Burton (16); Rusty Wallace (14); Jeremy Mayfield (12); Johnny Benson (3); Jimmy Spencer (3); Ted Musgrave (2); Geoff Bodine (1); Kenny Irwin (1); Chad Little (1); Robert Pressley (1); Ricky Rudd (1); and Rich Bickle (1).

Chevrolet has had nine drivers finish in the top five, but only Jeff Gordon has more than five: Jeff Gordon (24); Terry Labonte (5), Dale Earnhardt (5), Mike Skinner (4), Ken Schrader (3), Bobby Hamilton (3); Darrell Waltrip (1), Joe Nemechek (1); Randy Lajoie (1).

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Rich Bickle , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Jimmy Spencer , Joe Nemechek , Randy Lajoie , Robert Pressley , Johnny Benson , Ted Musgrave , Chad Little , Mark Martin
Teams Team Penske