Dodge drivers discuss their road racing prowess or lack of it, compare Sears Point and Watkins Glen and give their opinions on whether or not NASCAR needs road racing heading into Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, ...
Dodge drivers discuss their road racing prowess or lack of it, compare Sears Point and Watkins Glen and give their opinions on whether or not NASCAR needs road racing heading into Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
JOHN ANDRETTI (No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Andretti has eight starts at Sears Point and scored back-to-back third-place finishes in 1998 and '99.
"You've got to show up and have the confidence that you can get the job done. If you think you're no good at something, then you're not going to be any good at it. The best driver out here would be the best driver on the road course, too. You can't be one-dimensional. Take The King. He ran good at Riverside. The guy who wins the championship is a guy who can win on a road course. That doesn't mean he's going to, but if he walks in the race track saying, 'I hate road courses and I hate driving 'em,' he's going to already put himself at a disadvantage. These cars aren't like anything else you drive on a road course, so road course experience is not necessarily a good thing. It took me a little bit to figure out the difference in driving an Indy car and a stock car on a road course. I didn't like the stock cars on the road courses because they're just different. I think the series needs the whole thing. We're thought of as an oval-only series, and then we go off and run these road courses. For some reason, they get ignored sometimes, and I think the fact that we can go off and do some road racing is great. Usually the guy who is successful on a road course is the guy who'll be successful the whole year.
"I'm always worried about qualifying and if you mess up things go bad. If you're up in the points, you can hustle and go for it. We haven't had that luxury in awhile, so we'll hopefully get a good, conservative lap in and we'll be passing people in the race. It's Winston Cup, so track position means a ton everywhere.
"Sears Point and Watkins Glen are as different as Martinsville and Talladega. They don't drive anything alike. I like Sears Point. I think you've got to do more at Sears Point. It's not as straight forward as Watkins Glen. I think it's a little more technical. I've said this a hundred times, if they'd just leave the race track alone and quit changing it... Guys that don't test are put at a huge disadvantage. It's hard to burn a test for a track you're only going to get information that works at that one track. You don't run the same setup at Watkins Glen. Then they bring in the so-called road racing experts who have logged hundreds of miles out there and can do a test and it not count against a team. It all seems wrong to handicap the guys who have to race all season long and give the other guys such a huge advantage. They call them the road race experts. Give me a break. They get ahead of the games. The Winston Cup races are longer than they're used to and the competition is a little better than they're used to, too. It's a little tougher. You've got to be on your game the whole race. When you've got guys breathing down your throat, they're probably not used to guys doing that from the first green flag to the checkered flag. That's how Winston Cup racing is.
"It depends on what I've got to drive. I like being smooth on the road courses. I think I'm more on the smooth side than the wild side. I think the wild side is probably quicker, but it always has bigger penalties, too.
"My mind is on racing when I go out there, although this year my uncle (Mario Andretti) is the grand marshal and a lot of people will be going out to his winery. They're having some events for him out there, so this year may be busier."
NOTE: The Andretti Winery was established in 1996. It covers 53 acres and is located two miles north of Napa, Calif. The address is 4126 Big Ranch Road.
"It'll be nice to have my uncle at an event again. His winery is about 20 minutes from the track. It's pretty cool. I'm not a wine connoisseur, but my uncle certainly is. He takes great pride in his winery and the wine they produce. It's not by name only. It's a serious deal. It's not Ripple. It's good wine. He's got a wide selection. I'm not much of a wine drinker, but I've had his wine and it's very good. If you go into my uncle's house, he's got this huge wine cellar. His father is carved in wood with a glass of wine on the door. My aunt has saved the corks from all the bottles of wine they've had around the world, and they have a wall full of corks. It's pretty amazing. He knows his wine.
"He has a wine maker. His theory is I'll sell the first bottle and he (wine maker) has to sell the second. Hopefully the name will sell the first bottle and the wine will sell the second one. I send them out as gifts and have my uncle sign the bottles. My uncle gets mad at me because he says if I send them like that they won't drink 'em. They might drink it and save the bottle and everybody else will ask about it or they'll go out a buy another bottle because they want to try it and they don't want to open another one. I've got the sales pitch on it."
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Petty has 11 starts at Sears Point with a fifth-place finish in '93 and eighth-place run in '99.
"I'm not sure how I'd rate myself as a road course driver. I enjoy it. I'd say I'm better than some and not as good as others. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think Ricky and Rusty are pretty good, and then you've got Boris Said and Ron Fellows and guys like that who are incredible. Pretty good and incredible are two different things. I think Jeff Gordon is really good at it, a lot better than people give him credit for. I think Tony Stewart has been pretty good at it, and then other guys will have a good run. If you go back and luck, they'll have good runs and then they'll have bad runs. They're not consistent. When you look at guys that are consistent, it's Rusty, Ricky and guys like that. I'm somewhere in between all of them.
"Sears Point is a road course. Watkins Glen is not as much of a road course - the part we run. It is a road course, but it's a different type of road course. Sears Point has changes in elevation up and down hill, sweeping corners, sloped corners, a real tight race track. Watkins Glen is a little bit wider and a little bit more in tune with what we do on a regular basis. You can transfer a lot of your oval racing to Watkins Glen whereas you can't at Sears Point. One is more technical than the other. I think Sears Point is a lot more technical of a race track. You have to enter the corner the right way to exit the corner. At Watkins Glen, you can get in wrong and still get off right. If you look at it like that, Sears Point is a lot harder race track to run consistently good on. It's the first road race of the year, and by the time you get to Watkins Glen, you've got one under your belt. I still think Sears Point is a little bit more of a challenge."
JIMMY SPENCER (No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Spencer has competed in 11 races at Sears Point. He started fifth, finished fifth and led five laps there in '99 for his only top five or top 10 finish.
"I never rate myself as a driver. I've had some good runs on road courses, and I've won in ASA on road courses. I've run well at Sonoma, but I think the biggest thing about road racing is track position. We talk about track position all the time, but track position at road courses is absolutely invaluable. There's no replacing it. If you have to take two tires, no tires, fuel mileage, whatever it takes you've got to do it to get track position. If you can get in the fuel window, you'll pit and you hope you're the car that can make an extra lap because that will put you ahead of 20 cars when they all pit the next time. It's not racing. Our sport has outgrown road racing. It would be a big savings for car owners having two or three cars sitting in the shop and testing if we eliminated the road courses, that would be the first step in the direction of saving the car owners a lot of money. I think WatkinsGlen and Sears Point, if I had my options, I'd want to clear the facilities and use both of 'em as bomb testing sites. I love both areas of the country. San Francisco is awesome and so is upper state New York. Watkins Glen is probably a lot smoother and there's more passing zones than Sonoma. I ran third once at Watkins Glen, and I ran fifth at Sonoma. I just don't think road racing has any part in our sport. I don't think it proves anything. I don't the manufacturers learn anything. I don't think the fans enjoy the racing that much. I would much rather ship the fans to Richmond or Chicago and hear what the fans say. Then ask them if they're going to spend $50 on tickets next year. Which track do you want to go to? Not one would go to Sears Point or Watkins Glen."
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Original Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: The NASCAR Winston Cup points leader has 13 starts at Sears Point. He has four top 10s, including a runner-up finish in 2000 when he led 25 laps of the race.
"I'm not sure how I'd rate myself as a road course driver. I guess I'm decent. I've had some top 10s and top fives in road course races over the years. I don't really like 'em, but you've got to do 'em. I'd rather run ovals, but you can't disregard the road courses. The points are the same. I think the fans would see a better race on an oval. I love going out to Sonoma. It's a real pretty area. I'd rather run Sonoma than Watkins Glen. To me the track gets slicker at Sonoma and you've got to use more finesse. You've got to be smooth. There's a couple of places to pass out there. Qualifying is big and track position is big. It's just another race to me, another place to go."
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Mayfield has six career starts at Sears Point. He finished seventh there in 1999.
"I finished third at Watkins Glen last year. Sometimes I feel like I'm not too good on the road courses, but then I get a good car and it was real good. I've been to the schools, and I went to Sears Point with Bill Elliott one time. From 1-10, I'm probably a 5 on road courses. This time last year I was probably about a 3. I'm better at Watkins Glen than I am at Sears Point, and I don't really know why. I just can't get the hang of it at Sears Point. It's just harder to drive for some reason."
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Burton has eight starts at Sears Point with three top 10s. He qualified fifth and finished sixth last year.
"I'm much improved the last couple of years on the road courses. At the same time, we've got our race cars a lot better also. I think if we don't break we've always got a shot at having a great run. Sears Point is a lot slower than Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen is more high speed in the corners. Your braking and driving style is a little different at Watkins Glen. It's always been tougher to pass at Sears Point. I wouldn't take my go-kart to Sears Point if I had one."
HUT STRICKLIN (No. 23 Hills Bros Coffee Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Stricklin has nine starts at Sears Point. He last competed there in 1997 and his best finish was a 10th in 1993.
"It's been about five years since I've driven on a road course. I went to Watkins Glen in '99 and we had a problem in first-round qualifying. In the second round, we were running good but it rained out second round and we had to go home. I don't feel like I'm that good on a road course. I don't run enough of them to be that good. I think I'm going to be one of the drivers, regardless of where I qualify, throughout the day I'll steadily improve. I'll get better and better throughout the day. I went to the Jim Russell school out there at Sears Point about three or four weeks ago and did that for one day. It was a small open-wheel car. I really didn't go there to learn the shifting and stuff. I feel pretty comfortable with that. I just went there to try to learn the course. I haven't raced there since they put the new chute in, and I just wanted to go there and get as familiar with it as I could. I went to VIR a week or two ago up in Danville, Va. There's a road course there where we shook down our cars to make sure we were braking straight. That's really the only testing we've done. I've never been a big fan of Sears Point. I never felt that our cars suited that race track. I feel like Watkins Glen is a whole lot different. It's wider and the way the turns are, the transitions and stuff, I think they're just a lot more suitable for the bigger cars. I just never felt like we needed to be out at Sears Point with these cars. In all honesty, it would be a great go-kart track, but it's not a good track for the Winston Cup cars. I look forward to doing something different. It's a change of pace. The settings around us are totally different than anywhere we go. I'm looking more forward to just going out there and having fun. The road courses remind me of back home in Alabama racing around the country roads that twist and turn, but you don't have to worry about any cops on the road courses. It's pretty cool to go out there and do that. I'm just approaching it as going out there and having fun and not take it to serio best runs. Maybe something will come of it. I'm going out there early just to get used to the time change. It's three hours different, and that always kills me when we go to the west coast. I need an extra day to get over that. As far as anything else, I'm not doing anything other than just racing."
DODGE NOTES: Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid R/T, has 12 starts at Sears Point. He has three top 10s, two top fives and finished ninth there last year.... Jerry Nadeau will drive the No. 44 Georgia Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T at Sears Point. Nadeau has four starts at Sears Point with a best finish of eighth in 2000.