JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations) "I thought we started to come on with our program at the Bristol race. John Wehrly (Engineering Manager - Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance Parts) and I were talking on the ride down...
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
"I thought we started to come on with our program at the Bristol race. John Wehrly (Engineering Manager - Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance Parts) and I were talking on the ride down here about how much progress we'd made since Daytona because we were extremely disappointed that we weren't competitive down there. We immediately put together a program to improve our plate motor performance. We know exactly what we've been able to do horsepower wise. We know what we've been able to do from an aero standpoint. We also knew DEI and all the other good Chevrolets weren't going to stand still and neither was Ford. We didn't know how far they'd gone. Coming down, our real hope on the airplane was that we could be competitive. We could run up front. We weren't sure we could win, but watching practice yesterday and watching qualifying, and I want to see what happens in practice today, I'm a little more optimistic. I think I've got a couple of cars this week that could win. We're showing the speed we need to show. That's the key.
"It wasn't so much winning the pole. It was what we won the pole with. A 51.30, which is about as good as anybody else out there, Bill Elliott qualifying fifth and Ryan Newman qualifying eighth was big. Any one of those three cars is capable of running at the front. We've got guys there in position to win a race, and that's all you can ask for at Talladega. I'm optimistic. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
"I think the DEI cars are a little bit better. I think their cars are pretty much optimized right now. You're always trying to do a little bit more horsepower wise. You're always trying to get more horsepower. I think they are still the best cars here. In practice he didn't show it so much, but in qualifying the 15 car looked pretty good. They are definitely the cars to beat. We felt after first practice yesterday that we were from two tenths to four tenths off. Some of that was when you showed up on the race track and when you ran your practice laps versus the other guys, just like in qualifying. I don't think the DEI cars were as bad so to speak as they qualified. It was a matter of when they were out versus when we were out.
"It's not that I don't enjoy watching at Talladega, I do. I enjoy watching all the races. What I like more about Bristol, Tenn., is the bumping and banging that goes on. Here you can go three wide. At Bristol, you've got to set a guy up to pass him, and that takes more skill I think as a driver than the ability to draft by a guy. Not that there's not a lot of skill in that, but I just enjoy the short track driving more than I do the superspeedways.
"I believe you've got to be able to show the speed capable of being up front toward the end. If you can get your car up there and stay in that pack and then have the speed and drafting ability to move to the absolute front in the end, you've got to start there. I would look at some guys and say even though they can get in the draft and run around with that pack, they're probably not capable of getting to the front. I'd like to see us within a couple of tenths of the fastest guys, and then I'd say we've got a chance at winning.
"Ryan Newman's win last week at Texas was great. That was a big morale booster for all the Dodge teams. Obviously it was a big boost for the Penske team, but all the Dodge teams benefited because now they know if they can do it, we can do it. It'll make them work harder. It was a big boost for my engineers and the operational staff. Everybody has been working hard. We haven't had a lot of luck, so it was a big win to boost our morale. It wasn't a cheap win. It wasn't a win where something happened and we ended up inheriting the lead. Ryan just flat drove it to the front and it was great to watch.
"The pole will be a big boost for Jeremy. That team, last year and this year, has been kind of in the doldrums, but I'm hoping that this will really pick his spirits up and get his confidence up. He's a good driver. He's just got to get his confidence up and go out there and do it.
"I've said it all year, our cars, outside of Daytona, have been competitive. We've shot ourselves in the foot a few times with mistakes in the pits, bad strategy. We've had a little bit of bad luck on the green-yellow caution stuff. Our cars by and large have been good cars. The aero balance set us back a little bit. I think we're over that now. I'm looking forward to the rest of this season."