RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Rent-A-Center/Motorcraft Taurus (Qualified 2nd) DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus (Qualified 3rd) HOW IMPORTANT IS QUALIFYING UP FRONT HERE? DALE JARRETT: "I'm sure there are guys in the back that say qualifying doesn't ...
RICKY RUDD - No. 21 Rent-A-Center/Motorcraft Taurus (Qualified 2nd)
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus (Qualified 3rd)
HOW IMPORTANT IS QUALIFYING UP FRONT HERE?
DALE JARRETT: "I'm sure there are guys in the back that say qualifying doesn't matter and I've said that too here, and, really, I'm not sure how much it matters, but, certainly, what it tells you is that you have a good car aerodynamically and that's important. It's important to know that you can be the leader of a pack, instead of if you have a car that doesn't run very fast, you're gonna have a hard time leading a group and being able to stay out front - they're gonna go by you. I think it's nice to know that we have that. We have a great engine package and it's gonna be a matter, as it always is, of being in the right place at the right time here and that's different places for everybody. Some guys might want to be in front right at the end while others may feel they need to be third, fourth or fifth, so getting our car to drive good tomorrow in practice will be important, but starting up front is nice. It's a good boost for the guys, too. We've worked extremely hard on these cars and our engine department has done just an incredible job, not only for here but all year long."
YOU RAN WELL AT DOVER LAST WEEK. CAN THAT CARRY OVER?
"I think the biggest thing is we know we're starting to get pieces put together at a lot of different type tracks. Obviously, the plate races were something that for a number of years we felt like when we showed up we were definitely one of the four or five cars that you had to beat to win these races. Since that time, we haven't been quite as good. I think we've worked hard in trying to make that better, so this is a good direction for us. We feel like we've worked extremely hard at the mile and the mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks, and that program is good. We still have some work to do on the three-quarter-mile and the half-mile tracks and the flatter tracks. We're going to Phoenix in a couple of weeks to test and hopefully get that part of our program in order, so it's just a matter of getting all of those pieces put together so that when we get to the end of this year that we've got a majority of our questions answered so we can start off 2005 on a strong note."
CHEVROLET HAS WON 11 STRAIGHT AT THIS TRACK. AN THAT BE A COINCIDENCE?
"It's no coincidence. I think that they've had a better product to race with here. They do a good job with their product. Aerodynamically, I think that they've had the rest of us outclassed in that respect and that's not to take anything away from the driver ability because you can have a really good product - you know there are other Chevrolets that are out there too, but they don't win the races. You put the guys that have won here in those cars, with what I think has been a superior product, then they're gonna take advantage of that and they're gonna be out front when it's time. You haven't seen Fords or even the Dodges lead much at these restrictor plate races lately and it's because Chevrolet has that total package. They've worked hard to get that and, hopefully, we're getting closer to them. I think that our engine program is definitely much closer to them. Hopefully, we're showing that our aero package is getting better, so it will be a matter of if we can get together and work together to try to put a halt to that. I think someone said today the Fords haven't won since I won here in '98 or something, so that's a streak that needs to be put to an end on Sunday."
HAVE THE SHOCKS AND SPRING RULE LEVELED THE PLAYING FIELD?
"They might need to explain that to me how that did that and I might agree a little more, but I think I'll have to see what happens on Sunday a little bit more. We've qualified pretty well in the restrictor plate races here and this year, for the most part, we've had OK qualifying runs and a number of the other Fords have. I know Ricky (Rudd) has, but when it came race time, we still weren't in the ballgame. Maybe we could get to the front occasionally, but you haven't seen a Ford stay in the front very long. I don't know exactly how that package, it's certainly making everybody more equal - there's no doubt about that - so if that's an area the Chevrolets had an advantage and what they could do with the springs and shocks, then, yeah, that's taken that away from them. We've gotten almost to the point of 43-car IROC race here if we're not careful and I'm not sure that's exactly what we want. Still, if that's helping to close the gap, then we'll see that on Sunday."
IT SEEMS WHEN A CAR GETS THE LEAD ON SOME TRACKS THAT OTHER GUYS CAN'T PASS HIM. IS THAT A CASE OF THERE BEING A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?
DALE JARRETT: "I'm not sure that I have a good answer for that. Maybe you guys do. I guess with the aero package that we have and aerodynamics playing such a big part of it, and as radical as the setups are this day and time, it's a very fine line. If you're on one side of it or the other, then it can look like you're really off more than what you are, I think. Then if somebody happens to hit on that, they make everybody else look kind of foolish. I don't know. That's as good an explanation as I have. To me, it's such a fine line. I seem to be able to make my car be extremely loose or extremely tight in the same race and not make a big adjustment. So I think if you get someone that hits on it, that car gets out front early and there's no catching him then."
RICKY RUDD: "I think Dale said it pretty good. I don't know what to add to it other than these cars are having to depend on the air way too much and that's what makes 'em handle now. If you're not leading and you're out second, third or fourth, you're not getting the air as good as you do when you're out front, so you've lost 10, 20, 30, 40 percent of your downforce and all of a sudden now the cars don't handle. To me, it's black and white what the issues are. I don't know how to fix 'em, but that's what the issues are."
HOW MUCH WORK HAVE YOU DONE ON THE BODY OF YOUR CAR?
"It's ongoing. All of the teams never stop. I guess they never leave well enough alone because well enough, if you left it alone - this was the pole-sitting car from the last time we were at Talladega. Some of the new rules that they made with bigger springs and things like that took a little speed out of our car and took some speed out of everybody's car, but we really didn't know what to expect. Bernie Marcus and all the guys at Ford on the aero package have worked really hard within the box to try to get these cars as slippery as they possibly can. Obviously, aero is a big, big part of it. That Yates horsepower under the hood doesn't hurt matters too much either. That's a pretty big deal. It takes the whole package, obviously, here. Like I said, we're real pleased. We felt like our problems in the past, we've been able to run fast, but the cars haven't driven good in traffic or haven't driven good in race trim. That's what Fatback McSwain and all the guys have been working real hard on the handling package. Some of the things they did to make it drive better - to make it not push, which is what it's always done in the past, it would get an aero-push - they worked on it and thought they gave up a little bit of speed. As it turns out, we didn't give up that much speed and we've got a whole lot better drivability."
DOES THE NEW SPRING RULE MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN QUALIFYING?
"It makes a lot of sense what they're doing. It tends to even things up a little bit. That's an area that guys were spending quite a bit of money on - rear springs and stuff. To be honest with you, I gave up about five years ago trying to keep up with the latest rules. I don't know how Dale is, but it's gotten so complex. Guys are having to come in a day ahead of time. For NASCAR to be able to stay one step ahead of the competition, they need a lot of time to look at these cars. That new spring rule, I guess, is just another one of the quality control checks that they have to make sure that someone doesn't have a little bit of advantage over the other. But it definitely slowed the cars up. I think we were on the pole the last race, we ran around a flat and today the pole was a .20, so it took two or three tenths out of the speed. You can't really tell it from a driver's standpoint. I don't notice any difference from the last race. I don't know about Dale, but the cars, to me, seemed about the same. It should have made the field more even, I think, but I haven't looked at the end results of qualifying to see if accomplished what NASCAR was looking to do."
DALE JARRETT: "I think Ricky is exactly right. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out for the race, but I think we have equaled up the speeds. Any advantage anybody was getting, it has been crazy. Trying to keep up with the type of springs that we're running now. The costs of these things have gotten totally out of hand and it's just crazy what was going on. Everything that we do is predicated on how it's gonna affect our car aero-wise - not only here but the other tracks. Any spring change, any swaybar change, anything that we do, we talk about how it affects the car's aero now. That's what we had to look at with this here. What was it gonna do to us aerodynamically? How did we need to get the balance back? So that's what we'll work hard on tomorrow, but I guess that's what they're trying to accomplish is tightening things up. I don't know how we could get much closer than what we've been running here, but, speed-wise I think it has gotten us closer."
ANY IDEA HOW THIS WILL AFFECT THE RACE?
RICKY RUDD: "I don't really think it's gonna make a great deal of difference one way or the other. I think the biggest change is when you're out there by yourself because the stiffer rear springs hold the rear spoiler up in the air more. It puts more drag in the car. When you get all that turbulence going out there in the draft, you can run with a spark plug wire off and still keep up. That's how much that draft sucks you along. I don't expect to see a lot of difference. Maybe I'm speaking out of turn, but I think a little bit of it was maybe a cost expense - that the teams were spending a lot of time. I'm not sure what the old spring rule was - just say it was a 350 - they would by 30, 40, 50 springs and go through them to find ones that were just right and then you can only run them once or twice and you had to throw them in the trash can because they would lose a little bit of strength and they wouldn't meet NASCAR's tech. I think it just simplified the tech line up a little bit. Everyone is equal, so, if anything, it's made it a little simpler and maybe saved the car owner's a little bit of money and aggravation."
DALE JARRETT: "And if indeed anybody was getting something - a spring or two rear springs that were a little bit of an advantage, that were getting through tech, then as the race went on lost maybe a lot of what they had and it became a much softer spring throughout the day, then that would be an advantage. I guess they feel like what they have done here is to try to keep that from happening and knowing that everybody's got the same type of springs here. If it can get any closer out there, it may make it that and it may play into more of a drafting situation that could make it interesting."
RICKY RUDD: "I didn't think about that, Dale brought up a real good point. Some of these springs have been known to start off at say a 350, but before the race is over they're probably a 250, which means the back of the car gets down closer to the ground as the race goes on and that means the car gets faster and faster. It is a real good point. As a matter of fact, it could change major results in the way the race is run as far as maybe some of the past dominant cars maybe won't be as dominant if the springs are handed to them in the spring line."
Continued in part 2