MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Waltrip is coming off a season-best third-place finish last week at Martinsville. He'll start 11th in Sunday's DieHard 500. Waltrip, an Owensboro, Ky., native will celebrate his...
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Waltrip is coming off a season-best third-place finish last week at Martinsville. He'll start 11th in Sunday's DieHard 500. Waltrip, an Owensboro, Ky., native will celebrate his 37th birthday on April 30. He talks about the future of his team, last week's race at Martinsville and his outlook for Sunday's DieHard 500.
"As far as I know, the team has not been sold. I have not talked to Jim Mattei about that, so I'm not the best person to ask. I haven't been informed as to what's going on. There's certainly been a lot of talk about the team is for sale or the team has been sold. Any time there is that much talk it's not just rumor. There's something to it. How it gets distorted after that is just the way it goes, he said, she said stuff. As far as where I stand with the situation, I feel real comfortable that our team will stay intact and we'll race the rest of this year no matter if Jim owns it or sells it to someone. We have a contract for the rest of this year, but more importantly we have a verbal understanding and agreement that we're not going to mess with this team. We're going to try to take this team, work on what we've been building on throughout the first eight races this year and let us see how good we can do. I have no intentions of making any decisions on 2001 right now because I'm so locked into what's going to happen this year. I want this year to work, and I want to do it with these guys. I like working with my team. Bobby Kennedy (crew chief) and Slugger (Labbe) and all the boys on the team have made this year, despite a lot of problems in the first eight races, they've made it quite enjoyable and made me very optimistic about the rest of the year.
"All that matters to me is I'm going to get the opportunity to complete what I feel like is a very critical year for me. When I say complete it, I mean complete it uninterruptedly, and I have the confidence that's what's going to happen. The talk doesn't distract me at all. I've heard it for a couple of weeks now and it doesn't affect the job that we do. As long as Bobby knows the team is not going to be broken apart of somebody come in and try to reinvent what we're doing, then he has the ability to communicate that to his employees, the fellows who work so hard on the car, and all that's been going on the whole team. It doesn't matter to me at all. I've been involv ed in rumors before. It doesn't matter what people write or what people say. What matters is the people involved in it living up to the commitment they make. I feel like in this situation everybody will certainly do that and probably more.
"I just felt like last Sunday at Martinsville I knew where John (Andretti) was, and he was in the same place I was. We were just working hard to make something out of a long day at Martinsville. After looking at the replay, it certainly didn't look weird. We just went down in there, and (Bill) Elliott was all up in the back of me, and I was all up in the back of John. Elliott had cut down to get underneath me, and I cut down to protect that position and wasn't thinking about passing John or running into John. I was just simply thinking about keeping Bill behind me, and they all checked up a little more than I anticipated. John wasn't even in my mind when I moved over. I was just trying to save a spot from Bill getting it, and John saw me reacting to Bill and dove over to keep me from getting inside of him. It was just unfortunate that all happened. I wanted to be happy about where I finished and the job my crew did. That was a smart crew chief that got that finish, not anything the driver did. I wanted to be happy about that. I knew I'd unfairly out of the same feeling. He was going to be just as excited as I was. I've had that taken away from me before in situations like that. It's a bad feeling, so I was real sorry that it happened. On the other hand, there were 17 cautions during the course of the day. When you put that many cars on a little track and ask them to run that close together... After watching the race, there were plenty of accidents and a lot of on purposes. I guess that's just a day at Martinsville.
"I had been in Mexico the past three days for one on my sponsors and traveled all day and half the night Thursday and got in here on a rainy Friday morning, and a rainy morning in a motor home is a pretty good deal after a situation like that. I slept in a little bit, and then I went to look at the car, and there wasn't a single sign of bondo on it where they'd added any or taken the paint off to fix it. I felt like when we started practice we were going to be pretty good. We were 13th fastest in practice qualified 11th. That's not as fast as we tested, and we're pretty concerned about that. This is our Daytona car we wrecked late in the 500. We fixed it back a little different and we think a whole lot better than it was at Daytona. We were real competitive down there, so we should be able to lead this race and be a factor on Sunday. We ran a 51.10 in the test and that would have been the pole. We just didn't do it again, and we don't know why. We got through the inspection room well. The car is just like it was and won't go that fast now.
"This isn't a tough track to come to after Martinsville. When we left Texas, we started thinking about Martinsville. We knew what we had to do to be successful when we got up there last Friday. When we left Martinsville last Sunday, we left that behind us and started concentrating on Talladega. When we were here in October, we were leading the race with 30 laps to go and our engine blew. When we left here last, we were doing everything we needed to be doing to win the race and just came up short. I'm excited about getting back and going to work again.
"What kills me is the engines don't break more often. The job these guys do putting these engines together just amazes me. To run 'em as hard as we do, and for them to make as much power as they do, very seldom does one break. You just hope it breaks when you're having a crappy day instead of when you're having your best day. Unfortunately here at Talladega last fall, it broke on one of my best days. We went to Phoenix and ran last all day long and it didn't break. I wish it had broken that day and not here. You're at Talladega running wide open all day and turning 6800 rpm's. At Phoenix, unrestricted, you're turning 9000 all day long. There's plenty of opportunity for them to break at any moment, no matter if you're leading or running 30th. It's an engineering marvel that those guys have taken that little 350 small block Chevrolet engine that we run and make it make as much power as it does.
"If you didn't know the rules were different, you'd never know it. At Daytona, it was kinda hard to pass and difficult to make up ground on people. It didn't have anything to do with the rules. The rules were fine. My car handled perfect. It was the Ford had more power and less drag. They had Fords that were faster than the Chevys. When you take three cars, and they just happened to be Fords, and nobody can keep up with them, then the racing is not going to be that great. They pulled the line so fast, that all you could do was run a perfect lap and just hope to hang on. If you'll look back to a tape of the Daytona 500, about the fourth lap of the race, I broke free of the crowd and ran up on the front three cars leading the race. It was the three Fords that dominated the first 125, Elliott, Rusty and Jarrett. I got right behind them. I was right where I wanted to be. They were two by two behind me, and I was right on their bumper. We were starting to break away. We ran a lap or two and they got a couple of car lengths on me. It was perfect, wide open, and they just drove away. I'm sitting there with the best Chevy in the race, and I can't keep up with the three cars leading the race. The Daytona 500 wasn't overly exciting through a lot of people's eyes. When you take cars that are tons faster than the rest of the field, it's going to string the racing apart. We've come to Talladega, and Fords qualified in the first three spots. We've got some Chevys up in the hunt, so maybe we've got a shot to win.
"At Daytona, I knew I had a chance to win. I knew I'd handle well and could run up front. Honest to goodness, when the race started, I didn't have a chance to win. There was no way my Chevrolet could outrun those Fords, and that was a sad feeling. After testing here, and after learning about our car and refining our Monte Carlo and having time to study with it, I think we can win this race. I believe that. I really believed we'd be in trouble at Daytona, and as it turned out, we were. I think we've closed the gap. Whether we've closed it enough to beat them, I don't know, but I think we've closed it enough where I don't think they're going to line up and run away with it this time."
GARY BRADBERRY (No. 41 Big Daddy's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Car owner Larry Hedrick's team left the track about 8 p.m. on Friday and went to Bradberry's shop in Chelsea. Bradberry was only 41st fastest in first-round time trials on Friday, and the team worked on parts for the car to make it faster in today's second-round session. They got back to the motel in Anniston about midnight and were back at the track by 5:30 a.m. on Saturday.
"You can't ever quit in this business," crew chief Philippe Lopez said. "I think it says a lot about my guys that they were willing to go the extra mile. They could have easily said the heck with it and went back to the motel. We are in a position where we have to find speed. We didn't have anything left motor wise, so we had to make the car better. Restrictor plate racing is so finicky sometimes that minor things can make a big difference. We're not sure if we made the car better, but we had to try something."