This Week In Ford Racing

This Week in Ford Racing August 17, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup The NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads back to Michigan Speedway this weekend for the running of the Pepsi 400. Jeff Burton, fourth in the Winston Cup points standings,...

This Week in Ford Racing August 17, 1999

NASCAR Winston Cup

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads back to Michigan Speedway this weekend for the running of the Pepsi 400. Jeff Burton, fourth in the Winston Cup points standings, finished third in the June race at Michigan, which ran caution-free and saw Dale Jarrett post his second victory of the season. He speaks briefly about Michigan and his team's mood heading into the upcoming stretch of races.

99 JEFF BURTON - Exide Batteries Ford Taurus - WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT GETTING AROUND MICHIGAN? "It's all about getting through the corners. It's hard to handle there. (Turns) One and two are different than (turns) three and four. And trying to be good at both sides of the racetrack is difficult. If you can do that, that's the biggest issue. That's where we spend all our efforts, getting through the corners. To me that's the biggest ... To me, track position isn't that important early in the race. Obviously, it is late in the race. It's just all about getting through corners. If you get through the corners well, you'll race well."

DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE AUGUST HEAT AT MICHIGAN? "Yeah. Michigan can be really hot. I've been to Michigan before when it was terrible hot. It makes the track harder to drive, because it gets slippery. But that's OK. If it's hot, it's hot for everybody and we can deal with that pretty well."

IF THERE'S ONE CAUTION ANYWHERE IN THAT RACE IN JUNE, DOES THAT MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR YOU? "I don't know. To tell you the truth, I hadn't even thought about it. We finished third, so we had a pretty good run going. And something would have changed. We would have made an adjustment to the car, and we might have gotten better, but at that track we might have gotten worse. Everybody in the garage will tell you, 'Oh yeah. It would have helped us; we'd have made our car better.' Sometimes though, you try to make your car better and you make it worse."

WHAT'S THE MOOD OF THE TEAM? THIS SEEMS TO BE A CRITICAL TIME OF THE SEASON FOR YOU... "Well we're excited about what we've done, but then again, there are a whole lot of things we haven't done very well. We're kinda... I don't want to say that we're having a bad year, because we're not by any means. You know, we've had three mechanical problems and two wrecks. And we've had some problems that when you're running for a championship that you just can't have. We're really focusing on trying to put those things away. We are very pleased with how we're running. We're pretty fast... about every week. We're real pleased with that. We're just not pleased with the fact that we've had those bad races. I think in order to be better, you have to understand your strengths and your weaknesses... and then be willing to address those. We are trying to be optimistic, but at the same time be pessimistic. It's hard to do both. But if you're not willing to look at things honestly and openly, you'll never fix your problems. We're not the kind of team to say, 'If we did this... if we did that... then we'd be here.' Things don't work like that. We have to improve as a team, and that's what our focus is. Rather than on the things we've done right so far, it's on the things we've done wrong."

IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'VE GOT A RUN OF TRACKS COMING UP THAT ARE FAVORABLE TO YOU... "This 12-race stretch is critical to where we'll finish in the points. After these 12 races, the picture will be real clear about what position in the points you're racin' for."

NASCAR Winston Cup points leader Dale Jarrett's last visit to Michigan Speedway netted him his most dominant performance since the 1996 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jarrett started 6th at the Kmart 400, took his first lead on lap 48, and proceeded to lead 149 laps of the 200-lap event en route to his second victory of the season.

Jarrett has three career Winston Cup victories at Michigan Speedway, including his first career win in August, 1991 in a Wood Brothers Ford Thunderbird. He then won the August race in 1996 prior to his June triumph this year.

Oh... the Taurus which Jarrett drives this weekend is the same car which he drove to victory at the Brickyard 400 two weeks ago and at Michigan two months ago.

88 DALE JARRETT - Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Ford Taurus - ARE YOU PLANNING TO BE SO GOOD AT MICHIGAN THAT ITS HARD FOR US TO STAY AWAKE AGAIN? "Well, we'll have the same car. But the thing about this racin' is that even though you may have a great car at a track one time, you go back the next time and you might take everything the same, and it just doesn't work the same. I know they've had a lot of hot weather there since we left there back in June, and that's gonna make a difference with how slick the track is. Everybody else is gonna work on their cars because, you know, they have to improve it. And I'm sure they're going to. I would say that things will be much closer. We'd like to think that we could go up there and do the same thing... and it not be close. I can't imagine that happening again. We will take the same car, and hopefully that will help us to get off to a good start during the race."

WHAT DOES IT DO FOR TEAM CONFIDENCE, KNOWING THAT YOU'VE GOT A GREAT CAR FOR A PARTICULAR TRACK? "Well I think that certainly it's a good feeling, knowing that you've got a good car and a team that knows we can get the job done there. You kinda look forward to going back and see what does change, and see if we can adapt to those changes."

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DeWalt Taurus, will be making his NASCAR Winston Cup debut in his own car this weekend at Michigan in the Pepsi 400. Kenseth has two NASCAR Winston Cup appearances to his credit, but in both instances he was a substitute. The first time came last season when he filled in for Bill Elliott at Dover and finished sixth in the MBNA Gold 400. Earlier this year he took over for Bobby Labonte in the TranSouth 400 and ended up 10th in the rain-shortened event. Kenseth spoke about preparing for his five NASCAR Winston Cup races this season a few weeks ago in Loudon. (This interview is reprinted from the July 6th issue of This Week in Ford Racing )

17 MATT KENSETH - DeWalt Taurus - CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE YOU'RE AT RIGHT NOW AS FAR AS PREPARATIONS GO FOR YOUR FIRST CUP RACE? "We have two cars -- one from Jeff Burton and one from Mark Martin that they both ran last year, so we've got those back at the shop. They've hired Robbie (Reiser) as the crew chief. He's my car owner and crew chief now (in the Busch Series), and I think they hired two or three people last week and they should be starting this week. We're going to test here in about a month, so we're looking forward to that."

DO YOU PLAN ON TESTING AT THE FIVE PLACES YOU ARE GOING TO RACE AT? "Yeah, we're gonna get to test at all of them for sure. I'm not sure about Charlotte because that conflicts with another one of our tests, but we're gonna test at Dover, Rockingham, Darlington and Michigan."

DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY PROBLEMS FOCUSING ON CUP AND BUSCH NOW IN THE NEXT FEW MONTHS? "I think we have a lot more on our plate for the last half of the year than we ever had before and it concerns me a little bit, I guess, getting the right people for the Winston Cup team and getting everything started off on the right foot. Robbie's doing both deals since all the races are gonna be combination races (Busch and Cup), so maybe that concerns me a little bit. But, right now, our Busch team is running pretty well. It can almost run by itself right now without Robbie or myself. Everything pretty much gets done, so I'm not real concerned about the Busch car but I am a little bit anxious about the Winston Cup car and qualifying for the races."

YOU'RE GOOD FRIENDS WITH DALE EARNHARDT, JR. HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM ABOUT WHAT TO EXPECT? "Not really too much. They have a lot of the same people working, but on the other hand, they've got another Winston Cup team in the same shop and they have Steve Hmiel over there kind of watching over both things. They've got a bunch of people over there doing it and they've been working on this a little bit longer too. Like I said, we just got our first car last week at the shop. It's gonna take more time and it will probably be difficult, but I think if we can get the right people in place it will be a lot easier."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DEBUTING AT MICHIGAN? "I think Michigan is probably the best track we could go to first. When we sat down and thought about the five races we wanted to run, Michigan is a track that I really enjoy. We've run pretty well there both times with the Busch car and we've run pretty well at California. From the driver's standpoint, I don't think the track is real difficult. It's real big and wide and the Roush cars usually run real well there, so I think that's a real good place to debut the DeWalt Taurus and try to get in the race."

HOW GOOD IS IT TO HAVE A GUY LIKE MARK MARTIN IN YOUR CORNER? "Yeah, it's a big advantage to have people like him and Jack (Roush) and Jeff Burton and everybody like that behind you, for sure. But there are also a lot of high expectations there. Mark is the best in my eyes and to live up to what he's done and how he drives a car every week is gonna be a lot to handle, but, on the other hand, I couldn't ask for a better opportunity."

WHERE WILL YOUR WINSTON CUP CARS BE LOCATED? "For the five races this year we're gonna run them out of Robbie's shop in Denver, North Carolina. We're only gonna have four cars at the most over there and we just made an addition on the shop a couple of months ago, so there's enough room to do it out there and that's where we're gonna do it for now. I'd say until the year closes out and then I know they're (Roush) working on a building to house us and the 97 car for next year."

DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE IN GOOD POSITION TO WIN THE BUSCH CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR? "Yeah. We're not in as good a shape as I'd like to be. We're gonna need a stronger second half than we had last year, but I have mixed emotions about this year. We've had faster cars. We've had a better motor program than we had. We've been in contention to win a lot more races than we did last year, but we haven't really come through with it all. We won those first three races pretty quick, but lately we've been making a lot of mistakes as a team and we've been a lot more inconsistent than we were last year. When everything goes right, we have a chance to win the races, but when things go wrong we usually end up with a very poor finish out of it. Last year we didn't make this many mistakes and this year we've made a lot, so that's why we're behind in the points."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING PART OF THE NEW BREED OF YOUNG WINSTON CUP DRIVERS? "You always do the best you can. There's a lot more right now than what there ever has been as far as media attention and fans. You get more fans every week and more things to deal with, so it's hard for me at times to keep up with it all. Three years ago I didn't have anyone to deal with except for my dad and two guys helping with the team, so it's a lot different than it was. You do the best you can because I really like to see the kids out here as race fans. That's what means the most to me, I guess, is when we get to do appearances and autograph sessions. It's great to see the kids and try to be somebody that they can look up to."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN DURING THAT DOVER RACE LAST YEAR AND DID IT HELP YOUR CONFIDENCE? "I can't really put my finger on one thing that I learned that day. There were a lot of things I learned, I guess. It was a confidence builder to know that I could drive one of them competitively if we got everything right. My big concern now is starting out with a lot of new people and getting the cars to work like we need to right away and for me to figure out the information I need to tell them to get it to work. With Mike Beam last year he has a whole lot of experience. I could tell him what I was feeling and he'd say, 'We did that five years ago here or 10 years ago here. We've done this and done that, what if we try this?' We'd be able to go back and figure it out. That's gonna be a learning experience with Robbie being new to Winston Cup and me being new to Winston Cup. We're gonna have to learn that together."

HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE IN A WINSTON CUP CAR? "I just ran that one race for Bill and then I subbed for Bobby (Labonte) at Darlington in the race that was shortened by rain. Those are the only two races I've ever been in."

HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MARK COME TOGETHER? "After my second Busch race at Talladega, I guess it was the second race I ran for Robbie in '97. I met Mark at the driver's meeting at Talladega, that was the first time I ever met him. The following Monday he called and said he wanted to get me signed up with Roush Racing and wanted to try and do something for the future to help my path to Winston Cup progress a little faster than it would without his help. He wished that when he was my age somebody would have reached out and helped him a little bit and nobody did, so he said he felt like this was his chance to help somebody a little bit with their career and he wanted to do that."

IS THIS GOOD TIMING TO START IN CUP? "This is gonna work out fine. I would have liked to have started this year, if everything would have worked perfect. But, on the other hand, there are a lot of people with a lot more knowledge than me who realized I needed another year in the Busch Series to get more experience. In my heart I knew that, but you can never get somewhere too fast, I don't think. You do need experience, but in my mind I always want to do it now. I'm not a very patient person, so I think the timing is perfect to run these five races now. It's gonna be a chance to get our feet wet, we're real secure with DeWalt as our sponsor, and to run the next few years after that will be good timing."

WHAT RACES ARE YOU GOING TO RUN THIS YEAR? "We'll run at Michigan, Dover, Darlington, Rockingham and Charlotte."

HOW WILL YOU RACE AGAINST THESE CUP DRIVERS? "I'll just race the same way I've always raced. Hopefully, we'll have a fast-enough car that we can try to run up front, but I've raced against a good percentage of all the Winston Cup drivers in the Busch Series sometimes in the last two-and-a-half years. I sort of know how they race and I think they sort of know how I race, so I don't think that's ever a problem."

HAS MARK GIVEN YOU ANY ADVICE AS FAR AS PITFALLS YOU MIGHT FACE? "I think that's a lot of the reason why he wanted to help me out. He wished that somebody would have helped him out. Obviously, Mark Martin has always had all of the driving talent in the world, he just didn't get hooked up with the right people right away to get the opportunity to do this full time. He explained to me that's why he wanted to do this to help me out, so I wouldn't have to go through the same problems and hard times he had to go through."

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN MARK CALLED YOU? "Right away when I talked to him on the phone I knew it was him, but it definitely caught me by surprise. I didn't think that anybody was paying attention and I didn't think that I had done anything worthy enough to pay attention to, so it definitely surprised me he called. On the other hand, I've learned very quickly in this sport that you never know what to expect and you never know what's gonna happen next. That was one of the good things that you didn't know what to expect and what was gonna happen next, but sometimes it can go the other way too."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Mark Martin
Teams CIP