This Week in Ford Racing January 27, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series The beginning of the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is less than a month away and optimism abounds with just about every team. Ford drivers expressed their feelings...
This Week in Ford Racing
January 27, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
The beginning of the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is less than a month away and optimism abounds with just about every team. Ford drivers expressed their feelings about the new campaign and the issues accompanying it during last week's Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour.
DALE JARRETT - No. 88 UPS Taurus
HOW DO YOU GET BACK IN THE TOP 10 THIS SEASON? "That's the question. As optimistic as I may be inside, I don't know that it's time to show that on the outside yet. I see a lot of good things happening with our race team. I'm excited about that, but I think until we go out and perform on the race track, improve what we're doing at the shop and the changes that we made are positive, and that I'm gonna go do my job on the track, then we just work hard. I've tried to hold back a little bit here because I want to make sure that we are doing all of that, but I do believe that we have the people in place that I'm excited about getting ourselves positioned in that top 10 to where we can have that chance at a championship."
WHEN YOU MAKE CHANGES LIKE THIS YEAR WITH THE ENGINE AND CREW CHIEF, IS THAT A REASON FOR BEING CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC? "Yeah, it can take time when you make changes. We have new pieces on the Ford this year, but I think those pieces are gonna make us more competitive and give us a better product from the beginning. The engine changes, when we get to those, it's not as much to make more horsepower as what it is for reliability so we can turn the RPMs that we need to without taking that chance of breaking. Those are both positives. Bringing new people in? Yeah, it takes time because we've changed pretty much everything about our race team. The pit crew is gonna be totally different, so it'll take time there. So, yeah, that's why I'm being a little bit cautious about what could happen here, but I do believe we have the personnel that if we all do our jobs, then we can position ourselves there to make a run."
HOW FRUSTRATING WAS IT FOR YOU LAST YEAR? "I don't know that I can really put it into words of how frustrating it was because it was difficult. You keep trying. You keep working. I found myself a number of times thinking back to whenever I've had the opportunity that some of the younger guys have come to me in this sport now and they talk to you about racing and racing for championships and what they should do to solidify themselves in this sport. A lot of times I can think back to telling them, 'Look, the main thing you have to do is make sure you're driving to the capabilities of your car and you're not trying to do more than what your car is capable of doing. That's when you find yourself in trouble.' I found myself in that trouble trying to do that very thing a number of times last year and that was frustrating. First off, we didn't have the car to be able to do it and, second off, I wasn't thinking well enough to realize that, 'Hey, you're just gonna have to accept this and try to make the most of it.' It was difficult, but we've put that behind us. We never expected to have a season like that. We've made the necessary changes that just shows Robert's dedication to this sport. He's been in it for a while now and he realizes when changes need to be made and you have to applaud him for not being afraid to make those changes."
RUSTY WALLACE SPOKE ABOUT HIS FRUSTATIONS LAST YEAR. YOU MUST HAVE FELT SIMILAR TO HIM. "Yeah. I was fortunate to at least win a race early last year, so we kept that streak going, but it's a difficult business. It's become so much more competitive than what we've seen in years past and you have to be on top of your game. We talk about the young guys a lot and they've certainly made their mark and make a difference, but it's everybody from the top to the bottom. If you have 43 cars, you have 30 teams capable of putting it together and winning on any given weekend, so it's tough. You have to fight through those, and 2003 was probably the longest year I can ever remember, but it's over with now and, again, we've done a lot of things in the off season to get ourselves prepared to make a better effort than what we did last year."
HOW DO YOU GUARD AGAINST PRESSING THIS YEAR? "First off, you put 2003 behind you. That's just over and done and there's nothing we can do about that, except learn from some of the mistakes we might have made - myself included. I think looking ahead, as I was explaining about the new car with the new nose and new tail, we have a better product to work with from the beginning. Our engine situation we know is gonna be better, so there are a lot of positives. I'm working with someone now that I'm very familiar with in Mike Ford, who was with us for a number of years and I've been very pleased with what I've seen in Mike with his organizational skills and his people skills. I can see what he has learned as he went to be Bill Elliott's crew chief and what he knows about the cars. He's always been very good with the cars and he's someone that I think is gonna kind of fit my style and I'm really looking forward to it. It's not gonna be difficult to hold back trying to come out of the box and say, 'OK, we're this much better than we were last year.' I think that we just go to the race track and do what we're all capable of doing and things will fall into place."
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus
WHAT'S IT LIKE HEADING DOWN THERE EVERY YEAR? "It's amazing for us. Daytona is where the France family is from and that's where it all got started at. If you go to any of the race shops during December and January, you understand how important the Daytona 500 is because speedway cars are laid out everywhere. They're doing every little thing they can to them to go down there. I think that's what is so exciting about winning that race is that you know everybody has brought their best equipment. It's a new season. All the sponsors are there looking good. Nothing is left on the table. You see 43 of the best drivers, mechanics, pit crews, engine builders, body guys that there is in this sport and when you're able to do that, those are some pretty good bragging rights for a long time. That's something we all look forward to doing."
YOU'VE BEEN PRETTY COMFORTABLE THERE. "Yeah, we've always run good at Daytona. I've got a second and a third there. I was so close at one time in the 500. We were running third last year when the ignition box failed, so I really like that race track. I've learned a lot about it. I think I've learned a lot from a lot of the veterans on how they draft and I've got a great teammate now to draft with. I just feel good and comfortable there. Some tracks you feel at home at and that's one of the tracks I do. I feel like everytime I go I've got a chance to win and that's all I can ask for is to put myself in position. We know that certain guys have had some dominance at that race track the last couple of years, but given the chance I kind of want to mix it up there with them and see what I can do."
DO YOU STILL FIGHT SOME TRACKS? "It's always gonna be like that. There are certain tracks you go to that you feel like regardless of everything you try, you're just never gonna get where you need to be on that race track. You still have to buckle down. I try to look at a lot of videotape. I'll go borrow in-car cameras from different guys. There are different things you can try to do to help you with that, but at certain tracks it's just tough. That's what makes this sport so great. Every track is not the same. You've got to be a great race car driver at a lot of different levels to win the championship, so we've just got to get our butt in gear and do better at the race tracks that we struggle at."
MARK MARTIN - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
WHICH DRIVING STYLE DO YOU THINK THIS TIRE WILL BENEFIT AND WHICH WILL IT HURT? "I think you can over-analyze it real easy. I think it will benefit the best teams because the best teams adapt the quickest. The common perception is it always falls back to veterans and the guys with experience, but I think if you put too much into that, you've gone overboard. But certainly anytime you put a driver on a tire that you can't run for three pit stops, that may have some give-up, that may wear out, it takes a little bit more planning and experience to optimize it. I don't think you should read everything in the world into that because I don't personally believe that the change will be so big that it'll turn the racing upside down. I think it's more of a subtle change back in the direction that it needs to go and I look forward to it."
GREG BIFFLE - No. 16 National Guard/Subway Taurus
WILL WEATHER BE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO RUNNING A FULL-TIME BUSCH AND CUP SCHEDULE? "Yeah, just the weather. We have to make sure the weather is good enough to get back and forth in a timely fashion and we're still working on the logistics of what kind of aircraft to use and what's gonna work for us. We want something that's fairly fast but also somewhat economical."
HOW DO YOU KEEP FROM BURNING OUT IN OCTOBER? "The points deal. Our focus is gonna be on winning a championship in both series and being in the top 10 in NEXTEL Cup points. I'll be burned out. I'll be tired by then of doing both things every week and I'll just take the week off. I'll just avoid doing media stuff or appearances or whatever I need to do to get rested up for the next week. I'll just go and hide for four days and come back to the race track. I'll go home and sit on the couch and go to the gym - that kind of thing - just stay focused. I'll be fine."
KURT BUSCH - No. 97 Sharpie/Irwin Taurus
"There are a lot of teams out there that can win the championship and at the beginning of the year it'll be a change to see how teams are gonna apply this new points system to their ethics. Then with 10 races to go it's a whole new season, so it's wide open. You're gonna have to have a lot of luck at the end of the year."
WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT 26TH RACE WILL BE LIKE AT RICHMOND? "It just depends. With a lot on the line to get into the top 10 obviously, or to have enough points to be within relationship to the leader. Let's say you're trying to get into the top 10 and you're 11th, but the leader has a bad race and you were 430 points out. If the leader has a bad race, now you're in and you're in solid. There are so many things that are gonna be out of your control, you have to go and race your car the way you normally would."
WILL YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMEONE COMPUTING THAT ON THE PIT BOX? "I went through that at the end of this year in Miami. We repaired the car and got back out and all we had to do was finish 18th based upon Terry Labonte's position on the track. We got up to 17th, but then three cars wrecked out that were in between where Terry Labonte was and where I was on the race track and then I had to finish 13th and I couldn't do that. It's gonna be the same scenario as always where you've got to go and race your car. Hopefully, we'll be in a position where we won't have to worry about that."
WHAT EMOTIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR DAYTONA? "Daytona is one of its own. You have the Gatorade 125s beforehand and then you have the week leading up to that. The amount of practices and the amount of emotion around that one race, there's a lot that goes into it and there's a lot of things that you do on the race track. You try to stay in line and you try to finesse your way to the front and then it seems like it's a whole different animal the last 100 miles."
JEFF BURTON - No. 99 TNT Taurus
DO YOU FEEL RE-ENERGIZED FOR THIS YEAR? "I certainly think we can compete better. There are a lot of unknowns and there are a lot of things that we don't know how to deal with just yet because we don't know what we're dealing with as far as the tires and the aero package. In many ways, we're more prepared than we've ever been and in many ways we're less prepared than we've ever been. I feel energized from a driver standpoint. I've got to tell you, I'm used to winning and it's been two years since I've won. What my peers think of me is important, but what's more important is what I think of me and I happen to think I'm a pretty good race car driver, but we haven't been in the position to show that. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to show that. I have a lot of confidence in my ability, although I'm humbled by my mistakes, and I believe in my heart that because I'm 36 that's a great advantage. If I was 46, I may not be thinking that, but to be 36 years old with 10 or 11 years or Winston Cup racing experience and having been racing since seven years old, I can tell you I have more desire today to be successful than I did when I was 15 and than I did when I was 25. I have something to prove and I intend to go prove it."
WILL THE TIRE BE AN ADVANTAGE? "I don't know. I think a lot of people are making that comment. I don't know what this new tire is gonna do. I don't know how it's gonna impact us. The last time we had tires that fell off a lot racing was a whole lot different. Aerodynamics weren't as important as they are today. There are a lot of things that we don't understand about the new tire, so I don't want to make a comment about what the impact of the new tire is gonna be."
IS IT DISAPPOINTING TO NOT HAVE A SPONSOR YET? "It's certainly humbling. It's not the situation we want to be in. I'm old enough and wise enough to understand that all of us, in everything that we do, are in positions that we don't want to be in. I can choose to do one of two things. I can choose to pout about and whine and moan about it, or I can choose just to go and do my deal. I've made the conscious decision to not lay in bed worrying about it at night. When I go to bed and lay down I'm thinking about how to make the race team better and what do I need to do to be a better race-car driver. I don't like the situation that I'm in, but it is what it is and I've got to accept it and go at it head on. Anything less than that I think is doing myself an injustice."