This Week in Ford Racing July 6, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup The NASCAR Winston Cup season has officially hit the halfway mark, so as the circuit heads to Loudon, N.H. and the Jiffy Lube 300 this weekend, Ford personnel were asked to summarize ...
This Week in Ford Racing July 6, 1999
NASCAR Winston Cup
The NASCAR Winston Cup season has officially hit the halfway mark, so as the circuit heads to Loudon, N.H. and the Jiffy Lube 300 this weekend, Ford personnel were asked to summarize their first half and what their goals are for the rest of the season.
88 DALE JARRETT -- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- IF YOU HAD TO GIVE YOU AND YOUR TEAM A LETTER GRADE FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I think for total performance as far as getting the most out of what you've got, the guys definitely get an "A". Can we get better? Yeah. We can be an A-plus team in the fact that we can run better. We can finish fourth and fifth without having to come from 25th to do that, so that's the one side we want to improve on in the second half of the season. On days where maybe we're struggling to run fifth, that we can take those days and make them seconds and sometimes firsts."
IS THERE ONE SPECIFIC AREA YOU WANT TO TRY AND CONCENTRATE ON; QUALIFYING, IMPROVING THE CAR DURING THE RACE? "Qualifying at times in the first part of the year (has been hard). That seems to have gotten better here recently and that's not due to any accident, it's been hard work and preparation. But I think we have to start the races better. We haven't been very good in starting the races out. We get behind at the beginning and then we have to make so many adjustments from there that it takes all race to do that. I'm fortunate that I have a good enough team that can make those adjustments and get us there before the day is out. But if we can start closer with our setups, and I think we will from here on out, then we'll be much better off."
AS YOU SIT IN THE POINTS LEAD HALFWAY THROUGH, DO YOU CHANGE YOUR MINDSET IN THE SECOND HALF? "Not really. I think we have to do the same things, we just have to do them a little better the second half. We have to make sure that we finish in the top five every race, or at least in 75-80 percent of the races because we realize the 18, the 99, the 6, and the 24 are gonna finish in the top five week-in and week-out. They're gonna win their share of races and we have to do our share. If we don't, a lot of people are gonna be right there and before long we'd be chasing them. We have to keep working hard and make sure that we don't give anything up here for quite a while."
IS THERE ANY MORE PRESSURE BEING THE POINTS LEADER? "No, I don't think so. Maybe it will later one, but right now it's just a matter of going out and doing our job. It's no different than the very first race. You just do that and hope it's gonna be good enough."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT FORD HAS ONLY TWO DRIVER's CHAMPIONSHIPS IN THE MODERN ERA (1972-PRESENT)? "I think it's surprising. It's something that I knew because Bill Elliott (1988) and Alan Kulwicki (1992) were the two guys who have done it, but it's surprising that it hasn't happened more with all of the good Ford teams we've had over the years. Hopefully, that's something that's gonna change this year."
I KNOW YOU WANT TO WIN IT FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM, BUT THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE THIS CHAMPIONSHIP AFFECTS. "I think if a Ford driver could win right now he could pretty much have his way at Ford Motor Company for a while. I think they would be indebted to a team that could do that. It's that and Robert Yates. I've got an owner who has put as much into this sport as anybody else. He's been with Ford Motor Company for a long time and has done a lot for Ford Motor Company in racing and, as much as I'd like to have it for personal satisfaction, if I could get it for Robert Yates and Todd Parrott and Ford Motor Company it would be tremendous."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR CONSISTENCY THIS SEASON? "I've never had the good fortune of being involved in something like this. We've been pretty consistent over the last three years of having a lot of top fives and a lot of top 10s, but in there we've always had a few problems along the way that seemed to set us back a little bit. A majority of them have been earlier in the season and we've gotten past that. We've overcome some things this year where we shouldn't have finished in the top 10 and we did, and those are the kinds of things that you have to do to win championships. When you have a team behind you that first off believes in their driver, believes in their crew chief and their owner, you've got a lot of the battle won there. Then, they will do anything and continue to work throughout any race. There have been days that we needed all 500 miles, 600 miles or whatever the case may be to get our car right, but they continue to work on it. Then, to have someone like Todd Parrott in the pits making those calls, it gives me a lot of confidence. I know that if I can just hold things together on the track to get to the next pit stop, then it's gonna allow Todd to work on the car and it's gonna be better with the next set of tires and the changes that we make. It's been a great run to this point. I guess we've run 17 races now and I'm not sure exactly what it is with top 10s, something like 15. That's Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham-type numbers and that's a good class to be in because when you do things like that, that's the way that you win championships."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF GAINING POINTS? "It really feels good. There have been so many times over the last three years that we've put together strings of top-five finishes and look up and we're 50 points worse off than we were. To be able to do these things right now when other guys are having tremendous seasons too, they look up and say, "Man, we had a good day, but we lost points again." It's a good feeling to have from our standpoint because we've been on that other side enough. Now that we're in this position it feels good. Hopefully, it can continue like that. We know it can change around in a hurry, but, hopefully it won't. I think I made the comment to Jeff (Gordon) at Pocono that we'd gone home and cursed him a little bit on days where we thought we had good days and didn't gain any points or lost point to him. It's nice for a change that they have to go home and holler at us a little bit."
IN THE LAST SIX YEARS THE POINTS LEADER AT THE HALFWAY MARK HAS GONE ON TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "That's good. We'll take it now if they just want to say history rules. I guess that's a good stat to know and we certainly don't want to end that string, but, again, we're so far away from getting to the end of this. We can only continue to do what we've been doing and, if we can do that, without sounding cocky or overconfident, if we can continue to do what we've done and what we think we can do, then, yeah, they'll have a tough time catching us. But, it only takes one race to make this a really close battle, so we just have to do our job."
88 TODD PARROTT, Crew Chief -- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW FAR THIS TEAM HAS COME SINCE IT STARTED? "It's all about having confidence and good people. In 1996 when Robert Yates came to me and said, "Todd, I want you to be the crew chief on this new team." I didn't know what to think because I was with a good team, a strong team, a championship caliber team. Somebody told me it was my call and it was time to step up and take a chance. I wasn't real sure about it, but I the confidence in myself and my ability and the things that I've learned since I was a kid growing up around these race tracks that I could get the job done. Robert Yates allowed me to get the people that I needed and it's all about people. There are 60-80 people at Robert Yates Racing that are a part of this and it's because all of them that Dale and I are sitting where we're at right now. Without good people, just like any other sports team that's winning, there's no difference. It's all about people and we've got good people."
21 ELLIOTT SADLER, Citgo Taurus -- HOW WAS YOUR FIRST HALF? "Our team has really come around. We got ourselves in a lot of trouble at the beginning of the year getting in wrecks and getting in situations we didn't need to be in. The last six races we've accumulated a total of points that would be 20th over that stretch, so we feel like we're making improvements and going in the right direction. We're learning each and every week and I'mfeeling more comfortable each and every week. We've thrown a lot of new things at the Wood Brothers this year with a new crew chief coming in and a new driver, a new engineer and there are some new things that we're trying to make ourselves better for the long run. We had to go through those learning stages at the beginning of the year, but we feel like were getting things settled down now."
WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST ADJUSTMENT GOING FROM BUSCH TO CUP? "Mine is probably the weight of the car and the wheel base -- stuff like that. The horsepower, I think, I can use to my advantage, especially as a rookie. If I don't know exactly how our car needs to feel, I can use that extra horsepower I didn't have in the Busch car to make up for what I don't know yet. The wheel base and getting the car to turn, manhandling on these old tires like these veterans can do each and every weeks makes it tough to be able to get in there and race with them sometimes. That's been the biggest step for me right now is just figuring out what my car needs to feel like on old tires in Happy Hour on Saturday afternoon to have a great race car on Sunday. That's my biggest learning curve right now and that's what we're concentrating and putting our effort in to."
IF YOU HAD TO GIVE YOU AND YOUR TEAM A LETTER GRADE FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I'd give my team a whole lot higher grade than what I'd give myself -- probably a "B" or so. They've had to put up with me so much as far as my learning curve. Maybe we had to give up some speed at some of the tracks to make me more comfortable. It's tough not having a teammate or someone to go to and say, "OK, this is what my car is doing. What do we need to do to fix it? Is it supposed to feel like this in Happy Hour to be good on Sunday?" My grade's a little bit lower. It's tough not knowing how I need my car to feel on Saturday. I think that's the biggest thing that has bitten us so far. It's a whole lot easier getting ready for qualifying, to me, because it's the same day and only an hour or so difference. We can get in there and get qualified, and we feel like we've qualified pretty well at some of the tracks that I've been to before in the Busch cars. Some of the tracks we've been to are tracks I've never seen before and we've struggled a little bit, but we knew we were gonna struggle some, but we're going in the right direction. We're improving in our race setups and my comfort level is getting better. We're learning a lot each and every week about the Ford Taurus body. Our downforce stuff is great and we feel like we're going in the right direction."
YOU TALK A LOT ABOUT LEARNING. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEARNING AND RACING? "Yes there is and there's probably a big difference. There were a couple of races where I felt that maybe I shouldn't race as hard as maybe you should. My feeling has been, "Let's learn and let's run every lap. If the guys want to race, let "em go. Just let me finish these races." We've finished every race since Vegas and that's something I'm very proud of. We're pretty high up in miles run this year, I think we're ninth or 10th, and that's great for me being a rookie to come in here and do that. Yes, we had to give up some racing in the beginning of the year so I can make some laps at these races. You're not gonna learn anything with the car on the hook. I went through this in Late Models and I went through this in the Busch Series and it's worked the best for me...just the first half of the year to try and finish these races and not really race everybody hard until we go around to maybe the second time at these races. Maybe we'll race a little harder and go a little more in the right direction, and maybe be a little more aggressive on our setups on the car, and then I think you're gonna start seeing us better each and every week. I'm only 24-years-old, I've only been in these big heavy stock cars two or three years now which is a lot less than a lot of these guys and it shows in the Winston Cup Series. These guys are the best of the best, but we feel like we're gonna have something for "em before this season is over with."
GREG SPECHT -- Director of North American Operations, Ford Motor Company -- HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON FROM A FORD PERSPECTIVE? "I've gotta say we're pretty happy with it. Certainly our restrictor-plate program has shown vast improvements from last year, we're competitive at those races as well. We're continuing to make little improvements to the car for the other tracks and right now I guess I'd say we're guardedly optimistic."
WITH THREE OF THE TOP FOUR TEAMS IN THE POINT STANDINGS RIGHT NOW, HOW IMPORTANT WOULD THIS DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP BE FOR FORD? "It's extremely important to us. That's the main reason we're here is to help the drivers running Ford equipment to win the championship. That gets the most visibility and the most publicity and I think at the end of the season it shows who has the best stuff. Certainly the driver has a lot to do with it, but you've got to have a lot of good equipment to go along with it and that's the contribution that we try to make. Yeah, it's important and it's exciting. That's why we're here."
IS IT SURPRISING TO YOU THAT THERE HAVE BEEN ONLY TWO FORD CHAMPIONS SINCE 1972? "Is it surprising, yeah, I guess you'd have to wonder what the odds are for that happening. What are we doing wrong? I don't know, but it's something we want to change. We certainly want to even it up to at least 50-50 where every other year a Ford product or a GM product wins the driver's championship and that's why we're really excited about this year. Maybe we're getting back on track and we can start doing that. I think we have the best teams in Winston Cup, there's no two ways about it. The talent that these guys have is unbelievable. Like last year, to take a green car like the Taurus, which they had very little time to work with, and to show the type of results we did was just amazing and a testament to the work ethic and ingenuity of these guys. Let's face it, if that one car (the 24) hadn't had an extremely unusual season, we had a good shot at winning the championship last year. The guys are just continuing to make improvements on the Taurus and raising the bar and level of competition."