This Week in Ford Racing June 15, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup A year ago at this time Darrell Waltrip and Philippe Lopez were preparing for their 10th race together in the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet -- the Pocono 500. Waltrip, who was subbing for...
This Week in Ford Racing June 15, 1999
NASCAR Winston Cup
A year ago at this time Darrell Waltrip and Philippe Lopez were preparing for their 10th race together in the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet -- the Pocono 500. Waltrip, who was subbing for an injured Steve Park, had a memorable afternoon as he found himself leading the race in the latter stages before settling for a sixth-place finish. Waltrip tookover the lead on lap 170 of the 200-lap feature after pitting for gas only on his final stop. Despite the fact his fellow challengers bolted on either two or four tires, Waltrip was able to hold his lead until lap 179 when eventual winner Jeremy Mayfield made the decisive pass to win his first NASCAR Winston Cup event. This season the Waltrip-Lopez duo has been reunited in the No. 66 Big Kmart/Route 66 Ford Taurus. Needless to say, they are hoping for similar results as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads back to Pocono Raceway this weekend.
DARRELL WALTRIP -66- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus -- HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT POCONO? "I've never really had a problem with Pocono. It's an odd race track, but if you look at my record through the years it's just one of those tracks I've always been competitive at, always run well and I've won several times. I don't know why. I'm not necessarily a big fan of shifting gears on a race track like that, but that's what you do. It's a long race. Everybody says, 'Well, it's a 500-miles,' but it's the amount of time it takes to run 500 miles there. You do a lot of braking, similar to Martinsville, and then the shifting thing. There is a lot going on from a driver's perspective. It takes a lot of concentration and the cars have a tendency to tighten up and want to start pushing real bad over the tunnel turn, so there's a lot to think about as you get ready to run that race. Sometimes you don't start off that well, but by the end of the day you're right where you want to be. That's kind of what you work on, trying to come up with a car that's gonna be good at the end of the day and not worry about how it is necessarily at the beginning. It's a hard race track on engines. We turn a lot of RPM. Those straightaways are so long that's why we shift gears, but even when you shift gears you still tach the engine up to 8,900-9,000 and 500 miles down those long straightaways takes it's toll on engines. Everything comes into play -- brakes, driver, engine, car, pit stops are critical, and what wins races there more times there than not? Gas mileage. It's just all the things you have to consider as you get ready to run that race."
YOU'VE WON THERE MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION THE FIRST TIME YOU WON? "I beat David Pearson there. At the time, David was the Jeff Gordon of the series at that time and I guess I was the Jeff Burton of the series at the time. I was trying to establish myself as someone that could win races and someone that was a threat to win every week. So when I beat David Pearson there, I beat him at the end of the day. We had a real good battle going and I think at the end of the day I just drove off and left him. That was a good feeling. Back in those days you always were kind of judged on winning at big tracks. It seemed like a lot of guys could win short tracks. Winning on a short track wasn't a real big deal back in those days other than Martinsville. Martinsville was the only short track that had any prestige to it, so I could win on short tracks but I had never won a lot of 500 milers on superspeedways. That was one of my first superspeedway wins and that kind of put you in a different league when you could win 500 milers on superspeedways."
YOU'VE HAD SOME EMOTIONAL POST-RACE MOMENTS -- WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 BEING ONE -- BUT WAS LAST YEAR'S POCONO RACE ONE OF THE MOST EMOTIONAL IN RECENT YEARS? "It was good to come down that late in the race with 20 to go and we were leading. I think Philippe knew and I knew that we probably couldn't hold off all of them, but we were just excited about the opportunity to run up front, lead the race under green, and race hard with people trying to pass us. We led several laps there and, if things had fallen a little differently with a couple of more cautions, who knows we might have won the race. But that was as close as I had come in quite some time as far as winning the race. I wanted to do it for those guys at the time with the 1 car. We were building momentum. People were always asking me, 'When are you gonna quit?' and 'You're too old' or 'You can't get the job done, why don't you go home?' So it was a good day for everybody -- a good day for them and a good day for me. That was the exciting thing about it for me. I proved that not only was I leading the race, but it was at the end of the day and not at the beginning so we had obviously done a lot of things right that day."
PHILIPPE LOPEZ, Crew Chief -66- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus -- AT THE TIME YOU GUYS HAD BEEN TOGETHER FOR A FEW WEEKS. WAS IT JUST A CASE OF GETTING FAMILIAR WITH EACH OTHER? "Yeah, it was just to the point where after four or five weeks everything was just clicking with the whole team. Darrell, myself, the cars -- it was getting to the point where we weren't making any mistakes and it really showed up at Pocono. At the end of the day we were in position. We were leading, but we needed Jeremy and Jeff (Gordon) to race each other. We felt that if they raced each other with 20 to go that we could put a little distance on them while they were going side-by-side, but Gordon was a little too smart for that. He let Jeremy do his business and then he followed him, but still the opportunity was there. If we would have been just a touch better, Lord knows what might have happened."
WAS IT COMFORTING KNOWING YOU HAD A VETERAN DRIVER LIKE DARRELL BEHIND THE WHEEL AT THAT POINT? "When you come to the late stages of a race there's no substitute for experience. There's just no substitute for it. You've got some really, really good rookies coming into this series, but it takes experience to get to the end of a race and to win a race. It's knowing when to go or when to cool the tires down or save gas. Those are things as a crew chief that you can't always be talking to the driver because he knows what's going on with the race car. He knows when he has to go and when he has to just cool it for a while."
ARE YOU CONFIDENT YOU CAN HAVE SIMILAR SUCCESS THIS TIME AT POCONO? "I love Pocono. I've run good there with Darrell, with Ward Burton, with Hut. I love Pocono and I know Darrell loves it too. I think with this team right now, we're still in a position where anyplace we can go to that we're strong is just gonna build morale and build momentum. We still have a lot of work to do on this team. It's still brand new. It was put together this winter and nothing happens that quick. It takes a lot of resources and time to develop a whole program, but if you can go to places where you're strong at, it kind of gets everybody up for it. I know we're gonna do whatever we can to make sure we do the best that we can."
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Roush Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Mike Bliss will be returning to their roots this weekend as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) travels to the Portland International Raceway (PIR) for the first time. Both Biffle (sixth in series points) and Bliss (12th in series points) grew up in the upper Northwest part of the country, so a return to familiar surroundings sounds encouraging. Unfortunately Biffle has only run one race at PIR while Bliss has yet to turn a lap at the 1.95-mile road course.
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT GROWING UP IN THE UPPER NORTHWEST PART OF THE COUNTRY? GREG BIFFLE - 50 - Grainger Ford - " Other than getting lot's of speeding tickets, I tried to stay out of trouble as much as I could. Seriously though, I can't think of one thing that would stick out in my mind. My growing-up years were enjoyable but I didn't really like living in that part of the country. I could have done without all the rain! All those rainy days were pretty tough to deal with. As far as my racing goes, I didn't start circle track racing until my high school years. Unfortunately my start came pretty late. I didn't get the early start that most of the guys might have gotten in go-karts or quarter-midgets."
MIKE BLISS - 99 - Exide Batteries Ford - "I grew up in Milwaukie (Oregon) which is about 30 minutes from Portland and moved away from there about two years ago. There were a lot of seasonal activities going on up there. In the winter, we'd go snowmobiling and snow skiing. We still raced a lot so my free time was somewhat limited. I do remember going to our beach cabin in Lincoln City. We'd head down there just about every Friday night in the summer and come home on Sunday night. Then about age 11 or 12 I started getting into racing. Looking back on my time up there now, I wish that I could have gone around PIR at least once in my life! I've never been around that track before. I raced dirt bikes on the infield motorcycle course when I was younger. Now I looked at the schedule this year and I say boy I wish I could have run on the paved track too!"
DO YOU HAVE RACING MEMORIES FROM YOUR CAREER HAVING COMPETED IN THAT PART OF THE COUNTRY? BIFFLE - "Winning two championships (1996 Winston Racing Series at Portland Speedway and Tri-City Raceway) was very big for me and probably the best thing I've accomplished up there. I did win a Northwest Tour race at Sioux Falls, Idaho, which was the last race of the 1997 season and my last race before I came to drive for Roush. Overall, my biggest accomplishment during my early career was winning the Tucson Winter Heat Series for the first time in 1996-1997. After all, that's where I got involved with Benny (Parsons)."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO RACING AT PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY? BIFFLE - "I think it's going to be a great race for the Grainger team. It's obviously our first time there in the trucks. I wouldn't be surprised to see another major series like the Busch guys going there in the near future. It's a great facility and a great racetrack. I'm looking forward to running there. I've only had the opportunity to race at PIR once in the Northwest Tour/Southwest Tour Series-combined event. It was my very first road race. I spent more time in the grass than I did on the racetrack! I qualified fifth and ran up in the top five and was going to make a pass for the lead and missed the chicane in turn one. I went straight ahead. I thought I'd get a stop-and-go penalty but it turned out that I could return to the track as long as I didn't gain any spots. So I did lose about 10 spots when I finally got back on track. I did make it back to about third place and then spun off the track again which put me back to about 14th or 15th. Then I worked my way back up to near the front again late in the race and I skidded my tire on the end of a rumble strip and had to pit under green which put us back in the field. That was one crazy race. I ended up finishing about 12th."
BLISS - "I've done well on road courses throughout my career but I've never run at PIR. We won't have an open practice before qualifying so it's going to be tough. We'll get three hours straight before we qualify and that's it. For us, it might be better to run for an hour and a half and then take some time off and go back out again. We could use that down time in between practices to adjust our set up. It will take some time to get up to speed. So the road course guys might have an advantage. I won't go out there and try to tear up the track right away. I'm going to take the time to learn the racetrack and figure out where we're going."
HOW MANY OF YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS WILL BE AT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND? BIFFLE - "There will be a tremendous amount of family and friends out this weekend. Of course my mom and dad and Nicole's (girlfriend) family will be coming out. From my pub, Biffle's Pub and Grill in Vancouver (WA), we've got two buses rented to bring out some more fans. We're all sold out and more people have asked about coming to the race. A lot of my racing buddies from that area will come down and watch too. Then on Saturday night I'm going to run in the Northwest Tour race over at Portland Speedway, so I'll be very busy this weekend."
BLISS - "We'll have some friends and family there. The only disadvantage is that the race is on Friday night, so some people will be working and might miss the race."
TALK ABOUT THE 1999 NCTS SEASON TO DATE FOR THE #99 TEAM. BLISS - "We haven't run as well as we would have hoped when we started. We thought we'd have run a lot better. Our finishes are not showing how good we're running though. We've started off some races a little slow as far as our chassis set-ups. And then we're making some adjustments that have helped. We're getting better and better. Overall the Exide team is learning a lot. We're a really young team and we've got some new guys. We're learning a lot together especially during this tough stretch. After Portland, I'm really looking forward to Watkins Glen. I have run there and I really like that track. The #99 team has done well there is the past."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RACING WITH THE CART TEAMS FOR THE SECOND TIME THIS SEASON? BIFFLE - "I think it will be great again. We really aren't going to intermingle that much because we'll be racing on Friday night and they don't run their race until Sunday. As we talked about this year at Homestead, running with CART lets the fans see some other forms of racing that they might not have come into contact with. It obviously helps our attendance and it helps their attendance too. I think it's a good thing for both series."