This Week in Ford Racing November 2, 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Phoenix International Raceway, the next stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has been good to Ford teams since its inaugural race in 1988 when Alan Kulwicki took the checkered...
This Week in Ford Racing November 2, 1999
NASCAR Winston Cup
Phoenix International Raceway, the next stop on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has been good to Ford teams since its inaugural race in 1988 when Alan Kulwicki took the checkered flag. Ford has captured eight of the 11 races run at the one-mile facility, including the last two by Dale Jarrett (1997) and Rusty Wallace (1998). Those two drivers talked about returning to Phoenix and their hopes for extending that streak.
When Dale Jarrett posted his Phoenix victory in 1997 he did it in dramatic fashion by coming back from a lap down under the green flag. However, Jarrett's fortunes took a turn in the other direction last year as he was forced to get out of the car during the race due to gallstones.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- THE LAST TWO SEASONS PHOENIX HAS BEEN A STARK CONTRAST FOR YOU HASN'T IT? "In '97 it was just an incredible race for us. We had a great racecar and it was just incredible what we were able to do. And then last year, there was so much of it I remember and then a lot of it I don't remember. It doesn't seem like it was a year ago that it happened, but I'm just glad that part of my life is over with and we can move on. Phoenix is a race track I enjoy racing at a lot and, unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy that part last year."
IS PIR SIMILAR TO LOUDON IN THAT IT'S A ONE-MILE FLAT OVAL? "Maybe a little bit, but it's a lot more racey than that. Loudon is pretty much one groove and you wait for somebody to slip and at Phoenix there are a couple of grooves you can run there. You can try some different things, so I think it's a fun challenge for the driver there, more so than Loudon. To me, it's a challenging racetrack. There are different ways to go through turns three and four. In turn one the best way is around the bottom, but you'll see guys get their cars good to where they can pass people on the top, so to me it's just a lot of fun."
IT'S NICE TO GO BACK OUT WEST WHERE IT'S A LITTLE WARMER THIS TIME OF YEAR, RIGHT? "It'll be nice to get back to the warm weather. We seem to perform pretty good in that type of situation where the track may get a little slick, so we'll look forward to that."
When Rusty Wallace got to Phoenix last year he only had three more chances to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one win to 13. By the time Wallace departed the Valley of the Sun, his streak was intact after a dominating performance which saw him lead 196 of the 257-lap event, which was shortened due to rain.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus -- YOU HAD A GREAT CAR LAST YEAR AT PHOENIX DIDN'T YOU? "Phoenix was really good for me last year. We had a great handling car, the pit stops were wonderful, the car handled perfect. Everything you've gotta have was just right there and it was just awesome. We've got new rules this year. We've got lower front air dams and higher rear spoilers and I just hope when I go back this time that the same setup I had will work real close to what it did last year. I don't expect that's gonna be the case, though. I think there are gonna be some changes that will have to happen in the chassis, I just hope it's not much. We'll start practice with that same setup, you've got to because it was so awesome, but then we'll start making some adjustments if we have to."
YOU LED 196 OF THE 257 LAPS LAST YEAR. IS THAT THE KIND OF CAR AND RACE YOU DREAM ABOUT? "It really is. I remember in that race we started off and were running second, third, fourth -- in that area when we first started -- and I came in and made a left side air pressure change. When I went back out, man, the car just took off and we didn't change anything the rest of the day, it was just picture perfect. Every time the sun would go in and out or the track would change a little bit, my car just ate up all the mistakes. I remember after it was all done they said there were a lot of guys complaining about the track changing so much and I didn't feel any big changes in my car. You've got to get your setup just right to eat those types of problems up. That was a Cinderella race, that was awesome. I hope I can go back and do that again."
YOU NEEDED THAT RACE WIN TOO, DIDN'T YOU? "Yeah. We hadn't won all year long until that run, so it was important to get that win. We only had one more shot to do it and we finally got it there at the end."
HOW DOES THIS TRACK COMPARE TO LOUDON? "The track at Loudon has some problems with the surface and Phoenix doesn't have any of those problems. Phoenix is a great racetrack. It's fun to go out there because you can pass in the straight-aways, you can pass off of turn two, you can pass in the corners. Unfortunately, the way the surface is at Loudon the place gets so much rubber built up that it's absolutely like running through gravel pits racing there."
DO YOU THINK ABOUT WINNING THAT 50TH RACE EVERY WEEK? "Yeah, I do think about it and I just hope I get it. It's just a goal of my own that I set to try and achieve. It's a good solid number. It doesn't have any real significance. I'm not gonna retire when I get 50 wins and I'm not gonna get a two million dollar bonus or anything different except some self-satisfaction."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR YEAR? "We started out the year with a bang right off the bat. At Daytona we ran really good and four races later we're at victory lane at Bristol. We led a lot of laps, but then after that we kind of got into a rut where it seemed like every race we were seventh or eighth. I couldn't get back into what I call that coveted top three. It's easy to say top five, but I'm used to running top three all the time and it seemed like I was top seven. I wanted to get out of that top seven and get back up to the very, very top. Then as the year went on we're getting better it seems like. Our qualifying has been really, really good. We've got four poles and are seldom out of the top 10, so I'm real proud of that. We've led a bunch of laps, we're eighth in the points and, barring any problems, it looks like we're gonna have a top 10 finish this season. I had one setback that we've still yet to work out that's upsetting. We were gonna build a brand new facility to build all the chassis and hang all the bodies for the 2 car and the 12 car. We were gonna start immediately on it and everybody was excited about it and at the last minute the 12 car decided they didn't want to participate in it. They felt as though their cars were better than our cars and that was a real letdown because we really thought that thing was gonna be a neat deal. We would both have the same cars, the same bodies and all that. I'm really excited about my cars and they like their cars, so, until we come to some common ground, unfortunately, the teams are operating independently. They're really not teammate cars."
THAT'S A BIG DEPARTURE FROM LAST YEAR. "It's a big departure and it's something that we're not done with. I'm gonna try to fix it and get it back on track, but it really took a permanent stance on what they like and that's unfortunate."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MOTOR SITUATION? "Now that's been really good. That's all good stuff there. I've only had one failure all year long and, unfortunately, it came at Dover where I was flying. I had a new track record, on the pole, running first through third all day and broke a piston. We still ran and finished the race 18th on seven cylinders. Usually when you blow up your 30th or 40th, but I was able to keep on going limping around on seven cylinders, but that's been the only problem I'm aware of this year. The 12 car hasn't had a problem either, so purchasing Larry Wallace's engine deal and renaming it under Penske Racing has been a huge success."
YOU AND JEFF GORDON HAVE ONE OF THE MOST ENTERTAINING RIVALRIES IN MOTORSPORTS. IS THERE A LITTLE EXTRA INTENSITY WITH BOTH OF YOU HAVING 49 WINS RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, I'd be lying to you if I told you it's no big deal, but it is a big deal. I'd like to get my 50th before he does, but, then again, I've got to think -- if he gets 50 before me or vice versa, what effect will it have on my goal. I don't know if it'll have any effect on my goal. Every time I go to a race I think that's the one."
The DuraLube 500K at Phoenix International Raceway has been good to Ford teams with eight of the 11 all-time winners sporting the blue oval. Darrell Waltrip, driver of the No. 66 Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus, along with teammate Jimmy Spencer, driver of the No. 23 Team Winston Taurus, and car owner Travis Carter spoke about Phoenix as part of this week's Winston Teleconference.
WINSTON TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus -- WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT PHOENIX? "I like Phoenix a lot. It's traditionally been one of my best racetracks and all those statistics say I've got a shot. It's a Ford track and I happen to be driving one and starting outside the top 10 is kind of like where I've been, so it sounds like I might have a good chance this weekend."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW POTENTIAL SHOCK RULES? "In my opinion one of the things that's really, really difficult...let's just say teams that don't have a maximum resource...let's just say that multi-car teams, teams with big budgets, they can afford to do all the R&D and all the testing that it takes to refine something like that. Daytona and Talladega is such a bag of tricks that it's not even in the realm of reality to do what we do just to run two laps at Daytona and Talladega. We go test over and over again. We go down there and try things just to run two laps. You build a car with the frame rails at 12 inches. I saw the ultimate Daytona and Talladega thing that I had never seen before. I mean, we changed spindles, we changed hubs, we changed brakes, we changed transmissions, gears, motors, everything just to run two laps. I saw a guy this time have to change his seat. He had his floorboard beat up so high in the car so the car could travel down and get low to the ground, that he couldn't get the seat down in the car low enough until after qualifying was over with. He took the seat out and beat the floorboard down so he could get his seat down in there where he could drive the car. So, it's out of hand, it's out of control. I applaud the fact that they (NASCAR) realize that and they're gonna do something about it."
DO YOU THINK THAT'S AN AREA WHERE THEY CAN WORK ON COST CONTAINMENT, TO CUT OUT SOME OF THE QUALIFYING TRICKS AND QUALIFYING MOTOR? "You know what I like, you go to the Busch Series and they have the most practical rules in the world. Why? Because most of those teams don't have the budgets to do all the trick stuff, so they go in there and keep it simple. That's what I like. The Busch Series has great rules. We need to learn from the Busch Series. We need to take some notes from them because they don't have qualifying motors and they don't allow all the stuff that you get to do in Winston Cup and I think that's the way it should be."
LOOKING AT NEXT YEAR, NASCAR SEEMS SO HEALTHY. DO YOU SEE THIS CONTINUING OR DO YOU SEE SOME PROBLEMS THAT MIGHT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED? "There are gonna be continual growing pains. As fast as this sport is growing, there is constantly gonna be things that are gonna come up that the sanctioning body didn't think about or the competitors, or the owners, or even the sponsors didn't think about. I think that's how fast we're growing. The thing that's made us successful through all these years is NASCAR has been able to keep their arms around everything. Television packages, car owners, drivers, tracks, they've just been able to manage everything. It's been small enough, if you will, to allow them to be able to do that. But this thing is growing at a rate right now that is almost out of control and, with that said, we're gonna have to really, really watch -- management is -- how we handle the growth of this sport and where it's gonna go in the future. These new race tracks, there are so many beautiful, new race tracks being built that deserve a Winston Cup race and how are we gonna do that? That's one of the obvious big issues that's on the table for everybody, but the other thing is I'm worried about the Darrell Waltrips and the Ricky Rudds and the Bill Elliotts and the Brett Bodines -- guys like myself that have devoted their whole life, all their heart and soul and energy and resources to owning a race team and get driven out by these multi-car car owners. NASCAR's gotta do something. I sit down every night and look at where I am and what I've done and I say, 'I've worked 30 years for this -- 30 years to end up with nothing.' I wanted to own a race team. I wanted to be a car owner. I wanted to have a driver. I wanted to stay in this sport and it's just not possible to do now because of the way the sport is structured. So, NASCAR has got to come up with a system or a plan or a way to where owners like myself or a Bud Moore or whomever else is out there, doesn't go broke trying to keep this sport as healthy as it is. That's the backbone of this sport -- independent car owners. Guys come in wanting to be in Winston Cup, that's what got us to where we are and now we're gonna run those people out of the sport."
IT'S ALMOST LIKE WITH THESE MULTI-CAR TEAMS THE SMALLER GUYS WON'T MAKE THE RACES. "I have to be the guy to speak up about everything, I guess, but the provisional thing. I know some will say, 'Well, it's because of you that it's the way it is.' Abusing the provisional rule last year, maybe that caused them to do what they did, but now the provisional thing is out of whack. You've got the top 25 with unlimited provisionals. Guys in the top 25 don't need provisionals. How are you gonna take a new team getting started from scratch and make it into every race when you ain't got no provisionals. There are just so many things right now that just don't make sense to me that's so detrimental to a new team coming in and a new guy just can't make it."
YOU SPEAK YOUR MIND DON'T YOU? "I love this sport and I don't want to hurt the sport at all, but I sure do want to see it be fair and equitable for everybody and I don't think it's that way right now."
THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON HAS BEEN A STRUGGLE. HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE LAST THREE RACES? YOU HAVE A PROVISIONAL, SO IS THAT A RELIEF? "Yeah, it's a great relief. Like I say, Phoenix has been pretty good to me through the years so I'd really like to be able to save that provisional for maybe Homestead or Atlanta. Hopefully, I can make all three of the races without one. I told my team the other day I said, 'You all do realize that I don't retire until next year don't you. I didn't mean for it to start a little early this year.' But what's happened to us is just a product of getting a late start. We moved into a new building here just a few weeks ago and we're just really building a team. When you accept status quo and you can kind of get by with that, that's OK, but when you want to get better and want to move up to the next level -- you want to do engines, you want to do cars, you want to do everything in house, you hire as many people as you can to make that happen -- and sometimes in the growing you just go backwards for a little while. That happened to us here the last few weeks, but the thing we've all agreed upon is to not get down on each other and to use what's happening to us as a building block for next year. We'll try some different cars, we'll try to do bodies in house, we'll just try to do a lot of stuff ourselves in preparation for next year. The good news is everybody is kind of still together. Travis is working real hard making changes that he feels are necessary internally. Philippe Lopez is our crew chief and he's a great crew chief, but we're under a lot of pressure. If we can just get some pressure off of us. If we could just have a couple good runs here the last three races and get some pressure off of us, I think it'd make a huge difference in how we go into next year."
HOW HAVE YOU HANDLED NOT MISSING RACES? "I get a little angry. I get a little bitter. I don't feel like it's fair to have to go home from a race for anybody. I missed three races -- I missed one by three-thousandths of a second, I was the 37th-fastest car. I missed another one by nine-hundredths of a second; I was the 38th-fastest car. Its not like you're out there in a dog and you're the slowest cat in the field. I missed three or four races here that I should have been in, but the number is 36 and if you don't have a provisional you go home. I just don't think that's the way it oughta be. I think we oughta look at starting the fastest 43 cars and just lettin' it go. This provisional thing is just not workin'."
AFTER THE STRUGGLES THIS YEAR, ARE YOU DREADING NEXT YEAR A LITTLE BIT? "No, that's what we've been talking about. We're trying to build a race team and go and race every week. I've done it a couple of times and it's just hard to do. You can't leave anything on the table and you've gotta have everything going for you. We got a late start and I've gone through four crew chiefs. We're just now starting to build some new in-house cars. One week we get a car done and we have had very little wind tunnel time. I mean, internally, we know what the problems are. It's not a Darrell Waltrip problem, it's not a Travis Carter problem, it's not a Philippe Lopez problem, it's not a Kmart problem. It's a problem all of us have and it was really just gettin' a late start and trying to accelerate this thing up to where we needed to be and it's just been harder and taken a little more time than we thought it was going to."
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGH YOU SHOULD HAVE RETIRED THIS YEAR? "Well, that's a real narrow viewpoint that you're taking because I don't blame myself. I am no different...I'm 52 and if I was to reverse that around and I was 25, if I don't have the car to get the job done, then it don't matter who you are or what you are or what you've ever done, you just can't do it. You cannot physically do it alone, so there are pieces of this puzzle that are missing and the driver ain't one of 'em. I can drive the wheels off of any racecar if it's a good car. I've proven that time and time again, so I don't feel that it's something personally that I'm not gettin' the job done, I just feel that it's a team problem that we've got to work on and fix."
IS PHILIPPE STILL THE CREW CHIEF? "Well, Travis basically wanted to get some pressure off of Philippe is the proper way to look at it. Philippe is a great crew chief. He and I work well together, we communicate well together, but because of missing a race or two and because of the pressure of that going on and everything that was happening around us, Travis felt like he needed to step in and take that heat off of Philippe and let Travis Carter the car owner take a little of the heat and let Philippe catch his breath and start all over again. I'm sure he's gonna be there and pretty sure he'll be the crew chief in the future, but right now he's just working under Travis and lettin' Travis take some of the heat."
HOW DOES NASCAR STEP BACK AND MAKE SOME SENSE OF ALL THESE MULTI-CAR TEAMS? "I've been an advocate and I guess I will continue to be, and it's not a popular issue with NASCAR, but they've got to come up with some sort of franchising system to where these teams have a market value. A guy like myself that invested tons of money, millions of dollars of my own money and sponsors money into a thing...Ricky Rudd told me the other day he said, 'I guess I'll have an auction.' Now how can a guy that's done what Ricky has done and put into the team what he's put into it with a sponsor like Tide and he's got to auction stuff off. That's a sorry state of affairs. That team should have a value, it should have been able to market it to someone, and if they wanted to come into the sport and be a team owner in this sport, they should have had to pay on the front end and not come in and suck resources out of the sport."
HOW DO YOU KEEP NASCAR FROM GETTING THE FRANCHISE MONEY? "That might be the lesser of the evils at this point. At least you know what you've got."
WOULD THERE BE AN EQUITABLE WAY TO HAVE A SHARING FUND FOR THE OTHER TEAMS THAT HAVE FRANCHISES? "I'm sure we could take a look at how CART, Formula One, other series, they've all got franchising systems and they take care of the people that are in the sport. They scrutinize a new owner wanting to come into the sport. You have to be approved to own a team and we haven't come to that, but, dadgone it, it looks like we might need to."
WHEN YOU'RE DONE DRIVING, CAN YOU BE HAPPY DOING TV OR ARE YOU STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT A WAY TO BE A TEAM OWNER? "I'm kind of a barnstormer and a throw back to the past I guess to some degree, but certainly with an eye on the sport and a feel for the sport and a love for it, there's not another driver, not another former owner, not another cat that's ever been in this sport that has any more compassion for what he does and what we do, not just myself but what we do as a whole. I am a race fan and I love racin' and there might be a place for me in this sport that I don't even know about. There may be role for me down the road that hasn't become available, but I'm a fighter and I don't like to see things unfair. I like to see a level playing field for everybody and I'm not sure we have that right now, so I don't know what my role in the future is gonna be. I love TV, it's fun to do, I enjoy it, I get a kick out of it, but I don't know if that's challenging enough for me or not. I like a challenge, man. I like to get out there and do something. I like to make things happen and I'm just not sure if that's where I'm gonna end up being happy or not."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT COMING TO A NEW TRACK LIKE HOMESTEAD? "Fortunately, we're coming in a day early, so that gives us some additional track time that we normally wouldn't have. I've talked to some teams that have tested and people that have been down there with Busch cars or whatever and draw an analogy as far as setup goes and then it's just a matter of laps around the race track. It doesn't take very long until you're right up to speed, so we don't really worry too much about that. If we were coming in under normal circumstances with a couple hours of practice and qualifying, we probably would have thought about testing there or at least trying to do something with one of the two cars, but because of the day of practice that we have, that's gonna pretty well level everything up for everybody."
WHO DO YOU THINK IS THE BEST DRIVER ON THE TRACK? "I think you can take a Dale Jarrett, you can take a Jeff Gordon, you can take a Bobby Labonte, they all have things that they do well and they all have things that make them outstanding in certain ways. The consistency, the performance, so many things that go into making a great driver. You take the top five or six drivers and there's not a lot of difference in any of 'em. They all do the same things; they all do it well. They all have great teams, they all have opportunities to win every week and they usually make good decisions on the racetrack. Those are things that make great drivers. Jeff Gordon certainly has, if you go by wins, has been the most outstanding driver over the last four or five years and I'm thinking he probably will be for the future."
TRAVIS CARTER, 66 and 23 Car Owner -- CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PHOENIX. IT'S BEEN A GOOD FORD TRACK. "That's good, but one of them needs to be either the 23 or 66 in the future. I think it's a good track. I think it's a good track for our drivers. We've had some pretty good success with Jimmy in the past, some bad but some good, and from Darrell's perspective I think it's more his kind of race track, so we're kind of looking forward to it. We think we have good cars, good equipment going there, and we'll be disappointed if we don't have a good weekend."
HOW ARE YOU KEEPING MORALE UP WITH THE 66 DURING THESE STRUGGLES? "Well, I think we started and got a pretty good rhythm going midyear with him and finally got Jimmy going better midyear. We've sort of lost a little bit of that in the last month, but, from speaking with Darrell, quite honestly as we worked hard to try to get better cars we didn't seem to run as well but I think a lot of that is a learning curve. The team had to learn together and he had to learn a lot about the cars and I think as you build better cars with more downforce and things of that nature, you have to treat the thing a little differently. I think we've had to learn what to do to them to make the cars react and take advantage of having a better car and we've been slow in being able to do that. I think over the course of the last two or three weeks we've begun to get a handle on that, I hope so. Maybe the last two or three races will verify that we have figured out what to do with a better race car."
WHAT ARE YOU THOUGHTS ON HOW GOOD A DRIVER DARRELL IS RIGHT NOW? "I think I'm the one guys, you know it's easy to be critical and if I'm critical I'm probably more critical of myself than anyone else. I see a lot of factors involved with Darrell Waltrip that tells me, yes that guy can still drive a racecar. He knows a lot about racing, he knows a lot about cars, he know about how to drive a race, to win a race, or finish well in a race. Those are things that I honestly think we have not set ourselves about taking advantage of with him. Quite honestly, you've gotta remember it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks and he's an older guy set in his ways a little bit. I think he's had to really step back and say, 'You know, maybe the way that I think everything should be done is not the way it needs to be done today.' Many times I've said to him, 'Darrell, you're the only guy here that's more stubborn than I am and the two of us together, we're gonna have to be smart enough to look a different direction once in a while.' And we have not done that in many occasions and that's hurt us some."
HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE NEXT YEAR TO MAKE ALL THE RACES? I'M SURE IT'S ANXIOUS FOR YOU EVERY WEEK NOW. "It's anxious whether you have one or two. Every race team out goes through that, but our first focus is to get in the race. Secondly, we not only want to just be there, we want to be a factor in some of these races. We want to be competitive with both of our cars and say that in some point in time we're capable of winning."
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A NEW TRACK LIKE HOMESTEAD AND CAN YOU LEAN ON SPENCER TO HELP SINCE HE NEARLY WON THE BUSCH RACE THERE LAST YEAR? "First of all, I think Jimmy's experience could be very valuable to us and we've spent countless hours talking about issues drawing from what he did. Granted, it's a Busch car but it's still a car that has four tires that had to meet the pavement and grip. Shocks and things like that we've spent a lot of time talking and, again, there are some other tracks that we think it's similar to. Our guys seem to think that Indianapolis type stuff is a good place to start for Homestead."
HAVE YOU SEEN THE TRACK? No, I've never seen the track, only watching from my TV."
WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE DARRELL'S GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO THIS SPORT? "I guess what pops into my mind is he's a three-time champion, but there are other things. I think he's a guy of outstanding character and integrity, and I think he's been a great ambassador and a true professional in his own right. I think from a competitor standpoint those are things I've admired and respected in him."
WHAT DOES THE SPORT LOSE WITHOUT A DARRELL WALTRIP IN IT? "Well, it loses a character, a very witty character. I think that's a key element because there aren't that many people that can just step into a crowd and get on a microphone and be as entertaining as he can be."
JIMMY SPENCER --23-- Team Winston Taurus -- ARE YOU HAPPY KNOWING EIGHT OF THE 11 RACES AT PHOENIX HAVE BEEN WON BY A FORD? "Yeah it does, the only problem is we ain't really been that close to winning this year except maybe one or two races. I think we've run well at Phoenix in the past and I think the Fords are running really good right now. We've learned a lot with Ford in the wind tunnel and stuff and we're taking a new configuration out there that we think is gonna be a little bit better car for us."
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE AS FAR AS CAR SETUP FOR HOMESTEAD GOES? "I think a lot of the teams have tested down there and I've ran down there twice in a Busch car and ran really well. I think you would definitely talk to some people that have been there before. I think an Indianapolis setup is gonna be fairly close, but I think the flat-track setup -- cars that run well on flat tracks being New Hampshire, Indy, Pocono, Phoenix -- I think they'll basically go with a setup similar to that. I'm not saying it'll be identical to an Indianapolis setup, but it'll be darn close because the track is very smooth and the track is very wide. You make a real late apex into the corners at Miami, opposite say a New Hampshire or a Phoenix, but yet you need a lot of grip getting off the corners at Miami sort of like you do need at Indy. So, I think it'll take some of the characteristics of each racetrack and put 'em into your car for Miami. Plus, NASCAR is letting the Winston Cup cars have a four-hour test session there on Thursday and I think that'll be a big help for everybody that hasn't been there with a Winston Cup car and it'll be a big help for all the drivers included."
HOW DO YOU HANDLE QUALIFYING AND HOW STRESSFUL IS IT? "That's probably the easiest part physically of the week is the one or two laps you have to qualify. You're right though, I think this qualifying deal has really hurt Jimmy Spencer tremendously. I have not been a great qualifier for whoever I've driven for. My whole life I've been trained to race in 25-lap, 35-lap, 45-lap races starting 16th and 18th and you get to the front as quick as you can because you've only got a short time to do it. Well qualifying there's a lot of finesse to it and art to it. You've gotta go absolutely as fast as you can go and you only have at a track like Phoenix only 20-some seconds to get around the race track. Then you start looking at the way qualifying's been going and you say, 'God.' I mean, we go to Martinsville and there's 15-hundredths of a second -- 15-hundredths -- that is unheard of. You can't even hardly stop a stopwatch in less than a tenth of a second. Then you go, 'If I only would have done this I could have been moved up 10 spots.' It seems like for Team Winston and myself that we do that all the time. I think that I put so much pressure on myself qualifying that I'm not relaxed, the tension, knowing that man, if you don't qualify you're gonna start in the back and have a bad pit selection and everything. My suggestion for the whole damn thing is let's go to the race track and run three 10-lap heat races, 10 cars in each heat race, and the best man will come out on top and draw out of a hat. That's the way I used to run up north, but that's not gonna be in Winston Cup, so we have as a race team have to concentrate and try to get our qualifying program better. We've been qualifying better at some tracks and other tracks we haven't been. We qualified really well at Charlotte, seventh, and we come to Rockingham and I believe we had to use a spot -- that's 37th. That's 30 spots lost and you say well how the heck did that happen? The thing is you start looking and you say, 'Wait a minute. I ran like a .65 and if I would have ran a .55 I would have been like 15th-quickest.' That's one-tenth of a second for 20 spots. It really puts such a burden on drivers and the crew. There are some teams that naturally have it down, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and a lot of them have got this qualifying package down like no end. Thank God for the provisionals is all I can say."
WHAT IS YOUR MENTAL PROCESS WHEN YOU'RE ACTUALLY ON THE TRACK DURING THAT LAP? "I'm not proud of it, but I missed the race at Memphis (Busch race) and I felt like I had a car capable of sitting on the pole at Memphis. So what does the dumb driver do, he goes out and tries to sit on the pole and when he does that he drives in the corner a little bit too hard and gets a little high and I end up missing the race by two-thousandths of a second. So, that was a mental error on the driver's part, but what the driver has to go through, and I think it's been helping me, I wasn't so worried about the Busch race, but Winston Cup you try to get in the car six, eight, 10 cars before you go out and you've already simulated a qualifying run. I think the more you try to say, 'If I do this and this and this I can probably run a better lap.' I've come to find out for myself that if I run it through my mind, if I don't go through that process and just say, 'OK, this is what I did last time. Now if I do this again we're gonna have a good lap.' If I start dissecting it and say, 'If I do this here and I do that there I'm gonna run a perfect lap and I'm gonna be on the pole.' The more I do that, the more I end up not making the race. Then I have to go back and start saying, 'We know we ran this speed, if we do this again we're gonna be in solid in the top 20.' I think the stress on the driver is absolutely...the most stress he has all weekend is preceding the qualifying -- making sure that he's got everything where he wants it. Hopefully, he has it right and he goes out and tries to qualify and it's gonna get worse next year. It's all on the driver because the crew does what the driver asks and some crews are better than other crews, there's no question about it, but I think that's the big thing. The relationship the crew and the driver have in their qualifying setup really makes the driver a whole lot more relaxed and a relaxed driver seems to qualify better than a guy that's tense."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT PHOTO FINISH IN THE BUSCH RACE AT HOMESTEAD LAST YEAR? "I love Busch racing. Busch racing is a lot of fun to me. If I win I win, or if I get second or wherever we are, I run Busch to try to relieve the stress and strain of the Winston Cup Series. That racetrack at Miami is gonna be great for the Winston Cup cars because we put on great shows at Phoenix and we put on great shows at New Hampshire and Pocono, the flat tracks. Miami, there's no question that I think it's a state of the art facility without a doubt. We knew going in there three years ago. We said, man this is no question a Winston Cup track and I think that going back to last year I was upset. Jeff Burton bumped me a little bit, but, my goodness, I always say what would I have done and I would have done the same thing. I think the neat thing that happened out of that is we learned a lot in the two times we've been there and we feel like when we go to Miami, our Winston Cup program, the drivers like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett I think has won a race there on the old configuration. I think some of the Busch drivers that have already run at that race track is gonna have a little bit of a confidence builder going in by saying, 'I know what that track does and I know this car is too tight or too loose for this race track.' Where the other drivers that haven't run a race there, they're probably gonna question themselves a little bit and that's what you're hoping for. I know Jeff Burton and Mark Martin and myself, I hope I'm in the mix on Sunday in Miami, that the things we've learned we can be a factor and a top five car going into that race. That's the big thing why I run the Busch cars is that we find out what the tires will do, we find out some shock combinations and even though they're a little bit different, they give you a direction. I think Miami is gonna be a great place for a Cup race and I think the fans down there are really gonna see a great one."
ARE YOU RUNNING THE BUSCH RACE TOO? "Yes I am. I'm gonna bring the Zippo car down there, the same car I finished second with. I only hope I can come up six inches quicker than last year."
HOW MUCH CAN YOU HELP TRAVIS AND DARRELL FROM YOUR EXPERIENCE? "He's (Darrell) already asked me about it some and I told him what I'd compare it to. I've talked to the shock guys and Donnie (Wingo, crew chief) and I think that Darrell's gonna run well at Miami because Darrell has the characteristics of a flat-track racer. He does really great at Pocono and Indy and Phoenix, I think he'll run good down there. I think the other thing about it is, is the setups from some of those race tracks are gonna be similar to the race track at Miami and I think that's something when Darrell and I have talked already that he's looking forward to it. I think, realistically, a driver's attitude when he walks into a racetrack is probably 80 percent of the conquering of that racetrack. When you walk into Bristol and you feel like, man, I own this place, you're gonna run good. I think that driver mentality is so critical and I think that's some of the problems Darrell Waltrip has had, even though he's run well at race tracks and won at Daytona and Talladega he's just not where he needs to be, but Phoenix, he's excited about going to Phoenix and I think he'll be excited about going to Miami. He helped me at Pocono this year and I think that's something that next year as a race team, Travis has got an important part of that is making Darrell Waltrip and Jimmy Spencer and our crews, utilize the knowledge that we have as a race team and start putting that whole thing under one umbrella and start carrying each other. That's what I think Yates has done. I think that's what Childress had done and we all know that's what Hendrick and Roush has done and I think that's what Travis and Carl Haas has to do with Darrell Waltrip and Jimmy Spencer next year."
HAVE THE UPS AND DOWNS THIS SEASON BEEN DIFFERENT FOR YOU THAN PREVIOUS YEARS? "It has been. It's been a lot worse this year because I said some things early in the year and I was very upset with some things that were happening on the 23 car and now Travis is changing them for next year. It was like they didn't believe me. Bobby Allison said it best -- a driver is only as good as his equipment. You cannot take a car that's a 10th-place car and win the race with it. Well, you can't take a 25th-place car and run in the top 10 with it and I think for me it's been a very frustrating year. When Pocono came around we sat down and I said, 'You guys, I'm getting tired of being embarrassed this year. We need to do something here. This is my home track.' And it's like a light bulb came on and the team really believed in Jimmy Spencer and it reassured me that these guys are believing in me. And we went out and ran really well and since that Pocono when we had a chance to actually win it, until this day, we have not missed the setup but maybe two or three times and we were consistently a top 10 race car. Then we had some unfortunate things happen. Pit stops, we broke an air gun at Indianapolis that cost us a lap and we had some other things happen, which is something we can build on. That's why I stayed with Travis because of the reassurance that he knows I can do the job and the crew has reassurance that I can do the job. I think it's really helped and we're gonna have Robert Yates motors next year and I told Robert right out, I said, 'Robert, if that motor isn't where it needs to be I'll tell you.' I think the one thing Robert Yates has proven is that he says and I agree with him, is that he does not send a bad motor to the racetrack. I really feel our motors have not been what they needed to be and I'll relate it back to Bobby Allison. The whole thing is if you don't have the best equipment that you can give me, then I can't win with it and I'm feeling good about next year, really good."
HAS HAVING A TEAMMATE HELPED OR HURT YOU THIS YEAR? "I think it's hurt us more than it's helped us this year. I think we thought the second team was gonna be a little benefit to Team Winston and I think it didn't work out the way it needed to. The last few races Darrell and I have been talking a lot and I've talked to Carl Haas and Travis and I think what we're expecting next year as a race team is that -- a team -- and that means the whole clump of crew, the guys and the drivers and everybody, has to have these meetings and has to decipher how we can run better even if we've run good that weekend. Even if Joe Gibbs' team has run fourth and fifth or first and second, there are still mistakes they made that day that they don't want to do again, even though they won. It's the team that makes the least amount of mistakes that wins the race. Even if you win the race you still don't have a perfect day, and I think that's something that Travis and Darrell and Jimmy Spencer and Donnie and Philippe, we have to sit down every week and evaluate what we did wrong and what we did right and build off that. We didn't do that this year and we have to do that in the year 2000."
HAS DARRELL EXPRESSED ANY FRUSTRATION TO YOU ABOUT MISSING RACES THIS YEAR? "Yeah, and I think that Darrell Waltrip...you can't win 80 races plus and be a Winston Cup champion and be missing races unless something is wrong. I don't think that Darrell has got the confidence that he needs in his program and I think a lot of that is Darrell. I think a lot of that is Darrell's mentality towards his crew and I think Darrell and I have talked about that. Darrell, at certain race tracks, he just really, really runs good and I think the big thing is when he gets that confidence level up in his team he's gonna run that much better. That's probably the biggest brunt of it and that relates back to the whole organization. We as an organization have to utilize everything we can and we're not right now."
HE STILL SEEMS PRETTY CONFIDENT IN HIMSELF. "I think that's something Darrell has to address and not me. I have total confidence in Travis Carter and our team and I trust my guys to no end. We have run really well with the 23 team. We've been a contender in a few races and I think that's something Darrell has to address for himself. That shouldn't come from me, but I have a lot of confidence in Darrell and I know Darrell can still drive a racecar. From my perspective and my opinion, what he has to do is show his confidence with his crew. My guys know I do it."