Andy Houston heads into 2004 with renewed optimism MOORESVILLE, NC- (February 3, 2004) -Like a jockey astride a Triple Crown quality thoroughbred horse, Andy Houston is anxiously awaiting the bell that signifies the start of the 2004 NASCAR ...
Andy Houston heads into 2004 with renewed optimism
MOORESVILLE, NC- (February 3, 2004) -Like a jockey astride a Triple Crown quality thoroughbred horse, Andy Houston is anxiously awaiting the bell that signifies the start of the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season. Houston has reason to be excited -- he and crew chief Dennis Connor posted six straight top ten finishes in the Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge to close out the 2003 campaign including a fourth place finish in the season ending race at Homestead. Off season personnel additions and team restructuring, including the appointment of Connor as the Director of Competition for Ultra Motorsports NCTS efforts, should provide Houston with plenty of reason for optimism.
"I am extremely confident in this Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge team," Houston said. "I feel like this is my best opportunity ever. This is a great race team with a great crew chief. Dennis Connor and I have been friends for a lot of years and I have seen the great success he had with Jack Sprague. I think that Dennis sees something a little special in me because he has always expressed an interest in me. It seems like whenever I ran in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series earlier in my career, Dennis knew that late in the race I would always be a factor for the win and I think he admired that. That is a great combination -- you have a guy who has great faith in you, and I know I have great faith in him, and I think that goes along way. Being able to spend all winter together working on these trucks and building everything the way Dennis wants it and adding some things the way I want -- that will go a long way when we start the year, so you can imagine how excited I am. I'm looking forward to getting rolling here."
Connor should know a winning situation when he sees one. He won three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Championships while guiding the fortunes of Jack Sprague at Hendrick Motorsports. He stepped in at Ultra Motorsports and won his first time out last year with Jason Leffler at Dover and added another win at New Hampshire with Jimmy Spencer. With the recent team reorganization, Connor now firmly has his imprint on Ultra Motorsports truck series efforts and on the destination of the Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge.
"I definitely think we have a strong team going into 2004," Connor stated. "We have added some very experienced people, people who have primarily been Winston Cup racing and know the secret of the truck series -- they know it is the place to be and they are here because they want to be. It is an enormous task to put together a championship caliber pit crew in such a short amount of time, especially with the number of personnel changes we have had, but I really feel good about our pit crew as well. They have been practicing now for a few weeks and I see a lot of promise. The times they have posted in pit practice are good but we have to perform at the racetrack in the line of fire. I feel really good about where the Team ASE/CARQUEST Dodge team is at this point headed into the season."
Connor has reason to be optimistic about his driver as well. Houston won the pole at Texas last fall and refused to give ground to NCTS Rookie of the Year Carl Edwards in a slam-bang side-by-side battle in the closing laps at South Boston.
"I have a ton of faith in Andy Houston," Connor claimed. "He is a particular style of driver. I equate what we are going to see next year to the fable of the tortoise and the hare. A ton of people will jump out front, lead the race and put on a spectacular show. Everybody will be talking about them and all the time poor ole Andy Houston is going to be out there closing in on them and closing in. When it comes down to the end of the race and the end of the season, lo and behold I believe Andy is going to be in front of them instead of behind them. That is not to say that Andy is not going to dominate some races and win a lot of races or be the most competitive truck in some of these races, but his driving style over the years has been more kind of laid back, save your stuff and wait to the end of the race. He likes to stay within striking distance and when it comes time to get the job done, he gets the job done."
Houston has become proficient in flying under the radar. Many pre-season prognosticators have overlooked the 33 year-old Hickory, NC native even though his statistics during the latter part of the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series campaign would have made him a championship contender had he occupied the seat full time. His easygoing personality and disarming demeanor make it easy to forget his extremely effective on-track performance.
"I think we can sneak up on some people," Houston said. "I've been able to in the past. I know my rookie year coming into the Truck Series, no one had really heard of me. It came down to Greg Biffle and myself racing for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in 1998. Biffle beat me, but we won a race at Loudon that year, and he didn't win one, so we both had our share of success. I think that sneaking up on people is something I've had experience with in the past, and that's fine by me. I think you put a lot more pressure on yourself if they expect you to do a whole lot and then you don't. I would just as soon people not think a lot about it, and then they look up there and say -- hey, we forgot about that guy."