Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, took part in a Q & A session held in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center during today's lunch break. Crawford spoke on various topics ranging from the test to his hopes for the...
Rick Crawford, driver of the No. 14 Ford F-150, took part in a Q & A session held in the Daytona International Speedway infield media center during today's lunch break. Crawford spoke on various topics ranging from the test to his hopes for the 2003 season.
RICK CRAWFORD-14-Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford F-150:
HOW HAS TESTING BEEN SO FAR? "Thirteenth on the board, a second-and-a-half off of the pace, but my guys build a good product. We were second in the points last year and it was a nice run, but politics dealt us a hand that we have to play with and I have to take a card because it certainly isn't the blackjack that the Dodge guys have."
TALK ABOUT THE DEFICIT YOU ARE FACING HEADING INTO NEXT MONTH'S RACE. "I really don't have much to say. I'm a driver; I'm a racer. I'm a hard racer and I let the stopwatch do the talking. We built a lot of time and effort into our trucks and persevered in a lot of areas, and that's the reason we finished second last year in the points and really pissed the Dodge guys off again. They had everything last year. They had three Winston Cup drivers driving their vehicles and now they have four, so it ain't my fault that they haven't won a championship. It ain't my fault that they ain't won all of the races. I guess it is my fault that I drive for Tom Mitchell and I'm not driving for Rick Hendrick and I'm not driving for Jack Roush, but I'm enjoying who I drive for and I wouldn't drive for anybody else. I wouldn't blame him if he pulled out of Daytona. I love Daytona. This is Speed Weeks. This is The World Center of Racing. I want to run good at Daytona and I want to be competitive at Daytona; I'd liked to win Daytona. I feel like NASCAR has dealt me a hand that has me frustrated. I have a few things I'd like to tell them, but like I say, I might not be Rick Hendrick and I might not be Jack Roush, but I think they ought to listen."
DO YOU PLAN ON MAKING A TRIP TO THE NASCAR HAULER TO EXPRESS YOUR FRUSTRATIONS? "I ain't ready yet; I have reservations there for tomorrow afternoon. I've been in that NASCAR hauler three times in seven years, and tomorrow will be four and somebody is going to listen."
WHAT CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE THAT SOMEONE WILL LISTEN? "They're going to listen, but they're probably not going to do anything because Dodge is the Mayor of Truckville, even though they've had a tough time in the last few years. They've shot themselves in the foot. Just get me competitive. Like I said, I'm a racer. Ray Stonkus, my crew chief, is a racer and all of the boys that I have on my team, they go home and they feel like they've done their job. They don't go home at five o'clock and they're not working for a paycheck. Half of them over there, if you cut paychecks out, they still want to race and I'm the same way. I feel like I'm part of a factory that has been dealt a low hand. I feel we're dealt a 12 and we have to take a hit and it might bust me, but I've got to do it; I have to have a chance to win."
WHAT SPECIFIC CONCESSIONS ARE YOU LOBBYING FOR? "That's the reason that I'm going to wait until tomorrow because we're still trying things. Ray Stonkus and our race team are using these three days for testing. I'm not going to say that we've come out of the box with the fastest product here that we could possibly have for ourselves, but if you look at my data acquisition, my foot has been to the floor. I'm not sure how to answer that question. I don't know of just one thing that we need that would make it go that fast to be competitive for the race, but I'll do all I can. It's just frustrating for me right now to realize that my hands are tied behind my back and my race team. Yeah, we race for Ford, we are a Ford factory team, but we also race for Tom Mitchell, Rick Crawford and Ray Stonkus and all of the guys on the 14 team. We're a team and we race to do what we can. I don't have three trucks out there and I don't have a teammate so I'm out there battling for myself."
IS IT DIFFICULT BEING A SINGLE-TRUCK TEAM? "Yes, it is. We had all the intentions of having a two-truck team this coming year, but the sponsorship didn't come available. We even attempted to get a couple of drivers to drive it for us that we thought could make a double team really work and that could maybe bring some money, but even the Circle Bar team lost a sponsor this year. Sponsorship wasn't available. I'm a little discouraged to see 25 haulers in the Craftsman Truck Series garage; usually we have 40 here trying to test for Daytona. We only have 25 this year, so something has to free up somewhere, but, yes, we were trying to have a two-truck operation this year. We thought the timing was right and we thought it would be advantageous for us to have one."
IS THE DEFICIT YOUR FACING RIGHT NOW SPECIFIC TO DAYTONA? "It's a track 150 mph and higher. If you look at the records at Daytona, you'll see what happened the past couple of years - Ford qualifying speeds, Ford finishes, Ford lead laps, things like that. We were at a bad deficit and it has just gotten worse. If you get to a track like Richmond, I even led laps at Richened and had a chance to win the race and finished fourth. Look at Kansas City where we were running 140 - 150 mph, there I was, but you go to California and I was at a disadvantage. Any track over 150 mph, the Fords are at a definite disadvantage."
TALK ABOUT RUNNING WITH BOBBY HAMILTON THIS YEAR, WHO APPEARS TO BE A PRE-SEASON CONTENDER FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I raced against Ted Musgrave last year, and I raced against Jack Sprague who moved on to Winston Cup. I look forward to it. I think Bobby is a great driver. He might not have got what he deserved in Winston Cup, either. I think he deserved to have a ride in Winston Cup because he is a good driver and he's a racer. I try to put myself in that category. There are some people riding around in cars that are not racers. I happen to be a racer, but I'm very fortunate and proud to drive for Tom Mitchell."
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE CHANGES THAT HAVE BEEN MADE TO THE TRUCKS TO SLOW THEM DOWN TO AVOID USING A RESTRICTOR PLATE? "We're racing on Friday before the 500. We're the only race here that doesn't advertise restrictor plates. And, I'm not saying that it would hurt the crowd any because they are going to be here anyway, but if you advertise that the trucks are going to have restrictor plates at Daytona, what can getting exciting about that? Thank goodness for the last hour yesterday. They let me and Matt Crafton go out and play around a little bit because I was bored to death. I don't mind testing at all if you're accomplishing something, but when you're picking up a half of a hundredth or a half of a tenth or losing one, that's when testing is boring. But, when you let me go out there and let it all hang out and feel the air off of another truck and feel two or three miles an hour faster, that's a little bit fun."
DO THE RULES WITH THE AIR HOSES ON THE TRUCKS ADD TO THE POSSIBILITY OF CHEATING AS OPPOSED TO RUNNING A RESTRICTOR PLATE? "Come down here to Daytona in a few weeks and go to the Winston Cup garage, them boys over there are pulling their hair out because there are some people cheating over there, too. That's what makes a racer right there - how far can you get in the gray area. I'm going to be in it."
CAN YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR EVEN WITH OBSTACLES YOU FACE AT DAYTONA? "Yeah, very much so. We can run for a championship in 2003. We have a great team. We had a good team and only lost two guys off of the team. One went to BAM in Winston Cup and one went to Penske. It makes me feel proud that a Winston Cup team would want two of my guys. It wasn't like I lost somebody because you made them mad or you fired them; they were picked up by top-notch Winston Cup operations. But, they were replaced and the Circle Bar team will be full force."
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO THIS YEAR THAT YOU DIDN'T DO IN 2002 TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "We need to win some races. That's what we're lacking. We're lacking that bad. We have some unfinished business to win that championship and the 14 truck will be in victory lane."
YOU'VE BEEN TEAMED WITH TOM MITCHELL FOR A GOOD NUMBER OF YEARS. "This is our 13th year, and I'm really tickled and proud that we have that relationship. I hope we have it for years to come so that even if my son decides to race he can drive for Tom Mitchell and work for him, too."
HAVE YOU EVER SEEN TOM MITCHELL? "I see him pretty often. He's alive; he's a real figure. He's probably the biggest mystery man in the pits, but he's a real guy, a Texan, a true Texan. If somebody sent him enough invitations, he might come to a race. He asked me the other day, I went to visit him the first of December, and he asked me what I would do if he came. I said, 'Nothing,' and he said, 'Why?' I said because you give me the responsibility to run this race team as if you were standing there. I feel like if he were standing there nothing would change, although I might be puckered a little bit, but nothing would change."
YOU HAVE ALSO HAD A LONG HISTORY WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF RAY STONKUS. "I had worked with Ray in the All-Pro Series. It was a point where he had to make a living, so he went to crew chief a Busch team. When my truck team was suffering but I was able to pay a good crew chief, I wasn't going to lose Ray again when he became available. He became available to me. When either one of us decides to retire, I think you will see the end of both of us."
YOU QUALIFIED 22ND LAST YEAR AT DAYTONA AND FINISHED 24TH, AND THAT WAS YOUR WORST FINISH OF THE SEASON. WHAT CAN YOU CHANGE FROM LAST YEAR TO IMPROVE UPON THAT PERFORMANCE? "I was hit from behind and had a little accident, we had a miscue on pit road, and we had a flat tire tear a brake line loose. It was one of those things that I can't look in the rearview mirror and say what race cost us the championship last year. I'm not going to do it. We give it our best. When the banquet came down, I had fun. I was glad the season was over with, and I can't wait to get 2003 started. I hate that it has to start on this kind of note to where it's something that you really can't do anything about. I'm not going to sit back and go, 'Hey, I lost because I didn't say anything.' You haven't seen anything yet."
IF YOU DON'T GET ANY CONCESSIONS BEFORE DAYTONA, WILL CONTINUE TO SPEAK YOUR MIND? "We've turned a NASCAR truck team from a fixture in the series to a factor, and I want to be a factor each and every week, especially at Daytona. When I'm not, and I don't have too many years left, so the years I have left, I'm going to go out in a ball of fire."