Terry Cook, driver of the No. 29 Ford F-150, visited victory lane four times in 2002 accounting for all of Ford's wins in the Craftsman Truck Series, but he concluded the 22-race season eighth in the point standings, 289 points out of first. Cook...
Terry Cook, driver of the No. 29 Ford F-150, visited victory lane four times in 2002 accounting for all of Ford's wins in the Craftsman Truck Series, but he concluded the 22-race season eighth in the point standings, 289 points out of first. Cook and his K-Automotive team faced a serious blow to their title hopes even before they left Daytona last season as they were assessed a 100-point penalty following the season-opener for an engine violation discovered in post-race inspection. Cook nearly overcame that deficit at one point in the season, closing within five points of lead, but suffered a rash of late-season luck that saw him slip six positions in the final six races of the season. Cook spoke about the upcoming season and his assessment of the first two days of the three-day test session.
TERRY COOK-29-Power Stroke Diesel Ford F-150:
YOU FINISHED SIXTH IN LAST YEAR'S RACE AT DAYTONA, BUT WOUND UP LEAVING WITH ONLY 55 POINTS FOR A VIOLATION DISCOVERED IN POST-RACE INSPECTION. "Last year's race was a bittersweet day for us. We had a good truck and ran up front all day long. We were running second inside of two laps to go and got shuffled back, but the real killer was after the race, the post-race inspection. That was a bittersweet day for us, but we always seem to run well here at Daytona and putting that behind us, we're looking for a good, solid race in 2003 to start the season off."
THERE IS A GREATER EMPHASIS PLACED ON THE DAYTONA RACE THAN ANY OTHER RACE OVER THE COURSE OF THE 25-RACE SEASON, BUT HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS RACE IN TERMS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "It's very important for different reasons. The key reason is that it pays the same amount of points to win at Daytona as South Boston, but it's just a situation where people put a lot more effort in Daytona because they have so much time in the off-season to get ready and because Daytona is such a high profile race. In terms of the championship, it's important to start off strong in Daytona because we don't race for another month after that race. Your team needs to build momentum and morale and you hire new people and get a new paint scheme to improve on your program, but if you have a poor effort at Daytona, you have to live with that sour taste until the next race at Darlington. If you can come out of Daytona on a high note, you carry that momentum into the next race. Unfortunately, that's the bad part of the Craftsman Truck Series, occasionally we do have quite a bit of downtime between races and you can stay up on an upbeat or stay down on a down note for a month depending on how your last run was."
THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT OF DOWN TIME FOR THE DRIVERS AT A DAYTONA TEST, BUT NOT FOR THE CREW. "It's a little like watching paint dry for a driver. The only time the driver gets excited is when you find a little bit of speed and you have to keep searching to find a little bit more. But, testing is testing, and it's a situation that even when you're not finding speed, you're at least finding something that you might not try when you come back here. So even though you didn't find anything that may make you go faster, you're learning all of the time. Out here by yourself, that is the part that is like watching paint dry. You're sawing on the wheel and you have more of a qualifying package in, which means the truck drives kind of erratic, but it's still smooth enough to get around the track. The only real fun time you have is when you're out there with other trucks drafting."
YOU DECIDED TO RUN TWO TRUCKS OVER THE COURSE OF THE TEST, WHILE MANY TEAMS OPTED TO RUN ONLY ONE. "We had a little bit of a different game plan from everybody else I think. We built a new superspeedway truck in the off-season and we wanted to compare it to the one we had last year. We ran the one from last year yesterday and part of today to see where our new truck stacked up and we feel that we've made some gains with the new truck, so we packed up the second truck and are focusing on this one. We tried to look at one truck and look at the motor and drivelines and the other was strictly an aero truck. We tried to work that and we took what we learned from both of them and put it in one and parked the other and now we're working on what we consider our primary truck, which is the one we built over the winter. We're feeling really good about it and we got the other one out of the way and learned what we could and parked it."
WITH TEAMS MAKING CHANGES TO THE TRUCKS OVER THE COURSE OF THE THREE DAYS THAT MIGHT NOT FIT THE TEMPLATES IN A FEW WEEKS, HOW WELL CAN YOU GAUGE YOURSELF AGAINST THE COMPETITION? "You can still get a good feel for where you stack up. Right now, I feel like we're at the head of the class for the Fords and the Chevrolets right now, but right now, we don't have anything for the Dodges. Basically, if you're a Dodge program, even a weak Dodge program, you can turn up in the top five or top eight. Right now, they have a far superior product than what the other two manufacturers have. We're working on it, we're doing our homework and hopefully we'll get it by the time we come back for Speed Weeks, but we have our work cut out for us. With that said, you get a real good feel for it by the end of practice on how you're going to stack up when you come back for Speed Weeks."
DO YOU LIKE THE FORMAT OF HAVING ONE THREE-DAY TEST SESSION FOR THE TRUCKS RATHER THAN SPLITTING THEM UP INTO TWO SEPARATE TEST SESSIONS? "I think so. There are not as many people here as we've seen in recent years for the test, which means the track is not quite as busy and that means you get a lot more clean laps. That was my concern when you come here every year. You spend a lot of time on the track just making laps because you're not doing anything of any value because you're not out there getting a clean lap and you can't evaluate a change when you're not getting a clean lap and getting a tow from somebody. That's why we like testing at Talladega a lot more because it's a more controlled environment because you don't have the winds coming off of the beach, and for sure, you always know you're there by yourself on the track or separated by a half of a lap. But, out here, the last couple of days, I haven't seen it as busy as it has been in recent years, so it's worked out for us."
THERE ARE LESS TEAMS TESTING HERE THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR, BUT HAS THE ADDITION OF NEW DRIVERS LIKE BOBBY HAMILTON TO THE SERIES COMPENSATED FOR THAT CHANGE? "It's another notch in the truck series belt. We're just evolving each year. Now we're going to Lowe's Motor Speedway and they just keep adding more venues. We're up from 22 races to 25. I think the state of the truck series is good, if not better, than it has ever been. We're still going to provide the same package that we do week-in and week-out and that's a two-hour race that puts on the best action-packed race that a fan could ever ask for."
EVEN WITH A SMALLER NUMBER OF TEAMS TESTING, IS THERE MORE PARITY BETWEEN THE TEAMS? "I would say the top 10 teams are as competitive and on a fairly equal playing ground, and then you're always going to have the next five that drop off and the next five after that, but you have that in every series. You have that in Winston Cup and Busch Grand National. The old analogy that fits is the cream always rises to the top and you're going to have that with the well-funded teams. That's not a dig on any of the under-funded teams, but it just takes an enormous amount of funding to be competitive. If you look around, there are plenty of people with sponsors in the series and, obviously, with our sponsor Power Stroke Diesel, we're here to stay for quite some time."
IS THE DEFICIT THE FORDS ARE FACING RIGHT NOW SPECIFIC TO DAYTONA? "Any of the higher speeds track, typically. Any of the tracks that are a mile and a half or larger. You just have to look at the record book. Both Texas races, Michigan, California and Daytona - any of the super-fast tracks - the Dodges were sitting in victory lane. It's a situation where they have a really good aero package for the large, super-fast tracks. We're working on our package right now, Ford is, and we're really excited about the 2004 truck coming out, but that's a year away, so we need to work on the '03 model and make it the best we can."
WITH DRAFTING PRACTICE SCHEDULED FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW, DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT FIND A DRAFTING PARTNER THAT YOU WILL WORK WELL WITH IN THE RACE? "Traditionally, you stay with your manufacturer. If you can find somebody you seem to work well with then you might pull out of line, but that's more with the single-truck teams. I can remember when I ran a Chevrolet and I worked well with Rick Crawford who was in a Ford. We seemed to work well together then, and I think Rick and I have always drafted well together. We seem to have mutual respect for each other and that's a big part of drafting. It's not as much as how well your trucks work together, but you have to be on the same wavelength as the driver that you're drafting with. You're running at 200 mph and you're slicing and dicing in and out of traffic and you want this guy to work with you. Call him your dance partner or whatever you want to call him, but you need to make sure you're on the same wavelength. Traditionally, the manufacturer teams stick together, and if Bobby Hamilton wants a drafting partner, he's got at least two more out there. We saw that last year where the Dodges got together and ganged up on everybody and drove past us with two laps to go, so it's just one of those deals that in order to win this thing in a couple of weeks, to finish first, first you must finish, and that's what we need to do."