With four races to go in the 1999 season, Ford Division is poised to unseat Chevrolet as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) manufacturer's champion. Ford currently holds a 15-point lead over Chevrolet in the season standings. If a Ford...
With four races to go in the 1999 season, Ford Division is poised to unseat Chevrolet as the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) manufacturer's champion. Ford currently holds a 15-point lead over Chevrolet in the season standings. If a Ford F-150 finishes higher than a Chevrolet truck in one of the remaining four NCTS events, Ford clinches the title. Manufacturer's points are awarded on a 9-6-4 scale to the various makes of trucks (Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge) based on their finishing position related to each other. A manufacturer only is eligible for points in the highest-finishing position, no matter what the overall finish. Chevrolet has won the title every year since 1995 - all four years of the series' existence. "We've certainly not won anything yet but we're very excited to be on the brink of our first manufacturer's title in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," said Kent Harrison, Ford NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series program manager. "We've had a ton of success this year not only overall as a top engine manufacturer but also with our Ford drivers winning a record number of races." Since the series inception, Ford has steadily increased its success on NCTS tracks. Four race wins in 1995 grew to six in 1996, eight in 1997 and increased to 10 victories in 1998. Through 21 races in 1999, Ford NCTS teams have won 11 of the 21 races. Ford is currently on a four-race win streak, its' longest in series history. Greg Biffle, driver of the #50 Grainger Ford F-150, has been by far the biggest story among Ford-powered NCTS teams in 1999. His first eight career wins have come in the last 16 NCTS races, and he currently enjoys a 125-point lead over Jack Sprague going into Las Vegas this weekend. Biffle has won three of the last four, five of the last seven, and seven of the last 11 NCTS races. He also has four pole positions. Mike Wallace, who pilots the #2 Team ASE Ford F-150 and currently sits fifth in series points, has also gotten his first two NCTS career wins in 1999. Not surprisingly Biffle (76 points) and Wallace (30) lead in points contributed to Ford's effort to win the 1999 NCTS manufacturer's race. Other Ford drivers who have earned points for Ford this season include Kevin Harvick (12), Kevin Cywinski (12), Mike Bliss (nine), Ron Barfield (six), and Rick Crawford (four). Mike Stefanik hopes to shine in the City of Lights this Friday night as he returns to the site of his impressive NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut. After starting back in the 26th last November at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Stefanik improved 18 spots to finish eighth. This season, the Rookie-of-the-Year leader is confident that he can improve on his series debut because he's not only familiar with and enjoys the 1.5-mile oval but he'll also be driving a brand new truck, built from ground up by new team crew chief Roland Wlodyka. MIKE STEFANIK- #66 Carlin Burners and Controls Ford F-150: DOES MAKING A RETURN TO THE SITE WHERE YOUR NCTS CAREER BEGAN HAVE ANY SIGNIFICANCE FOR YOU? "I don't know. It's been so long since we've raced at all! I can't wait to get away from it when I'm doing it and then when I'm away from it, it doesn't take very long to get anxious to get back behind the wheel. Well I do feel comfortable that I've raced a truck at Las Vegas. And what I'm most looking forward to is that we're bringing a brand new truck there just like we did last year. This is a brand new truck that is set up just the way that Roland (Wlodyka, crew chief) would like it to be. We finally have a brand new truck done just the way in which he's accustomed to working with. Basically Roland (hired by the team just over seven weeks ago) has been working with the trucks that we had before he came on board. He's been trying to improve on bits and pieces of them. Now he has a truck that he'll be most comfortable working with. This new truck will fit his specs, geometry and assembly-wise from frame to paint, exactly the way he feels it should be. The truck will have a little bit different look to it. We'll have a different color red paint with a red spoiler instead of a white one. The truck will be red on the inside. Roland just wanted to make a distinct change so that everyone having anything to do with the team would definitely know that this is not one "of the old Phelon trucks. Maybe not a ton different but the guys will know what truck they're working on. I'm hoping that this will enable us to take our program to the next level where we need to be. We've been flirting around with these top-10 finishes and now we need to be in the top five consistently. So I'm hoping that this new truck will be the future for us and we will make this one drive the way we need it to drive and start modeling our other trucks after this one. This will be our prototype truck as we continue to build for next year."
LONGTIME NASCAR CREW CHIEF WLODYKA CAME TO THE TEAM APPROXIMATELY EIGHT WEEKS AGO JUST BEFORE THE LOUDON NCTS RACE. HOW HAS THE TEAM RESPONDED TO HIS LEADERSHIP? "Roland's presence with the team has been great from my end of things. We seem to really be on the same page on a lot of basic racing fundamentals. We communicate extremely well and can talk for hours and hours about geometry and different philosophies of handling and setups. We're both similar in the fact that other than our family lives, our sole interests are racing. We can both go on with serious racing because we don't have many other interests besides our families and racing. I think that we're very much on the same page. What he feels is important, I feel is important too. Roland came to the team at a "very busy time in our schedule and has not gotten to spend the time at the shop that he's needed to before going back out on the road. And we've already seen some improvements in the team from the changes that he's made. But he really needs to be in the shop for a longer period of time. You change your performance around and win your races in the shop. When you get to the track, you should be working on your execution. It's my opinion that the performance you build into your vehicle is done at the shop. You don't unload a 15th-place truck and put the right setup in it and make it into a winner. If the performance is not in it to begin with, you might make it a little better but you're not going to take it and move up that much higher. Roland also feels the same way. That's why he felt this new truck was necessary for us to better compete. He feels that with my background of building all of my own vehicles that I've ever raced, he feels that together we can make "his" truck an even better one with me supplying some knowledgeable input."
DID HE ASK FOR YOUR INPUT DURING THE BUILDING THE NEW TRUCK? "No and I wouldn't have wanted him to. He's had good-performing trucks with Kevin Harvick (earlier this season). Their trucks ran extremely well and before that with Rick Crawford. Crawford has a very high regard for what Roland accomplished with his team and said that he could elevate us to that next level of performance. So I didn't want to get there and suggest anything. I wanted Roland to put the truck together the way that he wanted it to be and then together we'd go out and race it. If it fits me, great. If it doesn't, he is very open and willing to make any changes to his truck that will suit me better. Roland is a great team player. I think that it will work out great. You just can't expect someone to walk in the middle of the season like that and just turn us around. He's not a magician. Like I already said, you win your races in the winter. That's where you really prepare to win. When you go to the track, hopefully you can bring a very fast truck that you can use to execute a very smart race. Right now we haven't brought fast enough trucks to the track. I don't feel that it's a motor problem at all. I feel that it's a balance "problem with handling. We've had some decent runs and the more time that we've had to work on them, like at Homestead where we had three tries to get it right, we've had success and I could come up with a setup that was comfortable for me. But we really need to build some new, lighter and what I call smarter trucks. That's what we're working on and that's what I feel we're going to have this weekend at Las Vegas."
TAKE US FOR A LAP AROUND LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY? "Las Vegas is a very smooth and wide track. I've been there twice now, once in a Busch car and last year in my truck debut. Basically you can take a couple of different lines down the front straightaway, depending how well you come out of the fourth corner. The front stretch is very wide and D-shaped. You run it right up tight to the wall and get a hard left-hand turn and drive in down into the corner in turn 1. There's not a ton of banking but the track has a lot of grip to it. Las Vegas is basically a big momentum track. The corners are not tight so you try to keep up all the entry speed you can stand and then you have the whole wide exit of the corner to run your line out to the wall coming out of turn 2. It's an average size backstretch. You have some time to look at your gauges and check your temps or it you want to relax just a little bit! Then you can really drive it off into turn 3. Turn 3 seems to never really begin and never end either. It's such a long sweeping corner that you aren't off the throttle that much especially when the tires are new. You just roll out of it (throttle) a little bit and you're right back down to it. You use very little brake when your truck is driving well. Turn 4 is a tricky corner. A lot of the passing gets done down the front straightaway but it begins with your line out of turn 4. If you can run low and not bind the truck up and not get an air-push when you get close to the truck in front of you, you can really make a nice, correct pass out of (turn) 4 and onto the front stretch. I like the high-speed aspect even though I've always raced on small tracks throughout my career before coming to the truck series. It just seems like we have our better runs at the bigger tracks like Michigan, Homestead and Las Vegas. We were running very well at Texas and had a problem and crashed due to a failure with a part. I like Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I'm not a gambler but I love the glitz and glitter of the town and all the stuff that's going on. In fact Roland (Wlodyka) tells me that I don't gamble enough! He says that I should drop $500 or $1,000 on the table and maybe that will get my heart going before the race. I don't think I need to do that. Racing for a living is gambling enough."
YOU'RE ONLY 30 POINTS OUT OF THE TOP 10 IN DRIVER POINTS STANDINGS. CAN YOU GET TO THE TOP 10 OVER THE LAST FOUR RACES? "All I know is we're not where we want to be at this point of the season. We'd love to be in the top 10 though. That's been one of our goals all season long. In the beginning of the year, I casually thought that I'd like to get a top 10 in points, like to win the Rookie-of-the-Year title and win a race. Those were the three things that I wanted to accomplish this year. We still have time to do it. We're not out of it."