January 22, 2002 Daytona International Speedway Christian Elder, driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Taurus, was the fastest Ford after two days of testing in preparation for next month's EAS/GNC Live Well 300. Elder, who will once again compete...
January 22, 2002
Daytona International Speedway
Christian Elder, driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Taurus, was the fastest Ford after two days of testing in preparation for next month's EAS/GNC Live Well 300. Elder, who will once again compete in the Busch Series on a limited basis for car owner Brad Akins, spoke about the test session and how he's adjusting to the rigors of the series.
CHRISTIAN ELDER-38-Great Clips Ford Taurus
YOU GET TO TAKE OFF THE
ROOKIE STRIPE THIS SEASON AS YOU PREPARE TO RUN A 23-RACE SCHEDULE IN THE
BUSCH SERIES. HOW HAVE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CHANGED SINCE LAST SEASON?
"It was sure nice to tear that thing off the rear bumper. We should run stronger this year, but even though we're still running a limited schedule, we're going to some tracks that I haven't run at before, so we still may face some struggles. Overall, the team is going to be stronger and the driver is going to be stronger, but realistically, there will still be a lot of tracks that I will still be a rookie at."
YOU RECENTLY BROUGHT MARK GREEN INTO THE FOLD. HOW DOES HIS PRESENCE
IMPACT THIS TEAM AND YOUR CONFIDENCE?
"It really means a lot of things. He may run a few races later this season for us, but he's really an overall consultant for this team. He helps my crew chief (Wes Ward) with my shocks and he will help a little bit with my driving as a driver coach at some of the tracks that I haven't been to before, and then he also relays things between me and my crew chief. That's the big thing he's doing - improving our communication. He's able to tell things to Wes in a different way, a way he's more able to understand; things that I can say and my crew chief can't understand. He will get in the middle and kinda help the two of us put our minds together and understand what we're saying to each other. In terms of running the car sometimes, that's what it takes, to put a veteran in there and he can tell you instantly if I'm right or if I'm wrong. So far it's been a big confidence builder because 99 percent of the time, what I say is the same thing he says. I've been enjoying his presence around this team because he has helped bridge the gap in communication between driver and crew chief."
YOU FAILED TO MAKE THE BUSCH SERIES SEASON-OPENER IN DAYTONA LAST YEAR.
WOULD MAKING THE RACE THIS YEAR SERVE AS REDEMPTION?
"Well, a little bit. I really put Daytona last year behind us. The team was three months old last year when we came to Daytona. We came here the best we could with expectations that were realistic, but realistically, we thought we would make the race, too. Actually, my team, they're a bunch of Busch Series veterans and have been around this series for years and years, so they took it a lot harder than I did. What we're looking for this year is a lot better race package. We worked really hard on our plate program compared to last year and it's showing. The Fords are a little behind the Pontiacs and Monte Carlos right now, but Ford against Ford, we're way ahead of where we were last year. I'm running the same times as the 57 car and Yates power, and that will have us leaving here pretty happy with our program so far."
WITH ONLY ONE OTHER FORD TEAM PARTICIPATING IN THIS FIRST SESSION, HOW
HARD IS IT TO GAUGE YOUR PROGRESS AGAINST THE SAME MAKE OF CAR?
"It hurts us a little bit because you don't have more teams to gauge off of and see where you're at competitively. On the other hand, that other team is a pretty good team. They're proven winners and have the highest returning finisher from last season. Jason Keller is a proven top-five runner, and Harold (Holly) knows exactly what is going on with these race cars. So, if they're running 49.6s and we're running 49.6s, then we know that we're in the ballpark. In qualifying the Fords might be hurting like they did last year, but if I remember correctly, Jeff Green was a strong competitor at all of the plate races last year, so I'm not too worried about it."
THERE WAS A LOT OF ACTIVITY WITHIN THE AKINS ORGANIZATION LAST YEAR THAT
INCLUDED THE SELLING OF THE NO. 98 TEAM TO MICHAEL KRANEFUSS. IS BRAD
LOOKING TO RETURN TO A TWO-CAR OPERATION IN THE FUTURE?
"We're up in the air on that right now. We just started kicking the idea around. Brad had reasons to sell that team last year, but right now, we're focused on building this team. We ran a partial season last year and we're running a partial season this year, with a few mores races including The Brickyard 400, and next year we're running the full Busch season. That's been the plan since this team's inception - a partial season, a three-quarters season and then a full season. We want to build on it each year for three years. It's possible next year, if we run well this year and build some positive momentum, that maybe we will start up a second team to start helping this primary team out. At this moment, we don't have any plans to do that."
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY IN THE FACT THAT THE NO. 98 TEAM HAS
CLOSED ITS DOORS AND YOUR TEAM IS STILL OPERATING AT FULL CAPACITY?
"I think it all comes down to good business and good people skills. I don't want to say anything bad about Elton or that other team or anybody on that team, but everybody in this Akins organization including Great Clips and the Elder Racing side is into good business and good ethics. Nobody is trying to pull the bottom dollar out of each other and we're all committed to the same thing. It's almost amazing to me that we can have all three pieces getting along that well. I don't think you see that all the time, and that fact is taken for granted. I've talked to a lot of drivers and crew chiefs and you don't seem to find that all the pieces are getting along and are focused in moving in the same direction. The whole thing here is that we're building that relationship and building momentum at the same time."
DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO RUN IN THE DRAFTING SESSION LATER THIS AFTERNOON? "Our two cars are 100 percent set up for qualifying runs. That's our whole focus while we're down here - qualifying setup. We're coming up with a baseline that we can adjust for the race, and missing the race last year, left us with some incomplete notes, so we're trying to rebuild those notes and make improvements on our baseline setup."
During the afternoon session, only two of the 18 teams opted to participate in drafting practice. Ford driver Jason Keller shared his feelings about why he opted not to draft and his test session overall.
JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus
YOU MADE SOME ALTERCATIONS TO
YOUR CAR BEFORE THE FINAL RUN OF THE DAY THAT INCLUDED A DIFFERENT
"That's something that I didn't talk to NASCAR about. That's one thing that Harold (Holly) and those guys tried, so I don't know much about that. I think we wanted to get an idea of how much of a change we needed to spoiler to put us in contention with the Pontiacs. I think that a quarter-inch of spoiler is worth about two tenths of a second and we're down about eight right now."
WHAT ARE YOUR OVERALL
FEELINGS ABOUT THE TEST?
"We're definitely disappointed with the speed; there's no doubt about that. That's the biggest disappointment over the course of the two days, but we worked good together and we worked hard together and that's what's going to show up over the long haul of the season. All in all, it was good as it could have possibly been with the current package that we have."
THERE WERE VERY FEW TEAMS THAT OPTED TO
DRAFT IN THE AFTERNOON SESSION. WHY WASN'T THAT A PRIORITY?
"We really wanted to but we got behind, really behind, trying to find some speed in the car. It didn't work out that we were able to got out there, but I did see the schedule for February and we get about three-and-a-half hours of drafting time, so we should be OK."
DO YOU EXPECT TO COME BACK HERE
IN FEBRUARY WITH A RULE CHANGE?
"I would highly doubt it. If we take a half-inch off the spoiler, I think we'd only be fourth tenths off the pace. That's not for us to decide, but I'm sure Harold and Steve (Addington) will go to NASCAR between now and then and try to plead our case."