Good Ol' Boys - NASCAR

NAPA 500 Pre-Race & Qualifying Report
By Frank Ryan
November 17, 2000

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Other Ol' Boys Articles

The Winston Cup tour makes its final stop of the racing season this weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. With Bobby Labonte locking up the 2000 Winston Cup Championship last week, the NAPA 500 will be remembered not for deciding the championship, but instead as the culmination of Darrell Waltrip's racing career. With 52 other teams looking for a spot on the grid, the race should feature a diversity of drivers and paint schemes old and new. 

With the championship already won, all eyes are on Darrell Waltrip. After nearly 30 years on the Winston Cup circuit, this three-time champion calls it a career this weekend in Atlanta. Tied for third with Bobby Allison on the all time Winston Cup victory list with 84 wins, Waltrip also sat on the pole 59 times during his illustrious career, with his last pole here at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1995. 

While not retiring, Bill Elliott officially ends his 18-year association as a Ford driver this weekend at Atlanta. With 40 wins to his credit, can Elliott put the McDonalds Ford in victory lane one final time? Next year Elliott moves to the Dodge Intrepid with Ray Evernham as co-owner.

Also running for one final time are the STP colors on John Andretti's Pontiac. Andretti will sport a 1972 STP paint scheme on his Petty Enterprises Pontiac, but with STP signed as an associate sponsor through the year 2002, I wouldn't be surprised to see a red and blue Petty "Dodge" fielded for at least one race next year.

Post Qualifying Quotes

HUT STRICKLIN --90-- Hills Brothers Taurus (Qualified 30th) -- "We really had a good race car there, but I screwed up really bad in three and four. The thing turned a lot quicker than I was expecting it to and I went in below the white line going into three and I kind of hurt myself. I'm pretty tickled to run that quick after messing up like that, so I feel pretty good."

JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus (Qualified 41st) -- "We haven't been fast since we've been here. The car is real insecure in the center of the corner and it just slows down me being able to accelerate the way I want to accelerate. You need to be almost wide-open here and whenever I try to go wide-open I'm gonna hit something really hard, so I can't get it to do what I need to get it to do. I put Mark in it a little while ago and he struggled with it the same way. I don't know, we just couldn't figure it out."

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus (Qualified 20th) -- "That was the fastest we ran since we've been here. We ran a .23 in bonzai practice I call it and we ran an .11 just then. I was too loose coming off of turn four, so I'm sure that hurt me about a tenth. I think I could have run about a flat, but we'll see what happens. Last time, believe it or not here in the first race, we qualified 30th. I mean, that was one of my all-time worst, but the car handled so good we drove it right up to second, so I think I've got a great car here."

BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus (Qualified 44th) -- "That's the same I've been all day. We keep gaining on it, but we just haven't been that good since we unloaded. I can't figure it out. We were a bit loose earlier and now we're a bit on the tight side, but we'll worry about it tomorrow."

DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus (Qualified 3rd) -- "We made some changes and Todd made the right call there and got the front end sticking a lot better. I probably got turned into three a little bit too quick and that got me up the race track coming out of the corner. It wasn't two-tenths worth, though. Jeff put up a great lap. I just can't hold my breath as long as he can. He's still too young for me." YOU ANNOUNCED A NEW SPONSOR TODAY? "Yeah, we've got a great four-year package with UPS and we're excited about that, but right now we're excited about our last race of a five-year deal with Ford Quality Care and, hopefully, we can get it into victory lane. We had a good qualifying lap, just not quite as good as a couple of Chevrolets right now, but I think we can race 'em on Sunday."

STACY COMPTON --9-- Kodiak/Cougar Taurus (Qualified 27th) -- "We worked awfully hard ready to get this car ready to go here. We got it torn up here last weekend at Homestead, but they got together and thrashed to get this car ready and I think we picked up seven-tenths in qualifying, so a lot of hard work paid off. I'm awfully proud of the guys. We're building right now. We've got a lot of new people in the shop and a lot of people putting in a lot of hours and it's gonna pay off for us."

ROBERT PRESSLEY --77-- Jasper Engines Taurus (Qualified 34th) -- "That's not what we wanted. I thought that I would be better than that right there, but we'll just take it and go race. We've been struggling in one and two all day and on our last lap we got it through one and two real good, but three and four wasn't quite right. The same thing happened in qualifying. I got through one and two real good, but got down in three and four and we were off again."

MATT KENSETH --17-- DeWalt Tools Taurus (Qualified 23rd) -- "The car drove good. I didn't expect it to drive as good as it did and I just didn't do a good job of driving. There was at least two-tenths left in the car and I just didn't get it. The car drove great, if that's any consolation. The changes we made improved it a lot. We probably could have had a top-10 car, I just didn't drive it that way."

JEREMY MAYFIELD --12-- Mobil 1 Taurus (Qualified 7th) -- "This is a great car. All of these cars are getting good. Everytime we run. My 9 car runs good. My 10 car runs good and my 12 car runs good, so we've got two brand new ones being built right now just like 'em and we're gearing up for next year. This is a good, solid race team and we've got everything behind us. We're ready to race." WHAT ABOUT YOUR LAP? "We've been fast, but that's all we had. That's all we had in practice and we came back and got all we could. We backed up what we ran in practice and that's all you can ask for."

WALLY DALLENBACH --75-- TBS Dinner & A Movie Taurus (Qualified 10th) -- "My knuckles are white. This was one of those rare occasions this year where we took the car off the trailer and it was good. We didn't run that many laps and the car felt good. We knew we were gonna pick up in qualifying, so I wasn't concerned about where we were in practice. The guys did good. We're still out here sponsor hunting, so we need a good show this week."

MARK MARTIN --6-- Valvoline Taurus (Qualified 6th) -- "That's quicker than we ran in practice and probably better than I hoped to do, but I sure had to work for it. I'll take it. We got back without wrecking and squeezed every bit we had out of it. That's gonna be a pretty good starting spot."

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus (DNQ) -- "I'm in a lot better shape than that race car right now. We just probably tried a little bit too hard. We've been running good and I was trying to get up for a pole speed. I went down into turn one and it had been bottoming out down there before and it just bottomed out a little bit harder. When it did that, it just turned sideways and it was over with." WHAT ABOUT YOUR BACKUP CAR? "I don't know. I don't think we've got a bad car over there on that Texaco 28 team, so I'm sure we'll be in good shape. We're just not starting the week the way we'd like to."

TODD BODINE --46-- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus (Qualified 5th) -- "That was a good run for us, about what we ran in practice. The car was so good through one and two I got into three a little too deep and made it push. That was driver error, but that was a good run. We did what we needed to do. First, we needed to make the race and we did pretty well at that. Now, we've got to get a good race setup. I'm really excited. This is our deal for next year. Kmart and Haas Carter Racing. This is a good group of guys. Travis and Carl are both racers and they know what it takes to do this. I'm excited. I can't wait for Sunday, but I can't wait for next year. It's gonna be a long winter for me." THIS IS A GOOD START TOWARD NEXT YEAR. "That's what this whole thing was about. We came down here to get me back in a Cup car for one thing and to use this as kind of a test for next spring when we come out in the 66 car. We want to use this as a test so next spring we don't have to waste a test here. We're gonna be down in points a little bit, we need to get our points up right away so we need to run good in the first four or five races. This kind of gets one of them out of the way and, hopefully, this is the start of things to come."

JIMMY SPENCER --26-- Big Kmart Taurus (Qualified 16th) -- THIS CAR WAS GOOD LAST WEEK AND IT SEEMS TO BE GOOD HERE TOO? "Yeah, this is the car the guys built early in the year and it's run really well. It's actually the car that we've been copying cars from. The guys have worked hard all summer working on cars aerowise and stuff. The motor department has been great. It's still not the qualifying lap we wanted, we really felt like we would have been better than that, but, all in all, I think our season has turned around it's just too late. We've got to build on that for next year. That's what we have to do as a race team. All the guys have to look at that and as we go through the winter months, I think we're gonna have an excellent race team next year."

BRETT BODINE --11-- Ralphs Supermarkets Taurus (Qualified 22nd) -- "That was a good run. We had a great one and two and then the driver got real greedy in three and four and I just overdrove it. That cost us through the middle and it started sliding out. I had to come off the throttle a little bit and it just killed the lap. The car is really stable. I'm really, really, happy with the car. We've made big improvements with this car since Charlotte and I think it's gonna be good on Sunday. We've been racing a lot better lately and, hopefully, we can do it again here at Atlanta."

ELLIOTT SADLER --21-- Motorcraft Taurus (Qualified 37th) -- NOTE: The 21 had problems with its qualifying motor and was forced to insert its race motor for qualifying. WHAT HAPPENED GOING ON THE TRACK? "I goosed it coming off pit road and the thing spun out. Holy cow, I guess the tires were too cold. It's so cold out here I was trying to build heat in the rear tires and built them up too much. I tore my air dam up and that definitely killed us. I don't know. I don't think we're in the race right now, we've just got to hope and pray that we'll get a spot. Something will happen, but that's not the way we wanted to start this weekend off. Hopefully, we can make the most of it."


"I think since they've reconfigured this track that we've just had a qualifying setup that has worked well. I'm sure that I'm probably wrong because I usually am, but I don't think we've qualified out of the top five or six since they've changed this track around. So, we just found something that worked. Actually, the first time we came here and tested Kenny Irwin was just getting ready to start with our team at that time and he was here and just getting to know us and then getting in one of the cars. He helped me with some things and helped us with some things and we've kind of stuck with the same setup. We haven't changed it. We vary a little bit depending on track conditions -- a lot of sun or if it's really cool like this -- but the changes that we make are very subtle. We may change right before qualifying to try to get a little more front downforce on the car and that was key. We ran two-and-a-half tenths faster in qualifying, so everything that we did was a positive."

DID YOU AND RICKY HAVE THE SAME SETUP? "The setups were somewhat similar. His shock package was a little different. They went with a package that they used at Charlotte, but we didn't feel that was the best for us. I guess his car just bottomed out. His springs were probably just a little bit softer and with the shock package that he had, that probably created some of that. From what they told me, he had been touching just a little bit down there, but when you put the full package there and all the tape on the front, along with new tires, you're traveling at a higher rate of speed and I think he just hit a little bit harder and when it landed it didn't land exactly straight. I hated to see that, but I'm glad Ricky's OK."

HOW DOES THE FORECAST EFFECT HOW YOU SETUP ON SUNDAY? "I think it's gonna be something where you're gonna have a very fast race track here. The problem that we usually encounter here is our cars tend to get tighter as a run goes on and by the end of the fuel stop then you can get really tight. So you have to be careful. You almost have to start the car out to the really looser side and that can be a little tricky in traffic. When you have cold weather on top of that, it makes it even more difficult so we're gonna have to work really hard. We've finished second here a number of times, but we haven't had that setup like Bobby's got -- that really works well for him. Jeremy's run well here the last few times, so we're trying something a little bit different than what we've been here -- some things we've learned at some places where we've run well -- so we're gonna be a little bit different starting tomorrow morning out. I think tomorrow morning's practice is gonna be pretty important because even though it's gonna be really cool then, I think we're gonna look at really cool temperatures for Sunday, so that'll be an important 45 minutes for us."

DOES YOUR APPROACH TO THIS RACE CHANGE AT ALL? "We're here to win just like we would have been if we were battling for the championship, unless circumstances would have been different where all we had to do was finish at a certain place, but, still, you go to win. That's what we're here for, but we're also here to learn. This is an important race for us. We don't want to have to use a test before we come back here in just a few months. We would like to have a good day Sunday to where we have something. Even if we don't win, if we've got something we can bring back, say with a small adjustment we think we can be just a little bit better. It would be nice to have a victory under your belt because you get to enjoy that for a few months. That'll be tough to do, but that would be nice. That would be important -- to take away a good run to where we feel comfortable coming back here in March."

NASCAR Winston Cup

Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 99 Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus, goes into this weekend's season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 19-point lead over Dale Earnhardt for second place in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. This will mark the fourth straight year Burton has finished fourth or better in the final points race and he, along with crew chief Frank Stoddard, spoke about their team's success and hopes for 2001.

JEFF BURTON --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus -- YOU'VE HAD A GOOD FINAL MONTH SO YOU MUST BE THINKING GOOD THINGS THIS WEEK. "We are. Atlanta was one of those races that we look back on early in the year with dismay. We were leading the race, qualified poorly, but we drove to the front very quickly, and we were leading the race when we ran over something and cut a right-rear tire and finished dead last. We hope to go back and redeem ourselves. We were very happy with the performance of our car, but we didn't get the result we wanted."

AN OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE YOUR BEST FINISH IN THE STANDINGS TOO. "Yeah, it really is. It looks pretty good that we will have our best year as far as where we finish in the points. I don't know how the points shake out, but I know Dale Jarrett is a little bit behind us. I think he'd have to win the race and we'd have to finish like 41st or 42nd. I don't know how it all works out, but the main thing is just finishing on a high note. If Dale Earnhardt beats us for second, then he just beats us, or if we beat him, we beat him. But we've had a really strong last three months and I want to end the year on a strong note going into next year -- build some momentum so that all of my guys have their heads held up high and we're ready to go next year. It's more important about finishing Atlanta, having a good strong race, being competitive all day than it is about beating Dale Earnhardt."

IS THERE ANY THING YOU WISH YOU COULD CHANGE FROM THIS YEAR? "Three races that we really agonize over a lot -- the spring race at Atlanta that I just mentioned, the fall race at Dover in which we were running second and had a catastrophic tire failure, and then Rockingham in the first race when we had a mechanical problem. We've been fairly clean on the race track this year. We haven't been in a lot of tangles on the race track fortunately. Mechanical problems, we had one at Sears Point and one at Rockingham. Then there were some other races where we were running fourth, fifth, sixth at the end of the race and we ended up finishing 11th, and those races hurt us too. But the big ones were the big hits and those big hits were the three races I just mentioned. On top of that, was Talladega where we had a poor finish and Sears Point. So, really, I look at it as missed opportunities. We didn't run as well as I hoped to at some races and ran better than I hoped to in others, and we just had too many bad finishes and that's why we are where we are."

ANY DIFFERENT PREPARATIONS WITH DODGE COMING IN? "The way we compete is by doing the best we can do. We don't know what the Dodge is gonna throw at us. We don't know if they're gonna be good or bad or what they're gonna be. Because of that it's hard to prepare for them. What we always do is set our goal to what we think the best team is and we need to adjust our team to be better than them. We can't adjust to something that we don't know about, so what we're doing is we're looking at ourselves and figuring out how to do our deal better than worrying about what other people are doing."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE AN ADJUSTMENT IN THE POINT SYSTEM? "I don't really think much about it. I think the point system is the point system and you've got to tailor your team and your ability to win the championship based on what the points are. There are days where I think there's an advantage in having more points given to the winner and there are other days I don't. It appears to me that the points system works pretty well to keep point races close, regardless of what we've seen the last two years. Dale Jarrett did a great job last year of running well and not having problems and Bobby Labonte has done the same thing this year. The thing about running a 500-mile race is that reliability is important and being able to run fast for 500 miles is different than being able to run fast for 200 miles. We need to hold teams accountable for not only building fast cars, but for building reliable cars and that's what this point structure does. So I don't have a problem with the point system. I think it's just a matter of tailoring your team so you can take advantage of the point system."

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU WERE THE PRESEASON FAVORITE IN 2001? "That's one of the goals that we've worked for is to have other teams and people around the sport whom we respect, give us compliments to say we are preseason favorites, to say that we are a favorite going into a race. Those are the kind of things that we want. It doesn't really put anymore pressure on us or anything because if you're afraid that people are gonna put pressure on you, then you need to be afraid of ever having success. What we have to do is to improve in some areas. We've got to be, compared to the way we were in the middle portion of this year, we've got to be more competitive. We've got to be faster. The early part of the year and the late part of the year, I think you could put our team up against anybody but we had a low point. So, we have to remain competitive throughout the whole year and we have to avoid those poor finishes. I've been saying that as long as I've raced. As long as I can remember racing for points, poor finishes have killed us. So, I say that and I'm not real sure how to prevent it. We've done pretty well on our mechanical stuff -- we've had two mechanicals this year -- I think one is probably the number that you're looking for and I have to continue to stay out of trouble on the race track. The other things that happened to us, I don't know that there is a whole lot we can learn from 'em. I mean, when you run over something and you cut a tire, how are you gonna prevent that -- and we had that happen twice and both of those finishes were very poor finishes. There's nothing you can do to prevent that, so we've got to have a little bit better pit stops. We're working hard on that. We need to be a little bit better prepared when we show up at the race track, we're prepared for that. We need a little more horsepower, we need a little more downforce. What I'm saying is I think we just need to be a little bit better in all areas. If we can improve just a little bit in all areas, then we'll be a tough team."

SHOULD SOMETHING BE DONE AT ATLANTA AS FAR AS SAFETY GOES? "I don't know that the aerodynamic rules would help or not, but I do think we're going to fast. I think Atlanta, for the size of that race track, is too fast. I've said that from the first day we went there. It has improved. As the groove has widened out, you've run closer to the wall and I think that's made it safer. Any hit at Atlanta is gonna hurt, that's just the way it is. So Atlanta, in my opinion, is one of those tracks that danger is looming. I understand that's part of the attraction to the sport, but I wish we could end up accelerating our soft wall technology. Certainly, we need to accelerate our seats and things, so when you do hit it helps the driver because we're gonna hit. It's inevitable that you're gonna wreck, so safety is a major issue and it needs to be an issue for everybody. Atlanta, in my opinion, is one of the more dangerous race tracks that we run on because of the speed."

WILL YOUR TEAM RETURN INTACT FOR 2001? "Yes they are. Fortunately, our people enjoy working here. We've given them an environment that they enjoy being in. We need to continue to work on that and make is so people want to work at Roush Racing. We are not currently aware of anyone that is leaving. All of our key people are certainly in place. Our pit crew is pretty much set with the exception of one person. I feel really good. I think when you look at our team next year you won't see any faces that you didn't see this year and you'll see some new ones also. So, we're adding some new people, but all of our main people, we believe, are staying so we feel really good about that."

DID THE SPONSOR CHANGE SURPRISE YOU? "I don't think it had much effect. I don't think it had any negative effect. Our relationship with Exide has always been very good. We knew early in the year that they had some corporate changes going on. We knew there was a possibility that they might ask to come off the car. Certainly, we didn't think it would happen during the year. We weren't really concerned about having sponsorship on the car. We thought that we had done a good enough job on the race track and had done some nice things in marketing and we'd be OK, so we didn't worry much about it. I hated to see Exide leave. Exide was the reason that this team was formed. I have a lot of friends at Exide. We had great marketing campaigns. We had a lot of fun doing commercials and I think the commercials were really well received through the public, so I hated to see them leave. At the same time, when they asked if they could step back, it wasn't because of anything we had done. They asked to step back because their structure is changing in that corporation. The way they're gonna sell batteries, who they're selling batteries to and how they're selling batteries is different than it was, so they really don't have a need to have a lot of sponsorship and a lot of advertisement. That gave us an opportunity to put our program for sale. It gave an opportunity for Citgo to come on board, which, in my opinion, is really a good deal. I mean, they've been in racing for 16 years. They've come in with high expectations, which I like. I want a sponsor to believe that we can get it done and they've come in with financial backing that is second to none. Their commitment to racing is second to none. They want to do some neat stuff with marketing and advertising so really, I think, in the long run it's gonna end up being a positive. It already is a positive because their company has been committed to racing for a long time. They're not a company that's gonna be in and out. They're enjoying the relationship that we have, so I think it's really been a positive thing. It did strike us by surprise that it happened in the middle of the year. At the same time it's a good sign for our sport that a major team can replace a sponsor without ever having a car that doesn't have a sponsor on it. It's really an honor to have them on board. They're excited about it and it's fun to have them around."

IS IT FAIR TO SAY THE WAY YOU'RE ENDING THIS SEASON IS SIMILAR TO WHAT BOBBY LABONTE DID LAST YEAR AND SHOULD THAT MAKE YOU A PRESEASON FAVORITE IN 2001? "If you look at it, I think it is very similar. I mean, if you look at what Bobby Labonte did last year. He finished second in the points, I'm not saying we're gonna finish second in the points but we certainly have a good opportunity. He led a lot of laps, he won his share of races. You could see that they were a team that was starting to put it all together -- reliability, performance, the proper employees -- you could kind of see that happening. You could look at our team and see that happening as well. That doesn't guarantee that we're gonna have a good year next year, but it certainly is a trend. It certainly looks a lot like they did and I think that's a good sign. It wouldn't surprise me for people to say that we are a preseason favorite. At the same time, that's a pick. They run these races because we can't pick it and I understand that and respect that a great deal. But we've worked hard to gain that respect and we want to make sure that when we get that respect we keep it. So, if some people are picking us, then we'll take that as a tremendous compliment and we'll do our best to prove 'em right. By running as competitive as we have the last four years, we've been in the top five in points four years in a row, that means a whole lot to me. I think it's shown that we are consistent, that we're not an overnight success. We've been steady. We've learned a lot each year. We've gotten a little better each year and I hope we can eventually tie all that up and maybe next year is the time we can do that."

FRANK STODDARD, Crew Chief --99-- Citgo SUPERGARD Taurus -- WHAT ABOUT ATLANTA? "We have run well there in the past. It's a fast race track. It's a place where you can get in trouble in a hurry. We usually try to set the car up to handle real well all day. On long runs it's real important that you handle well at those speeds. We look forward to going to Atlanta. It's a fast race track, but it's a nice, easy race track to pass on. It's got a lot of grooves and it makes racing well for the fans and for the competitors."

JEFF IS GOOD WITH THE CHASSIS. DOES THAT HELP A LOT ON RACE DAY? "It certainly does. Anytime you can have two people working toward the same goal, it's a lot easier than it is just having one person that handles the chassis. Jeff is certainly on top of his game when it comes to the chassis calls. A lot of times he'll come in off the race track and have an idea in his head already. When he's in practice coming down pit road, he'll relay something to me and then when he gets in there we'll talk about it. I'll throw a couple of ideas at him and we'll end up coming up with what we think is the best combination to put back in the car and to go out and make it a little bit faster than what it was on that run."

DO YOU SEE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN YOUR FINISH THIS YEAR AND LABONTE'S LAST YEAR, AND SHOULD THAT MAKE YOU A FAVORITE IN 2001? "I think if you go off of Homestead, we won't be that choice. We certainly have worked hard over the last five or six years to try to put ourselves in position. Obviously, that's what everybody does is to try to put themselves in position for a championship. We don't think, based on what we've done this year, is gonna give us a championship next year. But we do think that we've done well enough this year that we have confidence going into next year. Then if we do some of the things next year that we've done in the second half this year, then, hopefully, we'll be in contention again. That's the key deal -- being in contention. The reason we're not in contention this year is because of two DNFs. Two blown tires have really eliminated us from having a championship race going into Atlanta. Certainly, if you run well you feel like you'll be in contention, but the key is not to have any DNFs next year and with a 36-race schedule for points next year, you might have a little bit more ease of overcoming one DNF, but it's shown fairly true the last two or three years that you can't have any DNFs. But, we hope that people think that we've done well enough this year and we've done well enough over that last fives, that people think of us to be in the top five again next year but there are no guarantees. We're gonna do our best."

HOW HAS JACK CHANGED THIS YEAR? "I haven't had to fight with him as much this year. But, seriously, I think Jack has so many business interests today. He has so many teams that he tries to be successful with all of them, that he ends up spreading himself a little bit more out among all of them and maybe he's a little bit less confrontational with me. He lets a few subjects pass by that if he only had me to focus on or me and Jimmy Fennig to focus on, then he might be a little more confrontational in a few areas, but I think his desire is for all of his race teams to be successful and in order to do that he probably has realized or looked back and said that he needs to at least allow me to make a few decisions and maybe a few mistakes in a few areas and not worry about as much about them as long as the big-time picture ends up coming out OK. He's been great with me this year. I can't say enough about my relationship and how it's evolved through the year with Jack and I, and I look forward to next year based on that."

HOW MUCH WOULD IT MEAN TO FINISH SECOND IN THE POINT STANDINGS THIS YEAR? "What it would mean to me is that we've done a good job for one more year. It would mean that if we hadn't had the DNFs we've had this year, we would have been in contention to try to win the championship this year. So it's a steady progression we've made the last four or five years of finishing in the top five, top 10 in the points and working our way towards being a stronger championship contender. That's what it's all about. I think it's important to finish as high as you can in the points. Winston does a great job with the purse structure in the points championship. That obviously would mean a little bit to the guys back at the shop that worked hard all year away from their families and the more money that we can make off the points helps all of them make it worthwhile. Certainly being second in the points, to beat Dale Earnhardt who has been a seven-time champion, if we're able to accomplish that it's a small feat in it's own right, I think."

Bill Elliott's last dance in a Ford.

An end of an era will take place this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway as Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 94 McDonald's Taurus, will end a 24-year NASCAR Winston Cup racing relationship with Ford Motor Company. Elliott, who announced earlier this year he would switch to Ray Evernham's Dodge effort in 2001, will also be running as an owner/driver for the final time in Sunday's NAPA 500.

BILL ELLIOTT --94-- McDonald's Taurus -- ATLANTA WILL BE YOUR LAST RACE AS AN OWNER/DRIVER. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS? "It's gonna be great from my standpoint, I believe. I'll miss the people in one respect, but, then again, it makes it a whole lot easier with the transition that I have going on versus if you just ended it and the guys had to look and go somewhere else. So it does make it easier from that standpoint. It came and it went, so we'll look at it from the standpoint that it was good while it lasted. I'll miss some parts of it and some parts I won't." IS IT A RELIEF? "I think in a lot of ways it is. Anytime you change directions makes you a little bit nervous, but a year-and-a-half ago when McDonald's announced they were going somewhere else, I looked at it from the standpoint of, 'what's my future now,' and at least this gives me direction in knowing where I'm going and what I'm doing. There's no question about that." WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS WITH HOW THE MCDONALD'S SITUATION UNFOLDED AND THE STATE IN GENERAL OF HOW THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR THE OWNER/DRIVER? "It's changed a lot, but maybe the business changes for a reason. Those guys came in and told McDonald's what they wanted to hear and were able to go in that direction, whether it was right, wrong or indifferent. I guess that comes back to marketing and having the right strategy of where you're going, whereas all I know how to do is race. I didn't stay that close to the sponsor side of it and that was kind of my mistake, but, there again, what some of these guys turned around and re-did a year-and-a-half ago, is that enough money to run next year, the year after and the year after that? So, I've got to look at it from the standpoint that I don't have the resources that a Roush or a Hendrick or some of these other guys have got. I want to stay competitive and I don't feel like I can do that in the direction I'm going to some extent. I still think it can happen, but the sport is changing so much that you've got to have lots of dollars to do that." YOU SAID IT WAS GOOD WHILE IT LASTED, BUT HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT TO NOT HAVE A RACE WIN WITH THIS TEAM? "We came so close so many times and something unfortunate always seemed to happen. It's like you've got something in front of you that won't let you cross that bridge, but I'm not gonna worry about it. If it happens, it happens. If it don't, it don't. I mean, there's not a lot I can do about it at this point. I feel like I gave it as good of an effort as I possibly could and I don't really have any regrets looking back over the last six years. What we'll do now is get this out of the way, take some time off this winter, and worry about next year." THIS WEEKEND WILL ALSO MARK THEN END OF YOUR FORD RACING RELATIONSHIP. WHAT WILL THAT BE LIKE? "It's gonna be tough from that standpoint. Ford has been such a big part of my career. If you look back on all of the things that have happened, it's kind of the end of a major era. I think that was probably the toughest part of my decision and what I struggled with the most was the Ford side of this deal. Yet, you have to go on. You can't just say, 'Well, this is the only thing I can do.' You have to leave your options open and when Ray came to me and wanted me to come and do that deal it was like, 'Well, I don't know if I can do it or not.' I struggled with it real hard, but after looking at it and weighing everything out from team guys to everything that was going on, I felt like that was the direction I needed to go -- not only for myself, but for the team and everybody involved. I have to say though that I have the utmost respect for everybody at Ford Motor Company. I can't tell you how much I appreciate all they've done for me over the years and, even though I may not be driving a Ford next year, they're still going to always have a special place in my heart." CAN YOU PICK OUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT DRIVING FOR FORD? "I think it goes back to winning the first race and continuing to win races with the stuff we had. When I started running a Ford in Winston Cup, you were a minority if there ever was a minority. I think that's the proudest accomplishment of my career. That's something I can look back on and say, 'We did it our way.' We came in as a family entity and were successful. Ernie built motors, I drove the car and worked on the car, Dan helped and mother and daddy contributed. We came into a sport that looked at us like, 'Who are those guys? What are they ever gonna do?' And we accomplished a lot just coming from nothing and I don't know if that will ever happen again." DO YOU HAVE A MOST DISAPPOINTING MOMENT? "Maybe losing the championship in '92 to Alan (Kulwicki) and maybe losing the championship in '85 to Darrell (Waltrip). You look back on all the stuff that's happened and I feel like everything that happened all built character. That's the way I look at it. It's part of what you did and I'm proud of that." WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE IS GOING TO HOLD FOR YOU? "I don't know. I'm gonna just take it one day at a time. I don't know what's gonna happen or how this other deal is gonna play out. We don't have any guarantees about what tomorrow is gonna bring, so we'll just have to see."

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