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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 10, 2007
The MODERATOR: Dale, you've won this race three times, new scene for you this year, what's the outlook maybe of this year's 500 for you?
DALE JARRETT: I've been looking forward to it. Obviously new and different challenge for me starting 2007 with a new race team and definitely a new car. But you come to a place like Daytona where the racing is close, and I think that it gives you the idea that anybody can win this race if you get yourself in the right position, regardless of how little experience a team may have.
But we've had a good test so far, so I've been very much pleased and encouraged by what I've seen. Matt's doing a terrific job, and trying to get to know everybody and see how things are done differently than what I've been accustomed to the last 12 years has been an experience this week, and a good experience. The Toyota people have been fantastic here, very much on top of their game and I think that should quicken our learning curve quite a bit because of their input.
Q. What was the motivation behind your move to Michael Waltrip Racing, and what are the realistic goals for you and this new team this year?
DALE JARRETT: The motivation I guess was because I felt like that when it was me or a combination of myself and where I had been for 12 years, it was like we were just kind of finishing out my career; that we weren't, you know, it just wasn't new and exciting anymore.
I just felt like that a change like this was something that was exciting to me, to think about the opportunity that I have to help a good friend of mine, Michael Waltrip, start up his race team.
I've been very impressed and was even before I took the job with everything that Michael and his people had done to get prepared for this; to help him and then to help Toyota come into the sport was a challenge I felt like would give me that energy and that fire inside of me again to really want to help and make this something special.
If I can look back after everything is finished and say I had a big part of helping Toyota enter the Cup series and be successful, then that will be pretty rewarding. It was that type of scenario that I was looking for, and I've always been excited about getting into the car, but this was a lot more than just getting in the race car.
Realistic goals, as we explain to sponsors, thinking that we could make the Chase, that would be up there pretty far. Can it happen? Sure, it can. But a more realistic goal for us would be to be around that Top 15 in the points in the first year. I think that is attainable and you know, we didn't want to -- it would have been easy to go in and say, well, I think we can finish in the top 25 but that's not setting your goals very high. So you tend not to work as hard.
And we can get to victory lane I think. And time, not having as much testing, that's going to hurt us a little bit. But I honestly think that we can get to victory lane and I've stated a number of times that I would like to be that driver that took Toyota there first.
Q. One of the big back-and-forths that goes on in the sport these days is old school versus new school, and one of the flame points of that argument these days is Toyota coming into the sport; it is new and different, and there are fans that will say we don't want a foreign manufacturer's car in the sport. You understand there's going to be that factor, have you thought about how you are going to answer that question when it's asked to you by fans and other people?
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, we could talk for an hour about a lot of the stuff that I've thought about. If everything stood still, then your jobs would be a lot harder. You would not be on laptops sending everything back, and it would be a lot more difficult for you to do your job.
And it's the same here. Things are not going to stand still. If we did that, you know, again, things would be kind of boring for everybody, if we didn't have that technology and that advanced technology to make things new and more exciting.
You know, as far as Toyota, sure, the parent company is foreign. We could get into the argument about where the Ford Fusion is built; every one of them are built in Mexico. The Monte Carlo's are built in Canada. So we could go through all that stuff and see who is right and who is wrong, but there are a lot of Toyotas that are built in the United States. They employ a lot of people. They are a great car company. Probably not too far from being No. 1 in the world.
But you're not going to get that across to some people, and I'm not going to try to and that's not my job or my plight to come out here and try to convince everybody that this is the right thing to do for Toyota to be involved.
But we have to be accepting of change. If we don't, then you would still be watching 12-inch TV screens, and that's not a lot of fun whenever you've got everything else that's out there.
So I know there's people that are just not going to change and are not going to accept it and that's fine. Everybody can have that opinion. You just have to understand that the United States government allowed Toyota to come into our country and build and sell Toyota vehicles, and there's a lot of people out there that drive them. They are, I'll say, close to being No. 1 in the world in sales.
If I wanted to really get nasty, I could say, go in your house and check and if you're going to argue with me about not being an American, which I'm as American as the next person is right here and I pay my taxes just like everybody else and I love this country. You know, check and see if that TV you're watching was made in the United States that you're watching our great races on.
So there's a lot of things I could say. It's something that I can't convince everybody and I'm not going to try to do that. Understand that we all have to make decisions at times based on what is best for me and my situation, and that Toyota is a big part of the United States economy. We have to be accepting that have and why shouldn't NASCAR change along the way, too. There's nothing saying we can't continue to change here in this sport and see what's best for the sport.
And Toyota is going to be very good for the sport. They are going to put a lot of dollars into the sport, and that's not -- I don't mean the dollars in the way that a lot of people are talking and going and buying this and buying that and buying people. They are going to put a lot of dollars in promoting our sport, and that's going to be good for our sport as a whole.
Q. Will you have Toyota dealership now in North Carolina, and secondly, can you talk about the difference between the Toyota and the Ford in the draft yesterday?
DALE JARRETT: As far as the dealership goes, that process had been started well before I ever thought about driving a Toyota. We had -- I say "we," Dale Jarrett Automotive Group, my partners had explored that opportunity a little over two years ago. We had applied and got the application and sent it back to Toyota, been approved at that time. We were not ready at that time to really get ourselves in that position.
If it would have been one in North Carolina -- we were offered one, but it wasn't in North Carolina, it was in Alabama and we were not position to do that at that time. This is not going that's going to happen just because I'm starting to drive a Toyota. Do I want to acquire a dealership? Absolutely, because it's a money-making operation and that's what we're in business to do.
We will keep the Ford store. We are in the process of breaking ground right now with that with the Suzuki store that we currently sell right beside the Ford dealership. And hopefully at some point in time, it's not like this deal was that they can just give me a dealership somewhere that can't be -- that's not against the law first off. But we do have our application in. I have a good friend at Hickory, Mike Johnson, that owns the Toyota store there, and he and I have talked numerous times even before this came along about the possibility of doing some things together.
So hopefully that is down the road and hopefully may be the first won't be somewhere in North Carolina. But we are ready now to explore outside of North Carolina if we have to.
As far as the car, the Toyota in the draft, was pretty good yesterday. The car that we used wasn't the better of the two cars for me either in speed or drivability. But I was still pretty pleased with what I saw, especially as we made some changes to it. The first time out it wasn't very good, but we made some changes and it responded to that and we got the car driving much better to where it could keep up and suck up in the draft.
We have two cars here today. We brought in a different car for our other car today that's a little bit different build and I'm excited about seeing what it's going to do in the draft.
So we'll get out this afternoon and get a lot more, but been very pleased with what I've seen so far.
Q. Right off the top of my head, you, Sadler, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, have all left Ford since 2001, 2002, can you assess where Ford Motor Company is in their racing company, and in your opinion, can they keep up?
DALE JARRETT: Well, they certainly can keep up. But I this even since Dodge came in, I don't know how many years ago that it's been, I think that they brought a new era into our sport, too, with a lot of engineering and a lot of support from that manufacturer. And I think that Ford has slacked off a little bit in that respect over the years and they are still very strong.
They have some very good teams out there, but they are going to -- it's going to continue to cost money to be successful in this sport. And you have to be willing to put those dollars out there, and when the company itself is struggling a little bit, that makes it more difficult.
So they are going to have to realize, that's what they are going to have to do, and hopefully we'll start selling more Ford vehicles and that will help them. But from the technology side of it, I do think that they haven't put the effort there that the other manufacturers have.
Q. We hear a lot about how Toyota as a manufacturer encourages all of its teams to share data with each other. Has this been going on so far, and how much of an advantage could this be if you guys continue and if you do that all season?
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, that's a good question and that's what they preach from the very first time that I spoke with the Toyota representatives; that that's what was going to happen. They felt like in their model and their plans that that was the best way for all of us to become more successful more quickly.
And yes, that is happening. Even before we got here to start testing on the racetrack, that was happening, from other tests at tracks when we were going to Kentucky or we were going to Nashville or even Lakeland. And Red Bull (ph) was the same way, Bill Davis the same way. So information is being shared and we feel like that's our quickest way to get over some of the hurdles that we have.
Toyota is still very much behind that and preaching that, and I think the teams right now understand that for us to be successful, that we have to do that right now. You know, there will come a point in time that some of that will break away.
But we have a ways to go before we get to that point, and I think everyone understands that and is very much willing to work together.
Q. Just talk about the relationship with you and your crew chief and what that takes on for and you how difficult that might be?
DALE JARRETT: Normally you wonder how long it's going to take to start learning each other's speak, so to speak. Like what is Matt looking for me to say, and when he's telling me something, because he could talk way above my head being the engineer that he is and I'm not understanding a word, but he figured that out pretty quickly and he talks on a level that I can understand.
We've had a lot of good talks from the first time I went down and sat down with him and we talked for a little over two hours. We had good conversation there. I understood a lot about where he was coming from and what he was looking to do. We've had a lot of conversations whether it be at lunch or at the racetrack after practice and things.
It's gone very well, and Matt is a very determined young man, very knowledgeable. He understands a whole lot more about what's happening with the race cars than you could ever imagine.
He, again, I've preached for a long time about needing engineers, and so I have one as a crew chief now. I think that's a benefit to any race team. Not saying that you have to have that to be successful, but obviously if you have an engineer in that position, they are much more willing and able to work with the engineering staff. I see that with Matt and I think everybody is very comfortable with him. He works people very good, and so I'm excited about the opportunity of working with someone of that calibre.
I think that is was going to take someone like Matt Borland to come in where this operation was to get us up and running this quickly, and he's done a real good job of that in a short period of time.
Q. Fans are following the testing, watching where the Toyotas are and making responses and the reaction, tough to tell what's going on at Daytona with the drafting, people testing various things out. How in general do you think testing is going for the Toyotas?
DALE JARRETT: I think it's going very well. I don't know that I've looked at it that much so I think I would have a hard time. I think Dave Gilliland has been pretty fast for the three days or two and a half so far, so they look like they have their program going very well.
We've had one car that's been pretty good and then another one that wasn't quite as good. But we're working to make those closer.
But I think as a whole, everyone in the Toyota camp has to be pretty pleased with what we've seen. The engines have been very good, and to be quite honest, that was a concern of mine. Obviously coming from where I came from, that was never an issue. You wondered just how caught up they make it be, because I know the many hours and hours and dollars that have been spent by Robert Yates Racing, by Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childers Racing on these restrictor plate engines over the years, how quickly could Toyota come in and be successful at this. I was very pleased the first time I went on the racetrack with what I saw with regards to the engine.
I think we have been very good. We're doing a lot of things to see. We're kind of having to do a balancing act to see what we can do to gain some speed; yet then what changes can we make that are going to be beneficial to us in the race downforce-wise without hurting the speed too much.
We kind of go back and forth, and if fans are following that, you might wonder why today we are not as fast as we were yesterday. Wind has a little something to do with it. But we concentrated more when we came in today on trying to make some of those changes that would give us some downforce back with one of the cars so that it may not even be my car, because we have Michael and David coming next week and those guys we know need to get in a good lap.
So we've kind of been back and forth between the speed and the downforce issue just to see where we can be. But again, I think everyone has to be very pleased.
Q. I just wanted to clarify what you said about Ford, because the criticism is that Toyota is creating a new pay scale and paying outrageous, predatory salaries. Are you saying that Ford isn't catching up and that Toyota's at the pay scale that other manufacturers are, or Toyota has set the bar much higher?
DALE JARRETT: No, Toyota has not set the bar. This has always happened whether it's been new teams coming in or manufacturers. When Dodge came in and Ray Evernham started his deal up, he had to go do the same thing.
To get experienced people to make sure that things start off in a pretty good mode, you have to go get some experienced people. You can't take all novices and rookies and bring them in and expect to be pretty good. So you might have to pay someone a little bit more to get them to come over.
But basically, I can tell you for a fact, because I know what we are paying a lot of these people that they are not getting a huge raise to come work for Toyota, especially at Michael Waltrip Racing. We have a budget that we have to live within, and that's not what is happening here. They are off-base saying that Toyota is coming in and buying people off.
I know that there were a number of people that talk from Robert Yates Racing before they knew they were going to have the second car back again, and they were making more money there than what they were being offered at Michael Waltrip Racing.
So it's not like we are coming in and buying everything. Is Toyota coming in and stepping things up from an engineering standpoint? Absolutely. That's where they are going to step everything up. Dodge did the same thing when they came in, they had a huge engineering staff and a lot of technology there and that's where their dollars were. The sponsors are still in a couple of the cars, so how they can say this; but it's going to be a battle and it's going to be a feud.
But yeah, Ford is going to have to step up and make sure that they can keep up with the program. They have very good race teams. Robert Yates Racing and Roush are very good, but they have to put the support behind it to make it all work. It happens every time, regardless if you have new teams coming in, and in this case you do have some new teams coming in. So you have to go get people that you can count on and rely on to kind of mix those along with some new people that you can take a chance on, whether they are from Busch teams or Truck teams.
It's going to be a battle and it's going to be an argument. You're going to get he said and he said. I'm not -- I'm in a better position to state the facts because I know both sides of it, and people can believe me if they want to or not, that doesn't really make any difference. But everybody will have to step up.
You know, it's no different than, I mean, the amount of money and technology that Hendrick Motorsports has, it's amazing, it's just tremendous. They can try to put it on the new guy on the block in Toyota coming in that's creating this expense, but it's just the sport in itself. It's the other manufacturers that are doing that, too.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Greg Biffle. Driver number of the number 16 AmeriQuest Ford had some good runs here at Daytona International Speedway in the past. What's the outlook for this year's Daytona 500.
GREG BIFFLE: I think pretty good. Both the AmeriQuest 16 cars are running well. We've got a third car here today that we haven't ran yet, we are getting ready to run it after the lunch break here. That's going to be our Bud Shootout car, at least we're hoping to if it runs decent.
We've picked a car for the 500 and we are going to work on some more drafting this afternoon and found a little speed in it and kind of encouraging. The car handles fairly well, so we are excited about that. And we've got one car that seems like it's real fast by itself in qualifying. It's the car that has the least downforce and we feel like we're going to save it for the first Talladega race.
We feel like we've accomplished a lot and mapped out a lot of things here so far, and looking forward to getting this afternoon, maybe get finished up here today.
Q. This is not a new question, probably the same question everybody asks, this is pretty much a waste of time for two weeks, it seems like the action happens on the Bud Shootout, can this all be done in half a day or do you even need to come down here in January?
GREG BIFFLE: I think certainly we need to come down here. We really could get everything done in two days. With the way the rules package is now, where it's kind of closing the doors, it's kind of confining it a little bit. We are sort of running out of stuff to do.
It seems like these races, what we figured out over the years is you unload it off the truck and you work on it for the first half of the day. You pretty much found the speed you're going to find for the next three days. It's kind of polished on a little bit, and some of the changes end up being so small that like this whole morning session, the wind has picked up throughout the morning session, we, A, B, a, meaning we try to change and when it's slower we try another change and when it's slower, we go back to the original change and it was about in the middle of those two.
So we really don't know what it did. So it gets difficult when the conditions start getting windy or whatnot.
The biggest change, the most speed we found is back at the race shop on what they call a k-rig or squat rig which pulls the car down. We are changing a bunch of things back and forth and we found a few things that seem to be better and we put them on the car yesterday morning and picked up about a tenth of a second, a solid tenth and a half. It was definitely a good change for us.
Pat and I are talking about it, we almost feel like we could find more speed by going to work on that all day because it's consistent. It's in a controlled environment. Of course out here the humidity changes and things like that. It makes it more difficult in actual conditions. But certainly we need to come down here to see how the car is running and handling is a big thing.
For us, we could do single-car runs for a day, for a day and a half, and do drafting for the second half of the day and we probably would be ready to go. I think it will help the new teams, you know, more than anything, the three days.
Q. I'm wondering how your arm is doing, and also, at the end of last year you were talking so much about how you needed Jack to see what was needed to be done with the cars, did you get any of that accomplished during the off-season that will lead into this year, and then talk about the arm.
GREG BIFFLE: Yeah, I think so. My shoulder is doing fairly well. I was a little nervous coming down here about how it was going to be inside the car, and not driving the car but reaching everything; reaching over can getting the helmet hook and trying to hook up the things behind your head that are hard to get to and getting to the seatbelts that are behind you. It seems to be the reach is the biggest thing that hurts your shoulder is the range of motion.
Actually I've been fairly well, doing really well. I'm pretty happy about that. I think I'm ready to go.
Jack, we've sat down and talked about -- it was funny, I was in a meeting about three weeks ago and they said, everybody is building their cars like this with this nose offset and this is what we've determined. And then I get back from vacation and it's like, nobody's building their cars there. Everybody is building them like this.
So it's kind of funny. It's a revolving door. We're constantly building stuff and testing it or taking it to the wind tunnel. And this year, this winter we've done more on-track things. We've been to Kentucky and I don't remember where else, I know they went to Lakeland, we went to Las Vegas. So we are doing some on-track stuff as well, trying to figure out some things and wind tunnel to back it up.
Every decision we're making is pretty educated I think. I think we'll be ready to go. I'm sure the Vegas test is going to help us really pinpoint exactly what we want.
Q. Just talk about the change in crew chief and what that does?
GREG BIFFLE: I think it's a real momentum-builder for a team. I hate to talk about our crash in Las Vegas, but that really, really was -- that was a big event. It was a really big crash, and it was our first test together. It was our first time together as a team. It was our first time together as a group. Everybody is excited about being there. Our test was going extremely well. I feel like that really set us back a bunch, that unfortunate incident.
We are definitely coming back from that incident, but we're really working well together. I like all of the guys. We're figuring out a lot of stuff here and when we get to some of these other places, Bristol certainly will be a place that we get scrambling and these first couple of races, the California and Vegas test. I think the team is coming to the really well and I like Pat and the way that he executes things.
Q. I have a question about Jimmie Johnson. It's pretty common for people to attribute his success to his team and the resources; does his driving get overlooked because of the supporting cast he has around him?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, certainly it's a team effort and meaning a team effort, he's included in that team effort. It takes everyone. It takes a driver and it takes a crew chief, it takes a team, it takes a bunch of engineers and it takes a lot of resources and it takes great engines. It takes everything.
So I don't feel like he's -- personally I haven't kept up on everything that's been said and read and all that. It seems like he's got the recognition he deserves I feel. Certainly he's been in the Chase every year and after the way that their -- after the way that the Chase started for him, I kind of counted him out personally because, you know, they were down there a few times and then they got in that crash at Talladega. A lot of bad things happened to them.
But certainly they were championship form, never gave up and kept fighting back.
Q. Under the new format, if it did expand to 12 or more, you make the Chase; can you talk about your thoughts on the possible expansion of that a little bit?
GREG BIFFLE: You know, I applaud NASCAR on what they did for the Chase. I tell you, I disliked the Chase format in the beginning when they mentioned it. I had won two championships under the old format and thought, why change something that works and puts on a good race.
After they changed it, I thought it was great. You know, it worked very well. I liked it and I liked the way it is. I like it with ten drivers. You know, you have to limit it down to a certain number of people, and I think that they did a good job.
And just like the COT car, the Car of Tomorrow, not a big fan of it right now. I like what we are doing. I like these race cars we race now. But you know, once we get in there and get racing them, it might be, you know, it's just -- I don't think anybody likes change until they have gotten a chance to get in there and do it.
I like the way they have formatted the Chase. If they expanded it to 12, I really don't feel like it's going to change it, anyway, to be perfectly honest with you. I don't know where the winners have come from in the Chase so far, how far back or what the stats are.
But if we would have made the Chase this year, we still would have finished -- we would have never won the championship. So the facts are that the guys that are in probably the top five or six are the ones that are really, ultimately have a strong chance of winning the title unless some fluke thing happened to them, they had three or four engine failures or something.
I still think if you expanded it to 15, the championship guy is going to come out of that top six spots.
Q. Just a little on that same topic, to expand the field, as a driver I'm sure you don't like it because it's more competition, but what does it mean for teams and sponsors to expand, and will 12 be enough? Will it be better to have 17, 18 for sponsors and stuff like that?
GREG BIFFLE: I guess you can go back and recalculate the points and do all the configuring and recalculating you want to. But if you put all the drivers, all 43 cars in the Chase and gave them the five points in between them, the champion would be the same guy every year.
So it's not going to matter -- I'm not saying that for sure, I haven't done the math on it, but I would be willing to put a little bit of money on it; that champion is going to be the same guy. So, yes, it's going to give some of those other cars promotion, but we can fix that, also, by persuading the media or the television to cover a little bit more than just the Chase in those last ten races at the same time we expand the Chase.
I don't have a problem with expanding the Chase to 12, that's fine. But now there's going to be 12 guys we talk about. So that's the way it is. There's still going to be somebody left out.
Q. To duplicate past success, is there anything special that you can do with your team in regards to trying to get back the success that you've had in the past?
GREG BIFFLE: You know, success comes from really, really good race cars, really fast race cars, and better than -- as good as or better than everybody else. That's where it comes from.
You know, I try my hardest every week. We are going to go to California and try to win at California. And if we have a race car that we can win with, we will win the race.
So you know, a lot of it depends on the car, really. You know, you take these top 20 drivers and a lot of us, like Denny Hamlin at Pocono. He was not just light years better driver than all 43 guys. Yes, he did a fantastic job driving those cars, but their car worked very well at that racetrack, very well. They brought the same car back that won both races. There's something to the race car itself along with the driver and the combination of it all. But it certainly takes that race car to handle well, turn, have plenty of downforce and all that.
So that is what all of us work on all the time, all the teams, and if we can hit on something that makes our cars handle and get down on the racetrack and run well, that's what it takes to win five or six races. Kasey Kahne's team hit on that last year. They hit on something that was working for them and they perfected it and kept working on it and the results showed.
And then Tony Stewart did as well up in the Chase. They won those mile-and-a-halves just bang, bang, bang and they got something that was -- a combination that was working for them. It's constantly moving target, and the minute you can get your finger on it, try to keep it on it as long as you can, because that sucker keeps moving. That's what it takes to win races and championships.
Q. An obvious disappointment that you did not make the Chase last year. How do you expect the group that you now have together to ensure that you can make the Chase this year?
GREG BIFFLE: Well, certainly it's going to be a challenge. You know, the race cars we are building now, we are technically starting from scratch. Every race car we are building is pretty much new. I don't think we are going to end up with really any of the six cars from last year. And keep in mind, we have all of those COT races. And nobody still knows what that's going to do to anybody, who is going to be competitive, who isn't. So that's going to be a big upset.
So I think a lot revolves around us getting our cars handling well and showing up and being competitive every week, and then figuring out that COT thing as fast as we can. That's going to be the two keys for us making the Chase.
I think I have the team to do it and I have the crew chief and all of the people in place. It's just that we need to make sure that we run competitively at California and all of these places, that our race cars are fast, Las Vegas and all those. Hopefully we get this COT thing really scienced out well.
I feel we are probably behind on that compared to the other teams a little bit, mostly I would have to say to Hendricks. I think they look like they are a little bit further along than a lot of guys. They may have dedicated a team of people to that deal, getting there. Pat and I are going to Rockingham next Thursday with a COT car to try to learn some things about them, bump stops and all of the things that are new on them, you know, because we are going to race them at Darlington.
But those are going to be keys to making the Chase is running well with that COT car and getting our downforce cars to handle good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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