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August 4, 2002
MODERATOR: Bill, congratulations. What a run. Talk about the race today.
BILL ELLIOTT: Fantastic. Feels like it took an eternity to get here. As I was running along here the last several weeks, I've been reflecting on a lot of different things. My dad passed away back in '98, my nephew passed away, what all that has meant to me throughout my lifetime. You know, just wishing they were here to celebrate this victory. There was a lady here, Darcy Ross, that worked for CMG, who became a special friend. She passed away of cancer not too long ago. You know, all I could think about was all those folks, you know. It's satisfying to come here and win. But, you know, this was just -- I feel like all those people were right in the car with me today - from my dad, my nephew, to my grandmother, grandfathers - you know, just kind of holding their hands around me, making me make the right decisions. One thing I got to say: Regardless of what I do, I am so proud of my guys, it's unreal. They have worked so hard, so dedicated. We came here and tested and we ran every lap we could possibly run, you know, in the two days we tested. When I walked out of here, I was a whipped puppy at the end of the day. To come here and dominate like we did, you know, still wasn't as good as Dale Jarrett did a couple years ago, but at least we're chipping away as it. The 20 car was good early, 2 car was good at the end. 88 seemed like to have an awful good race car, ended up having a little misfortune on the gas stop. Seemed like he was coming along the later part of the race. I was just proud of all the guys. They worked so hard, put all this dedication into it. From Ray, to Mike to Kenny, to Vince, to Derek, to Billie, to Mike Hawkins, all the team guys back at the shop, motor side and chassis side. That says a lot for the dedication, how hard these guys work.
MODERATOR: Bill has finished in the Top 10 seven times in the Brickyard 400. His best finish prior to this was 3rd in 94 and 2000. Joining us are Ray Evernham and Mike Ford. Ray, real fast, comments on the race today.
RAY EVERNHAM: Oh, boy. It's a stunning day for me. I really still can't believe this, what these guys have done for me. Dodge of course has given me the opportunity. But, you know, Bill and Mike were two of the first people I hired. You dream about days like this. But, you know, I know how hard that these guys worked. Mike had a plan coming here. This is something that everybody knew was important to Bill. And they put it together. For the past two weeks, they have put a heck of a race car on the racetrack. And Mike is very methodical and very intense. I was just very proud, I was like a parent today. You know, when I won here as a crew chief, it was all mechanical, you were proud of your mechanical accomplishments. Today it was overwhelming to know how happy it would make him, especially happy, especially happy (laughter). And what it meant to Mike because I know what it went to me all the nine guys. It's just I would say a paternal type of happiness, emotion today.
Q. Anything you did different to prepare for this race than most other races?
MIKE FORD: We came to test a few weeks back. We had a plan. We were going to sacrifice a little bit in qualifying. A lot of people come here and spend two days trying to qualify. We had our eyes set on the trophy. That's what we wanted to accomplish. We had a plan, had a plan set forth, took a few weeks to prepare everything, and we came here. I think we ran two races worth of laps. We spent a lot of time on the racetrack trying to answer the questions that our race cars have left us a little bit short on in the past. We answered some of those. You know, it panned out for us last week at Pocono. We were able to learn a little more coming in here. We found a little bit of speed and race trim here.
Q. Bill, back when you were the King of Speed back in the '80s, two Daytona 500 wins, all you accomplished then, what was it about today when in Victory Lane you said this was your greatest?
BILL ELLIOTT: A lot of emotion here today. I mean, it seems like it's been a lifetime getting here, and I don't know how to describe it. I mean, you know, you just look back, all the hard work, all the dedication. Even the years when I had my own deal, I came here and ran well, but never could make the right decisions to get in Victory Lane. It seemed like every time it was always a hard-luck story of why we didn't win at the end of the day. Over the last several weeks, it's been, you know, we kept thinking, "Oh, my, now we can do it. We can do it each and every week." We've just got to keep that momentum rolling. Now I feel like we're going into a stretch where it's wearing a lot of guys down. This race team is really a viable race team, as good as the morale is, as good as these guys are working together, as good as Mike Ford and myself's communications are together, certainly we're not going to get what we want every week, but I think this is a great start to a great future, you know, a great building block for Ray Evernham and what he wants this race team to be for years down the road.
Q. Bill, just to clarify, when you say it seems like it's been a lifetime getting here, you mean getting back to Victory Lane after the lean years you've had?
BILL ELLIOTT: A little bit of both. I mean, it seems like that, you know, everybody's too easy to count you out. You know, and then you stop believing in yourself. I mean, when Ray came to me, as I said back several weeks ago, I mean, I couldn't even think he was going to hire me, with my past record at that point in time, I hadn't done much of anything. You know, I thought maybe he needed a psychologist (laughter). First off, having a race team, and second off for hiring me. There again, it's like Mike has brought something to me that I guess I've lacked for a number of years. It's that solid consistency, that foundation that each and every driver needs out there. That solid foundation, you know, gives me more confidence on the racetrack and gives those guys more confidence in the decisions they make every minute of every day. And that's a two-way street. And it's a never-ending evolution. I learn something new every time I come to the racetrack.
Q. We saw Tony very clearly wave you by, very clearly get out of the way, like, "I can't do anything with them, come on." He let you have it. Rusty Wallace sat there a few minutes ago and said he thought he had the thing won, then he got up off the corner, got loose, you drove under him. He said, "When Bill passed me, I got a big grin on my face," he was so happy for you. Gestures like that these last couple weeks, seems like nobody is happier for you than your fellow drivers. Have you felt that in the garage, they're really thrilled for you?
BILL ELLIOTT: Very much so. I mean, from the young to the old. I mean, you know, it's been a long time coming. And, I mean, it's just like I keep telling these guys, "I'm on the shorter end of the stick than these younger guys." They've got a lot of future, a lot of years left to go. I mean, regardless of how long I drive, whether it's next week, next month, 10 years from now, the sport's eventually going to push you out. That's going to be a part of evolution. But I'm just proud of where I'm at today. I'm proud of the accomplishment. You know, everybody has been so good to me here of late. It's like, you know, I feel it's a joy coming into the garage and driving the race car. I want to focus on the race car. I want to focus less on doing other stuff. You know, I think I've got a good balance in my life right now from not only my family's side, but from the professional to the race side. I've been able to put things in perspective. Now, with all that being said, that gives me the confidence to come into these events each and every week and put the car together. Like I said, we ain't going to get it right each and every week, but I still feel like we're going to be a threat each and every week.
Q. At the end of Happy Hour yesterday, you kept getting faster and faster and faster. That just doesn't happen anymore in Happy Hour, doesn't seem. What's it like to go to bed knowing you have that good of a car and have to wait for the race? Does that take you back to the days when you felt like that all the time?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, a couple things was going on yesterday. We were scuffing a couple of sets of tires in. We were going out. The racetrack kept getting cooler. The racetrack kept picking up speed. The more turn one and turn four get shaded here, it was almost starting to rain down in three and four, it eventually did just as soon as practice was over. Racetrack started cooling up. I think that goes somehow to like how qualifying transpired on Saturday. We got the luck of the draw, ended up second. I was proud of our run. But still, this old racetrack changes a lot. That was the biggest thing that Mike and Derek and Kenny and all the guys had to decide late yesterday afternoon, was how we were going to start this race in the middle of the heat and keep the car under us all day long.
Q. As dominant as you were back in '88, '92, did you ever think a decade later some of those same guys would still be chasing you around like they were today?
BILL ELLIOTT: You never know. I mean, if you stay in a sport long enough, you going to ride that roller coaster up and down. I don't care who you are. To me it becomes a part, if you can just -- you know, to me I look at it, and guys that's had the most successful years or careers have had a very stable foundation under them. I look back on my past years, and I was stable in the '80s doing my own deal, but then the sport got so big, I couldn't keep up. Then the '90s came along, I went to Junior. First year I just walked in on a great team with Tim, and all the guys already had an established deal. We came out and won races, nearly won the championship. Then Tim and Junior didn't see eye to eye. That kind of separated that team. Then Mike and I spent the next two years trying to put it back together. And then in '95, I decided to do my own deal. I just kept going down different roads. I never could put things together in the right direction. And with Ray, you know, Mike came along with me, in I guess late '99, first of 2000, and he's given me the stability and the confidence. We had some awful good runs in our deal in 2000. I mean, I was proud of what -- them guys slept on the floor back at the shop, you know, because I didn't have the money to do it like it needs to be done today. And they put a lot of dedication in behind me. Then when Ray came along, we turned Top 15, Top 20 finishes into Top 15s, Top 10s, Top 5s. You know, last year we finished maybe a lap down. Now we put in a lead lap. We just kept making it better and better. That goes to show you the communication and the dedication of what we've done and what these guys have done week in and week out.
Q. I'd like for you to just reflect on how deep the valley was when you were struggling. You went from being called former champion to Bill Elliott, who has lost more than 225 races. Put that into perspective with how you feel now.
BILL ELLIOTT: I don't think anybody can put it into perspective. I mean, you know, I look back on like Darrel and several of them guys. I feel like I've had a second chance at life. I mean, I'll tell you one thing about Ray is right, wrong or different, regardless of how we ran all last year, he called me on Monday or Tuesday and said, "Look, we'll get you a better race car next week." You don't know how good that made me feel. To know that he supported me, there was no talk behind your back, "We'll get somebody else to drive the car," whatever. Just keep the support going that. Just made me want to come back and drive the car a little bit harder. I do feel like I've had a second chance at this. To go through the struggles and the trials and tribulations that I went through in the late '90s, it's like I could have walked away just about easier than I could have stayed. It was getting to that point in my career. But, you know, I'm glad I stayed. At least I had a second chance, and this guy give it to me.
Q. Ray, you developed two teams, one as a crew chief, one as an owner. Do you see a turning point in this team that went from the building to the competitive? Does it parallel anything at Hendricks?
RAY EVERNHAM: I built a team when I built the 24. I feel like I'm building an organization now; Mike is building a team. You know, a turning point for them really, you know, at the end of last year when they really started to run good, Mike had to get his guys together, they had some setbacks, but he went into this winter with a plan about how he was going to approach the season. He's very intense, which I like, because that's the way I used to be (laughter). He's very methodical. He sticks to his guns. So, you know, a team's got to be built around leadership. Mike has some great guys on his team, but he's matured very much as a great leader. I don't know that it parallels anything at Hendrick. I don't really compare it to that. Mike does differently than I did them. Again, the things I think makes those guys successful now is the fact that Mike respects Bill, and all the guys on the team know that Bill Elliott is the best driver in their car on Sunday. They've got the best guy. They work, they work hard together. I think any team that's successful, that parallels a lot of championship organizations. But, you know, it wasn't a formula like we said, "Okay, we're going to make it like Hendrick, we want to make it like everyone in motorsports." With Dodge being new, this is an organization, and Mike's got a group of young guys, they're going to do things in a different way.
BILL ELLIOTT: Mike, tell me where you were at when I won the championship in '88.
MIKE FORD: I was still in high school (laughter).
Q. Bill, this is supposed to be a year where the young guys were going to come, win the Brickyard 400. All these guys have been doing it all season. What does it say when you got a guy out there that's going to turn 47 in October being chased by a guy who is going to turn 46 in a couple weeks?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, you know, Rusty had a good pace. I think had he put on four tires and made a few more adjustments, he would have been hard to beat there at the end. But that's what it's all about. I think, looking at the young guys, we're going -- they're going to be a great part of this sport in the near future. That's the things that we've got to look at. You know, I still want to make my mark while I'm here. Fortunately enough, Ray, Mike, all the guys that put some excellent equipment under mere me, made some good decisions both collectively together here as a group. As Ray said, it's all about believing in each other. For whatever reason, we have really (inaudible) together as a race team. I don't know how to explain that. Mike can read me before I ever say anything. You know, he knows what to do with the race car.
Q. Bill, when you put the tires on with 20 or so to go, you dropped back to about 5th, just describe coming back up through there, making the pass for the lead.
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, every lap you run becomes a little bit tougher. You get a little more time on your tires. And I knew it was going to be a struggle. You know, the guys give me some good breaks there, especially Tony. I was able to run Rusty down. Just kept working him, kept working him. I didn't know if I was going to pass him or not. The places I was good, he was good enough. The places I needed to be better, he was real good. I just kept working him. He kind of slipped getting into turn one. That let me get pretty close to his bumper. I knew he made a slip in turn two. I was able to get up under him.
Q. Mike, did you see a truck go out to pick up that debris with six laps to go?
MIKE FORD: No, I really didn't see the caution or the debris that was on the racetrack. Just tried to focus. If there's anything on our end we could do, kind of keep Bill informed on what's happening, how many laps there were to go, keep our eye on the trophy there.
BILL ELLIOTT: There was a piece of rubber up in turn two. It was kind of up out of the groove. I didn't see the caution come out (laughter). I knew I had my work cut out for me the last four laps because you never know. You go down to one corner, make a slip, make a wrong move. Rusty's pace was pretty good on a short run. All it takes is a couple guys getting a run on you, you miss a shift, make one little mistake, they're going to be all over you.
Q. Ray, what are some of the specific things you saw Bill do say in '98 or '99 that made you think, "He's the guy I want driving my race car"?
RAY EVERNHAM: I used to talk when I was with Jeff. Bill would come over and talk to me about setups. Bill and I worked together in IROC. I knew how good he was really from IROC. We would just talk. I knew from talking -- when you talk to a driver, you can pretty much tell whether that guy is on the ball or what he feels. Bill and I talked about a lot of setups and things like that. Jeff Gordon and I actually had some conversations about Bill. There were times in that McDonald's car, Bill I remember one time at Michigan, I guess he was putting a whooping on us. I don't know if he broke or what. "Bill is pretty frisky today." Jeff said, "That guy's good." When I was leaving to start this deal, I talked to Jeff Gordon a lot. He said, "Look, you need to get that guy." You know, Bill had told me a little bit about his sponsor problems and everything, so actually before this whole thing went down, Bill knew before anybody. I went in and said, "Look, something big is about to happen. I want to you come drive for me." I was really very, very fortunate enough to get him. But, you know, there's just certain things that great drivers do, like come through on clutches like today was a real big day. There were some opportunities there that he had to execute things perfectly, like the pass he executed last week, working Rusty and passing him at the right time, handling, getting a good jump on that restart. Great drivers can do things like that. When you have the big game, that's when those guys come through.
Q. Bill, one of the things we always ask guys who grew up in stock cars in the southeast is about Indianapolis. How long does it seem distance-wise from the hills of north Georgia to racing a place like this and winning at a track with so much history?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, you know, I look back on when I started. When I was in Winston Cup in the '70s, my dad didn't have the money to do it. We didn't have the money to do it. I keep telling the story, we went and bought used tires from whoever, Jay helped me on the side, I gave him a little money, a hundred dollars here and there. You know, to ever go from there -- to go through the steps and the road I followed to this point is mind-boggling. You'd have to live it to understand it. The ups and downs, the heartaches, the years of satisfaction from winning, the years of disheartening things that's happened on the racetrack, didn't seem like you could buy a race. You know, to come here and have such a great team like this around you and how much I appreciate these guys and how much effort they put behind me, how good that makes me feel on the racetrack. You know, I keep saying that over and over again, but, you know, I think that's what makes me the proudest of all at accomplishments I've done, to have a group of people working as well together as what we have. And that to me, as I said the other day, it's 99% of the game.
Q. Bill, you won that first million dollar check, you became known as Million Dollar Bill. Would you like to be known now as Brickyard Bill?
BILL ELLIOTT: I'd like to be another brick in the wall. I kept saying that earlier (laughter). You know, at its point in time, the competition went like it went today. A lot of competition back then, I can recall that race like it was yesterday. Earnhardt ran well, Gant ran well, Cale ran well. They all had an opportunity to win. Some misfortune happened at some point during the day. The last one was Cale breaking a power steering line going into turn three. I passed him. Caution came out. I held him off for the last few laps. There was just as many people -- I think there was more people wanting to beat me than the people wanting to see me win at that point in time. You know, it all has its point in time. One of these days I can sit back in my rocker and reflect on, you know, each win and what it meant at a particular time. I mean, last week was a great win for this race team. It was a crucial win for this race team. It brought the momentum into this weekend. It brought the confidence in this race team, that we could come here and come out of here victorious Sunday afternoon. That's the things you can't put a price on. Is just like that commercial, that's priceless at the end of the day. That momentum is as much an important part of this sport, you couldn't put a value on it. I think to come here today and to win and achieve this goal is a fantastic victory not only for myself, but this race team.
Q. When we were coming down, we heard the fans. They were screaming, "Awesome Bill." What does that do to your ego, psyche, after having that type of accomplishment?
BILL ELLIOTT: You know, I've been trying to stay on an even keel. I've been trying to focus totally on racing, forget about the rest of the stuff. As I alluded to earlier, you know, I don't want to run off and do a bunch of commercials, I don't want to do movies. I want to be right here. I want to run this race team to the best of my ability. I want to be 100% focused on this race team. I feel like with 100% focus that Mike Ford and all the guys do, they deserve 100% focus out of me.
Q. You were kind of emotional there at the end of the race. Wondering where all this ranks for you? What point did you think that you were at a level that you could do this?
RAY EVERNHAM: You know, that's kind of not like me. I don't know where all that came from. It's been a lot of trial and tribulation. Quite honestly, there were a lot of people that said, when I left Hendrick and the 24, that I was never going to win again, that I couldn't accomplish this. That was part of it. And, again, you know, knowing how much it meant to Bill and to Mike. You see Chase sitting up here. Chase got to go to Victory Lane for the first time with Bill and last time at Pocono. I know how much that means because my son got to go to Pocono. I think all those things hit you at once. Knowing you haven't been a car owner that long, I've been fortunate enough or blessed enough to get in a position that you find people like Bill Elliott and Mike Ford, sponsors that believe in you enough to say, "Okay, here, we believe you can get this done." Then when it starts to happen, you get over a hump with a major accomplishment like this, I think it overcame me a little bit. I didn't know what to say. I think for the first time in my life I was speechless (laughter).
Q. Bill, even in the years when you were struggling, you always seemed to run well here. What is it about this track, why you could always come up here and get a Top 5, a good run like that?
BILL ELLIOTT: You know, that's what I said. Even when I ran my own deal in the McDonald's car, I came up here and led a lot of laps, but I never could come get to Victory Lane. I don't know. It's just been a great racetrack for me. I've had a knack of getting around this racetrack. I've qualified well here nearly every time. I don't know what it is about it. My driving style and adaptability to this pick event, and we got the car right today. All those runs that we made. I told Mike, we were testing, "How many more runs do we have to do?" It was using me up. I went home that night, I didn't sleep at all that Tuesday night we left from all the testing. But that's a part of it. I needed to learn more. I needed to give them more information. They needed to learn more information. It seems like for all the stuff they're doing now, it seems like I've been able to adapt to what they've been giving me real well, been able to read it and turn and give that input back to them, then they've turned around and give it back to the car and made it faster.
Q. Mike, you get the last word. When Robert Yates won the championship as a car owner, he said to the journalists, "You don't know what it means to walk in the garage as a champion." As a crew chief now, you've put together a team, you whooped them into shape, won two races in a row. What does it mean to walk into the garage area as a steadily winning crew chief?
MIKE FORD: I think the first thing it does for you, being young, not being a crew chief over a number of years, is it gives you confidence. You know, we started this race team at the beginning of last year. We set a goal of getting to the Top 15 in points. We accomplished that in our first year, which was a large hurdle for us. But the most important thing was by the end of the year, we could get our race cars built and get to a competitive level. That gave us a small taste of what we needed to do coming into this year to really be competitive. You know, through rule changes over the winter and early part of the year, we really couldn't put everything together because we were working more on getting to the racetrack rather than learning how to go fast. Right around the Charlotte point of this year, we got our race cars in very good shape. Through engineering, like I say, these guys have mentioned other names, Derek Jones, Ken Francis, Vince, we've all been able to collect our thoughts and think about what we're trying to learn and be able to put a price on certain projects that we want to work on. We've been able to do that since, say, the Charlotte point of this year. You know, a lot of those projects are starting to pay dividends right now. We're becoming more competitive. Kind of use Pocono as a test last week for coming here. There were a few things we wanted to answer leaving the Indy test. We answered some of those at Pocono. We were able to take that a step further. I'd say the biggest thing it does, not only for the crew chief, but for the race team, it gives you confidence as a young team, that you can go out there on pit road and win a race.
MODERATOR: Bill led 93 laps. That pushes his Brickyard total laps led to 149 in his nine-year Brickyard history. He's the first winner of this race to start on the front row. Bill, Ray, Mike, congratulations.
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