May 24, 2005 -
Bill Elliott, will make his 55th career start at Charlotte this Sunday, racing his third race in the No. 91 Stanley Tools Dodge Charger. Elliott has four poles, two wins, 11 top fives and 22 top 10s at the Charlotte. He started fourth and finished fourth in his most recent start at the track Ė fall of 2003. Elliott also leads all active drivers in laps led at Charlotte with 1,413 circuits in the top spot. The tally is sixth most all-time at the racetrack, ranking behind Dale Earnhardt (1,522). Elliott will run select races this year in an Evernham Motorsports Dodge Charger, and will next run with the Stanley Tools team at Indianapolis.
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 91 Stanley Tools Dodge Charger)
On testing at Charlotte this month:
ďThe track is quite a bit different than it has been in the past. I think, you noticed that from the All-Star race Saturday night. The main thing for us is just to expand off of what Jeremy and Kasey learned. We learned a good bit in the test, but then we need to try to build off what Jeremy and Kaseyís comments were and how they ended up Saturday night.Ē
ďCharlotte was good to me. The 600 has always kind of eluded me through the years. But, being that itís a 600 mile race, it gives you a lot more opportunities to have a good day because normally the last 100 miles is always the crucial part of having a good finish in the 600.Ē
Can you put Ricky Ruddís consecutive start streak of 764 races into perspective?
ďI donít think anybody can put it into perspective. The way youíve got to look at all of this stuff is thatís a pretty incredible deal. Not to have an injury or a sickness or something to prevent you from starting these deals. Thatís a pretty impressive deal. I donít care who you are. To me, you go through all this stuff over the years and look back at all the things that could have happened and might have happened, but then it didnít. And he was able to accomplish that. For me, I had a pretty good run going and I broke my hip at Talladega, and then I had some other problems another time. But, once you kind of experience that you realize that a lot of things can affect you, you know?Ē
On racing this weekend:
ďItís good to be back. I miss certain aspects of it Ė some of it I donít, of course. But all in all, throughout the years racing has been awfully good to me. For me, starting this race at Charlotte here, it will start to be a pretty aggressive racing season again. I run there then I test at Michigan. Then I go run Rustyís Busch car at Nashville. Then I go to Michigan. Then I run Rustyís car again at Milwaukee. Then weíre talking about maybe running something the first of July and then running the Pikes Peak race at the end of July. Then Indy, then Michigan, then California again. So, itís going to start to be a pretty wild season here.
On lucky dog rule:
ďWell, the way I see it, it really doesnít matter. Whatever rules they implement into the deal, whether itís a guy to get his lap back or whatever, you can unfold it and look at it two ways. A guy that can be ahead of the other guys a lap down and get his lap back. Normally if youíve got a guy thatís a dominating car and youíve got a pretty decent race car under the old rules youíd never, ever get your lap back, because you couldnít put yourself into position. Plus, on top of that, if you got up there and letís say you were maybe just a little bit off the leader, but could run with him and maybe put him in jeopardy or crash him trying to get ahead of him to get your lap back. Thatís the way it was before. The way it is now, you can kind of run there, bide your time, and wait for a caution and then proceed on. But there again, I donít know that itís a negative, really. If you look at the whole standpoint itís probably been a pretty good deal all in all.
And people have accepted it because of the safety standpoint?
ďVery much so. Because, with them not racing back to the flag Ė and youíve always seen it in the past before they had this Ė depending on if it was a teammate or whatever, you could get your lap back, or not. Letís say there were two teammates racing. One guy was leading and one guy was a lap down, and the guy leading backed off and let the guy a lap down get his lap back before the start/finish line, on the way we used to race back to the caution. Where today, it takes that out of the equation. It doesnít really play favoritism to a team guy that could maybe let his teammate by or prevent an opposing team from getting by to get his lap back. Itís six, one, and a half dozen another. I think at the end result, I donít see it being a negative. I really donít.
On the Chase:
ďItís just like last year, there was a lot of media coverage up towards race 26. And this year, itís like once we get complacent in what we do, itís just like the way the points system has been in the past, nobody really talked about it until the end of the year. Weíve had some things that went along with it, but all in all, once you kind of get used to it and itís a part of things to do, you donít think much about it. Everybody is trying to run and gain points regardless of if itís the way the old system was or the way the new system is. To me, you look at it from the standpoint of either getting into the top 10 if itís more than 400 points, or if you can stay within 400 points of the leader with 10 races to go, then it just starts over again. Itís like you might as well as forget about the first two-thirds of the season if you can stay within that magic number of either 10 or 400, I think is the way it pans out. And with that, youíve got just as good a shot as a lot of the other guys, with the exception of the way they break the points down there in the last 10 races, from first to whatever position they go back to.Ē
Is the Chase as good a measure of a championship as when you won it?
ďI donít think people are going to look that far back. You accepted it the way it was then, and you kind of accept it the way it is today. You donít have a lot of control over a lot of the things that go on, and for me, I was proud ofÖ Youíve got to understand, through my era I came in and we werenít a part of a well known team. We built our team out of my brotherís and my familyís hard work. We came in, we started races, we finished races, we won races and we won a championship all under that same title. I think, of all the things throughout my career that Iíve accomplished, I can look back at that and thatís my most satisfying part of my career. Granted, thereís been some great things that happened through the Junior (Johnson) era and coming on to Ray, as far as this era is concerned. But, the way we did it, the way we came in, thereís just been very few people who have been able to accomplish that. And, with the way the point system is today or the way it was, a champion is a champion is a champion, is the way I see it, whether itís the way points were or the way they are now.Ē
On racing at Charlotte:
ďThe main thing is to stay on the lead lap. You get some of these guys now, if you look at the way that things have gone now, the Hendrick and the Roush deals have got everyone else smoked. The only other two teams that have won a race outside of that is Childress with Harvick and Kasey with Ray. I donít know what theyíve done, but it just seems like all of a sudden theyíve emerged into the super teams. And that comes back to having a good run at Charlotte. If you can stay in the hunt and stay on the lead lap and keep yourself in position all night long, you can put yourself in the position to win. But, those are the key things that youíve got to do.Ē
On the difficulty of finishing as strong in a part-time vs. fulltime team:
ďLet me throw that around as another question. How many fulltime teams have not had top 10 finishes? Look at Matt Kenseth. Based on five races last year, and weíve only competed in three this year and two we hadnít finished. To me itís just numbers. I think youíre capable of doing anything. The main thing is, with the way Ray has structured his teams and the route that heís going in keeping them abreast, theyíre not like a guy just running every now and then without having other avenues of gathering information. With Chris Andrews there, and all of the stuff that theyíve got going on, and him being able to run several different things and keep abreast of Jeremy and KaseyÖ Yeah, you might lose a little bit, but it would be nowhere near like coming in cold turkey, not having the other information to feed into to run a partial deal. But, being able to run more stuff here the next few months, thatís going to give me a better opportunity to expand on what weíre trying to do.
ďPlus, you look at what we did last year, for example at Texas I sat on the outside pole, led a lot of laps and we cut a tire down and crashed. At Atlanta we had a pretty decent run. We got a lap down early, but we ran good the rest of the day. Youíve got to kind of put things in perspective. You look at some of the guys that have run good or run bad, itís hard to say. I still enjoy competing. I still enjoy a lot of it. And weíll just kind of see how things unfold. If it gets to where I think itís a negative to the teamÖ But on the flip side of that, I have helped Ray, especially last year to come on and developÖ We started running his in-house cars last year. I was always running a different spec engine than those other guys, trying to get some development ahead of whatís going on. To me, Iíve kind of been the guinea pig. But, I still enjoy the racing.
ďTo me, I look at it as the opportunity to help Rayís organization build to the next level. Thatís the way I view it. However you want to look at it, thatís fine. But, for me itís part of making sure that Evernham Motorsports survives in this arena and continues to try to make strides ahead of all the other competition.Ē
Is it more important for you to make sure donít leave any good runs on the table?
ďMy perspective is a little bit different than those guys. When do you lose it, or when do you keep it? Itís just like playing cards Ė know when to hold them and know when to fold them. No one knows that. Some guys have better opportunities than others, but my point is, when do you ever know? At least with the opportunity the way I am today, if I want to run five races or 25 races, thatís my decision. If I want to come back next year and run all the racesÖ Iíve not said, ĎThis is, bam, shut the door and Iím done.í At least Iíve given myself an opportunity to continue to, at least, stay kind of up to whatís going on, and to make decisions based on how you feel per year.
ďBut, there again, each person has his own way of looking at things. If Mark (Martin) says, ĎIf you give me this kind of equipment, Iíll come back next year,í well, I had good equipment in í03, and I didnít see why that was going to be any different in í04 if I had continued to stay with Ray. That wasnít driving my decision. What drove my decision was more that Iíve got children, I want to spend more time with them, Iíve got family things I want to do. Iíve got other things that, as I continue to get older, yeah, I could probably drive a car another two or three or four years, but my point is that youíve got an age there eventually that youíre not going to want to do anything or be able to do much other stuff. I donít want to continue to close that window up. I want to be able to start looking at doing other things, and if I find something that I might really want to do Iíll just quit racing altogether, or race part time, or go play in the dirt, or go do something different. Iím not totally committed in everything Iíve done to this point. For me, it gives me a lot of options that nobody else has. As far as the stress and the dealÖ Letís take a hypothetical situation, letís say Mark says, ĎOkay, Iím going to go another year.í And he goes back next year and he has a miserable year. But, on the flip side letís say he has a great year and wins a championship. How do you play those odds? Right now Ford and Chevrolet have a pretty good race car and theyíve got some good race teams. But whoís to say that it might flip and somebody else might have that?Ē
On fansí attachment to race car numbers:
ďI think people get etched in their minds a certain thing. You might have certain things or certain sports you grew up around or whatever, and a certain thing just catches you and stays with you throughout time. I think what the No. 9 was synonymous for and coming through the í80s and all the stuff that we did well, and then coming back to the No. 9 in 2001, and winning in Homestead, then Pocono, Indy and then Rockingham in the fall of í03, has kind of rejuvenated that group of fans. I think with me stepping aside and Kasey coming in and doing as well as he has Ė heís got a great personality, heís got a lot of things going for him Ė I think all of that plays a part in what ends up becoming of that.Ē
ďI love Pocono for some reason. It always was good to me throughout the í80s and í90s, I ran well there. Itís just to me a lot of fun racetrack. Itís a very challenging racetrack. I had a lot of good memories there. I can remember going to Pocono in the í70s, and there wasnít enough people in the grandstands to start a good fight. And now today, you canít even find a seat in the house. It kind of has itís own following, but to me, itís always been a fun, fun racetrack.
Fondest memory at Pocono:
ďIíd say winning there in í02, coming back and the way we raced. Just being able to race the guys that I raced towards the end of the race, and having such a good day. I think Sterling was leading there later on in the race, and I was able to get by him and hold off Kurt Busch. And then to turn around and backup the win the next week at IndyÖ Looking back at winning back-to-back in the í80s there, itís just been to me an extremely lot of fun racetrack.Ē
Did it mean any more to you to see Martin win the All-Star race last weekend?
ďI hadnít heard anybody say any different. I was tickled to death to see Mark win. If anybody could have won it, Mark was probably one of my favorites Ė if Kasey couldnít have won it, Mark was. To watch Kasey win at Richmond and then Mark win the All-Star Challenge was really a neat deal. Mark has been dedicated to this sportÖ I remember when Mark came in in the later í80s, and he was just a scrawny little kid. And to be able to be as tough a competitor as he is today, and as well as heís run in the Roush stables, heís kind of been just a solid, solid runner every year.Ē
1,413 career laps led at Charlotte Ė thatís a lot of time to have spent up front:
ďYeah, that is to not have won a 600 there. Maybe this is the weekend we can do it. Weíll see.Ē