Tuesday, Sept. 14,2004.
Dodge Motorsports Teleconference
John Fernandez and Ray Evernham
JOHN FERNANDEZ (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations)
OPENING COMMENTS "I was more than happy to see us get two Dodges in Saturday night because if you went back three weeks ago we had one guy and it seemed like every other week it was a different guy. I think one time on Saturday night we had anywhere from nobody in to four people in, so I was happy to see us get two in. We're still building our program at the Cup level. We've got two guys going for the championship, and we're real excited about that."
WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF DEALING WITH COMPETITIVE PEOPLE?
"If you look at the broad spectrum of things, there's competition starting right with engineers that work on the motorsports programs because you really want to have the best engineering talent you can possibly have, right on through actually the competition you're going to see more of with the teams and organizations as more and more manufacturers move in to the NASCAR arena. Obviously we saw Toyota enter this year, and I think everybody was worried about how that was going to come about. I think NASCAR did a really good job in terms of their ability to come in and do their organizations. I think they did a good job of it, but it's going to be tougher and tougher at all level, not just the bidding for the organizations and drivers but all the support people -- the crew chiefs, mechanics, guys over the wall. All that's going to get tougher and tougher."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW POINTS' SYSTEM?
"I think it was very exciting. Ten races from the end last year, I don't think you had anywhere near the excitement you had Saturday night. Everybody was looking, myself in particular. Where are my guys? Where do we stand relative to being in the chase or being out of the chase? You had to look lap after lap because it kept changing dramatically. I think it was very exciting for the fans. I think it was very exciting for the teams. Obviously some of them went home disappointed. Some went home very excited, but I think the Chase, up to this point, has done what NASCAR hoped it would do and that's bring a little more excitement toward the end of the season."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM DRIVERS NOT IN THE TOP 10 IN THE LAST 10 RACES?
"I think Ray (Evernham) was absolutely correct about Kasey Kahne. People had great expectations early in the year because he came out of the box so well. Realistically looking at it, there never has been a rookie winning the championship, and I think the expectations on Kasey were higher than they needed to be. Certainly if he had made The Chase, it would have been exciting to watch him. Now that he's not in the Chase he has the opportunity to reflect on his season and concentrate on getting that first win and getting ready for next year. Regardless of what happens the rest of the year,. He's had an outstanding season as a rookie.
"Jamie McMurray, I think it was a big learning experience for Jamie. He was so close, and he lost 25 points earlier in the year or he could have been there. If you look at what hurt Jamie more than anything, and I think he'll see it when he sits down and looks at it, it was the six races he didn't finish that became the thing that really took him out of the championship. He had as many top fives and top 10s as some of the guys in the chase; He had too many DNF's. They weren't backed up by wins. I think he'll see that team needs to work on consistency, and I think that will be one of their goals
"Rusty had an up and down season. It was his first win at Martinsville early in the year and that was big for Rusty, but again, too many DNF's. The inconsistency of the program, the same with Sterling Marlin. I think those three groups will go back and say how can I become more consistent over those first 26 (races) to make sure I get into the chase.
"For Brendan Gaughan it was just a big learning experience, right across the board. His first year in NASCAR
(NEXTEL Cup competition), he's been working hard at trying to improve his game. Casey Mears I think was either
rhe first or second most improved driver in NASCAR this year. He moved up 16 spaces from last year. If he makes the same move next year, he'll be up challenging for the top 10 next year. Everybody takes away a little something different if they didn't make the chase. The guys who did make the chase will obviously sit and concentrate on these next 10 races. From one perspective we have two veteran drivers in there. I think both of those guys are going to do well in the chase."
WHEN WILL THE 2005 DODGE CUP CAR'S NAME BE UNVEILED AND WHEN WILL IT DEBUT AS A RACE VEHICLE?
"I'm not at liberty to tell you when the name is going to be announced, although I will tell you there is going to be a name. In terms of the timetable to bring the car out, we're shooting for the Daytona 500 and debut it as a race vehicle. We just recently finished up all of the approvals with NASCAR. We had one little glimp there at the end where there was one small template we needed to do some work on. We got that cleared up the other day. In fact last week I was down with Mike Helton at NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach and we went over all the graphics for the car and got those approved. We're pretty much down the line right now. All the teams are in the process of building their cars for next year and getting ready for the 500."
WHEN WILL THE PUBLIC FIRST GET TO SEE THE BODY OF THE NEW CAR?
"Probably the first time the public will get to see it if they peep through the fence at Speedweeks."
HOW MUCH POWER WILL YOU PUT BEHIND THE TWO DRIVERS RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"Obviously the two guys in it for the championship right now are the 19 and 12, Ryan and Jeremy. Those are the only two guys going for it, but all our other teams are going to be out there trying to win. Knowing the guys individually, each guy is going to try to make more points than the other 10 guys and say 'see, I told you so.' I believe we're basically out there with all our cars to try to win the races. With the 12 and 19, we'll be trying to win the championship. We don't have team orders in NASCAR, and if we had 'em, I'm not so sure I could make 'em stick."
WHAT WOULD IT HAVE MEANT TO DODGE WITH NO CARS IN THE CHASE?
"It would have been a big disappointment for us not to have any cars in the chase, and we were in a situation where it seemed like all year long we had a guy in and the last five or six weeks it seemed like it was a different guy every week. We could never have a couple of guys have a good week all at the same time. Then, two weeks before the end that happened and we got Kasey and Ryan in there. Jeremy did not have that good of a day at California and came back and had a great night in Richmond and got into the chase. Looking at the positive side of it, we could have got four guys in there, especially if Jeff Gordon had had some problems we would have got two other guys in under the 400 rule. Am I happy with two guys in 10? I would have been happier with four guys in 10, but at least we've got two guys in there and two veteran drivers who I think are both capable of winning the championship for us. A little sigh of relief that we did get two guys in there and a little bit of frustration that we didn't get more."
WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR A DODGE TEAM TO WIN THE NASCAR NEXTEL CUP?
"I was a believer in this last year. I don't think the special bonuses necessarily make my drivers go any quicker. These guys are in it to win the championship. Yeah, there's a lot of money involved, but the racers it comes down to wanting to win the championship. If all they got was the trophy, those guys would be out there doing the same thing. I think what it's going to take is just what it takes all season long -- consistency. I firmly believe if you have a DNF you're history in the chase, so that's something you've got to avoid. I think you'll see the crews working more diligently making sure that doesn't happen or getting people back out there, but consistency is what it's going to take. Anybody that goes out there and gets really hot and wins two or three races could walk away with the thing."
YOU THINK 10 RACES IS A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME?
"I think it is relative to a DNF. I think it would be very, very difficult to recover from a DNF. I think the only way if fact you're going to recover from a DNF is to match it up with a couple of wins. That's going to be tough with the 10 guys you've got, and don't forget, all the guys that didn't make the chase are a little upset and they want to prove that they maybe should have been in it, so they're going to be working extra hard to win the races."