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Ford's Chase chances looking good

 

August 31, 2005

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Even though Ford may have the fewest number of cars in the field every week, there's a possibility that the manufacturer may have the most Chase for the Nextel Cup competitors. Currently there are four Fords, three Chevrolets and three Dodges that make up the top 10.

Those numbers will likely change, however, but with only two races remaining to secure a spot in the final 10-race chase, seven of the eight full-time Ford drivers have either clinched a spot or are still in contention.

Greg Biffle goes into this weekend's race at California third in the point standings and has already secured his position while Roush Racing teammates Mark Martin (fifth), Kurt Busch (seventh) and Carl Edwards (eighth) are also in the top 10.

The trio of Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Dale Jarrett are currently on the outside looking in, but remain realistically in the hunt.

Kenseth's win last weekend at Bristol moved him to within 11 points of 10th-place Jeff Gordon while Sadler sits only 34 points out of the final transfer position. Jarrett is 44 points behind Sadler in 14th place, but is still mathematically alive.

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 National Guard/Subway Taurus, won the first race at California earlier this year and comes into this weekend's return trip ranked third in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings. Biffle recently spoke about going back to California and other issues.

GREG BIFFLE - No. 16 National Guard/Subway Taurus - CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING BACK TO CALIFORNIA? "We'd love to sweep California. I'd love to get back in Victory Lane, I don't care where it's at. We're not taking the same car we won with back to California. We're taking a better car, a car we've won a lot of races in and we feel like we're gonna be a threat to win at California again."

YOU'VE HAD A HOT STREAK THIS YEAR AND TONY STEWART HAS HAD ONE MORE RECENTLY. IS THERE ONE THING A TEAM DOES TO GET ON THAT ROLL OR IS IT JUST EVERYTHING COMING TOGETHER AT ONCE? "It's everything hitting at once. You come up on some good race tracks. You have good race cars. The team is real confident and the driver is confident. He gets his car handling well and then maybe you figure out, 'Hey, we did this and it worked,' and then you kind of lean in that direction. Then it worked for a while and then the temperature changes, the race tracks change, your cars change a little bit and then, all of a sudden, it doesn't work so good anymore. It's hard because you win three or four races doing something that it's hard to forget about it and say, 'Forget that stuff, we're gonna go do something totally different.' That's hard to get yourself to do, so that's what can happen to a team."

CAN ANOTHER DRIVER - NOT YOU OR TONY - GET ON A HOT STREAK LIKE YOU GUYS? "Yeah, anybody could. It could be anybody's game. But I look at the chase and look at some of these races coming up. We've won at California. Texas we won. Bristol we won. Texas we won. We won at Homestead last year. We almost won Kansas last year. Phoenix, we were running second and got a bumper bar through the radiator. I just think that we're gonna be there and run really well and win a few of those."

ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE A HARD-CHARGING APPROACH IN THE CHASE? "Yeah. I'm gonna win as many as I can - pedal down every race.

COULD YOU WIN THREE OR FOUR RACES AND STILL LOSE BECAUSE OF SOMEONE BEING MORE CONSISTENT? "Yeah, you could if you get yourself in trouble, but you've got to use your head. I plan on using my head at the same time I'm being aggressive."

THERE WAS A RUMOR THAT YOU HADN'T SIGNED YOUR CONTRACT AND MIGHT STILL BE FREE TO PURSUE SOMETHING ELSE. TRUE? "No, no. It's funny because I was up until about a week or a week-and-a-half ago. I can't remember the time frame. We had agreed upon terms, but we were going back and forth on final documents and appearances and then just miscellaneous things like that. We had to finish all of that up before it was completely done, so, in a sense, I could have done what Kurt did or anybody else that was available next year, even though it looked like I wasn't. But that's all done and signed. I'm at Roush for '06, '07 and '08 for sure."

WAS YOUR DEAL COMING DOWN AT THE SAME TIME ALL THIS OTHER STUFF WAS HAPPENING? "It happened right prior to Kurt's change of heart. That could have put panic in them I suppose if I wasn't signed yet, but I am and I'm happy with it. Even if I wasn't signed, I'm still happy."

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT ROUSH RACING? "One is I like job security. If we didn't run that well next year, I know I'm not gonna be looking for a job, which I don't suspect that happening. They've compensated me at a fair amount, what I felt was fair. It's not the best I could have got, for sure, but they were reasonable and that's what I asked them to be. I enjoy driving the cars and I like the Ford family. Ford was one of the bigger influences of why I stayed at Roush. I wanted to keep driving a Ford because I like the Fords."

HOW MANY TEAMS CAME AFTER YOU? "Twenty. All of them all the way down the garage, but it's like that for any driver, it's not just me."

IT'S A DRIVER'S MARKET NOW ISN'T IT? "Right now it is and it has been for the last three years. Well, not for the last three years because a couple of young guys came in and did really well, so then everybody thought, 'OK, it's all these young guys now as the new thing.' Well, all of a sudden, everybody hired these young guys and booted out the other guys and now the young guys can't win races and aren't doing anything. Now, all of a sudden, it's like, 'OK, now who are we gonna get?' One of the major companies that sponsor its retail chain in the garage area can't win a race, so they're ready for the next-best thing and that may be a guy that's got more experience."

WILL IT STAY LIKE THIS? "Yeah, it's gonna be like this for the next few years, I think. It's gonna be good for drivers because there is a shortage of drivers. What it's gonna boil down to is there is gonna be more and more pressure because the only thing that the sponsor and the team wants is to make the chase. That's all they care about and you know what? There are only gonna be 10 guys per year, not 43. Ten guys. If you can make the chase and you're one of those 10, that's what people want. They want a driver that can make the chase, that's it."

ARE THERE A LOT OF JASON LEFFLER'S OUT THERE, WHERE YOU DON'T GET A LOT OF TIME TO GET RESULTS? "Yeah, I think you're gonna see guys not getting hired straight into the Cup Series. I think you're gonna see guys that run a couple of years in the Busch Series, like David Stremme, to get some experience. You can't just bring a guy in here and expect to be right off. There have been a few exceptions and they got into really good rides, but if you're gonna bring a guy in that's not gonna be in a premier ride with a premier team, he's gonna fail like the 11 car. You can't put a new driver and a new team together, it's just not gonna work."

HOW MUCH LEEWAY IS THERE WHEN FIGURING OUT IF IT'S THE CAR OR THE DRIVER? "It's really hard because everybody starts going like this when stuff goes bad. What do you do? How do you know it's the car? How do you know it's the driver? It may be the car, but it may be the driver not being able to tell the guys what to do to the car. The car may be fast, but he may not have the experience that a guy who says, 'Hey, this thing has too strong of front shocks on it and the tires are skipping across the track.' That's the kind of stuff that just experience will get you."


Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, is the defending champion of this weekend's Labor Day race at California Speedway. Sadler, who is 34 points behind 10th-place Jeff Gordon in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, spoke about winning last year and his chances of making the chase.

ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus - WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT CALIFORNIA? "I'm a very lucky man to get to drive for Robert Yates Racing, who always has a lot of horsepower and it seems like every time we go to a big two-mile track we're gonna be in the hunt just because of that one factor. Todd [Parrott, crew chief] and the guys have just got a nice setup figured out for that place. To win there last year, the inaugural race on Labor Day, was very special to me and, I think, the whole team. That kind of solidified our spot in the chase for the cup and we're looking forward to going back. I'm very anxious to get back to California. We're taking our best car in the shop - the one I had at Indy. We've been saving it ever since Indy to take it to California, so I can't wait to get there, actually."

WHAT ARE YOUR EMOTIONS TODAY? "My emotions are really good. I sat down here and had a great meeting with my team yesterday. We're very happy with the way we've been running. We have just decided that, you know what, we can't do anything about the luck and the problems we've had in three or four of the last races. We just feel like anything bad that can happen to us can happen, but we're running good when that happens. It's in our court. The ball is in our court to make the chase. We're going to a track that I've won at before and finished in the top 10 in the spring, and we finished in the top 10 at Richmond also in the spring. The ball is in our court. All we have to do is go and try to win each race and not worry about the points - forget them and just let them fall where they may. We're up here testing today in Richmond with our Busch car because we learned so much from it the last time here. We're making some headway and I'm excited about the next two weeks. I feel like we're at an advantage because we have nothing to lose. We're gonna race hard and go from there."

DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN GAIN POINTS AS FAST AS YOU'VE LOST THEM OF LATE? IS THAT YOUR ATTITUDE? "It is because we were running good. If we were sitting here running 25th every weekend I'd say, 'You know what? We might not make it,' or this might happen or that might happen. But we're running sixth at Indy when I have a tire problem. I'm running eighth at Michigan when I run over Kyle Busch's oil. I'm running second at Bristol when I get tangled up with a lapped car. We're running good enough to make the chase. If we get those three situations back we're well in the chase right now with a little bit of a cushion, but we don't have that. But at least we can look at each other and say, 'You know what? We've been running good. We were running in the top 10 every week and we're coming to two race tracks that the 38 car usually runs good at.' We're pretty optimistic. We think all we've got to do is go through the motions and get our cars comfortable and we're gonna let the points take care of themselves."

COULD CALIFORNIA COME AT A BETTER TIME? "No, and I don't think Bristol could have come at a better time either. I told everybody that last weekend that Bristol was just the perfect race schedule for me at that time because that's a place I've got a lot of confidence at. We were able to lead a lap and should have finished second, but had problems. I gained a lot of confidence back in my driving and my team at Bristol. The car we're taking to California, I think, is one of the best race cars I've ever sat in when I had it at Indy - when we sat on the pole by so much and led a lot of that race. I'm glad California is coming. It's gonna be a good race for us, but, like I said, points is not even gonna come out of our mouth. It hasn't. Since we talked about it yesterday, all we've got to do is go win the race. It's plain and simple. If we go and try to win that race and leave everything else alone, points will take care of themselves."

WHAT KIND OF PRESSURE IS THERE RACING GUYS LIKE JEFF GORDON AND MATT KENSETH FOR THAT LAST SPOT? "It's fun, isn't it? There's not enough pieces of pie. I love racing against Jeff Gordon and I love racing against Matt Kenseth. They're all former champions, and so is Dale Jarrett. We've got a lot of great names that are on the outside looking in and a lot of great race drivers that are on the inside that are really becoming the hunted so it's gonna be fun. It should be interesting. I hope the fans will enjoy it, but it's a challenge to me. Hey, I know Jeff Gordon is the best there is. He's a four-time champion. If we can go out there and outrun him two weeks in a row, we're in the chase and he's not, so that's the attitude we've kind of got going to California."

IS GETTING IN THE CHASE MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU ENVISIONED WHEN THIS FORMAT WAS INVENTED? "Yeah, but I learned this last year. I learned so much as far as being a part of the chase. It's by far the hardest thing that I've ever been a part of. You know as long as Mark Martin's been racing and what he's been through, when he says it's the hardest thing he's ever done last year, how frustrating it really is. It's a frustrating deal because there's always a sense of urgency. There seems like you don't have a lot of time to make up the points that you may lose in any given weekend and it's tough. There are a lot of sleepless nights, but I really love the points format. I'm glad they came up with it. I think it adds a lot of spunk to the sport and I think it's neat. I think the fans should be very excited about the next two weeks that are coming because who knows what's gonna happen in the next two weeks to see who gets in the chase and who doesn't."

HOW IS DALE JARRETT AFTER SATURDAY NIGHT AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT INCIDENT? "I don't know if Dale has talked to Ryan or not. I think Dale is just upset that we're all trying to race to get into the chase and he's not gonna take it anymore, and I'm not either. We've had a couple of guys run over us this year and we're gonna stand our ground and we're not gonna take it anymore. We're tired of being the nice guys and try to race clean. We race for a very clean owner who wants to do things the right way. Dale is a great gentleman and a champion in this sport, and probably has more integrity than anybody else in the sport, but you can't let all these guys run over you. They're gonna take advantage of you and think they can do it every time, so I think Dale just decided he had enough and was getting tired of being run over by these young guys and he just wanted to set an example that he's not gonna take it anymore. That's what you've got to do. You've got to defend yourself. Some guys are out there that run over you each and every week and then just get there on TV with a little smile and say they're sorry and act like everything is OK. That doesn't stand anymore. I think you've got to stand your ground, especially when it comes down to the chase and the points are so valuable. You can't let people do that to you."

WHAT ABOUT RICHMOND IN TWO WEEKS? "I'm looking forward to Richmond. I had two career nights here in Richmond in May, finishing second in the Busch car, which is my best-ever career finish, and I think we finished eighth or ninth in the Cup car, which I think is my best-ever finish. We ran good all weekend long. We were so happy and so pumped up. I asked for us to come test the Busch car here again because I really want to win the Busch race here. I think that would be exciting in front of my hometown crowd and got so close last time. Just to get some laps on the track helps me a lot - to come to a track as much as you can, to run laps and get to know as much as you can about it. I'm having fun today. We're making a lot of laps. We're learning some stuff and I'm just glad to be back in the race car. I'd probably be home sitting at home watching TV and seeing what's going on with the news. I'd probably be pretty depressed watching what's happening, so I'd rather be in the race car and I'm having a good time today here in Richmond."

HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE FROM SPONSORS TO MAKE THE CHASE? "It's ungodly, I think, the pressure we get as drivers, not only from our sponsors but our car owners. I think the chase last year, people recognized how much recognition the top 10 guys got by being a part of the chase. Every sponsor wants to be a part of it, every driver, every team, but there are only so many pieces of the pie. If I don't make the chase, will I feel like I failed my sponsor? Yes, I will because I've been in the top 10 all year long until the last month. We were almost counting our chickens before they were hatched around June, July, so it's gonna be hard for me to look my sponsors in the face if we don't make it. But you know what? They've already called me 20 times in the last month just giving me that support. 'We're behind you 100 percent. We love you whether we make it or not.' I've got the best sponsor in the sport because of that. They're very personable people. They know my home phone number and I know theirs, and we talk all the time. So everybody from M&M's and Masterfoods has been calling me and keeping my spirits up and making me feel like as long as I keep doing my best they're gonna be behind me no matter what. I know we're getting pressure from everybody. Everybody wants to perform. Every sponsor wants to be part of that elite top 10, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. You just have to keep trying hard and representing them the best way you know how to do it."

DID YOU TEST CALIFORNIA, AND DO YOU SEE IT SHAPING UP AS A FUEL MILEAGE RACE? "No, I did not test California. Anytime you go to Michigan or California or Indy - some of these long race tracks - fuel mileage can always be in the back of your mind. I know Doug Yates always goes with us to these big tracks and tunes our carburetors as best they can to make sure we're on the good end of the fuel mileage and it can pay off for you. Jeremy Mayfield and Slugger (Labbe) called a heck of a smart race at Michigan. That just happened two weeks ago, so that is gonna be fresh on everybody's mind when we get to California, so I think you're gonna see a lot of plug checks and a lot of fuel readings and things like that just in case."

WHAT HELPED YOU IMPROVE SO MUCH AT RICHMOND? "I tell you what helped me a lot, we went to Lakeland, Florida, this winter and tested more times than I can possibly count for short tracks because last year my short tracks were not that great. We tested a bunch and learned a ton. We went to Bristol and ran good. We ran really well at Martinsville. Richmond we ran good. We ran good at both Bristol races. I've had my career finishes everywhere. At Loudon, I was gonna have my best finish at Loudon until we had problems with somebody else. I just think we did so much short-track testing over the winter to get our short-track program up, I've got a lot of confidence in it. I think when we come back to Richmond in the Cup car, we're gonna be a top-10 car. We're bringing the same car back. We haven't even raced it since we ran it at Richmond. It's pretty much got the same springs and stuff in it because it ran in the top 10 pretty much all night long. We're up here massaging on my Busch car a little bit and if we learn something from that, we'll of course take it to the Cup car. But I think we did so much testing over the winter and got my confidence better for short track racing that that's why I think we've shown to be so much better this year on the short tracks in the Cup Series."

WAS THAT FINDING THINGS IN THE CAR OR YOU FINE-TUNING YOUR DRIVING STYLE? "I think that's fine-tuning my driving style and me being able to tell them what I want. If you only run a short track a couple of times a year, you're not really practiced up on it enough and you might not know what you're looking for. So when we went there and tested, we went through every possible front clip, suspensions, spindles, everything that you could possibly bolt on a race car to make it better or worse, we went through it. Todd found a feel that I liked and I found how to communicate with them better on these shorter tracks. We did all these brake tests to make sure our brakes were right, and we did everything in the world we could possibly do to help our program and it has showed. We have run very, very well on short tracks this year and it's helped our program."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW TESTING SITUATION? WILL THAT PREVENT OFF-SEASON TESTING DOWN THE ROAD? "Yeah, it will and that's a great question because we had a good meeting yesterday about that. NASCAR is pretty much coming up with six tracks or whatever that the manufacturers can go test at, so I've got a couple of tests left. We're gonna pick a couple of tracks that are not on that sheet and go test them at the end of the year because we still have tests left, and get ready for next year too - not only preparing for this year's races but also for next year - kind of a two in one with the Fusion and all. So we'll see what happens. We're trying to play it the best and smartest way we can, not only preparing for today's races but also in the future. We're trying to stay at least one step ahead or just stay caught up with everything going on for next year also."

DID YOU SUFFER A LETDOWN AFTER MAKING THE CHASE LAST YEAR? "Yeah, I mean it was a letdown to me. I wanted to run good and do my job. I got my heart rate up a bunch during the races because I was so excited about being in the chase and probably drove over my head and wrecked some cars that I shouldn't have wrecked. That's all part of it. It was my first time ever being in a playoff-style system. My first time ever really running for a Nextel Cup. Man, I was like a kid in a candy store. I was just going crazy and driving too hard, but I was so excited to be a part of it. I learned a lot from that. I sat down with my boss who has been in these situations before and really got my head going in the right direction. We were using it at the beginning of the year and everything was working good, and then the wheels have fallen off a little bit. We're still running good and I want to get back in that chase for a second chance to show everybody that if I'm in that situation again that we can definitely run better than we did last year."

WAS IT JUST A SPONSOR TRIP YOU MADE OUT TO CALIFORNIA A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO? "Yeah, I was just coming out to Fontana to get everybody pumped up - all the surrounding fans and make the aware of the race coming and to let them know that NASCAR was coming to town. I was just doing that for them."

IS THE PRESSURE THERE EVERY SINGLE WEEK AS MUCH AS IT IS FOR THESE NEXT TWO RACES OR IS IT AMPLIFIED? "I think it's amplified because of the position that we are in. I think there's pressure at every single race to do good, but if I was second or third in the points right now - like the top six in points right now, I think, are locked in. They're gonna try to win the race. There isn't much pressure on them. The guys that are eighth through 14th, I think, have a lot of pressure on them because you can't mess up. It's just amplified a little bit, but that's part of racing. My team is looking at it as the word 'points' is not even gonna come out of our mouth when we get to California. We're going there to win the race because we had so much fun there last year in Victory Lane. We think we're taking a car that can win or at least run in the top five and maybe might get some breaks here and there - to get a break with fuel strategy or anything that might can happen to get us up front. We've got a lot of pressure to do good, but we're not worried about it. We're gonna go and try to win that race and run good. I've got a good enough team that can do it and will do it and we're gonna give it our best shot."

DO YOU LIKE HAVING 10 DRIVERS GET IN OR SHOULD IT BE DIFFERENT? "I think 10 is a great number. Ten drivers for 10 races in a shootout. I don't know what would happen if there's a tie for 10th in points. I guess both of them are in, I'm guessing, but you never know with the points so close right now. We've got a lot of great teams. I tell you what's so fun about it, I'm gonna have fun the next two weeks because we're racing such great race teams and great drivers. If we can look at ourselves in the mirror after Richmond and say, 'You know what, we have beaten some of the best teams to make the chase.' We should have a lot of confidence going into that final 10 races."

DO YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT TO MOTIVATE YOUR TEAM NOW? "No, I think we're motivated enough just to make the chase. I had a meeting with them a couple of weeks ago before we went to Michigan just to say, 'Hey, this is what we're trying to do. This is what I want the pit crew to do and this is what I think our attitude should be. We need to go try to win these races and not worry about the points. Let them take care of themselves.' Everybody is fired up. I've got an awesome race team. We win and lose together. There's no singling out. If somebody messes up or what have you, we're all in this together. We're all joined hands and we're going with the team concept to California and Richmond. We know our backs are to the wall and there is no time for mistakes, but you're gonna have to beat the whole team - not just me or not just the front tire changer or the rear tire changer. You're gonna have to outrun our whole team from start to finish and that's kind of the attitude we're gonna have."

ANY ADDED PRESSURE GOING BACK TO RICHMOND WITH SO MUCH ON THE LINE? "It's not gonna be a big issue, but I definitely look forward to racing at Richmond each and every time we come because it is home. I've spent a lot of money over the years on tickets myself coming over here to watch races growing up as a kid and it's a very special place to me. To have the final race of the chase and have an opportunity to have one of the best nights of my racing career right here in my home state is exciting. If we get in, it's gonna be the best night of my life. If we don't, it's probably gonna be the saddest part of my life. But to have the chance to do it here in your home state in front of a lot of your family and friends is a great opportunity a lot of people I don't think get to enjoy or be a part of. So we're coming there with the attitude that we're gonna make it and we're gonna have fun and celebrate and enjoy it while we're here in Richmond. I just can't wait to get back here. The next two races, I'm so eager right now to get in the car and strap in and let's go for it and just see where the chips fall at."

HAVE YOU COME FULL CIRCLE AS FAR AS LUCK GOES AND THAT IF YOU MAKE THE CHASE YOU CAN HAVE A GOOD RUN AT IT? "I think so. I think our first priority is making the chase and then when we get in the chase anything can happen. That's why I love the chase format - that anything can happen. You can be 10th in the points when it starts and easily win the championship, but right now we're just focused on two races - California and Richmond. We're carrying our best stuff, our best motors, our best cars - everything we can possibly do to go to these two races. It's a wild-card race. There aren't but 70 or 80 points, I think, between eighth and 13th and I think that's really close comfort there, so we'll see what happens in the next two races."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT POSSIBLY RACING IN CANADA ONE DAY AND HOW YOU THINK THE BUSCH CARS MIGHT FARE IN MONTREAL? "I think the Busch cars would do a great job no matter where they go. I think we've got so many great owners involved in the Busch Series right now, and a lot of great sponsors, that I think a Busch race could go anywhere and stand on its own for the first time. I think they showed that in Mexico for the fans - the support that we had. Honestly, I've only been to Canada one time in my life. I went there this year and had a ball and really did not know how big NASCAR was north of the border. They were so welcoming and so energized and I can see that happening in the near future. I can maybe see a Busch race first going up there and checking things out - see if we can get some fan support from there - and then you never know. But I was really happy to see all the fans up there in Canada, and they knew everything about every race that we'd ever driven in, so why not? We're expanding to different areas and I know we have a lot of great sponsors involved in NASCAR that definitely do a lot of work in Canada, so why not go there?"

WHAT KIND OF MAIL DO YOU GET FROM CANADA? "A bunch. I went up there to do an autograph session and I think they had like four times the people that we actually thought were gonna be there. Yeah, my fan club gets a lot of letters and a lot of cards to be signed from Canada. It's just neat. It makes you feel good. You never know who's cheering for you, who's not, who's a NASCAR fan and who's not until you go to different places and meet new people and I love being able to do that. If one day there's a race there, I'm all for it."

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