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NASCAR BGN: Eight Fords make the field for Daytona; Champion Green included

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Eight Ford Busch Series teams made the trip to Daytona International Speedway this week to earn the right to race in Saturday's 43rd annual NAPA Auto Parts 300. With this increased Busch Series presence, Ford has recruited 2000 Busch Series champion and runner up -- and teammates -- Jeff Green and Jason Keller to compete in the Taurus for the 2001 season. The addition of these perennial contenders along with 2000 Craftsman Truck Series champion Greg Biffle, Elton Sawyer and Mark Green, boosts Ford's chances of capturing the Bill France Performance Cup for the first time since 1995. That award, which has been given out every year since 1991, goes to the manufacturer with the most wins and points at the end of the season. Ford is also seeking its first Busch Series victory at the historic 2.5-mile speedway since 1995, when driver Chad Little won the season-opening event after starting in the 43rd position.

JEFF GREEN --10-- Nestle NesQuik Ford Taurus - HOW HAS YOUR CAR BEEN HANDLING ON THE RACE TRACK? "It was pretty good. It's hard to find out, or really tell, how everybody else is. We know that we were clean, not getting any help, and we know how fast we can run. Our focus is to get it in the top 10, if not in the top 15, for sure. We have a good enough car to do that."

WHAT TYPES OF CHANGES DID YOU MAKE TO THE CAR AFTER THE JANUARY TEST? "We worked on it a little bit. What we found out we tried to produce that on the race car. You paint it and put decals on it, and that sometimes seems to slow it down. The motor is supposedly a little bit better and we've got a better carburetor, and hopefully when we put the whole package together, it will be a top-10 qualifying effort."

HOW WILL THE NEW NASCAR-MANDATED ENGINE PACKAGE AFFECT THE COMPETITION? "It really won't be anything different here. They restrict them to the same horsepower anyway. This race and Talladaga won't be any different, but when you go to Rockingham and places like that, it's going to be different. I'm looking forward to that, but I don't think you'll see anything different from the past here."

WILL WINSTON CUP EXPERIENCE PLAY A VALUABLE ROLE IN GETTING ACCLIMATED QUICKER TO THE CHANGE? "I think so, a little bit. I think the Cup guys that are coming to race with us, it will be a little bit easier for them. The cars are a little bit closer and the motors are a lot closer, so I think it will be easier for them, but if you take some of these Busch guys, it may make it a little bit rougher, but hopefully not for me. It will make some of these guys struggle a little bit because the way you drive the car will be a little different."

HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE FEWER NUMBER OF BUSCH TEAMS ATTEMPTING TO QUALIFY FOR THIS YEAR'S BUSCH RACE? "The new motor rule is the biggest factor, and I think that's a big expense for a lot of people. If you had seven or eight motors left over from last year, you had to basically throw them away and start over. The low-budget teams couldn't afford to do that. Maybe they were on the verge of not coming back and that put them over the edge. I think the car count will come back up but it may take a while for that to happen. The level of competition won't diminish because we really haven't lost any of the top teams or drivers because of that."

IS THE MANUFACTURER SWITCH EASIER TO TRANSITION WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE AN IN-HOUSE MOTOR PROGRAM TO CHANGE OVER AS WELL? "I think so. Any time you switch anything, it makes it a little bit tougher. The rules have changed, so it's a little bit tougher for everyone this year, so that's helping us. We didn't change motor builders, so that's also helping us. They've been building these Ford motors for a while, so that's helping us, too. We are related to them too, with Roush building our Chevrolet motors the past two years."

WHEN DID YOU START CHANGING OVER BODY STYLES? "After the last race. We were in production before the last race, but everything went into production after the last race in Homestead. We've got seven cars ready to race, so the guys did a really great job over the winter, just as short as it is. It went by pretty quick and to get that many race cars built, they did a great job, not that they cut any corners to get them done. They did it the way they wanted to and that will be as good as we ever had or even better."

ARE YOU USING ANY OF THE SAME CHASSIS FROM LAST YEAR? "There are a few the same, but we also built some brand new ones. We sold a couple cars, but those were our back-up cars that we raced only a few times. The ones we raced the most and the ones we had the most success with, we just re-skinned and put in the new motors."

DOES HAVING A TEAMMATE MAKE THE SWITCH EASIER? "It does. We're lucky because Jason and I have similar driving styles, so we can use the same information. It really gives us more opportunities to try to find out stuff. He can try some things and I can try something else, and when the day's over, we can talk about what happened and hopefully we'll both be better off."

YOU HAD A RECORD-BREAKING YEAR LAST YEAR, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR 2001? "It was hopefully not a lifetime year, but it was a lifetime year for me and this race team. We feel like we have a better opportunity to build on that this year. Whether the luck is going to be there, we'll have to wait and see. You make a lot of your luck by how you run, so hopefully the Ford Taurus will allow us to make our team better and me better. I know we raced a bunch of them and chased a bunch of them last year. It won't be night and day for our teams, but hopefully it will turn some second places and third places into wins. That's what we're after."

DID YOU LOSE ANY PERSONNEL IN THE OFF-SEASON? "It's absolutely the same. We were able to hire a couple of people in the shop, in the fab room and in the maintenance and preparation of the cars. Our cars will be more prepared, so when we get back to the shop we're ready to go to the next week. That will take a little load off the travel guys, and that's some of the stuff that Ford has allowed us to do. We have more funding to pool from to hire these people and improve your organization. That's going to make our team better."

JASON KELLER --57-- Albertsons Ford Taurus - WERE YOU SATISFIED WITH YESTERDAY'S PRACTICE SESSION? "Well, we didn't test here, only at Talladega, so it was only our first practice session yesterday to find out where we are. Early indications are that we're going to be OK, but it really depends on what everybody else is doing and what we have left in the car. I think the Ford is going to be better in the draft and some of the others may have a little less downforce than the Fords have, and I think we're going to be in good shape when the draft comes about."

HOW MUCH OF AN UNDERTAKING WAS IT TO GET YOUR CARS CHANGED OVER? "It wasn't much for me, but the guys have done a lot of work. We were sitting with eight of the other cars ready to go, and they had to take the initiative and the job to cut them all off and start all over. It was a big deal, but I feel like all the cars are better now. We've really been able to massage on them, and I think we will be better in the long run."

WERE YOU IN CONTACT WITH ANY OF THE OTHER FORD TEAMS IN THE OFF SEASON? "We spent a little bit of time in the wind tunnel to try to learn on our own, and Steve (Addington) and Harold (Holly) have a lot of friends in the business, so they were on the phone with a lot of people. I think we'll be in good shape. The wind tunnel time has helped us more than anything."

HOW HAS HAVING A TEAMMATE EASED THAT TRANSITION? "It's twice the knowledge and twice the information. It's nice to have that type of caliber team to lean on and vice versa. Two good race teams make for a good combination."

YOU AND JEFF FINISHED ONE-TWO IN THE POINTS LAST YEAR, HOW HARD IS THAT GOING TO BE TO REPEAT? "We're definitely looking to do the same think, but hopefully the points race will be a little closer; Jeff kind of ran away with it. We just want to continue doing what we've been doing and working hard, and the rest will come. We definitely don't want to do anything than one-two because we want people to know we went to Ford with a reason. We want to do it for Ford and our sponsors."

HOW WILL THE NEW ENGINE PACKAGE AFFECT YOU? "It's something I don't know much about because I haven't run that much Winston Cup. I think that's where I'm going to lean a lot on Jeff early in the year because he has had some Winston Cup experience, so hopefully I can lean on him and build on that."

WHAT ARE YOUR EARLY SEASON GOALS? "We need to get some wins under our belts and settle in into the series and the season, and see how it plays out."

Text provided by Ford

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