Experience Starting To Show With Park, DEI At Daytona
8 February 1999
How much of a factor is experience in the recipe for winning in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series? It's a lot, if you ask Pennzoil Monte Carlo driver Steve Park. And it's that experience that is moving him to the front of the field. After racing in three superspeedway races in 1998, Park came to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway last week confident the year under his and his Dale Earnhardt Inc. crew's belt would pay dividends during the 1999 Speedweeks events. "Sometimes even I underestimated how difficult Winston Cup racing really was in 1998, but this year, with a year's experience, I feel I have a better grasp of what a driver has to do to succeed and I think the team knows what it has to do," Park said. Park said the team works harder and smarter and he's learning the aspects of the draft and passing that only track time teaches. It's beginning to show. After the first weekend of Speedweeks, Park and his crew posted the 24th quickest qualifying run on Saturday and on Sunday combined a stirring drive with a quick two-tire pit stop to finish third in the qualifying race for the Budweiser Shootout. "If you had told me that we would run a 46.781-second lap in qualifying I would have told you we had a chance for the pole, but nobody would have believed that would be only good for 26th place," Park said after qualifying. "Everybody picked up for qualifying. We thought our run was pretty good but a lot of people had great runs." The Pennzoil team as well as the 56 other cars at Daytona will determine their starting positions in Sunday's Daytona 500 in the twin qualifying races on Thursday. The first 30 positions will be determined by the finishing order in the twin races with the remainder of the 43-car field established through single lap speeds and provisionals. Park and his teammates are considering another qualifying run, but everyone expects a strong run on Thursday to secure a spot in the field. "We can't wait for Thursday because we should have something for them," said crew chief Philippe Lopez who reason for optimism came after Sunday's 20-lap qualifying race for the Bud Shootout. Park drove from the back of the field and used the 9-second pit stop by his crew to climb up among the leaders. Park appeared as quick at eventual race winner Mike Skinner, but could not pass Robert Pressley who ran second after holding Park off at the finish line. A few more laps and the race might have been a different story. "It's just so hard to pass here," Park said. "But if we had more time to get around Robert then it would have been fun to see what we had for Skinner." Park took more than just a third place finish out of Sunday's race. He took confidence in knowing the Pennzoil Monte Carlo can be just as quick as any car. And, in just his second year, Park can drive with the sport's best on the superspeedways. "I can't wait for Thursday," Park said. "I hope it's even better than today."