FONTANA, Calif. Bill Elliott doesn't spend a lot of time at the racetrack these days, now that he's retired from a full-time schedule on the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series circuit.
He made a rare appearance in last Sunday night's race at the California Speedway, and before the race he talked about his semi-retirement and his future plans.
Question: What was it like not being at Darlington on Labor Day weekend for the first time in your career?
Elliott: I really hadn't even thought about it. It's like this is where we're supposed to be this weekend. I haven't even watched many of the races here the last few weeks. I just go do my own thing. I've been watching my son race his go-carts, and I've been doing other things. I do a little bit of dirt racing, and I've done some of these race of champions deals with some other Cup guys. I go off and do those deals and enjoy that. I'm so far removed from the day-to-day stuff. That it makes it easier for me. They say you've got to be in California this weekend, and I say, 'Well, OK.' I was there when the Southern 500 was run on Monday and we didn't do anything on Sunday. I think for myself and other guys that have been around for awhile, for the tradition that Darlington has brought to this sport, it's kind of sad that it's gone away. It's opened up a new era as far as Darlington is concerned, but still, I'm not running this deal. It's way over my head. I enjoy being part of it and being part-time, having a good time.
Question: What else to you have lined up for the rest of the year?
Elliott: I'll run McDonald's (sponsorship) again in Atlanta. We may look at doing something at Homestead, but nothing is concrete on that side. I'll run Memphis with the Busch Elvis car. I'm looking forward to that promotion, but right now that's all I've got going on. I've been starting to test pretty extensively the newer stuff. I've been working on that a good bit with some of the guys. Hopefully we can get that a little bit ahead getting ready for next year. I've been really enjoying the weekends. I'll flip on TV a minute and then flip it off and go do my own thing.
Question: Do you think your decision to semi-retire helped Rusty Wallace make his announcement last week?
Elliott: I didn't do the big retirement deal. I guess there were several reasons for that. I guess it just wasn't right for me. I don't know how I could physically have run every race and been able to do a fanfare deal every week. To me, that's asking too much and taking away too much from the team. I saw what Richard went through in the '90s when he retired and what a struggle that whole deal was. I wanted to do things on my own terms for a period of time and see where things fall. Next year, we could run 10 to 12 races with this program, and hopefully McDonald's will come back and run some next year.
Question: You qualified third at California. How difficult is it to race once every month or two and still be up to speed?
Elliott: Don't misunderstand me: It's a whole different era as far as NASCAR is concerned, but for us as competitors we just know where we've got to show us next week. We look at it a little differently than the media or the outside public looks at it week in and week out. It is a big deal. To come back to Southern California after losing Riverside in '88 is very important to the sport. Continuing to grow it coming back with the second event on Labor Day weekend, the people that run it need to make the decision. Right now, I just like where I'm at. I just like driving the race car.
Question: Are you satisfied with your part-time schedule?
Elliott: Hopefully we can turn things around and put things better in sight for next year. Ten to 12 races is still what my goal is. I don't know that I want to do any more than that. For this year, I've not really done enough. We've tested a good bit the last few weeks, and I've got comfortable with the car. We got with the guys and sat down and analyzed where we were at. I really didn't know what we had. This is my first race back with McDonald's in a number of years and having them on the car, I'm really proud of that association. I wanted to do them some good. I didn't want to get in the position where we didn't make the race or had to do something else. I just went out there and said I've got to go. That's what we ended up with, and I don't know what we could have done to be any better.
Question: Is it difficult to stay fresh as a driver when you don't race much?
Elliott: I think you've got to look at it as a two-fold deal. We stay fresher by running a limited deal, but you lose a little sharpness from (not) running every week. On the other side, you've got (teammates) Jeremy (Mayfield) and Kasey (Kahne) running every week and you can keep up with what's going on. This stuff don't change that much from the standpoint of week in and week out. I just get maybe a little bit rusty, but I've been trying to run a lot. We've been testing a lot and that's kind of gotten me back where I need to be.
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