LOUDON, N.H. -- John Fernandez, the director of Dodge Motorsports Operations, was the happiest person at the Richmond International Raceway last Saturday night. Two of his cars barely made the final cut for the Chase for the Championship, which starts Sunday with the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
Jeremy Mayfield qualified by winning the race at Richmond. Ryan Newman finished the race on fumes to qualify for the final spot in the 10-driver.
Fernandez talked about getting the last two spots in the Chase for Dodge, and what to expect from the car company in the future.
Question: What's the toughest part about dealing with competitive people?
Fernandez: 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. 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 levels, 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.
Question: What do you think about the new point system?
Fernandez: 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.
Question: Dodge will drop the Intrepid at the end of this season. What will next year's car be called and when will we see it?
Fernandez: 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 blip 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. Probably the first time the public will get to see it if they peep through the fence at Speedweeks.
Question: How much will Dodge support the two drivers competing for the championship?
Fernandez: Obviously the two guys in it for the championship right now are the 19 and 12, Jeremy (Mayfield) and Ryan (Newman). 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.
Question: How difficult would have been if none of your cars had qualified for the Chase?
Fernandez: 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.
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