This is one of the most difficult columns to write. It's tough because I'm writing it before we run the Daytona 500, but you are reading it after the race is history. Now you will understand why I will not be saying anything about the race.
The one new concept that I do like is the way NASCAR had us running tests this year. Everybody tested one time for three days. Those drivers who finished in the odd numbers (1-3-5-7) in the Winston Cup point standings tested first in January. Then the even numbers (2-4-6-8) came in for three days.
It was Dodges, Fords, Chevrolets and Pontiacs all mixed up in the same tests, so you didn't have to worry so much about who was sandbagging. You were there and you could see. I think this is the best way to test, and I hope NASCAR keeps doing it this way.
The way it used to be, all the Fords would go to Daytona, then all the Chevys, and then whatever other brands were racing. Sometimes they would get to go twice.
Anyway, you would test all day, and then late in the afternoon two or three crews would tape up the front of their cars. Their drivers would go out and turn some hot laps for the public relations people who were watching and timing the runs. Then the public relations people would call all the newspapers with the times.
The crews back home, although they knew what had happened because they did the same thing when they were there, would worry. The next morning somebody would call the shop and make up some wild story about how fast those cars were running.
Say the Fords were testing, and say we were racing Dodges. Some crewmember with another Ford team would call our garage the morning that speeds ran in the newspapers. They would tell our crewmembers all kinds of lies.
The thing about it was, our guys would do the same thing to them if given the opportunity. It was all just a pack of lies, and you knew it was, but it would get on your mind if you let it.
I remember one year this certain Ford team was simply flying at Daytona, according to all those reports. It was running about 5mph faster than all the other Fords in both tests-at least that's what all the reports said.
Well, we got to Daytona for qualifying and that certain Ford almost didn't make the field.
Testing has been many things over the years. There was a time several years ago when a lot of teams used the tests at Daytona to get some idea what they might be able to get away with in the race.
Also, if a car brand had some new part coming out that season, teams would test the part under racing conditions at Daytona-or as close as you could get to racing conditions.
Sometimes teams would use the first session to try to improve their chassis setup. Then they would use the second session to test the engine and engine parts they were going to race.
More recently, however, Daytona tests are more a part of testing for the right combination.
You've heard drivers talk about trying to get their car to work with the right combination. Well, all that means is they are trying to get their chassis set up to get the most out of the engine they will use and, likewise, get the most from the chassis based on the engine.
The Daytona 500 is still the most important race on our schedule. I do believe it once carried more prestige, but that was before there were so many other important races such as Indianapolis and California. I know we had sponsors who said they would rather win the Daytona 500 than any other two or three races.
Their thinking, or at least what they told us, was that if you won the Daytona 500, it was usable all year. If somebody started to write a story about most any race and they came to the name of the Daytona 500 winner, the story would begin: "Jimmy Jones, this year's Daytona 500 winner, will start eighth today."