Up To SPEED
Preparing for the 2006 season
Where does the time go? It seems as if I was just writing about the end of the 2005 season, and now we’re heading to Daytona to start 2006!
The off-season has been a busy time for the M&M’S® Racing Team, and January was a very busy month for me. I probably spend as much time in a race car in January as I do during the season because of testing. The month started with our test for the Daytona 500 and then ended with another in Las Vegas. In between we headed to some of the tracks in the Southeast, where the Nextel Cup Series doesn’t run during the season, so we could get a little more time in preparing the #38 Ford Fusion.
This is the first season we are driving the Fusion for Ford, so I’m very excited about the potential this car has to get to Victory Lane. I really like the way it looks…the way the character lines run on it. I’ve been very happy with the way my car feels on the race track during the test session. I like the new Fusion body, too. I like the nose on it and the front tires on the ground. So far, I’m very impressed with everything Ford has done to build us a great race car. It’s much more important than you might think to have a good handling car to run well at the Day-tona. You’ve got to have a comfortable race car. It’s not just about horsepower.
We’ve seen a lot of change this year with a new car and crew chief, but that’s part of the sport. I’ve seen it change a lot in my eight years in the Nextel Cup Series. It’s becoming much more competitive.
When I first started racing in the Cup series, there were five teams that could win a race and 15 that could be very, very competitive. In a 500-mile race, you ran around for 300 miles, saving your equipment for the end. Now, you have got 30 teams that can show every week that they can win a race at any given time.
Competition is going through the roof. I think our drivers are getting better, and more talent is coming into the sport. Our crew chiefs are being more innovative and really taking ad-vantage of aerodynamics, as well as the chassis.
I think drivers are being forced to change their driving styles, the ones that I don’t think are going to fall behind. Because you have to drive the cars a lot looser than you used to, you’ve got to drive the car hard. This means you’re more likely to make mistakes. But I think the sport is going in a very healthy direction as far as competition is concerned.
It’s go time and we’re excited to see if our M&M’S Team is up to the challenge. Next month, I look forward to introducing some of the new faces on our team as we get in the grind of the 2006 season.
Photo caption: Elliott Sadler