Originally created 08/20/00

Road gets smoother for Mast



BROOKLYN, Mich. -- In the first 22 races of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, A.J. Foyt's new team has had four different drivers, two team managers and a pair of crew chiefs.

Even with that much turmoil, driver Rick Mast didn't hesitate when he was offered the job.

"It wasn't that bad because I didn't have Dale Earnhardt, Inc., calling me to drive his car, I didn't have Richard Childress calling me to drive one of his cars," Mast said. "This was the best opportunity, I felt, at the time. So I didn't even have a choice in it. It didn't matter to me. I don't let (the turnovers) affect me.

"I did have control over which team I went to back in March and I knew this team would get there."

It's taken nearly five months, but Mast seems closer than ever to turning Foyt's race team into a contender. Their Conseco Pontiac Grand Prix qualified third for today's Pepsi 400 (1 p.m., ESPN) at the Michigan Speedway -- the best starting position for the team in its young existence.

The single lap around the 2-mile, D-shaped raceway marked a significant improvement over the team's performance -- regardless of driver -- since they debuted at the Daytona 500 last February. A bigger question will be answered today: Will the car stay fast for 400 miles today?

"I took this job back in March knowing that (the team) was in dire straits at the time or felt like it had its problems," Mast said. "But I also know A.J. well enough to know -- I've known A.J. since '91 as a friend -- and I know that if his name is attached to it, at the end of the day it's going to be successful. I knew he would do whatever he had to do to make it successful.

"We had 10 brand new race cars when I got there. Every one of them had to have snouts put on them -- front frame snouts. The geometry was wrong. Every one of them, the bodies have had to have been re-done. We've had to go outside to get engines.

"Through all this, the only thing that A.J. has ever done with me, Philippe (Lopez, crew chief), Tommy (Lamance, team manager) -- any of us -- is basically sit down in the lounge and we've talked about it: `OK, what's wrong? What do we got to do to fix it? What do you guys need?' He's taken a real racer's mentality approach to this," Mast said.

"You've heard us talk about this: The guys that are successful up here are the racers -- I'm talking about the owners. It's not the businessmen, but the racers. It's a little different mentality. A.J. has that. He's given us what we need to do to get this thing fixed."

Part of the midseason change has included a change in engine companies. Foyt has re-opened the famed Coyote engine shop and today's engine will be the first time a Foyt-built engine has been under the hood.

It's taken nearly four months for David Evans to revive the Coyote shop and he doesn't have enough engines for the rest of the season. But Foyt plans to have one of his own engines under the hood as much as possible and store-bought motors from Peter Guild and Pro Motor the rest of the time.

"I knew we were going to have bumpy roads," Mast said. "I knew it was going to take a while to fix it. I didn't know how deep the problems were, but I knew there were problems there. I knew what kind of mindset I had to have going in.

"I went in knowing it was going to take awhile. But I also knew without any doubt in my mind what the end result would be. We're not there yet, but we will be. Believe me."

The Pepsi 400 could be a barometer of the team's progress.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start on the pole after breaking the stock car track record with a lap of 191.149 mph. Dale Jarrett will start on the outside pole at 189.959. Added with Mast in third, NASCAR can fly its banner of parity knowing a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Ford Taurus and Pontiac make up the first three spots on the starting grid.