DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When Terry Cook says he is in much better position to win the first Craftsman Truck Series race of the season this year than he was in 2004, that does not make a whole lot of sense.
For last year he won the pole at Daytona International Speedway - and the position doesn't get any better than that, right? Cook explains that he is always referencing the big picture.
"Sure, we were on the pole down here last year, but in terms of being prepared to compete and win, we're light-years ahead of where we were then," Cook said yesterday as he helped ready his team for tomorrow night's Florida Dodge Dealers 250.
"At this time last year, we had our entire fleet down here - two trucks. We got the entire ppc Racing team down here in one small package. It all fit into a single trailer. We were scrambling then, but everything about us is different now."
Cook is still doing the driving, but the Sylvania native and Northview High School graduate said the apparatus around him has been vastly enhanced. When Cook and ppc Racing, a proven Busch team making its first foray into the trucks, started the 2004 season, theirs was a relatively new affiliation still taking shape.
"This year, it took about five trailers to get everything down here. We've got four complete race trucks ready to go, a fifth one almost set, and a sixth one coming from the chassis builders," Cook said.
"Our motor program is stronger than ever, and Ford has given us a new level of commitment.
"This team is reaping the benefits of all that. We're a lot better prepared this year, just in the sense of personnel and equipment. At this stage last year we had just put this deal together. Now, I'd say that foundation is rock solid."
Cook, who won track championships at Flat Rock and Sandusky before moving to Indianapolis more than 10 years ago, said his team was able to get his truck in prime qualifying shape in 2004, but that did not translate into the best racing posture.
"We were focused so much on making the truck fast running by itself, but it didn't race as fast as we'd like it to," Cook said. "Being on the pole, sure, that's great, and we still had a top five finish at the end of the day, but now we're focusing more on the race than the qualifications, and that's something the strength of this team allows us to do."
Cook got his first win in the truck series in 1998 at Flemington (N.J.) Speedway, and ended that year with five top-10 finishes. He explained that until that point, he was not certain the racing game was in his long-term future.
"That was definitely a breakthrough year, and it wasn't until then that I first realized that we can do this thing," Cook said. "We got our first win, had two or three poles, and kept running in the front, and that's when I said, wow, we can do this as a profession and make a living at it."
Cook, who is entering his eighth season as a full-time driver, won four Craftsman Truck races in 2002 when he finished eighth in the points standings. Last year he had seven top-10 finishes, including a season-best third in the race at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway.
"Each time you put a race vehicle on the track, you might make 20 changes in one session, and maybe only three of those made you go faster, but you still learn something from the 17 changes that made you go slower," Cook said. "You're always working on today, but definitely looking at what you did before. They say the best teacher for a driver is just making laps, and being at the race track, and I believe that. No matter who you are or where you're at, the more you can be around it, you're just going to get that much better."
Experience tells Cook that 2005 has the potential to be his best ever in the truck series.
"I am just really and truly excited to get the season started," Cook said. "I know I've said it before, but this truly, and I believe this in my heart, is the best opportunity for the Power Stroke Diesel team has for winning a championship. Everything is in place."
Cook, who along with his wife Amy and two month old son Cody, now makes his home in the Charlotte, N.C., area near the Power Stroke Diesel team shop, said he feels a lot of momentum carrying him into tomorrow's season-opening race after a very productive winter.
"I come in to this season very confident and optimistic," he said. "We did more testing than we've ever done before, and all of those tests, every single one of them, went extremely well. If that's any indication of how we're going to run, then we can't wait to get the season started."
Cook said he is content racing in the Craftsman Truck Series, and feels it offers the best in entertainment of any of the NASCAR circuits. He said the nature of the beast leaves more to the drivers and their skills than the cars in the other series can.
"We do the wind tunnel work, and we put a ton of money into tech work and research and development, but when it gets down to brass tacks and you get to the race track, this series is all about putting on a great show for the fans," Cook said.
"I don't care how aerodynamic you are, in one of these trucks, when you are punching a hole through the air the size of a school bus, you can suck up behind somebody pretty good. We can put on an awesome show. The races are shorter, so from the drop of the green to the drop of the checkered flag, you gotta be on the gas."
Cook also said the eclectic mix of truck series specialists like himself, young and hungry drivers with big aspirations, and Nextel Cup veterans in the latter stages of their careers, gives the Craftsman Series great appeal.
"I think it creates a very interesting race. You've got guys with a lot of experience, and the young kids going out there and trying to race their brains out. It really adds up to a great show. That's what it's all about - we're in the entertainment business. It's all about the show, and to be a part of that for me, it's a dream come true."
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