ARIE LUYENDYK Are these days between Coors Carb Day and Race Day difficult? "No it's not really that difficult. I guess it gives you two or three days to worry about stuff you shouldn't really be worrying about unless you have a problem. So...
Are these days between Coors Carb Day and Race Day difficult?
"No it's not really that difficult. I guess it gives you two or three days to worry about stuff you shouldn't really be worrying about unless you have a problem. So far, things with Treadway-Hubbard Racing are going good and really everything has gone smooth. Really, I'm just trying to catch up with friends coming into town and sponsor requirements, dinners and stuff like that. You know coming in it's going to be a long month. I just think that every drop of rain that falls today can't fall on Sunday morning, so that's a good thing."
Since the media attention has been focused on other drivers, you and Buddy Lazier have both been pretty quiet this month, do you like it that way?
"A lot more attention has been focused on the CART teams coming back and Michael Andretti and the younger stars of the series, so yeah, we've been able to go about our thing without too much distraction. It's been a lot quieter in recent years so it's actually nice. I enjoy just being able to focus on the job more than other things. It's nice to get some attention because you need it for your sponsors who are paying the bills."
Think back to five or six years, why was it so important to go with the Indy Racing League?
"In 1995, I only drove one race, which was Indianapolis for Team Menard. I had some options in CART that weren't very good. It wasn't a hard decision for me to go compete in what I love with Fred Treadway and his team. The fact that the 500 was part of the IRL was a big deciding factor for me. The split has been six years ago, and we need to talk about something else right now."
There could be cold temperatures Sunday, like in 1992. Talk about how your experience from that race will help you Sunday
"It's Friday now, and you don't know what's going to happen Sunday. You could wake up Sunday morning and it could be in the 40s and the wind could be gusting, and you know it could be a really tough day out there. So Sunday morning, for instance, we'll decide on what kind of wing we're going to put in the car, what kind of gearing, so it's constantly adjusting and adapting yourself and the team to the conditions, that's what we have to do Sunday morning. So if the conditions are in the 60s and overcast, I think it will be very nice race day conditions to have. It will be very fast. If that's what it's going to be good for most teams because it's quite comfortable weather to drive in, 60-degree temperatures, hopefully high 60s. A lot of coldness in the air makes the cars work good, so it will be a plus. We know it's not going to be 80 degrees. We had those conditions in the first week of practice, and it didn't affect the speeds that much or the way the cars felt. The experience I had from the '92 race and other races, that's what I can always put to good use. You use the experience you have here, the good experience and the bad experience and just the history. You look at what other teams have done here in the past, and the kind of mistakes they have made in certain conditions and you try to avoid those mistakes when you see the good things they did."
Do race drivers improve with age? Are you better today than you were when you won here?
"I hope so. I mean, you definitely drive here. I myself haven't been driving that much. You feel that you've been in the car yesterday. I think the huge advantage for me is the experience level I have at this track and this race. That's something you can never discount if you look at drivers who have won this race, like Al Unser Sr., who I believe won it when he was 46 or 47. Had been around for a long time. He won this race starting from the back and really racing and counting more on experience than outright speed. But still he won the race, and I hope that will apply to me for a couple years to come."
The fact that you're back and Penske and Andretti, how much does that mean to this race?
"I only enhances the importance and aura of this race because it's something that obviously throughout the years, Michael has always voiced his, I don't want to call it grief, but he's always been kid of ticked off that he hasn't been driving here so now he's finally back and he's really happy. The lure of the race is always there for the teams and drivers so you can't discount that. It just goes to show that this is the race that everybody wants to be at and wants to win, because it has such a history, and everything about it. Last year when Ganassi came here, it said to the other guys, 'OK, I think we have to go back there.' It always takes one team or one person to take a step a certain way. In a way Penske was back last year too with Jason Leffler, in the background associated with Treadway Racing, feeling things out last year with Jason and deciding to come back this year. It's only good for the sport. I have a great love for open wheel racing, and anything good for open wheel racing is good for me. I think it's good for open wheel racing that several CART teams have come back, and guys like Michael and Ganassi with those guys last year.
With the speeds on track and the close times in the Coors Pit Stop Challenge yesterday, do you see this as perhaps the most competitive "500" to drive in?
"It's going to be one of the most competitive races we've seen in a while. The last couple of years, looking at the starting lineup I'd say there could be 10 guys to win this race or more than that, then it turned out on race day you'd have maybe five guys in contention. Last year you had two and in the end really one driver that really dominated the race, although qualifying was really close. So many things can happen at this race. My prediction was a little off then so maybe I'm off now, but I'm thinking you have at least 10 to 12, maybe 13 guys that are capable of winning this race. But Sunday the green flag drops and all the sudden one guy's got a loose car, another guy's got a car that's pushing and another guy has bad fuel mileage and you still end up with maybe five guys in contention. But, my prediction is going to be more than that."
Do the quick pit stops in yesterday's Coors pit stop contest surprise you? Is that what you have to have on Race Day to win?
"It think last year was a good example. Montoya's pit stops were phenomenal every time. And that together with him driving the thing real hard and being good in traffic ... everything has to be good right, from the pit stops, the car has to be good in traffic, you have to be good on your own, and then you have to have some luck and not get put out by a certain yellow. As you enter the pits under a green, and it goes yellow just before you enter, it's going to cost you. If you don't have those things happen to you and everything goes your way, that's what you need."
Are we going to see you at other races?
"I have the idea of maybe running at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and then trying to get my son and myself in a car along with another pair of drivers. We're working on that, not really hard but a little bit. As far as my driving Indy cars, I won't be doing any more Indy car races this year, but as far as the future, I don't think this will be my last "500." Like two years ago, I'm not going to make any announcements, basically."
From running with Chip Ganassi in 1992, did you expect that team to accomplish all that they've accomplished?
"Chip's team was a really up-and-down team in the early '90s. Cheever, when he started off with Ganassi, I thought they were going to win some races. They didn't. They were a good team, but still knocking on the door of being one of the better teams. When I drove there we had really, really bad races and then we came along at the end of the year and had better races, but also didn't win. I think they won their first race with Michael. Chip has persevered and really made his team into one of the best in CART history. He's done an unbelievable job, and of course winning here last year. Chip seems to have the magic touch these days. He buys a NASCAR team, and I think he's leading the points after a couple races. He know where to go and what people to hire. It doesn't surprise me because he's very driven, he's got that race car driver mentality still. It's not about making money for him."
Do you think there will ever be race with the average speed like the record you set in 1990?
"A lot of things contributed to that. We didn't have as many yellow flags, but also the pace car wouldn't come out and slow down the field and close the pits. The pits were never closed in those days, and it was your discretion to come in or not. Strategy was a lot more complicated then. Now they close the pits, you all line up behind the pace car. They open it up and you've got two three laps to decide what to do next. Back then, the pace car comes out, you dive into the pits and there's no speed limit. I mean, we would come off Turn 4 like a bunch of maniacs and maybe slow down by the end of pit lane. You'd literally drive into pit lane well over 210 mph. And there's crews standing there, I don't know how those guys did it back then. You look back at a lot of situations, and we'll probably look back 15 years from now and say, 'how did we do it then?' But I don't think you'll see that average speed again, due to those factors."
In 1992, tire temperature was a factor. Al Unser Jr. said the Firestone tires of today were better than the tires of that era. Will cold tires be a factor Sunday?
"Back then, you would put a new set of tires on, you'd leave the pit, come around to the start/finish line and you'd drive the car into Turn 1 absolutely flat out, that's how quickly the tires worked in because the cars had a lot of downforce too. I don't think there's a big difference in the tires coming in quicker, I just think we're nine years ahead in tire technology. Obviously there's been great tire improvement over the years. Sunday, if it's going to be cold I still think you need to pay attention, as a driver, how far you can push it on tires that are not up to temperature yet. That hasn't changed, you still need to being them up to temperature."
Why does your relationship with Fred Treadway work?
"He's kind of like me. No nonsense, no b.s., kind of straightforward and not a lot of politics. That's the way I like it. Good relationship, we're good friends. If you have to work with someone you have to get along with them well, and that's what I have with Fred."
If you're racing one race a year, how do you keep yourself sharp?
"I don't. Good thing about Indy is, you get to drive a lot. You get to spend a lot of the time in the car. At home, my son races Formula Ford 2000s and we go out during the week quite a bit to the racetrack. We've got a local go-kart track and we've got a six-speed shifter kart, and those are pretty quick little karts. Everything helps tune the reflexes. Nick Firestone lives up there, and Mark Blundell and at the time P.J. Jones and Adrian Fernandez, so a lot of go out to the track and race each other, but not too hard because we don't want to hurt each other. Physically, it keeps the reflexes working."
Was your retirement ill-advised?
"Back then, I would say having a rough year in '98. Basically, anything that could go wrong went wrong with the car not staying together, crashing because my engine blew up, crashing with a leaky fuel tank, crashing because someone spun in front of me. Every time something went wrong, I was involved in that. I think I just had enough of that. And I can still say my retirement is working good for me, but I didn't realize I would miss driving in this race. I can miss the other races, that's not a big problem. When I see them running in groups of 15 cars together in Texas, I can miss that for sure. Someone said, 'Wouldn't you like to be with those guys? That's so cool,' I said, 'You've got to be kidding me.' But this is the race I realized last year, being in the booth for ABC, that I felt I really missed this whole event. That's why I decided to come back for the '500,' but I can miss the other races. I sleep pretty good the night before the race. You can get in your car and feel really confident on Sunday morning, but after five laps you realize, 'Man, this thing doesn't want to turn left.' So it's always kind of a wait-and-see how it will go. I try not to be nervous before the race, because you just have to see what happens anyway. What I try to do is just try to enjoy the whole ambience on Sunday, being part of this great event, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and try and make it fun for myself. Obviously I'm hoping for good weather so we can start at 11 for once. That would be great, instead of sitting around for a couple hours. That gets tedious."