Indianapolis top four pre-race press conference

Drivers: Kenny Brack Eddie Cheever Jr. Bobby Labonte Tony Stewart Geroge Signore: Good morning, everybody. Thanks for coming here. We have with us today the top -- well, top three. With IROC, as you know, scheduling is one of our worst enemies...

Drivers:
Kenny Brack
Eddie Cheever Jr.
Bobby Labonte Tony Stewart

Geroge Signore: Good morning, everybody. Thanks for coming here. We have with us today the top -- well, top three. With IROC, as you know, scheduling is one of our worst enemies and we've lost Kenny Brack somewhere here. We'll try to get him scheduled over. But we have the top three here --

Eddie Cheever: Never trust a foreigner. (Laughter)

Signore: -- contending for the 2001 25th Anniversary True Value IROC Series. It's been a pretty competitive year and right now the way the points are lined up, it's quite a diverse battle between the open-wheel guys and the stock car guys getting into the series. I guess we'll just get things rolling here with Tony sitting closest to me. You got your first win at Michigan there and just about to wrap this thing up, so what are your thoughts going in?

Tony stewart: I'm excited. To have the race we had at Michigan and that kind of set the stage for us for this weekend. Got us back in toward the front of the points battle here. So we really needed that race at Michigan. We had trouble at Daytona and that was a big day for us at Michigan to be able to gain as many points as we did. So it's a great opportunity to win a great championship this weekend. There's a bunch of us that feel the same way right now and it's you're going to have to have a really, really good race to be able to pull this thing off on Saturday.

Signore: Now, Bobby, we've got -- yesterday you were responsible for that color chart sitting there, picking all the cars out. You an opportunity to help yourself, picked that wild card car for the pole. That didn't quite happen. So you've got a ways to go.

Bobby Labonte: Yeah, but like we had talked, at least I didn't pick -- I picked Jeff Burton which was probably eighth or ninth in points, so that probably would help out a little bit. But it's been a lot of fun this year to run the IROC series and the win at Talladega for us got us in a good position for Michigan. We finished pretty good up there. We're leading the points by one, which is better than being behind by one. So pretty excited about that. This is going to be tough on a racetrack that can be hard to pass at times if it gets strung out. But we're going to have to wait and see. I haven't even practiced the car yet and I guess Eddie has done a lot of practicing, so he's maybe up on us right now; but we'll see if we can't catch up to him.

Signore: Are you up on them, Eddie?

Cheever: Absolutely not.

Labonet Do you like a blue car? I picked you a blue car. (Laughter)

Signore: I will open it up for questioning.

What can you guys do in an IROC car at Indianapolis that you can't do in a stock car? You talk about it being hard to pass going into the corners, is there any difference in the two? Are they both the same? They both have trouble passing? Same car, same --

Cheever: That's definitely not a question for me.

Labonte: I think that, you know, from the last year -- last year when I ran here, you about run wide open. I don't know what the situation is going to be this year, how the cars are set up as much if they were like last year. But there was passing going on last year. It just depends on what your car did a lot of times and the line you took sometimes. But for the most part there can be some passing and it's just -- you know, as far as the difference between the Cup car and the IROC cars, the difference is, of course, the engine is not quite as strong in the IROC car but the aerodynamics is a lot more efficient than a Winston Cup car. So we do run wide open; and I ran with Rusty Wallace on the outside for nearly a lap last year. So I waited until the last lap -- no, he waited until the last lap to try to pass me and ended up it didn't work. But it was a deal we did run side by side. So you can do it, it's just -- I look at where I'm starting and wish we could do it like that, but it would be a lot more fun for me. But it's going to be exciting and we'll see what happens.

Signore: Any other questions?

The death in football, does that ever concern you guys racing for four hours in the heat in all different types of cars? And, also, what have you done to keep you cool during races?

Cheever: That doesn't concern me either. My car has got the most efficient air conditioning system in the world. Air is shoved down my helmet at 200 miles an hour. So I don't have that problem. I don't have a roof on it, so I don't -- (Laughter)

Rahal came in one year and fainted after he came in.

Cheever: Rahal did?

Stewart: Just because he was drinking the night before. (Laughter) You haven't spent enough years at Indianapolis, have you? (Laughter) Just like my deal with May, to be honest, I had a past football trainer that helped me and that was his number one concern, was hydration. I don't know if it's ever really been a huge concern but you do get dehydrated in these cars; but we don't weigh 300 pounds either. So I think probably after what we've seen the last week, we're all going to pay attention to it more. Definitely the weather has been, you know, a bigger factor this year with the humidity than what we've had in the past. But I think everybody is -- especially in our sport now, you're starting to see a lot more personal trainers and athletic trainers get into the series and get involved and help us out. So I think the problems there are being solved without it actually showing up as a problem. You know, there's also companies that are making the, quote unquote, air-conditioning units. It doesn't air-condition the whole inside of the car, it air-conditions the area around your mouth so at least the air that you're breathing is cool; and that definitely makes you feel a lot better. I deal with claustrophobia all the time in these things and having the air-conditioners has been the number-one thing that's helped me with that. The combination of that and the fluids and the trainers, I think that's pretty much cured all those problems.

Eddie, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about both you and Kenny have the opportunity to become the first open-wheel driver to win since '88 in this series and just talk about how maybe you've personally benefited from having a couple years run in the series to be in that position.

Cheever: I was very hesitant when I came to IROC in the beginning because it's not something I'm used to driving. I haven't spent any of my career driving cars with roofs on them and drafting was a totally new area for me. When I came to Daytona the first time I kept hearing the stories how Earnhardt could see air and all these sort of things. I thought it was just something I was going to have a hard time understanding. I've enjoyed it immensely. After seeing him and a lot of these guys race, it's true. They do see air. I'm not sure how they do it, but they do it. It's a totally different form of racing. The first year I participated and got moved around the track a lot and it took a lot of learning. The second year I was a little bit more ambitious and got in more trouble more of the time than I had done the year before. And now I'm really comfortable. I really enjoy racing against them. They drive different than we do. You have the ability in a car with fenders to use parts of your car that I've tried using in the IRL and it doesn't work in the IRL. (Laughter)

It's fun, I really enjoy it. Kenny has taken to it much the same way. We had a great race with them in Michigan, both Kenny and I; and it was a great finish. It's just a lot of fun. It's a different form of racing. It's a lot more -- you can be a lot more aggressive but you have to keep it within certain limits. But it's fun. It's very different than what we do.

Tony, you mentioned earlier that a cooling helmet helps you deal with the claustrophobia a little bit better. Have you ever had that stop working out there and kind of panic over it?

Stewart: I've had it feel like it wasn't working and when you come in it's working. I've never had it stop. These things have been around for three or four years now and they just keep making them better and better. So we have two of them that we carry with us each weekend and we run them in race practice, so we pretty much know whether it's going to work or whether it's not. We've never had one malfunction during a race.

Eddie, going back to your experience this year in the IROC series, can you go back to Daytona this year and that memorable door-to-door duel that you had with Dale Earnhardt and that scene? Can you reconstruct that scene afterwards in the pits when he was standing there looking at you?

Cheever: For the 50,000th time this year? (Laughter) It's become my son's favorite bedtime story. I have embellished it for my son. I'll give you the real version if you want. Halfway through the race Earnhardt and I were falling back and many times with NASCAR drivers it takes a lot of time to get used to, you get hand signals. In the IRL the only hand signal you get is when you're upset with somebody. You don't tell them that you're going to pass. But there's are a lot of hand signals in NASCAR and he signaled -- the signal was "stay behind me," which you told me he did often. It was always "follow me," and everybody got in line. So I followed him and he was doing moves that I didn't think were going to be very profitable for either of us; but they were. "I'm going to go left," and he'd go left and I'd follow him. In these cars, it's so much the car behind you that makes the difference whether you're going to go well enough because if somebody tells you to pull out with them and you don't, they can get strung out. To make a long story short, we did that and we got to the front. With about four laps to go, the hand signals stopped. And, you know, I had people behind me and the one signal to stay in line is you kind of just move your hand back and forth. So I figured that all game is off, now it's your job to see if you can pass me. And coming off the front straight, I tried to go up high. I did go up high and my car, I got too aggressive with it and I hit his side panel and we ended up down in the grass. It was not one of my better moves that I had done in my career and it cost me a win and it cost him a possible win, also. That is the -- that's just the first of the story.

The interesting bit of the story is as I'm coming into the pits, I'm furious with myself for having lost the race. I'm not really looking in my mirror and all of the sudden I start spinning down the back straight and it didn't take me long to understand what happened. Earnhardt had bumped me. So I collect everything, come back in the pits and I'm getting pelted with cans. So I knew I was in trouble. I mean -- I was hoping it was just going to end with just a few beer cans and few Coke cans or Pepsi cans. I don't know what they drink in Daytona, I think it's probably Coke. I come into the pits and the crew chief stands at my car and says, "I think you better stay in your car." I'm thinking, oh, no, I don't want to go through one of these. I can see myself being tarred and feathered by 150 NASCAR fans. I stand there and down comes Earnhardt with a posse of probably a hundred -- more journalists than I've ever seen in my life. They're all following. He's got that grin on his face and you never know whether he's angry or happy. And I still had the net up on my car and my helmet on. I haven't been in a lot of NASCAR but I know if you're smart and you get in a fight, you keep your helmet on. He said, "Get out of your car. I've never hit somebody who's in a car." So I start fiddling with my seat belt, hoping if I take enough time, he'll leave; and he's still standing there.

I get out of the car, never taking my eye off him as I'm getting out of the car and he just breaks into a big smile and says, he says, "That was a great move. Sorry, you know, you made a mistake." And he asked me what had happened. I explained it to him and he said something like, "You better bring your top game to Talladega because I'll be racing with you," and had a big smile on his face and gave me a pat on my shoulder. I was relieved that it was just a pat on the shoulder. I learned a good lesson from him. I made a mistake and he was good about it. It was his ground, I was racing in his home and he was the king there. I very much regret that he wasn't at Talladega. That's the story.

Signore: Any other questions?

Bobby, with these cars supposedly equal in engine power, how hard is it in this type of racing to get from the back to the front?

Labonte: It just depends. I mean I don't think it all relies on the engine. The start of the race, everybody is too wide, except for me. I'm at the back by myself. But, you know, just depends on what the traffic does in front of you. If you get a good run, it's not necessarily the engine that's going to do it. Just depends on what other guys -- their line might be slowed down by somebody else and you can get a run on them. You know, we started at the back at Michigan which is, you know, again another wide-opened racetrack as far as throttle goes. Came all the way to third and slipped back to fifth or so at the end. It can be done, it's just a matter of working it just right. You know, it's just a deal where hopefully where you can get yourself in the right position. If somebody else gets a little screwed up racing somebody else, you can get a run on them and get by them possibly down the straightaways. But you have to keep your foot into it, too. If you let off, you'll lose some speed and maybe get caught back up in maybe a lap or so unless they screw up again or somebody gets out of shape.

Cheever: I would like to add to what he said. These are the best oval racing drivers in the world; and for somebody to screw up the way he says, it happens very, very rarely. Momentum is everything. Once you lose the momentum, you're in trouble. If you so much as crack the throttle in the wrong place, you can just about be guaranteed you'll be passed by four cars and it's not a big mistake. He's not talking about coming out and missing your line by five feet. Missing your line by half a foot and getting off the throttle half a second more than you need to, you're not going to have one guy go by, you're going to have a whole line go by. There's an enormous amount of tension because there's no room for error.

Signore: Eddie, just as a footnote, correct me if I'm wrong, but the scenario this year is not the same as last year as far as the flatfooting around.

Cheever: I was hoping you weren't going to tell them that, because I was going to sit up in the grandstands and watch them try flatfooting in turn one.

Signore: Well, you try it.

Tony, you look a little more forward to this weekend than Memorial Day because it's less hectic? You can enjoy the experience more or no?

Stewart: No. I don't think this weekend is less hectic. Anytime you put on any kind of event here, it's big. This weekend is probably one of the biggest weekends of the year of the three. We're here for three days, not three weeks. So everybody comes in this three-day period. So it's a pretty hectic three days; but at the same time, the way the schedule is, we actually get some time to enjoy being here instead of being run ragged. I'm looking forward to it. I think the next three days are going to be fun.

What about the personal part as far as you being from so close too here and being tugged at different directions.

Stewart: I've got four limbs, that means only four people can tug at once. They always do pull. We just go with it. I mean, we have fun with it. It normally ends up -- even with all the tugging, we still have a good time with this race.

Signore: Any other questions?

For Tony and Bobby. You're at the front end here of 20 straight weeks on the Winston Cup in a row. Is that more of a strain on the teams than the crews and the drivers or does everybody take a little bit of that constant activity strain with all of you?

Stewart: It's probably harder on Bobby than it is me as far as from a driver standpoint.

Thanks for showing up, Kenny. Welcome to the program here. We've been telling all kinds of stories.

<B>Kenny Brack: Better be late today than tomorrow. (Laughter)

Stewart: Anything you want to add while we're up here?

Brack: No, that's it.

Stewart: Looking at the schedule though, I mean realistically it's probably harder on the teams than anybody else just from the standpoint if you crash your car, you're still preparing cars for the next week and you don't have a weekend off to get caught up. I mean, Bobby can tell you better than I do. I don't have a wife or children that I need to get home to see. So I can go out and if I need to stay an extra day, I can stay an extra day and it's no hassle to me. But, I mean to the drivers with families, it's pretty hard I imagine.

Signore: Now that we have Kenny with us, does anybody have any questions for Kenny Brack who is in second place going for the championship? He's been running hard here all week in practice and preparing.

Kenny, what do you think -- Kenny, we're going to make you answer your questions standing in a corner facing the wall. What do you think of your chances for tomorrow?

Brack: First of all, sorry I'm late. Completely forgot about it actually.

Labonte: He's on the Rahal gig. (Laughter)

Brack: Yeah. I don't know, we'll see tomorrow. It will be, as always, very tough and tight racing. We'll see. It's reverse grid order, so it's going to be tough to get to the front or trying to get to the front. So we'll see what's going to happen. But I've done a lot of laps. I got used to the cars and hopefully that will help me a little bit. I mean, I can't really predict the race. I don't think anyone could have predicted any IROC races so far, so I'm not going to start now.

Signore: How would you compare this year -- now you weren't here last year due to a scheduling conflict and you were here in '99. Any major differences that you've noticed?

Brack: I think the cars so far, they've been better, more balanced to drive. I think the IROC and test drivers have done a really good job of making the cars more, even more equal and even more racer friendly. Especially on the super speedways, it's impossible to lose the draft now. I think here it will be very tight racing, too. I expect a very exciting race and that's all there is to it, I guess.

Signore: Any questions? OK. Well, thank you, we're going to wrap this up here today; and good luck to all of you tomorrow.

-IMS/IROC-

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About this article
Series IROC
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Eddie Cheever , Kenny Brack