Atlanta: Tony Raines preview

TONY RAINES 'We're Not Going to Take it Anymore'; Fear Not the 1.5-Mile Oval CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 14, 2007) -- Anyone who followed the DLP HDTV team during the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season knows that if there was one problem that ...

TONY RAINES

'We're Not Going to Take it Anymore'; Fear Not the 1.5-Mile Oval

CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 14, 2007) -- Anyone who followed the DLP HDTV team during the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season knows that if there was one problem that stood out, it was the team's performance on the 1.5- and 2-mile ovals.

Save for Tony Raines leading three times for 28 laps en route to a seventh-place finish last fall at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, the team finished no better than 25th at seven of the 11 intermediate tracks where Raines competed.

Perhaps progress is being made, however. In fact, statistics show that it is.

Since the Dickies 500 last November at Texas Motor Speedway, Raines has driven the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS to top-20 finishes at three of the last four intermediate tracks. At the end of the 2006 season, he finished 19th and 20th, respectively, at Texas Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway and last week finished 20th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The only blemish on the top-20 streak came three weeks ago, when he finished a respectable 23rd at the 2-mile California Speedway in Fontana.

The numbers aren't exactly earth-shattering, but at the end of the day, the DLP HDTV team is improving on a weakness, which is obviously a heck of a lot better than continuing to struggle.

This week, Raines, crew chief Brandon Thomas and all of Hall of Fame Racing can continue their slow and steady climb up the 1.5-mile mountain with the Kobalt Tools 500 at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga.

Like several other intermediate tracks last season, AMS was cruel, if not outright mean to the DLP HDTV team. In the spring, with Terry Labonte driving, Hall of Fame Racing struggled during qualifying and started 43rd, but rebounded to finish 22nd in the race. Raines and the team struggled in the fall, however, starting 27th and finishing 34th.

With improved confidence in their intermediate package, Raines and Thomas head to Atlanta looking to continue their steady climb to success.

To quote the legendary rock band Twisted Sister, the DLP HDTV team has said to AMS and all the other intermediate tracks: "We're not going to take it anymore."

TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Dating back to last season, the DLP HDTV team has had three consecutive top-20 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks. Do you feel the team is making small but important gains on the 1.5-mile program?

"I feel like it's improved a little, but I'd like to see it improve more, and I know (crew chief) Brandon (Thomas) feels that way. I think at the beginning of the race and at the end of the race at Vegas, we ran a lot better than we did in the middle. The middle portion of the race really hurt us. That's racing, though. If you get loose for a little while, that can knock you back 10 spots pretty quick. We just have to keep working. Everyone is working really hard. Brandon and I have only worked about 10 races together, so I think every race we run together is a plus. We need a big shot at Atlanta and I'm confident we can go out and execute it."

All the 1.5-mile tracks look the same, but have different characteristics. What makes Atlanta different from the other 1.5-tracks?

"The surface, mostly. It's so coarse, so rough, that new tires are good for two or three laps and then, immediately, the times start to fall off. It's kind of a unique place because, in qualifying, you run the very bottom and then in the race you run about as high as you can get anywhere. You run up against the wall at least in one corner. It's a tricky track, with the surface being so worn out and the tires falling off, a good-handling race car is going to rise to the top there more than some other places."

You are pulling double duty this weekend running in the NASCAR Busch Series race as well as the Nextel Cup event. Is that challenging?

"It's not too bad there because the garages are fairly close. It's good to be on the racetrack and get a feel for how things are going. I'm hoping it's a good thing because the guys that run on both days seem to run better on one of the two days, or both. Plus, it's just fun to race. I always watch the race on Saturday, so it's probably going to be more fun being in it."

After last week, with all the talk of tires and the new surface at Vegas, is it good to go back to more "normal" circumstances at Atlanta?

"Well, Atlanta can get pretty slick, too. The tire and track at Vegas was by far the most extreme conditions we've ever had. It's good to get away from that. It's good to get back to a normal situation, even though Atlanta can be pretty frustrating, sometimes."

The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Final Four is set to take place in Atlanta in a couple of weeks. Who are your picks to be in the Final Four?

"You know, I haven't really sat down and looked at it yet. I figure Ohio State and Wisconsin have got to be two of them. They're both up there ranked pretty high. Florida is looking pretty good, too. I don't know. I need take a look at it."

BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Overall thoughts heading into Atlanta?

"They made a lot of changes to the tire for Atlanta this time. These are changes we think might be beneficial to us. All lot of what we attributed our troubles to at Atlanta was a tire that wasn't really suited to our setup. We were obviously changing a lot of things around. The setup we ran last fall at Atlanta was a lot different than what we had run only a couple weeks prior at Charlotte. Then we modified it yet again at Texas and Homestead. Obviously, we were in a big research mode late last year, trying to find something, and we feel that we found a lot of those things, now. So, we're excited, we're taking a new car and we're ready to get back to Atlanta and kind of redeem ourselves."

All the 1.5-mile tracks look the same but have different characteristics. What makes Atlanta different from the other 1.5-mile tracks?

"Each track, down to the nuts and bolts, is different. What ends up being the same, because the banking is similar, a lot of the loads on the car are similar. So, yeah, some of the setups are very close to each other. A lot of the things we did, a lot of the things we worked on for Las Vegas, will work at Atlanta. The difference comes in the surface and the change of the surface with weather and temperature. That's very different at all the 1.5-miles tracks."

Are you happy with the progress that is being made on the 1.5-mile tracks, even though the gains are small?

"I think there is definitely progress. I'd like to see more progress. You always want to see progress. Until I feel like we are a threat to be a top-10 team week in and week out at a 1.5-mile oval, I'm not going to be satisfied. Obviously, I'm much happier to go and be disappointed with a 19th at Vegas rather than what we did at the second Atlanta last year when we finished 34th. It's not satisfying enough to be 19th. For the amount of work we put in the program, we want to be better than that."

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Terry Labonte , Tony Raines
Teams Hall of Fame Racing