Mike Delahanty, Sr. Manager -- Dodge Motorsports Robbie Loomis, Executive VP of Racing Operations -- Petty Enterprises Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript Q: IN SPITE OF RECENT PUBLISHED REPORTS, CAN YOU PROVIDE AN UPDATE ...
Mike Delahanty, Sr. Manager -- Dodge Motorsports
Robbie Loomis, Executive VP of Racing Operations -- Petty Enterprises
Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript
Q: IN SPITE OF RECENT PUBLISHED REPORTS, CAN YOU PROVIDE AN UPDATE ON DODGE'S DIRECTION IN MOTORSPORTS -- IN PARTICULAR NASCAR AND GILLETT EVERNHAM MOTORSPORTS?
Mike Delahanty: I just want to respond to these recent reports regarding Gillett Evernham Motorsports -- specifically regarding Bill Davis Racing and speculation that GEM would leave Dodge. It's nothing but pure speculation. Dodge and Gillett Evernham have a long history that dates to our return to Sprint Cup racing (2001). Dodge and GEM have a long-term contract in place. We plan to continue as partners in NASCAR. We're aware and have had discussion about GEM's interest in adding a fourth car, but there's never been discussion about running anything but a Dodge. Anything beyond that, we classify as pure speculation. We're pleased to see the turnabout in the competition side at GEM and absolutely look forward to many more Victory Lane celebrations together."
Q: WHAT ABOUT DODGE'S COMMITMENT TO MOTORSPORTS...HAS IT CHANGED?
MD: I don't know how many times we have to keep saying it, but we are committed....we have long-term contracts in place...not only with Gillett Evernham, but with Penske Racing...with Petty (Enterprises) and with Chip Ganassi Racing. We're committed to the sport. We're committed to these guys...I don't know how many times we have to repeat it.
Q: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES THAT DOVER PRESENTS RACES TEAMS THIS WEEKEND?
Robbie Loomis: Dover is usually a racetrack -- due to the banking and especially with the COT -- that provides pretty good racing. It can be a treacherous track. Things happen really, really quick. At the same time, it's a tough place to get a handle on. You'll see a lot of times that the difference in a set of tires makes a big difference in the handling of the car. Sometimes being off a half-a-pound on air pressure can get you lapped on a fuel run. Dover is a challenging place. It's pretty demanding. At the same time, I like the confidence we have in Bobby Labonte and Kyle (Petty) being a past winner there also.
Q: BOBBY LABONTE HAS SAID THAT THE PERFORMACNE SEEMS TO BE MUCH IMPROVED OVER THE LAST SEVERAL RACES; CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RECENT SUCCESS?
RL: Jeff Meendering (#43 crew chief) and Bobby Labonte have been doing a great job -- everyone on the 43 car and at Petty Enterprises have been testing a lot. With the start of this season, we were behind the eight ball because we didn't spend the money doing the necessary stuff to come out of the box like we needed to at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, our drivers -- Bobby and Kyle -- had to pay the price when we hadn't done that. The last few weeks, we've kind of settled down a bit on our front-end stuff. We had a great practice in Richmond. We felt the race was fair. When we went to Loudon, we felt like we had the best weekend for all of our practices. We were in the top-five in all the practices and really good in the rankings in the average of lap times. We felt good about the progress that we made (in Loudon). Thirteenth (place finish) isn't what we want. We're not going to quit until we find Victory Lane.
Q: WHAT PLANS DO YOU HAVE IN PLACE FOR THE SECOND PETTY CAR FOR NEXT YEAR?
RL: There's no secret that we've been working our way through it since we took on our new partners with Boston Ventures and David Zucker -- the new CEO. We're still navigating our way through our direction. It's obvious that we want to bring in a young guy with Bobby Labonte's experience and try to build from there. We're excited about this past weekend. We're working a lot with Chad McCumbee and will probably take some looks at Chad this season for sure in another five races. We're excited about where we're going in the future with that...also excited about having the experience of Bobby Labonte on our side.
Q: WILL KYLE (PETTY) BE IN THE CAR NEXT YEAR?
RL: Oh yeah. Kyle's going to be back in (the 45 car) this weekend in Dover and some other races lined up for him during the end of the year. We'll see Kyle and I'm sure you'll see Kyle out there next year. As everyone knows, with all the sponsorship dependent on how you put all these programs together, we're trying to work our way through it right now.
Q: ALL THE CHASE DRIVERS COME FROM THREE- OR FOUR-CAR OPEARTIONS. CAN PETTY ENTERPRISES CONTINUE TO RACE ALONE? DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO CREATE A FOUR-CAR OPERATION? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO MOVE UP TO THE CHASE-LEVEL TEAM?
RL: I think when NASCAR said a few years ago that four teams was the limit, that pretty much drew a line in the sand that said, "You better get there (to a four-car team) quick." I know David Zucker -- our CEO -- is definitely looking at a lot of different avenues on the quickest way for growth. Right now, I'm not going to go out here and promise that we're going to be any more than two teams because that's what we are focused on right now. But I do think that we have to look at every avenue out there with these race teams and figure out how do we get stronger? Especially with our own manufacturers -- with Dodge -- that might make sense -- for someone to work a lot closer and have that alliance. We've been fortunate because we lean on our support from our engine supplier -- Gillett Evernham -- so that's helped us a lot. But at the same time, it's not the full benefit of having four cars in the shop and four crew-chiefs sitting in a meeting and four drivers to draw from every week.
Q: MUCH HAS BEEN TALKED ABOUT DALE JR.'s COMMUNICAITON OVER THE RADIO AT LOUDON AND HOW RICK HENDRICK HANDLED IT. HOW HARD IS IT FOR CREW CHIEFS TO CHANGE A DRIVER'S COMMUNICATION DURING A RACE TO GET BETTER INFORMATION VERSUS COMPLAINTS ABOUT THE CAR?
RL: It's extremely tough for a crew chief. You can watch the lap times of a driver in the race -- it's almost like watching a heart monitor. When their hear rate gets up and they start telling you the thing (car) is messed up -- cussing, ranting and raving -- their lap times get slower and slower and slower. As soon as they settle down a little bit in the car, they'll come back. They might not get all the way back to where the car was right (performed best), but it doesn't surprise me at all. I always get on the bandwagon that the success of these organizations starts from the top with these team owners. I think the whole world got to see this past weekend what I got to live with for six years having Rick Hendrick as a car owner -- just that touch he has. I think that should serve as a wake-up call to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) to approach things a little bit different. I'm sure he (Dale Jr.) probably wouldn't want to admit it, but it's probably a big part of the reason that Dale went there (to Hendrick Motorsports) was his respect for Mr. Hendrick. When (Mr. Hendrick) speaks, everyone takes notice.
Q: IS IT TOO LATE FOR A DRIVER TO CHANGE HIS PERSONALITY INSIDE THE CAR AT THIS POINT?
RL: It's not easy to change, especially a situation where a crew chief is trying to get him to change. But the unique part about the situation with Mr. Hendrick -- we've seen it in the past with other successful car owners - if they're doing it all the time, people don't pay attention to it. But this has been the first couple of times that Rick (Hendrick) has really come out and had a talk with him. And the good part is that Rick followed up...I'm sure... this week with him the right way. They're all after the same thing and I think that's the important thing. Nobody wants that (Chase) championship worse than Dale Jr. and nobody wants it more for Dale Jr. than Rick Hendrick. So yes, (Dale Jr.) can change now. Is it going to come all the way to the person that maybe I would like to see or Rick would want to see? Probably not. But if (Dale Jr.) just gets 10 percent better, that might be the difference in getting that three points that they need to get a championship.
Q: HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THE COT?
RL: I can only look at what our organization has done with it. I can see benefits coming down the road if we don't keep jumping around with the rules. This winter is going to be a lot different if we're not all cutting our bodies off and having our fabricators turned upside down. Usually the tradition is we go to Daytona and test and come back and cut all our bodies off and return to Daytona two weeks later. There's going to be some real benefits in that area. I think we still have some challenges in front of us as far as working with NASCAR and the teams. There are certain racetracks that I think provide great racing. There are other racetracks that we really have to take a look at and see if there is a little something that we can do to work with the car to make it better. I think that it's got to be the crew chiefs -- the Chad Knaus', Steve Latarte's, Tony Eury Jr's and Bob Osborne's of the world, the Kenny Francis', those are the guys that we have to listen to because they could really give us the feedback to help make it (COT) better for everyone in the sport.
Q: WHAT IS THE TOUCH THAT RICK HENDRICK BRINGS AS AN OWNER TO HELP COMMUNICATION WITHIN HIS TEAM DURING A RACE? HAVE YOU SEEN HIM DO THAT BEFORE?
RL: I clearly give the win -- a large part of the credit for the win in 2001 at the Brickyard to Mr. Hendrick. We were sitting back there in dirty air running about 35th and the car was handling terrible. All of a sudden he got on the radio and said (to Jeff Gordon), "Look champ, I've seen you do this before. You can overcome this deal." It kind of brought calmness in and we ended up winning the race that day. He just has that touch. Mr. Hendrick is not a removed car owner. He is very close to his crew chiefs. He is very close with Doug Duchardt (VP of Development) and Ken Howes (VP of Competition). He knows every piece of his organization. He knows the psyche of his drivers. He knows the crew chiefs. He's very good at letting things go and knowing how far to let it go to try to get a hold of it before it goes too far. I think Tony Eury Jr. has done a great, great job with Junior over the years. It's very, very tough -- especially when you're running for the Chase (for the Championship). The pressure and stress that is there is high on everybody....but ultimately those guys want the same thing and they all realize that.
Q: IS THERE EVER A TIME WHEN IT'S NOT COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE WHEN A DRIVER GETS FRUSTRATED ON THE RADIO?
RL: When a driver loses control and is trying to describe what the car is doing, it's like trying to be a mind reader as a crew chief on how to make the next adjustment. It's probably the most difficult thing. You just can't read the mind of that car. The greatest driver's and those who win championships are the ones who stay within their emotions all day and give the best feedback all day.
Q: IS ONE OPTION NEXT YEAR FOR PETTY ENTERPRISES THREE CARS, ONE WITH A LIMITED SCHEDULE WITH KYLE DRIVING IT?
RL: It definitely is. We've had a lot of discussion on that in staff meetings each week. Dave Zucker -- our CEO -- is trying to put a lot of things together on the sponsorship front and that's one of the avenues that we've talked about. If we could run a third car on a limited schedule -- even if it is a minimum of five to seven races -- it does help us prepare and get a little bit of information in our circle and also prepare an easier transition when we go to three cars in 2010 when everyone gets this economy rolling again.
Q: AND A THIRD CAR IS CONTINGENT ON SPONSORSHIP?
RL: Yes sir. 100%.
Q: WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE AN ORGANIZATION THAT IS NOT PART OF THE CHASE AND NOT RUNNING FOR A CHAMPIONSHP WHEN ALL THE ATTENTION IS ON THE TEAMS WHO ARE?
RL: That's one thing that I think we could work on to help our sport and sponsors for all the teams. Besides the 12 guys who are running for the Chase each week, let's pick three guys each week randomly and cover those guys throughout the field and target them as much as the guys in the Chase. For me personally, the job is the same. We're trying to improve the product for the 43 and 45 cars and get the Petty Enterprise cars to Victory Lane. I measure our success each week -- it doesn't matter if it's a Chase race or an All-Star race on Saturday night. I look at what lap time is #1 and how far we are off to that lap time. It doesn't matter who's up there or what organization they're from -- we've got to get to that lap time and that's what should be #1 (priority).
Q: SINCE THE NEW OWNERSHIP GROUP HAS COME IN, WHAT HAS SPECIFICALLY CHANGED AT PETTY ENTERPRISES?
RL: From the office door out to the shop, they really haven't felt a lot of the change. Probably the biggest place that has seen the change has been in the front office. They've really buttoned us up and are looking at things from a business standpoint and professional level. We're trying to keep the same culture we've always had at Petty Enterprises. There's no secret what great people the Pettys are. It really starts with the business side and trying to take that to another level. They're holding a lot of accountability from me to the drivers and all the way through (the organization). They definitely want to take this thing to new heights. We're putting the pieces in place to do that. Right now, we're on a hard plan over the next 30 days to lay out an action plan for the 2009 season.
Q: AS FAR AS NEW EQUIPMENT -- IS THERE MORE INFRASTUCTURE?
RL: When we closed this deal (with Boston Ventures), we had a big wish list. We're working off that (list) one at a time. We're trying to be smarter and prioritize it. I've expressed to everybody that this sport is so competitive. The Hendricks of the world have been at it so hard - so long -- if you brought all the money in the world and set it on a table -- you just can't get there overnight. It takes a while to put the right people in the right places to be able to develop the engineers, the technology and the pit crews. It's a piece-by piece-effort. If we could get the 20 guys ahead of us in points on vacation for the next 10 races, we could close the gap pretty good, but they're peddling and working just as hard as we are right now.
Q: HOW HAS THE PHYSICAL MOVE TO THE CHARLOTTE AREA GONE FOR PETTY ENTERPRISES?
RL: The physical move -- the hardest part was probably the first part of the season with the adjustment into the new shop. It's been hard on everyone because we went through some transition with employees as we moved down to this area. We're pretty fortunate. We still have a lot of employees that were part of Petty Enterprises up there. That's been the biggest transition. Probably just the mix of cultures as we came down to the Charlotte area - we hired some other people from other race teams and for so long, we had so many people that had only been there and worked on the cars one way -- with one approach. All of a sudden being in the Charlotte area, we mixed a lot of different approaches working on the cars while still trying to keep the 'Petty feeling" throughout it all. That's been our biggest challenge. Around July, things really started to settle in and we started hitting our stride. I think it will start to show in our performance the last eight or 10 races in terms of having a little calmness with having the move behind us now.
Q: HAS THE MIXING OF OTHER CULUTRES BEEN A PLUS TOO?
RL: Yeah. We talked about it a lot. While it's harder to manage in the beginning, it's definitely a plus because everybody brings a little bit different mindset to it -- so it definitely helps.
-credit: dodge motorsports