ERNIE IRVAN California 500 April 27, 1999 Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver Ernie Irvan is a native of Salinas, Calif., and is looking forward to Sunday's California 500. He is one of nine drivers competing in Grand Prixs this season.
ERNIE IRVAN California 500 April 27, 1999
Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver Ernie Irvan is a native of Salinas, Calif., and is looking forward to Sunday's California 500. He is one of nine drivers competing in Grand Prixs this season. After nine races, Pontiac drivers have combined to post three poles, one win, nine top-five and 22 top-10 finishes. At the same point last season, Pontiac had three top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Irvan and crew chief Ryan Pemberton talk about the progression of the M&M's Pontiac racing team:
ERNIE IRVAN (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "The Pontiac is a great car. Right now with the way the spoilers are, it is amazing that we still have this discussion. Right now all the cars are real close. It doesn't matter what car John Andretti had a Martinsville, he would still have won because he had a good setup. In California, a lot of aerodynamics is going to effect there. Normally, the Pontiac has been a real good car at a real aerodynamic race track."
HOW ARE YOU FEELING AFTER YOUR CRASH AT TALLADEGA? "I am feeling all right, a little sore. I stopped real quick and that is definitely not a whole lot of fun (at Talladega). On to California, we are 26th in points right now, and that is not where you want to be. We were 13th last year and we are going back to the state where I was born. Hopefully, that will hold good omens for our team. We hope to get our program on the right foot. I think we are running half-way decent. We have made some mistakes this season, but you can't dwell on that. We need to keep a positive outlook."
IS GOING TO CALIFORNIA AFTER TALLADEGA A RELIEF? "The race track at California is a very fast track. At Talladega we average 197-98 miles an hour. At California we are going to average in the high 180s. The difference there is we don't have the restrictor plates, and it probable won't be a four-wide race track. The race track has been getting better each time. I think it is going to be a two-groove race track. It will be a lot different from what we have had in the past."
LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING BACK TO YOUR HOME STATE? "It feels real good to get back to the West Coast. That is where my career got started. There is no doubt that we can have some top fives. At the beginning of the year we seemed to run very well, but we have had some troubles. I think we have the same team that we had last year. We can definitely finish in the top 15 in points. All we have to do is prove it. I haven't forgot how to drive. Just like a lot of people counted Dale Earnhardt out and then he goes out and wins again. He is a consistent race car driver and I thing it is just a matter of time before we start to put some consistent pace on our point totals."
DO YOU EVER FORESEE A COMMON TEMPLATE? "Right now, I am real glad that I don't have NASCAR's job. Because of the tough decisions they have to make. I think that the way the whole program is working out, I don't see a need for a common template because everyone will be driving the same type of car. Right now we still have a Pontiac, a Ford and a Chevrolet and that is why the manufacturers are involved."
IS CALIFORNIA DEVELOPING A SECOND GROOVE? "There is no doubt that the race track has gotten better and better. When it was first built it was just your basic one groove race track. Now the race track has a different look. You can definitely run two-wide. The groove changed from the very bottom of the race track to now where you can run a little higher, similar to Michigan."
THERE'S BEEN CRITICISM THE DRIVERS DON'T INTERACT AS MUCH WITH THE FANS. YOUR OPINION? "I still feel we have the connection with the fans that we use to. The sport has grown so much. Before, there was 50,000 fans at the track. Now, if you look at Jeff Gordon, he has to meet with 150,000 fans. You can only spread Jeff so thin. You only have 24 hours a day. We try to do our sponsor commitments, but we also have to do the things for our race team to succeed on the track."
HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED AS A DRIVER? "Right now, I think I am a smarter driver on the track, then I was before. So people can say that Ernie doesn't take the chances that he use to. If you ask my competitors, they will say I will still stick it in there. I think I am a lot smarter race car driver."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT READERS REACTING TO CERTAIN THINGS IN YOUR NEW BOOK? "I haven't had any bad things happen because I told the truth, about the Robert Yates split-up and the McClure split-up. When you speak the truth, how can somebody be mad? I just told my side of the story. I feel very good with what we have done with that book. That was just a very small part of it. There is more to the book than just the team split-ups."
WHY DID YOU GET INTO RACING? "I about 5-foot-9 and obviously I couldn't be a basketball player. So I asked myself 'What is a guy 5-foot-9 going to do?' I can't jump, so, I took to tennis. I wasn't very good, but that is something everyone wants to talk about because I am one of the few drivers who played tennis in high school. To say I was a good tennis player, I was far from that."
IS CALIFORNIA'S LAYOUT CONDUCIVE TO GOOD RACING? "California is definitely big and wide, but there is only so much of the race track you can use. The race track is starting to favor racing. Right now, you can run two-wide. When it starts to get like the way it is designed, similar to Michigan, we are going to see some good racing. Right now, with the way rear spoilers are, we are going to have more downforce. The track records are probably going to fall. If that is the case, we are going to race better too."
WHAT'S IT GOING TO TAKE TO TURN YOUR SEASON AROUND? "We just need some positive runs. We definitely have the capability to do it. Ryan Pemberton is on of the crew chiefs that I don't talk about a lot, but he definitely has the makings for a very good crew chief. I know that I can get the job done, Ryan can get the job done, and we have Hendrick cars and motors, so we have all the pieces to the puzzle. All we have to do is make it happen in the right area. We could be sitting here five weeks from now talking about the last five races and we have five top-fives. It just so happens the last five races and we have fallen from tenth in points to 26th in points. I think right now we still have a very good race team."
RYAN PEMBERTON, crew chief (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "I feel good about going back to California. We are very optimistic about going back to a top-flight track. We definitely have had some of our better runs out there at a flat track similar to the Charlotte's and the Michigan's. We are in a little slump right now. We just haven't had any racing luck on our side. We are looking to go out there and change our luck."
CAN THIS TEAM WIN ANY TIME OUT? "We have everything to win. The driver, he's awesome, he's got the ability. The team has the parts and pieces we need to win races and run up front. Right now we haven't done that for one reason or another. If we can get just a little bit of momentum behind us, hit a few good races here, there is no reason why we can't compete on a weekly basis. We were doing that towards the second half of last year. We need to run in the top-five week in and week out. Before you can expect wins. Right now we need to keep our nose clean, stay out of accidents and stay in the top five. We need to put a string of good runs together and our luck will change."
WHAT'S HOLDING THIS TEAM BACK? "We were kind of in the same situation the first half of last year. Things just weren't there. We have been competitive. We were good at Vegas, Atlanta, Darlington and Texas. At Bristol, we didn't get a chance to even show our hand. Martinsville, we didn't have a very good day, he got spun out, but that's short track racing. We were 20th and we were a better car than that. Daytona, we had a good car. In Rockingham, we got in an early wreck and ended with a late wreck. It kind of sums up our season. I don't like to talk about needing some luck. We have always believed that you make your own luck. Some things you just can't avoid. We were riding around Talladega, just trying to log some laps before we go, and we got caught up in a big wreck amongst other great cars. Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon were in it. Sometimes things just don't go your own way. We need to start making better decisions and qualify better. That will change how we race. We are anxious to go to California. Our speedway program has really been turned around. We know how good of a car we had at Talladega. We had a very competitive car and we were just sitting there riding around trying to avoid stupid moves and we didn't even make it to the first pit stop. Normally things start to happen after the first pit stop. That's when the race separates the good cars from the bad cars. We were just waiting for that to happen. We just never got there. Sometimes there are just certain things you can't control. We need to keep our heads down and keep digging."
WHAT IT THE EXTENT OF THE TEAM'S RELATIONSHIP WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "We work a lot on the engine with the Hendrick program. We do use some of their chassis, but we are not a direct team of theirs. We do not get help like a second car team. We are connected with them a little bit. There are certain areas that they help us out with. We are trying to beat them, just like they are trying to beat us. We don't treat each other as teammates. We are extra courteous with each other. We like our relationship and what we have done is given them extra respect on and off the track."