Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, won the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Labor Day weekend race at California Speedway. Sadler spoke about returning to the site of his third NNCS triumph, along with other issues during a Q&A...
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, won the first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Labor Day weekend race at California Speedway. Sadler spoke about returning to the site of his third NNCS triumph, along with other issues during a Q&A session prior to practice.
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus
THOUGHTS COMING BACK TO CALIFORNIA.
"I'm very excited about being back here. I think this marks the start of really racing points. The new rules, I think everybody is real skeptical of the new spoiler and the new tires and how everything is really gonna work together. We're kind of interested in seeing how we're gonna work side-by-side and it's kind of an all-new deal. Yes, it is the site of our last win and, yes, we tested very, very well here. We were very fast and I can't wait to get in race trim and get ready for Sunday. There's a lot of excitement this weekend for drivers. We've got a little new twist with impounding the cars and that's new for Nextel Cup. That throws a little kink in a lot of the crew chief's plans with tricks and stuff for qualifying, so that's gonna be new. There are a lot of unknowns going into this weekend, so I think there's a lot of excitement but also a lot of unknowns and a lot of gray area. We've got a lot of work to do this weekend to see what's good and what's bad."
THERE WERE BAD WINDS HERE DURING THE TEST.
"The wind was like 40 miles and hour or whatever it was down the front straightaway and as far as going into the wind, which made your car handle very good. We had a lot of tail wind going into turn three, which made your car push and slide around a lot, but we actually got our car to where it was really good in turns three and four with the tail wind, so we think we'll be OK today. What you're got is what you've got, whether you're running in wind or not. If you've got a good car, you've got a good car. If you've got a good balance, you've got a good balance no matter what the temperature is. The sun was out and the track was slick when we were here testing, so we should be OK when it comes to that. Yeah, the wind was a little bit, but not enough to make it where you've got to change everything you've got to come back out here."
IS THIS THE CAR YOU WON WITH?
"No, different car. The car I won with last year is in a junk pile somewhere. I totaled it at Phoenix. It's a twin to it. We built two just like it since we had so much success with that car last year. I think it was in the top 10 everywhere we carried it, except Phoenix where I wrecked it at, so it is a twin to that car. It was built on the same jig at about the same time. We just saved it for this year."
WHAT ABOUT SPEEDING ON PIT ROAD?
"It can hurt you a lot being caught speeding. We were actually talking about that in the shop. If you get caught somewhere like Dover or Martinsville, where it wrapped all the way around - Bristol - there are a lot of places that if you get caught speeding, you're gonna be in big, big trouble. We're coming up with a shift light idea. A deal that lights up when I get to the RPM that I like, I hit it before the race. We've actually got it in the car this weekend to just kind of play with and then when I get to that light I'll have it. The problem was we all kind of cheated getting onto pit road and getting off pit road. Everybody did because it's hard to get to 180 miles an hour and stop down to the pit road speed right at the cones, so you would come in way too fast.
"Usually they were pretty lenient, I guess, or probably weren't even checking the first stall because they weren't always squared up with how you can check it. Usually, everybody always sped leaving the last pit stall and that was the problem. A lot of guys got caught last week. Think of this scenario: there are four of you leaving nose-to-tail, you get to the last pit box and the first guy takes off because he doesn't have far to go before he passes the cones. The second guy, the third guy, by the time you get to about the fourth guy and he takes off, he's got a longer period of time to go before he crosses the cones, they're gonna get the fourth guy for speeding and all he's doing is keeping up with the momentum of traffic. So that's where the drivers really have to be careful on pit road, and I think a lot of the guys that got caught last week was because of that. So we just have to be more patient and more cautious on pit road. We're trying the light deal so we're not trying to look at the tach, look where we're going, and look at the tach. We've just got a light and when it's on, I'm right on pit road speed limit. When it goes off, I'm either over or under."
WHAT COLOR IS IT?
"It's a huge yellow light, like a shift light, and we're gonna put it right there on the A-post and kind of use that and see if that works or not."
IS THE PIT ROAD SYSTEM FAIR?
"Yes, very fair. It's a lot more fair than it used to be. There is no way NASCAR could check all the people that were getting on and off pit road - not with so many people in the booth and not with so many stop watches, and you've got to watch for people that were passing other guys to the left getting in their pits. NASCAR was having to watch way too much stuff. We were putting way too much pressure on them for pit road. I know every race last year that people were speeding in and out of the pits all the time, but NASCAR couldn't catch them. You can't catch 40 guys at one time on pit road. A big hint to that was that guys who were qualifying good, like the 48 car that qualifies good every week, and the 17 they were picking way down there in turn four. Why do you think they're doing that? They're not doing it because the scenery is better down there, it's because they can speed getting off pit road a lot more. So I think this new system is a lot more fair than what we've had in the past."
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW QUALIFYING PROCEDURE. HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT?
"I think it's fair. I think you need to race your way into a NASCAR Nextel Cup race. I don't think it was fair last year for teams to come up and maybe miss the show and a guy who gets a provisional runs one lap and says he's vibrating and pulls it in, that's not racing. That's not what this sport is built on, so I'm glad they came up with this new way of doing things that everybody has to race their way in. It lets the real racers race on Sunday and not the guys who are just here to run five laps and park it, so I like the rule."
WHAT DO YOU FORESEE WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE HERE?
"I think this race is gonna be everybody feeling each other out for a while, especially the first half of the race, until we see what we've got. Spoiler-wise, I think we're gonna be a lot looser in traffic than what we've been in the past. I think if you give our race teams, a lot of them are good enough to have the downforce probably back by mid-season than what we had last year with the big spoiler, but right now we don't have that. So I think you're gonna see a lot of guys touching and feeling around and just being cautious until we figure out what kind of side forces and how the side air is really gonna effect our race car with the least amount of spoiler on it."
WHAT ABOUT MEXICO NEXT WEEK?
"I'm going. I've never been there before. I've never been to Mexico. It's the first time. You hear all kinds of stories good and bad about going to Mexico City, but I'm keeping an open mind because I don't know. I can't wait. I think it'll be fun. I haven't been in a Busch car in a long time, so I think it'll be cool going to a road course and being involved in it. I don't know anything about the race track. I haven't seen a picture of it. I have no idea. I've got to get me some kind of atlas or map for when I leave pit road and I'll figure it out as I go."
WHAT ABOUT SECURITY?
"I've heard a lot of stories good and bad, especially when Jeff Burton and them guys went down there and test of some things that might have happened. But I think NASCAR says they have done a good job with security and they've got us all together. I'm not gonna venture out. Wherever they tell me to go that's where I'm gonna be at and follow all the rules and be looking forward to seeing you guys in Vegas (laughter). That's kind of the way I'm going to do things."
WILL SOME GUYS RUN QUALIFYING SETUPS JUST TO MAKE THE RACE?
"Yeah, I think people are gonna do that. My brother needs to qualify for this race. Who cares how he races. Put a qualifying setup in it, make the race, and on the first pit stop change front shocks - do whatever you've got to do. California, it's is a long way around pit road here so do what you've got to do to make it in race trim then. I think some guys are gonna have to play that strategy, but I still like the sport where we race on Sunday. We don't come in here and run five laps and park it. That is not NASCAR racing, so that's why I think they had to implement this rule. It's gonna have its plusses and minuses, just like every other rule that we have in this sport, but I think it's gonna reward the guys in the end that really come out here and want to race and they want to try to run every lap that they can.
"What Kevin Lepage did last week with that car was remarkable. I commend him and his race team - to be undermanned, and the problem they had with running out of gas or whatever they had during the race, and to come back and finish in the top 10 was great. That's a great story. Kevin Lepage is a great qualifier and I don't think he's gonna have any problem making these races."
THAT COULD GET INTERESTING AT THE START OF THE RACE IF ALL THE QUALIFYING SETUPS ARE UP FRONT. IT COULD BE A MESS.
"It's a big old mess every week anyway (laughing). I don't know how much that'll play into it, but I do think that strategy is gonna come from a lot of teams that know they just need to make the race until they get some points. Then they'll worry about racing, but I think you're gonna see some teams that are gonna go with qualifying setups. I think you're gonna see that."
WHAT MAKES TRACKS LIKE THIS AN ELLIOTT SADLER TRACK AND ARE YOU EMPHASIZING THESE FIRST FEW WEEKS AS FAR AS THE CHASE GOES?
"We're very focused on the first few races here. I run very well here at California and I've got a good record at Vegas and Texas. I think we've got a good handle on the mile-and-a-halves like Atlanta - Darlington is coming up - like the first eight or nine races that we can really make some good headway in the points. My history shows that at the beginning of every season I'm probably higher up in the points then than I am near the end of the season, so I need to work on the end of the season more than anything. But these first few races for me are just good tracks. They fit my driving style. It's just like playing a golf course. Some places you know how to hit the shots and some you don't. They all fit what you're trying to do and these first few tracks that we go to - other than Martinsville - are good Elliott Sadler race tracks."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST WEEK'S RACE FOR YOU?
"We had a tough week last week, getting spun out and things like that - but we still need to work on our speedway program some. I was just in a meeting with Doug Yates for 30 minutes. Everybody knows what the chassis dyno results are, so we know we're in good shape on that. Not a Ford led a lap. Not one Ford led a lap. I don't think all of our Ford teams are that bad. I don't know what we have to do to make our stuff like Chevrolet. I would really like to see them confiscate a bunch of cars after Talladega and take them to the wind tunnel.
"With the new Charger and the new nose and tail, and the Chevrolets and Fords and everybody involved - let's see what we've got and what we need to do. They did the chassis dyno deal after Daytona, but I'd really like to see them confiscate some cars after Talladega and see what's good and what's bad because it was not fun for me at Daytona. I felt like I was in the way a lot of the times. Some of those guys can make great runs and great passes where we could not. We have some work to do. We're building us a new car for Talladega trying to make it slicker and trying to go into the gray areas as much as we can, where we can get up and run with the 24 and the 8 and the 15 and the 20 and these guys that run good every week. We'll see what happens."
WITHOUT GIVING NUMBERS CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA ABOUT THE CHASSIS DYNO RESULTS?
"I think from the engine department, I think we're in great shape. I'll put Doug Yates up against anybody when it comes to getting horsepower out of the same type of motor. I don't know if we're disadvantaged or not. I would really like to see some Fords win a restrictor plate race, other than the gas mileage of Greg Biffle a couple years ago. I'd really like to see us get up there and lead some laps. We did not lead one lap in the Daytona 500, so either all of the Ford teams have to really get together and see what we're doing wrong or what we have to do to get better or close the gap to Hendrick and DEI. We need to figure out something. That's why I'd like to see the cars confiscated and taken and see where we're really getting beat at and where we need to go to work at. It's not from a lack of effort at all. We've built a lot of good cars for Daytona and we've got some sitting there for Talladega, but we think we need to go back to the drawing board to make our stuff where we can get up there and lead with these guys and be a threat for the win. That's what we really want to do."
MEMORIES FROM YOUR WIN HERE LAST FALL.
"Great memories. It's probably the happiest I've ever been because it solidified our place in the chase for the championship. It put an exclamation point on, 'hey, we're in the chase.' By winning a race at a place that we had never run that well at before or never had good luck at before, so to win here was a great, great feeling for my team. It kind of showed that we can win at different styles of race tracks. When we left here, we knew we were in the chase and did it with a win - not doing it with everybody else falling out. It was just great for my team. It was cool."
WHAT AREAS DO YOU FEEL YOUR TEAM NEEDS TO GET BETTER AT?
"We all sat down at the end of last year and said, 'Where are we good at. Where are we bad at.' We came up with the idea for the Busch team. You all know that DJ and I are running some Busch Series races this year and all that's for extra testing. I'm running Mexico. We're both running Watkins Glen. I'm running a bunch of short tracks with the car, so we think that's where I need to be better at - Elliott Sadler. I need to better at Martinsville. I need to be better at Sears Point. I need to be better at Watkins Glen. I need to be better at Richmond, so I'm running the Busch car at these places to get me more in tune with it or try some things or what have you. So that's why we came up with the Busch deal to try to help us in that area - to just try to fill in the valleys a little bit to try to go along with my mile-and-a-half program, which we think right now is pretty good."
DO YOU MISS ROCKINGHAM?
"We talked about that on the flight out here. Actually, the pilot of my plane was from Rockingham and we were talking about how much we miss the race. It's a lot different than driving an hour and a half from Charlotte than flying out here, but Rockingham puts up great races. How many great races and finishes have we seen. Who doesn't remember Steve Park's win there a couple years ago over Bobby Labonte. It's a great place to race. Yeah, this is long way to come after we spent a long week in Daytona to come out here, but, hopefully with this moving to the second race we can kind of cause our own history at this track and look and kind of see where this series is going and not where it's been. That's kind of the way we're looking at it."
IS THAT WHAT WAS NICE ABOUT ROCKINGHAM RIGHT AFTER DAYTONA - IT'S CLOSE?
"I'm not gonna lie to you. It's a lot easier driving an hour and a half to a race track than flying four hours and it's a lot less expensive too to drive that way. It's tough to come out here after spending two weeks in Daytona. It's a long way to come, but I understand NASCAR's point of view, too. This is a big market. This is the biggest market we race in and you kind of have to have something big to back-up what happened at the 500, so why not come to California."