Ford Racing Joliet practice notes

Jim Smith has decided to have Robby Gordon drive his No. 7 NationsRent Taurus this weekend, replacing Mike Wallace. Gordon, who drove for Smith three weeks ago at Sears Point and posted a second-place finish, and Smith spoke about this ...

Jim Smith has decided to have Robby Gordon drive his No. 7 NationsRent Taurus this weekend, replacing Mike Wallace. Gordon, who drove for Smith three weeks ago at Sears Point and posted a second-place finish, and Smith spoke about this latest development.

ROBBY GORDON --7-- NationsRent Taurus

WHERE DO THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW?

"Jimmy (Smith) called me to driver here at Chicago and it's kind of a pretty last minute deal. I think it happened late, late Wednesday afternoon. I understand where Mike's at on his side. Owners do what owners want to do, so I feel for him. I'm not trying to take his job or anything like that, but Jimmy wants to make a change and it's Jimmy's choice."

YOU'VE DONE SOME STUFF WITH CHILDRESS AND WITH THIS TEAM. ARE YOU IN THE CATBIRD'S SEAT RIGHT NOW?

"I don't know if I'm in the catbird's seat. I still think I need to prove myself a bit. Obviously, I've had a couple good runs on the road courses and people want to label me as a road course driver, but I've won Indy car races on ovals and I've been on a pole in Winston Cup on an oval and finished second twice in IROC on the ovals, so I think any opportunity where I can showcase my abilities will help at this time. I'm just gonna keep driving the wheels off of the car."

DO YOU FEEL YOU MIGHT HAVE AN UPPERHAND HERE BECAUSE NOBODY HAS NOTES TO LOOK BACK ON FROM THIS PLACE?

"I don't think I have an upperhand because I'm working with a crew chief that I've never worked with on an oval, so I think we're still at a bit of a deficit. I know some guys came and tested here, but I know the whole field didn't come and test, so if we could qualify in the top 25 and have a good run I'll be happy."

AS FAR AS YOU KNOW, AFTER THIS WEEK IS OVER YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S NEXT?

"I know Jimmy is coming back to Charlotte and we're supposed to get together. I think he's gonna show up here. He may come before qualifying, but we're gonna let Jimmy run the show and do what he wants to do."

JIM SMITH, Car Owner --7-- NationsRent Taurus

CAN YOU PROVIDE AN UPDATE AS TO WHAT YOUR DRIVER SITUATION IS?

"I'm proud of both drivers the last couple of weeks. This team is starting to come alive. Right now we're working on some contractual things, but the main goal here is to run well. That's my job -- to do what it takes to do that. We hope to make a formal announcement and this carousel ride will be over shortly. We should have had our first win with Robby (at Sears Point), which would have been a dream after bringing my truck team to change tires and everything, but Robby and I have a relationship that goes back to when he was 13 years old. I saw him win his first race. We're having fun right now and I intend to have a lot more fun."

ROBBY APPEARS TO BE YOUR NUMBER ONE CHOICE RIGHT NOW. IS THAT KIND OF WHERE YOU'D LIKE TO GO RIGHT NOW?

"We're in contractual agreements with Mike Wallace, Robby and NationsRent and we're trying to put it all together right now. That's where we're at."

Rusty Wallace, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Taurus, posted the second-fastest single lap speed in the first practice session on Thursday, trailing only Bill Elliott. He compared that first practice to his test session in June.

RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus

"We ran a 29.65 in the test and we unloaded and ran a 29.67 today, which is almost a duplicate of that. Then we did a little more work and got it down to a 29.58, so I'm real happy with that. We're gonna work on it some more, but right now what I'm gonna do the second session is work on our race setup. I'm happy with my speed for qualifying now and the way the car feels, but we're gonna go back to our race setup this last hour-and-a-half and verify some things, so if we get surprised by rain or something I'm good to go."

DID TESTING HERE MAKE YOU THAT MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE TRACK TODAY?

"Yeah. I feel a lot more comfortable when I came out of that test session. This is a brand new car, so if we make it out of this race clean we're gonna take this car to Pocono. The car I took to Pocono last time spooked me off a little bit with the way it ran, but this thing has been rock solid and running great. Hopefully, we can win this thing. I feel good about it. We've got a good car."

Ricky Rudd, driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus, did not test here at Chicagoland Speedway prior to this weekend's event. He spoke about coming to the Windy City and what his impressions are of the track after one practice session.

RICKY RUDD --28-- Texaco Havoline Taurus

HOW IS IT TO COME TO A PLACE WHERE MANY OF THESE FANS HAVE NOT SEEN A RACE BEFORE?

"I tell you, it's a pretty neat deal. We've seen a lot of these fans before, but they had to travel to come see us. It's kind of nice to be able to come to their backyard and bring a race to them without them having to travel so far. It's a neat part of the country. I don't know, I might not be saying that a little bit later because my wife (Linda) is out right now probably spending a lot of money in Chicago, but it's a pretty neat track because I like new tracks."

DO YOU HAVE A FEEL FOR THE EXCITEMENT LEVEL HERE IN THE MIDWEST WITH NEW TRACKS AT CHICAGO AND KANSAS CITY?

"We get a lot of fan mail from this part of the country and they're really excited about it, they're really fired up. I guess they're close to a sellout or it's a sellout already for the first race, so that's great. We've covered almost every corner of the country, except for the northwest corner and I'd imagine that's probably in the works."

YOU DIDN'T TEST HERE SO WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THIS TRACK AFTER ONE PRACTICE SESSION?

"I didn't even drive around it in a street car. NASCAR giving us a free day of practice without having to worry about qualifying really worked well for us. We've adapted pretty quickly. It's not a real difficult track. It's not like you're going to a road course that you've never been to before. The track is pretty user friendly and pretty driver friendly. We've been able to run speeds in race trim that put us about 14th-fastest in that first practice, but we were in race trim while a lot of guys were in qualifying trim. When they laid this race track out, they put a lot of thought into how to design a track that is friendly to the drivers. I think that maybe their thought process was that if they get everybody real comfortable they'll see better races out here."

EVERYONE HAS SAID THE TRACK IS FAST. DO YOU AGREE?

"It's gonna be exceptionally fast, especially for this inaugural race. The track has a tremendous amount of grip. Generally, new race tracks have their best speed when they're first built. The winters are pretty severe here and I think the next time we come back I don't believe the speeds will be as quick because the track will have weathered out. The track should give up a little grip, but we'll have to wait and see. I kind of compare it to Atlanta when that track was resurfaced. It was extremely fast at first, too fast, and then a couple of winters set in and the track gave up a little grip to where now you don't here anybody complaining about the speeds. I think this particular race track is gonna work similar to that. The real question is, can we run side-by-side here? We'll have to wait and see with the Busch cars and with happy hour. We should know for sure what's gonna happen in the Busch race as to whether or not the groove moved up or not. Hopefully it will and we can pass each other. It looks like an exceptionally good race track in the corners because it's real wide. We're just gonna have to wait to see how the second groove comes in."

-Ford Racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Rusty Wallace , Robby Gordon , Mike Wallace , Jim Smith