Continued from part 1
HOW DO YOU FEEL FOR KURT THIS WEEK?
"I tried to call Kurt. The only two people that really know what went on exactly are Kurt and that police officer, that sheriff's deputy. Whatever happened happened. Obviously, Kurt is the one who has to deal with it every minute of every day no matter how good or bad it is, so I think for the media and everyone to comment on it and make a bigger deal out of it than it is, I think that's a little bit excessive. Kurt has to deal with it and he will deal with it and he'll be fine. He's always been a great guy to me, so I don't have anything bad to say about Kurt. I just hope he's doing alright."
WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING FOR YOU TO DEAL WITH NOW THAT YOU'RE MORE IN THE PUBLIC EYE?
"I personally have been through situations just like Kurt. I've been pulled over by the police for not doing what I was supposed to do on the road just like most people in society. Fortunately, for me and for most people you don't have to live it out through the media. That would really make it tough, so that's all I really have to say about it."
WHAT'S YOUR PERSPECTIVE RACING AT HOMESTEAD?
"The cool thing about coming to Homestead as a Ford driver is it's the Ford weekend so it's really cool. We always have fun stuff based around the race. The track is gonna be neat. One thing I'm really kind of excited about is the fact that we're gonna start in the daytime and finish at night because the sun is gonna be a big issue. Right now, we're in a position where we need some things to happen to win this championship. We need Tony to be blinded by the sun going into turn one and have some trouble (laughing). I just think it's gonna be a cool race because there are gonna be a lot of variables. It's a long race, so there is an opportunity for a lot of things to happen, and I think it's the right place to finish the season. The weather is beautiful and it's a fun place to be."
DO YOU GET MORE AGGRESSIVE?
"I've thought a lot about this and there are so many different scenarios. I was trying to tell someone earlier, the only way that our Office Depot team can really win this championship is Tony is gonna have to run uncharacteristically poorly. They're gonna have to have a real bad day and we're gonna have to have a perfect day. Or, if Tony has a little bit of trouble, then I'm really just racing Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle for this thing. But the common denominator in all these scenarios is we just have to go out and win this race. I need to lead the most laps and win, and if we do that and we have some huge amount of luck - bad luck on somebody else's part - we can win the championship. But that's all we can really hope for in the championship effort."
DO YOU BUY HE'LL BE MORE CONSERVATIVE?
"Oh, I guarantee he will. He would be silly not to. If we were coming in here with what, a 50-point lead, I would take a little more precaution on everything. That's part of racing. You always try to win at the slowest possible speed because if you're trying too hard, things can happen."
WHEN WERE YOU MOST IN AWE THIS YEAR?
"Honestly winning that fourth race in Texas and just going around on that cool down lap at Texas and realizing, 'Wow, that's two in a row and four races in our first season.' Seeing all those fans up there, especially after the first time I went to Texas. I went there to help the Mittler Brothers and I was there for the Truck race. That place has meant so much to me because Tony Roper lost his life there. I have a ton of respect for that place and to come back there in that capacity and to be the guy who leaves that place - we were taking off in the helicopter leaving - and just to see all those cars. There were like 100,000 cars - cars as far as you could see in every direction - and all those people leaving and think that we came there for that big event and we left as the winner. That was probably the coolest moment of the season."
YOUR TEAM BELIEVES YOU CAN PULL THIS OFF.
"Yeah, what we have to do is just go win the race. I don't know what's happened to our team lately, but we won Atlanta, we won Texas, and I felt like we could have won Phoenix if things would have gone just a little bit differently. I definitely feel like we can win here at Homestead, so that's all we can do is go win. If Tony finishes second, then that's the way it is. But if he finishes 20th and Biffle and those guys finish 10th to 12th or whatever, then we can win this championship. Stranger things have happened."
WILL YOU BE OVERLY AGGRESSIVE?
"No. We race so much that I feel like I have a good handle on how the races unfold. If we start the race and we have a car that can win the race, then we'll get into that mode and we'll go out and do it. If we don't, then we'll work on it until the end. But I can guarantee you that if the green flag drops with 20 to go and we have have a chance to win, it's all or nothing. I mean, we've got to go."
DO YOU THINK YOU CAN KEEP WINNING AT THIS RATE AND MAINTAIN YOUR POPULARITY?
"I already get a couple of boos and that's fine. Honestly, I race and I do all this stuff just because it's been my dream since I was 13 or 14 years old. This is what I've wanted to do and I get the opportunity to do it. It's been unbelievable. The media and everyone has been so nice to me. It's been great. The fans have been great. If it turns into one of those deals, I mean I hear how they treat people sometimes when you win too much, and that's fine. That's fine with me, but my true fans and the people who know how hard I work and how hard my family has worked, they're gonna be cheering for me no matter what and that's what is really important."
GREG BIFFLE GROUP SESSION
"I feel great. I feel just the same as I did last weekend in Phoenix. I was real excited about going there. I had a great test and led the most laps. I had a great race car and I'm certainly looking forward here again to this weekend running well like we did last year. This will be the last race for the Ford Taurus and I would sure like to get a victory and be the last guy to get a win in one, so I'm looking forward to that opportunity and glad it's the last race of the season."
ARE YOU READY FOR THE SEASON TO BE OVER?
"Yeah, I am. I'm looking forward to a little bit of off time. I love the off-season. It's fun. It gives us a chance to relax and gather our thoughts and get ready for next year."
IS IT DISAPPOINTING TO HAVE THIS KIND OF YEAR AND FINISH FURTHER BACK THAN YOU WOULD LIKE?
"Yeah, I think so. Probably what hurts the most right now is that run we had at Texas. It was a carbon-copy of what Phoenix looked like - leading the race and was well out front and had a great car - and then had to stop because of a loose wheel. I keep reflecting on that, but it just keeps playing over and over in my mind. I give myself a top five finish there or a top four and it puts me 40 points out of the lead right now - 35 - and if we run like we did last week at Phoenix and we do that again here at Miami, we'd have a chance to beat Tony. But I'm not in that position, so I have to wait for next year. That is one of the things that is difficult is if you do have a hiccup through the chase, then you're nearly out of it. It's a 10-race playoff, but if you have an engine failure or get involved in a restrictor plate wreck, which is like flipping a coin, you're nearly out of the chase with one event. So that is the difficulty, and like Tony says, it's really hard to race and be aggressive and race like we want to because we're trying to be so cautious about not making a mistake, so it's a difficult balance."
IS THERE A MOMENT THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR CAREER THAT YOU THINK ABOUT FROM TIME TO TIME AND HOW IT HELPED YOU GET HERE?
"I do every morning when I wake up. When I'm in my bus or flying on my own airplane. It's so far from where I came from and how hard I worked. In fact, yesterday I was talking with a guy about late model racing and what it means and I think I was talking about a particular race track out there. We were talking about entry level divisions today - the big, heavy, iron cars that we built street stock cars out of don't exist anymore, so you're always reflecting on where you came from and how you got to where you are today."
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU FEEL ALONG THE WAY WHERE THE TEAM STARTED GOING BACKWARD?
"Not at all. The team was solid and still are, and it was just a freak deal. To stick up for the guy that did the tire change, they've analyzed it so much and they know how it works. For instance, the first lugnut you hit is always loose after you tighten the other four. If anybody has ever put a wheel on a car, you tighten one down and then you tighten the other four down and that first one is loose because it's the one that pulled the wheel against the hub and then wasn't perfect in line to start with because the wheel is just sitting on there. And then the last lugnut he hit cross-threaded. It didn't go against the wheel. The problem is we have two lugnuts that are side-by-side because it's the last one in the sequence. The first one he hit will always be loose by nature because of the way the wheel tightens on the car, and then the last lugnut cross-threaded, so we had two lugnuts potentially loose and the three all on the other side. So it was the exact opposite. We're confident that if one would have cross-threaded over here, this one would have been tight, we wouldn't have had a problem."
BUT THAT'S THE ONE THING KEEPING YOU BACK.
"Right, but we really can't say it was that tire guy's fault that we're not there because the lugnut cross-threaded. Was it a bad nut? Was the thread weird? Did he hit it at an angle? Those are all unknowns. Look at the pit stops this weekend, they're the ones that kept me up front. I came out leading every time, so it's the same group of guys that are laying down stops that are gaining us positions on pit road."
DO YOU NEED TONY TO HAVE A HICCUP?
"Well, he has had a hiccup. He finished two laps down at Dover and finished 18th. I was fighting to get around him because he was kind of in my way, like I was in his way so to speak at Martinsville. It's just one of those things that he didn't have a good day there. They were two laps down and didn't have any flat tires, just missed the setup and ran bad."
BUT IT'S STILL OUT THERE.
"It's still out there, but what's not out there is - Tony has a bad day. Jimmie has a bad day. Then Carl has a bad day. That's the situation I'm facing right now. I'm being optimistic about it, but the reality is there are three guys I need to gain on. Carl, yeah, I think I could finish four or five spots ahead of him and beat him, then it boils down to Tony and Jimmie. I keep thinking that every single race through the chase, I finish fourth and they're right behind me. If I finish second, they're fifth and sixth, so it hasn't happened yet. They've been solid and right there."
DOES THIS ADD PERSPECTIVE AS A BUILDING BLOCK FOR THE FUTURE?
"Yeah, that's funny that the question came up you have to lose one to win one. A lot of people don't realize that I lost a championship by eight points in 1999 - the same number of points Jimmie lost by last year. I lost by eight and I learned more from that than I did winning the next year and winning two years later."
WHAT'S YOUR HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON?
"Five wins and making the chase. That was spectacular for us. We're really excited. We can't wait to get to Miami this weekend and to go to California and all those places at the beginning of the season to try to put our names back in those win columns again."
DO YOU CARRY THIS MOMENTUM INTO NEXT SEASON?
"Yeah, I think so. Just like Texas and Atlanta, we weren't as strong as we wanted to be and then we go to Phoenix and just dominate it. So even if we don't run as strong here, we're gonna go in the off-season with a lot of confidence because of Phoenix and hopefully we don't have any reason to believe we're not gonna have a great run, but, yeah, that confidence, we're going back in the off-season with that same confidence again."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THAT '99 SEASON WHEN YOU LOST BY 8 POINTS?
"Just the small mistakes that you make. There, it wasn't in the chase so that's even more painful because you can play the whole season over again and go, 'Gosh, that one corner where Joe Ruttman and I got together and I got on the curb and got loose a little bit. If I would have just left him a little more room I wouldn't have lost those three spots headed for the checkered flag and I would have won the championship.' So there I've got all these races I can reflect on and just thinking about every single thing and what I need to do and stay level headed. I was all mad that he drove down in there and hit the curb and ran into me. If I would have just gathered my senses quicker and tried to get right there, maybe I could have done something different. So you replay those 36 races over and over and over."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN THAT HELPED YOU LAST YEAR IN THE FINAL 10 RACES AND HOW MIGHT THAT HELP PEOPLE NOT IN THE CHASE THIS YEAR?
"We won two races in the chase, but I learned a lot about shocks and a lot about our car setup and our aero program. Our pit stops got better. You keep going every race just to try to be as good as you can - better, better, better, and we started to hone in on it in those last 10." WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON KURT?
"My take on Kurt - keep in mind that I just know the facts that I know - he got a bum rap on the whole deal because the way it was reported was that there was alcohol involved, he was reckless driving, and the breathalyzer machine failed. So automatically all of us, including myself, accuse him of drunk driving. Instantly, that's our first thought. Well, the breathalyzer machine failing was b.s. I honestly, 100 percent in my heart feel that was totally fabricated that the breathalyzer machine did not work. That didn't happen because if it didn't happen, where did the .017 number come from today?"
IT WAS A DIFFERENT MACHINE.
"Where was that machine when all of this was taking place?"
IT WAS A FIELD TEST AND THEY SAID IT'S A DIFFERENT TEST WHERE ONE IS ADMISSABLE IN COURT AND ONE ISN'T.
"So the facts are that they actually did get a reading and knew that he was well under the legal limit, but, instead, decided to say that the breathalyzer machine failed. So, obviously, the other one worked and he was not even close. With his body weight, that's hardly even one beer. I don't even think it is one beer. So in his defense, yeah, he acted like a jerk. Yeah, he might have been speeding or done something he shouldn't have, but are those grounds for taking him out of the race car and not letting him drive for Crown Royal, which is why the whole base of this thing happened when alcohol wasn't even a factor in the whole things. That's just me from the outside. I don't know about the whole thing. I feel bad because I wouldn't want that to happen to me, but I know how some police officers can act because I've been in those situations leaving the race track after the race, and they think you're just a race fan or whatever and they just treat you like unbelievable. That's obviously what happened, plus Kurt had an attitude, so those two things combined put him in the position he's in. Maybe he'll learn a lesson from it, but I don't know. It wasn't alcohol driven with Crown Royal being the sponsor. I think that's why he was taken out of the car. I don't think it was an issue with being reckless driving possibly or not cooperating. I don't think that's why he was taken out of the race car."