TONY RAINES It's Over Already? CORNELIUS, N.C., (Nov. 13, 2006) -- It's amazing how fast 36 point-paying races, two exhibition races and three off weekends can fly by. Believe it or not, 41 weekends have almost come and gone and the...
It's Over Already?
CORNELIUS, N.C., (Nov. 13, 2006) -- It's amazing how fast 36 point-paying races, two exhibition races and three off weekends can fly by.
Believe it or not, 41 weekends have almost come and gone and the 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is just days from completion.
Sarcasm aside, the first season for Hall of Fame Racing and the No. 96 DLP HDTV team is coming to a close, and Tony Raines and the DLP team are looking to finish out the year on a high note in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Including Homestead, Raines will have driven in 29 of the 36 point-paying events in 2006. The recently-retired Terry Labonte drove in seven races for the team, although the last time he drove -- Watkins Glen (N.Y.) in the beginning of August -- the now-winding-down college football season had yet to start.
Raines and Labonte have combined for 21 top-25 finishes, including 11 in the top-20 and two in the top-10. Although the team will likely fall just short of its goal of a top-25 finish in owner points -- they are 27th, 106 points behind the 25th-place No. 38 Robert Yates Racing Ford (David Gilliland/Elliott Sadler) -- most NASCAR insiders would agree the team fared better than most would have figured heading into this season.
On the morning of Jan. 16 during pre-season testing at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy took to the track for the first time ever with Labonte at the wheel. Just a little more than 11 months later, Raines will finish off the first of hopefully many seasons for Hall of Fame Racing and the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet.
Has it really been just 11 months?
TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy):
Is it hard to believe the season is almost over?
"No, not really. It seems like it's been going on forever. We've made it to the end, so that's a good thing. At times we were respectable and at other times I think we underachieved. We're close to our goal (top-25 in owner points), but I think we struggled at times and could have been better. We had a few good moments, but not enough. Hopefully next year we improve on our weaknesses and also improve at the tracks we were good at. We're going to have to step it up next year. Finishing 25th was our goal and we're 27th now, but 100 points behind the 38. We just had three or four races where we just ran so poorly, and if we had run better, we'd be 25th or higher."
With all the new teams coming into Nextel Cup next season, how happy are you that you are in the top-35 and guaranteed a starting spot in the first five races of 2007?
"Obviously it's a good thing, but it's still just the first five races. You could have a bad first five races and be 40th in points. It doesn't promise you anything, but it does give you a good spot to start the year. With Toyota and all the new teams coming in next year, it's going to be a struggle every week for everyone. It will give us a good chance in the first five races to focus on racing instead of just getting into the race."
What are your thoughts heading to Homestead?
"The test was OK. We didn't make any qualifying runs down there, so we'll work on those during practice. We need to work on those. We had a decent car at Phoenix -- we just started at the back. If you're in the back, it's hard to claw your way out of there. We'll try to avoid that at Homestead."
The track surface at Homestead has changed dramatically three times in the last 10 years. Do you like the track as it is now, with 18-20 degrees of banking in the corners?
"It's a different track than it was three or four years ago. The test helped us get some information. Hopefully Brandon (Thomas, crew chief) and the guys use that to the best of their abilities."
Who do you think will win the championship?
"Man, it's hard to go against Jimmie Johnson. It's seems like they've been first or second the last few weeks. It's hard to beat that. Matt (Kenseth) hasn't been running as well, although he seemed to do OK at Phoenix. It could go either way. Homestead is a tough track to get your car to handle well. It's going to be interesting to watch, for sure."
You're a Midwestern guy, who do you like this week, No. 1 Ohio State or No. 2 Michigan?
"I think Ohio State is going to take it. I'm not sure why. It's a gut feeling. I guess I've got a 50/50 shot at picking it right. It should be a heck of a game and a good one to watch on a high-definition television equipped with DLP technology."
BRANDON THOMAS (Crew chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy):
The DLP team tested at Homestead in October. How did the test go?
"The test went well. We were down there working on some very specific suspension items and weren't really worried about speed. We were really doing a lot of research and development on our overall program. We were pretty happy with that. We learned a lot and I think we'll be in pretty good shape when we get down there."
You kind of hit the ground running coming in as crew chief at Charlotte. Are you looking forward to the season ending so you can get some time to focus on 2007, without having to race at the same time?
"We've got a lot of things that myself, Rick (MacGowen, lead engineer) and Steve (Hogler, race engineer) are working on and need to get a chance to take some time and do them the right way. Yeah, we've kind of been in just 'go race mode.' That's not an excuse for performance, but it is kind of the reality of what this business is. So, yeah, we're looking forward to finishing out the year and getting a chance to regroup and head into 2007."
How important is it to have a good final race of the season?
"I think that's a pretty good mental boost. If you end the season with a bad race, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth and make the off-season longer. It doesn't really generate any positive press or feelings about your team. If you end your season strong, people seem to keep talking about your team throughout the off-season."