NASCAR NEXTEL WAKE UP CALL: CREW CHIEFS STEVE LETARTE, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS AND GREG ZIPADELLI, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT MONTE CARLO SS: AS A CREW CHIEF, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ANY INCIDENTS THAT MAY COME UP WITH YOUR DRIVERS? LETARTE: "You...
NASCAR NEXTEL WAKE UP CALL: CREW CHIEFS STEVE LETARTE, NO. 24 DUPONT MONTE CARLO SS AND GREG ZIPADELLI, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT MONTE CARLO SS:
AS A CREW CHIEF, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH ANY INCIDENTS THAT MAY COME UP WITH YOUR DRIVERS?
LETARTE: "You want to support your driver and he wants to support you whether you have a good car or bad car. The race track is the one place that the drivers are on their own. They have a spotter to help them and we help on pit strategy, but the only people that really know what happens on the race track are the drivers."
ZIPPY: "The drivers are somewhat on your own. You always defend and believe in your driver. And you race others like you want to be raced. It's no different than the way you treat people in the real world, in here (the media center) or in the grocery store or wherever you may be.
ON THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE THAT JEFF GORDON IS ONE WIN BEHIND DALE EARNHARDT AT 75 RACES:
LETARTE: "Jeff and I both agree. We're not much on stats. We try to race week in and week out. We hopefully will have a nice long retirement so we can step back and look at what we've accomplished on the race track. We're proud of those stats. We're not ashamed of them by any means. It just shows how dominant Jeff had been over a lengthy period of time. I think we've won at least three races in 10 or 12 years. We're going to hopefully try to continue that this year. As far as looking back on them, they are good stories when you're old and gray and sitting on the porch. You can tell people what you've accomplished. But we're definitely proud to be associated with that group of Earnhardt and Pearson and Petty and those guys with all those wins."
WHY DO WE SEE A LOT OF NEW ENGLAND INFLUENCE IN NASCAR CUP RACING?
ZIPPY: "For myself and probably a lot of the guys that are on my team that worked as we raced on our own. We raced weekends and you always dreamed about getting to that level. I don't know if your desire is a little bit different because you're wanting to get there so you have to pack up and you have to go there. If it was the other way around, you'd probably see a lot of guys from the south if the racing was up here. They're families and friends are in the sport so that's just what they do. I don't know if it's a lot different. Have you really looked at the stats? Is it really much different? Only because you think, oh, he's from New England. But how many people that are in this garage that are right from Charlotte. I just don't think you look at it that way or think about it."
LETARTE: "I think a lot of it had to do with just the racing divisions in the country. There are just as many people from maybe the Midwest as there is from the Northeast. If you look at the Late Model races around I would say the Southeast and Midwest and Northeast is really where it's at as far as competition. What people don't realize is that up here, racing is really popular but there is not a lot of money in racing. You work as hard as you can and still fall short because you don't have the money to fund it. When you walk into a place like Yates, Gibbs, or Hendrick - it's not an open checkbook, but the amount of money these owners are willing to pay for equipment and planes and trucks and you can kind of test wherever you want or do whatever you need. There is so much excitement and it brings so much energy to somebody who has raced out of their back garage at night for their whole life, that it really makes you want to work hard and move up."
LAST WEEK, JEFF GORDON TALKED ABOUT HOW HUNGRY THE TEAM IS AN HOW HE IS PERSONALLY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS MOTIVATION NOW THAT HE'S GOT FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS AND 75 WINS? IS HE STILL AS HUNGRY AS HE WAS WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER AND JUST COMING INTO THE SPORT?
LETARTE: "I think he's just as hungry. I think may be he maybe does it for different reasons. When you first come into the sport, you want to prove to everybody you belong here. And then after you've won that much, you really don't have to prove it to the outside anymore. Now he's really doing it for himself and the team. You'd have to ask him to get his opinion, but the most excited I see him is when he pulls into victory lane and sees the 20 guys that are there with him. There are a lot of guys on our team who haven't won and Sonoma was their first win. And that was big for those guys who have never won or gotten the feel of it. I've never doubted the devotion to the team all year long. I hate we haven't given him cars to be able to show as hard as we've been running, but we've had some bad luck with some good cars and then we went to some strong tracks and just had a bad car. And I take responsibility for that. I'm glad now that we're in the summer we're able to get a little bit of stats to go with the hard work we've been putting in."
WITH THE WEATHER BEING SO DIFFERENT AT LOUDON FROM NOW UNTIL WE COME BACK IN THE FALL, CAN YOU TRY ANY TRICK PIECES NOW AND USE THEM LATER, OR DO YOU TAKE A CONSERVATIVE APPROACH THIS WEEKEND?
ZIPPY: "Our conservative approach is that we came here to win. We'll do the same thing this weekend as we'll do when we come back in the fall. We'll race as hard as we can and we'll do the best job we can with what we have. To me, that's how we race every week. When you get down to the last couple of races, you then start looking at things a little differently and you start racing the guys who are right next to you in points and who you're racing for position. But right now, when we come back for the first race of the Chase, you've got to race as hard then as you did in Daytona to put yourself in it."
LETARTE: "Zippy might be in a little bit better position than myself, but we have to make the Chase. We can't worry about the first race in the Chase if we don't make it. So we go to every race to win. We've been like that since the 500 and we'll continue that all the way to Homestead."
YOU STARTED OUT WITH MODIFIEDS BUT NOW YOU'RE IN CUP CARS. DO YOU CHECK BACK ON THE MODIFIEDS TO SEE WHAT THEY'RE DOING?
ZIPPY: "There aren't many people in the Modified series that I know anymore. There are a few. I probably stay closer to the Busch North Series and that's where I spent a lot of my last few years before I moved down there. I still have a lot of friends that I help and talk to on a regular basis and spend time with in the off-season. My roots are probably right now closer to the Busch North Series just because that's kind of where I left.
"But yeah, you never know what you'll learn from a conversation with someone and what they're thinking and what they thought and maybe what they tried. You might not take exactly what they did, but it just might get your thought process going in a different direction."
DO YOU THINK TEAMS BE AS QUICK TO MAKE CHANGES THIS YEAR AS LAST AFTER THE CUTOFF FOR THE CHASE?
ZIPPY: "I would imagine. I don't know how much there is of benefit. But if you're not in Chase, you still have goals and it doesn't mean that you didn't have a successful season. As far as where Tommy (Baldwin, Jr.). If he can progress from where he is today and win races and get top five's and top 10's, then you build that momentum for next year. I don't know that's it's over and you start over. Some of these things take time. You have to work on it. He's in a situation that it's going over there and seeing how their program works and getting familiar with that driver. There are some people who are fortunate enough to have success when people get put together right away. But that's not always the case. We've seen it probably more not than we have together. So you have to look. The key is that there is a lot more pressure I think on ourselves as far as crew chiefs, I think there's a lot more pressure on drivers to perform. That's just what it is. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
LETARTE: "I agree. It depends on what your goals are as a team. If your goal and your expectations are to be a championship caliber team, then not making the Chase is really a letdown for your goal, then I think that's a good time for your owner or driver or crew chief to reevaluate their program because with testing the way it is and the tire program the way it is and everything else, it changes - it's almost 10 free races if you don't make the chase and that's your goal. If you feel your goal is to go win races if you don't make the Chase and that's your goal.
If you feel your goal is to go win races, and like Zippy said if you see momentum and you see improvement, there's a touchy situation there where you have to make a decision as a team -- if the improvement is coming, how long will it take? Or, maybe there's not enough improvement. You have to really just evaluate your program. The Chase is a good time for the media and the sponsors and all have to really look at it all. The stress in the garage is higher than it's ever been because there are so many competitive teams. That evaluation comes on a weekly basis."
WHAT HAS JD GIBBS BROUGHT TO YOUR ORGANIZATION THAT HAS KEPT YOUR ORGANIZATION AT ITS LEVEL?
ZIPPY: "JD was there every day from the day I started. And he dealt with certain issues of the company - the same ones he's dealing with now. The difference is that he's more in the public eye and dealing with things like if we get called to the (NASCAR) trailer, he's there now instead of Joe (Gibbs). But he was there and he was coming to most of the races. He's been in that role for a long time. I just don't think anybody realized what he was doing - because maybe his dad was there and maybe kind of overshadowed what he was doing. And what do you say about Joe? His presence is very positive. We miss him - just him walking through the shop is huge. He still spends a lot of time back there. We see him on his off-weekends. He may not come to the races, but he'll show up at the shop for a day or two. So they have both done a good job. They compliment each other in the way they're dealing with things.
"And Jimmy (Makar) is there. He overlooks all of us. On the day to day stuff he's working on the Busch stuff a little bit and on the Cup stuff and our development stuff. So we have a lot of good people. We have a great structure. If you can keep all those people doing what they need to do, it just makes things - things just happen. That's the key today."
WITH TONY STEWART RUNNING EXTRA RACES, DOES THAT MAKE YOU NERVOUS? IS THERE ANY PROBLEM WITH FOCUS WHEN HE'S OFF DOING OTHER THINGS?
ZIPPY: "No, Tony likes getting in the Modifieds and getting in the dirt cars. That's no different than I like going hunting. And I wouldn't expect Joe to tell me that I can't take a day and go fishing or hunting in the fall. That's my hobby and that's what I enjoy doing. He enjoys the race. I enjoy the race too, but it's harder for me to go and help somebody work on their car than it is for him to just go get a ride in anything he wants anywhere. You always take the chance of him getting hurt like he did in the Busch car at Charlotte, and then us wrecking the following day and making it worse. But I mean I could fall out of a tree while hunting and get hurt. So I just believe if it's your time and something's going to happen, it's going to happen - whether you break an arm or you break a leg or whether you're driving to the raceshop in your car and somebody runs a red light. Obviously you put yourself in a position for a little more risk, but you've got to enjoy your life while you're here. It's too short."
ON THE 1.5-MILE RACE TRACKS AND WINNING LAST WEEK AT CHICAGO, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE FINALLY GETTING A HANDLE ON THE CHALLENGE OF THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS THAT YOU GUYS HAVE HAD?
LETARTE: "Oh, I definitely think there is satisfaction any time you win (because) every track you go to is so competitive. But to win on a 1.4-mile - especially Chicago -- Chicago and Texas have really been our Achilles. What people may or may not realize is that didn't happen in Chicago. That happened months and months ago. At Homestead last year, we led laps and it just didn't turn out right at the end of the race. We went to Texas and got a flat tire and we still hadn't been able to produce any numbers at the end of a race. To go to Michigan and lead laps - I think the most laps - and that was a brand new car. We took it to Chicago and finally - at the end we were the fastest. When I go back and look at the lap tracker, we were probably a top three car all day long. To have the adjustments work like they should and for the car to react like it should - it's always a relief to win - especially at a track like that. I'm just really thankful for everyone at Hendrick Motorsports - especially the aero department and the people that had so much contribution to that win - to finally get to go home on Sunday night with their kids and family and know that we finally broke through and got them a win they deserved."