Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 57 CLR Taurus, surprised most observers when he qualified fourth for tomorrow's GFS Marketplace 400. This will mark Lepage's second race of the season with this team, which qualified 21st and finished 30th in the ...
Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 57 CLR Taurus, surprised most observers when he qualified fourth for tomorrow's GFS Marketplace 400. This will mark Lepage's second race of the season with this team, which qualified 21st and finished 30th in the Brickyard 400 a couple of weeks ago.
KEVIN LEPAGE - No. 57 CLR Taurus
ARE YOU SURPRISED TO QUALIFY FOURTH?
"Michigan has always been good to me. If you look at my past qualifying efforts, we've done fairly well here. I qualified fifth here one year with the 91 car, so it's always been a good little race track for us. We worked yesterday just trying to get me comfortable through the corners. We really weren't fast, but we weren't trying to be fast. We were trying to get it comfortable for me through the corners so I could get it when the time came. We did our bonzai qualifying run and the car was pretty free, so we sat down and said, 'You know, if we fix it just a little bit, I think we'll be in pretty good shape.' We thought with an early qualifying draw that it was gonna hurt us with the sun and stuff, but I think it worked in our favor somewhat. A lot of guys said going out early helped, and it did help, but I would have rather gone out later like 30th on back because I think it was even better then. All in all, the CLR guys did a great job and that Yates horsepower made the difference."
HOW DOES A TEAM THAT DOESN'T RACE EVERY WEEK QUALIFY IN THE TOP FIVE?
"That just shows the group of people Ted Campbell has surrounded himself with. Ted told me at Indy that in four years as a car owner between ARCA and Winston Cup, he hasn't lost any of his people. He's got seven full-time employees. They do their bodies in-house. The cars are nothing fancy. They're Hopkins and Laughlin stuff, so it's not like they do in-house chassis, but I've worked with 90 percent of these guys at Charlotte with my own deal as crew guys. We had a real good effort there and then they went to Indy and tested. They have a real good engineer that works with the team and we were able to help each other out. They haven't raced a lot as a team, so there are a lot of things that they don't understand as far as what Winston Cup cars want. We were just able to click right off and then we went back to the race and had a good, solid effort. Then they gave me a phone call to come up here and try to make this race, so we worked all day yesterday to get the car through the center of the corners because that's where you're gonna make your time up. We made the right calls and the rest is history."
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ON THE WEEKS YOU'RE NOT AT THE TRACK?
"I built a brand new Cup car that we're trying to complete and I'm really just trying to stay on top of the stuff. I watch every race and watch how they do pit strategies. I've been working out and really just hoping for an opportunity and that someone would believe in me. Ted Campbell gave me a shot at Indy and this all goes back to about a year ago. I've been trying to get in this car when I didn't have a Cup ride last year, but they decided to go a different way. Finally, they decided to give me a shot and so far we've had two races and two good qualifying efforts. Hopefully, we'll have a good run on Sunday."
WHAT SHOULD THIS TELL OWNERS ABOUT KEVIN LEPAGE?
"There have been a lot of comments made - not directed to me but indirectly to me - that a lot of car owners won't put recycled drivers in their car. I guess I consider myself a recycled driver because nobody has put me in their cars. But if you look at my career, I was with Joe Falk and left him for a better opportunity to go with Roush. I was with Roush for two-and-a-half years and that's been it. I went to the Kodak car, but I was called in for a change halfway through the season, so it wasn't like I started with that team. I was released towards the end of the year and then I was called in to finish out the season in the NationsRent car and had some very good runs, so it's not like I started with a car owner, ran a whole season and then was told that I was done. I was called in as a relief driver. It's the same thing over in the Busch Series. I was called in last year to relieve an injured Jeff Purvis, so how can you consider me a recycled driver? Roush Racing is the only full-time operation I went to as a hired driver. With the other guys I was hired, but I wasn't there for the whole season. I kind of take that as an insult, but for whatever reason people don't want to give me chance. I've got a car owner right now that believes in me and, hopefully, we can get a sponsor and keep doing these deals. I would love to come back here full-time next year."
IF SOMEONE GAVE YOU A CHANCE FULL-TIME IN WINSTON CUP, WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU COULD FINISH IN POINTS?
"I feel like I could finish somewhere in the top 15 because I qualify well and race well. I don't tear up a lot of equipment. When you have a car owner and crew chief that believe in you that makes a world of difference. It's just like this deal here. I had confidence going to Indy that I was gonna make that race. I had confidence coming here that we were gonna be competitive. Did I believe we could run in the top five? I'm not sure, but I told the guys that when I come to the green through three and four I know what kind of car I have. I've done that everywhere I've ever raced. That's why you look at the sheet yesterday and I'm 34th, but the next thing you know I'm in the top five in qualifying. I don't really show my cards. I get the car comfortable for me and then when the time comes, and that's coming to the green, I know how good the car is and I know how much I can push the gas. That's why over the years you've seen me pick up as much as a half-a-second from practice to qualifying and that's because I finally got the car comfortable. Then when you put on new tires, I know what I have and that's what happened yesterday."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE RACE?
"We have high hopes, but this is only gonna be probably the fourth or fifth time these guys have gone over the wall this year. This is our first time here at Michigan this year. A lot of guys have been here in the spring, so they know what the track is gonna do and they know how the tire is gonna work. We've got two 45-minute practices, which will probably boil down to 30 minutes for this team because we're so far back in points that we won't get out early in the first practice. Realistically, our first main objective will be to run 400 miles. We'll run as many laps of the 400 miles that we can and I think we've got a top 15 car. I think we've got a top 20 car for sure. If we can just not make any mistakes on pit road and make some good calls, then we'll have a good run. If not, we took what we could at Indy and finished 30th. We probably should have finished 25th, but ended up 30th. If we can come out of here with a top 25 finish, that's an improvement for being only our second time together, and this is only my third Winston Cup start this year. I ran all the laps at Charlotte and ran all the laps at Indy and that's what we want to try to do here. We've got to build something. A lot of these guys have notebooks, but all we've got are pages. Our pages consist of the Indy test, the Indy race and our practice here. It's not like we can go back and say, 'This is what we ran here last year or this is what we ran at California.' All we have is what we're running at Michigan today and we've just got to make enough adjustments in the car. If it all works out, we'll have a good day. If not, we'll take whatever we can get with the CLR car and go on maybe to the next race."
SPEAKING OF THE NEXT RACE. WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR THIS TEAM?
"We're trying to find sponsorship. Between my team and their team, we have about nine race cars. They're mainly all intermediate track cars, but we have a few speedway cars. Obviously, we're not going to Bristol, but there's a possibility of places like Darlington, Charlotte, Kansas, Atlanta, Homestead. If we're getting close on a deal for next year we might go to Rockingham just to get that race underneath us because we know where it is on the schedule for next year. I'm just happy. I can't say enough about Ted Campbell for giving me this opportunity. Three weeks ago I was very down in the dumps and doubted that I was gonna get back in the car this year. We were talking to a bunch of people about buying my facility and selling everything. I was even looking at maybe going back and doing something different in the sport as far as becoming a mechanic instead of a driver, but this is just a shot in the arm. I feel like Popeye right now after eating spinach. I've got a great group of guys. They all believe in me and I believe in them."