Pontiac Racing Jimmy Makar teleconference

JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: DESPITE GETTING OFF TO A SLOW START THIS YEAR, YOU'RE REALLY NOT IN TOO BAD OF SHAPE "No, not really, when you look at the numbers. The big problem we had was the DNFs...

JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

DESPITE GETTING OFF TO A SLOW START THIS YEAR, YOU'RE REALLY NOT IN TOO BAD OF SHAPE

"No, not really, when you look at the numbers. The big problem we had was the DNFs early in the year. We had three or four races there where we lost probably 250 points or so. That's hard to make up over the course of a season. But, that's water over the damn and we can't them back, so what we have to do is look forward and try to scrape and dig and do all we can to get as many points by the end of the year that we can. "We still felt like after that kind of a start that we were going to have a decent shot at a top five points finish at the end of the year. That would have been respectable. Now all this goes without saying that a lot of this depends on what our competitors do. If other people run into the same kind of problems during the course of the year, things could get a lot more interesting and there could be a lot more people involved in the mix of actually running for the championship. Right now, I think our big goal is to get competitive and that's what we've been working on really hard race to race. I think we see some progress being made and I feel a lot better right now than I did 10 races ago about the prospects of winning races and being competitive week in and week out."

EXPLAIN WHAT IT TAKES FOR A TEAM TO ADJUST TO THE NEW TIRE

"I think it differed from team to team and driver to driver. For ourselves, it was a big curveball for us. We had a setup that we used on the race cars that worked with what kinds of compounds and constructions we've been on for the last several years, but those didn't work with what Goodyear gave us with these new compounds so we've had to struggle a lot to find what it took for Bobby to be comfortable on the tire - a lot more than I thought we would have had to. Again, we've done a lot of testing and tried a lot of new things. I think we've got a good direction going here where I think we're going to be able to start making pretty good gains on it and be able to be competitive again like I felt like we should have been all along. Some of these guys had this tire fall into their lap, so to speak. They didn't have to change anything and it fit their program very well. Others had to work a little bit and other had to work a lot harder. Unfortunately, we were in the latter group of people that really had to work hard at changing things around to get the tire to fit our program."

HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO BREAKING THROUGH?

"I think we're real close. We've done a few tests in the last month or so that really seem to have helped Bobby get a feel for what kind of things we need to do to the car to make him comfortable. He has seemed to be much more comfortable driving the race car the last several races than he was earlier in the year. I think it's kind of a combination of things. I think we're finding better setups for him that make the car feel better to him so he can do his thing. I think the other thing is that he is getting more used to being on this style of a tire than he was several races into the season. It reminds me of going to the radial originally when you came off the bias tire to the radial tire. Everybody was so used to the feeling they had on bias tires. It took a while to get that feeling out of your head and get used to what you had today. I think we're going through a similar thing."

IN NASCAR, HOW CAN YOU BE CERTAIN THAT EVERYTHING IS BEING DONE "ON THE LEVEL?"

"Trust, I guess, is probably the only word you can use. You've got to trust that things are being done on the up and up. There is probably no other way to look at it. If we lose that and lose the ability to trust the people that are running our sport, then we're in big trouble."

IS THE INSPECTION PROCESS OPEN ENOUGH THAT EVERYBODY IS COMFORTABLE WITH IT?

"I don't think you're ever going to get anybody totally comfortable with it. There are still very small gray areas that you'll never be able to fully understand. You could get a restrictor plate given to you that would be a little bit different and the naked eye would never see it. But, like I said, if we enter that arena, if we enter that kind of a situation, we're all doomed. I still trust that we're getting fair shakes and when we go through an inspection process, fair enough to be competitive, anyway. I don't think anything is being done deliberate to hurt any one team or help any other team more so than the other. Like I said, when we get there and it becomes documented and it's proven, then we're all in big trouble."

DID YOU THINK EVERYTHING WAS ON THE LEVEL SATURDAY NIGHT?

"I think so. Myself personally, those two guys - both Michael [Waltrip] and Dale {Earnhardt] Jr. - ran exceptionally well in the race in February, so it's not like they came from nowhere to run well. Those programs are good strong programs. They're not such dark horse-type teams and drivers that you wouldn't expect them to be in the thick of things, so I feel real comfortable with it."

WHAT PRECAUTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN SINCE LAST YEAR TO MAKE THE CHASSIS AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE FOR BOBBY?

"Probably the biggest thing we have done is continually work on a system that will prevent the throttles from hanging wide open, and if they do, give the driver an opportunity to get the car slowed down to where he is not going to hit the wall at the angles that we're hitting right now where he doesn't have to be on the brakes and locking the front tires up, which creates a situation where you can't turn the car. That is the biggest area that we've been working in and giving him some options in there besides a button that we all got into last year on the steering column that is really not practical with the time it takes to realize what is going on and push a button. It's already too late. You're going to hit the wall at that angle and it's going to be a severe impact. We've been working on that type of thing and have got a couple different things in the car to help that in case of several different types of failures. "As far as the car is concerned, we haven't done much as far as the actual construction of the car, yet. We've not been able to prove to ourselves what changes would be good for the car. We're still analyzing data and looking at different options. But until we test some things and become comfortable with them that we're making changes for the good and not just to make changes, we're not going to do anything in that area."

IS THERE A BALANCE BETWEEN THE RIGIDNESS OF A CHASSIS AND KEEPING IT AS COMPETITIVE AS IT CAN POSSIBLY BE?

"We've been working on strength or rigidness or a chassis for years and years and years. That's been an issue and a concern for people for many years as far as just the handling part of a race car is concerned. There are arguments either way as far as how stiff a chassis needs to be or how little flex needs to be in a chassis. In a perfect world in the engineering world, ultimately infinitely stiff is the way to go with no flex whatsoever. But, that doesn't necessarily transfer to the racetrack. It's not as simple as that. There are a lot of things that become involved when you start stiffening a chassis up. The driver starts feeling a lot of things that he typically doesn't feel that are masked over when you have flex in a chassis. Other parts of the car start taking more loads than we're used to seeing in the chassis and the suspension parts and pieces and ball joints and tie rods and things of that nature, so there is a lot that goes on. It's just not a simple thing of stiffer or soft chassis."

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT FINDING THE BASIC SETUP FOR YOUR CAR AT A BRAND NEW RACETRACK, LIKE CHICAGOLAND?

"Originally, the first time you go there, whether it be for a test or the race, we get a track map or a diagram or a description from the track of exactly what kind of racetrack specifications they have - bank angle, length of straightaways, turning radius of the corners - and then analyze that in relation to some of the places that we race currently. We'll find racetracks and take the setups from those racetracks and start applying them to the facility that we're getting ready to go to. That'll get you a ballpark area. Obviously, you really need to go test at these places to really figure out what is going on because the one thing it doesn't tell you is the type of asphalt that the track has laid down, what kind of grip it's got and also the smoothness of the surface. Even though the track may be dimensionally identical to another racetrack, it seems like everybody ends up getting characteristic bumps and dips and things in their racetracks that are not common to other places, so those are the types of things you have to go to the racetrack and actually figure out by testing."

THIS TRACK LOOKS LIKE SORT OF ONE BIG TURN...

"It is, really. It's really unique in that you come off of turn two and you really never stop turning until you get to turn three. It's a nice gently sweep, but it is uncharacteristic for any place that we run now. But it doesn't really pose any problems. We went to Chicago and did some testing for the tire test for Goodyear and got a chance to run and work on our setups, and that part of the racetrack didn't seem to really affect anything that we did for handling."

ON GREG ZIPADELLI AND HOW HE SEEMS TO KEEP HIS COOL

"I'll make a little joke about that. You all just don't get to see the other side of Greg when he gets excited and certainly he does. But I'm really happy with Greg's maturity and how he has been able to handle the situations. It's one thing to be brought into a high profile race team as a crew chief, but to get the added burden of having a driver that is a little controversial and high-strung - which all these things are not bad - but to have to deal with that and to do your job is very difficult.

"Greg has handled everything that he has had dealt to him very well. I can't take any credit for that because that is Greg Zipadelli - his personality. We do talk a lot and he asks me questions and I try to steer him in directions that I feel like he needs to go, but he still needs to be the guy that can react or not react accordingly. "I'm very proud of him. I think he does a wonderful job. Like I said, it's probably not a bad thing that Tony is very spirited and a very fierce competitor and he is going to voice his opinion on things, and people sometimes take that the wrong way. But it does make it difficult for crew chief to have to work through. I think Greg does a great job."

IT APPEARS BOBBY PUT TWO WHEELS BELOW THE YELLOW LINE LATE IN THE RACE SATURDAY TO MAKE A PASS...DID NASCAR REVIEW THAT?

"As far as I know, they didn't review it. I've never had a conversation with NASCAR as to whether they had or had not reviewed it."

ANY THOUGHTS ON THAT?

"I happened to be watching the TV monitor on the pit box and saw the same thing on what happened. Again, to me that's a really gray area. Guys get to racing three or four wide and you get somebody coming down on your outside, trying to run you down the racetrack and you have a choice: either move down, possibly going over this line, or you stand your ground. When you stand your ground, the result is you usually end up turning that person and end up with these multi-car wrecks. To me, as a driver, it must be a difficult thing to try to figure out. Do you spin the guy out in front of you and wreck the field behind you and go on and do well in the race, or do you move down, get out of the way and try to eliminate the possibility of this big wreck happening? I think that's more what we saw Saturday night with Bobby and Tony. It was a situation where they could have stood their ground and not gone below the line and I think it would have created a very bad situation for a lot of people."

ANY THOUGHTS ON TONY'S BLACK FLAG?

"From what I see, it looked like Tony was forced down there. He certainly wasn't going down there just to pass somebody. He didn't go down there on his own accord with a run on somebody in front of him to try to pass them. To me, that's what I thought the rule was supposed to be about - trying to advance your position by going off the racing surface and into that area. To me, that was not the case there. That was the case of avoiding somebody having an accident with you."

-Pontiac Racing

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup