Pontiac Racing Mast interview

RICK MAST, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: (ON WINNING THE POLE AT THE INAUGURAL BRICKYARD 400) "It was real exciting. It was the first competition at Indy for the stock cars, and we won that, so that made it pretty special. We did a...

RICK MAST, NO. 14 CONSECO PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

(ON WINNING THE POLE AT THE INAUGURAL BRICKYARD 400) "It was real exciting. It was the first competition at Indy for the stock cars, and we won that, so that made it pretty special. We did a lot of stuff during the week. There was a lot of stuff centered around that pole. We were all over the city (of Indianapolis) for two or three nights doing interviews and media stuff, so it was pretty cool. The bad part about it, that's the one race in my career that's probably stung me as much as any race I've ever run. By that I mean after qualifying we get in practice and every time I'd go out there my car was perfect. It was flawless. I couldn't get a car to work or handle any better. Everybody would hook onto me in 'Happy Hour' and in all the practices and nobody could run with me, so the car was just good. But we came off the fourth turn on the second lap (of the race) leading and I lost a cylinder, so I ran all day basically on seven cylinders. We still finished like 20th or something. But that was one race that of all the years, if I could have one race back to do over, I would like to have that one back. We may not have won it, but at least at the end, I think I would have given (Jeff) Gordon a run for it. I don't know if we could have won it, but we would have been there vying for win, anyhow."

(ON THE TEAM'S RECENT IMPROVEMENT) "We've definitely seen a turnaround with the race team. We've had problems chassis-wise, motor-wise and aerodynamic-wise. It all started out at Talladega. We sat down with A.J. (Foyt) and A.J. said, 'What's wrong? What do we need to do to fix it? What do you guys need?' And that's basically been the comments that I've had from A.J. since the beginning of this thing. It's very nice to have an owner like that that does it that way; that approaches it that way. You sit down logically and you talk about what the problems are, and you put plans in motion to fix it. That's what we did way back. We hired Phillipe (Lopez) as the crew chief, and he has basically taken the bull by the horns. David Evans is in there doing the engines now. We're still not using our engines. I think Watkins Glen is going to be the first time for our engines. We've been using Peter Guild's engines. "The turnaround really started before the last two races; you guys just didn't see it. At Charlotte we had a top 15 finish working, which is not that great, but it was good for us at that time, and we had an engine problem with like 50 (laps) to go. The first Pocono race we had a top 15 going and we had a shifter problem. The Dover race - honestly I've never had a car in 'Happy Hour' as good as my car was at Dover in 'Happy Hour.' I was really excited there, then we got in a wreck on the fourth lap at Dover. So the competitiveness of the car started turning around then. At New Hampshire and Pocono, we were able to sort of finish the way we were running. "The neat part about it at New Hampshire, we were sitting there praying for the sun to come back out because me and (Jeff) Burton and (Geoffrey) Bodine were the only guys that had tires. Everybody else was going to have to pit. That was going to be good. Then at Pocono, we were only one of two or three cars that were going to make it with one stop, and that was going to be good - then we had a caution. But anyhow, it's turned around, and I couldn't be more happy."

(DO FLATTER TRACKS SUIT HIS DRIVING STYLE BETTER?) "I don't think so. I think it's just circumstances. The team has basically come together at racetracks that just happen to be flat tracks. Dover is a high-banked track, and I love that place. Charlotte is a high-banked track and I love that place, Texas, Atlanta - I love all those racetracks. Maybe it seems like that, but it really isn't. Indy is just one of those tracks that, yeah it's flat and I've had some success there, but I think it's just more or less a deal of everything coming together for us. It has just happened to happen at flat tracks."

(WHAT WAS HIS REACTION WHEN A.J. FIRST APPROACHED HIM TO DRIVE?) "To be honest, we tried to get together last fall for this year. I was tied up with Universal (Studios) at the time and I couldn't get loose from what I was doing. I kind of regretted that over the winter, but there was nothing I could do about it. Then when it came back up this spring everything was right for us. With A.J., you've got to understand a couple of things. Number one, I knew A.J. from way back when we both used to drive for Skoal when U.S. Tobacco was our sponsor. That's when I first got to know A.J. I got to know 'A.J. the person,' not 'A.J. the American media persona' that you guys all know or most of America knows. I know A.J. the person, A.J. the racer. That was the part that was exciting to me. As far as being nervous and all that -- No. I've been here quite a while now, and I know how to deal with stuff like that. I just wanted to get with somebody that had a racer mentality, as far as ownership goes and that would be able to give me what I thought was my chance of being able to get back to where I was in '96 when I left Richard Jackson's deal, and that was being able to run in the top 10 most every week and be in there contending to win. That might sound a little convoluted, but there is a lot to that. In other words, if you look at our sport, the most successful people, as far as owners go, are racers because they just understand racing. They have what I call the 'racer mentality.' If you have that racer mentality, it makes things much easier for everybody and you succeed a lot quicker. I knew that with A.J. going in that he was going to have a successful race team. That's the whole deal with me. People talk about A.J. putting pressure on you and this, that and the other. No, it doesn't work that way with Rick. With Rick, the pressure I have is self-induced. I know my capabilities and my abilities, and I know what A.J. is willing to do with him race team to make it work, and it's just a matter of time. The way I look at it, it's nothing but just a matter of time. It's just a matter of time before we succeed, and that's just kind of the way I look at it."

(IS THERE MORE PRESSURE GOING TO INDY WITH A.J. OR DO YOU JUST "BASK IN THE GLOW?") "You just bask in the glow. Any pressure I feel at these racetracks, I put on myself. I don't allow other outside influences to put pressure on me. I've learned over the years how to do that. The pressure I have on me I do myself. I don't let other people dictate what pressure is on me. That's what is so good about A.J. He just wants to run good and do good, and we're going to do good. It's pretty cool to go to Indy with A.J. I went up there a few years ago on qualifying day with him for the Indy car race and watched how these people responded to him, and it was pretty cool. But I also learned in '94 when I got the pole up there, A.J. was also running that day and I spent a little bit of time with him that day - in fact I asked him for some advice that particular day. It's a little bit different deal. It's just kind of neat that one of my favorite racetracks is the racetrack that A.J. owns and I'm driving for him." "All that is pretty neat, and it makes for good print and good media, and all that. But the bottom line is still this: you get in that race car and you strap down, and you look out the windshield and you're trying to beat the guys in front of you. That's kind of what happens. That's the one part that hasn't changed since I was 16 years old, through all the changes I've seen in this sport. That's the one thing that stays constant, and I think that's the one thing that helps keep our sport pure because that part will never change."

(DO DRIVERS CONSIDER THE BRICKYARD 400 TO BE ONE OF THE TWO BIGGEST RACES OF THE YEAR?) "I think that's a very accurate statement. Some guys, if you really get their honest opinion from them, they'll tell you that maybe the Brickyard means more to them than Daytona does. I'm not sure how you equate that, yet. I know for everybody it's at least a strong No. 2 behind Daytona, if it trails Daytona. I don't really know for sure the reason. "I remember the first year we went down there. We left Michigan from the race and we went to Indy for the so-called 'Goodyear tire test.' What it was was just an open test for everybody to go down there. All the teams went there. When we get there for this little private test session, we look around and there are 50,000 people in the grandstands to watch us there. When we go out to eat at supper at night, everywhere you go people would be getting your autograph and the whole deal. We hadn't raced within 400 miles of Indy up to that point. I guess Michigan was the closest. It kind of hit everybody like a ton of bricks, that first little tire test we had. There were billboards up all over the city welcoming the NASCAR community. The amount of people that they put in the place the first year and then every year thereafter, and the media built up so much about that race leading up to it. Then we had the non-sayers, I guess you'd say, that said, 'Well, it will be good the first year and then it will start dropping off.' Well, I think this thing has gotten bigger every year, as far as fan attendance and the draw that everybody has for it. Indy being Indy -- all of us guys grew up with stock car racing, but you always knew of Indy. 'Wide World of Sports' and all that, or whatever, when you were a kid you think of Indy. "I was in Indianapolis yesterday. I was driving through the city and I was asking the guy that was with us, I said, 'I wonder if people around the world, when they say Indianapolis, Indiana, do they think Indy 500? Do they think Indianapolis racetrack?' He said, 'Yeah, that and basketball.' I said, 'No, not Indianapolis. Indiana is basketball. Indianapolis is the 500.' There is tradition there that goes back - I guess we're approaching a hundred years on that tradition. Now through the stock cars in there, with the popularity of the stock cars, it's just such a big event. The money is tremendous there. But I think (Dale) Jarrett, the other day I heard him quoted as saying, 'We'd run for $5 if we could get that trophy and bring home with us."

(ON SHIFTING AT INDY) "I tried it a couple years ago testing and it didn't work out for me at that point. I know for a fact there are two or three guys doing it up there, racing with that. It's something that Phillipe and I are trying to prepare for. We're going to be prepared for it, but I don't know if we'll end up doing it yet or not."

(ON THE CARS HE HAS TESTED FOR INDY) "We've been up there twice testing and we carried different cars with us. The first test we ended up with our best car, the car we thought was the fastest. We went back for the second test with that car plus a new car the guys had built for Indy. The new car in qualifying trim was slower than the older car. But when we took the tape off and put race set-ups under both cars, the new car was quicker and it drove better and it turned better and it just felt better. But in qualifying trim it was a little bit slower."

(WHY GIVE UP THE SPEED WITH THAT CAR IN QUALIFYING?)  "It's like I told A.J.
and the guys.  I said, 'Listen guys:  I get paid on a percentage and my
money day is the 160th lap Saturday.'  That's what I'm concerned about at
this point, although the pole pays good at Indy.  It's neat to get a pole
there, but I've gotten one.  I'd like to win now."

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup