NO. 25 UAW CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO, Winning Team Press Conference JOE NEMECHEK, Driver and PETER SOSPENZO, Crew Chief JOE NEMECHEK: CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE RACE? "This whole weekend has been close to just a perfect weekend. We came close...
NO. 25 UAW CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO, Winning Team Press Conference
JOE NEMECHEK, Driver and PETER SOSPENZO, Crew Chief
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE RACE?
"This whole weekend has been close to just a perfect weekend. We came close to getting the pole, but Terry Labonte got the pole. It was great for Hendrick Motorsports to be up there on the front row. I was kind of disappointed in myself for not getting the pole. But the car is there. I've got to thank Peter Sospenzo (crew chief) for giving me the equipment to get the job done. Just like in any business, it's all about communication. Peter and I have a great relationship. We've gotten to the point where I can tell him what I need and he knows what to work on. We keep getting better at it. We gave a few races away at the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Just to get back to Victory Lane feels really good. The last time I was in Victory Lane was in 2001 at Rockingham.
"We've got some great sponsors. This car has definitely had some tough times - car number 25 - but it's back. Papa Joe Hendrick and Rick Hendrick and John Hendrick all believed in me and gave me the job to come drive this thing. I knew I could get them back in Victory Lane. It was just a matter of time. We've got all the right pieces to the puzzle now and I think you're going to see more."
ON THE WIN
"It was Hendrick Motorsports' 600th Winston Cup race, and we're real proud to be the winners. Joe drove his tail off. I kind of screwed him there at one point in the race. We were leading and we were talking on the radio and I couldn't tell him to pit. We passed pit row entrance and we had to come in after everybody else pitted. He redeemed me by passing a lot of cars. That last time we stopped around lap 300 he said let's just take right side (tires) and gas and see if we can get track position and it worked out well for us. He proved how good of a race car driver he is tonight. There's no question about that. I'm real proud of what he did and proud of the whole Hendrick organization of 450 employees to make this possible tonight."
ON THE IRONY OF NOT HAVING A RIDE A YEAR AGO, ON JOHNNY BENSON'S INJURY, ON IT BEING ONE YEAR AGO THAT THE NO. 25 UAW CHEVROLET WAS IN VICTORY LANE, AND ON TAKING OVER THE RIDE.
"I was fortunate. I was out of a job last year. After California, I went to Alaska for Cellular One. I did three or four days of appearances there. I had just gotten home and saw the wreck on TV when the phone rang. I was just glad I was back. I got the opportunity to come here and drive in Johnny Benson's car. If that race would have gone green that night, I thought I had the car to win that race too. My Chevrolet tonight, the No. 25 car, was better than the car I drove last year. This car was unbelievable tonight. It was actually fun. I had a blast out there. It's kind of like going to an amusement park. You can get on the right ride and enjoy it; it's just a blast. That's the way the car drove. I could go high or low, from the top to the bottom, run across the apron - I could do anything I wanted to do. When you get cars that good, you've got to take advantage of it. We've had them that good before and we've finished second a couple of times. Tonight, I think the fastest car did win the race.
"It is kind of ironic. This is about the time when I got a call and they wanted me to drive that car. It's just great to be back in Victory Lane for Rick Hendrick and Papa Joe Hendrick. I wish Papa Joe was here. But he called on the phone and he was pumped up. He'll be happy this week."
WHEN YOU MISSED THE PITS, DID YOU THINK YOU COULD MAKE UP WHAT YOU LOST?
"Well in the heat of the battle, I wanted to choke him (Sospenzo). I wanted to get out and wrestle him right there. It's just one of those things. All of a sudden we're leading and we're talking about doing it and then all of a sudden I was past the barrels and couldn't get in. It was just too far. I was disappointed. I was thinking about how we were going to outsmart those guys to get back to the front. There were a lot of cars lined up then. I was in the back but everything worked out. The car was so fast that I passed a lot of race cars. It's just in the heat of the battle stuff. As soon as that car started going fast again and I started passing all those cars, I never thought about it again. I'd just run them down and pass them. It's just great having Peter as my crew chief and I think we're going to win a lot of races. But I did want to choke him."
NOW THAT YOU'VE WON, DO YOU HAVE TO SWITCH CARS AGAIN?
"That's right. This is the crew here that said I was a Lame Duck driver. What is a Lame Duck driver? I still haven't figured that out. But no, I'm not switching teams. My deal with Hendrick Motorsports is for one year and they have an option at the end of this year as long as we get sponsorship back. Hopefully I'll be there for the rest of my career."
DESPITE EVERYTHING TONIGHT, DID YOU FEEL LIKE THIS WAS A RACE THAT YOU FEEL DESTINED TO WIN?
"What did I say the first time I drove that car? The first two laps I made on this track were awesome. I told Peter this car could win the race. You think about that, but you can't. There are too many competitors. It's tough to race these cats. I just know how good my car drove. If it would stay driving like that, I was going to have the opportunity to win. We just needed something not to go wrong. If we can just have go right, we would have a shot at winning this race or any other race. I knew I had a good car. I thought it was a car that could win the race. In Happy Hour the thing was just really awesome. There were a bunch of them that were really good in practice. We made a couple of really small adjustments before the race and they were the right ones.
ON PROVING THE NO. 25 CAR IS NOT JUST AN R&D TEAM AND ON WHAT YOU'VE DONE IN THE SHOP TO MAKE CHANGE
"Jerry Nadeau had won a race with it and it had been competitive on some tracks. The No. 25 really struggled. We were really struggling when I first went down there. We brought Peter on board and we worked really hard on the aero to where I liked it. It's just a matter of time to get people used to working together and to get that chemistry going. Peter made a few changes in the shop and got the people lined up and all of a sudden we were there. We were contenders. It said a lot for Rick. Over the winter, we discussed what we were going to do to make this a championship caliber team. They asked Peter and they asked Ed and those two guys are the ones who make all the decisions on the team. They got all the right people and worked on the pit crew and on all the areas they thought we were weak on. Sure enough, I'd go down and do pit stop practice and the guys were awesome on that part of it. Just everything, it's a top-notch team. Rick Hendrick is not going to skimp on this team because he's got to answer to Papa Joe Hendrick. He'll wear them out believe me. He wears me out. Rick gives all the teams whatever they feel they need to be competitive. And it's getting the right people.
AFTER HAVING SOME TOUGH TIMES WITH THE NO. 12 TEAM CLOSING DOWN, HOW SATISIFYING IS IT TO BE WITH THIS TEAM?
"There were definitely some tough times back there. But Joe and I have both gone through some tough times in our careers. Maybe it was just destiny that we've ended up together because it's really working well. Joe had a lot to prove from a driver's standpoint and I had a lot to prove from a crew chief's standpoint. When you get two guys that want to prove they're worthy of where they are in the business, you get the kind of results we're starting to see now. It makes you appreciate where you are. Right now, we both work for the New York Yankees. That's what working for Hendrick Motorsports is like. You're not going to find a better organization out there than what Rick and Papa have put together. I'd like to see us be able to win that Winston Cup championship for Papa Joe. That would be the icing on the cake, that's for sure."
EVERY TIME YOU LOOK LIKE YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE SUCCESS IT SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING GOES WRONG. DO YOU FEEL SNAKEBITTEN?
"No. I think I've won 14 Busch races and this is my third Winston Cup win. I know I can win races anytime I show up at the race track. You need the right crew and the right equipment. It's just kind of strange how my career has been. When I first went to Andy Petree, if it would have run another two laps under caution, we were going to win that race at Loudon - early in the year. There were quite a few times when we had opportunities to win. It's very hard to win in this sport. But it's great to win now and I'm glad we got the first one out of the way for the No. 25 team early in the year. Hopefully it's not going to go bad at the end of the year."
DID THE RAIN MAKE THE DRIVERS MORE AGGRESSIVE?
"I can't put myself in their shoes. I know I drove my UAW Chevy as hard as I could every lap. I got everything I could out of those Goodyear tires. They were perfect all night long. Maybe the weather did try to get guys out of position to be there if the rain did come. At that point in time, I was in the wrong spot. I didn't want rain. We needed green flag laps. It worked out to our advantage tonight. I don't know why there were so many wrecks. I wanted green. It seems like I could stretch it out. The only problem with restarts is missing shifts or something. You just never know what's going to happen."
DOES THIS CAR HAVE A NUMBER?
"I just told the guys to get it ready for Loudon because it can win again. It is #44. I'll remember that number. We've got some good cars. Over the winter, these cars were stripped down to bear chassis. A lot of them had snouts replaced. The roll cages had to get changed. We built a lot of new ones. I drove that car (#44) here last year. It was Speedy Gonzales. We didn't run super good but we had a decent day. We just got the fresh bodies on them and we have more power and it makes it easier to get down the straightaways."