Quotes from Wednesday's driver availability at Richmond International Raceway during the open test for the May 6 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. TONY STEWART, No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Q: Tell us about the start of your season and testing ...
Quotes from Wednesday's driver availability at Richmond International Raceway during the open test for the May 6 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race.
TONY STEWART, No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet
Q: Tell us about the start of your season and testing under the lights.
STEWART: "It's a good thing testing under the lights. I'm not sure testing during the middle of the day is helping anybody, but definitely the session from 6:00 to 9:00 (p.m.) was something that definitely all the crew chiefs and drivers enjoyed and looked forward to. That's more during the time of day we're going to be racing, so definitely enjoy that side of it."
Q: Talk about coming to this track in May and the importance of this race in September. You've been in a good position the past few years. I know it's one of your favorites, so talk about coming back here in September.
STEWART: "It IS my favorite track. It's not one of them, it's THE favorite track of mine on the circuit. I've won two truck races, three Cup races here. This is where I got my first win. A good friend of mine, Kasey Kahne, last year got his first win. Being able to see Kasey win his first race here last year was cool, too. It's definitely a place I enjoy coming to. It's nice to be here on a night when you find out who the 10 guys are going to be in the Chase, so it's definitely an important stop for us."
Q: What are some of the unwritten rules, as far as driver etiquette?
STEWART: "It's just respect for the other guys that you race with. Just like this race. It's a 400-lap race, the first 100 laps don't mean anything, so guys are slower. Etiquette says don't hold the guys up. Let them go, let them go about their business. You know you're going to have a lot of opportunities to make pit stops to make your car better. When it's the last segment of the race or last two segments of the race you start racing each other. If you're 10 laps down and the leaders are coming up on you, that guy should have the respect to move over and let you guys go."
Q: Who are some of the guys who show the best etiquette and some who can use some work?
STEWART: "Probably the best guys--Mark Martin for sure, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett--most of the veterans. You never have a problem with those guys. If they hold them up it's because you did something to anger them. It's the young guys in the series that need to learn that. That's what was so good about having Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton running the Busch Series years ago. You learned that in the Busch series before you even got to work."
Q: Would you like to have some of the off days later in the year?
STEWART: "Absolutely. It seems kinda foolish to run the first two races and then have a break right away. I don't know how many races are in the last stretch, I think 16 to 20, somewhere in that range, and it seems kinda foolish to pile three or four breaks into the first four months of the season and the last four or five months have no breaks at all."
Q: Is testing here at Richmond giving you any information to use at other tracks?
STEWART: "It seems like every track is unique. As far as short tracks are concerned, we really only have three. This is the biggest of the three short tracks we have--the other two being Martinsville and Bristol. There's really no comparisons. This is an in-between of both of them as far as banking and how you drive the track. Really all three of them are unique in their own different ways. The other two you have concrete corners where we have asphalt corners here, and D-shaped versus having a traditional oval."
Q: Is the softening of the front end of the cars at Talladega the right way to go?
STEWART: "I don't know, we'll see. I'm sure it's a trial and error deal and we'll just have to wait and see when we get there."
Q: How did you and Kasey Kahne become friends?
STEWART: "He was a teammate of mine. That's what struck the friendship--we were teammates. He's a talented kid and he's one of those guys that when you explain something to him he does a lot more listening than he does talking. That's something that's hard to find with guys that are really competitive. Normally they think they know most of the answers, but Kasey's one of those guys that when we were teammates, if you had something to tell him, he was very good at listening and very good at applying what was taught."
Q: Will the drivers lose something when Mark Martin leaves the sport?
STEWART: "I don't know. We're going to lose a great teacher, for sure. He was a great teacher teaching guys how to learn how to race in this series. These races are longer than anything you run anywhere in the country in any type of series. Being able to learn that stuff from him is something that not only are you seeing the effects of it now with him not running as many Busch races, but when we lose him all together, you're really going to lose a good one."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet
Q: How is the testing going?
EARNHARDT: "The test is going pretty good. Just trying to work on a couple things to get the car where it's consistent. Track is in great shape. It's pretty cool to be able to test late in the evening where it's going to be more like race conditions. Track is in good shape. It's fun to go around. It's been a pretty good test so far."
Q. Would you mind discussing your thoughts on the new testing limits?
EARNHARDT: "You know, it just doesn't make a difference to me, as long as it's the same for everybody, I guess. If we weren't testing, we're doing something else. I think a lot of drivers are apt to test more. As long as it's the same for everybody, I feel like it's an equal playing field."
Q. With a group test like this, will we see the field maybe more bunched together when qualifying comes up here in the first weekend of May?
EARNHARDT: "Definitely gives everybody a great opportunity to get their cars really dialed in. You should see a pretty close field when it comes to qualifying and you should see a pretty good race. I think there's a couple of guys that really have things figured out, will be really hard to beat. Hopefully we're one of them."
Q. No wins so far this season. Seems like you're a lot more consistent. Is that one of the targets this year?
EARNHARDT: "Target is to run as good as you can every week. Everything else kind of takes cares of itself. We just go out there and race as hard as we can, take the car we got, do the best we can with it every week."
Q. Was Martinsville for you, with everything you had to overcome to get that finish, an example of big-picture racing to get you where you want to be when you leave here in September?
EARNHARDT: "I think big-picture racing, you'd rather have the fenders on it. We just kind of came back. We got lucky that the car was still competitive after being in a couple accidents. Like I said, you just take the car you got, do the best you can with it every week, just work really hard and keep working. When the car's not doing what you want it to do, just keep working. You try till the very end to get it to do what you want it to do. "
Q. Are you ready for a weekend off coming up here?
EARNHARDT: "We had one already. It would be nice if they were later in the year because the stretch gets pretty tough for some of the teams. If you're going to run, a couple guys might go run the St. Louis Busch race. That makes about a 26-week straight schedule. But, you know, you take 'em whenever you can get 'em. Take any day off you can get whenever you get it, enjoy it the best you can. I'm just going to stay close to the house, you know, just relax a little bit."
Q. How hard was it last year to be on the outside looking in in the Chase? Does that give you a lot of extra incentive?
EARNHARDT: "Last year wasn't really that hard. I had a lot of fun. It was kind of nice to take sort of a break from the spotlight a little bit, kind of recharge your batteries in an immediate sense. We were frustrated that we didn't get the finishes. There was a couple races, a good handful of about 10 or 12 races where we should have finished well, and either I made a mistake, which was probably more often than not, or we had a mechanical failure of some sort or something like that. You know, it wasn't that difficult of a season for me. I enjoyed working with Steve and the team that I had. A great group of guys. You know, they made some of the frustration a lot easier to take. Coming into this season, we sort of brought some of those guys from that team last year to the new team now with Tony Jr. A lot of the old guys that were there in '04 are still there with me now. I just really am lucky to be driving the car that they put together. They got a lot of confidence, they got a lot of skill, and they build a great race car. I just really feel fortunate to be in a position I'm in right now."
Q. It seems like Hendrick, Gibbs and Yates have caught up to DEI in restrictor plate racing. How confident are you going to Talladega in a little over two weeks?
EARNHARDT: "I feel pretty good. You know, it's really anybody's race now, I guess, when you go to plate tracks. Nobody's really sort of shown they have the upper hand anymore. It sort of goes in cycles. For a couple years there, nobody could touch Gibbs. For a couple years, nobody could beat Yates. It just seems to go in cycles. I think our cycle has passed, and we'll just have to race a little harder to try to beat 'em."
Q. Doing a story on etiquette, unwritten rules on the track. I'm getting different answers. What in your mind is the most important? Does that kind of thing exist?
EARNHARDT: "I guess if they're unwritten, you're definitely going to get a lot of different answers. You just have to have a lot of respect for each other on the racetrack. You know, for example, one of the more common ones is if a guy races you really hard, and it seems pointless at the time, then next time when he's in a position that he needs a break, you don't cut him one. The guys that do cut you a couple breaks, say if I run down Tony Stewart or he runs me down, if it's not in the last 50 or hundred miles of the race, we're probably going to make it easy on each other because the tires are so crucial, you can't really be racing people. If you want to continue -- if you're 3/10ths faster than the field, trying to get up through there, you want to continue that type of dominance, it helps to have people helping you out, getting out of your way when you come up to them. That's sort of one of them unwritten rules, sort of like a little courtesy on the track goes a long ways, a little respect goes a long ways. That's sort of the main one that I probably deal with most often."
Q. Who are the drivers that show better etiquette and some who need improvement?
EARNHARDT: "Mark Martin has a great etiquette on the racetrack, shows a lot of courtesy. Races really hard, drives his car really hard, but he treats people on the track with a lot of respect. But when it's time to go, time to race, he can get what he needs out of his car. You don't want to be giving up so much on the racetrack that you take yourself out of position to win. You can't just let everybody go by that catches you.
If a guy runs you down from a straightaway back and a couple laps, it's pretty cool if you let him go because he's probably going to remember that next time when you're in the same situation. Mark Martin is probably the guy that holds class every week for all of us that are still learning and still trying to understand a lot of the things that are going on on the racetrack.
You know, all the rookies come in here. One of the first things that they see that's different from where they were before, whether it be Truck or Busch, the Cup guys race harder every lap. We run hard every lap of the race. Everything's really happening a lot faster. They assume right off the bat that they've got to drive their tail off every second. They get a little overzealous every once in a while. When it comes to a situation where you need to cut a guy a break, they're not even thinking about that, they're thinking about trying to impress their team, their owner, whatnot, which is cool and fine, but they'll realize after a couple, two or three years that, you know, it's really smart to play it cool and keep your stuff in one piece and try not to wear your car out to where you're in position at the end to have a good shot at winning the race."
Q. I notice you have Mark McFarland, your Busch Series driver. What is his role in this test? How is that team doing?
EARNHARDT: "They're doing pretty good. I would like to see a little more innovation within the team. Obviously, it's a brand-new team. There's a lot of things that we're going to continue to address week in, week out, that needs to be better, different, done differently. There needs to be a little bit more innovation, a little bit more 'follow the leader,' if you will, what you see happening around you in the garage as far as air pressures, setups, front springs, things like that. I need them to do a little bit more mimicking of other teams and whatnot as far as the setups go.
Mark starts to race, this has been pretty much every week, the car's really, really tight. A lot of the air pressures and stuff that I see them run are sort of ancient history. I brought him here to see if he could understand some of the things and see a little bit how they're kind of off base on a couple areas. He's got a notepad, he's been filling it up. Hopefully he takes it back and learns something."
Q. Seems like there's been a lot of situations this year where guys have had differences on the racetrack, they talk about it via cell phone on Monday or Tuesday. How important do you think it is for guys to work things out that way the following Monday or Tuesday, to smooth out their differences? Do you think it might have been easier when you could do that at the track without having to worry about doing it a couple days later?
EARNHARDT: "Well, I mean, if I run over somebody, make a mistake, wreck a guy, get into somebody, lose my temper, do something stupid, I normally give them a call during the week when we're away from the track, away from the media, away from the fans, away from the hype of the race itself, when everything is calmed down, where you can actually have a conversation about it.
I think if you fry to confront everybody, whether you're upset or whether you're trying to tell somebody, you're apologizing, I think if you're doing it right after the race, that's probably not the time 'cause the guy is probably still upset, it's not going to get resolved. I mean, just by seeing how other people handle things, you sort of get a good idea of how to handle the situation."
Q. Dale, you answered part of this earlier, but when you see Phoenix and Talladega coming up, there's one track, Phoenix, where you have run well, and Talladega, which has been fantastic for you, even though you say the cycle may have ended. Last week you were talking about being in the best shape you've been in as far as resources. Do you look at these next two races and say now we're getting somewhere where we can get back in the groove?
EARNHARDT: "I mean, you know, I don't really think that. I want to be in the groove all the time. We've ran well, we've had great-driving cars every week. I just want to hope that continues, that we can continue to go to the racetrack, show up, not be scrambling to get in the ballpark.
You know, we got a couple tracks coming up that we do traditionally run well on. There's a stretch in the summer where we struggle, like at Michigan, Pocono, places like that, Sonoma. I'm sort of looking that far ahead really trying to prepare myself and hopefully have a better opportunity and a better finish at a lot of those racetracks that we've struggled on in the past."
Q. As far as the new testing rules go, how has it changed the way you test? Also with so many cars at the track testing, is there more spying going on?
EARNHARDT: "I suppose, yeah. You walk around, see if anybody's got any springs laying out, just kind of take a look at some of the buckets, the front A frames, see what kind of angle they are, things like that. You look at their spindles, know what kind of degree spindle they're running. It's pretty easy to see all that stuff when we're all piled in here pretty close.
As far as how it changes the way we test, there's just a larger sense of urgency because you know you only got five tests. Where you might take a little more time in between runs, you're in and out of the garage a lot quicker now, where you're trying to get as many runs as you can, trying to try as many things as you can. You're doing a lot of things that you may be testing for for other tracks, like Phoenix and other places that are similar to a Richmond.
Not only are we testing, you know, basically to get a good idea of what we need for this racetrack here, but we're trying to test to learn what we can learn at other tracks we won't have the opportunity to go to."
JEFF GORDON, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet
Q: How is the test going? Testing under the lights--you have never done it at Richmond. Jimmie Johnson was in here saying for your team he thought the test was really important.
GORDON: "It's a very important test for us. I think we're learning a lot of things. We've made so many changes with our race team this year, our race cars, we're just really out there trying a lot of new things. We're fortunate that we're running decent enough to be in the top 10 in points right now where we can experiment. But we also know we got to get better than what we are, so we have to experiment. This is a perfect opportunity for us to do this. It's a long test. It's a lot of hours. Falls kind of in our off week, which isn't the greatest. But just looking at the test itself, it's been fantastic for us."
Q. When things are kind of going well, would you rather go to a track next week versus having an off week or does it make a difference?
GORDON: "You know, that's hard to say. I always welcome the off weekends. We have very few of them, so we look forward to them. You know, I would like to see them spread out a little bit differently throughout the year. I mean, we don't have an off weekend.
If we were coming back here, Richmond, just prior to the Chase, you know, I'd say we need an off weekend here after the Richmond race, you know, getting ready for the Chase. Right now, yeah, some guys maybe are in a rhythm, you know, and want to keep that going. But I think being well-rested can keep you in the groove just as much as actually being at the racetrack and in the groove of, you know, how your team's performing."
Q. At Bristol, Matt brought up that Dale didn't get out of his way. Are there such things at etiquette, unwritten rules? If so, what do you see as the most important of the unwritten rules on the track?
GORDON: "I do think when the leaders are racing, they're in a tight battle in the closing laps of the race, whether you're going a lap down or not going a lap down, I mean, is insignificant, I think you have to let the leaders race. I think that's definitely somewhat of a gentlemen's agreement.
But you can't control what guys do out there. I think nowadays you have lead-lap cars that are fighting to get their laps back, but you also know that they have the Lucky Dog, so they're fighting to be that No. 1 spot for the Lucky Dog as well as trying to get their laps back. You got guys being a lot more aggressive. If you're a lead-lap car, you take that into account. But, you know, closing laps of the race, absolutely, you got to move out of the way of the leaders, if it's 10 to go."
Continued in part 2