PONTIAC NOTES AND QUOTES DieHard 500 Advance Talladega Superspeedway April 24, 1999 Note: Pontiac Grand Prix crew chiefs are confident about their drivers chances in Sunday's DieHard 500, but thought invariably turn to a sense of foreboding of...
PONTIAC NOTES AND QUOTES DieHard 500 Advance Talladega Superspeedway April 24, 1999
Note: Pontiac Grand Prix crew chiefs are confident about their drivers chances in Sunday's DieHard 500, but thought invariably turn to a sense of foreboding of "the big wreck." Those thoughts often outweigh their optimism and make for a mentally draining day.
ROBBIE LOOMIS, crew chief (No. 43 STP Pontiac Grand Prix): "This place, and now I classify Atlanta in it, the biggest thing, your main goal, is to have your driver come out of here in one piece. I try not to get too upset at the end of the day no matter where we finish Sunday as long as our driver is in one piece. I know, presently in our program, one of our strongest areas is a lot of other race tracks. It always brings a little nervous tension. There's just no way to guard against it. It's almost like a race track like Bristol. Like Richard says, 'You've got to be the aggressive one instead of being careful because if you're careful you're going to get in trouble.' You can't be careful because you're going to get a lap down if you're not racing in the pack.
"The wreck is something that's always in the back of your mind. But when you go into a race you have to know your strategy, whether you're going to put two tires or four tires on it, and you can't think about that wreck. You have to stick with your gameplan. You can't worry about something that might not ever happen. Yeah, you know the big wreck can always happen, but you can't bank on it happening.
"I hope a big wreck doesn't happen tomorrow. This race has been funny down here. We've had a couple of races where the guys all did real well and we didn't have a big wreck. But we're running so close and so tight. They can't get strung out. When they have a big wreck it's usually not anybody purposely trying to do something stupid, it's just a matter of misjudgment. At the speeds they're running, if you misjudge it by six inches it's enough to cause a big wreck.
"We're running really, really good. I think John is really happy with his Pontiac. It's the best we've been restrictor plate-wise in a long time. I think we have motors in our restrictor plate program that are probably capable of sitting on the pole, but we knew when we came down here and tested that this car is a real good drafting race car. It's not a good qualifying car. That's evident this morning watching him practice. We should be real strong and have a good shot at winning the thing."
BILL INGLE, crew chief (No. 45 Lucky Dog Pontiac Grand Prix): "You know the big wreck is coming. It always does. Sometimes we can run all day long and the last 50 laps here comes the big one. The biggest fear you have is your driver. Everything the team has done is based around that driver. If you lose him, well, that's a very important part of your team, along with the cars and things. We've got Daytona coming up two months from now, so if you wipe this car out and you've used all your tests up, then you go into Daytona blind. If you're not up in the points, you don't have a provisional to rely on. It can really complicate things to get caught up in a wreck at one of these places. The money it takes for the owners to put into these cars to get them prepared to come to these places is another factor. We spend a minimum of a million dollars to run eight laps is what it amounts to (qualifying for four restrictor plate races). I'm very much not in favor of that. I think it's a waste of money. I think it's a very aggravating thing to have to run at these race tracks like this when there is a solution. California and Michigan and all those places we run 200 mph on 14 degrees of banking. No restrictor plates, no special cars, no special qualifying things. The same thing could be done here. I hear the argument 'the fans like it.' I've not been to a race track in the past two years where they haven't sold every seat, so I don't understand that, either. I'd really like to see them cut the banks down here and at Daytona. They'll still run 200 mph. They'll have to get on the brake, use a little throttle and use a little more driver effort to get the cars qualified and to race. I think the fans would like that race better. You go back and look the races of Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, all those guys, and they were running 200 mph with four inches of spoiler, bouncing off each other at Daytona and Talladega with six inches of rubber on the ground. They made a very minimal amount of what the drivers make today. Let's get back to the old way of racing. Race to race to get in. Don't put special springs, special bodies, 10 more people on the payroll, four special cars to run these races. There's too much a risk of getting wiped out. You can waste two or three cars down at Daytona in February in one weekend. You use up all your tests and you have to start all over again. It puts you behind the eight ball.
"The only hope you have going into these races is that you miss the big wreck. If you can just finish, that's an accomplishment. Just to go out there and run the 500 miles, no matter what the finish is, it's going to be an accomplishment because there's going to be a lot of guys that were maybe quicker that aren't going to finish because they were taken out in that big wreck.
"Race day the big thing is sitting on pit road and waiting for that big wreck. I don't think about it on Saturday night. My worst night is Thursday night, worrying about qualifying. I used to get excited about the races. Call it nervous anticipation, butterflies, whatever it is. That doesn't happen anymore. I guess I've been around awhile and I have some experience and I feel pretty confident in some of the calls that I make. You can adjust on the car during the race. As far as the race goes, it doesn't bother me. As far as qualifying, I'm still a nervous wreck right this minute (before second round time trials)."
JIMMY MAKAR, crew chief (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix): "It's basically just three hours of sitting on pins and needles. You're hoping it doesn't happen, but you know with 43 cars two-and-three-wide most of the day, it doesn't take by one little slip of one guy making one mistake and it's going to take a lot of innocent cars out of the race. You're always just waiting for that. It wouldn't be so bad if everybody stayed in line. Probably be a pretty boring race, but for the crew chief and crew members it would be a lot less stress on you. You're just waiting for that yellow flag or the crowd to scream and roar. It's three hours of that nonstop.
"When the race is over with and you get through everything, if you've had a good day, at the end of he day you're so worn out and mentally drained. You feel like crap. It's almost hard to be happy with a good finish just because of the amount of energy you've expend worrying.
"The only thing we're worried about is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's all that really matters. A lot of guys you don't worry about being around. It's when the guys start mixing it up, they won't sit still, they're jockeying in and out and going three-and-four-wide , they're trying to make thing happen, that's when everybody gets nervous. A lot of times they make something happen and it's not pretty.
"As a crew chief you have confidence in your driver. On most tracks you can help him see certain situations and you can tell him to get away from it. You can kind of sit and ride. You can't do that here. You've got to be at the front of the pack to stay out of trouble because you've got to run hard and got to be there. That's not guaranteeing 15 cars won't get nose to tail, get underneath you and freight train by you. Somebody may pull out of that line and then you're three-wide. It kind of perpetuates itself. Nobody is going to sit in line in 24th all day long. They don't want to. So they pull out and you've got side by side racing again.
"We've got a good car, a real good car. We thought this car would be a little better for qualifying, so we brought it here. Obviously, it did a little better job of qualifying than our car from last year. Last year's car is a great race car, but it's a little outdated for what everybody's doing right now to get a fast lap of qualifying in."
RYAN PEMBERTON, crew chief (No. 36 M&M's Pontiac Grand Prix): "I think that we have had a good speedway program over the last couple of years and Ernie definitely gets around the speedways good. You're optimistic because of that, but that big wreck is always in the back of your mind, like what happened to us last fall here. A selfish way to look at it last fall for me was something like that happening (Irvan getting injured in a crash). You have to think about what that means for the race team. When you have a driver of Ernie's caliber, that enters your mind. You can't replace a guy like Ernie Irvan. Everything that he's worked for as a driver, one accident can end it all, maybe everything this race team has worked for. It can happen.
"It's just a different style of racing. A lot of people say, 'This isn't real racing.' When we come down here to qualify, I think crew chiefs and crew members get off down here in qualifying. They love it and they're all pumped up because it's time to showcase your stuff. I think they really enjoy the qualifying part of it. But when you go to racing, so much of it goes to circumstance. That circumstance is not getting into trouble. That takes a lot of the racing part out of it.
"The laps are long here and you have a lot of time where you can't really watch them. Pit strategy is so crucial. When to pit, how much gas, are we getting two, are we getting four? The whole thing is strategy and track position. That helps you keep out of trouble. Sometimes you'll take two tires thinking you can avoid the big wreck by getting out ahead of 15 cars . You pit to get tires sometimes just to avoid those situations.
"It depends on how well you run as to how draining it is. This is a good place for us and I think we'll have a good showing. But when things go bad and you come out OK, you're glad it's over."
TOMMY BALDWIN, crew chief (No. 22 Caterpillar Pontiac Grand Prix): "Pretty much since I moved down here from up North I've been involved in the big wreck except for one time. It's real important for us tomorrow to stay out of it because this is pretty much our car for the rest of the restrictor plate races. The way NASCAR has set up the testing, we can't waste another test at a restrictor plate track. It's pretty nerve-racking. It's a lot of work to put in for a dumb mistake to happen out on the track that someone makes out on the track due to impatience or whatever. The more and more people talk about it, hopefully, the smarter and smarter the drivers will get and we won't have a big wreck.
"You just have to have a clean day and stay out of trouble, in and out of the pits and out on the race track and you'll end up with a top-10. You can't emphasize enough you've got to stay out of the big wreck. You know it's going to happen. You just try to stay out of the big wreck, man."