Highlights of Tuesday NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference with Jerry Nadeau and Greg Steadman.
NOTE: Nadeau started third and finished sixth in last year's race at Watkins Glen. He led 20 laps in the No. 44 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge Intrepid R/T on June 23, 2002 in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point) in Sonoma, Calif., and held a commanding lead with three laps remaining before mechanical problems robbed him of the win.
JERRY NADEAU (No. 44 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"Once we got out in front (at Sonoma) and got past Bill Elliott, we just checked out. We had a four and a half second lead. I knew Ricky (Rudd) was coming, but I didn't think there was enough time for him to catch us. I'm looking forward to Watkins Glen. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. Watkins Glen is not nearly as tough as Sears Point. I think the competition at Watkins Glen will be a lot closer. The field is going to be a lot closer. I think Sears Point is more of a technical race track, and the Glen is more of a high speed road course. It's going to be interesting. I love to go to that place. I have a lot of friends and family that come up and we have cookouts on Friday night and eat plenty of lobster. Besides the racing, the food is going to be good, too.
"I think Sears Point is tougher driving. It's more technical. The turns are tougher. You've got to be more of a road racer to do real well at a place like Sears Point. The track can get really slick and it can get really hot, so it's a very physical race track. Whereas the Glen, it's a cool race track. There's a lot more right hand turns than left hand turns, so a lot of the guys will set up their cars a little different so they actually work better in the right hand turns. There's just as much left as there is right at Sears Point. Setup wise, we're only talking making a spring change. Other than that, everything is the same. All the guys kind of build their cars the same way. We're going to take the same car we ran at Sears Point, with maybe just a slight chassis adjustment and go out and attack the track just like I attack any other race track. I think everybody has got the same demeanor when they get to a race track and that's to go as fast as possible without going off.
"You've got turn one (at Watkins Glen) which is a great passing zone. Down the back stretch before you get into the chicane, there's a lot more areas you can pass for sure because there are a lot more high-speed areas. That allows more braking. I think it's a good track where you can move yourself up to the front no matter where you start. We started 26th and came all the way up to second in no time. It's a good place to pass.
"It's like when Bill (Elliott) went to Loudon and had a carburetor problem. We obviously had a gear problem late in the race. I think a lot of cars had gear problems. We're not sure if it's the gear we chose. There's nothing the guys can do to fix that. It's just a thing you can't stop. I'm not sure what gears we're going to run at Watkins Glen, but I'm not looking at that as a problem. I think everything else was good. I think our car drove great. Unfortunately we got dropped out because of a gear problem. We'll go attack Watkins Glen just like we did Sears Point and hopefully everything stays together.
"To be honest, I was over it by the time I walked across pit road. I was a little angry at first and I sat in the car and just moaned a little bit. I think once I walked across I was pretty much over it. You can't hold on to things like that. It doesn't make you a better driver. I think I let go of things a lot easier than most people. I've had a strange career, and I took a tough road to get here. I appreciate just being in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. My time will come. That's the way I look at it. I think if people have followed by career, I've never been in the best of situations. I've just got to take it day by day and week by week. I had a lot of wins as a driver in my career, and there could have been a lot of wins in Winston Cup if certain things didn't happen. I think it makes me stronger and bolder and things will get better down the road.
"When you get into a Formula car, the car tends to move around just a little bit. They've got wings on 'em and they've got slick tires. They're very light, not a lot of horsepower. The Formula cars I drove, if you drove them hard you could really attack the race track. If you're very, very aggressive and precise, you can make up a lot of time. As far as the Winston Cup cars, they're heavy. They have small tires. They're very hard. You can't attack with these cars. You more or less have to be very precise. You have to be sensitive to 'em. If you go in the turns and use a lot of brakes, these cars just don't want to turn with the brakes on, so you've got to know.... They're just a lot more difficult to drive, and I think it's more of a feel thing and I think it's more of a rhythm thing. I think everybody wonders how Bill Elliott does so good compared to these young guys that are coming in. They have a lot of experience with these Winston Cup cars and they know how to drive 'em. I feel like that's why it's so hard for new guys to come in to Winston Cup race and try to make it because it's a difficult car to race. I think Ryan Newman is doing a great job. Penske raised that kid. They did a super job of raising him. They brought him up slowly. They let him run some Busch races. They did a lot of testing. They ran him in ARCA races. Now they're running him in Cup and he's got excellent equipment and he's going a great job. That's what it takes to bring up new guys to be competitive in Winston Cup racing because it takes so much time to get used to the cars.
"When I first got involved back in '95, I tried to pursue NASCAR and I got a sponsor to go run five Busch races. Back then it just seemed like you had to get in the click. People had to know who you were before you actually got a ride. I did five races and then I kind of sat around. I didn't know what to do. I did well, but I don't think I was in it long enough and did it well enough to pick up a ride right away. It just took some time. You have to work hard at it. You have to meet a lot of people. I spent months and months working at race shops, working on cars, working at the shop and getting parts and pieces for the team. This was with Richard Jackson. Then finally it was like, 'hey man, I want to race.' I had to raise a little bit of money. I got in one of his cars, went to Charlotte and finished second in an ARCA car. The next week I was in a Cup car.
"My deal was an unbelievable deal. I was in the right place at the right time to get an opportunity. I think anybody can make it if they have enough devotion and enough determination to stand by it and keep plugging along and working at it. I think I've made a lot of determination to get as far as I have today. As far as the racing itself, how it is everyday to do it, it's not as bad as a lot of people may say it is. We do a lot of races. It's the most that any professional race series runs, but if you love racing that much you're going to want to do it as much as you can. I know when I was used to run dirt and asphalt modifieds, we could run 60, 70, 80 races a year. I know the dirt races run up to 100 or 120 races a year, so that's a lot of races. As far as Winston Cup, that's a lot of demand. You're there at the race track for four days to do one race. You get in on Thursday. You practice on Friday, you qualifying on Friday, you practice more on Saturday and you get ready for Sunday. There's a lot to getting up to the race. You have sponsor stuff that you have to do whether it's autograph sessions or meet and greet with your sponsors, radio shows. There's just so much more you've got to do, and I think maybe that's where it's a hassle. If you were just having fun, you could kind of do your own thing and just show up on the weekend. There's just more demand in Winston Cup.
"I haven't found my right home. You look at guys like Dale Jarrett. He didn't win until like five or six years he was in Winston Cup. He found the right place. I think he was with the Wood Brothers when he got his first win. You never really heard much of him until he got in a competitive race car. Once he got in the gate, he was winning everywhere. He won the championship. That's the kind of position I'm in right now. I'm just trying to find the right home. I'm trying to find the right place with the right chemistry with the right people to work with. So far, the Pettys have been great to me. I think we know as a team that we need to get better to run up front. It showed that last weekend at Indy. We're going to work hard to be more competitive. As far as going from team to team, you get to learn a lot. You get to learn a lot about how the team is run and how competitive the team is. You learn a lot and suck in a lot of that stuff and hold it in my head. Hopefully down the road I can use some of that information.
"I guess you can say I'm still looking. I'm just trying to see where I'm going to end up next season and beyond that. I'm not saying it gets tiring. I think my whole life I've just kind of been on the edge. I thought things were going to go well at Hendrick and they just kind of fell apart. It just wasn't the right place for me to be. I never seemed to be getting anywhere. We were a flash of brillance like Hendrick would say at times, but at other time we were never consistent. I think that team has been like that the last 10 years. We don't why. It can get tiring, but my head is still up high and I'm still working hard to find a good situation. I think I'll be in a great situation next year.
"I wish the best for them. It's going to be difficult. I don't think these guys can jump in here and be competitive, but maybe they can. I know Christian (Fittapaldi) has done a few Busch races and I'm sure he realizes how tough it really is. Wait until he gets to Winston Cup. It's definitely a lot tougher. If these guys really want to make it and spend their lives in Winston Cup Racing, it's a different life change. It's not like IRL or Indy cars where you're running 15 or 16 races a year and you get to have a lot of fun the rest of the year. Here, it's a full-time job. That's all you do. Think, breath, sleep Winston Cup racing is all you do. You do have a life outside of racing, but it just requires a lot more time and a lot more dedication to do well in Winston Cup."
GREG STEADMAN (Crew chief No. 44 Georgia Pacific/Brawny Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"You learn a lot. You see a lot over the years. I guess a lot of people come through here. It's sort of the same as changing teams every once in awhile. You end up seeing different people and different drivers and the way they drive compared to others and the way different people work. I've probably seen a lot as far as that standpoint goes. It's a little bit of a change because all drivers seem to be a little different in the way they drive the car, the way they attack the corners. If you work with one that does this for so long and you switch and you go to one that's almost completely opposite, you almost have to turn your way of thinking around to help them get the feel in the car they need. It's a little bit different. Jerry is smart on that. He knows you can't overdrive these cars. They're difficult cars to drive. The tires are hard to drive. It'll take us a couple of weeks here. We're going to go testing in the next couple of weeks and try to get stuff figured out.
"You take the guys you have and see what they like and dislike and how they work and try to have all those guys have the same common goal. You can look at a person and tell if he likes to work. His focus is this car and you've got another guy and his focus is somewhere else. You've got to have everybody focused on the race cars because this sport it so competitive. That keeps the guys pulling in the same direction. If they all have common interests, especially out on the road. Do they like to eat at the same places and hang out together? It keeps 'em all real close friends instead of just people who have to work together.
"You get a rule change two or three days before you leave or a month before you have to go back to a restrictor plate race or something and you just take the resources you have back at the shop, your R&D and everybody and you try to tackle that as quick as you can and get some positive effort out of it, whatever the rule change or the change might be, pit crew change or what. You try to involve everybody you can in it to make sure you have the best situation possible when you get there.
"The crew is all excited to go back to the road course. We had a gear break in the last two laps, so they're excited. Hopefully we can run that well again. It's very competitive. You go up there with great expectations, but you never know what can be dealt you that exact weekend. They're excited every weekend. We got with expectations of running good and finishing in the top 10 and winning. They're excited to go to the last road course race of the year. We need to make the best of it.
"They (Petty Enterprises drivers) are all great road racers. They like it and that's what you need. You need people that like the road course. You can't hate it and go there and run good I don't think. Going there with a positive attitude is the best thing you can do. All three drivers having the same attitude about it is a plus, and everybody goes there with a good attitude and wanting to run good.
"When something bad happens like that you just try to get yourself out of there as fast as you can and not have to deal with that because the pressure is extreme right now. Going week to week to week, you never get a chance to let it all calm down. Sometimes you carry it over from the previous week and it just keeps following you around. What makes the better teams is the people who can handle that pressure.
"Since Robin has come on board in January, it's helped a lot. It's taken a lot off Kyle where he doesn't have to be here wandering around every single day making a lot of the decisions. Robin's there to do that for him, and he's brought a lot of organization. He can be here every day and he's brought some other people in with him that have helped us. Just his knowledge helps. We're staying pretty basic with the stuff and not trying to over engineer helps, too. He's won some races like that. It can be done. It's just a matter of not getting too far out there in left field and keeping your stuff in line. He does a good job with that.
"The softwall technology they've come up with is excellent. We've seen some videos on it and have seen some of the cars they've used in the crash test for it and it's absorbed a lot of energy out of the cars. They've done a lot of research on it to make sure the cars don't go underneath it or through it or puncture it and making it so it can withstand multiple hits. It's had to do that. I think right now they've got a little bit different softwall for open wheel cars than they do for the stock cars, but they're trying to get it all the same so they can install that at all the tracks. I know they've got banking issues at some tracks, radius issues at other tracks to overcome. It was definitely a plus at Indy, and if they could get that done everywhere it would probably be a nice addition to the safety factor. Whenever you do end up using it and you do see a result out of it, there's going to be a lot of praise for it.
"I guess I handle it by after it's done and over with, I don't worry about it. It's done and over and our focus the next week is something completely different. Some people deal with pressure different than others. That's probably a personal thing that gets more people than anything. It depends more on how you react to the pressure. Some people can deal with it and some people can't. Even on the teams, pit crews having to deal with the pressure - 14-second pit stops every time. The people that can deal with that pressure and not worry about it are the ones who usually come out on top. It must be something instilled in me that God gave me. I guess I can deal with it. It's nothing special I do. It's a tough situation when something happens or you run bad. There's not usually anything you're going to do to change that at that particular moment. You work on it the best you can and then after that you just go on to the next week, look at where you made mistakes and do better. The more races there are, the more chances there are somebody else is going to mess up. There would be that much more pressure with a short season. You'd have to perform at every single race. There would be pressure no matter what."