Continued from part 1 Q: Now that you've got Las Vegas under your belt, you have experience at Texas, you're heading to Atlanta this weekend, what are you expecting with this COT there? SAM HORNISH, JR.: I really have no idea what to expect.
Continued from part 1
Q: Now that you've got Las Vegas under your belt, you have experience at Texas, you're heading to Atlanta this weekend, what are you expecting with this COT there?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I really have no idea what to expect. Atlanta's one of the tracks that generally tends to be the fastest for the Sprint Cup cars. You see some of the fastest corner entry places.
I think that it will be a great place for it. There's a lot of different lanes that you can run. You know, you can run anywhere from the white line to the wall, whereas Las Vegas, you know, there's basically one or two lanes that you could run as opposed to four in Atlanta.
I think I'm looking forward to it. I've had experience at Atlanta in both IndyCars and stock cars. I had my best Busch finish there. So I'm really looking forward to going there. I think it's a big weekend for us. Very pivotal. We need to just make sure that we go out there and finish all the laps, you know, get a good finish and get some good points out of it.
Q: Juan Pablo mentioned earlier that the Phoenix track was tricky because of the handling of the car, especially on turns. Does a lot of that have to do with this being the new car, most of the drivers still being in the learning process, or is it that the track is just a hard track?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think the thing you see different about this track than most other ones is both ends are completely different. They're really not anything alike. A lot of times this track is a compromise, you're compromising one end or the other to make your car do what you want it to do. Very seldom do you ever get the car where it's really good on both ends. You're always kind of, Well, I'll give up the back straightaway so I can pass somebody going into turn one, or I'll give up coming off of four so I can be really good coming off of two.
It's really a compromise. The track is pretty tricky because a lot of times it's very hot out here. If you get a lot of sun beating down on the track, it makes things pretty slick. It's definitely a track that's one of a kind for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, thanks for joining us.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by J.J. Yeley. Open up with your thoughts on coming back to your hometown, how your morning went.
J.J. YELEY: Well, my diet has been going good, so coming back is going to kill me because I'll get loaded up on In-N-Out and Mexican food.
You know, it's always fun to come back here to Phoenix because this is the racetrack I have the most experience. I've had a lot of good runs here. So far today through practice, we were third fastest in the morning practice. It's nice to come back and feel comfortable and go fast.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q: Your thoughts on Vegas, how it went for you, the quick turnaround, how difficult it is for you and your crew to be back here and testing less than 24 hours later.
J.J. YELEY: For us, Vegas didn't exactly go great. We struggled trying to get the car comfortable all day long. It seemed like once we got the car where it was fast enough to run the top 15, we were already a lap down and just couldn't get the track position we really needed.
We were a tremendous amount better than what we tested there. We had a test that wasn't good at Vegas or at California. So, you know, to really be able to evaluate how the team has been doing has been tough.
You know, for me, after yesterday's run, I was really looking forward to getting back here to Phoenix. We ran well here last year. The Hall of Fame team ran well here last year right out of the box. The car was very fast, very comfortable.
We have a ways to go still. You know, it's a new team. We're just trying to get the relationship between myself and Brandon Thomas, the crew chief, all of the guys. You know, there's a lot of different packages you can run with these COT cars. It's just a matter of trying to find the fastest one that's going to be the most comfortable for me.
You know, we're running through a lot of different things. Like I said, when we tested at the other mile-and-a-half racetracks, we were off and we couldn't find what we really needed. We have a better understanding of the car now and we're looking forward to the future.
Q: Yesterday Gordon hit the wall pretty hard at Vegas. What are your thoughts on putting SAFER barriers on all the walls, inside, outside, wherever?
J.J. YELEY: There's actually been some discussion about that. I know we've had some in the Nationwide Series, previously the Busch Series, that had some accidents very similar to where the walls don't overlap quite enough. It's almost a head-on blow. I know at Nashville, some of the other racetracks, those problems have been addressed.
I think it's something that NASCAR really is going to have to look at all the events we go to, you know, because after watching that wreck on TV, if he could have hit a little bit earlier or later, I think that wreck would have been a lot less of an impact for him. But it was definitely a tough lick to take.
Q: Right now most of them are in the corners. Are they needed on straightaways as well or not?
J.J. YELEY: Generally they don't use them on the outside of the walls because it takes up so much room away from the racetrack. It is something they could look at putting on the inside of the racetrack.
I think the only place they've really looked at doing that was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway there on the inside coming through the corners just 'cause they'd already had some previous problems there.
Q: Your team is kind of a satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing, getting help and information. Can you explain to the fans exactly what you're getting from them and how much?
J.J. YELEY: We are not a satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing. We are an independent team, Hall of Fame Racing. We do get our equipment from Joe Gibbs Racing. That would be the engines, the chassis and the bodies. All the finish fab and all the components that are put on the racecar are done at Hall of Fame Racing.
In the two years that Hall of Fame Racing has been around, they've done a very good job of making it as a single-car team. Unfortunately, there's not that huge information sharing between themselves and Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately for them being a new team, it would be kind of a one-sided street where they would be getting a lot more information than they'd be giving back.
Hopefully as the season progresses with me coming from Joe Gibbs Racing, some of the testing, the engineering we have here at Hall of Fame Racing, we'll be able to learn some things that maybe the Gibbs guys haven't thought of. Once you can open that door of information sharing, maybe we can get where we can almost be more like a fourth team versus a single team like we are.
Q: Could you talk, those of us here in the valley know about Jeff Moorad, the Diamondbacks ownership with you, how that's progressed and worked out?
J.J. YELEY: It's been tremendous. It's amazing that for me coming from Phoenix, you know, Phoenix is not known for a racing town, and going through all the different paths that I've had to get here, for everything to turn around and my team, my NASCAR team, be owned by someone here from the Valley of the Sun. It's been a lot of fun.
You know, Jeff and Tom are both really super guys. They're going to open up a lot of doors for myself and this team from a business standpoint. I know that it's going to be a lot of fun. I know I've already been scheduled to throw out the first pitch at one of the Diamondbacks games. Hopefully I can get out there and make it a strike.
It's going to be fun coming back and have that relationship to really try to build something for the Phoenix-based fans, to give them something to root for.
Q: How about this track day to night? How different does it go?
J.J. YELEY: It is a pretty big change between the day race and the night race here. You know, this racetrack being fairly aged, it cools down and just gets so much more grip. I think it's pretty evident from this morning's practice to what you'll see in the next practice. The racetrack will probably be close to 3 or 4/10ths slower just because it was cooler. When you run the race here in April, you'll generally see the second and third grooves open up. You'll see a lot more racing than we generally get to see in the November race.
For me it's a lot of fun because qualifying isn't as big a part. You can kind of start wherever you need to. You can go out there and really race and pass. That makes it a lot more fun versus having to have a car that really runs good on the bottom and being stuck on the bottom groove.
Q: Do you prefer the night race to the November day race?
J.J. YELEY: Absolutely. You know, there's just something about racing at night. You know, the cars look faster. There's more fans. It's obviously more comfortable for the fans. But the night racing to me, there's a lot more excitement. The racing is generally better at all the racetracks we go to that are night races. I think that pretty much stays the same here at Phoenix. Like I said earlier, you can go out there and run two or three grooves. It's a lot more fun. The racetrack is not as slippery. It has a lot more grip and produces a lot better racing.
Q: How does it change testing during the day as opposed to when you're testing at night?
J.J. YELEY: I think that's something that PIR and NASCAR are doing that's good. They're offering us three sessions today so we can actually test all the way through 9:00 tonight. We're going to be able to get a lot more information to use for the April race where we generally don't get to do when we go test. Like I said, the track will cool down, you'll be able to get a lot more grip. I think they will have enough cars on today's racetrack, into the evening, the groove will widen out. You know, the biggest thing for all these teams is we've got all of our data on these racecars. They can look at how the night changes, affects of the car's handling, the travels, all the things they'll get from the computer that I can't give them just from telling what the car feels like.
So having gathering that information is the most important thing.
Q: Do you think age plays a part in how prepared a driver is to race in the Sprint Cup Series?
J.J. YELEY: I don't really think so. There's a lot of young guys. I guess I kind of fit in the middle. There's a lot of young guys that don't have a lot of experience that are running really good right now. You have a lot of veterans that have the experience. With the way these cars handle any more, the COT car's a little bit harder to drive. They're a little bit slower than the cars that we used to run. And that experience in knowing what you need out of your racecar is going to be pretty big.
But because these cars are so new, the younger guys can just go out there and drive the wheels off them and still be fast. So I don't think there's a huge advantage to either having a young guy or having a guy who's been around in the sport for 20 years, other than the experience level.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the kind of pressure that comes with trying to make sure you're in the top 25 in points after the first five races?
J.J. YELEY: There's a lot of pressure to it. You know, we haven't gotten off to a very good start our first two races. Going into yesterday, I know that I probably could have drove the car a lot harder and maybe picked up five or six positions. But at the same time, because my car was so loose on entry, I could have very easily spun and hit the fence and finished in the back.
So you have to be very aware of how the car is in your surroundings, knowing that you can't afford to have one bad race in these first five races because it's just so tough. You don't want to be in that position where you have to qualify in. Most of those guys spend so much time in qualifying trim that, you know, a couple thousandths is the difference between making the race and going home. I've been in the situation before in the past that I had a great racecar, a car that was capable of racing in the top five, but we just didn't make the race because we didn't spend enough time in qualifying trim.
We definitely don't want to be in that position where we have to qualify our way in. We're still in a decent position, about 27th, 28th in points. We have to be smart these next few races. Hopefully once we get to the point where we have gained some ground back to where you're maybe in the low 20s, you can go out there and race a little bit harder, put it out on the line knowing that if something happens, you're still going to be safe in points.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, J.J., for coming in.
J.J. YELEY: Thank you.