Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Taurus, had a breakthrough season in 2002 in his first year with Team Rensi, winning his first career NASCAR Busch Series race at New Hampshire International Speedway and finishing in the top 10 in the point standings. Once again teamed with veteran crew chief Fred Wanke, the 25-year-old Hamilton is poised to challenge for the championship as the fourth-highest returning points finisher from last season.
BOBBY HAMILTON, JR.-25-Team Marines Ford Taurus:
THIS IS YOUR SECOND SEASON WITH TEAM RENSI. DO YOU FEEL THAT THE CHEMISTRY BETWEEN AND THE TEAM IS STILL IMPROVING? "It's already better. I went to the shop last week, and just from the attitude of the guys to Ed (Rensi), the owner, the momentum has already been built. Coming down here, it's purely a great test. There's tons of stuff that we learned and we left a lot of stuff back at the shop, too, so there's a lot to look forward to. The experience of having one year under our belt is huge, so we're confident that we're going to get the Marines Ford up to the front and it will stay that way all year."
HOW MUCH INPUT DOES THE DRIVER HAVE AT A DAYTONA TEST SESSION? "As far as my part at this test, if they could do it by remote control, they'd be better off without me here anyway. They do all of the preparing back at the shop and they just have the pieces that they can bolt on real quick and see if it works. If it doesn't, all they have to do is unbolt the piece and the car is back to the way it was before. But, that's part of testing here at Daytona. If you can gain a hundredth here or a tenth there, that's a hundredth or a tenth closer to a win."
HOW MUCH OF YOUR FOCUS OVER THE PAST TWO DAYS HAS BEEN ON QUALIFYING? "All we're doing is two lap stuff. At the end of the day they're talking about doing some drafting, but I'm trying to talk Fred (Wanke, crew chief) out of that. Mistake-wise, there are a lot of new people here that I haven't seen race before and I would be the one to run over somebody or vice-versa. The best way to keep from doing that is to wait for Happy Hour before the race and do it when we're supposed to do it. We're down here working on qualifying because that's the first race here - to get up front and get out of the mess - so that's what we've got to concentrate on."
THAT IS A DIFFERENT STRATEGY FROM WHAT WE'RE USED TO HEARING FROM YOU. USUALLY YOU LIKE TO PRACTICE THE CAR IN RACE TRIM AND JUST TAPE IT UP FOR QUALIFYING. "Here you have to, but everywhere else, Fred and all of the guys get the car driving so good for me all you have to do is stick some tape on it, put some wedge in it and go. You can just make the time that way because the cars drive so good. And, of course, the horsepower we got from Robert Yates, that makes up all of the difference when it gets cool. I always say that if you have good equipment, it makes you look a whole lot better than you are and your job a lot easier, and that's what I've got."
YOU HAD A TWO-CAR SHOP LAST SEASON AT TEAM RENSI. DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU LOST SOMETHING WHEN THE OTHER TEAM'S OPERATIONS CEASED? "No, and this is me being truthful. The minute we did the other last year, it killed the momentum on my team. It was working my guys to death. We weren't getting enough stuff done on my car, trying to get the other cars done and it just put us behind. The minute everything was out of there it went back to the way it was when we were running up front week-in and week-out. In fact, the last couple of races we made a conscience effort to concentrate back on our program, and we got right back in the top-five where we belonged. I don't need a teammate. We learn enough on our own, and I think we're doing the right thing."
THERE WAS SOME TALK FROM DRIVERS DURING THE WINSTON CUP TEST ABOUT THE NEED FOR A SOFTER TIRE WHEN THE CARS RETURN HERE IN FEBRUARY. DO YOU SHARE THOSE SENTIMENTS? "No. I don't even know why you'd want a softer tire. I think that's the part of getting old, too; you want that grip. I don't see the function in it. All that does is put you on pit road a whole lot and puts the guys in more jeopardy, and that's going to cause a bigger one because the tires won't last after 50 laps. You'd be slipping and sliding and that's when somebody will push right up into you and turn you around and there goes the wreck. My outlook on that is whatever they come up with on the blue truck or the red truck, that's what we have to deal with and we'll just make the best of it."
YOU HAD A BREAKTHROUGH SEASON LAST YEAR, WINNING YOUR FIRST CAREER BUSCH SERIES RACE. DO YOU FEEL THIS COULD BE ANOTHER BREAKTHROUGH YEAR FOR YOU AND THIS TEAM? "This is our year to really step forward to win the championship. The 57 is going to be tough, and I've always said that in order to do something like that you have lose them before you can win them. He lost it last year. It was his to win last year and he lost, but they will be even stronger because they learned a whole lot more than we did as far as battling for the championship. We've got the right tools and the right people and the right equipment to be right there on their heels, if not battling for the championship. Expectations for us are definitely top five in points, if not trying to win the thing."