Continued from part 1 Q: How much have you seen Toyota step up their involvement in NASCAR since they first started? DW: It's been a learning curve. Everybody who's ever been involved in NASCAR -- whether its Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi...
Continued from part 1
Q: How much have you seen Toyota step up their involvement in NASCAR since they first started?
DW: It's been a learning curve. Everybody who's ever been involved in NASCAR -- whether its Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi or Toyota -- they'll all tell you this is a little bit different league than we are all accustomed to. You do it there way. They have a really strong way of telling you that you need them more than they need you. You have to learn how to play by their rules and you have to learn how to negotiate your way through all the red tape and politics. I think that's one thing that Toyota has done a really good job with. They made themselves a part of the sport. They came in and there were some negatives to it -- but they've been in there and done a good job and shared the wealth. They have eight great teams and they didn't go out and steal anybody -- they built them from scratch. I just think that Toyota has been a model citizen for everybody to follow by the way they've come into the sport and made themselves a part of it.
Q: How difficult is it to win back-to-back titles and do you think Kurt Busch is out of the title chase after this Saturday?
DW: Well, I thought he was too far out of it until Saturday night. But, now you're 127 points back and that is manageable. He just doesn't have the luck this year that he had last year. In the two years that I won back-to-back -- and again in 1985 -- we had incredibly good luck. If we didn't win we finished second. And that's what it takes to win championships. I think the consistency of a Jimmie Johnson, or that Tony (Stewart) has had or Greg Biffle or Ryan Newman. Those guys just seem to be on it every week. They seem to be able to get those good top-five finishes. Kurt (Busch), on the other hand, it seems like it is all or nothing with him. He either runs great and finishes in the top two or three, or blows a tire and hits the wall. You can't do that and win the championship, not with just 10 races to get it done in.
Q: With the way the competition is now, is it more difficult to win back-to-back titles?
DW: The 10 race playoff deal changed everything. You worked hard to separate yourself from all the other guys all through the year and to get those big points leads so that if you did have a problem it didn't have an adverse effect on you. Now, when you go to 10 races to go and they level up the field and start all over again, a big point lead doesn't do you a whole lot of good. It looks like you're going to have a classic -- maybe Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart battle here. And if you look at how Jimmie Johnson faired at the end of last year, the races that he won and how he got himself from where he was to a chance of winning, it'd be hard to bet against Jimmie. Ryan (Newman), Greg (Biffle), Tony (Stewart) and Jimmie (Johnson) look like they're going to fight it out to the end to me.
Q: Talk about the challenge a driver faces when they get close to retirement. There are a lot of drivers in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the Cup Series we will see retiring soon. What are the challenges that you faced that they might face?
DW: The big thing about retiring is, no matter if you're 45 or 50 or whatever your age is, is that all of us guys started racing when we were very young. Mark Martin was just a kid, and I was 12-years-old. All of us started when we were just kids. It's a lifestyle that you're addicted to. You do the same thing week in and week out, year in and year out. It's just a way of life and all of a sudden you think about a huge change in lifestyle like that. It's scary. The other part of it is financially. These drivers today are making seven or eight million dollars a year. All of sudden you start thinking about 'I've got this lifestyle that I have become pretty accustomed to, what's it going to be like when I don't have that kind of income anymore.' Hopefully, everybody's done a good job of investing and have money to live on, and I think most of these guys today do. It's a huge change in lifestyle. You go from being the star of the show to just being a part of the show, and that's a scary thought for a lot of the guys. Most of us have pretty big egos, and we like people waiting on us and taking care of us. You hate to give that up.
Q: Ricky Rudd is one driver in particular that is nearing retirement. What has helped him survive and what stands out to you about Rudd?
DW: Well his nickname is 'The Rooster.' Roosters are feisty and they're fighters. That's how I view Ricky Rudd. He's real tenacious. He's a real feisty guy. He's a fighter. That's what it takes to have longevity and to hang in there and to maintain the way he has. Ricky hasn't won 50 or 100 races, but he's been very competitive all through his career. He's been a very good ambassador for the sport, and I think it's cool he is driving for the Wood Brothers. That was one team, when I got started in the sport, I always had dreams of driving for. They have always been one of the best teams out there, so that's been a good combination particularly with Fatback (McSwain, No. 21 crew chief) there. Ricky's father passed away. Things like that start happening around you sometimes and you lose some of your enthusiasm for what you're doing.
Q: Any memorable experiences with Ricky through the years?
DW: Well, it wasn't a race that he was in, but he loaned me his car at Pocono in 1977. The Gatorade car I wrecked in practice -- I think, as a matter of fact, it was the race where Dale (Earnhardt) broke his shoulder. We ended up borrowing Ricky's car. Me and Jake Elder and all of us put our set-up in Ricky's car and I think we finished in the top-five that day in the car we borrowed from him. He's always been a friend. He's always been helpful. I knew his brother AJ and his father Al. We all worked over at Robert Gee's shop over there on Hudspeth Road (in Concord) together. Ricky's always been a good friend of mine. He's had some good run-ins with other drivers. He and Dale (Earnhardt) had a couple of deals where they kind of got together and had some arguments. That deal he did in the Bud Shootout in Daytona where he flipped the car, and then the next week comes to Richmond with his eyes taped open and wins the race -- that just tells you what kind of fighter he is.
Q: Seems to be a lot of driver turnover. Now, guys are even announcing their plans two years out. Why do you think this is happening now?
DW: Sports in general -- racing or any sport -- is all about timing. Being in the right place at the right time. Opportunity pops up. If you're not able to take advantage of it, somebody else will. These unknown young drivers - Joey Miller comes to mind. Who is Joey Miller? Where did he come from? Well, I think he is somebody we're going to hear about. Denny Hamlin. And by the way, I was so disappointed for Denny Hamlin on Saturday night. Here's a guy in his second Cup race driving one of the best sponsored cars out there that had struggled all year long, running up in the top-two or three, having a great run. He finishes eighth and he hardly even gets recognized because there was so much focus on what was going on in the Chase. I felt kind of sorry for him. I'm a real fan of his. I think he is going to have a great future. With that said, I think every driver knows that there are quality rides and there are teams you would like to be on. If a door opens, just like in 1980 when Cale Yarborough came to me and said, 'DW, I'm going to give you the best advice I ever gave you in your life. I'm getting ready to leave Junior Johnson, and if you want to win some races and championships, you better get in that car.' I went all out to make sure that I did. I had a contract, and I paid DiGard $300,000 to get out of it so I could go drive for Junior Johnson. I felt that was an investment in my future. There's opportunities, and when they make themselves available, you better take advantage of them because if you don't, somebody else will.
Q: As a driver, Mark Martin could win The Chase this year and race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series next year. Why would a guy go from the pinnacle of NASCAR -- winning the championship -- and move to the truck series?
DW: The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is so manageable. Having owned a Cup car, having owned a Busch car and having been in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for a long time, the truck series is so manageable that you can do it as an owner-driver. You don't have to have a huge budget. Four or five million dollars a year for a truck team would be a great budget. You don't have to have 50 people. You only need about 10 or 12. You don't have to have the 'Penske Palace' or the 'Garage Mahal.' You just need a nice facility. The demands on your time are a lot more reasonable. Everything about the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series appeals to people like me who grew up owning their own Busch cars and traveling around the Southeast and racing on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with one car and a couple of guys. I think that's the thing that Mark (Martin) sees. It's an opportunity to get back in there and be an owner. Control your own destiny. Truck racing is fun. It's the most fun you can have. It's the biggest bang for the buck. It has a lot of prestige. It's on the SPEED Channel -- it's on TV. It's the best racing. You watch Martinsville this weekend, the truck race will be the most exciting race of the two races. If you go to Daytona or to Talladega, the truck racing is the most exciting racing. It's just a great series to be a part of.
Q: As an owner, three weeks ago three-time Series champion Jack Sprague became available. Did you go after him?
DW: We talked. Jack (Sprague) called me, and we talked. We didn't have a situation for him right now, and again, I'll just go back to what I said earlier about timing. He wanted to make a move, and there was an opportunity in Toyota for him to get in the No. 60 truck. We're pretty comfortable with what we've got going on for the rest of this year, and Jack was anxious. He wanted to do something. I'm glad he is on the Toyota team. He's a champion. He's a winner. He's going to run great at Martinsville. He tested up there the other day. He isn't on the Darrell Waltrip Motorsports team, but he's on the Toyota team and that makes him part of the family.
Q: Can you talk about what T. Wayne Robertson meant to NASCAR and the drivers of that era?
DW: Those guys were visionaries. T. Wayne Robertson, Ralph Seagraves, the early guys at RJ Reynolds -- they recognized this as a national sport. Everybody else looked at it as a regional sport -- basically in the Southeast. Their whole plan, and the reason we're where we are today is because they saw if we clean this sport up, put it on television, and make these drivers superstars that there's no limit to where this sport can go. That's what they were able to do for us. They took us to the Waldorf. The first time we went to New York in 1980 and had a press conference to announce that we were going to have our awards dinner in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, it's going to be a black tie affair, everybody said 'Who are these country bumpkins and what are they doing up here?' But as you can see based on last year's banquet where they drove race cars right down the middle of New York City, we have far exceeded everybody's expectations. It was the visionaries at Winston at that time like T. Wayne Robertson that have brought us to where we are today. They made us superstars. We weren't just race car drivers anymore. We weren't red necks anymore. We were bonafide superstars, and moreso today than ever before.
Q: Talk about the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the mix of veterans and rookies. What makes the Series so appealing?
DW: The thing that makes it so cool is it's a great place to start you career like some of these young drivers are doing. But, it's also a great place to end your career. It's not the senior tour by any means. When you look at the veteran drivers that make up a large part of this Series, it's a place you can go and enjoy the racing. A driver wants to have fun, and you just can't have a lot of fun doing Cup when you are being pulled in so many directions. You have multiple sponsors, so much media attention and your being drug all over the place all the time, so much demand, so much pressure. I think when you come to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and you run a few races, you all of a sudden start to relax. It's a real close-knit bunch of guys, and they literally all do work together. The Chevy teams, the Ford teams, the Dodge teams and Toyota guys -- they get along so well. They race hard. As I said, it's the most fun. The biggest bang for the buck you can have. If you're an older driver and you don't want to hang up the helmet, it's a good place to come and just continue to use the talent you have, the skills you have and the opportunity to go out and do some fun racing on a Saturday afternoon.
DW Closing Statement: I am so thrilled to be able to do this. I tell people all the time. They say 'Why do you do this?' A couple of things. I do it because I want to continue to be in the driver fraternity. I was so happy at Martinsville last week. I had on my great big Toyota Tundra uniform. I've got my truck there. I've got my team there. I'm parked right next to Jimmie Johnson, and we're talking 'driver talk.' Right next to me is Kyle Busch, and we're talking 'driver talk.' I'm talking to Sterling Marlin and Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, and we're not talking about TV and production or NBC and ESPN and FOX. We're talking race cars. We're talking racing. We're talking about things that I love, and that's driving. It gives me a chance to hang out with those guys. It also gives me a chance to continue to stay involved and connected to them -- what they're thinking, what they're feeling, what they're having to deal with and anyway I cut it, that's got to be a big plus for me when I do go up in the booth on Sundays to talk about the race.