The Craftsman Truck Series is back in action this week after a four-week hiatus, and while most teams spent the down time testing for upcoming events, Truck Series rules prohibit teams from testing at any venue on the 24-race schedule. That puts a...
The Craftsman Truck Series is back in action this week after a four-week hiatus, and while most teams spent the down time testing for upcoming events, Truck Series rules prohibit teams from testing at any venue on the 24-race schedule. That puts a premium on experience, and for the first four races of the 2001 Craftsman Truck season, Roush Racing's Nathan Haseleu has faced that first hand. In those first four races, he visited tracks that he had no prior experience, and often had not seen in person. With this weekend's event at Gateway International Raceway, Haseleu finally has the security of knowing that he will be going to a track that he has previously raced, posting one top-five and two top-10 finishes in the RE/MAX Challenge Series. Experience combined with a new rules package for the Ford F-150 should give the 23-year-old rookie and team owner Jack Roush a much-needed lift. Haseleu and Roush spoke about the difficulty of being a rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series and the team's early-season progress.
NATHAN HASELEU -- 99 -- Roush Performance Ford F-150 --
YOU RACED AT GATEWAY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY IN THE RE/MAX CHALLENGE SERIES LAST YEAR, WHICH WAS A COMPANION EVENT TO THE CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES. DID YOU LOOK AT THE TRUCKS AS A SERIES THAT YOU ASPIRED TO COMPETE IN?
"I definitely wanted to get to that level, but at that time I didn't have any idea it would be this quick. We raced there pretty early in the year, I think the first one was our second race, so I was just concentrating on the RE/MAX deal and hoping that one day I would get on the other side of the garage."
THE FORD F-150 HAS A DIFFERENT RULES PACKAGE NOW.
HAVE YOU TESTED THE CHANGES YET?
"We went to Chicagoland and did some testing with the new package last week. We've been testing pretty much straight since Martinsville, but we didn't have a complete truck with the new specs until the test at Chicagoland."
WHAT WERE THE RESULTS?
"It went good. We were the first ones on the track there, so it was hard to tell. We didn't A/B anything, but I think it's going to be a good package for us, and hopefully it will help us out. Chicagoland is a brand-new track so we really didn't have any notes or times to go off of, so I think we'll have to wait for Gateway to see the effects of the new rules. There we have setup notes and times to base our performance off of."
IS THERE ONE THING IN PARTICULAR THAT FELT DIFFERENT WITH THE NEW SET OF RULES?
"I think it's just going to make the truck more comfortable the more we're out there racing. It's an aero thing. We haven't A/B'd it anywhere to see what exactly the speed is going to be, but they've done the testing in the wind tunnel, so hopefully it's going to get us closer to the Dodges and Chevy, but I don't know if it's enough yet. I think it's going to make the truck more comfortable when you're out there racing in a pack at a mile track. It's going to make the truck more comfortable and feel more stable to the driver."
TALK ABOUT THE DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR TEAM SO FAR THIS YEAR.
"Every race since Daytona, I think we were 27th in points after there, we've steadily moved up. Everyone is getting along good and working hard, and now were going to go to some tracks that I've raced at, like Gateway and Pikes Peak, and hopefully we can take that next step and start running in the top five."
WHAT'S BEEN THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR YOU SO FAR THIS YEAR?
"I guess that's going to tracks that I've never seen before and trying to get used to the truck. And then as a team, we have all the notes but it's a different tire package, and so we've struggled with that a little bit. But I think we're closer. We did some testing over the past month and I think we're going to be pretty good going into Gateway."
YOU HAD A TOP-10 FINISH AT THE LAST RACE IN MARTINSVILLE, BUT THAT WAS A MONTH AGO. HOW DO YOU BUILD OFF OF THAT?
"When you get the race track you're pretty much ready to go. We did some testing and every week that we had off, we went somewhere to do some testing, so it's not like we haven't been in the truck for a month, which will really help. Plus, I work in the shop every day, so I'm still around the team and active in helping to put the trucks together."
YOU'VE BEEN TO ST. LOUIS BEFORE, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE KEYS TO GETTING AROUND THERE?
"It's a fun race track. You can pass at Gateway because it has long straightaways and (Turns) 1 and 2 are real tight and it's got some banking in it. And then you go down to the other end, (turns) 3 and 4, and it's flat, real wide, a sweeping corner. With the RE/MAX cars, a lot of times you pass coming off of (Turn) 2 because that corner is so tight there. I don't know how that will differ with the truck, some guys will be shifting in 1 and 2, and some guys won't be. I'm really looking forward to going there. It was one of my favorite tracks that I've raced on, so I'm looking forward to going there in the truck."
DOES IT MAKE IT DIFFICULT THAT YOU CAN'T GO TEST AT A TRACK THAT YOU RACE ON?
"In some ways it does. I think all of the teams are testing somewhere, but they go to places that are similar to those we race on. It'd be nice to test at places that we race at. That's where experience is a big advantage in the Truck Series. In Busch and Winston Cup, those guys can test at tracks they race at and see them ahead of time. In the Truck Series, and especially for rookies, the first time we see a track is often the same day we qualify. That's why I think it takes a little more time for the rookies to break through in the truck. Greg (Biffle) didn't win his first year, but he went on a tear his second year after he raced on the tracks more than once. That's something that we have to remember."
BEING A ROOKIE AT TRACKS THAT YOU'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE HAD ENOUGH PRACTICE TIME GOING INTO THE RACE?
"I get as much track time as anyone else does, so it's on even ground there. I feel like I get enough track time by the time the race comes, but you've got to utilize every second of practice. We can't afford to have a part or piece fail in practice because time is of the essence."
HOW IS IT WORKING WITH ANOTHER ROOKIE AS A TEAMMATE (CHUCK HOSSFELD)?
"It's been going good. We get along real good, we just need to learn to communicate a little better, and with both of us being rookies and not knowing that much about the trucks when we started out, that's where we were lacking. Now that we've got a couple of races and this last month of testing under our belts, hopefully we'll step that up another notch."
HAS IT BEEN MORE DIFFICULT HAVING A ROOKIE TEAMMATE RATHER THAN A VETERAN?
"I think if Chuck, or either one of us, would have a veteran as a teammate, we probably would have done better the first four races. We'd have somebody to talk to a little bit more about the tracks, but I think it's working out good now, and this may be better for us in the long run. If we can make it through the short term, we both may be better off in the long run analyzing race cars and setups."
YOU HAVE SOME VETERAN LEADERSHIP ON YOUR TEAM. DOES THAT HELP TO COMPENSATE?
"It definitely helps when you have most of your guys around the Truck Series since it got started here. Jeff (Campey), my crew chief, has been to all of the tracks and knows everybody, so that definitely helps to have some leadership like that."
DOES JACK ROUSH HAVE A LOT OF INTERACTION WITH YOUR TEAM SINCE YOU'RE BASED IN MICHIGAN?
"Jack may live in Michigan, but he stays pretty busy traveling to North Carolina and the Winston Cup circuit. He's been pretty busy lately with the Winston Cup stuff, but he always makes a point to stop by when he's here. He's very aware of the team's progress and he tries to help out the best he can help out. We haven't had our weekly meetings since we've been off for the past month, but when we get back up to racing, we will have weekly meetings to discuss what happened at the track."
WHAT'S BEEN THE GREATEST ASSET THAT ROUSH RACING HAS GIVEN TO YOU TO HELP EASE THE TRANSITION?
"It has to be the fact that they stand behind you. Everything here is in place. I've got great equipment, which was shown last year, and we haven't run as a good as we would have liked to, but they're still standing behind us and standing behind me and my team. I think we're moving forward, and they're seeing that we're moving forward, so everyone is excited to get going this weekend."
HOW HAVE THE CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES VETERANS TREATED YOU?
"When I'm out there racing, we're all just out there racing. I just race everyone the way that they race me and I'm sure it's vice-versa. I haven't had any problems with anybody. I'm sure that everybody watches the Roush trucks since they ran so good last year, and want to see how we're doing as two new drivers."
JACK ROUSH, Owner -- 99 -- Roush Performance Ford F-150 --
WHAT'S YOUR ASSESSMENT OF YOUR TRUCK PROGRAMS?
"You build a skyscraper by digging a hole in the ground. You have to put something down that is solid. The important thing for them, the first half of the year, is to run every lap every race and have every challenge of something that could go wrong that they wouldn't anticipate occur, so that they can be better able to capitalize on the things that they learned going into the second half of the year. They're doing a great job. We have new crew chiefs in place. Rich Reichenbach (Manger of Fabrication Shop) and Max Jones (General Manager), leading the thing up, are providing the kind of steerage, mentoring and direction that the guys need. If they were out there wrecking their trucks every week, and if we were embarrassing ourselves on pit road, then I would be really concerned. Right now, I think they're on track and they're being really steady and conservative, and that's what they've got to do until they get a few races down."
DOES IT MAKE IT TOUGHER FOR THEM THAT THEY DON'T HAVE A VETERAN DRIVER TO TURN TO LIKE GREG AND KURT DID IN PREVIOUS YEAR?
"It probably does. There's nobody showing them something that wouldn't have occurred to them that is a better way. They're just groping along and trying to figure things out, but I know initially, when we brought Mark (Martin) and Jeff (Burton) in the trucks, when we had Ted Musgrave, Joe Ruttman, Todd Bodine and Chuck Bown driving, having those guys in there was a big help because they were able to bring in a different perspective. But right now, Chuck and Nathan have access to Greg and Kurt and their notes and they're not varying too far from those. I know they don't have a bunch of changes going on in the truck. The trucks were good enough to finish first and second in the points last year, and they're holding the truck combinations stable and just getting the confidence to stand on the gas."