This Week in Ford Racing
August 3, 2004
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Terry Cook, driver of the No. 10 F-150, has competed in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 1996 and has watched the series grow and evolve during his 178 career starts. Cook, who returns to Indianapolis Raceway Park - the site of his last win - for this weekend's Power Stroke Diesel 200, discussed the recently released 2005 schedule and various topics affecting the truck series, now in its 10th season of existence.
TERRY COOK -10-Power Stroke Diesel by Int'l Ford F-150
THE 2005 CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES SCHEDULE WAS RELEASED LAST WEEK BY NASCAR, AND THERE ARE A TOTAL OF 16 COMPANION WEEKENDS WITH NEXTEL CUP AND JUST EIGHT STAND ALONE RACES. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE DIRECTION THE SERIES IS TAKING?
"It's going to be a situation where we'll have to wait to see how that next season goes. I'm excited to be racing on the same weekends with Cup. I guess the biggest reason is that you're going to put a lot of people in the grandstands. That's the bottom line. I don't care if you were having a Soap Box Derby race on the frontstretch after Cup qualifying, you're going to have a great crowd. You can look at our schedule and anywhere you're paired up with Cup, it just drives the seat attendance figures. It will put people in the stands, but the negative is the fact that there are so many people in town on those weekends that you're going to have to spend $400 on a hotel room six months in advance. That's why I say the jury is out. I'm excited to have a lot of opportunities to race a lot of weekends with Cup, but I think we need to go through a season first like that and then make adjustments accordingly for 2006."
THERE IS ALSO A TREND FOR THE SERIES TO COMPETE ON MORE MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS. BEING KNOWN AS A SHORT-TRACK ACE, ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH SERIES SHIFTING THE EMPHASIS TO TRACKS OVER ONE MILE IN LENGTH?
"A year ago I wouldn't have been very happy, but being associated now with ppc Racing and the great organization that they are, I've finally gotten some race vehicles that have been very competitive on the mile-and-a-half tracks. With the recent success that we've had at Michigan, Kansas and Kentucky, even though we didn't finish quite where we were running, we seem to have turned our program around on those big tracks. I'm kind of excited about it. I enjoy racing at big tracks. I enjoy racing at the smaller tracks, too, so it's kind of a situation where you have mixed emotions. For example, this weekend at IRP, there are 50-plus trucks entered and the reason for that is a lot of these young drivers have to come to the short tracks to get approved to run the big tracks. It seems like we're going away from running on a lot of short tracks, so if you're a young driver starting out and you call Wayne Auton (Series Director) and say you want to race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the first thing he tells you is that you need to race the short tracks to prove that you can handle yourself on the bigger tracks. You have to start out in the series on the half-miles and then go to the mile tracks and so on. But, the point is, there's not many short tracks to prove yourself, and when you go to tracks like Martinsville, Mansfield or IRP and we're sending 10 to 15 trucks home, it's a tough race to make. It's kind of hard to get your start in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, so I think we need to go back and start looking at making sure we have on the schedule enough short tracks that people can get their starts in the series. If it means adding one or two more races to the schedule and going back to a South Boston and making it a 26-race schedule then that's what we need to end up doing. I'm all for going to these big tracks, but I think we need to make sure we have a mixture of short tracks where guys getting started out can come and race with us."
IF NASCAR CHOOSES TO EXPAND THE TRUCK SERIES' SCHEDULE IN THE FUTURE, CAN YOU MAKE AN ARGUMENT FOR A PLAYOFF FORMAT, SIMILAR TO THE CHASE FOR THE CUP?
"Yes and no. It's a situation when they first announced it that I was a little optimistic. Now, watching the season unfold, it's like, 'Wow, they knew what they were doing when they did that.' It is going to make the NEXTEL race for the championship a little more exciting. Adding more races to our schedule, I still go back and look at what has happened in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and the Busch Series, and those are the two series that get paired up on how they break down the points. I stick to the adage that you don't fix something that's not broke. Both the Truck Series and the Busch Series championships came down to the last lap, the last turn at Homestead. Actually, the last lap decided the top five. With the NEXTEL Cup Series, over the course of the last 10 years they've had runaway championships where they've needed to add more drama into it, so I can understand why they did it over there. As far as the Craftsman Truck Series and the Busch Series goes, I don't think they need to change a thing. I think everything is fine the way it is."
CAN YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT FORMULA FOR CROWING A CHAMPION ACROSS NASCAR'S THREE PREMIER DIVISIONS?
"I think so, and I think the reason you can is because we know going into it that we've always been playing for the championship ever week out, and that's why those championship points are so vital. You try just as hard at IRP as you do Daytona. You're trying to maximize every lap at every race and try to come away with the most points possible because you know that's your chase for the championship. I go back to the saying that you don't fix what's not broke."
FOR THE NEXT THREE RACES - IRP, NASHVILLE AND BRISTOL - THERE WILL BE NO HAPPY HOUR PRACTICE SESSION FOLLOWING QUALIFYING FOR THE TRUCK SERIES. ARE IN FAVOR OF ELIMINATING HAPPY HOUR PRACTICE ON A WEEKLY BASIS?
"Again, I have mixed emotions there. There are some tracks that I think definitely helps and favors the teams. One, it basically saves all of the teams an extra set of tires because you might be able to put on the set you ran early in practice. You might be able to get them back on the truck in the race because typically after Happy Hour that set is wore out. You're never going to put them back on the truck unless you don't have anything that holds air. The negative is that if you do that every weekend, this is a feeder system for the Busch Series and NEXTEL Cup. Using this weekend as an example, if I'm a young driver coming to IRP and I'm trying to get my start in the series and I've got two hours of practice, we qualify and then we race, how do I get a chance to get more track time? If you start going away from having a Happy Hour practice session, I think it's going to help the veterans and it's going to hurt the younger drivers that are trying to get experience drafting at these tracks. While I think it may work at some tracks, and we may be doing it just because of scheduling and television commitments, I don't think that you're going to want to do that every weekend."
DO YOU SEE IMPOUNDING THE TRUCKS AFTER QUALIFYING THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE IN THE TRUCK SERIES?
"I think they will do it on an as-needed basis. I don't think there is anything wrong with going to a few tracks like Bristol and IRP and even Nashville without having Happy Hour, but on the same token, I don't think you want to do it at Michigan or Daytona for the trucks because, again, you've got to get these young drivers more seat time. You can't expect them to have two hours of practice and expect them to go race. You've got a lot of inexperienced and new drivers coming to this series every week, and you've got to get them as much track time as you can. Take away another full hour of race-run practice and I think it's not going to be good."
IT IS JUST PAST THE HALFWAY POINT OF THE SEASON, AND THERE HAVE BEEN 10 CREW CHIEF CHANGES, WHICH IS UNPRECEDENTED IN SERIES HISTORY. IS THERE NOW MORE PRESSURE TO PERFORM IN THE TRUCK SERIES?
"From my standpoint, and being involved in a crew chief change and a crew chief change, there's no doubt about it. What has happened is that the Craftsman Truck Series has become so competitive so quickly. I actually think the Truck Series is more competitive and tougher than the Busch Series. When I watched the Busch race last week and I watched the lineup, I couldn't tell you who half of them were and where they came from. In the Craftsman Truck Series, with the influx on the Brand X and their teams, and they brought a lot of money into the sport, but you already had a lot returning teams and a lot of factory backing from the Blue Oval camp and the other manufacturers making sure their teams are well funded and supported, it's just made it tough. If you're not on your game this year you're not even going to be in the top 10. There are good teams that are on the outside of the top 10 looking in every single week that in years past would be running in the top five on a weekly basis. With that said, it puts a lot of pressure on the crew chiefs and team to make sure you're on your game every week and when you're not and things aren't going well, it's time for a change. You have a lot of commitments not only to the manufacturers but to your sponsors and everyone involved. Typically, the first person that gets plucked out and changed is the crew chief and we've seen a lot of that."