This Week in Ford Racing August 31, 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series In his first season behind the wheel of the ...
This Week in Ford Racing August 31, 1999
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
In his first season behind the wheel of the #99 Roush Racing/Exide Batteries Ford after four years of driving for Jimmy Smith and Team ASE, Mike Bliss has admittedly gone through some "growing pains" with his new team and crew chief Matt Chambers. But if the last four NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) races are a sign of things to come, look out for the #99 team the rest of the year.
Bliss has finished no lower than eighth over the past four race weekends and in his last 11 starts, he has eight top-10 finishes including five top fives. And as a result of his first win of 1999 at Heartland Park Topeka last Saturday, Bliss became only the second driver to have won in each of the five seasons of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Bliss participated in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teleconference on Tuesday. Below are excerpts from the interview.
MIKE BLISS - 99 - Exide Batteries Ford F-150: LOOKING BACK TO HEARTLAND PARK TOPEKA, THERE WERE MANY DIFFERENT PIT-STOP STRATEGIES. YOUR TEAM SEEMED TO BE RUNNING QUIETLY THROUGH MOST OF THE RACE AND THEN WITH 10 LAPS TO GO; YOU QUICKLY MADE YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT. "We went into the race with our own (pit-stop) strategy and the two tire (change limit) really throws a loop in road course racing because you do so many right and left-hand turns. But we had in our plan that when we reached our fuel window, we were going to take four tires. Then during our next fuel window when hopefully the yellow fell between this lap and this lap, we were going to take two tires and when it went green, we'd come back around and take two more. So we'd only lose about 10 seconds in the pits instead of doing four tires and losing about 22 seconds. It fell right into our hands and that was the big plus. We had better tires than everyone else at the end of the race because we took four and everyone else mainly took two. It was very smart pit strategy by the Exide guys."
COMMENT ON THE LAST PASS YOU MADE AROUND BORIS SAID AND JAY SAUTER AT TOPEKA. "Topeka is a tough place to pass. Boris made a good pass there, but he drove in a little too hard and pushed both of them up. There were a lot of places to pass at Topeka this year for some reason and following Boris around, I think that I learned some new ones that I didn't realize were there. I learned a lot from him just by following him for a couple of laps. Boy it was a big sigh of relief when Boris booted the number 3 (Sauter) and we got past them both. The opportunity surprised me when he made that move. It's a pretty tough pass right there because the corner is so sharp and you enter the corner so low that it's hard to turn and get off the corner. As soon as I saw him make that move, I hesitated getting in and slowed up so that I could turn underneath both of them and get a better run up off the corner. Once I saw what he did, I thought that here was the chance that they would both push up off the corner and I'll have the door open up and get a good run down the straightaway. I knew that was the end of the race because there was no way that I'd let Boris get by me! But it was a big win for us and the team. I was beginning to wonder if we could win a race this year even though the team is getting better and better. I didn't want to give up. I still think that there are some more wins in front of us."
WHAT DOES YOUR FIRST WIN WITH ROUSH MEAN FOR YOU AND THE TEAM? "The win really pumped the team up and myself, I guess. We know that we can win races and sometimes the first win is the hardest win to get because you're trying so hard. Sometimes they come easier after that. But it does help. It gives the team more confidence. We were all kind of dragging our tails knowing that the guys on the other side of the shop are winning and we knew that we had the same equipment. We just proved to ourselves and to everyone else this weekend that we can do it. It's so competitive. You're teammates and everybody works in the shop together. You try to put on the face that you're all happy with each other but after a while, you start to look over to the #50 and wonder. But it actually might be good in a way because it makes our team work a little bit harder and say; yes we're going to do this. It was difficult at first. But the year that they're having is one of those years that you hope to have someday. I just hope that next year it's me."
GREG BIFFLE, YOUR ROUSH RACING TEAMMATE, IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. HOW TOUGH HAS IT BEEN TO WATCH HIM WIN SEVEN RACES THIS SEASON AND YOU HADN'T WON UNTIL THIS PAST WEEKEND? "Well Greg Biffle has done a heck of a job and his crew has done good too. They've got their ball rolling in their court right now where Greg has a lot going for him and the team has a lot of luck. But they are backing it up too. They've done really well in the pits and Greg is driving his tail off. It was a little frustrating for us seeing them doing all the winning and we were back in fifth or sixth. We wondered what we needed to do. They've helped us out quite a bit with some of the setups. We started to get away on our own and do our own stuff. We were quite a bit different than they were with our setup last weekend. It helps to have our own notes and do your own things sometimes."
LOOKING AHEAD TO RICHMOND: TAKE US FOR A LAP AROUND THE RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY? "Richmond is a real tough 3/4- mile track. It's very fast and it's got two distinct different corners. Getting into turn 1 is real tight and not very wide getting in so it kind of gives you the feeling of being loose into the corner. Then you have a problem when you get to the corner, you're too tight turning up off and because it's so tight exiting too. It's really tough to get through that corner and be perfect setting up for the backstretch because if you're turning really well, you'll be too loose getting in. Heading into turn 3, you can drive in really hard down to the bottom of the track. You're trying to always make it turn through there but the truck will always feel tight. Then exiting the corner through turn 4, you have a lot of room to exit so you just let the truck go up. It's a tough track to try to hit both corners just perfect. If you get one end right, you're usually loose at the other end. It's very challenging. Richmond compares to Gateway where we ran a few weeks ago. Turns 1 and 2 are tighter than turns 3 and 4 like at Gateway. But the dogleg in turn 4 at Richmond gives you some room to run up off the track. The track is good for two-wide racing and maybe three-wide down the front straightaway. As far as racing at night at Richmond, the track doesn't change a whole lot going from daytime to nighttime. It might get a little better at night but it's just so fun to run at Richmond at night. The track is well lit and it's a fun week to be there."
THE # 99 TEAM HAS IMPROVED IMMENSELY OVER THE SUMMER. WHAT HAS MADE THE DIFFERENCE?" My crew chief Matt Chambers is in his second year of being a crew chief and he was used to working with Joe Ruttman. I drive differently than Joe did when he was in the truck. I take a different approach as far as springs and shocks go. So it took a while for us to get our own notebook together as far as what would work and what wouldn't. Now he knows what I want and when I say the truck is tight, Matt knows what to change to make it better. It's just us working together and getting onto the same page."
WHAT ARE THE TEAM'S GOALS FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "We're going to try really hard to finish in the top five. We're having a late season charge here but the points are a lot harder to get now than they were in the first part of the year. Everybody is farther apart now. But if we keep finishing in the top five and if some guys up front have some problems, we'll move up. Another goal is to try and win another race."
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR NEXT SEASON? "There are a lot of rumors floating around right now. I can't say a whole lot about what is going on but I don't know exactly what I'm doing next year, put it that way."
YOU'VE BEEN MENTIONED TO BE A CANDIDATE FOR A WINSTON CUP RIDE. ARE YOU INTERESTED IN THE #30 WINSTON CUP RIDE FOR NEXT YEAR? "Well Barry Dodson is a good friend of mine and he is the crew chief over there. He was the crew chief when I drove the # 2 truck. We do go to lunch together and stuff like that. He has talked to me about it but nothing real permanent is set in any way. I'm just trying to race the Exide Ford right now and trying to do the best that I can for myself and for them. Next year in 2000, I don't know what I'm doing exactly right now but Barry is a good friend and I've been talking to him and they've been talking to me. That's about where it's been."
AFTER FIVE YEARS IN THE NCTS, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE READY TO MAKE THE MOVE UP TO WINSTON CUP? "As far as being ready, I'm not going to say that I can jump right up there and do it. I think that it's going to be a struggle. One thing that you've got going with you is that you've got a lot of tests. You can go test at a lot of places that the trucks haven't been. Seat time is going to dictate that in your first year. I imagine that as a rookie, you're just going to have to race the tracks and get as many laps as you can. In your first year, you're going to be learning a whole lot. I think that if you can finish every race in your first year and try not to get into trouble, you're going to learn a lot. Even if you went and ran in the Busch series and then went to Cup, you've got some learning to do. The only things that are going to hurt me are the aero packages and the race tracks that we haven't been to."