This Week in Ford Racing April 16, 2002 NASCAR Busch Grand National Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Team Marines Ford Taurus, has been the mark of improvement this season since posting a 30th-place finish at Daytona in February. ...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 16, 2002
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Team Marines Ford Taurus, has been the mark of improvement this season since posting a 30th-place finish at Daytona in February. Since the season's first event, Hamilton has made an ascent in the point standings, gaining positions after each race, that have resulted in a climb into the top 10 in points after his first top-10 finish of the season in Texas. Now, the 24-year-old Tennessee native sits in the eighth spot in points after finishing a career-best third last weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. Hamilton, who took the wheel of the Team Rensi Ford in the off-season and was paired with veteran Craftsman Truck Series crew chief Fred Wanke, spoke about the returning to Talladega Superspeedway, the site of his previous career-best finish, and the rebuilding process of the Team Rensi program.
BOBBY HAMILTON, JR.-25-Team Marines Ford Taurus -
YOU HAVE BUILT A LOT OF POSITIVE MOMENTUM SO FAR THIS SEASON, AND AFTER POSTING YOUR CAREER-BEST BUSCH SERIES FINISH LAST WEEKEND IN NASHVILLE, IT'S OFF TO TALLADEGA, THE PLACE WHERE YOU HAD YOUR PERVIOUS CAREER-BEST FINISH. "We're extremely excited to go to Talladega this weekend, especially coming off of last week's finish. The only scary thing about Talladega is that you can get in somebody else's mess and you don't have anything to do with it. We've got to get the Marines Ford up front and stay up there. That's where you'll more likely miss the wrecks, and if not, we'll keep working until we get it that way."
YOU FINISHED FOURTH AT TALLADEGA LAST SPRING AND YOUR DAD ENDED UP WINNING THE WINSTON CUP RACE LATER THAT WEEKEND. ARE THERE ANY FAMILY SECRETS BEING PASSED AROUND ON HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL ON THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS? "It was just one of those things that happens. The reason why is the way they have the rules for Cup and Busch. They are totally different animals, especially there with the restrictor plates they've got on them. They're totally different cars on the superspeedways. The Busch Series draft has been the same way for years and years, but they keep changing the rules in Cup, so you're pretty much on your own as far as figuring things out. There is a little bit of aero stuff as far as getting air into the carburetor with the cowl, so stuff like that and how to deal with traffic, that's what my dad has helped me on, but other than that, there isn't much he can do."
YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO RUN WELL AT TALLADEGA, BUT ARE THERE ANY APPREHENSIONS ABOUT THE SPEEDS? "Not really. We look forward to it because it's one of our best places to go to, mine especially, and if we can at least come out of there with another top-10, that would tickle us to death because it's so easy to get caught up in somebody else's mess like we did in Daytona. We're looking forward to it."
TEAM RENSI IS AN ESTABLISHED BUSCH SERIES TEAM, BUT IN THE OFF-SEASON MANY CHANGES WERE MADE TO THE TEAM INCLUDING A NEW DRIVER AND CREW CHIEF COMBINATION, AS WELL AS A SWITCH IN MANUFACTURERS. DUE TO THE VAST NUMBER OF CHANGES, THE TEAM OPTED TO BUY ONE OF ELTON SAWYER'S FORDS FOR THE RACE AT DAYTONA. HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO BUILD AN IN-HOUSE SUPERSPEEDWAY CAR FOR THIS RACE? "It's still the same car we raced in Daytona, but we re-hung the body on it and added some more tricks that we leaned from the wind tunnel stuff. Hopefully, it should be better. We should be pretty fast compared to where we were in Daytona. We were still trying to get used to the Ford in Daytona because it's not only new to me and the team, but to Fred Wanke as well. Since then, we've found that the Ford has a whole lot more downforce and the capability of handling better in traffic, and you can be more aggressive with the car as a far as less bite and more aggressive rear springs to get the car to turn good. It is a little bit different. It's almost like a trust factor, and once you get to that trust factor and you know that it's going to be there, then you can really hustle it around."
HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE STEADY SUCCESS OF THE TEAM THIS YEAR? "It's really been the whole deal. At Nashville, it was a good place for me to begin with, and Fred Wanke's truck finished second there last year, but we also have Robert Yates motors. That's the biggest thing, having Robert Yates motors. They've really helped us a lot as far as horsepower and being able to get around in traffic. It's pretty much a big team effort every weekend on everything, so it's not one single person and one single thing."
YOU QUALIFIED WORSE THAN 20TH ONLY FOUR TIMES LAST YEAR, BUT THIS SEASON YOU STARTED THE FIRST FOUR RACES OUTSIDE OF THE TOP 15, ONLY TO HAVE STARTED THE LAST THREE RACES INSIDE THE TOP 10. HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR FOCUS MORE TO QUALIFYING THE PAST MONTH? "All we've done is race stuff; we haven't even fooled with qualifying. Pretty much what we've done with our cars at the end of the day, we just tape it up and try a lap to make sure the car is under me and that's all we do. A lot of people don't believe that, but that's pretty much all we do, and that's how good our cars are. And, one thing we're trying to do is take one race at time to win a race, and to do that you need to be good for 25 and 50 laps instead of just two laps. Last year, we had a problem with falling off 25 laps into a run and we just couldn't hang on to anybody. Now, it's pretty much got to the point where we can race and be comfortable with the car. You get paid to win the race. You don't get paid to qualify on the pole."
HOW DO YOU ESTABLISH THE MINDSET TO FOCUS STRICTLY ON RACE SETUP? "Fred pretty much came into the deal with the same outlook as me. This team didn't run all that great last year and I didn't either, and we were both looking for a change as far as results in racing. The reason that we got Fred over here was that he worked with my dad's truck team and with Joe Ruttman and he was just phenomenal on race stuff. Twenty-five laps into the race, nobody could keep up with him on the truck series. That was one of the things that told us that we needed to hire him, and that's what we did. And it was pretty much him that told us what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. With that much experience, you really can't argue with him."
ARE YOU APPROACHING THIS SEASON AS ONE-YEAR DEAL WITH TEAM RENSI, WITH THE ASPIRATIONS OF RUNNING WINSTON CUP NEXT YEAR? "We're trying to build this team and we thought it would take several years, but we've hit it so easy here and we've all of a sudden just taken off. We're trying to build a long-term, championship contending team and we're having progress with it trying to get it to the other side, the Cup side, but right now, it's more than just a one-year deal. It's a deal where we're trying to build something long-term. When I first came over here, I didn't know what to expect, but after running the way we are, you've got to build on this. If we don't get to the championship level this year, there is no doubt in my mind that we can't win it the following year."
IS THERE A CHANCE THAT THIS TEAM COULD MAKE THE JUMP TO WINSTON CUP? "It's been talked about, but like anything else, you need sponsorship to make it happen. We need to find somebody who wants to be involved in that, but that's going to be the hard part, of course, trying to find somebody to come up with the money. You really have to start from ground zero like we did. We came into the season and redid the whole team, Ed and Sam Rensi did. They started from nothing. They got rid of the Chevrolets and went to Fords and got Robert Yates to build our motors for us and here we are today. To have the success that we've had so far with all of those changes, that's pretty big and that's pretty eye opening, and that's why we felt that with the halfway decent success I had in the Cup car last year, it could be possible to take this same team and really, really run good on that side over there. And, of course, it's what everyone wants to do, so we want to do it. As of right now, I wouldn't have any negative thoughts to try to run Cup over there next year with this team and be competitive."
YOUR SPONSOR IS SOMEWHAT UNIQUE IN THE FACT IT'S NOT A CONSUMER PRODUCT. WITH THE RECRUITING OBJECTIVES THAT THE MARINES HAVE ASSOCIATED TO THEIR SPONSORSHIP PROGRAM, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN UP MORE OF YOUR OFF-TRACK TIME TO HELP THE MARINES WITH THEIR GOALS? "I've done my share of it. We've gone to a couple of schools to educate people about the Marines and to try to help their recruiting efforts. Little things like that, but mainly, they've been pretty easy on me. This is not just a rebuilding year for us, but the Team Marines program as well, and they're tied together with one simple objective - increased awareness with better on-track results. It could have been a whole lot harder with what we're trying to build, but their main concern is what our main concern was - trying to build a competitive racing program and get it back on top where it needs to be. So far it's been working. We're trying to do what we need to get the racing back up front."