2010 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference
January 16, 2010
An Interview with Sam Hornish Jr.
DENISE MALOOF: Sam Hornish, Jr., ladies and gentlemen, making his 2010 media debut. Sam, welcome. First, any exciting off-season plans?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Not really. I had a really good Christmas. Obviously having an almost two-year-old, this was the first year that she really knew what was going on, so had a lot of fun with the family at home for Christmas, looking forward to getting going again with the racing.
Everybody talks about the grind of 38 race weekends and how that takes a toll, but I'll tell you, I was off for about a day and a half and I was looking forward to getting going again. I'm looking forward to it and can't really express how excited I am for getting going again for the season.
I think it's going to be a really good year for Penske Racing and all of us on the No. 77 Dodge, and hopefully we'll make some big jumps like we did last year.
Q: Being the only Dodge team, do you see that as a big plus or a big minus?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, during the off-season last year, Roger Penske and Penske Racing took kind of a leap forward to work on the Dodge's new engine, the R6, and trying to make everything work with that, and really when it came down to it that was all that there was as far as -- that was the development of it was what was done inside Penske Racing. There I don't think was a whole lot that was being shared back and forth between the other Dodge teams and us.
I think in the long run if we get some of the money that was going to the other teams and we're able to further our thing, I think that we're probably going to be better off because we're not sharing anything. But we don't have to give anything to anybody else, either. I think that the team has done a lot in the off-season as far as trying to make us better, and hopefully we'll continue to kind of make the advances that we did last year.
Q: Where did you make the greatest gains last year, and how would you sum up your relationship with Travis?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that as far as the team, a lot of the gains that we made were in the engine department as well as in the chassis, trying to make them lighter, trying to get better handling race cars, and they definitely were versus what we had in 2008. I know that we had a small improvement, but if you look at what Kurt was able to do between 2008 and 2009 and how much of an improvement that he had, he didn't just figure out how to drive, he learned how to do it, and he had better equipment.
As far as me having the experience of going to some of these places a second and a third time and really just kind of slowing down what I was doing, learning about what the cars needed, what I needed to do differently to not over-drive the car, I knew that it was going to be something that you weren't just going to jump into and be good at right off the bat and that it was going to take time. Obviously we wanted it to happen quicker than what it sometimes does. But I think that it was tough because we took -- in 2008 we took a step back about three-quarters of the way through the season in getting Travis, and it's not because Travis isn't good or doing what he's doing, but it was new, and it was me working with somebody new. It was him learning the ropes of it. But it was what we thought as a team was going to make us better in the long run. We might have gave up a little bit for those ten races, but I think it showed this year he's definitely got the talent to be able to do it.
We work well together. One of the only relationships on pit road where the crew chief is younger than the driver. We've got a lot in common outside of racing, so I have a lot of fun working with Travis. I think he's kind of really now starting to come into his own as far as when you're a new guy, trying to take over that role and hadn't done it anywhere else, I don't think that in a lot of ways he knew what his bounds were and what he was able to push and make happen, and I think now that he's had a year of experience I think he has a good feeling about what he needs to be saying, what he needs to be doing and how to get his voice heard, and I think that's going to help us out a lot.
Q: A lot of times last year it seemed like your finishes didn't match the way you were running during the races. Is there anything you can address to make that better in 2010? Is it just a hope that a millisecond of a touch doesn't happen to you or just something stupid that you can't prevent goes on?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, we had some problems. We had one engine problem. We had one engine problem that I caused. We had just a multitude of small things, whether driver-related or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can't really complain too much about it because there's times when I put myself in harm's way. But we really had an up and down season, to go out there and to run as good as we did at some places and then to go to next week and finish fourth at the second Pocono race, go up and get hit at Watkins Glen and end up in a big wreck up there, and then go finish fifth the next weekend, that was the story of our year. We'd have one good finish and then we'd have a 35th. Have a Top 10, then finish -- we need to even that out. That's our big thing this year. We really worked at it last year toward the end of the season trying to do that. Even in doing so you're trying to finish and you get hit from behind on lap 3 and get in a wreck. Sometimes you just don't have the luck. Everybody always said good luck to you when you're walking out there to the car, and you're like, thanks, I need it. And everybody is like, no, you don't. You don't understand, there's 900,000 things guys do to prepare the cars, but when you get down to it we play a game of millimeters at times where you're trying to fit a car here or there, and what happens around you can affect you more than what you're doing yourself. We just need to make sure that we get a little bit of luck, but the big thing is to make sure that we take out some of those finishes that -- I feel that we were really strong at some points of the year, just weren't that way all year.
Q: You're getting comfortable now with the car, I'm assuming, and the wing, and now they're talking about going to the spoiler. Any thoughts on that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: From everything that I hear about the spoiler, obviously I don't have a whole lot of experience. I ran races with it before, but I think that in a lot of ways it might play into our hands a little bit. It's something new for everybody to kind of deal with. And when it comes down to it, it's going to kind of -- in some ways it levels the playing field because it changes a lot about what the car's characteristics are, and we don't know until we go out there and actually run with the spoiler to find out who's cars are going to work out better with it. It might turn the world upside down as far as how people's cars are handling it. It's something people have been talking about it ever since they put a wing on the back of this car, and anybody that is a critic of having the wing on there, we'll see if it changes the racing. I don't think it's going to change things a whole lot, but it gets people a little bit more back to the look that they're looking for, and if it does make the racing better, then that's all the better for everybody.
Q: Have you had any advice for Danica Patrick?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think the only advice that I said, I think she's actually taken that, and I didn't tell it to her, I just said if anybody asked me what advice I would have, go do it, go do races throughout a season, don't just decide that's what you want to go do or that's what you think you want to go do until you've got some races in because it is a big jump and nobody can really explain how the cars are different.
So I think the opportunity she's going to have to come out and run some stock cars for a while while she's still running IndyCars is going to give her a good opportunity. But it's still a huge leap.
Q: What was the biggest surprise to you with respect to the difference in the cars?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: The cars are so totally different because of the lack of downforce, how much horse power they have, how much they weigh. I mean, there's so many differences in the cars themselves, but the length of the races is almost what gets you a lot of the times.
People always talk about, yeah, a lot of them, they go out there and they'll ride for the first three-quarters of the race and just make sure that they make it to the end. You're out there, you get a good qualifying run and you qualify fifth, and these guys, you think you're riding and they're blowing by you. You try to step it up to not be in that 75 percent or whatever it is, move it up 5 percent, and you find yourself in the wall. It's like, how can those guys be just riding, they're going so fast? But it's not so much about how hard that you drive the car, but it's a little bit more about the chances you take, the risks you take, knowing how the races play out, and if you listen to the guys that are really good and that have consistently good runs and years, nothing ever gets them upside down. They can be two laps down and it's like they're leading the race. They know how to control their emotions and get themselves to a point where this is another race, and that's why you see guys like Jimmie Johnson that can sit there -- if he's running in the Top 10 the first half of the race, you've got to watch out because he's probably going to win the thing. But if he's running 25th to 30th, you go, okay, when's it going to turn around? Because they're going to be calm, they're going to be patient, they're going to get through the first three-quarters of it, and then they're going to figure out how to be good at the end.
Q: Montoya, that was his third year last year. He expressed it in a way that all of a sudden the light went on, and he figured out how to run these races, particularly on intermediate speedways. As you enter your third year having posted seven Top 10s last year, do you feel like you're sort of at that same point?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I thought there was a lot of times this year that we were going to be at that point by the end of the season. But it's ups and downs and a little bit of luck along the way. But I feel like I definitely know a lot more about it.
I have a lot better understanding of what the cars and everything need to do, and when it comes down to it, you just really want to go out there and get the season started because I've learned so many things whether it's running the super speed ways and the draft and the patience that that requires and saving your equipment just so you can run hard at the end or going to Martinsville.
The tough thing is that there's times where I go to a place like Loudon, and we started 33rd or something like that and worked our way up to 4th in the first race this year, and we went back for the second one, and we could barely crack ourselves inside the Top 10. I didn't forget anything, it's just being able to put all those things to good use and not have a bad day along the way.
Juan had a really tremendous season this year, and I think that if we can go out there and do what we know we can do, we're going to hopefully be in the Top 15 in points by the end of the season. That's what we need to do, that's what we all want to do. We want to go out there and win races and do things like that, but we need to make sure that our bad days are a 20th place finish, not 35th.
Q: You were talking about how fast it appears that the cars are going. A lot of people say that to win races these days you have to run like every lap is a qualifying lap. Is that the impression that you're kind of getting out there, that the guys that are winning races are going balls to the wall?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think that you can only run that hard for so long before you eventually get caught up in something. I think everybody thinks that the guy that's winning the race is the one that's out there trying the hardest, but I guarantee you put the guy that's leading the race, you take him out and you put him in the guy that's running 35th's car and he's going to say I'm working harder in 35th than I am leading. When you're back there in the pack, everybody fights you for everything. If you're between 25th and 35th, nobody gives anybody anything. But you get up there -- that was one of the nicest things about when we'd go out there and start running in the Top 10. You'd catch a guy from 30 car lengths behind him, you catch up and they'll let you go if it's the first percentage of the race. They'll let you go. It doesn't matter, you could come from a lap behind a guy that's running 35th on lap 10, and he's going to fight you tooth and nail because that's all -- you're fighting for every position you can get.
The best thing to do, the most comfortable way to go out there and race a lot of times is to be in the Top 10 because the car is running good, you feel good about what's going on, the guys aren't going to fight you. You know when you get down to the last 50 laps they're going to fight you tooth and nail, but you're not fighting on lap 50 like that.
Q: Back to Danica real quick, Juan Pablo Montoya said last year he thought it would be confusing for her to go back and forth from IndyCars and then jump in stock cars. Did you find that to be the case when you made the transition?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think so. I mean, there was times -- I never felt like that in IndyCars, but there was times where I'd be out of these cars for a long enough period of time that you kind of go back into it and you feel like you have to relearn some things. If I would have it all to do over again, I probably would have spent 2007 just running full Nationwide schedule. But when she doesn't know if this is what she wants to do full-time, she's probably doing the right thing. If she decides that's what she wants to do, she would probably be best served by spending a full year at Nationwide, learning all the different tracks, and when you move up the following year you really only have to learn Sonoma and Martinsville, and maybe a handful -- not even that much of the other places.
I think definitely you're better served by spending a full year doing this and just getting an understanding, because I think that we had a lot of problems in 2008 that could have been solved if we would have spent 2007 running a full Nationwide schedule.
DENISE MALOOF: Sam, thank you very much. We will see you very soon.
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