IRL: Indy500: Front row press conference transcript

Host: Mike King Guests: Scott Sharp, Greg Ray, Robby Gordon MIKE KING: Good morning. This is going to be a little bit disjointed because the photo shoot broke. Greg is here first. Robby is on his way. Scott Sharp is just finishing...

Host: Mike King

Guests: Scott Sharp, Greg Ray, Robby Gordon

MIKE KING: Good morning. This is going to be a little bit disjointed because the photo shoot broke. Greg is here first. Robby is on his way. Scott Sharp is just finishing up. We will go ahead and start with Greg. His schedule is a little bit compressed. He has a few other things he needs to get to. The photo shoot went a little long. Greg, first off, congratulations. Your fourth consecutive front row start here. You're becoming one of the most prolific front row qualifiers in the history of this place. I know for you that's a little solace at this point because you would like to be one spot over. However, give us your thoughts on yesterday's run for the pole?

GREG RAY: Well, I think the team did a great job. We had a good car early in the week. We never really fully trimmed the car out. We knew we could go a little more. The conditions changed on us and certainly yesterday morning we were quick but I wasn't really happy with the balance of the car. The cooler conditions and the opposite wind direction really affected our setup. I just never could find that sweet spot. I think at the end of the day we did three laps of 225.5, I guess something like that, and the last one fell off to 224.5. I think there might have been a little bit more in the car had we done a few more things. I don't really know that we could have done four 226s even if it was perfect. So, I mean, I'm pretty proud of my guys, and I think we hustled the car and got the most of out it, and I don't think we left a whole lot out on the table. Team Kelley just stepped up. I mean, they found something different. They ran the car once in the morning, did a couple laps, put it away. Brought it out for qualifying, let it rip. They blew up one of the engines the day before or two days before trying to test it. And so they have a big-time hot qualifier. They had about 30 pounds of more drag, if you look at all the downforce pieces and appendages on the race car. They had a lot more drag in the car, a lot more downforce. So for them to be more stuck to the ground and be faster, that's pretty impressive. So they have something really big in the back. We know we have good cars. We know we have good engines. And we can race what we qualified, basically. So that's our plan.

KING: To give you some quick numbers on Greg, you may already have them. Greg leads Indy Racing Northern Light series in all-time poles with 11. This will be his 20th front row start. '98 qualified second here. '99 qualified second here. Last year was on pole. And this year qualified second again. So four consecutive starts here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, second or better. Pretty impressive. Robby Gordon has joined us. Robby, tell us a little bit about your day yesterday and getting set for your first ever front row start here at Indianapolis.

ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, I'm pretty excited about that. Actually, I didn't think we would be able to put up that high of number. I didn't actually think Scott would put up the number he did either. I thought that we would be really happy with a 224.5. I thought I could run four of those pretty consistently. And, you know, we waited for a little better condition. We probably missed our gearing just a little bit because I never got on the rev limiter at all. So if we would have got on the rev limiter a little bit in turn 1, who knows, maybe we would have had a shot at Scott even. Greg, he definitely knows how to fly a car fast in qualifying trim, and Scott Sharp did a very good job. I'm really looking forward to the race.

KING: We're going to open up the floor to questions.

Q: Both of you guys in the past couple of years have led the race and then have had problems finishing obviously. What can you say about the hazards of running up front?

RAY: There are no hazards of running up front.

GORDON: I think starting up front definitely avoids one of my biggest concerns in racing. You know, Turn 1, trying to shove 33 cars into that corner, it gets a little hairy. I've always liked to qualify up toward the front. I think if you can be in the front three rows, it's probably some of the safest positions. If you can avoid that first turn incident. You know, back a few years back, they used to have that all the time.

RAY: You have to worry about those guys coming from fourth trying to pass you on the first lap.

GORDON: Man, damned guys. I'm kind of looking at this year. I'm pretty good on cold tires. I think we're going to be in good shape starting from the outside.

KING: Questions? Yes, sir.

Q: Since he is not here, can you guys talk a little bit about Scott? And he's the one guy that, in terms of the front row, really hasn't had that much experience. But you guys have raced with him. Can you talk a little bit about what it's like to race with him? Maybe what you expect out of front row start there?

RAY: I think Team Kelley and, you know, Scott Sharp, they always do a good job. We've raced with them quite a bit. And, I mean, the start of this race is like any other race. So, I mean, it is the Indy 500, but he is a clean racer. He is going to race hard. But if his car is not good, like it has been maybe in the past, I mean, he'll - it's like any other racer, they're going to fight you for a little bit and then they're going to give way. But he is a clean racer and, you know, I think a lot of people expect good things from him, so.

GORDON: Scott is a very good racer. I've actually raced with Scott back in Trans-Am. Only one time we competed against each other at Long Beach, but we had a great dual, always a lot of fun. Scott's a good, clean racer. He has definitely mastered the Indy Car craft as well. So it's good. It's good to see those guys on pole. They worked really hard. They just worked a little harder than the rest of us. We'll have to go back and work harder for next year.

RAY: Yeah, I mean, he is a clean racer unlike (cough) Cheever. (Laughter).

Q: Robby, talk a little about your year. You know, one minute you're down at the bottom, now you're back at the top.

GORDON: Well, you know, I guess I didn't take that good enough look at the No. 4 car before I joined it. Let me tell you, I'm sure happy to be out of it. Because if I was driving that car right now, I wouldn't be here at Indianapolis. That was one thing they weren't going to let me do. I'm happy to be able to come and compete at Indy. If I was still driving that car, I would be miserable. It was a tough few races. Just didn't work out. I tried to make it work. I was willing to make it work, but I don't think they were willing to change their race team fast enough for me.

KING: Questions?

Q: Greg, know you're running for the Indy Racing Northern Lights championship this year. How do you keep the focus here on the big prize, which is the championship, and not leave all your guts here at the Speedway? It's - you know, kind of a tempting thing to let it all come out and load up all your guns and be complacent out here at the Speedway, sometimes you get a let down, like say, when you go to Texas and other places. How do you guys keep from doing that?

RAY: I'm not sure I understand your question. When you go to Texas, that's one of the finest racing facilities on planet. It's fast, fun to race at. The fans are great. But, you know, you also refer to the championship as the big prize. Well, in my racing career, I've won four or five different championships, 30, 40 races, lots of poles. I would trade every single win, every single championship, and every single pole for one race victory here. We have 13 races this season. It's a 13-race championship for us. I really look at it as a 12-race championship and Indy 500. You know, this will be my fifth start. I made a lot of mistakes. I've learned a lot here. You know, continually growing better as a race car driver. Continually maturing and trying to process in all the experiences that I have had to be better. I know this year we have a really great team chemistry. Everybody is getting along. We're all rowing the same direction. And I'm really excited about that. But Indy is not about second. I mean, if you go back three years ago and say who finished third, who finished fourth, who finished second? Nobody knows. And nobody cares. Indy is all about winning.

Q: Robby, you worked with A. J. before. If I recall, you kind of drove him into retirement here at this place. Can you talk about how each of you are different this time around? Or what's changed? How you've matured? How your relationship is different?

GORDON: Come on. You really don't think I drove him into retirement do you? Okay. I just wanted to make sure. You know, it's very similar. Actually, A. J. understands the Speedway very well, maybe as good or better than anybody. Any race engineer, any team owner, or any driver, because he has been in Victory Lane as all three. To get the opportunity to drive for A.J. was really good for me. I really needed that in my career at that time. And at this time now. You know, he is the man around the Speedway. If we could do everything right next Sunday - or Sunday after Sunday, we could be in a good position to pull down Victory Lane. You know the year we choked it up and ran out of gas, his team ended up winning. So I know he knows how to prepare a car to get to Victory Lane. So my confidence is there.

Q: How do you think you're different in the eight years, whatever, six years that's been? Have you changed as a driver?

GORDON: I think I definitely changed as a driver. I mean, you know, I actually had a talk with Casey the other day, Mears, because I went through the same deal. Same corner, same deal the first year I was here. And this place is so different that you go out one time with a setup and if you go out two hours later, the track will be different and the car will handle different. You have to approach this place very cautiously. I think the last six years being here - or six races I've been here, I've learned a lot. Learned from the good things and from the bad things I've done and tried to build on that. And, you know, I think coming back and driving for A.J. this year, I have a lot more experience than I did the first year here. Things are going very smooth. It is very unfortunate for Eliseo, his accident yesterday. He lost an engine. It was not his fault. And, you know, we just - we didn't need that as a team going into the Indy 500. I think he will definitely be a threat. He is very competitive. He is running second in the IRL championship right now, and you can't count him out either.

KING: Questions?

Q: Robby, what's A.J.'s mood like right now with all the stuff that's happened with Eliseo?

GORDON: I think our qualifying effort yesterday helped the mood. I am sure, you know, I'll get a card maybe some day from Eliseo thanking me because A.J. will be off his ass a little bit. But, you know, it's - the mood is good. I mean, the cars are the same. We basically have the same setup on the car every day. So I know they can take exactly what I ran, stick it on Eliseo's car. I think they may even be breaking the back of my car apart today to put it on Eliseo's car. I'm not quite sure. That's what teams does, they share parts, share information. I think it will be good. I think we will have a good two-car effort in for the Indy 500.

Q: That black eye is from the accident, not A.J. right?

GORDON: I don't know. I was in the front of trailer one time with A.J. I could tell you guys some stories. No, I'm just kidding. I think I got grabbed by the neck once, but it's cool. I take that as a compliment coming from A J.

KING: Greg, I'm curious, given your considerable abilities and the fact that you didn't even start coming here until you were almost 30 years old, do you ever wonder what you might have already accomplished here had you started coming to Indianapolis when you were in your early 20s?

RAY: I mean, you can't really look - you can't look back at what if and all that kind of thing. But certainly, yeah, I mean, you do. You look at the records of people here, where they've had 10, 15, 20 races, and A.J. has had 30 some odd races and won four times. It's not easy. You need the time here. You need the experience. And I mean, you may have one good year, then you may have five or six more bad years. But certainly I would have given anything to have started racing when I was 12, 15 years old. And then moved into formula cars at a younger age. You know, when I started when I was 25, it was like I had done it all my life. I mean, the first time I hopped in a race car I won nine out of my 10 first races in Formula 2000, and everybody wanted to know what part of Europe I had been racing in because they had never heard of me. And surely, I didn't just start. And I just said, no, I just started. It's something that I really love doing. I don't know if any other driver will tell you this. I mean, Robby probably has been driving the better part of his life. For me, driving a race car is very much like when musicians probably play music. They get something personal out of it. It is almost a form of expression. And, you know, I just really, really enjoy driving race cars, and I wish I could have done it longer. I'm just happy that I was able to have a second chance and, you know, change of career midstream in my life. And very happy to be here.

KING: Questions.

Q: Robby, your car owner's noted for his versatility driving stock cars and road race cars and Indy cars. You're sort of cut from that same cloth. Could you talk a little bit about the differences in the driving styles between the open-wheel cars and stock cars? What you have to do to be fast, and what you have to do to get to the finish?

GORDON: Well, I think stock cars definitely taught me a lot about - open-wheel, you can drive a car a lot harder than you can drive a stock car just because the tires are - don't have the weight on top of them, they have more downforce, the cars are lighter. They're wider. So you can manhandle an Indy car a lot longer than you can a stock car. But I think, you know, if you take Greg Ray and you go down and put him in Tony Stewart's car, or you take Jeff Gordon and come and put him in Greg Ray's car, I think all the guys that are at the top of the level of racing, I think the team makes up probably 75-80 percent of the whole equation. If you're with the wrong situation, doesn't matter if the driver makes 25 percent, all the drivers that are at this level make 15-20 percent of that, and then the really good ones make up that extra five percent. But it all depends on what team, car, engineering staff, you know, engines. There's so many variables. Chemistry. There are so many things that make up the difference. And I believe if you can drive a race car, you can drive a race car. I think Jeff Gordon proved you can go straight from Sprint cars to NASCAR. Tony Stewart has gone from Sprint cars to Indy cars to NASCAR. He has won in both series. I think I missed it just a little bit on the NASCAR side having the tools to do my job down there. And, you know, if I ever get with the right situation with the right tools, I think I can be competitive in Winston Cup too. Just like anybody else. You can put Greg Ray there, he would be competitive with the right chemistry and right team.

Q: Greg, there was a lot of talk with all the outside teams coming in from CART and so forth, but now we look at front row, we've got the three best teams from IRL sitting out there. Is that a tribute to what we've done in our league?

RAY: Well, I mean, it's a little difficult to answer that because like I said, I have a lot of respect for all the great teams and drivers in CART. I have a lot of respect for all the great teams and drivers in Winston Cup. But I get a little angry sometimes that a lot of great teams and drivers over in the IRL maybe don't get the credit they deserve. The last four or five years there's been a lot of teams and drivers, and team engineers and mechanics and groups of guys that have really come together. And let me tell you something, the Buddy Laziers, the Scott Sharps, the Jeff Wards, these guy are tenacious. These are damned good racers. And you know I don't think you can just say it's one series or the other. There's a lot of great guys here. A lot of great guys there too. Bringing them all together only makes it better for everybody.

KING: Greg, I would like to get your reaction to this. Tony took some pretty vicious shots at Team Menard the other night on ESPN. I'm curious - I know you guys are pretty intense to begin with, but does it turn it up another notch?

RAY: He doesn't bother me one way or the other. He can say what he wants to. So it's his own opinion. I just - I don't really feel the need to respond to Tony Stewart at all.

KING: I was curious how you would answer that, thanks. Questions?

Q: Greg, take us a little - back to when you were 25 and what made you get back into racing or get into racing? Was there any one thing or anything that just triggered that you had to do it at this age at this time?

RAY: No, I mean I think - I've told the story a bunch. I mean, I really think as a kid we all fantasize about playing basketball out in the driveway and wanting to be Michael Jordan. Or being on the football field and wanting to be Joe Montana. The fantasies you have or dreams you have as children never really leave you. That's why they're so many sports fans even today in all sports. I always just, for some reason - I mean, what makes one kid like baseball, one kid like basketball, the next guy like racing. I have no idea what it is. But from a very early age my parents were very protective. I never had minibikes, go-karts, jet skis, none of that stuff. Just wasn't available to me. Not that they didn't want me to have it, but there were just very protective. I never had the opportunity to have it. Always dreamed about it. Wanted to do it. And just kind of put it out of my mind for a long time. After I had the opportunity to go to college and get in business for myself, and become you know financially successful, at some point in time it was like, well, how many more cars do you need. Or how many more houses do you need. How many more companies are you going to start? It's like what's next? At a certain point it's not about money; it's about your life and living your life the way you want to do it and doing something with your life. And I'd always dreamed about doing it I was basically watching a racing show back in May of 1991, and some guy made a mistake on the racetrack and I became an armchair driver at that moment, like everybody's an armchair quarterback on Sunday. And, you know, I just said, well, if you think you're so good, why don't you try it? I kind of asked myself that question. I didn't have an answer why I shouldn't try it, and I did. It was more than I every imagined. I think we all fantasize what it's like to throw a football, but we've all thrown a football. All fantasize what it's like to hit a baseball. We've all done that. I fantasized about driving race cars, because I had a couple Porsches and occasionally broke the speed limit, thought I knew what it was all about. Let me tell you something, you have to idea what it's about. Drivers are among a certain club, because to get out on this racetrack or any other racetrack and do 180, 190, or 230 miles an hour in a circle, the speed of the visual senses you have, the physical feelings you have, you know, and controlling this car that's slipping and sliding around, it's very overpowering. Something I desperately love. I know all these other drivers do, too. It's a great thing. And I'm glad that - even at the age of 25 people said I was absolutely stupid to try it. You know, like you're too old. You can't do it. Forget about it. You know sometimes being tenacious and naive at the same time is very valuable.

Q: Did you - if I can back it up a little bit, did you go into it as a hobby and then ease into being a professional, or did you go it into it and say hey ...

RAY: I went into it with the fantasy of Indy cars. I said, well, if you're going to do Indy cars, you need to find out if you can drive a race car. Started with Formula 2000 and really went all across the country in the amateur series and pro series looking for competition. I didn't want to just drive, I wanted to find who I was reading about was the best drivers from anywhere in the country, or Canada, or Mexico. Only way to measure yourself is to go race. I mean, you know, Robby Gordon is a great driver. And Scott Sharp is a great driver. Jeff Ward is a great driver. Buddy Lazier is a great driver. But how do you know where you sit in the big mix of things until you get out there and race? I was constantly looking for a challenge. And once I felt like I could meet the challenge, I wanted to move up. And just went from 2 liter cars to Atlantic cars to Indy Lights cars, and then to Indy car.

Q: Robby, what's your plan for June 1st?

GORDON: Man, I've been wanting to say this for a long time. I can go to Texas. McClure's going to pay me to go to Texas. He's going to pay me to go to the beach. I am going to get to wake-board. I love that guy. No, it's - there's a couple opportunities opening up. I'm going to try to put a program together for the Brickyard 400. That's a race I really would like to compete in this year. I feel with the right situation, we can be just as competitive at that race in qualifying as we were for this race. And that's one of the next deals. There's two road course races coming up in Winston Cup. I feel we have a good shot at winning both of those. We ran in the top 10 last year, finishing top five in one of them, top 10 in the other one. We're going to put a program together for that. And June 1st I think I'm in Baja. Baja 500 race that weekend, the weekend after. So I've got enough stuff going on to keep me busy. Actually kind of nice sitting back being a free agent, being able to look around and pick the best opportunity. I've been going 15 years now. Greg was talking about racing. I've been doing this for 15 years, you know, 30-plus races a year. And it's nice to sit back and grasp it in a little bit and think about what step you're going to take next. You know, A. J. Foyt prepares a good race car. I don't know what's there. I'm not trying to start any rumors, but I've always been a cat and once you get thrown, I always land on my feet running wide open. I'm looking forward to the next few months.

Q: Just to follow up. Is the Brickyard as important to you as the Indianapolis 500?

GORDON: Man, that's a tough one. I'm going to say no. Growing up I always wanted to win the Indy 500. That's been one of my goals. And that was almost a deal breaker with Larry McClure when I negotiated the deal. Because I wanted to come back and complete at the Indy 500 so bad. And I know how much this race means to me. I can remember as a kid waking up watching A. J. Foyt, Rick Mears, and Danny Sullivan when he spun coming out of Turn 1. There was some exciting moments on Memorial Day weekend watching the Indy 500. Now to get the opportunity to compete in the Indy 500 again and be on the front row, I'm really looking forward to this year's Indy 500.

KING: We're joined by Scott Sharp, our pole sitter. Like Robby, he will be making his first front row start here as he gets on Robby about his attire.

GORDON: See, Scott - I wore them for Scott because Tony said that Scott wore girls' shoes. So I figured if I come to the press conference with socks and sandals, I could probably fit in with you.

SCOTT SHARP: You do fit in with me now. Thanks for wearing those.

GORDON: You're welcome.

KING: Scott, congratulations. It was a great run yesterday. Scott's four-lap average, 226.037. Your third lap was your quickest at 226.423. Your seventh start here. Interesting to note that in Greg and Scott, you have the two most successful drivers in Indy Racing League history, and they're tied at top the all-time win chart right now. Maybe the tie will be broken on May 27th. Scott, a little bit about being the pole sitter for the Indianapolis 500.

SHARP: It's obviously really exciting for the entire team. We weren't really - I don't think we had the confidence. We knew we had a good car. We ran well in practice. As I said in a lot of interviews, we never strung a qualifying run together. And we tried to do that on Friday and the conditions really weren't very good. It was quite windy and it was hard to put four laps together. We never did it. Then my engineer chose to not run yesterday morning. So it was a bit of a - you know a fair amount of anxiety heading into the qualifying run because I didn't know what the car was going to be like on the third or fourth laps. Obviously, we had shown some speed throughout the week. But I was expecting certainly one of these two guys, if not a few others to maybe crank more out than we had. I was pretty astonished when I kept looking down at my dash and seeing the lap-after-lap we were able to put together.

KING: Not to cast a pall on this. But you credited - one of your first statements out of car yesterday was crediting Ilmor with the Oldsmobile engines that you guys ran. And just a couple hours later, we found out that Paul Morgan had died in a plane crash. How in any way does that affect the team? Does it? And any statement you would like to make regarding his loss.

SHARP: I had never met Paul, but, obviously, it's a real tragedy. I heard a lot of things about him. His son has been here helping us this week. So it was a really sad day, obviously, for everyone with Ilmor. And they've done a fantastic job for us when you think about the fact that how much time and effort most of the engine builders have had with these engines the last four years. And Ilmor had just had a motor dyno for the first time in December. To think how far they've come in five, six months. Pretty amazing. They told us by Indy we would be where we needed to be. And we are. So, obviously, big hats off to them and the job they've done.

KING: By the way, this is an all Oldsmobile powered front row. Team Menard, of course, engineers their own engine. Has their own shop. Scott, as he said, they run Ilmor. Robby, you run Speedway Oldsmobile engines?

GORDON: A. J. built it in the garage.

KING: Did he? You're in a Foyt Oldsmobile engine.

GORDON: It's a Foyt-Roush combination. A.J.'s working with Roush closely.

KING: Questions for our three front row sitters and for Scott Sharp, who has joined us.

Q: Scott, tell us about the wait yesterday. You set your time pretty early and still had some pretty good cars sitting there all afternoon long waiting for that 5 p.m. Happy Hour to go. What were you are doing all day long?

SHARP: It was pretty rough. Most of my days here at the Speedway go by pretty quick. Yesterday afternoon was a long afternoon. As I said over the PA, you know one time I looked at my watch thinking it's got to be 3:30, and it was only 1:30. So it was one of those long afternoons. There were probably five or six cars we felt were - we came in yesterday morning best case we could be on the pole. Worse case probably sixth or seventh. So all those guys we felt had a serious chance, certainly with Greg, we were waiting for that, and felt that once happy hour rolled around, that's when it really got tough. It was all right until 4:30, and then all of a sudden we knew it was coming. Everyone lined up. Especially when my teammate, Robby right behind, then Greg, Ward was in there. It was like really nerve racking. But one by one we got through them. Pretty good sigh of relief when it was finally over. We were waiting for Greg to pull out a backup and go again. But they decided not to. I said, "Whew."

KING: Questions?

Q: Greg, on that, you know John has done that before. He did it with Scotty in '96. Did you ever go to him and say, "I can beat that number. Let's pull out the other car."

RAY: I really believe that. I mean, we could have been a little bit quicker. I mean, we didn't nail the setup just right. But I didn't think that we had four 226s in a row. I mean, we threw everything at it but the kitchen fence. They just did a great job. It was a stressful day. I know what he is talking about. You feel like you're tied to a fence. They're out there taking a shot at you. Just missing you by these little shots. I'm sure it was stressful for him. But yesterday was absolutely one of the most stressful days for me too. We do have good cars, good engines, good teams. We knew we could do it. We just couldn't find the balance in the car. The first qualifying attempt was really bad - I shouldn't say bad. Our first lap 224.9, but the car was pretty evil and it wasn't nearly as fast. It was a mile an hour off. And, I mean, I really felt like we gave it our best shot. No excuses. We could have maybe done 225.8s and maybe put a little more front wing in the car, made it a little more edgy. It was already very edgy anyway. And track cooling, you pick up different types of downforce. The wind still was kicking right there in the evening. So I felt like we gave it our best shot. And, you know, I'm very proud of all the guys. And it's just an honor to say that Team Kelley did a better job than us that day.

KING: Greg, I know you've got another commitment. Do we have any other questions for Greg because we need to release him. Anyone else? Greg thank you very much for your time. Congratulations on another front row start.

Q: Robby, can you take us through the - your emotions a couple years ago when you were leading with two laps to go and ran out of fuel and allowed your current car owner to be the winner?

GORDON: (Laughter). Yeah, we made a mistake. I mean, you know, looking back at it. It's always easy to look back and play armchair quarterback later and say, if we would have done this, if we would have done that. Pretty simple. If we would have stopped for a splash of fuel, we still would have been the first car back on the racetrack. That year we had a very, very good race car. I've got to be honest. We played most of the day. We played three quarters throughout most of the day. And when we decided to run hard at the end, we were running 220 laps in the race and we were really strong. So, you know, I think learning from that experience, I think, you know, I'll be smarter from the cockpit on helping with some of those calls. A.J., he knows what it takes around this place. He knows what it takes as far as fuel mileage. We gambled when we shouldn't have. We had the strong enough car to win the race. We shouldn't have gambled. We were gambling on one more lap of caution. And who would think in the last 40 laps of the Indy 500 you go caution free. You go back and look at the statistics on it. We had all that stuff printed out. We felt we were very well prepared and it bit us. And so, you know, that's the challenges of racing. You can't count on anything because the next minute it changes. And it's the teams that recover to those changes the quickest are the teams that get to Victory Lane.

Q: Scott, Robby is talking about an "almost" - and there's a lot of those at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Can you talk a little bit about your history here in the race and what has gone on in the different races here that have been problems for you or been very positive?

SHARP: First of all - and this is my favorite track. The moment I - I'll never forget the first time I went out on the warm-up lane at rookie orientation and looked down that long back straightaway. A chill just wend down my back. Honestly, I feel privileged to drive every lap here. There's something special about driving every lap here compared to any racetrack. That's good because you come here really enjoying the place, ought to help you do better. Had great practice laps. Done fairly well in qualifying. But never really had a good, strong race here. Always seems like little things have bit us. Sometimes big things. But my first year in '94, I had a stuck transmission, spent I think 10 laps in the pits or something. '95, with A.J., I blew a tire and hit the wall on Turn 4. '96, finished 10th. Got in some - blew motors with about four laps to go. '97, I missed the race. '98, blew a gearbox with 16 laps to go. '99, we sort of overheated on the warmup - on the pit lane deal - on the pace lap. Then - yeah, I forgot to do that. Then 2000 was really I think the best race we've had. Finished 10th last year, but we had a fuel problem, lost over a lap in the pits over the course of the race with a fueling malfunction. I have loved racing here. Indy 500 is a fun race to be a part of. It's exciting. The draft is so big. The pit stops, strategy. But just haven't been able to put the package together. I'm pretty enthused this year. We clearly have the best chance I've ever had. Certainly the best chance the team has ever had. I think we have the best people certainly we've ever had. I come with a lot of excitement.

Q: Scott, what is your race strategy starting from the pole? And is that any different from what it would be starting, say, in the second or third row?

SHARP: We haven't discussed much of that. I think we're still on the elation of the pole. But I don't think it will be any different. We pretty much stick to our game plan. We came here and our focus is May 27th. It was wonderful that we were able to find some speed fairly easily. Because we weren't one of the high-mileage cars this week. We didn't run a lot compared to other people. The speed came pretty quickly for us. So I think that's what gave us a chance to run for the front row. Obviously, ended up running for the pole. Regardless, we sort have been on a game plan very focused on the 27th. I think we have picked out a race pace that we feel we want to run. And we'll go run that. And obviously, most of the goal is to be there for the final 25 laps. So probably worry about what position you're in when that time comes.

KING: Scott, at least for the start of the event, is it an advantage at all having your teammate running right behind you?

SHARP: I mean, obviously, Mark and I have a lot of respect for each other. We race each other very cleanly, so that's nice to know. You're so quickly into traffic here, that I think maybe a straight - you know, it's wonderful for the whole team, whole Delphi team to be able to start where we are. A lot of praise for the guys and all the jobs they've done. I think maybe it is a little bit safer for the first 10 laps because you're ahead of maybe some would-be problems. But like I said, once you're in the traffic, to me, you spend most of your day in traffic here.

Q: Both of you guys, Robby and Scott, have been considered potentially very big stars in this sport over the years. How would winning Indy - how much would that mean to your careers to both of you guys?

SHARP: It's, in my mind, immeasurable. Really. I mean, it's the race to win in your career if you're fortunate enough to get that. I've seen a lot of great drivers obviously come here haven't been able to win. So you have to do the best you can and hope the man above is shining on you that day. >From the same side of that, while it would be probably the biggest thing that ever happened in my life, the next day I still get out of bed and hug my kids, and put my clothes on the same way.

GORDON: It's - like Scott said, it's - it is the biggest race in the world. It is the race that I've always dreamed of. And you know, I don't know how things would change. I mean, you know, would things have changed with my career if I would have won in '99? Who knows. Things happen for a reason. And you can't dwell on that. You have to build from each experience. So the Indy 500 is a very, very important race for me. Will it change my career? Time will tell. You know, we've got to position ourselves to get to Victory Lane first. And going to have to have a lot of luck. This place, you know, you can - we've seen the fastest guys dominate this race before and lose a fuel pump. Michael Andretti, the year with the Cosworth. He had everybody so covered. Mario and A.J. had the races won before but something has happened. You have to have a bit of luck. You have to have good pit stops. Can't make any mistake. Roberto Guerrero had this race won before and stalled in the pits. Can you blame it all on him? Probably not. Maybe the clutch was dragging. So many variables. So many things that happen. At Indianapolis you have to have a lot of luck. You have to work real hard. And you've got to dot all I's and cross all your T's. That's one thing we're going to do this week. Like Scott said, it's a great race. It would be a lot of fun to get to Victory Lane and see what happens from here.

Q: Scott, we've talked about it before, but let's discuss again what it has meant to be with the same team over a period? How you have been able to develop and get a feel for everybody?

SHARP: Well, certainly what is nice is having upper management, obviously Tom Kelley and Jim Freudenberg, and my teammate, Mark Dismore, having that core of us together now for four years. Certainly Tom, Mark, and myself, we know how each other operates. We get along extremely well. We finally - this year is the first year, at least from my side, that we have had the continuity of the crew. We're already seeing big benefits of that. My core guys, obviously, my crew chief, Robert Perez and a few other of my lead mechanics were all here last year. We haven't changed that. They almost operate without having to even talk to each other. They're so fluid with each our. Biggest thing for Kelley Racing, we've finally taken that next step. Hiring Tim Bumps as our team manager was a big step. Added some leadership. Jeff Britton was an engineer I really wanted for a while. We were able to get him at the last race last year, which added some continuity over the winter. Had a lot time for him to get fluid with the team. I just think while we've kept with real good core people, we've made some great additions. I think we've got a killer group of people right now. I wouldn't want to change anybody.

KING: Scott, I've got to assume there was a little bit of celebrating last night. Did Tom give Kelley Racing the day off, or will you be back out today?

SHARP: Do my eyes look like that much - there was a little bit of celebrating. Everyone came over to my house actually. It was a mellow evening, though. Yeah, we're not going to run today. Actually, I think they're taking the engine out of my car. Per the rules, the guy who wins the pole, they want to tear the engine down. So after the photos are over, my guys will spend this morning taking the engine out. And I think everyone else has the afternoon off.

KING: I also notice you have a pretty good blister on your left hand. Were you gripping the wheel that tight yesterday or was that a previous injury?

SHARP: No, I had to go down to that new Racers track above Union Station. I drove for an hour and a half the other night at a Delphi function. I looked down, I had this huge blister. Luckily it is on the right hand.

KING: So it doesn't affect anything in the car?

SHARP: No, it will be healed by time I have to race. I knew there would be some little comment from him.

Q: Scott, Robby, we've been covering you for some time. Is there some area professionally we haven't written about you or some misconception you would like to talk about?

SHARP: For Robby? Want to talk about your socks? Was that for Robby or for me?

Q: Both.

SHARP: I think you've covered it.

GORDON: You must be talking about me? Hey, I give you guys something to write about. You know, every week is interesting and different. And hopefully it's exciting for you guys as it is for me. And, you know, the one thing about it, I just love to race cars. I hope you guys understand that. And my desire to win is equal or more to anybody in this field or any other field of any form of racing.

SHARP: How do you know?

GORDON: Because I stay up later and get up earlier than you do.

KING: Robby, do you enjoy the fact that you're a little unpredictable? People don't really draw a bead on you as far as what you're going to be doing next.

GORDON: That's kind of cool. Next week I may take up being a fighter pilot. Who knows. I've been pretty fortunate. I must say that I'm very, very lucky because I adapt to things very quick. It doesn't matter, you know, if it's water skiing or snow skiing or driving racecars. I think that's something that - I'm a stud, as Scott would say. I'm not a stud. How do you say it, it's - why I'm the king of the world. No, I'm just kidding. Doesn't matter what kind of car it is. I've been able to adapt to it. And the last couple of years haven't been that good, but Indianapolis has always been a lot of fun. And every time we show up here we're competitive. I'm looking forward to the race and looking forward to seeing what you media guys write the next week. See if I can get a good laugh out of it.

Q: Scotty, how did you celebrate last night?

SHARP: By the time I got home, it was about 8:30. Shortly thereafter, everyone from the team came over. So we pretty much just had a lot of food and listened to some music and a couple of cocktails. Nothing much. We all knew we had to be down here at 8 a.m.. Everyone was on pretty good behavior. Really just relaxed more than anything. Wasn't too crazy.

Q: How long do you feel pumped up after the day was over and you're like this and boy I'm on the pole. How long does that last that feeling?

SHARP: Probably until the green flag drops. And I think it's a great accomplishment for the team, and I feel happy. You know, it's great for Tom Kelley, great for Delphi, great for the guys that have been here so long to see that the team has finally gotten to a level we've all strived for. We will keep striving to keep moving the team forward. I think we all, saying that, realize what the main focus here is, and that is the 500 miles. It's the 27th of May. And it's a great accomplishment, but we want to start looking toward the race.

KING: Scott, not to imply that you've ever been jinxed here, but obviously you've come to this race before with people pointing to you as favorite and some strange things have happened. Winning the pole for the first time, do you feel like to any degree you've gotten a monkey off your back by taking this step?

SHARP: I don't really worry about that a whole lot, Mike. I felt that I like the place so much. I feel that I've been - certainly with Kelley Racing I know I am with a great team that's going to provide me some opportunities. If we have to keep coming back year after year, I've felt sooner or later we'll have a good race here. So hopefully this is that year.

Q: Scott, the career path you followed to Indy is a little different than many of the drivers you'll be racing against coming out of amateur road racing, TransAm championships, and prototype sports cars. Now you're competing in an all-oval series. Can you talk about some of the skills you acquired in road racing that has helped you in this series or some of the car control skills that maybe you missed by not doing Sprint cars and midgets and ovals as an young driver?

SHARP: Robby and I are laughing because the first time we raced against each other was TransAm cars at Long Beach. He pulled a dirty move to win the race. But anyway, it was, good you won. So I guess that's all that matters. When I look back on it or someone asks me a question how did you end up in Indy car running road racing sedans. That's sort of strange. It was quite a big step for me. More than I realized, I think, at the time to go from a TransAm car to an Indy car because I didn't have any aerodynamic experience. I had zero oval experience. And I think that showed probably a bit my first year. And, honestly, the only good side of all of that was I was so ripe for learning that I was fortunate enough to hook up with A.J. in '95 and I was just with eyes wide open to try to learn about ovals, and he obviously is the master of teaching it. He has probably had 20 different drivers that he has coached over the years and he mold - I think in a lot of ways taught me how to drive the ovals. Taught me how you want to set up a car. What you want the car to feel like. And so in a lot of ways molded my style. So from that standpoint, maybe if I had been given that opportunity but had had a bunch of years of midgets and Sprint cars, I probably would have already had a style that would have been harder to change. So maybe from that side it was all - it all worked out the right way.

KING: One more so we can let these guys get back to the garage area. Do we have one last question? Maybe that was the last one. Do you want the discuss the dirty move?

SHARP: He admitted it was a dirty move.

KING: Is that right.

Q: Scott, you were talking about driving for A.J. He drives for A.J. Even Greg drove a couple races for A.J. What is it about A.J. that seems to attract drivers and make them better?

SHARP: He just scares you? No. You know, I think you know with A.J. first of all, he has an unbelievable memory. A.J. can tell you what springs he had on his Sprint car back in 1970 at Springfield. It's just amazing what the guy can remember. So he doesn't even have notes or anything most of the time. And what I was amazed about, I don't know about Robby, the first time I ever got in a car, I had always been an engineer that did one little change, wrote down what it did. Next little change. I got here at the Speedway, he did like six or seven changes at once. Wings, tires, ride height, change this spring right here. I said, "Whoa, this thing's going to go crash." It was right on. That's what always I was really amazed about at A.J. Anywhere we went, he would make this cluster of changes, but the car 99 times out of 100 would go forward in the right direction. So I think, you know, just obviously he has been very successful. So I think most young drivers feel like they can learn a lot have the chance to do really well with him. So it's a big attraction. Remember when I got through that corner when that guy crashed, I caught you real fast?

KING: He wants to pose the same question to Robby.

GORDON: Which one, the dirty move or A.J.?


GORDON: See, he passed me under a caution so I was pissed. I lifted because there was an endangered person. I balloon footed because there was a guy crossing the track. So I got pissed and I shoved him a little. I parked him. No, A.J. - A.J. told me, plain and simple - it was the same corner. He told me, wreck him. And Jack Roush only told me to park you.

SHARP: Oh. (Laughter).

GORDON: That was the only Trans-Am race I ever raced.

SHARP: Nine years ago.

GORDON: It was a long time ago. And I knew I couldn't go back to TransAm because Scott was going to spin me out if I went back. He was going to wreck me. A.J. has a knack for the ovals for sure. He understands the cars. And, you know, it's amazing how much - actually, I probably could say this in a different way. I bet he has forgot more than a lot of guys know about this place. He just keeps remembering what it takes. And he, again, surprised me yesterday because we sat around all day and he watched the wind, he watched the track. And said, "OK, this is what we're going to do." We're going to do this, this, and this, and we're going to go qualify. It's like, man, is it going to stick? And I guess having the confidence in A.J., our first lap was as quick as anybody's. And I thought we were really going to have a legitimate shot at Scott after Lap 1. But you know, I got a little conservative out there on the track and, you know, I adjusted the front bar a little too much and I pushed on Lap 2. And it just took a few more laps to recover after that. Lap 3 was slow because of the push. And, you know, it was - we missed it a little bit and Scott hit it right on. And I think that just shows how competitive IRL racing is. And it doesn't matter if you're a Winston Cup driver like Tony Stewart or CART team like the two monster CART teams that are here. Those are the two best CART teams in the business with Penske and Ganassi here. And to have IRL teams on the front, it's a big accomplishment for IRL, and shows how much these guys have learned on tuning these types of race cars. You can't show up here and think you're going to dominate. I know Ganassi did it last year. Like I said, you've got to get lucky every once in a while too. And Montoya is a very good race car driver, too.

KING: Scott, congratulations on your first pole. Robby, to you, good luck and congratulations on your first front-row start. Thanks for being here. Most of you have a telephone, so call your mother's and wish them happy Mother's Day.

GORDON: Thanks.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Scott Sharp , Mark Dismore , Michael Andretti , Roberto Guerrero , Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan , Jack Roush , Joe Montana , Paul Morgan