IRL: Nazareth: Winning team press conference

Firestone Indy 225 Nazareth Speedway Scott Sharp, Tom Kelley April 21, 2002 Moderator: Very exciting finish for the Firestone Indy 225. Scott, congratulations. What was going through your mind the last couple of laps? Were you aware of his ...

Firestone Indy 225
Nazareth Speedway
Scott Sharp, Tom Kelley
April 21, 2002

Moderator: Very exciting finish for the Firestone Indy 225. Scott, congratulations. What was going through your mind the last couple of laps? Were you aware of his status?

Scott Sharp: I knew during the yellow the team had calculated they thought Gil (de Ferran) had about three gallons left. When they said that to me, I looked at my fuel meter and waited for the fuel to come down. We went way beyond three gallons. I figured I didn't know what was going on. The last few laps it was tough to try to pass Gil. Obviously, as you all witnessed, tough to pass period here. I got a great run on him, catch him in the middle of (Turn) 2, the front end would wash out, like an arrow push. Really nothing I could do about it. Then basically I saw him start to lift going into the corners, which is what you do to save fuel. I knew he had to be close. But then next thing I knew, we cross the start/finish line with the white flag. I figured that's it. Just kept the hammer down. All of a sudden right in the middle of (Turn) 2, he really just stopped, obviously. I just jerked the car to the right. Then I was more worried about Giaffone. I was in sixth gear, slammed the gear down, just stood on it. Thought we were going to crash, I wasn't going to lose the race (laughter).

Moderator: Tom, what was your reaction? Obviously, you were aware of the situation.

Tom Kelley: Right. We talked about it prior to the race, that we could stop. 120 was probably absolutely the earliest we'd think about it. We'd need a little yellow to help that. We new the fuel strategy was probably the only way to win for us today, starting 11th. Then when we got moved back to the back of the pack, it really became important. We knew we had enough fuel there at the end. We just told Scott to push Gil as hard as he possibly could. Fortunately, maybe that ate up an extra half of gallon or whatever it took for him to run out at the end.

Moderator: Scott set a record today. This is his seventh win, career win, Indy Racing League win, but also a sixth consecutive year he has a win in IRL. That is a league record. We'll open it up for questions.

Q: When you got put to the back of the line, after the pits, did you kind of figure then you were going to have to make some big gambles in order to win this race?

Scott Sharp: Yeah. We all knew, it's just really a tough place to pass. We said that to ourselves going in. Tougher than we all expected, quite honestly. I think we all thought with our levels of downforce, it would be easier. Maybe if the temperatures were warmer, it would have been. I don't know, I felt really bad that I nailed Rick (Rinaman), but it's such tight boxes, I knew I had to get in. I had it all lined up. He came over, I ran over him. "How did that happen?" He came over and apologized-&-not apologized, but said he took a step back as I rolled in there. Nothing I could have done. I didn't feel that was right getting penalized for it, but I guess rules are rules.

Q: Did you feel your wheel hit him?

Scott Sharp: I felt myself just run over something with my left rear tire.

Q: Can you describe, you're chasing down Gil, but Giaffone is not letting up. Can you describe holding off both?

Scott Sharp: It was extremely nerve-wracking. It's all momentum here. We were really quick in (Turn) 3. You know, if you're on your own, you're pretty much close to flat. You're flat through (Turn) 1, almost flat through (Turn) 2. I was faster than Gil. If I would catch right up behind him, I would wash out. I had to take a big lift. Next thing I knew Giaffone is in my mirror getting a huge run on me. It was really almost having to pace yourself between maybe lifting a little early so you didn't get such a bad wash-out to try to keep your momentum up. It was back and forth. I just had to do whatever I had to do to keep him behind me and still try to keep pushing Gil as hard as possible. They told me to push Gil as hard as you can, let's try to run him out of fuel.

Q: First three races didn't exactly go the way you wanted them to. Could you talk a little bit about how this will help you with your momentum for Indianapolis?

Tom Kelley: For the team it really helps. Scott had a really good test down there last week, which I think took everybody up a level from where we had been. To pull one out of hat and beat my dear friend Roger (Penske) in his home territory, even though he's my hero, it's nice to beat him, I guess like beating Tiger Woods or something like that. It's just great to have the lift for the guys. They've been trying so hard. Things just haven't quite gone our way. But, you know, I want to thank the guys for working real hard. I want to thank Steve (Newey) who has helped us here at Nazareth, and gave us some insights since most of us never raced here before. Steve had raced here quite a bit. I thank him and everybody working together. It was a team effort because we knew where we qualified, we weren't going to pass that many cars to win the race, we had to do it in the pits. Scott did a great job of listening and doing what we asked him to do on saving fuel.

Scott Sharp: All the guys. Before the race Tom said in our meeting, 'You do your job, don't take chance, keep the car in there, we'll try to do whatever we can in the pits.' They more than did their part. It was awesome. I think the biggest thing, we didn't start the year off the way we really wanted. Had a bit of misfortune in the first couple races. Really put or heads down and tried to say, "How do we change things? What do we do differently?" Came here, probably had the best short oval test we had. Backed that up with a fabulous test at the Speedway. Now to come here and win, I'd say everyone is riding pretty high heading into May.

Q: Tell us about that little shunt there with Giaffone.

Scott Sharp: Shunt? I don't think we touched.

Q: Didn't you touch?

Scott Sharp: I never felt anything.

Q: It sure looked like it.

Scott Sharp: Was it that close? I was looking at Gil (laughter).

Q: You didn't see him then? What do you remember?

Scott Sharp: I mean, sitting right in this room this morning, Brian (Barnhart) said, "If you're not up alongside somebody, it's the job of the inside, overtaking car, to back out of the corner." It's such a one-groove track in a lot of ways, you're down. You have to be on the bottom. If you weren't right there, you're not responsible for having to give the guy the room. So there was enough times I stuck my nose in and people came across on me today. I knew he had some momentum. We had to go. 10 laps to go, any man's deal.

Q: Talk a little bit about how valuable the momentum is going back to Indy because I'm sure that after last year's race, you had that in the back of your mind, redeem yourself.

Scott Sharp: The big thing for me was getting back on the track, which was just awesome. Last week I ran right out of the box, just hammer down, wanted to put some numbers up, get back to being comfortable. We were able to do that. Now I feel like it's all behind me. I'm just excited for May. It's my favorite track. I can't wait to get back May 6th, May 5th, whatever opening day is.

Q: Scott, you have an Ilmor-prepared Chevy engine. So did Gil and Felipe. During the yellow, before you went green, did you start thinking, "We all have the same stuff, I know what they can do"? What were your thoughts?

Scott Sharp: Not really. On the previous yellow, when I pulled away from Helio, I was pretty surprised actually, because he's been setting the mark, both those guys, all week. That showed me just how strong a car we had. So with us being in the shape that Tom and the guys put me in, being full rich on fuel, I was sure Gil being fuel lean on fuel, I thought as long as we had enough laps to push him, I thought I probably had a better car than he did. I was more concerned where people were on fuel and trim settings and all that than I was what engine was in the car.

Q: How important is this event to the IRL? What did you think of the crowd?

Tom Kelley: I was very impressed with the turnout of people, considering the weather. I think they're going to try to move to it a little warmer date next year, which would be great. All I've heard about Nazareth all my life, the Andrettis live here, grew up here, Penske has a shop down the road. Nazareth I think is an extremely important part of our schedule. It sure has a lot of character for a track. It gives its owners a lot of gray hair trying to figure out how to call the race. Everybody looked at me, "Are you going to pit or aren't you?" (Laughter).

Scott Sharp: You made the right choice (laughter).

Tom Kelley: I guess I'm the only guy, if he screws up, doesn't get fired. But it's great, we love it. We look forward to coming back next year.

Scott Sharp: I think it's great that we're back, obviously from Connecticut, it's close, lot of friends and family that came today. I think it's great for us a sponsorship market, to be here, be people to draw people out of New York, Philly, or the surrounding cities. I was really impressed all weekend with the interest in the fans. They had some serious interest. You saw a lot more people than normal walking through the garage. I signed a lot of autographs Friday and Saturday, which are usually pretty slow days. It just seemed like they were not people that just sat up in the stands, people that were really hands on, checking all the different cars, wanting to meet all the different drivers. A lot more hardcore interest than I expected.

Q: Tom, after the Friday and Saturday with the temperatures, how big a change was needed today to make it work mechanically other than the tires?

Tom Kelley: It was a big change. We tried to guess. I think one advantage we had is when Scott and Al tested here, the temperatures were very similar. We had that data to go back on. In fact, I think it snowed one day actually or something. So it was cold. The morning warm-up was very, very crucial this morning because Scott went out, the car wasn't really good. We tried to see how far we could go on a set of tires. We got him pretty worn on the right rear, the car got pretty squirrelly. We had to figure out how far we could go. If the fuel would go longer than the tires, we were going to be in trouble, because that was the way for us to win this race. We had a good warm-up this morning. Learned a lot. We found out how far we could go. We used that today. We went 98 laps I think on that last pit stop. I think we stopped on 127 and we went to 225, with some yellow in there, still 98 laps on the tires. That really helped.

Q: Tom, do you ever feel some yo-yo puts on the Internet, Penske loses Mobil economy run, Sharp wins.

Tom Kelley: I'll take any win against Roger that I can get, whether he ran out of fuel or not, whether it was Mobil or what it was in there (laughter). Roger sets a standard that you just can't keep up with. We're in an engine program with Roger. I said it's like having an 800-pound gorilla as a partner because budgets go out the window when Roger wants to win something. I think it's phenomenal that Roger is here. He was always been my hero. As a kid growing up, his 11 wins were all when I was watching Indy. It's a thrill to be able to compete, nice to be able to beat him once in a while. He does said a standard that I think you have to be a John Menard to be able to keep up with, but we'll do the best from our standpoint.

Q: There have been some victories that have slipped away from you. Does a win like today kind of make up for the disappointment of those losses?

Scott Sharp: Yeah. I mean, you know, it's so hard to win these races these days, especially with the competition level in the IRL. It's pretty insane this year. You are just a little bit off, used to be maybe you were eighth or ninth, you're back in 14th, 15th. Some times this year we've been there. There's races like that that you're destined to win, something happens. We all have those every year. I think this is a real team effort. That was the biggest thing. Tom just did a great job. The guys did a fabulous job in the pits. We just put it all together. That's what we've been wanting to do more and more I think as a team, as we've grown, to rely on everybody, not just one or two individuals.

Q: Scott, Brian (Barnhart) made a decision two different times to keep you out there during some precipitation. Was the track ever close to going away from you?

Scott Sharp: Never got to that point. Got a little damp. He asked me a couple times. When it started raining, you didn't want to work your tires too hard. With enough cars out there, the minute it stopped, it dried really quick. It never got wet. He did the right calls. It would have been cheating the fans of some great racing if we stopped it. Obviously, it held off, it was dry 'til the end.

Q: Now that you're going into Indy, there's a lot more CART teams coming over, how much more tougher is this going to be for you guys that run regularly with the IRL, having all these new teams to face off with now?

Scott Sharp: Yeah, I don't think it is at all. The race to me, racing is so competitive right now, I don't think it gets any tougher than Roger Penske. He won the last two CART championships, won the Indianapolis 500. If you can beat him or run with him on a regular basis, I'm not saying that's where we are right now, but you're going to be able to run with everybody. Now that he's here, I don't worry about who else might come (laughter). I just think it makes that list of front cars maybe better. You know, like we talked about at the opening day press conference, there's probably really 25 guys that maybe can win the Indy 500 this year. That's pretty awesome.

Moderator: Scott, again, with your win, you continue a streak of six consecutive years of the IRL victory. Seventh win today. '96 co-champion, pole-sitter of last year's Indianapolis 500. Congratulations.

Scott Sharp: Thank you.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Sharp , Roger Penske