Menards Infiniti Pro Series Milwaukee 100 July 25, 2004 Paul Dana Ron Hemelgarn P.J. Chesson Al Unser MODERATOR: We're here with the second- and third-place finishers in the Milwaukee 100. P.J. Chesson, driving for Mo Nunn Racing, and Al ...
Menards Infiniti Pro Series
July 25, 2004
Paul Dana Ron Hemelgarn P.J. Chesson Al Unser
MODERATOR: We're here with the second- and third-place finishers in the Milwaukee 100. P.J. Chesson, driving for Mo Nunn Racing, and Al Unser, driving for Keith Duesenberg Racing and Western Union Speed Team.
A little bit of a bizarre race today, guys, but some great finishes. P.J., talk about your best finish so far this season.
P.J. CHESSON: The weekend started out not quite the way we had planned it to, but the guys, Butch (Winkle) and all the crew, (engineer) Brian (Welling), we kept working on the car, kept our heads up I guess the whole weekend, kept plugging away.
Our laps got better and better and better and better from the time we rolled out until, I guess, today. I'm really proud of my guys. They stuck with it, kept their heads in there, and we got better as the weekend went on, so it was good.
MODERATOR: A note about P.J. This is only his third Menards Infiniti Pro Series start, and the first time he ever sat in one of these cars was about a month ago at this track, correct?
P.J. CHESSON: Yes. I stuck it in the fence really hard (laughter).
MODERATOR: Better result today. Al, how about you? What was your impression of the race today?
AL UNSER: The race was pretty bizarre. I mean, I knew that -- I told P.J. after the driver's meeting, "All we have to do is finish this thing, and we'll have a good finish." I didn't think I'd be on the podium.
But, you know, all it took was us to finish. We had that crash right in the beginning, which I know he was right behind me, and I was right next to it.
I just didn't have the car today. We had been fighting the setup all weekend. I've got to give a shout out to my guys because they were definitely chasing it with me.
But we just tried to do -- I mean, each time we had to change something for the next session, and even before the race, I did a last-minute couple of changes. We just had a big push throughout the whole race. It got worse as it went on. That's how P.J. was finally able to get me.
MODERATOR: A note about Al's finish. This is also his third start, and he's finished in the top five in every race. Out of the three starts, this is his second third-place finish.
Q: P.J., the accident (involving Brad Pollard and Jesse Mason) happened in front of you. You were climbing up on Jesse. Could you have gotten by without the crash?
P.J. CHESSON: I know I was definitely faster than him. Whether or not I was willing to push the issue.... This race, for me, was more of an experience, gaining experience. I don't think it would have been very wise of me to maybe push it and end up like some of the other cars did today. Probably not. If I did have something for them, I probably would have waited just to get a little more seat time. I'm definitely wanting to drive by cars, don't get me wrong. But I'm done shaking hands with the wall at this place.
Q: P.J., it seemed like you were the fastest driver in the last 25 laps. Was there a plan to build towards that, evolve your car that way?
P.J. CHESSON: Not really. For me it was just more track time, you know, just working with the car, working on the line.
I wasn't sure which way to go with the car because I was driving the car around a problem that we might have had. So during the race and before the practice, I started driving the car differently, figuring out that I need to make it a car that goes where it needs to be, to run the proper line, and adjust the car to run there.
As the race went on, I kept focusing on running a line that I needed to run and working with the car, the weight jacker and anti-roll bar, to make the car go there. It was more experience for me than strategy.
Q: Was part of the learning process over the weekend learning the correct line around the track?
P.J. CHESSON: I'd say for me that was 99 percent of it. So the more comfortable I got with the line, the harder I could push the car. It all seemed to work out pretty well.
MODERATOR: Al, talk a bit about these last three events, coming in at the time your dad retired, having your dad and mom on site, being at such a historic track.
AL UNSER: Well, it's great to be here in Milwaukee at The Mile. This is a track that's over a hundred years old. It's always followed the Indianapolis 500, so I've always been here as a kid.
This was one of the first races, you know, when I got out of school, we got to go on the road at Indy, and we would show up here. This was the second one in line.
It's really great racing here. This past weekend has been definitely experience. I like racing in the Infiniti Pro Series. It's really nice. We've had a good challenge. We've had lots of good finishes.
I'm used to road-course racing, but I'm sure we'll get to that next year and be able to drive on a road course with everybody.
MODERATOR: We're joined now by Ron Hemelgarn, owner of Hemelgarn 91 Johnson Motorsports, and our winner, Paul Dana. This is Paul's first win in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. He finished second in the last two Pro Series events.
Paul, tell us about your day.
PAUL DANA: Long and lonely (laughter). An old driver coach of mine used to call these lapping sessions but with flags. Obviously, Thiago (Medeiros) took off like a shot, and he was gone. It would have been nice to be up there with him early. I have no idea what happened to him, although I heard it made the highlight reel.
(Brad) Pollard and I had a race early. Everybody else just ran into problems. We just kept it underneath all day. It was real slick, unbelievably slick in (Turn) 4. I almost crashed it about 50 times and managed not to. We were on a good pace. We were actually running the race pace of Thiago, but he got a gap in the early run. We were running as quick as him, but we weren't going to catch him.
But we led earlier this year, and we ran into some bad luck. So it comes around. So we'll take them any way we can get them.
MODERATOR: Is it kind of a feeling that, "Finally -- Now I can move past this?"
PAUL DANA: Yes. It's been a long time coming. We'd been real close, knocking on the door all year. It's good to get it out of the way. Especially a short oval, it's the toughest track we go to, so I'm proud to do it here.
MODERATOR: Ron, you've had winners every year in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. You were one of the Pro Series supporters from the beginning. How does it feel to win today?
RON HEMELGARN: It always feels great to win. No matter how you win them, it feels great to win. We're really glad to be here.
I knew Paul was going to win one this year. It didn't look that way earlier in the race. But, again, we'll take it any way we can.
I just want to dedicate this one to (team co-owner) Roger Johnson. He had some major kidney surgery here a month or so ago. He's recovering. I think this is going to be probably the best medicine that he could have recovering from that serious kidney surgery.
MODERATOR: Just to mention, Blake Johnson, Roger's son, is representing Roger up here on the dais.
Q: When you're 15 seconds behind the leader, those incidents occurred, how long was it before you figured out you were actually leading?
PAUL DANA: My brother is my spotter. He told me on that lap when (Thiago) pitted, so I knew instantly. I think it was around halfway or just past. So we had a long haul to go.
Chuck Buckman, my crew chief, was giving me the gaps at second place. We knew it was huge, we knew it was stable. I just tried to keep a nice rhythm and bring it home.
Q: Paul, you've had a battle going with Thiago all year long. He has a substantial points lead, but is there still hope for you in the championship hunt?
PAUL DANA: You know, I've been doing the math on that. With the smaller grid sizes, even when he runs into problems, he still scores, like, 20 points every time he starts.
I don't know what it looks like, but we'd have to win a lot, and he'd have to break a lot to bring it back. I think prior to this, he was 90 points or 100 points ahead. Seven races left. It's a 10-point gap to a win.
I don't know. We're just trying to win races. Obviously, I think this puts us solidly in second in the points, try to keep that, try to win a few more.
The points battle, not to take anything away from those guys, but we had a problem at Homestead. We had a mechanical issue in our race at Indy. We were on the front row. He took off, and he's got all these wins, but there have been races when we were in the hunt and we didn't quite get the result.
The performance gap isn't quite as huge as the points seem. It is here at this track, but generally, over the course of the season, it hasn't been. If we can keep doing what we're doing, keep running up front, pull down second in the points, we'll be happy.
Q: You mentioned it was a bizarre race, that you almost "wrecked 50 times". We obviously saw some incidents. What is so difficult about this track?
PAUL DANA: A hundred laps of Silver Crown rubber. The IndyCar (Series cars) had a real quick warm-up session, and it didn't really clean it off. It was just really, really, really slick.
PAUL DANA: Think Roger (Johnson) will let me drive the Silver Crown car now (laughter)?