ANDY GRAVES (Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) COCA-COLA 600 RECAP FOR GANASSI TEAMS "I thought we had a real strong run. Unfortunately with the track going green for almost three stints, Sterling never seemed to get...
ANDY GRAVES (Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)
COCA-COLA 600 RECAP FOR GANASSI TEAMS
"I thought we had a real strong run. Unfortunately with the track going green for almost three stints, Sterling never seemed to get track position. Casey and Jamie did outstanding jobs and had good cars, so we were pretty happy with it overall. It seems like we're settling in pretty good, and almost every week we have two cars running near the top 10, so we just need to try to finish this thing off. We're still a step away in the performance level of where we need to be to contend for wins."
COMMENT ON SETUP FOR POCONO
"It's pretty difficult. We've always had the philosophy, we try to concentrate on turn three more than the rest of them. It seems like if you can get off turn three and get a good run down the frontstretch, that's where most of your passing goes on. We attack that first and foremost and try to get a good balance there, and back the racetrack back up to the tunnel turn and make sure we can get through there, too. We look at those two turns as probably the hardest for chassis setup. It probably depends on your motor and gear package. That's the primary concern for the first turn. Sterling has always been a little bit different. We've struggled a little bit and been experimenting the last couple of years, but last year I felt like we had a really good handle on it, and Sterling started adapting to what we felt, according to our simulations, what we felt were the optimum shift patterns. He got the hang of that last year. Casey has adapted to Pocono extremely well, and with winning two ARCA races there last year, he runs really strong. We expect strong runs from all three of our cars at Pocono, and we're looking forward to it."
HOW TOUGH WILL IT BE FOR ALL THREE GANASSI DODGES TO MAKE THE CUT FOR THE FINAL 10 RACES?
"As much as we'd like to get all three in that final cut, I think that's going to be a pretty tall order. Right now, we hope we have at least two in there. I guess technically as far as today, Jamie would be the only one getting in. With Casey's performance and the way he's been running, we definitely like he's got some strong tracks coming up here soon, we're hoping Casey can be within the 400-point cutoff and Jamie gets in the top 10. I don't think that's too much to ask. We just need to get some momentum on Sterling's side to get him up there. We're going to try to get all three in that cutoff, but right now it seems like we're struggling a little bit with the 40. Hopefully we can get momentum swings with a couple of races coming up. Pocono and Michigan are two of Sterling's really strong tracks."
DO YOU THINK IT'LL COME DOWN TO JUST THE TOP 10?
"Looking at it right now, I'd say that's what it's probably going to come down to, unless Matt and Dale Jr. and Jimmie have some problems up toward the front. A lot of it is going to depend on how they approach the next 14 races. I've heard some rumblings that one of those three teams are going to take some more chances these next few races because they are so far ahead. They feel like it's going to be almost impossible for them to drop out of the top 10. They might take more risks at trying to win races instead of just point racing because as soon as the cutoff your points get adjusted. If that happens you might see some of those guys up front drop out of a few more races. That might open up the window a little bit more. That might be something to look for, but right now we feel like the only safe way to get in is go ahead and lock yourself in the top 10 in points."
DOES MAKING THE CUT FACTOR IN TO RACE STRATEGY
"I think it plays in a small part how you approach the race before you leave the shop, whether you want to take a gamble with the engine package or some of the components on the car. I think we proved basically this weekend with Donnie Wingo's call to keep Jamie out at the end and take a shot at winning the race, I think people would say if you're points racing that's not a very smart thing to do, but in our view we're going for wins. The points have to play in later, but I think you're going to see some of those guys up at the front get a lot more aggressive with some of their engine packages and gear ratios. That might cost you to take those risks."
IS WORKING WITH YOUNG DRIVERS EASIER THIS YEAR?
"It's a lot easier to be honest with you. I thought Jamie did an exceptional job his rookie year. I think Casey struggled, more of a typical rookie. Usually when you have a rookie do good his first year you worry about that sophomore jinx, but Casey has actually proved to everybody that he's a top 10 driver and he's probably the most improved guy out there. He's done an outstanding job, and that helps the whole group. When you have two cars running up in the top 15 every week and you have one struggling in the 30s or high 20s, that's pretty rough and it's hard to get a handle on it, but he's done a great job. Jimmy Elledge and the whole Target team, we've got some new guys on the team that have pulled together, and they're doing great. To have all three drivers up there in the top 20 in points and battling in the top 10 every week is making everybody feel better. If we can take the next step up in the performance level, I think all three of them have a good shot at victories later in the season."
HOW FAR AHEAD CAN YOU PLAN FOR CHANGES?
"Our philosophy at Ganassi is we've been running 38 races within 41 weekends for a couple of years now. More than likely that's going to be the case again. Where they are, when they are, the dates, some of the rules changes you can spend some time and energy worrying about it, but to be honest with you you're better off spending that time and energy on your own program and trying to get better. I'm sure NASCAR is going to keep doing the things to make sure they keep drawing the way they have the last 10 years. I'm excited about that. If that means more west coast races then so be it. That's fine. That really doesn't bother us too much. We enjoy racing every weekend."
DO YOU THINK SOME TEAMS MAY MOVE FROM CAROLINAS TO A MORE CENTRAL LOCATION?
"I think that you may see a little bit of that. I've heard a couple of team managers discuss what would you think if the home base was actually in Indianapolis versus Charlotte. I think right now with the number of people, all your major chassis builders, sheetmetal builders, employees, there's such a strong base already in the Charlotte area, I think it's going to be pretty hard to move away from that in the near future. If they get more races split 50-50 between the east coast and west coast, I'd say that's something you're going to have to take a serious look at."
WOULD MOVING BE EASIER FOR GANASSI ORGANIZATION?
"If it was something that provided a distinct advantage and you had to do it, then I would say we'd probably be at the forefront of reaping that advantage. We have a strong relationship with our IRL team, and our Grand-Am team is also located in Indianapolis. I've lived there for a couple of years myself. I think it would help us the most if it did provide an advantage, but we'll just have to see. I still think that's several years out."
DISCUSS DRIVER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
"Not only are we excited about our two young guys that are in the Cup program with Jamie and Casey, but we have David Stremme signed long-term with the Ganassi organization, Reed Sorenson and Ryan Hemphill. We're excited about those three young guys. I think you're going to see David Stremme in Cup in the near future, if not '05 I'd say for sure in '06. Reed and Ryan are both getting their feet wet. It's going to take a little more work to get them to that level, but they both have the talent and we're really excited about trying to groom more young guys for the future. In all honesty, probably Jack Roush and his organization is at the front if you look at past history. I think those guys have done good jobs bringing up Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth. I think they're the ones that kinda started it. Both Hendrick and ourselves have kinda caught up with them now, and hopefully we've got some young guys to get ready for the future. It takes a lot of commitment, and obviously you have to have the budget in place because those young guys are going to tear up a bunch of equipment. Trying to get them placed in sister organizations like we have with Brawn Racing and James Finch, so you have to have some support behind that. I really don't know what we've got planned yet. We're definitely talking about running Reed and Ryan in some more ARCA races. There may be more Busch races later in the year with Reed, but basically we have an agreement with Brawn Racing that David is driving the full schedule for this year. He started the season off great and went through a little bit of a slump. They seem like they're getting things straightened back out. We hope he gets back to the top 10 in points. We're trying to provide as much support as we can to ensure that."
DO THE REALITY SHOWS DISTRACT FROM RACING?
"They can be distractions if you let 'em. I know the little bit that Jamie and Casey did with 360 and that David Stremme is doing with the Busch 24-7, there are times that can be aggravating and distracting, but that's part of the business. It takes a lot more focus nowadays, not only on the driver's part but every single crew member to ensure they're worried about what we're here for at the end of the day -- to win races. It is a little bit difficult, but that's part of the game nowadays. Unfortunately, the biggest part I concentrate on is the competition side and the performance of the race cars on the track. On a personal opinion, I've had too much reality shows in general, not just racing. Every time you turn on the TV nowadays, that's all you see, but that's what the public seems to like right now. If that's part of the bigger picture for promoting our sport and NASCAR in general, that's what we have to do."
WHAT WILL RACE CAR LOOK LIKE IN NEXT FIVE YEARS?
"I think you're going to see a lot bigger car. It's probably going to be a little different proportion, bigger greenhouse, more room in the car for driver safety, more of a capsule for the driver to sit in, almost a tub like an open wheel car. They're just pushing safety and making sure all teams are taken care of and are as equal as possible. That's one thing NASCAR has always done and that's why there are so many teams out there that can win a race on any given weekend. The little bit I've talked to Gary Nelson and seen the bits and pieces they're working on, I think it's pretty much a clean sheet of paper and it's going to be starting over. It's going to take a long time to get to that point. It's not going to be an overnight switch, but I think it's going to be something good for down the road. In all honesty from everything I'm seeing and hearing what their plans are, I'd say it's actually going further away from what you see on the street than even what we have currently."