The Saturday Winston Breakfast Club featured Team Monte Carlo drivers Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet and Jerry Nadeau, No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet. Harvick and Nadeau are the past two winners (spring '01 and fall '00, respectively)...
The Saturday Winston Breakfast Club featured Team Monte Carlo drivers Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet and Jerry Nadeau, No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet. Harvick and Nadeau are the past two winners (spring '01 and fall '00, respectively) at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The following are highlights of the press conference:
On running well at Atlanta
Jerry Nadeau: "I've run well at the mile and a half race tracks like Chicago and Texas. I enjoy running on fast racetracks. Unfortunately, yesterday's qualifying didn't show that. But last time we were here (spring race) we got spun out the first lap and were 43rd and 15 seconds behind and we made up a lot of time. Starting from the back is not a bad deal. If you have a good racecar you can get to the front."
Kevin Harvick: "We've also run really good on the mile and a half race tracks. We unloaded really good the last time we were here and just had a great weekend. And like Jerry said, this place is wide enough that it doesn't matter where you start."
Kevin, on running both the Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series, did you question whether or not you had enough seat time to do it?
Kevin Harvick: "At the time, we didn't really have time to think about anything. We got in the car and we went week to week to week. Race, race, race and test, test, test. I didn't have time to think about anything. Once the year is over and we have time to sit back and think about it, we probably shouldn't have done all that and we probably shouldn't have made it through all that, but we did. Everybody worked really well together and there were a lot of people involved. We really haven't had time to sit back and dwell on whether we had the confidence to do it or not. But I'm a pretty confident person."
On the season
Jerry Nadeau: "We haven't had the kind of year that I thought we'd have. I think it started at Daytona with my crew chief getting let go (penalized) for five weeks. I still don't like these tires as much as I did last year. They got rid of the bump rubbers and we ran those everywhere last year. We had such good set-ups it was hard for us to change. Halfway through the season we weren't really getting anywhere. We decided to make some changes and lean towards some of the No. 24 car's set ups. It's been tough to get accustomed to that. We have two good races left - Atlanta and Loudon. They're both favorite racetracks of mine. We're just looking to have a good end to the season. We didn't really unload as well as we did last time we were here. Last time, we were disappointed that we qualified 12th. And this time we're starting 42nd. But you can do a lot of passing here. We just want to end on a good note."
Kevin Harvick, Jerry Nadeau, and Bobby Labonte have all done well at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the past, but all three are taking provisionals for this race. Why?
Kevin Harvick: "I don't know what to attribute it to. All I know is that my car was out of control from the time we unloaded it until the time we qualified. My car has absolutely zero feel to it. Whether that's the racetrack going through the whole year, or the cycles of change it goes through, I don't know. The weather is not that much different than the last time we were here. For whatever reason, my car has no traction whatsoever."
Jerry Nadeau: "I think most guys hold it close to wide open and hope they make the turn (in qualifying). In my situation, I have to feel the racecar. I like to drive on the edge, but if you can't feel that right rear tire or left rear tire or anything, you have to back off. Yesterday, we were just out of control. When we hit the first turn, I knew it was not going to be a good day. It was hard to tell the crew what the car was doing because you really can't feel what it's doing. I don't know if it's weather or the track or what. But the set-up we used here last time just didn't work during qualifying this time. But it's good to see three fast guys in the back."
Is it the tires?
Jerry Nadeau: "I think a lot of it is tires. These tires are so darn hard. You're doing 190 to 200 mph here and you're running so much on the edge that you really can't feel that tire. You're telling yourself that you need to back off because you can't feel anything, and it's a real bad feeling. I know they're not going to do away with it (tires), so we just need to somehow get accustomed to it."
Are the speeds too fast here?
Jerry Nadeau: "I like the speeds. They're not a big deal. I watched those Indy car guys run 240 or 250 mph. I wish they had bigger fences at Talladega and Daytona where they would just let us go. I don't think it's a speed situation. It's just that when you get a harder tire, you just can't feel it. I hate to say it, but it's been aggravating all year. That's been my biggest problems. Last year, I didn't take any provisionals. This year, I've taken 10. That's pretty frustrating because I'm normally known as a pretty decent qualifier."
Kevin Harvick: "I get tired of hearing about the speeds to tell you the truth. This track has been here for a long time. A lot of these guys have been here the whole time they've been going fast, and now all of a sudden everybody is worried about the speed. This is not a business where you need to worry about how fast you're going. You know the consequence if something really goes wrong. And if that's not what you want to do, maybe you should go play golf or something. This is the fastest racetrack that we come to and we have to deal with it. Whether it's a bad feeling or a good feeling, you've got to come to Atlanta to race. And that's how it's been for 20 or 30 years. I'm fine with it. Some people aren't."
Regarding the pit crew accident in Homestead, do you think the drivers need to carry more of the safety responsibility?
Jerry Nadeau: "It didn't look like it was either Ward Burton's fault or Casey Atwood's fault. It just seemed like a freak deal - just like the Daytona incident. It just wasn't his time to go. That's the good thing. I think the helmet thing would be pretty cool. I don't know how comfortable some of these guys would be with that. But it's been a tough year with everything that's been happening. We just need to be strong and keep a good grip on what we're doing. Hopefully we'll override some of these problems that we're having."
Kevin Harvick: "I really think it's unfair to blame Ward Burton. It's four-wide there and Ward's just coming out of his pit box. As uncomfortable as the guys might be, I think they should just tell them to wear helmets and get it over with. That's not something that needs to be chanced. Those guys are very vulnerable sitting out there on pit road. They don't have a chance against a 3500-lb car. They just need to go ahead and mandate the helmets that they need to wear. They don't need to be wearing hockey helmets. They need to be wearing full-faced motorcycle helmets like the guys on he No. 32 (Craven) car wear. If they're not comfortable, they'll get used to it.
"I don't know that the speed had that much to do with it. There just wasn't enough room. He hit the front of Ward's car and it probably knocked the steering wheel out of his hand and the thing just shot left. Whether he was going 100 mph or 30 mph - like he was probably going - it doesn't take much to knock the steering wheel out of your hand. When you hit the tire right, it's just going to jerk it and it's going to go whichever way he hit it. You generally don't have any control over - no matter how fast you're going.
"I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. There is so much congestion and so much happening on pit road that it's amazing that it hasn't happened more. Usually on pit road, there is a lot more give and take than there is on the racetrack and that's a good thing since those guys are so vulnerable."
Kevin, now that you have your first year on the Winston Cup circuit under your belt, how will you prepare for next season?
Kevin Harvick: "Probably the first thing is to relax. When we get to this point next year, I don't want to be completely burned out on everything. We know that we're just going to race the Winston Cup car and maybe just a couple of races in the Busch car if any. I think that will be the biggest key to next year is putting all our eggs in one basket in the Winston Cup car. This year, we really haven't had time to use all our tests. We still have a couple left and we used one last week at Daytona. Being able to use those tests will be beneficial. Just focusing on one car, and getting used to that car, will be the biggest key to being successful next year.
"We need to be more consistent. But I think it's understandable. We ran bad at the two Pocono races, but we also weren't there to practice for either race. I'll be able to focus on one thing and not completely spun around backyards trying to figure out where I'm at."
Kevin, on the having the car configured for the new rules at Daytona next year and on the IROC car?
Kevin Harvick: "The way that the rules are right now, it's going to be a lot like the Busch races at Daytona and Talladega. It's going to be a little bit harder to pass, but I think that's what they (NASCAR) were trying to accomplish. I liked the way that the fin raced because you could pull up and pass, but it wasn't the answer to racing three-wide and ten rows deep. So we had to do something there. The test went great and we think we learned some things. We'll just have to see what happens when we get to Daytona.
"I just think the IROC cars are pretty cool. I got to go out with Jim Sauter and Dave Marcis and run 15 or 20 laps to get accustomed to the racecar and it was pretty neat just to be inside of them. I listened to them on the radio and it was neat to just let all that experience just bleed onto you. It was a neat experience for me.
Kevin, emotionally, how much different is it for you at Atlanta this weekend compared to the last time you were here in the spring?
Kevin Harvick: "When we drove in here last time, it was still like the eerie Rockingham feeling. You just didn't know how to react to things. This time it was more of an excited feel because we knew what went on last time and how much it means to get your first Winston Cup win. It was pretty cool. Everyone's mind was completely different. We've had eight or nine months to get back in the groove. You're not ever going to forget everything, but we're a lot better than we were last time and can really concentrate on what we're doing."
How do you see this race unfolding on Sunday?
Jerry Nadeau: "How many laps do you think it'll take us to get up there? I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun. There's not a lot of attrition here. You can run three and four-wide. You can run up to the wall. Hopefully we can just stay out of trouble and come out unscathed. The good thing is that there are a lot of good guys. We've got Ricky Rudd, Bobby Labonte, and Kevin - a lot of good guys we can work with (in the back)."
Kevin Harvick: "There is no pace. You just have to go at it as hard as you can and try to keep yourself from getting lapped early. Going wide-open is pretty much all you can do."
On coming to the end of the season?
Kevin Harvick: "I'm really burned out right now. But we're really starting to see the end now and see the benefits of everything. We won the Busch Series championship and hopefully the Rookie of the Year and everything is starting to become worth it. It gets you jacked up to keep you going.
"We haven't run very good the last two weeks and my wife (Delana) says for me to be upset is pretty selfish of me because we've had such a good year. But this is a pretty selfish kind of business. This weekend is a good example. Last time, we unloaded here and qualified in the top five. It's pretty humbling when you come back and take a provisional. Some weeks you're on and some you're off.
"Our goal is to be better next year than this year. That was the biggest reason for not running the Busch car next year. When we get to the end, we don't want to be burned out. If we're in the middle of the championship or in the middle of trying to get in the top five in the points, we want to be able to focus on that."
-Team Monte Carlo-