Endurance is key as Pontiac looks for second straight win. DETROIT, Mich., May 22, 2002 - Compared to this point last season, the Pontiac Racing stable has tripled its win output in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, claiming the top spot three...
Endurance is key as Pontiac looks for second straight win.
DETROIT, Mich., May 22, 2002 - Compared to this point last season, the Pontiac Racing stable has tripled its win output in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, claiming the top spot three times in 11 outings. Sunday in Concord, N.C., the Grand Prix drivers will look to notch their fourth win of the year, but to do it, they'll have to endure the biggest durability challenge of the season in what stands as the longest race of the year.
This weekend's schedule, which includes the standard qualifying session on Thursday and a pair of 'Happy Hour' practices on Saturday, concludes with a 600-mile test of man and machine. The 400-lap affair, contested for the first time under the series' new one-engine rule, is certain to put Winston Cup engine builders to the test.
Thoughts From Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
ON THIS WEEKEND'S RACE
"We're going to take the approach that we have the last three and a half or four years that we've been racing. We're just going to go and we're not going to change our plan any. We've run really well there in the past. I'm excited about going back. It's a long race - a lot of adjustments. The key is building enough adjustability and getting a balanced race car, and just giving yourself room to go either way, depending on the weather or temperature. I think that is probably the most important thing. Hopefully, we'll have a great race there. Usually it is, and we're looking forward to it."
WILL THIS WEEKEND BE THE FIRST MAJOR TEST FOR THE NEW ENGINE RULE?
"The motor room is working 24 hours a day, basically, at looking to trying to make stuff more durable and make more horsepower. Here, I'm sure some teams are going to elect to bring stuff that they know has run a lot of laps in the past. I know we are. It's maybe a few horsepower off of some of the better stuff we could have. But, that extra time on it - I guess you can look at how many practice laps you've run. We had The Winston the other night and a bunch of laps there to give you some ideas. Weather conditions will kind of determine how much you run, or at least for us, as far as if the weather is a whole bunch different. That racetrack seems pretty sensitive. Air temperature and track temperature will hopefully dictate if we need to run a bunch of laps or if we can kind of take what we learned at The Winston, put it in the race car and kind of work off of that."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO HAVING TONY JUST FOCUS ON NASCAR THIS MONTH?) "Obviously, he'll be 120 percent focused here the whole week and he'll be in the car for all the practices. In the past, he's done a great job of trying to give us 150 percent, if that's possible, when he's there doing what he can. When he gets in the car, starting from the back, he's been good and we've had success with him doing that. It's a dream of his. I've got dreams of mine and I hope that someday, if I've got an opportunity to do some things, he'll support me in the same way that we have in the past.
"It will be good to have him here the whole week. I'm sure someday down the road he is going to want to do it again. Hopefully, things will go as smooth as they have in the past for us. That's the only thing is you just put yourself at risk in a lot of different things when you do that. Him doing it - I think it's awesome and it's great to be a part of it, to know that he finished in the top 10 both times that he did it. And honestly and truly, if things had gone a little bit better in either one, he probably could have won both of them. He wasn't that far off. Knowing you were part of that, I take some personal pride in wanting to be a part of that and helping him any way I can. If that's what he wants to do, we'll support it again."
WILL YOU COACH TONY ANY DIFFERENTLY THIS WEEKEND, WITH IT BEING SUCH A LONG RACE?
"We're going to spend the first 300 or so miles not trying to tear our car up - keeping the fenders on it. That's important. Staying in the top five or top 10 will be our goal and adjusting on our car. That will be the biggest thing, just keeping him patient, keeping him calm and letting him realize that this is a longer race than normal. There will be a bunch of people that will have problems. I don't wish anybody any bad luck, but you'll probably see some motors and you'll see some things because it is a little bit longer of a race. You'll see some people that will be really strong on the front side of it and when the sun goes down and it cools off, they'll go away. You've just got to look to keep yourself in the top 10 - top five towards the end, and hopefully put yourself in a position to win the race when it comes down to the last 100 to 50 miles."
CAN YOU GAUGE WHEN TONY NEEDS YOUR COACHING?
"When you work long enough with people, you understand how they think and how they react to different situations. You know when it's time to put that little bit of extra input or just trying to comfort them or just let them know what we're here as a team and we're working and not to give up."
IS THIS RACE MORE OF A STRATEGY-RACE, BECAUSE OF ITS LENGTH?
"I think it goes down to thinking about your race car, looking at what it's been like in years past and just trying to build some adjustability into it - and anticipating how quick you need to make changes and how much of a change do you need to make. But, there are a lot of racetracks like that. Charlotte just seems to be so different because it's one of the few places that changes so much with air temperature and track temperature. It does make it a little more different and a little more drastic."
DOES THE EXTRA 100 MILES MEAN MUCH?
"Other than wear-and-tear on the motor and keeping your fingers crossed that with the new motor rules - which I think is a great thing for our sport - that you don't run into any problems. Not really - it gives you an extra 100 miles to adjust on your car. That's how we look at it. It may hurt some of the people that lose their concentration a little bit here and there and can't get back in the zone. That's a big part of this thing is driver's focus and concentration, crew members and everybody else. It's a little bit longer and a little bit more drawn out. But, you've got to focus and pay attention a little bit longer."
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOURSELF FOCUSED?
"I'll sit down and script out a little bit of a game plan to give you an idea of how things went in the past, what you've done and what you can do. But a lot of it depends on how you start. When you start and you're running up front and you're on a high, it's a lot easier to keep yourself focused and going. If you're struggling or having problems and you're fighting some handling conditions, then it kind of turns around and you've got to work twice as hard to keep yourself motivated. It's hard because you're the cheerleader and everybody keys off my emotions and voice and things. In the back of your mind you've got to keep telling yourself that it's going to be alright. Believe it or not, a lot of people will key off of how my responses, thoughts and actions are."
ON THE SEASON
"I expected to be in the top two or three (in the point standings) right now with the way we've run. Any place that we've had a problem we've been out of the top five. Any place that we haven't had a problem and we were able to race all race, we've been in the top five. Hopefully we've got our bad luck away from us and we can continue from this point and focus on just finishing in the top five, leading laps and trying to put ourselves in a position to win some more races."