TODAY'S WAKE-UP CALL GUEST WAS RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS (HMS). YOU'VE HAD A COMBINED 28 WINS WITH 11 DIFFERENT DRIVERS, WHICH INCLUDES 13 POINTS-PAYING EVENTS, 5 BUSCH WINS, 10 NON-POINTS EVENTS (INCLUDING A NEXTEL OPEN AND...
TODAY'S WAKE-UP CALL GUEST WAS RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS (HMS).
YOU'VE HAD A COMBINED 28 WINS WITH 11 DIFFERENT DRIVERS, WHICH INCLUDES 13 POINTS-PAYING EVENTS, 5 BUSCH WINS, 10 NON-POINTS EVENTS (INCLUDING A NEXTEL OPEN AND NEXTEL ALL-STAR CHALLENGE) 6 NEXTEL ALL-STAR CHALLENGE WINS. KYLE BUSCH HAS WON THE PAST TWO BUSCH SERIES EVENTS HERE AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS WON THE PAST THREE COCA-COLA 600 RACES HERE. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SUCCESS OF HMS? "Charlotte has been kind of our home track since we started in this sport. I guess it just suits the driving style of our guys. I look back at Tim Richmond -- I used to love to watch him qualify over here and I guess we just put an awful lot of effort into this place. From a personal standpoint with the number of employees and the automotive group and everybody who is here, we put as much effort into Charlotte as we do going to Daytona. I think it just really has fit the drivers that we have in our stable."
WITH THE DOMINANCE OF HMS AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY, WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS ABOUT WINNING THE COCA-COLA 600? "We feel good about the 600 with the way Jimmie (Johnson) ran in the All-Star race and Jeff (Gordon) had a good run. You've got to race with the smaller fuel cells and you saw the accidents that happened with 20 cars out there. So when we get 43 out there with restarts and coming off of pit road, it's going to be a race that you've got to survive. I think our guys have got the tire figured out about as good as anybody. I think you'll see guys who were not quite as good in the All-Star race that will step it up in the race here Sunday. You have to have a lot of racing luck, but you're going to really have to be on your toes to survive 600 miles with all the fuel stops and with just somebody getting out of control and taking out another couple of cars. So it's going to be an interesting race, but I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
EVEN THOUGH IT'S EARLY IN THE SEASON, BUT WITH TOYOTA COMING INTO THE SPORT NEXT YEAR, SILLY SEASON HAS STARTED EARLY. ARE YOU ANTICIPATING THAT YOUR LINE-UP OF DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS WILL BE THE SAME AS IT IS NOW? "Yeah, our plan right now is exactly like it is today. So, we're all set. We don't look to see any changes for '07."
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THE NO. 25 CAR? YOU JUST CAN'T SEEM TO GET THAT NO. 25 CAR RUNNING AGAIN? "Let's ask Doug Duchardt back there. He's our competition specialist. You're right. That car has been special to the family. We've been so close and had such bad luck. You're leading Daytona with 6 or 8 laps to go and you (driver, Brian Vickers) get passed by your teammate; and then at Talladega, it's the same situation. I think it's just a combination of getting crew chief Lance (McGrew) and Brian on the same page and figuring out the new set-ups that we have to change weekly. They've just been a little bit behind the other teams. We haven't given up on it by any stretch and that's one of our main focuses is to get the No. 25 up there where we think it ought to be. I look like it like being at the fair. You try keep all those gophers in the holes. You hit one and another one jumps up. I think you're always going to have one car that you've got to give a little bit of attention to. That's what keeps these four-car teams interesting."
IS IT MORE THAN A COINCIDENCE THAT YOUR DRIVERS DO WELL AT LMS? "Well, I like guys who like to hang the car out. I like guys who like to run fast on l.5-mile tracks. When I saw Jeff (Gordon) here, I think it was seven laps in the car, he was a fast as anyone over here. I remember Tim Richmond qualifying during the four-lap qualifying days, when he would just graze the wall with the rear bumper coming off of (Turn) 4 just to make it interesting. We look for that in drivers. The first time I had Kyle Busch over here and he ran a Busch race, he finished second and could have won the race. He made it three-wide going into (Turn) 1 and we shut our eyes and I think he passed 20 cars in the ARCA race in the first lap on the outside up by the wall. I like guys that have that driving style. I think if they can run like that here, they can usually run really good anywhere."
CAN YOU TAKE US BACK TO WHEN YOU WERE PUTTING THE NO. 48 TEAM TOGETHER AND TELL WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO CONVINCE LOWE'S TO BACK JIMMIE JOHNSON? "We were awful nervous about that situation and Lowe's was in a situation where they wanted to win. I remembered all the conversations and we thought Jimmie had tremendous talent and we actually put Lowe's on the No. 24 car to try to give them an extra carry while we got the new team started. At the last meeting we had, the chairman of Lowe's looked at Jimmie in the eyes and said, 'Can you win?' And I think my heart stopped because I was waiting for Jimmie's answer. Jimmie said, 'I definitely can win.' And it's been a great surprise to see how good that car has done for Lowe's. But it's good to see a company take a chance on a young guy and then have him do well. That's been the situation with Jeff and DuPont. DuPont didn't even know who Jeff Gordon was when we signed the deal. And it's good to see sponsors that take a chance on a young guy and the guy really blossoms and does well. It was a great feeling, but I can tell you it's an awfully lot of pressure when you sit in front of a CEO of one of these big companies and they look at you and ask, 'Can you win?' You think you can win, but you know you've got to produce."
ON TAKING CHANCES, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DARIAN GRUBB AND TELL WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT HIM EARLY IN THE SEASON? DO YOU SEE HIM BEING A FUTURE FULL-TIME CREW CHIEF FOR YOU? "Darian did an outstanding job when he stepped into the role (as substitute crew chief when Chad Knaus was placed on a 4-suspension by NASCAR). It was a lot of pressure. But you have to give Chad Knaus a lot of credit for organizing a group of guys and Doug Duchardt. I think we have our four teams working more closely together today than we ever have before. Everybody realizes it's a group effort. As part of the engineering staff where Darian is, he's responsible for a lot of the cars and helping us with not just the No. 48, but also the No. 24 and the No. 5. I think surely he will be a crew chief if he wants to be a crew chief one day. But I'm not so sure in the future if you're a team engineer or a crew chief if it makes any difference because it's going to take all of that talent working together. I think it's more if the guy is comfortable in that role.
"I'm just real proud of the attitude that Darian and everybody had under that situation. He's done a good job and he's definitely going to be a star. He already is a star in our organization. He just doesn't wear the crew chief hat. He wears the engineer hat."
DO YOU THINK JEFF GORDON'S FOCUS IS STILL AS GOOD AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN? HOW LONG DO YOU SEE HIM DRIVING IN THIS SPORT FOR ANOTHER 10 YEARS AND COMPETING FOR CHAMPIONSHIPS? "I think Jeff's focus is definitely there. The cars have changed a lot. The set-ups have changed a lot. If you look at some of the guys who haven't been doing it very long, they are not used to a feel that they've had with an old tire or a different set-up. If you've been a guy like Jeff Gordon who has won 13 races in a year and a lot of championships, and you're looking for that feel that you used to have and felt comfortable with -- you want to try all the new set-ups, but you kind of revert back to what feels good. I don't think we've given him what he needs. We've worked hard. The team is getting much better. Stevie (Letarte, crew chief) is doing an outstanding job. The chemistry is there. But I see the level of commitment and focus in Jeff that I've seen all the years. He's in the shop. We've been talking and meeting this week. He's really focused. Our goal is to have him where he needs to be and where he feels really confident in the car when we get to that final 10. I don't see any difference at all in the Jeff Gordon today compared to the Jeff Gordon four or five years ago are going to keep up the pace. I'd like to think it's 10. But as far as his commitment to the sport and to the team, it's as strong as it's ever been."
WITH TERRY LABONTE DRIVING A LIMITED SCHEDULE THIS YEAR, HOW DO YOU ATTACK THE CHALLENGE TO BRING IT UP TO SPEED? AS A FUTURE OPTION FOR THE DRIVERS GETTING OLDER, WOULD YOU CUT THEM TO PART TIME SCHEDULE? "I think that's going to depend on the driver. It's awful hard to run a limited schedule. It's hard to show up five, or six, or 10 times a year and be as strong as the other group out there running every week. It's almost impossible to do. With Terry, he wanted to cut back but he wanted to run another year and finish up in Texas. So we wanted to do what Terry wanted to do. I don't think that you can just bring a car out of the box anymore four or five times a year and be competitive. I think what you'll see in the future, and I think you've seen it with a lot of the top drivers like Ricky Rudd and so forth, is that when it's time to quit, they'll just end their careers. I think the limited schedule, with the competition level as it is today and with new teams coming on next year and good cars that miss races like Daytona, I think it's going to be a real gamble to go out and sell a sponsorship for six to 10 races and make sure that you're in the field."
HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE ARRIVAL OF TOYOTA TO AFFECT THE BUDGETS OF EXISTING TEAM OWNERS -- EITHER IN R&D OR SALARIES? AND FROM THE FANS' PERSPECTIVE, DO YOU THINK TOYOTA COMING INTO THE SPORT WILL AFFECT THE QUALITY OF COMPETITION? "I think that Toyota coming into the sport is a good thing. Having other manufacturers in the sport is fine as long as all the teams are treated equal with the rules. We have a common template for the car and if your car fits the template, then you get to race it. They've got a common template for the motor and I wish they'd use it. If your motor fits into that common template, you should be able to run it. We've got enough parts over there to run a space shuttle that they won't approve because they say we don't need it. The engine block head ought to be common for everybody. I'm for putting us all under the same umbrella and give us the same box and let us race.
"As far as escalating the cost of running the teams, we saw this a few years back when there were maybe six or eight new teams. When you've got six or eight new teams coming in, they've got to have people.
"And so they go out and raise the salaries of the people in the shops because they need folks and you know, everybody listens. So I think we'll probably have a little bit of a spike the first year or two, but then I think it'll all level back out. Hopefully all of the good people that you have in your organization will stay with you. They see that people come and go and things change. But if they'd been with you 10 or 15 years or eight years, hopefully they'll see the stability. And so far, in our organization, we've been very fortunate. We've got a great foundation with some folks that have been together a long time. I think as long as NASCAR controls the rules, and they're the same for everybody, then we'll have to deal with people wanting to pay drivers and crew members whatever the going rate is."
ROBERT YATES IS HAVING TO STEP BACK AND WRAP HIS ARMS AROUND HIS ORGANIZATION. YOU RUN A LARGE ORGANIZATION. DO YOU COMMISERATE WITH HIM? DO YOU FEEL A SHORTAGE OF TALENTED DRIVERS WITH NAMES THAT SPONSORS WILL BITE ON RIGHT NOW IN THE SPORT? "I lose control of my organization every day (laughs). This is one of the toughest businesses in the world because you're only as good as you were yesterday. There's a lot of pressure out there from sponsors because they're paying a lot of money and they want to perform. You're trying to keep everybody working together and focused and doing the best job they can to be successful. Sometimes it looks like the harder you work the further behind you get. There's no sure thing when you go out and try to hire a driver that you've never seen a car or hadn't had in a car or maybe he's in a team where you think he'll be better in your car. You make that change and you don't produce, then you have the sponsor upset again. I think everybody in this sport has got talent. If they didn't have talent, they wouldn't be here. When you got guys that are tied up and they are under contract and you have a situation where a driver is going to leave you and you've got to make a decision today and maybe the pool is empty or everybody is under contract, then what are you doing to do? I think that is why people are starting the driver development programs and trying to exercise their options more in advance.
"You don't wait until the last year to go ahead and tie your guys up. It's a tough situation that they're in. I think all of us have been there. If you race long enough, you're going to go through that.
"Trying to have people lined up to drive is going to be one of the toughest things to do. If you have good, young talent that is driving in Busch Series and you don't have an open ride in your Cup car then someone is going to offer them a job and then they're going to come to you even though they're under contract and say 'I've got this offer. What can I do?' With the new rules of NASCAR since you can't add a team you're going to be forced to end up losing a driver. You're going to see that happening in the future. It's a tough deal to try to plan for when you need somebody and how to keep them."
Continued in part 2