Daytona 500: Raines preview

EVERYONE LOVES AN UNDERDOG DLP(R) HDTV Team Ready for Second Season; Daytona 500 CORNELIUS, N.C., (Feb. 8, 2007) -- There are three reasons why Tony Raines, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing, has as good of a chance...

DLP(R) HDTV Team Ready for Second Season; Daytona 500

CORNELIUS, N.C., (Feb. 8, 2007) -- There are three reasons why Tony Raines, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing, has as good of a chance as anyone to win the 49th Daytona 500; George Mason, Boise State and Hickory High School.

George Mason University's men's basketball team, playing in the little-known Colonial Athletic Association, shocked sports fans all over the United States in March 2006 when it upset powerhouses Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut on its way to the NCAA Final Four. No sports fan in his or her right mind could have predicted such an outcome when the tournament began, but underdog George Mason rose to the occasion.

Boise State University's football team, playing in the Western Athletic Conference, was matched up with the mighty Oklahoma Sooners in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 2007. The Sooners have seven national championships, four Heisman Trophy winners and 142 All-Americans. Boise State joined NCAA Division I-A in 1996 and has no I-A national championships, no Heisman Trophy winners and only four All-Americans. No matter.

Final score: Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42.

Sure, Hickory High was the fictional team from the movie, Hoosiers, but the story was based on the 1954 Milan (Ind.) High School team that defeated Muncie Central in the state's high school basketball tournament. Milan had 161 students and no state championships in 1954, while Muncie Central had more than 1,600 students and four state titles to its name.

Final score: Milan 32, Muncie Central 30.

So why can't Raines and the DLP team have success in the Daytona 500? Everyone loves an underdog. And, lately, underdogs have shown they can compete despite what the numbers and so-called "experts" think.

Hall of Fame Racing has slightly more than 50 employees and fields just one car in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Evernham Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing each have more than 300 employees and field three or more cars.

But, thanks to an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and an "It Can Be Done" attitude, Hall of Fame Racing and the DLP team showed it can compete with the big boys. In 2006, it finished at a somewhat surprising 26th in owner points.

So, is Raines an underdog heading into the Daytona 500?


But remember George Mason, Boise State and Hickory High were underdogs, too.

TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Overall thoughts heading into the Daytona 500?

"I'm optimistic, for sure. It seems like we have a decent piece. It's a long week. It's a tough race. Everything is kind of tough. We'll just take it one day at a time. I think getting through the duels (The Gatorade Duel at Daytona - two 150-mile qualifying races that set positions 3-39 for the Daytona 500) are going to be a bit of a job this year. Qualifying well is our first obstacle. Getting through the duels is the second one, and then having a good day on the 18th is the final one."

How big of a race is the Daytona 500?

"It is a big race. That said, I think it meant more, sentimentally, years ago. I think it's still one of the top four races, for sure. But because of the restrictor-plate racing and the drafting and the way everything has evolved, it's not necessarily as gratifying as a Brickyard or something to that effect. That's just my opinion and I'm certainly not scoffing at the idea of winning the '500' by any means. Having a Daytona 500 win is a huge accomplishment and anyone would be glad to have it. But, it's a different world and the restrictor plates and the drafting have certainly changed the landscape a little bit over the last 10 to 15 years. That said, if you win it they take your car for a year, so somebody must think it's a big race, for crying out loud."

How important is it to get off to a good start to the season?

"It helps, but it's not everything. Momentum is a big factor in racing and when you have it, you want to keep it, and when you don't have it, you want to gain it. So, if you get off to a good start at Daytona, you'd think it would help, but after being at Daytona for a week, you go to California for three days and then you're home and you're kind of like, 'What just happened?' It feels so weird after Daytona. Those first three or four races don't set the tone for the season, but they can certainly help. They will show your weaknesses and some of your strengths. A little bit of luck and a good start can certainly help for the rest of the year."

Do you like being in Daytona for 11 days? In your opinion, is that amount of time at Daytona necessary, even if it is an important race?

"That's a good question. At times it seems long and at times it doesn't. There is so much going on with the three series being down there and the ARCA race. It's a week-long festival, to say the least. They break it up there Monday and Tuesday when we're off, so you get a little bit of time to take a break. It's a long week, but it is a big race, and I think as each day goes by, you get a little more excited. Once Sunday comes around, you're pretty well hyped up."

Despite the fact that Hall of Fame Racing has fewer employees and cars than the bigger teams, do you feel that Hall of Fame Racing has a chance to have a good year?

"I think it's possible and it can be done. If we were to run really well and end up in the top-15 in points, I think we'd surprise more people than we'd disappoint. I don't think there are a lot of people who feel that it can be done. It's not impossible. We're just going to work harder and smarter than the other teams."

This is only your second Daytona 500. Is there any anxiety?

"I don't have any anxiety about it, but I am really thankful that I'm getting a chance to run the race. When we ran the first one (in 2003), it ended up getting rain-shortened, and we didn't get a good finish out of it. When I went down there in 2003, we weren't real concerned about how we were going to run. We just wanted to make the race. This year, we know we're in the race, so the attitude is, 'OK, what can we do to win the race?' So, it's a different perspective. I'm hopeful, especially since we had a good test. We'll work on it during the week and if we can get it where it will drive really well, I think we can run well and have a good weekend."

This is the second year for Hall of Fame Racing and DLP HDTV. What are the realistic goals for the 2007 season?

"I think top 20 with a stretch goal of top 15. We ran top 25 a lot last year, but I want to improve on that. I want to say we can improve by five positions, and there are some racetracks where we really struggled and I'd like to improve by 20 positions. If we can improve a little bit throughout the year, we can have a good year. I'm excited about it."

BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

The DLP team had a good test at Daytona in January. What are your thoughts heading into the Daytona 500?

"We had a good test. We worked on a lot of things with Tony. We spent a lot of time on drafting. We learned a lot of things. It's been a while since he's basically been forced to draft a car and run up front and play around with some of these guys. We spent a lot of time explaining to him some of the intricacies of our speedway package and how he can work with it around other people. So, we're looking forward to seeing what we can do."

A lot of people think there are not a lot of adjustments that can be done at a superspeedway race like the Daytona 500. Are there changes that can be made during Speedweeks?

"The car is much different by the time you race it in the Duels and the Daytona 500 -- much different than when you use it on qualifying day. Qualifying day is more targets and temperatures and certain things the car must do to go a certain speed. Daytona is a very big handling track after the first four or five laps on a set of tires, so there is a lot you can work on."

What is the one thing you need at Daytona?

"You need a car that will stay on the bottom and make a good solid turn all the way through the corner. As your car gets tight, you end up being more at the mercy of the pack than being a leader in the pack, or somebody who can mount a charge, or a challenge to someone who is up front."

What are your thoughts on the Daytona 500 - the biggest race of the year - taking place at the beginning of the season, as well as your thoughts on spending more than a week in Daytona?

"It's obviously an inflated schedule, and it really couldn't come at a worse time. That's probably the standard answer. You're far more worried about things other than the Daytona 500. Obviously, the Daytona 500 is a huge race. Winning that trophy, winning that check -- it's a huge deal. But the fact of the matter is the Daytona 500 pays the same amount of points as a race at Martinsville. With all the changes coming with the Car of Tomorrow (COT) and just on our team, our theory on downforce cars and what-not, I've been far more concerned and worried this week with the COT and our downforce cars than I am with our Daytona 500 car. We've tried to frontload our schedule to finish with the speedway stuff very early, so I wish it weren't 11 days. I'd rather show up and do it in three days, but I don't make the rules."

TROY AIKMAN (Co-Owner, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

How does your outlook change now, having been through one year and looking toward Season Two?

"It changes for us. Going into last season, we thought if we could finish in the top 25, we would regard it as a very successful year for us. We finished 26th. We did some things late in the year that we think give us great momentum heading into this season. Brandon Thomas is our new crew chief. As we enter this year, we don't have Terry Labonte running the first five races for us. Tony Raines will be running the full schedule. So our expectations have obviously gotten a lot higher. For me, I don't think it's unrealistic to say that we'd like to finish in the top 15. We can do that. We had some top-10 finishes last year and we like to get better there. We'd like to win our first race this year. We'd like to win multiple races, obviously, but we'd like to think we could win a race in '07. I like where we're at. I think everyone is optimistic about it and we feel like we've put together a pretty solid team for just our second year."

Does your relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing make it possible to have loftier goals?

"No question. I don't think there is any disputing that we would not have had the success we had a year ago without our alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. There are those that view us as a single-car team, but we're really not. We get the technology and the support from Joe Gibbs Racing, as well as some of our personnel. Brandon Thomas, our crew chief, came from Joe Gibbs Racing. Ultimately, we'd like to get out on our own. Ultimately, we'd like to be able to have a second car, on our own. But, having said that, we'd been afforded the luxuries of being in a multi-car team, in principle, because of our association with Joe Gibbs Racing, and it's been great."

How much were you involved last year and will that change in 2007?

"My role won't change much at all, to be quite honest with you. I'm involved early in the season in going to as many races as I can. It's difficult to go to many more than the handful I go to as it is because of the schedule with football and being gone so many weekends in a row as I am doing that. But, I stay in contact with the crew chief and Tony Raines during the year. I stay in contact with Bill (Saunders, general and managing partner). He does a great job of keeping us up to speed. When decisions have to be made, we get together collectively as owners, so it's been positive."

What did you learn about the technical side of the sport last year?

"I learned more than I anticipated. I learned that each week it's either loose or it's tight. It's never just right. It seems like yesterday we were loose and today we were tight. It was like, 'OK, when is it perfect?' I think that's really the challenge. It seems relatively simple, but it's anything but. It's amazing how a tweak here and a tweak there can increase your chance of gaining speed and competing on the track. So, all of that was definitely a learning process for me."

Because you and Roger had so much success on the football field, everyone wants to make comparisons between NASCAR and the NFL. Are there any?

"I think there are parallels, but I think there is with any team -- regardless of what the sport may be. The most important thing, and I know Roger believes this as well, is that the successes that I've been able to have, at any level or whatever the field might be, it's about having good people -- good talented people who are team players. They're not selfish. They want to work hard and they want to be good. That's how it worked for me with the Cowboys, how it worked for me when I was younger, and it works for me in the automobile business and it's working for us in NASCAR. We've been fortunate that we've been able to identify some really good people. They work really hard for us and we're happy about that. And when we identify areas that need to be improved, we try to attack those as best we can and get better people in those areas. If we can continue to do that, then we've got a chance to continue to get better."

ROGER STAUBACH (Co-Owner, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

What are your thoughts heading into Daytona and the 2007 season?

"We're in the race, but that was our problem last year. Even though we were in the top-35, we didn't qualify that well. We've been working on our setups, and it will be really neat to see if we can qualify better. At a lot of races last year, we didn't qualify very well, but we finished well. If we qualify better, we can finish better. That's going to be our test this year -- our setups and having better qualifying efforts."

Throughout your football career at NAVY and then with the Cowboys, could you have ever imagined being a NASCAR team owner?

"No, I would not have. We have a senior executive, Paul Whitman, who was really into racing, and Paul is the one who got me into it. Paul knew Bill (Saunders), and obviously I knew Troy, so it all kind of came together about three years ago. We kept hanging in there and then we got DLP to be our sponsor, and all the groundwork we had done with Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, and all of a sudden the impossible came together. It's been a great experience."

BILL SAUNDERS (General & Managing Partner, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

Overall thoughts heading into 2007?

"I'm looking for a lot of improvement. I'd like considerable improvement in qualifying. If we could take it from average of 32.9 or whereever we were, to 25th or better, I'd be satisfied. I'd like to be between 15th and 20th in the points and stretch goal inside the top 15. The last six races of last year, we were 14th in points, so there is no reason we can't do that. If we've got the pit crew together like we think we do -- these guys are awesome. They've done a great job in the off-season, so we think they're going to be good. We think we made a lot of improvement to the cars and we think a year's worth of experience will pay off for us."

What did you learn in the first season?

"People don't understand that you have to stock a parts department - you have to do things that all the other teams take for granted. This year, we get to think about racing rather than inventory and budgeting and a lot of the things you get caught up in."

How big is the Daytona 500?

"From a team perspective, it's a giant race because if you win the Daytona 500, all of a sudden, you've won the Daytona 500 for your sponsor. We'd love to do that for DLP. It's one of the largest audiences there is in motorsports. So, why wouldn't you want to lead it and win it? From another perspective, you want to come out of there with points because those first five races are so critical to the rest of your season. Coming out with a crashed race car and finishing 43rd -- that's rough on a team. So, it's a big race from that standpoint."

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Terry Labonte , Tony Raines
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing , Hall of Fame Racing