ROBBY GORDON, No. 7 Monster Energy Drink Toyota Camry, Robby Gordon Motorsports How do you feel about this year's Daytona 500? "I think we're in pretty good shape. We've worked really hard over the winter. The Daytona 500 didn't start in ...
ROBBY GORDON, No. 7 Monster Energy Drink Toyota Camry, Robby Gordon Motorsports
How do you feel about this year's Daytona 500? "I think we're in pretty good shape. We've worked really hard over the winter. The Daytona 500 didn't start in January, it didn't start in December, it started the first week of November -- you better be preparing for the Daytona 500. So we started our preparation way back in November. We've been basically flying under the radar. Nobody really knows what we've been doing, but we are as well prepared or better prepared then I've ever showed up to the Daytona 500."
What are your plans for this year? "I can't spell you out my plans yet. Next Friday I have another announcement that's coming. But, right now we have two cars here at Daytona. One being the Monster Energy car and one being a Warner Music car. Both of these cars are identical race cars. David (Gilliland) is driving one of them. We've basically been silent. I go away and take off and do my Dakar (Rally) deal in December. My guys have put their heads down and built us race cars that I have not ever had in my facility before. I encourage you to walk by and take a look at the garage area and look under the hood of these cars because they're not stock cars. These things are full blown Formula 1 cars, Indy cars or COT cars with a COT body on top of it. This is the best piece of machinery that we've ever brought to the race track, so I'm excited about it."
Are you going to run every Sprint Cup Series race? "The 7 car will run every race, but I might not be in it. We've got some big stuff coming up next week that we're going to talk about. We've got a lot of good stuff on our plate. I'd rather be in this position than the other position wondering what I'm going to do. I think we're just going to end up having more stuff than I can actually fit in in a single season."
Will you run two cars the entire season with your team and BAM Racing? "That is yet to be determined on how many races we will run two. Right now, we're in a ramp up time. Daytona was hard on us. I didn't want to come to Daytona with two race teams and backup cars that we could roll out of the trailer and maybe in a few hours get them bolted together. We came here with four race cars finished. Hit the button, they'll start up and hit the race track. We've made this mistake before and to not carry good capable backup cars on the trailer drives me crazy. So, I wasn't going to take on the project unless we could actually put four cars in the trailer and hit the race track here at Daytona. Obviously, we picked the two that we feel are the best two cars. The best two cars might be in the trailer but I hope they don't get out of the trailer. At the same time, though, they're finished. And when I mean they're finished, contingency decals, drivers sat in both of them -- I've been in my car. David Gilliland has been in his car. He's driven it around the parking lot at the shop. All of the cars have been on the chassis dyno. All the seat belts are set. Rearview mirrors are done. Literally it's as fast as NASCAR will allow us to hit the track which is probably 15 minutes and we could have our backup cars on the track as well. That was really our goal. Like I said, we've kind of been silent all winter long. Nobody really knows what we've been doing except for the Dakar program and the NASCAR team hasn't got a lot of attention. And I'm fine with that. I think the most important thing is we come down here and we're fast."
Who provides your engines? "Triad (Racing Technologies) is doing the motors, which obviously has a direct relationship with TRD. They bui lt great engines for us last year. I enjoy my Toyota relationship. It's been good. That one goes back -- I've had Toyota relationships for 21 years now back when I won the 1989 Mickey Thompson off-road championship driving a Toyota. It's funny that some of the same guys are there. Lee White (president and general manager, Toyota Racing Development) was my team manager when I actually left Toyota and went and drove for Jack Roush in the IMSA Series. Les Unger (national motorsports marketing manager, Toyota Motor Sales) has been around there for 21 years that I'm aware of and we've got good relationships there."
REED SORENSON, No. 32 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Braun Racing
How has it been working with Braun Racing and getting ready to attempt to make the Daytona 500 "The main focus for me during the off-season is getting the Cup car ready for here (Daytona). It's been good -- we feel like we have a good shot at making it. I think it's going to be okay because Trent (Owens, crew chief) and I were together last year and he's going to be the crew chief on it. We already kind of broke the ice working with each other, so hopefully in practice next Wednesday we're able to get the car tuning and get a little faster."
How many Nationwide races are you running this year? "We are running 23. I kind of wish I was running all of them because it's only 10 races away from a full season and it would be fun to run for a championship because I think we could do really well and have a good shot at winning it. That's just the way the schedule worked out. (Brian) Vickers is going to run 10 (races), I'm running 23 (races) and that's the way it worked out. But, I think the 23 races that we are in, I think we should win a couple races and be competitive."
Can a driver not competing in the Sprint Cup Series win the Nationwide Series championship? "It's definitely possible. If you look at the Penske car -- the 12 (Justin Allgaier) car is really strong. I would say they would probably be the strongest one right now. With (Brad) Keselowski moving up, obviously he'll be a Cup guy. I would say it would be really tough for anyone to beat Carl (Edwards) with all his Cup experience. They're fast every week so it will be tough to beat those guys."
What do you want to accomplish in your career? "I think on the Cup side, we just want to make the races first of all because it's the first time that Braun has been working with these cars so it's going to be a challenge. In those cars, we want to make the race and then learning once we do make the race and then building a foundation for the rest of the year and next year. Nationwide side, we want to win races. I don't really see any reason why we can't come to the end of the season with a couple wins under our belt. All the tracks we're going to -- I like them all. Hopefully, Trent (Owens, crew chief) and I -- the more we work together, the better we'll be and build better race cars as the year goes on and be fast and win races."
Does it take time to get back into the rhythm of the season? "Not really -- just because our off-season is so short. I would say that if there was another month in between then it would be nice to spend a couple days just getting used to driving the car again. Since our off-season is so short, it really doesn't take that long. And you get comfortable in the car before you come here (Daytona) so usually all that stuff is right and the only thing you really have to worry about is just getting the feel of the car and getting what you want. The first two days that we're here (Daytona), we're running out there by ourselves so that gives you time to get used to the speed and everything. It's usually not too bad."
What are your thoughts about the new Nationwide car? "I haven't even seen one -- just the pictures that I've seen online. I saw one when they unveiled it last year, but there's none in Braun's shop. I know what the car consists of -- it's the same center section as a Cup car and the splitter is quite a bit different on the front and then it runs a spoiler on the back. It somewhat looks like a Cup car except the body is quite a bit different."
How does it change your outlook having to qualify into the Daytona 500? "It changes a lot -- it's nerve wracking. We haven't even done anything yet and I'm already nervous. It's not very fun. I say that, but I think Thursday afternoon, if we're in the race then I think that will be a very rewarding feeling. Not only for me as a driver, but for everybody on that team. Hopefully, that happens and I think it will be a great feeling to have and a great sense of accomplishment. Then once we do make the race, if we do, we don't really have any pressure on us. We have nothing to lose, no points to lose and we can just have fun and go for it. That will be even better. Right now, I'm really nervous and I know the guys on the team are nervous and Trent (Owens, crew chief) is a little nervous because we all have something to prove."
Do you feel like you have something to prove this year? "I think so, as a driver, I think I have a lot to prove. You want to make sure that people know that you're still here and you still belong here. I think we can do that by winning a few races and making these Cup races with a start-up Cup team. I think that will show a lot to people."
How prepared is your team for the Daytona 500? "I feel like we're pretty good. After this race we're not sure -- we have to get some stuff figured out for our Cup races from this point on. For this particular race, the car that we have, they did as much work on it as they possibly could. It's a little bit older car, it's a couple years old, but it is a speedway car. They worked hard on it, they spent time on it and hopefully it's fast enough to make it."
Is this a 'crossroads' season for you? "I think it is. The economy is tough right now, it's hard to get sponsors -- there are not a lot of great Cup seats available for anyone right now. For me to be with Braun on the Nationwide side, I believe they are one of the best teams in the Nationwide garage and anybody would agree with that -- you have to be happy about that. To be able to be a part of that and be able to be competitive enough to say that we should win races and not a lot of people can say that in any series in NASCAR. That's a good feeling to have. The Cup side is something that we're looking forward to. We know it's going to be a challenge and the guys working on the car know it's going to be a challenge. Dollar General knows it's going to be a challenge, but they're excited about it. It's something that we're going to take step by step and we're happy to do it."
TREVOR BAYNE, No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Diamond-Waltrip Racing
Are you excited to start your season? "We couldn't be happier to be here in Daytona. We're a little bit nervous, I've never been to Daytona before so we have a whole new learning game in front of us. I think we can do it. It's going to be good to get out here and do some drafting and learn this new ball game. This is the kind of racing that I've always looked forward to doing and just haven't had the opportunity to do it because of my age. Now that I'm 18, I can finally race here at Daytona and we're really excited."
Does the ability to show your personality give you an advantage in this sport? "You have to be so well-rounded in this sport. I still have things to work on, but fortunately I've been able to speak a little bit and drive too -- so that's been good for us. It's not just driving anymore. You see these drivers that are all out running eight miles a day like Jimmie Johnson, getting in shape and they're working in front of a camera. You have to be well- rounded in this sport for sure."
Do you worry about your personality changing as you progress in NASCAR? "It's something you have to keep in check. It's definitely easy to fall into that hole, being in Mooresville (N.C.), that's 'Race City' so that's all you see all the time is racing, racing, racing. I love to go back home to Knoxville (Tenn.) and keep grounded. Actually, I got baptized this off-season and I think that was something that I was really looking forward to and finally got that done and got the weight off my shoulders. You have to stay grounded and keep the same person that you are. It's easy to be in that cookie-cutter mold, but I think different people are what make this sport. When you look at Motocross or anything like that, they're not all the same dudes getting off the dirt bike and we don't want to be all the same person getting out of that race car. I think NASCAR has something to offer for everybody -- there's a driver for everybody out there, for sure."
How competitive is the Nationwide Series? "I think your top-15 (teams) in the Nationwide Series are really, really stout. Whether it's Nationwide drivers or Cup drivers because of the team support that they have. Those cars are so good -- you've got Joe Gibbs, Penske, Paul Menard is running full-time this year -- you've got some really good teams and hopefully we can be grouped into that category with Diamond-Waltrip Racing. Hopefully, we can be one of those teams that they know they have to watch out for each and every weekend. That's our goal is to be a top-five team. I think we have the resources and the capability, now we just have to do it and try to get better every weekend. By the end of the year I would like to say that we are a top-three team every week. I think going into the season we may be top-10. It's kind of hard to say because we changed so much in the off- season with engineers and tire guys -- we tried to make the best group that we possibly could. Jerry Baxter is still the crew chief on the car and I'm still the driver. Hopefully, we can keep working together like we did last year and just get better every race."
What is it like to work for Michael Waltrip? "He's a great guy and he's really good with sponsors and that's really important in this day and time. That's something I want to learn from him every week -- how to keep these sponsors happy and he definitely knows that. Michael Waltrip Racing had 100 percent renewal this season -- they brought back every single sponsor they had last year and that's huge. I've never seen an owner more dedicated. He's in the shop almost every single day. He works out with the drivers because he still has that mentality of a driver and I think that's going to make him a really successful owner."
Can you finish in the top-five in points? "That's our goal. We talked about it and Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) did an interview and he called me to tell me that he told them what our expectations were and that I needed to tell them the same. We both said top-five without even talking. In our minds, that was our goal. If you look at some of the teams that ran up there this year, I definitely think we're on par with them, if not a little better. I think we can be up in the top-five by the end of the season."
JASON LEFFLER, No. 10 ABF Toyota Camry, Braun Racing
How do you feel about NASCAR allowing the drivers to 'be themselves?' "I'm glad to hear that they're not trying to police the bump drafting quite as hard as they were because the drivers will figure it out themselves. There's a lot of unwritten rules -- if you're going to wreck a guy, he's going to get you next time. They need to leave it up to the drivers."
Do the drivers do a good job of 'policing themselves?' "For years we policed ourselves. In the last couple seasons, they (NASCAR) came up with a 'no bump drafting' rule in the corners and such. If you wreck somebody, you're going to pay the price down the road."
Would you like Danica Patrick to run the Nationwide race at Daytona? "I think it would be good for Nationwide, good for NASCAR and all our other sponsors, whether it's Great Clips or ABF Freight. I think she will bring a lot of attention to the series and it would be pretty cool to see her come in."
Will it take her (Danica Patrick) some time to make the adjustment? "Absolutely, but she's young enough and she's a good enough race car driver that she can adapt. For her, you trust her right away because she's got racing credentials. People come into our series week in and week out that have no idea what they're doing, especially some of those back markers. For her to come in here as an IndyCar driver that has top-five finishes at the Indianapolis 500, that's done a lot of professional racing, it's no problem. I hope she does well."
Can a Nationwide Series driver beat a Cup driver for the championship? "You can do it. I think back on the mistakes that I made last year and the mistakes that we had with the race car -- if we get rid of all those then we're a lot closer than we were. Scott Zipadelli (crew chief) has made a lot of improvements to our cars over the winter, some personnel changes that I think will help and we've got one more season under our belt. I think we can contend for it. We'll fire off here at Daytona and anything happens at Daytona. If we could go out and win the race it would be awesome, but if we get caught up in a wreck then we'll go out to California and start the racing season."
MIKE SKINNER, No. 5 International/Monaco RV Toyota Tundra, Randy Moss Motorsports with HTM
What are your goals for the 2010 season? "I want to win another championship. I want to win a championship for Toyota because we went in there on the ground floor with them. I'm the only guy that has run every race in the Truck Series for Toyota. I want to do it for them. I want to do it for me. I want to do it for our new sponsors -- International Truck and Monaco."
Does coming close to winning championships give you motivation? "I was going to retire a couple of years ago and we won five races that year. We led the most laps. We had the championship won, and a loose left-rear tire cost us the championship. I think that might've been the best thing that ever happened to me. Yeah, I would've liked to have had that championship, but by the same token, it fueled me to go on. A lot of times when you retire, you get old. I feel like it was an opportunity for me to stay in shape and get myself mentally and physically ready to go battle for another championship."
How different is this season compared to last year? "It's 1,000 percent different. It's not a little different -- it's a lot. We only had two trucks with Toyota sheet metal on them a year ago. We didn't have many people in the shop. We had no cash. It was a struggle. With the help of Toyota and the help of a lot of people like Exide Batteries and PC Miler Navigator coming in and helping us out and a few little sponsorships along the way, we got through it, we got through it and ran pretty darn respectable. From where we were at a year ago to where we are today with International Truck coming on board, bringing Monaco RVs, and we still got Exide and we still got PC Miler. We got so much more depth than we had a year ago. We got a new crew chief in Gene Nead, so it's going to take a little adjustment period there. I feel like even if we get a slow start to the season, I think we're going to be pretty tough coming down the stretch."
Continued in part 2