Dodge driver Jimmy Spencer interview

JIMMY SPENCER (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid) COMMENT ON SEASON'S FIRST 16 RACES "A lot of people didn't give us an opportunity really. We came out of the box and ran pretty good. We were very competitive in the first six or...

JIMMY SPENCER (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge Intrepid)

COMMENT ON SEASON'S FIRST 16 RACES

"A lot of people didn't give us an opportunity really. We came out of the box and ran pretty good. We were very competitive in the first six or eight races. We felt like we made a lot of mistakes. We've had some things happen to us that we felt was some of our doings. Right now we're in turmoil because we're confused. We didn't run good at Michigan. That was the car we had at Atlanta and ran really well with. We're doing some searching right now. We think we can find it. We have a brand new car for Daytona. We're excited about that coming up and I think we're going to some tracks where we should really run good, but our biggest concern right now is to get ourselves back thinking the way we were at the start of the season. I think we'll get back on track and start notching some more top 10s and top fives."

THOUGHTS ON TOYOTA COMING INTO SERIES

"I'm a very traditional person. I'm upset that R.J. Reynolds is leaving the sport. I'm upset that they moved Darlington to California on Labor Day Weekend. There are a lot of things that upset you but on the other side of it you've got to say, 'wait a minute here.' This sport has grown. Winston Cup racing has grown in the last 10 years like no one could imagine. Since the new TV package came on board, we're competing against some big major league players. In turn that puts a lot of pressure on NASCAR to find markets for ticket sales and stuff. That's why they moved Darlington. I never thought I'd see Toyota, a foreign manufacturer come in, but I've been a race car driver. I've always sort of been sentimental to Chevrolet and that's because I raced them in my short track days. Today, the way the NASCAR Series is structured, you can run anything you want and be competitive. In Winston Cup now it seems NASCAR's new rules everything is competitive. To say one manufacturer has an advantage - no. Will I be driving a Toyota some day? Who knows. It's up to the car owner. The car owners have to make the best decisions for their team. If they feel that Toyota is going to be better, then that's probably what our car owner will do."

"Me, I want to stay with Dodge. I think the Dodge people really, I enjoy the management, I enjoy working with them. They're really involved. This is off the subject some, but I think when you see the new sponsor Nextel come in the series next year, they need to really look hard at what the Winston people, the R.J. Reynolds tobacco people have done for not just the drivers and owners, but media. I think everybody learns from everybody else's mistakes. Toyota is going to be really prepared when they come in. They'll be competitive in the truck series and down the road when they enter Winston Cup you're going to have to take them seriously. I think that's what a lot of car owners are going to do."

COMMENT ON PASSING UNDER CAUTION

"There's always gray area any time the green flag drops in a Winston Cup race as far as NASCAR explains to us a gentleman's agreement. Mike (Helton) said it to us. He said, 'guys, we know there's not a gentleman's agreement any more.' I think the reason why there isn't, the drivers, me included, we're constantly getting pressure from the media, from our crew members to stay on top of the wheel. When I first started in this sport, when you drove real, real hard, you'd always get in trouble and not finish races. Today, the equipment, the engines, the cars, the tires, the braking systems are so advanced over where they were 10 years ago that you have to drive as hard as you can once they drop the green flag to the checkered. Now, the thing is pit crews. If a pit crew doesn't have a 13 and a half second pit stop they're crap. They're not that good. In turn if a pit crew has a great pit stop and everything is going good, you're still racing 20 cars for positions. We have come to take advantage of this gentleman's agreement. I heard a lot about what Robby (Gordon) did. I saw what Jeff Gordon did at Texas, and Jeff Gordon did the right thing at Texas. We as a bunch of drivers have to come up with something. I don't think it's NASCAR's rule because NASCAR can only police that caution line. Passing under the caution is a bad deal, but on the other side of it, you can gain a spot. You can win a race because of it. You win a Winston Cup race and you're set. Your sponsor is set for the rest of the year. The pressure is off. A lot of things put pressure on everybody. I think the pressure of the sport has caused drivers to say, 'I agree, there is a gentleman's agreement.' We put our helmet on, we get in the car and say 'to hell with the gentleman's agreement. We try to gain everything we can.' It's not NASCAR's fault. It's the drivers' fault. Some guys push the limit and some guys don't. I think you have to realize that certain competitors out there are going to give under the caution. There are others that aren't. The drivers have to establish who they are. We know that Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte, those guys aren't going to push that yellow light issue, but it's obvious that Robby did and other people are going to and you'll have to do the same thing to them, so it's a no win situation. It's something that's tough and something for everybody to write about."

HOW IS MATT KENSETH REGARDED AMONG THE DRIVERS?

"Our sport is so competitive it's hard to say. There's no question that Matt is going to be tough, but don't underestimate Gordon (Jeff). Gordon has been there Gordon has been lingering back there all year long, never really seemed to be the eight or 10 win season. I don't think people are going to have the 8 or 10 win season we've seen in the past because of the competition level. The type of person Matt is, he's just a genuine person. He's the guy who's very easy to get along with. He talks to you all the time. Is he flamboyant with the media such as a guy like Earnhardt or Gordon? No. He's very low key. That's what makes our sport what it is. We've got guys who are very controversial, flamboyant. We have guys who are very quiet and keep to themselves. Matt's that type of person. If he is the Winston Cup champion, he's going to be a great one, but he will be a contender. I feel that Matt will be the one that loses the championship if he does lose it. Right now it looks like he's going to win this thing. I know there's a long way to go and he could have some unfortunate things happen, but if you look at his track record, he's always there. He doesn't make anybody mad at him. He doesn't push the issue. The Sterling Marlin-Jeff Gordon incidents, the Junior incidents with Matt, those things are over with. They could flair up again. Matt doesn't get too many confrontational situations. I personally feel that it's Matt's championship to lose right now. If he stays on track, he and Robbie (Reiser) they're going to be tough to beat."

SOME TORN UP CARS RAN WELL AT TALLADEGA. IS IT POSSIBLE TO SEE THAT AT DAYTONA?

"I think the thing at Talladega, the track is a lot different than Daytona. Even though they're both restrictor plates and Daytona is 2.5 miles and Talladega is 2.66, I think there are things you have to realize. Once you get in the draft, that little bit of aerodynamic damage that they had was probably a couple of counts, but the thing was, they utilized the draft so well. At Daytona you could have the same situation, but the cars seem to have more handling characteristics at Daytona. I think even at Talladega, the draft is so critical. I think at Daytona if you have a little bit of damage, a little aero push will react a lot different at Talladega than it will at Daytona. If the cars are damaged, I think Daytona probably will be the better car with no damage is going to win that race simply because of the little aerodynamic problems that can compound a push condition. At Talladega, you have a lot bigger corner and a lot more sweep. I think that's what causes the little bit of damage not to be so drastic at Talladega as it is at Daytona. I don't think you'll see them beating and banging at Daytona like they did at Talladega."

WHAT'S YOUR ANALYSIS OF HOW DODGE HAS DONE TO THIS POINT?

"I think that of all the manufacturers I've worked with, and we've worked with Chevrolet and Ford, I think the Dodge people are more involved in a lot of ways. I think they put a lot of pressure on Ford and GM to do some stuff. You saw it implemented two years ago with the Chevys. GM is running awful good, there's no doubt about it. On the other side of it, the thing about Dodge, their engineering from Ted Flack in the engine department and the head engineers and the aero engineers, they're very concerned about making sure all the teams work together. I think that's why you saw them react the way they did to Bill Davis, simply because the guys are working hard. Ray Evernham and his group, Tommy (crew chief Baldwin) and our group, the Ganassi group and everybody is working together to try to make this car better constantly. Penske has been a big asset to the organization. To me, that's put a lot of pressure on all the other manufacturers. Dodge hasn't won as many races this year, and there's a lot of fingers being pointed, but all in all, a lot of the Dodge teams have had some tough luck. I don't think the Dodge is that bad at all. I think they'll win their share of races before the year is over."

HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A SOLID TEAM WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT WITH THE 20-RACE STRETCH COMING UP?

"I think that finger pointing is the biggest thing that happens to our race teams. A little dissention is an organization really starts to snowball. The time restraints and things like that really get to you. It's good leadership that keeps everything going. You have to have that smile on your face even when you don't want to smile at the crew members, and you have to keep thinking positive all the time. That in turn rubs off on everyone in the shop and the road crew. That really establishes how good a summer you have. This is where it's at. The next 10-12 races establish where you're going to be in the points and how well prepared you are and how well you stay focused. You keep building on that situation for the final third of the season and on into next year."

WOULD YOU HAVE DONE WHAT ROBBY GORDON DID ON SUNDAY?

"In that situation it's not a teammate issue. It's like you feel like you can win this race. I think every driver is going to treat a situation a little bit different. Would I say I wouldn't do that? I'm not going to stand here and lie. If it comes down to winning a Winston Cup race, I don't care who you are. I don't care what any other driver says. They're going to say something, but if they get the opportunity to win a race and they see a pass is available, they'll probably take it and win the race. I don't blame Robby for what he did. He ended up winning the race, and I credit him for it. We can all point fingers at him and stuff like that, but always put the shoe on the other side. If Jeff Gordon could have done it, he would have done it. To me, yeah, I would do it if I got the opportunity."

HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOURSELF FOR 20-RACE STRETCH?

"I think the biggest thing is to stay happy with your crew members. You're on the road so much, when you do get a little bit of time, make sure your wife doesn't put pressure on you. My wife has been great for me over the last 25 years with that situation in racing. I think that you see it with Todd Parrott. I feel so bad for Todd because he's had some personal problems. The bottom line is that it's so critical. You don't get to see your kids and you don't get to play golf and you don't get to do a lot of things. When you do get that time and you're in good shape at the shop, then the leader of the team needs to give that guy an extra day off. That's what makes the team stronger. It starts at home with your personal life. You're on the road so many days of the week that it really hurts. The young guys don't get to date girls like they want to at home. You have a lot of things personally involved that I think help you really focus when you get to the race track. It's like when you get home and you've got to leave on Thursday again to go to the next race and you've only been home for three days, and sometimes you've tested for two of those three days, it's very easy to lose focus and lose your thought process of what you need to do. That's the thing that good leadership has to do is keep those guys focused and the drivers have it fairly easy. Those guys who have to go to the shop at 7 or 8 o'clock in the morning and work to 7 or 8 at night, they're the ones who really have it tough. The driver has to help those guys, take 'em out and do stuff with 'em and keep 'em focused. That's what helps the 20-race stretch without question."

DO GUYS IN GARAGE STILL THINK ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT?

"Oh gosh, yeah. Dale is always on our minds, not all the time, but Earnhardt was a person in the garage area who talked to all the drivers. He had this portrayal of himself that the fans put on him and he followed it, but if you were ever at driver intros or drivers' meeting, you could always talk to Dale, and you miss that stuff. He was the type of person with that &*%$-eating grin that was always there, and you miss it. Ever so often you go to the drivers' meeting or driver intros and you don't see him and you say, 'man, it's hard to believe he ain't there anymore.' I'm still one who thinks about it some."

WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON WEEK OFF?

"We're not doing nothing. My kids and wife and I will probably go to dinner and go to a movie and go boating. We'll have a good time this weekend because it's the last one until the end of the year."

WHY ARE YOU SAD THAT R.J. REYNOLDS IS GOING AWAY?

"That would be an hour conversation. The first time I ever met R.J. Reynolds people was back in 1979. The thing is, I have known this series as the Winston Cup. It wasn't just because I drove for 'em that I got close to T. Wayne (Robertson) and Rob (Goodman) and everyone of those guys up there. They made our sport what it is. NASCAR can own up to saying they did, but NASCAR can tell you that it was T. Wayne and R.J. Reynolds together that made our NASCAR Winston Cup Series. I'm a very traditional person. It's like when you go somewhere and it's always been known as the certain name of a facility or whatever. Winston Cup is no different. The thing is when I drove for 'em, there was a lot of things I couldn't do because of the smoking deal, but if I didn't want to do stuff at the schools, I would wear a NASCAR shirt and say I drove a NASCAR car. I never once was asked to sell cigarettes or if I smoked or whatever. All the stuff that R.J. Reynolds has done has always been positive for our sport. I've met a lot of people over the years, vendors and people that own mini markets and distributorships and grocery stores, through R.J. Reynolds and I've made some good relationships. I guess that Nextel is going to be good for our sport. In a way I guess it's going to be better because they can spend money on TV advertising and doing stuff that R.J. Reynolds couldn't. I've got a lot of friends there, and those friends, even if you look today, J. Byrd at Bristol and Curtis Gray at Miami and Grant Lynch at Talladega and Chris (Powell) at Las Vegas, these guys worked for R.J. Reynolds. We still talk about our days and stuff like that. We'll always have those memories, but it's soft to my heart. It's something you'll always have memories of, and I guess that's why it's sad that that day is coming. I guess it's like a retirement party. You've been working somewhere for so many years and you get transferred or get moved or you retire. It's like, 'man, I'm not going to be able to see him or her again.' Maybe on the phone and stuff. I guess that's some of the things I'm reflecting on to the future, and it bothers me a little bit."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE ANOTHER TRACK IN THE NORTHEAST?

"We go to New York City for the banquet, the Winston Cup banquet has always been there, and I hope they keep it there. I hope Nextel does. But you look at L.A. Why are we going to L.A. twice? Simply because of the amount of population and the sponsors we have. You need to touch as big a fan base as you can. Without a doubt, New York City would be awesome. You'd be less than a few minutes from New You'd be less than a few minutes from New York City and could see the skyline. That would be a no-brainer. The other ones we need to look at are Colorado and Kentucky. Do we need to be at some of these other tracks twice? No. We could cut that back to just one race and go to New York City and Kentucky and Colorado. That's big. I'd welcome New York City in a heartbeat."

ARE THINGS CHANGING TOO FAST IN NASCAR?

"I saw when we rode around in driver intros in the trucks (at Sonoma) a lot, a lot of empty seats. Do I think it was a good race? Hell no. It wasn't a good race. I watched highlights of it and the only way you could pass anybody was running into the back end of them in 7 or 11. That's not racing in my eyes, not racing the way we're supposed to race. I think it does upset the people in the south. I think it upsets the people in the north. You go to Michigan and you go to Pocono or New Hampshire. At New Hampshire they're standing around the outside of the racetrack trying to see the race. I see from the drivers' standpoint when I go to these racetracks, I see the desire of these fans. They can't wait to see us. It hurts to go to Darlington and Rockingham and not have a full audience, so I see NASCAR's side of it. When you don't support a facility then NASCAR was forced to move the date. I agree it upsets a lot of people in the south, but on the other side of it, when we can go to Texas and get 180,000 people or whatever it is. We go to New Hampshire. If he had another 25,000 seats, he'd sell 'em. We go to Richmond, Va., my God, at Richmond that's the hottest ticket in the market. Bristol? That's happening. To me, if we had a perfect world, I would have never raced at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. If I was a track, I'd build a track like Richmond where you can put 160,000-170,000 people and watch an awesome race, a lot of passing, a lot of excitement in every corner. A lot of things have changed, and I think NASCAR's hands are forced into the situation. They have to make changes, and their changes are moving dates. To me, some tracks down the road will lose a date. They're not going to like it. It could be Pocono. It could be New Hampshire or Martinsville. Who knows where it could be? We're going to be forced down the road from the pressures of the sponsors and from the pressures of the fans that want that market. We've already seen the first card played. It's not good, yet it is good down the road, so to me, NASCAR has made some really good decisions over the years. The fans have forced their hand over a lot of the issues. I'm glad NASCAR has to make those decisions and not me."

DO GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS HELP YOU ON THE TRACK?

"As you become a race car driver you learn what your car wants. You can't change a person's personality. I think Matt Kenseth is not a personality other drivers are and I think other drivers aren't the personality other drivers are, so everybody is different. The big thing is, it's obvious you have to find the right person to communicate with. The car owner has to make a lot of those decisions. I have a great car owner in Jimmy Smith. They all thought that with Tommy and me it was going to be the biggest right since oil and water. It's so far from the truth. Tommy really believes in me, and I believe in him. For me, it's easy to communicate with somebody because you build that relationship and you build that trust. I had it with Donnie Wingo. I had it with Jimmy Fennig. When you say to them this is what I'm feeling, they believe you. They do not question you. It just gets stronger and stronger. It's obvious between Matt Kenseth and Robbie Reiser. It's obvious between Dale Jr. and Tony Eury Sr. and Jr. They've been together. When Dale Jr. says something, Tony Eury believes him. When Kurt Busch says something, Jimmy Fennig believes him. That's the key in communicating, and that's the key in driving. I think if you listen on the radio, a guy who gets very hostile and cusses and yells and screams at his crew and his crew chief, that doesn't lead to very good situations down the road. I never really get mad. I used to get mad, but I learned, actually through T. Wayne Robertson, is that the way you'd like to be talked to? They know when you get mad and upset. Then you usually come back and say you're sorry. That just assures them that you have total confidence in them and you go on about your business. We're struggling right now, but we're going to get this thing together for the Sirius team and we're going to run good."

IS IT TOUGH TO RUN OTHER SERIES ALONG WITH THE CUP SCHEDULE?

"I think if you try to do stuff away from the track or fly away and have the pressure of trying to run the truck series and the Busch Series with the Cup Series, I think that makes it pretty hard on you. You can try to convince yourself that it isn't, but I think that more mentally than anything, it's got to be draining. I do like running the Busch Series, and I've been asked to drive some Busch races again this year. I might do some, but I'm not going to go to that 25-race Busch Schedule. It's good to run the Busch Series some, no question, but to ever go back to say I'm going to run for the championship in both or to say I'm going to run 27 Busch races and 38 Cup races or whatever, to me, it sounds real good and everything, but I think mentally it stresses you and instead of benefiting, it becomes a detriment. I also think the crew doesn't get the time to spend with you. All in all, I think a limited Busch schedule or a limited truck schedule along with full-time Cup is good for you. I think it also helps the crew chief, especially if he's working with the other team, it'll be a benefit to both. I think you see that with Matt Kenseth. When he comes to the Busch Series, he dominates. He's strong as any team I've ever seen, actually stronger than Mark Martin's team was. I think that's why Matt does it, and it assures his confidence level and Robbie's confidence level. I think the drivers enjoy racing on Saturday. I do enjoy racing some Saturdays. Would I want to race every Saturday and Sunday? No, I think that that needs to be every other two or three weeks. That would be nice."

WHAT'S THE NEXT MOST COMPETITIVE SERIES TO WINSTON CUP?

"Let me tell you what. There ain't a frigging series, I don't care whose series it is, that's even close to Winston Cup. It is so far more competitive than CART, Formula One, IRL. Those guys could all do whatever they want to. They could bring everything they can and they cannot dominate the Winston Cup Series. NASCAR, the way they have it structured, the point system, it is absolutely the toughest thing you could ever imagine doing in your life."

-dodge motorsports-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Ray Evernham , Mark Martin