Wednesday, Aug. 16,2006 Ray Evernham, Elliott Sadler. Sadler to drive No. 19 Dodge. RAY EVERNHAM: (President, CEO Evernham Motorsports) OPENING COMMENTS "Good morning. Obviously we're pretty sure everybody is up to speed on our changes....
Wednesday, Aug. 16,2006
Ray Evernham, Elliott Sadler.
Sadler to drive No. 19 Dodge.
RAY EVERNHAM: (President, CEO Evernham Motorsports)
"Good morning. Obviously we're pretty sure everybody is up to speed on our changes. If not, I'll reiterate. We've made our deal for 2007 and beyond with Elliott Sadler. Elliott is currently in Kentucky shaking down a car and will be in our No. 19 car starting this weekend in Michigan. We're really proud and pleased to have him. We feel this is a key to the turnaround of the 19 team and the performance of it. We're really looking forward to starting our association with him and couldn't be happier that we got this stuff worked out early enough to get a good jump on next year and hopefully climb our car back up into the top 35 or top 30 in points. As I said, you hate to make changes in the middle of the year, but sometimes when things aren't working it's better to move forward. We're just happy to have a jump on our 2007 plans."
WHEN DID YOU START TALKING TO SADLER?
"We actually started talking to Elliott probably in July when we were looking at trying to put a fourth team together. We started to communicate back and forth what his future plans were. Again, he was under contract with Yates and we didn't have a place to put him at that time, so we initially started looking at what we could do in the future with our fourth program."
WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT SADLER AS A DRIVER?
"I think he's been in position to win several times. He's also been very fast. He has several pole positions in Busch and in Cup. He's been extremely fast in some races. We've actually had to run door-to-door in some situations with Elliott for some wins. I think if a little bit more guidance, a little bit more maturity and maybe being surrounded by some people that can help him get the rest of that package in place, kinda like we're going with Kasey Kahne. Kasey was very close to winning some races last year and the year before but didn't. This year we've got him more settled in on how to win. I think there's a great amount of potential in Elliott Sadler. He's got a great amount of marketing value. He is very popular with partners and with the fans. You couple those things there's just a lot more potential with what we see in Elliott."
WHAT KIND OF IMPROVEMENT ARE YOU EXPECTING FOR THE REST OF '06 WITH THE 19 TEAM?
"We need to climb the car back into the top 35 in points. Obviously that's the No. 1 goal. We see possibly some better communication. Certainly when a new person comes in we've just fought communication and attitude issues there kinda all year. I believe a fresh attitude, a winning perspective, a different view on some things can help. This business doesn't seem to be about equipment anymore. It's about people and communication, so the 19 has the same equipment as the 10 and the 9 so it should be at least able to compete on those levels. Our group works really well together with the cars being set up the same way. A lot of things we'd do for the other two cars we couldn't do for the 19, so possibly this will allow us to get back on the track that we feel is best for Evernham Motorsports."
DID YOU TALK WITH ROBERT YATES ABOUT SADLER?
"I actually tried to stay out of that. My deal with drivers is I don't get involved in releasing or whatever their deal is. If they come to me they got to come certainly clean. Elliott handled all that stuff he needed to do with Robert Yates and Ford strictly on his own as I handled my things with Mayfield strictly on my own."
HOW ARE YOU LOOKING AT KASEY KAHNE'S POSITION IN THE CHASE RIGHT NOW?
"I'm glad you asked that question because I wanted to talk about that a little bit. We're not in panic. If you look we've had some bad runs in places we expected to have bad runs. We've had bad runs on the superspeedways and the road courses, which were two of our biggest weaknesses. We've still got to get our plate program going better if we want to win championships. With that said, Kasey was going to get a top 10 finish at Watkins Glen. He was going to get a top 10 finish at Indy and was involved in last-lap crashes in both instances. Kasey feels bad about that. We had a top 10 finish going to happen at Pocono and blew a motor. We're bringing top 10 cars every week. What we've got to do collectively as a group is make sure we don't have failures and make sure as Kasey matures that we understand sometimes we've just got to take the position given to us. I'm confident with the tracks coming up that we will continue to bring top 10, top five cars. If we don't make mistakes we've got a great shot to get back in The Chase. We're not panicking, but we also know if we want to win championships we've got to get stronger in certain areas and Kasey has got to get more experience. As far as the communication and preparation and everything on that race team I feel really good. We've had to take the razor blades out of the toolbox for poor Kenny Francis, but sometimes you just can't control everything that happens. As a race team I believe they're strong and if you look at the way they've performed they've had the potential to finish in the top 10 in just about every race this year. What's stopped us has been engine problems and crashes."
COMMENT ON THE SPECIFICS ON THE PERFORMANCE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE 9 AND 19 THIS SEASON
"The changes in the car, we had to do some things for the Dodge Charger to get it running that really didn't suit Jeremy. We tried changing things back to the way Jeremy ran them last year and it got worse. We could not find a setup he was comfortable with and as you know when rumors start to get out and barbs are being thrown back and forth in the media that completely breaks down the communication on the team. I keep saying this is about communication. It's about performance and there's got to be trust, honesty and respect on the race team. I believe that sometimes when that performance goes away, those things go away and as hard as you try to save it sometimes you can't. I believe in our people. I believe in our equipment. I believe in our systems. I think there was a communication breakdown when we could not get the cars to feel the way Jeremy needed them to feel. I'm not saying that's totally my responsibility or totally his responsibility. It just happens. You see it happen to many race teams where all of a sudden they lose the handle on it and they struggle for awhile. I believe the 19 would have been a lot better off if we could just have gotten a handle on those things earlier."
WHAT PUSHED YOU OVER THE TOP WITH SADLER AND WHAT TYPE OF DRIVERS TO YOU WORK BEST WITH?
"Bill (Elliott) is a great friend, and I believe in people that give 100 percent and Bill gives me 100 percent. I know I can count on him. Military leaders would tell you they'd rather go into battle with 10 people they can count on rather than 100 they're not sure of. When Bill Elliott comes by my side, I can count on that guy 100 percent, for whatever he has, I know I can count on him 100 percent. With Elliott Sadler coming on board, again, I looked at him. I understand his passion. I look at his talent. It's like buying stocks. You've got to look at what you think the potential of that stock is. Sometimes if somebody comes in with a can-do attitude and they're willing to listen and learn, and he does have youth on his side and I think he has driving ability even though he's only won three Cup races as somebody said before. He has set on a lot of poles. He's sat on a lot of Busch poles. He's won a lot of Busch races and he has speed. I can take that speed and turn that into wins."
WILL THE 9, 10 AND 19 BE PREPARED SIMILAR NOW?
"That's the way our system is designed to work. All our cars start with the basic setup. I feel like Elliott, certainly spending time with Kasey and Scott, all three of those drivers have similar styles and Elliott will explain more to you about that, but when we interviewed Elliott and talked to him, he drives with the throttle a lot like Scott and Kasey, so we're hoping the information, again, with new attitudes and positive outlooks, we're hoping that information brings us stronger. When we brought Scott Riggs on board that definitely stepped up our communication. I'm looking for Elliott to do the same thing because I think all three drivers have similar style. Sam Johns, our competition director, makes sure everybody communicates. But the engineers on the 9, 10 and 19 all work together very closely. They're in Kentucky today doing a lot of the things we've already tested on the 9 and 10 when Scott and Kasey were down there. One of the things we're looking forward to with Elliott is strengthening the communication and having more consistency among the three teams rather than the 9 and 10 being one way and the 19 being a different way.?"
DO YOU SEE ANY PERSONNEL CHANGES ON THE 19?
"It'll be basically the same group. We might change some of their responsibilities to strengthen the group a little bit, but the same group was intact last week and the same group will be intact this week. Again, I believe in our people. I believe in our systems and we'll make the changes as needed if we see there needs to be changes, but right now we're planning on keeping that team intact."
DO YOU THINK THE CHASE HAS CHANGED THE SPORT?
"The sport is changing and The Chase has changed it. Some of the developments going on with Toyota are changing the sport. The sport is going to change. Used to be you raced your butt off until November, took a break and then you'd get ready for Daytona. Now, you're getting ready for next year in the August-September timeframe. If you don't have your ducks in a row by August-September you're behind and you're going to see things happening earlier and earlier. I think you're going to start seeing some of these driver things that are going years out like we saw with Jamie McMurray and people like that. The sport is definitely changing. The season is so long that now you're looking at August-September as the breakpoint for all the changes."
"I appreciate everybody getting on board. Hopefully we've answered enough questions about the past and we can talk about the future. As Elliott, I'm very excited about the potential we have going forward. We're really, really looking forward to this weekend. I want to let him go back to work so he can get faster and faster."
ELLIOTT SADLER: (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Charger)
"I'm very excited. I'm sorry I'm a little late. We're testing here at Kentucky today. I'm getting used to all the guys, working together, getting our language together so when we show up at Michigan this weekend we can have a head start on things. I'm very excited. Ray Evernham has a lot of passion for this sport. He's got the will to win. Going to the shop this week, he definitely has the resources I think to take me and Scott Riggs and Kasey Kahne to the next level. From where he started a couple of years ago to where his company is now, he's come a long way in a short time. That starts with the man at the top, so I'm very, very excited about being a part of his program. I'm very excited about working with Kasey. I've been friends with him for awhile. I used to race against Scott Riggs years ago around South Boston and Orange County, so I have a great relationship with him. I'm just looking forward to getting started this weekend. We've had a great test today. I think this team is prepared for the future as good as anybody, and that's where I want it to be. Man, I can't wait. I got to meet with some of my partners that work with Evernham Racing, as far as some folks with Dodge and Valvoline and Stanley and UAW and all that has gone well. I'm looking forward to representing these guys starting Friday."
HOW BIG OF A HASSLE IS IT LEAVING A TEAM AND SWITCHING MANUFACTURERS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEASON?
"This has definitely been a difficult season for me and the last month has really been tough. I'll be honest. I couldn't ask to work with better people than I have. Ray has been so understanding with some of the conditions and commitments and some of the things I have not only with Robert Yates but with sponsors and some of the things we had. My commitment was with the 38 throughout the rest of the year. I told Doug and Robert that from the beginning. 'Whatever you guys need me to do that's what I want to do. If you need me to stay in the car through Homestead to get the system working better, that's what I want to do. If it take me getting out of the car to get David in the car and get some track time, then I'm willing to do that.' I'm all about being the company guy and doing stuff like that. When those guys came to me and decided they wanted to do something now I was able to go ahead and jump in the 19 car, which I think is better for all of us. The last month has been tough, but everybody at Robert Yates Racing, Robert and Doug, we can look at each other in the eye and say we did it the right way. We did it the ethical way. Nobody is sour about anything. We did it the best way we could, the best way a break up can happen. Ray and his guys have been absolutely unbelievable to work with the past couple of weeks getting things going and getting things started and have made the transition as easy as it could be. This week has gone together so smooth to get a car ready to come to Kentucky here to test and to get our primary stuff ready for this weekend at Michigan, man when I came to the shop the other day everybody jumped in and got the driver's stuff ready and ready to roll and the car looks great. I can't ask anybody to be any nicer than Ray and his guys have been the last few weeks. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to go into the shop and those guys welcome me with open arms. I'm looking forward to getting started with them."
DID YOU BRING SOME OF YOUR EQUIPMENT?
"I went back and got some old seats from RYR and a pair of gloves and some earphones and helmet and HANS device and stuff people don't realize you need when you're making a change. It's about like a pro baseball player going from the Yankees to the Red Sox where you just take your bat and glove. We've got a lot of different things that we have to take with us, a lot of different safety devices. When I went to the shop this week those guys were ready to dig and dive right in and we got me very comfortable. My first lap on the track this morning everything felt as good as it could be. I was very, very impressed and very happy with how prepared these guys showed up this morning. I think it's a lot of stuff to get changed and a lot of stuff to do, but people are willing to dive right in and make it happen and make you comfortable no matter what it makes you feel good."
COMMENT ON THE DODGE VERSUS THE FORD
"I have not raced a Dodge yet in traffic from inside the car. I've raced them before outside, but as far as driving the car I am very comfortable. The car has a lot of downforce in it. We haven't fought any problems really today. I will probably be able to give you a more accurate answer Sunday night after the Michigan race. Aerodynamics will play a big part, but as far as comfort here at Kentucky and being in the race track I'm very happy with the car so far. I don't know if it's the package Evernham Motorsports has got or the way the Charger really works, but so far everything has been very, very good. Until we put it into traffic and take it through its paces on a full race weekend I'd just have to speculate, but so far, so good. The biggest thing you can do for a driver is make him comfortable inside the car and make him feel like he's got something to lean on. If you can get that, then you're going to get some speed out of him and right now we've got that. So far so good, but I'll be able to answer that more next week after I get a race under my belt."
COMMENT ON YOUR RELEASE FROM THE 38 AND INTEREST FROM OTHER TEAMS
"As far as the way the separation went from Robert and those guys, I cannot sit here and say anything bad about anybody in that company -- especially Robert and Doug, the family guys they are. It was just a difference of opinion when my opinion of which way the sport is going is a little bit different from the way Robert and Doug think the sport is going.
"We just decided a couple of months ago that we were going to split ways. I talked with some other teams, not only Ray, but after talking to Ray himself and listening to the passion he's got and after talking to Scott and Kasey, I realized this is a great, fair place to work and everybody gets the same stuff, the same equipment. It's just up to you and your team to make it work. I just really liked the things they had to offer. I really liked the staff they had on board and the ideas they had as far as the car of tomorrow and stuff. They just really had a lot of things. I just want to run good. I want to go to the race and I want to have a shot at winning. I want to have a shot at sitting on poles, and the things they offer seemed to fit my characteristics of what I wanted as a driver, so that's kinda how it came along as far as Ray and I getting together.
"A lot of new teams are starting up for next year and there are a couple of teams looking for drivers right now. A couple of teams are expanding. A different manufacturer is coming into the sport that is trying to do a lot of things and is trying to get a lot of good drivers. I think it was four different teams, but I'm not going to give out names. Some of them have drivers driving for them and that wouldn't be fair for 'em now, but I was seriously considering four different teams. When you weigh out all the options and I'm about the same age as Kasey and Scott, it just seemed like the right situation for me to get in at the time. What the sport looks like it's going to be a year or two from now, it looks like these guys are the best prepared for what's coming ahead. That's the team I want to align myself with."
DO YOU THINK THE CHASE HAS CHANGED THE SPORT?
"I do. I think with only 26 races before you get into The Chase, you don't have time to learn each other or learn a new driver's characteristics or a new crew chief and driver working together starting at Daytona. I think if a driver or owner has a chance to move ahead of time or start looking ahead of time -- we keep seeing silly season backing up earlier and earlier each year. It's because there's not much room for error with 26 races. You try to learn each other the first five or six races. The next thing you know you're 25th in points and you can't really dig back out of that hole. I think that's what you're seeing. Guys that can are going to start making their moves earlier or start making their decisions earlier if they know they're not in The Chase to make sure when you get to Daytona the next year that you've already worked with the guys the best way you can. You've already made pit stops with the guys. You've already worked with your crew chief. You've been through every situation you can be in. It's so important now to get to The Chase. It seems like there's two different seasons now. There's 26 and then there's 10. There's not much room for error in those first 26, so if you spend the first five races of the season trying to get to know each other you're going to be behind. That's my take on it."
HOW WILL YOU ADAPT TO A TEAM WITH SO MANY ENGINEERS?
"I really like my role as a driver here at Ray's, what we talked about last week and what's going on here today by the way we share information among all the teams. It's really fun. I know what Kasey and Scott have been successful with. We're putting that in the car and letting me work around it and see what I like. We kind of throw it in a pod and use all the best tools we can to make all three teams better. I really like the way that works. I've been fortunate with that. As far as my differences and why I left, I just want to keep it at that. I'm not going to air out my dirty laundry or Robert's or anybody else's on that situation. We just had a difference of opinion. I want to leave it at that and move on. I'll let other people talk about those things. I just want to talk about moving forward. I really like the situation these guys have given me. Yes, Ray Evernham Racing has a lot of engineers on board. He has a lot of engineering concepts going on, but for me as a driver, I think that's fun. I want to get in and learn and learn what does what, learn what my hands and body is telling me inside the race car. So far so good. It's been a lot of fun, and I can't wait to move forward. We know we have a lot of work to do -- me as a driver and these guys as a team. We're out of the top 35 in owner points going to Michigan this weekend. We're going to go with our nose down and ready to work hard. I'm not saying we're going to blow everybody away, but we've got a lot of tools to work with and we're all going to go in the same direction. It's going to take time to gel and get things going, but I really like the work ethic I saw in the shop. I think it all starts with Ray and that's why I'm here. I can't wait get going. I want to build something special here, and I think we can do that."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A WEIGHT HAS BEEN LIFTED OFF YOUR SHOULDERS?
"I slept better last night than I have in the last two months. I really felt when I shook hands with the guys yesterday and I left RYR for the last time it made me feel better than anything because I always want to do things first class. They've got a lot of great sponsors in this sport. It's a small family, a small sport and you never know when you might cross that bridge again. You want to do things the right way. It makes you sleep better at night, so yesterday when I got things done and I can go to bed with a clear conscience and I can get up this morning and come to Kentucky and test and not have to worry about anything. Everybody has moved on their way and moved forward. I can sit there in the 19 car this morning and drive this Dodge and not have to worry about anything at all but my job at hand and that's going to Michigan this weekend and doing the best I can do. Last night is by far the best sleep I've had in a long time."