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CALIFORNIA LOVE? California, Here Comes the DLP Team. Please Treat Us Well! CORNELIUS, N.C., -- An open letter to California Speedway: Dear California Speedway, We hope this letter finds you well. Tony Raines, the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet...

CALIFORNIA LOVE?
California, Here Comes the DLP Team. Please Treat Us Well!

CORNELIUS, N.C., -- An open letter to California Speedway:

Dear California Speedway,

We hope this letter finds you well.

Tony Raines, the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet and Hall of Fame Racing are all looking forward to seeing you this weekend for the Auto Club 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event.

That said, none of us have really had any success at your race track since you opened in 1997. In fact, your hospitality has been downright rude.

Raines has never finished better than 28th in three Nextel Cup starts at California, but he did enjoy his time with you in 1999, when he started second and finished eighth in the NASCAR Busch Series event conducted there.

Last year during both Nextel Cup race weekends, you were especially unkind to our team as Terry Labonte started 43rd and then finished 34th, three laps down in the 2006 spring race. We came back in the fall hoping you would be nicer, but Raines started 42nd and finished 27th, also three laps down. We hope there is not a pattern developing here.

Last June, we did have a good race going at your sister track -- Michigan International Speedway -- which like you is a two-mile, D-shaped oval. Unfortunately, while we were running in the top-15, a cut tire caused us to lose two laps, putting us out of contention for a win. Oh, and it rained too, ending the race after just 129 of the 200 laps. We hope you didn't have a hand in our tough weekend in Michigan as well.

Nonetheless, we're still looking forward to seeing you again. We think we've learned some things in the off-season, and we had a pretty good test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We think some of the things we learned there in January will help us at your track. We believe we can qualify better and probably race better as well.

Even though you haven't been kind to us, we're still coming to visit because we're good people. And, we don't give up. So we're excited to get out there and show you what we can do.

Look forward to seeing you. We hope the weather is nice. It was cold and windy in Daytona.

Sincerely,

The DLP HDTV Racing Team

***

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

Overall thoughts heading into California:

"We hope we've made some gains. California wasn't good to us last year at either race. Terry (Labonte) drove the first one, and I drove the second one. We're going to have to work hard with the hour-and-a-half of practice that we have when we get there. I think we'll be better. I'm confident of that. With not being able to test there, we're going to have to get our preparation done before we get out there."

How hard is it to spend 11 days in Daytona (Fla.) and then go across the country to California the next weekend?

"Getting out there really isn't the bad part. The bad part is, you get out to California and Friday, Saturday and Sunday go by really, really fast. Sunday night you're headed home and you're kind of like, 'Wow, what just happened?' The length of Daytona, taking 10-12 days, is really long, then you're home in Charlotte (N.C.) for two or three and then California kind of comes and goes. Pretty soon it seems like a month has gone by."

How important is it for the DLP team to have a solid start in the first five races?

"It's equally important to everybody. It's just important to set a trend. We want to show up ready. We want to qualify well and race well. If we do those things, we'll be solidly in the top-35 and not have to worry about anything. The competition is tougher than ever. Everybody is trying to do the same thing. We just need to work harder and smarter than everybody."

Rules infractions and penalties were a hot topic in Daytona. What are your thoughts on all the penalties?

"Last year, late in the year, they threatened to start escalating the penalties. They warned everybody that if (the cheating) continued, that's what they would do. So, I'm not surprised by the escalations of penalties and fines."

Can you describe a lap around California?

"The frontstretch has a slight curve to it and turn one is one of the faster turns that you enter. You're going a little more than 200 mph. Coming down the banking it flattens out in the center a little bit, which makes the car not want to turn, and then it flattens out again as you exit the turn. The backstretch is pretty straight. Then turns three and four have a tight entry, but then it's got a long center and a long exit, so it's kind of fun to drive that end. The car is on the edge the whole way through there. You have to carry it sometimes. It might be a little tight or a little loose at anytime. It's certainly an exciting turn to drive. It's not quite as fast as (turns) one and two, but it's fast enough."

A lot of people say Michigan and California are identical tracks. Are they really that similar?

"You know, it's funny, they're similar, but they are really two different race tracks setup-wise. I think what works there will definitely slide over to Michigan, but it's hard to tell exactly what will work."

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

The DLP team struggled at 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks in 2006. You recently tested at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With that in mind, what are your thoughts heading into California?

"We felt like we learned a lot during our qualifying runs at Las Vegas. We felt like we learned a couple of key things in race trim at Las Vegas. We're optimistic going into California. We feel like we've got a good direction on our downforce program right now."

You used to live in Southern California. Where did you work and how long did you live out there?

"I lived in Huntington Beach, Calif., which I miss terribly. I lived there from late 1997 through the middle of 1999. I worked with Dan Gurney's All-American Racers in the CART Series. I wasn't home that much, but I really did like it out there. I left there because stock cars were a better future for me."

What do you miss about living out there?

"I miss the beach, the pier, good fish tacos and Main Street Huntington Beach. I miss the ladies of southern California, who are rather attractive."

From a crew chief standpoint, how hard is it to spend 11 days in Daytona and then turn right around and go to California? Was it easier to go to Rockingham, N.C., for the second race of the season?

"Oh yeah. Before you kind of eased into the season. Daytona has always been a long trip, but having Rockingham right after that -- it was kind of a 'home' race. The problem with being in Daytona so long is that the work doesn't really stop. My engineering group did seven-post testing on the California and Vegas car last Friday. We did some pull down testing on the Car of Tomorrow last week as well. We're doing our first test with the Car of Tomorrow at Rockingham on June 20, and then sending the truck out to California that night. It's definitely harder getting to a West Coast race. The more West Coast races we've added, the more strain it's put on getting things done early, and the more important it's made the group back home at the shop."

-credit: hofr

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