Part 2 of 2 IT SEEMS LIKE THE NASCAR APPEAL PROCESS HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO FUTILE. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN TURN IT AROUND? GEOFF SMITH: "I'm the eternal optimist. I like to think that because we've got all of the facts on our side and we've...
Part 2 of 2
IT SEEMS LIKE THE NASCAR APPEAL PROCESS HAS ALWAYS BEEN SO FUTILE. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN TURN IT AROUND?
GEOFF SMITH: "I'm the eternal optimist. I like to think that because we've got all of the facts on our side and we've got the rules, as they've written them, on our side that we might be the one in a thousand that actually succeeds in this process."
MARK MARTIN: "From my side, I view myself as the points scorer, and I view Geoff Smith as the expert in this area. I line up behind any decision that Geoff Smith makes."
BUT AFTER WHAT HAPPENED IN '90 AND WHAT'S HAPPENED NOW, DON'T YOU EVER FEEL LIKE NASCAR'S WHIPPING BOY, MARK?
"It was an incredibly unfortunate situation that happened in 1990. But in February, NASCAR didn't look at Jack Roush and I and say, 'We're going to prevent them from winning the championship.' So, if I thought that they did that on purpose, for that reason, then it would be a tough day for me. I don't feel like their whipping boy, no."
OCCASIONALLY THESE PANELS INCREASE THEIR PENALTIES? DID YOU TAKE THAT INTO CONSIDERATION?
GEOFF SMITH: "I didn't think that possibility could exist in good conscience. It was a consideration that was eliminated after very few moments of thought."
ARE YOU GOING INTO THIS FROM THE POSITION THAT TECHNICALLY YOU HAD A VIOLATION BUT IT'S NOT AS SERIOUS AS THE OTHERS BECAUSE IT WASN'T INTENTIONAL? IS THAT YOUR CASE?
"Yes. You're missing one point. It's not only did the spring itself demonstrate that we had no intention to alter, but, in fact, there was no performance alteration as well."
BUT IF IT'S STILL A TECHNICAL VIOLATION, THEN THE POINT PENALTY SHOULD BE SMALLER?
"The penalty should be smaller than it was. And remember we had a cash penalty, and then we had a points penalty. And it's very clear, in terms of how NASCAR was approaching fairness in their rule book, that it's critical that there be an effect on the fairness of competition. That, before you impose a significant penalty. And, points are significant, whether it's one point, 25 or 100. Subtracting points is a very Draconian remedy which should not be used against these innocent violations that have no performance impact. If there was a performance impact, even though it was innocent, then we could also expect a points penalty, because then there was an effect on the fairness of competition, even if it was innocent."
YOUR GOAL IS TO ESSENTIALLY WIND UP WITH ONLY A FINANCIAL PENALTY?
"Correct. That's our best shot."
ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED THAT THIS IS OVERSHADOWING THE FACT THAT YOU ARE IN THE POINTS RACE TO THE VERY END?
MARK MARTIN: "Yes, I'm a little bit disappointed with that. I feel better this week than last week, because we had another great race. But the whole effort since January has been to win the Winston Cup. And that didn't seem real realistic to me in January or February or even March, but as we got on into the season that became more and more realistic. And, obviously, no matter what, we still have a chance, and we're still fighting, and that's what we're going to do. I'm going to keep my eye on the target, and we'll try to be as sharp as we can be this weekend."
YOU'RE USUALLY A BLACK-AND-WHITE KIND OF GUY. DEEP DOWN DO YOU THINK THIS IS AN ISSUE OF FAIRNESS? AND IS IT UNFAIR?
"Obviously, being as close to race cars as I've been for 25 years, understand how springs are made and how they work and all that. I've been close to a spring manufacturer back in my early years, back with Ray Dillon in the late '70s, early '80s, and done a lot with springs, and Ray had made all kinds of springs for all kinds of race cars I raced in the '80s. I'm disappointed that we had to go through this, based on the given situation. Had there been intent to run a spring that was pushing the limits of the rules, that would've been one thing. But there was none of that. You don't run soft springs at Rockingham. And that rule was to discourage the really soft springs that were being run, basically, on the flatter race tracks. And this spring was considerably stiffer than that. So, I don't know."
GOING INTO THE WEEKEND, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THIS TAKEN CARE OF SO THERE'S NO UNCERTAINTY REGARDING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"To tell you the truth, my team and I have worked incredibly hard this summer, and my schedule has been absolutely unbelievable, and, yes, I do have better things to do right now than to deal with this, and some of those might have to do with trying score points at Homestead. But, I can't change it, can't change the fact. I'm not worried about it. I'm focused on what I've been focused on ever since the middle of summer, we're in the middle of 20 races straight where we've done extensive testing among all of other obligations, and I just don't waste a whole lot of time, you know me, I don't waste a whole lot of time about what-ifs, I have to deal with what's in front of us, and we'll take it all straight on between now and Sunday. We'll take it all straight on."
DO YOU THINK THAT THE SPRING RULES ARE TOO SPECIFIC, AND SHOULD THEY EVEN EXIST AT ALL?
"The spring rule was made to try to prevent things from getting out of hand with these really, really soft springs that were going on at a lot of the flatter race tracks. I've never had a problem at all with the spring rule, and with them eliminating the bump stops. They all kind of went hand-in-hand, the spring rule and the bump stops being thrown out and all that. I never was opposed to any of that. I don't really have a problem with the rule itself. There are certain areas that are pretty sensitive, and you have to use reasonable judgment when you start getting into those areas. This was a situation where there was neither any intent to run anything special, the application didn't require anything special, and it wasn't anything special. The spring was standard non-specialty spring whatsoever."
GEOFF, ARE YOU PRECLUDING ALL OUTSIDE LEGAL ACTION IN THIS CASE, WILLING TO LET THE NASCAR PROCESS BE THE ONLY METHOD OF APPEAL?
GEOFF SMITH: "That's correct."
HAVE YOU OR MARK HAD ANY TALK WITH NASCAR OFFICIALS OVER THIS, EITHER MIKE HELTON OR BILL FRANCE OR WITH YOUR SPONSOR. AND, IF SO, DID THEY PERSUADE YOU TO TAKE THIS APPROACH?
"Jack has, and maybe Mark has, but Jack has conducted all of the discussion directly with NASCAR officials. I haven't had any."
AND HE HAS TALKED WITH ONE OF THE NASCAR OFFICIALS OVER THIS?
"Not over the decision about appealing; he had discussion at the time, and he's had discussion subsequent at the race track."
MARK, DID YOU HAVE THE FINAL WORD ON THIS WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE?
MARK MARTIN: "No, I didn't. I feel like my area of expertise right now is scoring points. Obviously, Geoff Smith is a brilliant man, you can tell that by listening to the teleconference, in that area. I wouldn't let Geoff pick the weight distribution or sway bars for my car this weekend, but at the same time, I certainly wouldn't make decisions or have the knowledge or anything like that in the areas that Geoff has. We work as a team. I rode home with Mike Helton Sunday night, they gave me a ride home, after our problem with our airplane, and it never came up. I figure that this is sort of business. The people at NASCAR have their job and their duty, and we have ours. And I have a good relationship with Mike and I try not to let business overly influence personal feelings outside of that. I've only had one discussion with Mike about it and that was a week ago Monday."
GEOFF, DO YOU THINK, TAKING THE TECHNICAL ASPECT OF THIS APPEAL, THAT THE BOARD SHOULD INCLUDE A MORE TECHNICAL PERSON?
GEOFF SMITH: "We've never been canvassed for what kinds of attributes or personalities or backgrounds that board members should have. I'm pleased that the rules have an allowance for this, so I'm not going to go to the next step and be critical of that how that composition is determined. If we sat down with a clean sheet of people and said is there something we should do in terms of the composition of the board or the way it's heard and that sort of thing, maybe we'd come to some different conclusion, but, actually, I feel pretty good of the fact that these board people are going to have racing backgrounds, that the issues that we're presenting are simple to understand, that there won't be, I'm believing, that there won't be any engineering disagreement over the points that Mark and Jack have made here, so I'm pretty comfortable with the fact that out of the group selected they've all got comprehensive racing backgrounds."
MARK, COULD YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED SUNDAY NIGHT WHEN YOU WERE TRYING TO LEAVE PHOENIX?
MARK MARTIN: "On takeoff, just before we got ready to lift off, we had a flat tire on the main gear, and the airplane tried to pull, tried to get off the runway. In attempts to keep it on the runway, we did some sliding and wound up blowing out the other main gear tire. So, we stopped about halfway down the runway with two flat tires right on the edge of the runway, so we never got off the runway. It was a scary ride."
MORE EXCITEMENT THAN YOU WANTED?
"We had a great day on the race track. Everything was wonderful, man. It was early, we were going to be back in Daytona at a reasonable hour, and gonna get plenty of rest, and it really scared us. Jason, my pilot, and I, I was sitting up front with Jason, and Jason and I have trained extensively in simulators, in the simulator for that airplane, and had every kind of emergency and malfunction in the air and on the ground, but this was something that when we stopped, he and I just kind of looked at each other, like 'What happened?' It really happened fast. You know how when people tell a lot of things, they say, 'It happened so fast, I can't hardly remember'? It was something that really happened fast."
WAS THE SIMULATOR GOOD TRAINING FOR THE EXERCISE?
"Well, it was. I don't know that we've trained for a blown-out tire. Actually, I thought the left engine had gone out, which we train for, on and on and on, because that's typically the most dangerous situation, is loss of engine on takeoff. And this was very much like that, and the slide was very much like what they call a V-1 cut, which is a loss of engine right before rotation speed, at your greatest speed that you don't continue on, you go ahead and stop instead. Actually, we didn't even really tear up the airplane, either. So, there were some good things that came of it, but it's been kind of awkward. You forget how reliant you are on your aircraft. It's been incredibly awkward for me. I had to fly yesterday, and I've got to fly twice on Friday, Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. Certainly hoping to have the plane back, at least for next week."
DID THE TWO PREVIOUS PENALTIES FOR LOW ROOFS HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THIS PENALTY? AND, HOW MUCH WERE BEN AND MERK INVOLVED IN YOUR DECISION TO GO FORWARD WITH THIS?
GEOFF SMITH: "On your first question, I don't have an opinion one way or the other on that. I don't know enough about those penalties. And second, Mark and Ben had a influence on my decision only by giving me the facts as they had occurred, not in terms of giving an opinion on about whether we should do it, regardless of the facts. I took the facts as I gathered them up, I tested the facts throughout these last several days to see whether or not their point of view would stand up to other opinions and other scrutiny. I concluded that nothing that Ben or Mark told me was altered by anything else that I had heard from any other source, and then looked at the remedies available to us, and felt that we clearly fit within the scope of the appeal recourse."
MARK MARTIN: "As I said before, Geoff Smith is the expert in this area. He's the one that should make the decision."
MARK, YOU SEEM A MAN OF INCREDIBLE RESOLVE, BUT YOU ALSO SEEM BITTER ABOUT THIS. IS THIS A CASE OF WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER? OR ARE LOOKING AT IT LIKE THE TWILIGHT OF YOUR CAREER IS COMING UP AND YOU'RE TIRED OF GETTING THE SHORT END?
"The latter is not accurate, really. I just wish that we weren't having to go through this. It's my hope, obviously, that something wonderful will happen at Homestead, for us, and then if it doesn't, then it doesn't. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished this year, and I don't want it to change the outcome. It doesn't bother me that much, this whole situation doesn't bother me that much, unless we go down to Homestead and something happens and we wind up falling into that area between the 25, where that really makes a difference, then I might really have a problem. But, beyond that, I'm not incredibly bitter. I'm really incredibly grateful, on the other hand, to my team and to the opportunities that I've had."
DO YOU USE ONE PARTICULAR SPRING MANUFACTURER, AND DO YOU ENDORSE ANY ONE IN PARTICULAR?
GEOFF SMITH: "Our crew chief-and-driver combinations are allowed to purchase springs from different authorized manufacturers. It's whatever they believe is going to be best for performance. We don't have a spring endorsement, financial arrangement with any party."
MARK MARTIN: "And we do use a number of different manufacturers."
CAN YOU SUMMARIZE YOU FEELINGS, IN GENERAL, ABOUT HEADING INTO THIS WEEKEND'S RACE?
"As I said, I'm really charged up right now. We have had two really great races and under the right circumstances could've won either one. That feels really good. We had a pretty excellent test at Homestead, so did some others, so did Tony, so did Kurt Busch. I'm excited about going down there and racing. I'm excited about it being the last one of the season. It has been a long, hard grind. And I'm real optimistic looking into 2003, knowing what we have. A year ago right now, just over a year ago, we were upside down. Our whole thing had turned upside down and we were starting over, and I feel like we have great starting point right now for next year, and we're working, already, hard on 2003. Sure, I'm excited in looking forward to going into 2003."
Mark Martin press conference part I