Sam Hornish Jr., Driver, No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript (July 22) Q: You are heading back to some familiar grounds in Indianapolis. What are your thoughts going into the weekend, this time in a...
Sam Hornish Jr., Driver, No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge Charger
Weekly Dodge Motorsports Teleconference Transcript (July 22)
Q: You are heading back to some familiar grounds in Indianapolis. What are your thoughts going into the weekend, this time in a Cup Car?
A: I am really looking forward to it. I guess I don't know what to expect, I don't have an opportunity to go and test there so there are a lot of unknowns for me. I am really happy I have had the opportunity to not only run there in IndyCar, but now I am getting the opportunity now to get in a Stock Car. I think that it's going to be a really good weekend for us. Regardless of the on-track stuff, just the opportunity to be back in Indianapolis should be really fun.
Q: What does Indianapolis Motor Speedway mean to you?
A: Indianapolis is some of the earliest memories I have of going to any races -- going to Indy, as well as going to Michigan. Those are two places that are really special to me as far as being able to be a spectator and enjoy racing at its finest with my parents. I think that my mom and dad went to the Indy 500 when my mom was 8 months pregnant with me. I think that's really cool -- I have been there in a lot of different ways.
Q: How much of those first couple of practice sessions do you think are going to be used for retraining your brain to react to the 3,400-pound cars instead of the IRL cars?
A: I hope that it (retraining your brain) goes pretty quickly because any time you have a problem at Indianapolis it usually tends to be a pretty big one. A little bit of it is just going to be getting acclimated for a couple of laps, kind of building it up to speed, the whole thing is getting your braking points down, getting down where you want to turn in at and how much you are trail braking into the corners. So throughout all of the sessions I think I am still going to continue to learn. The track changes so much that there is going to be a lot going on. Indianapolis is all about your adaptability.
Q: Do you think coming off of turn four, taking the green is going to be emotional for you?
A: I don't know if it's going to be as emotional as just walking out there, being on the grid. Being on the grid at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was always a special thing for me. Having the opportunity to be one of only a handful of drivers who have run both the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400, I am really looking forward to that.
Q: You kissed the bricks after wining the Indy 500. What do you think of that (NASCAR) tradition?
A: I think it's a great tradition. Being able to do anything out there, whether it's racing or getting the opportunity to win, everything is pretty emotional about that. There have been so many traditions that have been started at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and most of them have been in Indy Cars. The kissing the bricks was a pretty cool deal. I just wanted to lay out there forever. I figured they'd come and scrape me up if I didn't get up eventually.
Q: Well what is bigger now, kissing the bricks or drinking the milk?
A: I think drinking the milk because that's the first thing that you do after you win, but I'd love to be the first guy to kiss the bricks after winning the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400. I know it's always a long shot, but I am looking forward to hopefully having a real good day.
Q: We saw last year with (Juan Pablo) Montoya, his familiarity with the track and his previous success there translated into a pretty good run. Does that give you some confidence and optimism?
A: Yeah, I really do hope that things go well. I really wish I had an opportunity to go and test, but we obviously didn't get that. I think that anytime you can watch someone who has a similar background, as far as things that they have done, to see them come over and have that kind of success keeps you very optimistic about what your opportunities might be.
Q: Has there been any talk about you moving to the 12 car (at Penske Racing) next year, and would you be interested if you were approached?
A: There hasn't been any talk; nobody has said anything to be about that. I am obviously real happy with where I am and being at Penske Racing. Roger (Penske) and all the team have been great to me. I don't know, I haven't heard anything about that.
Q: Your victory in 2006 was one of the most memorable 500 victories in recent times. How vivid are the memories from that day and what do you remember the most?
A: I don't really know -- I was kind of in shock that we had actually won because I just remember that whole month for us was just about doing our own thing. We were fast when we went there for the open test. We were fast from the first day of practice. We qualified on the pole and it felt like we never really pushed it to the edge. It just felt like we always had a little bit in reserve. It was just one of those flawless months. The first 150 laps of the race were all about just getting to the end of the race. We stayed on the lead lap and made good decisions. We had the Fuel Pro (filtration system) get stuck, wedged up into the fuel tank and ended up having the problem. Even when that happened, it was like, '"Man, we are not even trying and that can happen to us?" We just made a really good call -- Roger stayed real confident and calm on the radio -- we talked about the possibility of just trying to save fuel and make it to the end of the race from there and come back down and refuel, make sure we had all the fuel we had before it went back to green. It was just everything that we needed. Everything worked out just the way it had to work out for us. I just remember getting down there and running against Marco (Andretti) at the end of the race, I had the opportunity to pass him and he cut me off, and I passed him at the very last second. I thought I couldn't have scripted it any better. Its very memorable for me, I am sure it is for other people. If I would have had the opportunity to lead the last five laps of that race, knowing just how much it meant to me, I probably wouldn't have been able to see. I probably would have run into the wall because I had so many tears in my eyes. It was probably for the best that it turned out because I didn't have time to get nervous, worry about what I was going to say after the race or be emotional about it -- I just thought, "Oh we are not going to win. Oh we won!" It was a pretty neat deal the way it worked out.
Q: So you remember taking the checkers and things like that? You knew you won right away?
A: I knew I got by him because you can actually feel the bricks when you go by them. I had been in enough of those close victories that I knew I had won, but it was still pretty unbelievable.
Q: Could you characterize your first season? Has the learning curve been a little bit steeper than you anticipated, or do you think you guys are getting pretty close to getting a good car and finishing the season strong?
A: I feel like we have been on a roller coaster -- we have had a lot of lows though, kind of waiting for it to go back up. I feel like when we started out the year, if we could be in the top 25 in points at the end of the season, win Rookie of the Year, those would be things that would make it feel like a wonderful season for us. The big thing for us was learning as much as we could and treat 2008 like a learning year and basically learn everything we could for 2009. When it comes down to it, we have done a lot of that, but we have had some issues ... we had an engine problem, had a valve spring break at one of the races, we had three tire problems -- one was our fault, one we got bumped and got the tire cut down, another was just a tire issue. With just a couple of those things not happening, we really should be in the top 25 in points. But I have made my mistakes and we have made mistakes as a team and we are just going to continue to move forward. We have had days that we thought were going to turn out real good. Daytona started off well for us -- top 15 run there, ran in the top 10 most of the day. We go to Charlotte for the 600 and run 13th on a day when there were probably six or so guys at the end that beat us by fuel mileage, so we felt like we should have been in the top 10 on that day. When you look at it, we went to Michigan and led for a couple of laps and ran second with 20 laps to go and got a hot dog wrapper in the grill and overheated the engine and created some problems for us. So we should have had some days that were really good and we haven't had as many as we would like. You live for days like Michigan where you think, you know, I could have won if that hot dog wrapper hadn't gone in there, I think we could have won that thing. It's not every day that you feel like that, and it's not most days, but we are craving getting to the point where we feel like that most days.
Q: Is it difficult -- you had so much success on the IRL circuit -- to be patient and you want to go out there win every Sunday but some days the car is good and some days it's not good and some days you get a hot dog wrapper in your grill. Has your patience been tested more than you anticipated?
A: I knew it was going to be very difficult after having the opportunity to go out and run like we did at the end of last season in the Sprint Cup and how difficult it was. We knew it was going to be tough, that's why I wanted to do it. I felt that it was going to be something that would be real difficult, but that much more gratifying if you could get to it. It was nice over in the IRL when you felt like you could win every day, but I just felt like I wasn't getting as challenged as much as I needed to anymore and that this was going to present the challenge that was going to be something that I wanted to do for the next 10 years and to keep me occupied and focused at what I was doing. Even with the frustrations and things that haven't been good, its been good for us.
Q: Has there been a time when you thought I am not an IndyCar driver anymore; I am truly a NASCAR driver? Was there a moment when you realized that everything in your life has changed?
A: I don't know if I have ever looked at it as I am not an IndyCar driver anymore. Probably the first time that ever came into my mind was when the Miami IndyCar race came on TV this year. I am not there. It definitely feels different seeing the No. 6 car over there with a different helmet in it, or sees it in pictures -- that looks a little bit different. This is a decision that I chose to make. Everyone keeps asking me about it and if I'm upset about it with the unity and unification and the way that Indy was and all that stuff. I made the decisions on my own accord and it didn't have anything to do with anyone else. I always wanted people to know that because I didn't want people to feel like I was mad at them or did it for any reasons because I was upset, it was just time for me to try something different. It is what it is; I am not saying I'll never run an IndyCar race again. Like I have said many times, if you could get to the point where you could try to run the double on Memorial Day, I'd love to do that. Who knows, I am kind of a pessimist myself anyhow, I could get fired tomorrow and need a different job and not find one in NASCAR. I am not through with trying to get what we want to get out of this, and that's to feel like we can win.
Q: Are you keeping track of the IndyCar races? I know your dad was at Mid-Ohio over the weekend. Have you seen many things?
A: I was actually planning on coming down to Mid-Ohio for one of the days and I talked to a couple of people and they were complaining that they just got done running their fifth weekend in a row and I thought, "Well I just got done running 16, so I guess I'm just going to stay home." I keep track of it. Being the fact that the Indy car shop for Penske Racing is run out of the same complex that the stock cars are, that's what it is. I get to see those guys all of the time. Whether it's (Tim) Cindric or the guys who pitted my car, the engineer, whatever, I see them all the time. I keep pretty well up to date. Plus at the beginning of the year it was kind of neat to see what was going on with the unification, so I do keep track of it. I watch all kinds of racing; I have always been a big race fan and enjoy seeing what's been going on in a lot of different races. It's been neat to see the changes.
Q: What was your reaction to the news that Ryan (Newman) would be leaving Penske beginning next season?
A: It was something that reading articles you could see it as heading that direction and I wish Ryan the best for not only the rest of this year and the rest of his career and whatever comes up. The way I look at it, I have to be a little bit thankful that Ryan has been there to bounce things off of and ask different things; he is someone who's been in the Penske organization for as long as he has, it's something to see him leave. But we have to continue to move forward and as far as who Roger is hiring I don't have any ideas. I am sure with Roger's resume, we will get another spectacular person in there.
Q: What has David Stremme meant to the organization and in what ways has he been able to help the organization since coming on board as a test driver?
A: Definitely eases the load on us other three drivers as far as being able to test that many more things. They have found some things that have helped us out and definitely with running different parts on the car and doing mileage and all that stuff, it has been great. David's been really great to me, calling me up and asking if there is anything he can do to help me out, maybe giving me tidbits of information and what he thought about certain things for the first time -- like Pocono, Indianapolis -- places you don't see anything like it anywhere else. It's been nice to have somebody to ask some questions. Obviously Kurt (Busch) and Ryan (Newman) are tremendously busy because they are Cup drivers themselves and have all that going on. David has probably been a little bit more accessible.
Q: With all of your experience, is any race a roller coaster ride of emotions or has racing become routine for you?
A: Well, there are certain days when things are going really bad that its kind of routine, but every race has its own thing, you never know when its going to turn around. I have said a lot of times that this season, for us, has had a lot of ups and downs. If we start the race with a good car we try really hard to make it better and if we start the race with a bad car we try really hard to make it better. No matter what you're doing. You always feel like you should be able to make it head in the right direction. We have had some pretty tough days where no matter what we did we couldn't make the car any better and that's frustrating. But I feel like that's when we are going to start getting better is when we can figure out how to turn it around on those kind of days.
Q: There is a lot of history at Indy -- do you think drivers today have to have more skills than say drivers of decades ago?
A: I don't know if you have to have more skills, there are just more drivers that are on that level than maybe what you used to see. The competition level has been brought up and it's so high. Not really do you ever see anyone dominate. Of course Kyle Busch has been pretty good this year, but the level of competition has been very, very tight so far this year. You might see one guy stand out a little bit, but its not the same guy year to year to year, it often switches on who has a little bit of the upper hand. If you look at the guy who starts first versus the guy who starts 30th, it's probably the closest its ever been as far as the difference in qualifying. The more money that's spent over here, its just the more competition there's going to be.
Q: It seems as though the media is often quick to point out that open-wheel drivers who come over have struggled in the Cup series. Do you find that frustrating in the sense that you are doing the best you can in your first year versus skilled drivers, or whether you think it's a fair comment?
A: It doesn't frustrate me at all. I can see where they are coming from as far as what they are saying. I don't think it's always based on the right things. I feel like if they were to go over and try to run Indy cars I think you would see some discrepancy there as well. When it comes down to it -- I am going into my 20th race -- there are guys that have been doing it for 200, 700 races. There are a lot of people out there that have been doing it for a very long time. A lot of the guys who I am racing against have not only done it at this level for such a long time, but have run Nationwide, had run trucks, late models, ARCA cars... its just different. Everything that I did until I came over here was all IndyCar related, from the time I ran go-carts, to Formula 4 to Toyota Atlantic's to Indy cars ... it's all open-wheel stuff. Light cars, a lot of horse-power and a lot of grip... it's just a different form of it. If I would have made the decision when I was 16, if I would have known that this was where I was going to end up, I might have done things a little differently. You know, you only have one chance to live your life and I did what I thought was the right things. It's going to take some time to get where I want to be, but its all about not giving up and continuing to work at it.
Q: What is your opinion on why Penske hasn't had the elite level of success in NASCAR that it's had in IRL?
A: It's hard for any kind of organization to have the kind of success that Roger (Penske) has had in the IRL and Indy car racing. He's got over 100 victories over there, 12 championships, 14 Indianapolis 500s... I think the Yankees are the only thing that's got anything close to that. It's tough. That IndyCar program is not only successful of IndyCar programs or racing teams, its successful in almost any kind of sports you put it up against as far as championships or the caliber of team that it is. Of course the NASCAR program might be a little behind that, but that's part of why I wanted to come over here. I'd love to see the day where we are competing for race wins every time we go out there, where we are competing for championships every year, where you can get big wins like the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 and the Coke 600 and all that stuff constantly. That's part of trying to grow this team and we continue to go in the right direction. It just takes time; it's not an overnight, flip the switch thing.
Q: Does the brain power inside the shop that has made the Indy cars fast -- does that translate into stock cars? Roger uses the term "cross pollination" is there such a thing?
A: It's tough because the cars are so much different and what you can do with them. Everything is computerized on an Indy car and you're not allowed to run a computer on a stock car on a race weekend. It's a lot different. There are so many things that are different you can't really translate it over. I think having the two (teams) down there it helps with putting the right people into certain positions.
Q: How much do you feel for Dario missing out on this homecoming game and getting to answer all of the glory-days type questions and all the fun that you are going to have this week?
A: Well, it puts a little bit more attention on me, but I guess I am not necessarily one who always wants a lot of attention. I definitely feel bad for him. He made a decision to come over here and to run and to make the most of it. And when you don't get to finish it's not a fun thing for yourself or anybody around you at that point and time. The unfortunate part about racing is that it takes a lot of money to go and do it and you've got to have the sponsorship and stuff behind you. From what I hear he says that he's not over trying to be a stock car driver or trying to make it over here, so as long as he's got that opinion that's a very good thing.
- credit: dodge motorsports