Jimmy Spencer Interview 98-10-13


FORD MOTORSPORT Tuesday, October 13, 1998

PEPSI 400, Daytona International Speedway



WHAT MAKES A GOOD DRIVER ON RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS? "That's a tough questions. A lot of guys don't like them at all. I know Mark Martin was taken out of the Winston Cup championship hunt Sunday, but, yet Mark was very upset and I don't blame him. But you look back and Mark had won twice at Talladega. You need to be lucky. I think that you need to really watch constantly, no matter where you start. You could start first or last and you have to really watch what's happening around you all day long. I was fortunate, I missed Ernie's accident and I know Sterling and Ernie got together. It looked like a deal sort of similar to what happened to Jeff Green and Jimmy Spencer in Indianapolis. That was the closest accident I've been to all year long. If we would have been caught in that, we wouldn't have finished in the top five. I think you have to really pay attention. You have to sometimes watch your track position, watch who you're drafting with and watch the other competitors' cars. Daytona and Talladega became a track where you don't run basic stuff anymore. You're running very soft springs and a shock combination to help pull the car down in the race track and you're relying on the tires. You're hoping that the tires will keep the car good all day long. We have a pretty good combination. We don't run as soft as some of those guys do, but we feel like we've got a good combination at Daytona and Talladega. I feel like we had an opportunity to be in the top five at the Daytona 500, but we got into the wall and still finished in the top 15. We're excited about going to Daytona. We're taking the same car back. It is interesting that we're fourth in overall points at those speedways. Maybe we oughta race there every week."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING IN THE NO BULL PROGRAM AT DAYTONA NEXT YEAR? "I just think it's awesome. I know I drive for R.J. Reynolds and been associated with them for 20-some years now ever since the Winston Racing Series in 1980. To be in the No Bull 5, I think a lot of people are surprised that they've had three winners in Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon twice. That's incredible. What R.J. Reynolds has done for Winston Cup racing, NASCAR can't say enough about it. They've made fans millionaires also. I was fortunate to meet a couple of those fans that won the million and it's incredible. To know that I'm gonna be in the race next year, I guess they're gonna announce it this weekend as to how they're gonna do it. I think it's awesome. My team has been wanting it really bad all year long and we felt like that was one of our better opportunities to get in the No Bull 5. I think it's a pretty neat program because there are only five guys who have a shot at it. Where it used to be there was only one driver who could win a million. Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon did it and now there's five and we're one of them. That's a pretty big task, but on the other side of it it's neat knowing that you're going into the first race next year with a chance to win a million dollars. That's unheard of. It would be a heckuva payday."

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HAD TO GET OUT OF THE CAR WITH THE CONCUSSION AND THEN WHEN YOU GOT BACK IN IT? "It was a very tough decision. I think Ernie's faced with that right now. I don't know if he had a serious concussion or not. I haven't talked to him. My decision was made by myself. Nobody from Team Winston -- Travis (Carter), Donnie (Wingo), not a crew member, not one of the sponsors. They were supportive. That probably really helped me make my decision. I didn't feel good. I started the race at Watkins Glen. My team had a great race car there for Boris (Said). I really feel Boris Said had an opportunity to win at Watkins Glen in the Winston car. When I had to take the car to the rear of the field and put him in the rear of the field, he got spun out and still battled back to a top 20 finish late in the race. That played a part in helping me make my decision, that I shouldn't handicap my race team. Also, I didn't see too good, I didn't feel too good and it was only eight laps into the race. I was going to Michigan the next week and it's very unlikely you would get a caution that quick in the race, they had one the second lap. But I still think I made the right decision because I have to worry about my family. I would give up Winston Cup racing, I would give up everything and go back to selling used cars, whatever it took, to keep my family. I love my wife (Pat) and I wouldn't be where I am without her. I've got two kids to worry about (Jimmy and Katrina). Fortunately, my mom and dad are still living and I want to live for a long time. The doctors tell you they can't guarantee what's gonna happen the next time. They can't guarantee anything. That really makes you think about it. The fan support that I've gotten and the media people who said it was an honorable thing to do, makes it a whole lot better when somebody comes over and says, 'You know what, I admire you for what you did.' Even though that has taken us out of the top 10 in points, but yet we have next year and with runs like we've had the last two races and I'm back being 100 percent, I think we'll be in the top 10 in points and possible further than that. That's what we're hoping for."

HOW QUICKLY DID YOU FEEL 100 PERCENT AND WERE YOU WORRIED YOU WOULDN'T? "When I came back from New Hampshire, I had been working out, but even with that the heat and vibrations and all of pit stops, I didn't feel like I was probably 100 percent but yet we still had an opportunity to be in the top 10. I think we finished 11th or 12th that day. I think it took another two to three races. I think Martinsville I was 100 percent. We didn't have a great day there, but we ran pretty strong. Dover, I wasn't probably where I needed to be, but I'm back perfect now. I'm in the best shape I've ever been, mentally, and I've got great race cars. I can't complain about my race team at all. I would like to have some other opportunities in the motor department to be a little bit better. I feel our motor program isn't where it needs to be. I think my race team is -- Donnie, Larry Carter, Wayne Jenks and the fab guys, they've been doing everything they can all year long. I think our team is there, but I think we need to have just that little extra boost underneath the hood to make us a little more competitive."

HOW DO YOU GET FROM SHORT TRACKS TO HERE? "It's interesting. Short track racing, where I was raised at, you have to be real aggressive. You had 25-lap races and you started 15th-16th-17th position. In Winston Cup racing you have 500 miles, so you have to be patient. I think I'm a little abusive on my tires at Martinsville, Richmond, Bristol and those places. Yet, at Daytona and Talladega, you don't ever have to worry about conserving tires. They bring a tire there that is very hard because if you bring a real soft tire it will actually slow the cars down and the wear factor would become a big issue. At Daytona and Talladega, Goodyear has a great tire so you can really be aggressive all day long when you need to be. Racing the short tracks, you can almost anticipate sometimes when a guy's in trouble. I think you can do that at Daytona and Talladega, I think you can anticipate when some people are in trouble. Some of these Winston Cup drivers are awesome on short tracks. Bobby Hamilton is so impressive on the short tracks, yet he doesn't do well on the superspeedways. I'm opposite, I do well on the superspeedways and not on the short tracks. I think you take a guy like Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt, those guys are good everywhere. That's what you need to do and you need to get your race cars as good as you can. I think our superspeedway program is as good as you can get. I think our short track program needs some help. We're gonna work on some of that because we've faltered at Richmond two or three or four races in a row and the last three or four races we have had a really strong car, so we feel like we've got Richmond worked out. Now we need to get to work on Martinsville. Phoenix, we qualified really well but we didn't get the finishing position we wanted. New Hampshire has been a better track for us this year, so there are some areas we're working on. I consider New Hampshire and Phoenix, places like that, a short track. Even though they are a mile, they still take a short track car and short track set up."

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT SPEEDS AT TALLADEGA OR DAYTONA WITHOUT THE PLATE? "First of all, I don't think anybody knows exactly how fast we would go, but I think for sure you'd be around 210-215 miles per hour, if not a little bit more on average. If you take that into consideration, now you'd have to lift, you would approach 230 on the end of the straightaways, maybe even better than that. These fabricators do an awesome job on these bodies. They would figure out some way of making those cars faster and to think how fast the Indy cars run, they have downforce to hold them down. We don't have the downforce they have, so we use aerodynamics to go as quick as we can. We'd be pretty fast, but that would be disastrous. I know a lot of people don't like restrictor plates. I don't like 'em, but you've gotta make the best of it. The thing about the restrictor plates is they are the best races of the year and we need better racing. We had a great race on Sunday. We had a great Daytona race. I think we'll have a great race this weekend, so I think we need the restrictor plate to keep the speeds down and keep the fans interested. You've got to admit that we've had some boring races this year in Winston Cup and I think NASCAR is looking at how they can make some rule changes to get the spice back into it."

HOW ABOUT DAYTONA AT NIGHT? "I think it's a major undertaking. I think it's gonna be good for the sport. I think it would have been awesome knowing it was July Fourth, under the lights with the fireworks and all. I'm just glad the fires are over there and not a lot of people got hurt and things are getting back to normal. I think under the lights is going to be a good opportunity for Winston Cup racing. It's like when they first lit Charlotte, it was like, 'Man, these people are crazy lighting this.' But I think it's another opportunity that a lot of tracks need to light their facilities so we can race Saturday night and have Sunday off. The crew members work their butts off. They never have Sunday's off to go to the lake or the parks with their family or whatever. I think it also opens up another avenue for if there's a rain delay during the day, they can race at night also to finish it. We could probably race 40 weekends a year in Winston Cup if we wanted to, but it's not practical. The sponsorship money, the amount of time that the crews have to prepare the cars is just out of line. I think the night racing is gonna be awesome at Daytona and I think it's just another way that other race tracks are gonna have to look at it. It's gonna be a big success, especially in July. When we go back there in 1999 it's gonna be that much better."

CAN YOU ADDRESS THE PRESSURE ON DRIVERS TO PERFORM? "It's so easy to point fingers at somebody. It's so easy to blame the drivers. I guess I'll tell it the way it is. There's a problem on some race teams. I put a particular driver in my Busch car this year and he sat on the pole at Bristol in Steve Grissom and they fired him. But I think that there's nothing wrong with the drivers, I think there's nothing wrong with the crew members. I think they both know what to do, but I think they need to look in the mirror and say, 'I think that some of the problem is myself and we need to correct these problems.' The teams that are being successful -- Mark Martin's bunch and Gordon's bunch and Bobby Labonte's bunch runs well. You've got to say to yourself that it's not all me, but it's us as a whole. To just blame somebody for something isn't the right thing to do, but to say we need to fix these problems. I can relate a story with T. Wayne (Robertson). We were pointing fingers at everybody on our race team and T. Wayne said, "Point the finger at yourself first. Make sure you give 100 percent and, if you do, then you need to move on. But until you do, you're not gonna be successful.' That was a long time ago he told me that. I think that there is a lot of pressure put on by a lot of sponsors. The media coverage we get is phenomenal. The TV coverage we get is incredible, but even though it's there we need to say to ourselves that we need to work together as a common goal to try and do the best we can as a team, instead of just saying, 'If we get rid of the driver, we'll fix our problems, or if we get rid of the crew chief that will fix our problems.' I think that's the biggest thing you've gotta look at. A lot of teams aren't doing that, but the good teams are and that's why they're being very successful. I think Team Winston, we have not lost anybody and we've had a pretty good year. If it wasn't for the accident at Indianapolis we'd be in the top 10 in points, and I still feel we can win a race before the year is over and that was one of our goals. We as a team know what we've gotta do and we keep working at it. It is not easy. If it was easy, Felix Sabates would have had four championships right now. If it was easy, anybody could come in to Winston Cup racing and buy a race team and say, 'Man, here's five more million dollars. Let's buy this championship.' It's not that way. All the money in the world does not guarantee you the Winston Cup championship. It's hard work by the crew members, the driver, everybody on the race team working toward a common goal."

TAURUS VS. THUNDERBIRD -- COULD YOU HAVE DONE JUST AS WELL IN A TAURUS AND WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? "The reason we took our Thunderbird was because we felt the Taurus was gonna be a better car at Daytona and we didn't want to take a chance of tearing it up. We know the Taurus is gonna qualify better, but we've decided to stay with the Thunderbird. The thing handled flawlessly. Donnie put a great setup underneath the car and it could stay on the bottom of the race track, and to be in that position to try to win, we just feel like we need to take it back. A Taurus won the race. For me to say which one is better, I think in Dale Jarrett's eyes Taurus is better. In my eyes, comparing my particular Taurus against my particular Thunderbird, I think the Taurus is a better qualifying car but the Thunderbird drafted just a little bit better. It could draft up through the field. I think if I can draft up through the field with a car, I feel better in that car. I'll give up the qualifying if I feel that the draft is how you're gonna win the race. I feel if I probably played my cards a little but different, everybody does, but I feel like if we would have done something a little bit different we might had a shot at beating Dale Jarrett, but he had a strong, strong race car. Hopefully, we can do something this weekend with him."

YOU HELPED A LOT OF GUYS SUNDAY. "I helped a lot of guys and I had a lot of guys help Jimmy Spencer. Bobby Labonte and Terry Labonte, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett helped me. I helped Dale Jarrett get the lead. He said to me through my spotter, 'I'm not waiting until two laps to go. I'm gonna take the lead earlier than that.' I said to my spotter, 'Tell him to go for it. I'm hanging with him.' And I ended up getting in second and we stayed second for a long time. I think what hurt us was the Hendrick shuffle -- Gordon and Terry got together. I don't blame them. They're teammates and they shuffled me back, but we held our own and we ended up fourth. They hurt Bobby Labonte there. I don't know what happened. He got shuffled and he couldn't help me any longer and we got to racing one another and took us out of the hunt. I'm just glad we're in the No Bull 5. You never know what's gonna happen at the end. Daytona is gonna be a heckuva finish, there's no question about it. We saw that Sunday at Talladega for the Winston 500."

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR ENGINES? "Peter Guild does 'em at Pro Motors. They know I've been down and hollering at 'em. They've been working hard at trying to get us more acceleration and horsepower, so, hopefully something happens here in the next couple of weeks. In Peter's defense, he's done a great job for us. We lost one motor this year in Atlanta and we have not lost a motor since. We as a race team, we've talked about it, he's trying to build motors to try to satisfy every driver. That's what he needs to do. He didn't used to do that and now that's what he is doing. Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville because Ricky wanted this type of motor and Peter built that type of motor. Now he's doing the same thing for Jimmy Spencer and Team Winston. It's gonna take some time to do that, but Peter and his staff do a great job. We're just a little bit behind, but we'll get it back."

DID ERNIE'S CAR LOOK UNSTABLE AT TALLADEGA? "Everybody has to be to the aggressive side of the coin, so to speak. There were a lot of cars that were not driving as good as other cars. My car drove flawlessly all day. I was never out of shape once. I was not racing around Ernie a whole lot to really say what happened there or how his car looked, but there were some cars that were not as stable or comfortable from my standpoint and I tried to get away from them."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Boris Said , Jimmy Spencer , Jeff Green , Steve Grissom , Felix Sabates , Mark Martin