Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 16 TV Guide Taurus, has been the top qualifier for Roush Racing in two of the last three NASCAR Winston Cup races. He looks to continue that streak this weekend as the circuit makes its second trip to Dover...
Kevin Lepage, driver of the No. 16 TV Guide Taurus, has been the top qualifier for Roush Racing in two of the last three NASCAR Winston Cup races. He looks to continue that streak this weekend as the circuit makes its second trip to Dover Downs International Speedway for the MBNA Gold 400.
KEVIN LEPAGE --16-- TV Guide Taurus -- CAN YOU DESCRIBE A LAP AROUND DOVER DOWNS? "Coming to the green you're wide open. There used to be a fairly decent bump getting off into one, but since the IRL cars have been there, Dover Downs has been grinding and changing the track around. So the transition off into one is pretty easy now. You carry a lot of speed. You're almost at the beginning of one before you even think about getting out of the gas...very little brake. Once you get the car slowed down where you think it is, you pick the throttle up as hard as you can. You drive it straight off in two and there's a little transition. The car will get light in the back because you come out of a hole, basically, and onto the backstretch. Turns three and four are almost a twin to one and two, you drive it almost to the beginning of three -- maybe a little past the beginning of three -- very little brake...turn the car and then it's wide open to the start-finish line. The car will get a little loose again coming out of turn four, but one thing you've gotta do is you don't want to try to turn the car too hard so you get a tight condition. You just want to drive it out. Some guys hit the wall in qualifying and some guys get real, real close, but the fast way around there is a lot of throttle and very little brake."
WHAT'S IT BEEN LIKE FOR YOUR TEAM THIS SEASON? "Everybody says the Liberty team is an R&D team and you guys aren't running that well. Well, a lot of people don't realize what happened to us this year. We lost some key pit crew guys on the 16 team during the wintertime. Jack made the announcement last fall that he was moving and a lot of the team members we had were from the Liberty area. They had family, friends and children and they decided that they were gonna stay there, they didn't want to move. With Kyle Petty moving back to his dad's place, it was an easy move for a lot of those guys. Then we had to go out and get some better people for pit stops and mechanics. Then we went through a crew chief change when James Ince left. After what I thought was a stellar 13 races last year things changed. I think a lot of the pressure on him was the fact that we were losing people and trying to get people up there and trying to train them and everything was a disappointment and heartache for him. Then PRIMESTAR left and TV Guide came in...people not knowing what the sponsorship was, so we started losing a bunch of people. Then we brought in Skip Eyler, who I think is a great crew chief, but it seemed we were on one side of the page or the other. We both weren't on the same page at the same time. We were just up and down the whole year long and finally Jack decided to make the change and bring Pat Tryson over. Since then, you can look and the last three weeks we've been running fairly good."
WHAT YOU'RE SAYING THEN IS STABILITY IS IMPORTANT, RIGHT? "Oh for sure. I tell you, we spend so many hours and days together as a team that it's almost like a marriage. You can tell in the first couple weeks when you're dating a girl if it's gonna work out or not, and Pat and I are on the same page week in and week out. We communicate very well. Jack gave me a marriage certificate three weeks ago and his name was on it, so this is it. If it doesn't work with Pat Tryson, then nobody is ever gonna work with me so I'm gonna make it work."
WILL THE SPONSORSHIP CONCERNS BE RECTIFIED SOON? "They don't concern me. Obviously, we want to have a sponsor, but my job for Jack Roush is to make the 16 car the best car it can be and run up front. We've got a great marketing program with Geoff Smith and all his people. For them to go out and sell the 16 team, you've gotta give them something to sell, which is performance. When you can give them performance, then it's an easy sell for them. But I've gotta believe with all the things TV Guide is doing as far as advertising and commercials and the things I've been doing with them...they're starting here in two weeks a cross-country tour with a show car. It's gonna start in New York City the first week in October and end in Los Angeles, in Hollywood, on December 14. I've gotta be there on December 14, so if I'm gonna be there at that time with all these people there, including a lot of movie stars, I can't even imagine I'm gonna sit there talking to these people saying, 'Oh yeah, we had a great year and I don't know what I'm gonna do next year.' I've gotta believe I'm gonna be talking about next year and the years to come."
WITH ALL THE CHANGES YOUR TEAM HAS GONE THROUGH THIS YEAR, HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO STAY UPBEAT AND ENTHUSIASTIC? "I guess the easiest thing I can say is Jack Roush. I mean, Jack believes in me. Every time we've made a change, he believes that it's in the right direction for me. He wants me to drive the 16 car. He wants me to drive for Roush Racing. When things were bad, he came up to me and said he was sorry. I think he feels worse than I do most of the time because he's not giving the team the people that we need to gel and work as a unit. There is no "I" in team. I mean, Jack can't make this thing work unless he goes out and hires the right people and sometimes you've gotta go through a bunch of crew chiefs until you find somebody who'll work with you. It's not working because of attitudes, it's just terminology -- the kind of terminology that I can feed to him and that he can do to the racecar. We had a setup at Darlington that was a little different, it was a little unique, but it was for my style. Pat found it by just trial and error, talking and working with things. I was suggesting things to him and we just worked on it and it worked. It hasn't been easy, but if anybody who has seen where my career start in 1980 and work all the way up to where it is today, it hasn't been easy."
IT'S BEEN PROVEN THAT TWO TEAMS CAN HAVE SUCCESS, BUT NOT YET WITH THREE TEAMS WHERE ALL OF THEM PERFORM CONSISTENTLY WELL. DO YOU FEEL THAT CAN HAPPEN? "If there's anybody out there who can do it, I believe Jack can do it that's for sure. With the resources that we have, the money that we have, the marketing program that we have, and the determination that he has to make it successful, it will happen. I think, if you look at our organization in the last few weeks, we have made big gains to be as good as Burton and Martin. At Darlington before the rains came, I passed Mark in the race. He beat me out of the pits, so we were the second-best Roush car that particular day. I don't think we could have run with Burton, but we were gonna be the second-best car until the rains came. At Richmond we were decent, we weren't great by any means, but we worked on the car all day long and at the end of the race we passed Burton when his car went bad. So we were decent. Again, if you go back and look at the reason some of these teams have been so successful is the fact that the driver and the crew chief have been together for so long. Jarrett and Parrott have been together awhile. Mark has been together with Jimmy for a long time. Burton's been together with Frankie for almost five years. If you can stay together, and I believe Mike Skinner is a good example of it. This is their third year together. They've gone through two crew chiefs, but they've stayed together within the organization. He's almost to the top of that mountain where he's gonna plane off and next year he should be a great team. I believe it takes two to three years to work together. Tony Stewart is an exception. He's a great race car driver and they've got a great team. The thing is with their team; they're almost twins when they leave the races. Bobby can get in his car and run good and vice versa, but Tony is a great race car driver. I don't look at him because he's another Jeff Gordon. He's a special driver, but you look at all the other guys coming up through, they have to have two to three years together as a unit before the results will come."
BUT YOU DON'T BELIEVE TWO IS THE MAGIC NUMBER FOR A SUCCESSFUL TEAM OPERATION? "I don't believe so. If two was the magic number, I think Jack would have gotten rid of the other three two years ago. That's why he brought Kenseth along to have six, if the 26 hangs around. Whoever I team up with next year, if I team up with anybody within our organization, it just needs to be a team that we can team together and work together like Mark and Jeff -- you compete off of them. We have the information there, but Jack isn't gonna give us 100 percent of all their information because then he's gonna take the competitiveness out of the teams. These guys have worked hard to get to where they are by knowledge and notes and all that other stuff. Why say OK, Matt Kenseth, Johnny Benson, Chad Little and Kevin Lepage, here it is go race. Now all of a sudden it's like all I've gotta do is drive because I know Mark and Jeff has it. I would say we have 90 percent of what they have, but that last 10 percent we've gotta work for. That's the competitiveness Jack wants to keep in his organization."