THERE WILL BE A NEW FACE IN THE FORD STABLE OF NASCAR WINSTON CUP DRIVERS WHEN THE SERIES COMES TO MICHIGAN SPEEDWAY FOR THE PEPSI 400 PRESENTED BY DEVILBISS THIS WEEKEND. KEVIN LEPAGE WILL OFFICIALLY TAKE OVER FOR TED MUSGRAVE AS DRIVER OF THE NO.
THERE WILL BE A NEW FACE IN THE FORD STABLE OF NASCAR WINSTON CUP DRIVERS WHEN THE SERIES COMES TO MICHIGAN SPEEDWAY FOR THE PEPSI 400 PRESENTED BY DEVILBISS THIS WEEKEND. KEVIN LEPAGE WILL OFFICIALLY TAKE OVER FOR TED MUSGRAVE AS DRIVER OF THE NO. 16 PRIMESTAR TAURUS. HE SPOKE ABOUT THIS NEWEST OPPORTUNITY WITH ROUSH RACING AND HIS GOALS FOR THE REMAINDER OF HIS ROOKIE SEASON.
KEVIN LEPAGE, -16- PRIMESTAR Ford Taurus -- YOU HAD A PRACTICE SESSION AT GREENVILLE-PICKENS SPEEDWAY LAST WEEK WITH THE PRIMESTAR TEAM. HOW DID THAT GO? "At the beginning of practice we were speaking a foreign language between James (INCE, CREW CHIEF) and myself. Every driver has a different way of wording how the car feels or whatever and it took us probably a good couple hours before he understood what I was thinking and feeling and for me to understand the changes he was doing to make the car work. Once we got that terminology down, the rest of the afternoon was really good. We progressed tremendously in a short period of time."
ASIDE FROM COMMUNICATION, HOW DID THE CAR FEEL? "We had great throttle response. It's been a long time since I've been in a Ford and, based on Chevrolet...what I've been used to, and based on what we had down there, it has a tremendous bottom end versus what we were dealing with before."
NOW THAT THE RACE IS ONLY A FEW DAYS AWAY, HOW DO YOU FEEL? "It's like the week before Christmas. All the presents are laid out underneath the Christmas tree, the lights are on, and when Christmas Eve comes, which will be qualifying, it's just gonna be a very exciting day for us. It's something my wife and I have worked hard to achieve and get the recognition from a car owner such as Jack Roush and a company like PRIMESTAR. To represent them on Friday at Michigan during qualifying, it's just gonna be one of the happiest days of our lives. It's gonna be very exciting. I'm just hoping the excitement will continue through qualifying and we can do a good job for PRIMESTAR and Jack Roush."
DO YOU HAVE TO PINCH YOURSELF SOMETIMES TO SEE HOW FAST YOU'VE MOVED UP? DID YOU THINK THIS WAS POSSIBLE A YEAR AGO AT THIS TIME? "Well, kind of. In '96 there was a lot of talk in the garage area that if we could have a '97 like we had in '96 in the Busch Series that Winston Cup owners were looking at me. "We were just hoping '97 would continue what we did in '96, but, unfortunately, sponsorship commitments didn't come together. We really didn't have a banner year last year. We had some good strong runs, but not what I expected. "But when we hooked up with Joe and Shirley Falk at Charlotte last year and qualified 12th in our first effort and then finished 17th at Talladega and really had a strong car at Atlanta, I think people started to take notice of us. When we came out this year, a lot of pressure was on me and the team in qualifying to perform because, first of all, we didn't have a major sponsor. Second of all, we didn't have any provisionals to fall back on. We needed to make sure we were in the hunt every week. At the beginning of the year we struggled a little bit. We missed Rockingham the second race, but once we got to Darlington and we qualified 10th, I really think that turned our qualifying performance around. Week-in and week-out we were doing really good.
"There were a couple of race tracks that we struggled at but, was it car, was it driver, was it race track, was it conditions? I can't put my finger on it. We went to the race track as a team. If we missed the race, we missed it as a team. That's the way I've gotta go look at this program in the future. It's a team effort. We'll win as a team and we'll lose as a team. If we can keep that in focus, then I think you'll see great results at the end."
YOU WILL HAVE 13 RACES IN THE PRIMESTAR TAURUS, WHAT KIND OF GOALS ARE YOU SETTING? "Obviously our main goal, and as a driver that's my goal every week, is to go and win a race. If I don't feel I can win a race, then there's no use in becoming a Winston Cup driver. What we need to do, I need to get up in the top-10 and top-five on a week-in, week-out basis. If we can do that, then I think the wins will be right around the corner. We have 13 races to do that. We have some good race tracks that I've run good at and I enjoy going to, and we've got some new race tracks. What we need to do is we're gonna test as much as we can and as much as NASCAR allows us to do, and we're gonna learn, hopefully, as fast as we can. I'm sure there is gonna be a speed bump or two in the learning process, but I think that's the fortunate thing of hooking up so early with 13 races left this year. We can get all those bumps smoothed out and get all the communication down, so when we go to Daytona in 1999 we'll be ready to go. Our learning curve will be gone and we'll just be going out there to get the team in the top 10 and try to win some races next year."
YOU GET TO DEBUT WITH ROUSH RACING AT MICHIGAN, A PLACE WHERE YOU QUALIFIED FIFTH EARLIER THIS YEAR WITH LJ RACING. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT TRACK? "It's very exciting considering my last big track race this year in the Busch car was at Fontana, where we finished second in the Channellock car. There are a lot of similarities, but there are a lot of differences between Michigan and Fontana, but we qualified fifth up there. We had a real good car. We missed the setup a little bit, but were coming back around during the last half of the race. We got caught up in a wreck, but the track has been good to me in the Busch Series. We've had good runs. We finished second there a couple years ago and the PRIMESTAR people, they've had a great career there. Ted finished fifth and sixth there the last couple years and they've had chances or opportunities to win that race and I think they've got a really good setup. Going there and knowing the kind of teammates that I have and with the success Mark and Jeff have had there, I can go and lean on these guys if we're struggling."
IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF A BEAUTIFUL RELATIONSHIP? "I'm hoping that we can have a good relationship and we can retire with the Roush people because just in the short period of time working with them, they are great people and a great organization. They bring a lot to the table, so I'm hoping it will last for a long, long time."