Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Dodge driver Kyle Petty and crew chief Steven Lane. KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) "Back in the early 90s when I drove for Felix (Sabates) and Robin (Pemberton) and I were together with...
Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Dodge driver Kyle Petty and crew chief Steven Lane.
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"Back in the early 90s when I drove for Felix (Sabates) and Robin (Pemberton) and I were together with the Mello Yello car and with the Peak car there for two or three years, for some reason we hit on a really good combination for Rockingham with John Wilson building the engines and with the Goodyear tire combination and with the race track being worn out like it was at the time and with the Pontiacs we had at the time. We had a really good combination of people and all I had to do was sit in it and turn left when I got in the corners. I don't know if it was as much me as it was everybody else because I am still doing the same thing and everybody has gone on and done a lot better than I have in a lot of ways. Rockingham is a good place for us to go. Coming off of Daytona and being gone for 10 or 15 days at a time and being able to spend the night at home in your own bed, it adds a little something going down there.
"When I look at last year from a personal standpoint and I looked at the 45 Sprint car missing races, the 44 car missing races, the 43 car missed a race. From what we did on the race track, it was a dismal year to say the least. I think you had to look at it that way. In four or five years when I look back, I'll look back at 2001 and I'll say it was a pretty good year. We made a lot of changes in 2001. We did an engineering deal and out sourced some of our engineering to a company called Multimatic out of Canada. We started an aero program with Elan Motorsports Technology out of Lanier, Ga. Stuff like that is not going to pay off instantly. It's a three or four year proposition before it begins to pay off. Before the end of the year, we had cut a deal with Mike Ege Racing Engines, which was formerly Robert Yates Engineering Mfg., to do our engines in 2002. Over the winter, we were blessed with the situation where we could pick up the services of Robin Pemberton and bring him back to Level Cross (N.C.) where he started his career. He's going to take a little of the day-to-day race business running off of me.We made him vice president and general manager. All that happened in 2001 basically. When I look back in four or five years and we're winning races and have a shot at winning the championship, then I'll say 2001 was groundwork although our race track performance was really bad that year. We pretty much built the foundation we're going to build on top of.
"I went to Daytona in '79 and ran an ARCA race down there and then proceeded to crash eight or 10 times it seemed like. By the time we got to June, my father cut a deal for me to run at one of the Southwest Tour Series at Riverside. From the first time I climbed in and drove at Riverside, road racing was for me. I loved that part of it. From Sears Point to Watkins Glen to Riverside, to running the 24-hour race at Daytona to doing some stuff up at Limerock to running Mid American and some of the other road courses around the country, I just enjoy driving it. Any driver will tell you they do a lot better on race tracks they enjoy running rather than on race tracks they don't enjoy running. That's why I go down there and run the 24-hour race. I'd run it every week. It's a great place. To be on the same race track with James Weaver and Elliott-Forbes Robinson and guys like that who are phenomenal road racers and watch what they can do with a car, it's a lot of fun. It's a different style of racing and a different type of racing, but it's just a lot of fun to race.
"I think they would be incredibly difficult to master. I have not mastered them by any stretch of the imagination. I'm more of a stab and steer guy. A lot of other guys are a lot smoother than that. You approach the corners different. You don't dive straight to the bottom. You try to late apex most of the corners. In Winston Cup racing and short track racing, you try to get to the inside line as quick as possible. If for no other reason just to protect the line from somebody driving up under you and knocking you out of the way. That doesn't happen a lot on the road course stuff. I think there's a lot of things, trailing brake, not driving into the corners as hard on some and harder some than others. Each race track has its own nuances that you have to adjust to. With the Winston Cup stuff and oval track racing, the basic theme of every oval track is the same whereas every road course is a little different. I think that's the hard part to learn.
"My main focus right now is the 45 car. I'm proving to myself that if Adam was still here and driving this race car that he could run competitive and he could win races. I think that's the part that bothered me the most about last year with the 45 not making races. I looked at it and said, 'this is me not making races, but this would be bad for Adam if he was here.' That's a lot of what drives the decision-making process here at Petty Enterprises. When things happen and I look around and a change needs to be made and we talk about it, then the criteria we use here a lot is, 'would this be better for Adam?' If the answer is yes, then we change, and that's how simple it is. Whereas in the past, I probably wouldn't have changed things for myself or I wouldn't have changed things for John or Buckshot, I would certainly change things to make Adam's career or to make it a better place for Adam here. That's kind of the yardstick I use. For me to make this place and turn this place into a place to where our teams can win championships, it's as important right now as the driving part of it.
"We've got different perspectives. Everybody has different perspective. I had a long-term perspective. Mentally, I had already got in a long-term perspective when Adam came along. I was thinking where we would be in five years and where we would be in 10 years. That type of figuring. Obviously, that was cut short. It was hard for me to come out of that train of thought. I think that's where Robin Pemberton is so important. He sees the immediate needs we have. I put pressure on myself to make the long term commitments that we can build with. I think he puts pressure on himself and puts pressure on the teams to go to the races, make the races and run good and to start to build that. We were the best team on the Winston Cup Circuit last year of running 43rd to 35th. There wasn't anybody better than us running in that slot. By the end of the year, we got pretty decent running 25th to 35th, so we picked it up a notch. Our goal this year when the year is over with is to look back and say we got really good at running 15th to 25th. We're not looking to come out this year and win the championship or win tons of races. We expect to run in the top five sometimes and we expect to run in the top 10 sometimes. We know through the building process that we've got to build a team that's capable of getting there and staying there. You've got to build a team like the Hendricks teams and Yates teams that are there week in and week out. There's a lot of teams that will pop in and out of the top five on a weekly basis. They're not there on a regular basis. It puts pressure on me mentally to do either job good, but I think with Robin coming in it changes that focus.
"They teach you from the time these kids start running go-karts and stuff that blocking is acceptable. It's acceptable and it's always been the leader has the line no matter what. That's just an unwritten, unspoken rule that runs down through there. You'd like to think that we as competitors are better than that in a lot of ways. You wouldn't block somebody for 15th place, and if you look at a lot of the accidents that happen, it wasn't a guy going for the lead that caused the wreck. It was a guy going for fourth or the guy going for fifth or the guy back in the back. I think there's a multitude of factors going into what's a block and what's not a block. I think there's a multitude of factors that go into why you do a block and why you shouldn't block. We've got the out of bounds rule now. If you want an out of bounds rule, just run another wall along the inside. That'll keep you in line. The out of bounds rule in my opinion is a good thought, but hard to really look at. I already think we got about 15 or 20 too many rules, so to add another rule, I'm not big for that.
"I thought Daytona was an exceptional race until the last 40 laps. Then in a lot of ways it was an embarrassment to Winston Cup Racing. In my opinion, to have the greatest drivers in the world just running at each other, that's one man's opinion, which doesn't mean anything. To bill ourselves as a sport that we are and to tear up more cars at Daytona than will be torn up at Martinsville and Bristol, either one of the short track races that are known for beating and bashing, is a little bit of an embarrassment. To have that few cars running at the end of the biggest race of the year in that type of situation... I don't notice any one driver or any one group doing it more than they've done it in the past. I just don't think the drivers respect the cars or respect each other the way they did 15 years ago. I just don't think you can get away with it under restrictor plate racing like you used to.
"We got involved with him (Carl Long) last year at Daytona. He was parked beside us in the garage area. If pure effort, desire and love of the sport would get you over the top, then Carl Long is a champion in 10 million ways. You guys come through the garage area, but when you see guys doing what Carl did on as little as what he had and making things work for him and making races and doing good, you feel a need to do something. I think we're incredibly blessed to do what we do anyhow. He's just a good guy. We had some stuff, and he had some stuff, and we felt like we could help out and he could help us with some feedback and stuff because he's a really good race car driver when you sit and talk to him about chassis development and chassis dynamics and what happens. We just started working together, and he's put together a program this year to be able to run more races, but under the right circumstances and in the right place, he could be a pretty decent race car driver. It's been funny. We went to Charlotte and didn't make the race and Carl did make the race. He was all upset because he made it and we didn't. He said take my car and drive it. I said this is your dream. You worked for this, you drive it, I don't need to drive it. Carl and I went to dinner one night and talked about some stuff personally, about family and where he was at in his life and where I was at in mine and stuff like that. The saddest thing, and I've said this before with my father, when my father retired. The No. 1 love of Richard Petty's life was always driving a race car. I think that's one of the saddest things that he went through that I saw my father go through was giving up something that he dearly loved and not being able to go out and do it on a weekly basis even though he couldn't or shouldn't any more. It was just hard for him to give it up. It's been a dream of Carl's to run Winston Cup, not trucks or Busch or other stuff, to run Winston Cup. To see anybody give up a dream like that is pretty sad, but for him to hang in there and do it is pretty special.
"When you talk to them about restrictor plates, the main reason we run restrictor plates is to keep the cars out of the grandstands. When Bobby Allison got up at Talladega and almost took out the flagman and took out the fence down the frontstretch, I think that woke a lot of people up to say there's some serious stuff going on here and if one of these cars gets up in the grandstands it's going to be incredibly tragic for not only the people but for the sport itself. I think NASCAR looked at that, and we started with the restrictor plate program. I'm not sure if we're ever going to get away from that. I think with a V-8 engine that puts out 800 horsepower, I don't think NASCAR is ever going to allow us to go back, although I wish they would allow us to go back and run unrestricted because I think it would separate a lot. I think from a safety perspective, I think the sport was safer going into Daytona this year than it was in any previous year. I hope in a year I can look back and say the sport is safer in 2003 than it was in 2002. They continue to look at seat belts and seat design and dashes and steering columns and soft walls and tire construction and a multitude of other things that all come together at one point to cause either tragedy or triumph when it comes to an accident like that. I think when you look at it, there's a lot of stuff going on. I don't think that just because they had a lot of wrecks and nobody got hurt, I don't think they can say we can take the plates off. I don't think that's going to be an issue for them. I think they are going to start looking at some other things to go on and try to keep us from running into each other and may be a little harsh on the penalties that they dish out for running into each other. I don't see plates coming off in the near future."
STEVEN LANE (Crew Chief No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I think that everything Kyle has done has gone in the right direction. With Kyle kinda easing back from the business role and taking more of a driver role, putting Robin Pemberton in, that was probably the best thing he could have done, building a bunch of brand new cars. Robin is really working hard with the fab shop. It seems like our bodies are getting better. The motor program, even though we had some trouble on Sunday, you can already see the difference in the motor program. It just seems like everything that Robin and Kyle are trying to do right now is headed in the right direction. I see good things coming.
"Robin's role is more of Petty Enterprises as a hold. When it comes to whether we're going to order chassis and get 'em built like this, or we're going to have bodies hung like this, no matter what it is, if we're going to have different ratios in our transmission, Robin has a hold of all of that. He takes the three crew chiefs and brings all of 'em together. Before, it kind of seemed like we were all on our own deal. We tried to be close, but with Kyle being out so much and doing different things, he couldn't bring us as close together as we needed to be. Robin just seems to bring us together. Come Tuesday morning, it's like OK, you guys need to be in here and we need to talk about what you've done, talk about where you've tested and what you had going on, and everybody throw your stuff out on the table so we can learn from it.
"Robin will kind of stand back and lead everybody in the right direction. I don't think you'll see him doing any kind of mechanic work or anything like that. He's just going to bring everybody together.
(On the one-engine rule at Rockingham) "You'll try not to heat the engine up or try not to send it through a bunch of heat cycles. We're just going to have to be real careful not to get the engine hot. We'll have to be real careful when we change oil not to use extremely light weight oil like we used to with our qualifying engines and just really take care of the engine before qualifying. Mike Ege and all his guys have done a good job keeping us in tune with what we need to do with their engines, whatever it might be, they're right there with us from Friday to Sunday to make sure we do the right things with those engines. They've done a real good job."