This Week in Ford Racing February 25, 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup BEN LESLIE, Crew Chief - No. 6 Viagra Taurus WHAT ABOUT LAS VEGAS HAVE YOU LEARNED THAT NOBODY ELSE KNOWS? "I don't know how much we've learned or haven't learned. I think ...
This Week in Ford Racing
February 25, 2003
NASCAR Winston Cup
BEN LESLIE, Crew Chief - No. 6 Viagra Taurus
WHAT ABOUT LAS VEGAS HAVE YOU LEARNED THAT NOBODY ELSE KNOWS?
"I don't know how much we've learned or haven't learned. I think we've learned that we have drivers that really like Las Vegas. The first key to getting around Las Vegas is to have a driver that loves the place and knows how to get around it. That's one of Mark's favorite tracks, so that right there gets you one step closer as far as being a little more dialed in."
DO YOU STILL SEE MARK AS A LEGITIMATE TITLE CONTENDER?
"Absolutely. I see the same thing Jack (Roush) does. I've seen Mark race for a bunch of years and worked on his cars a couple years before recently getting even closer within the last two years. In my opinion, I haven't seen the peak of Mark Martin yet. That's my opinion."
WHAT ABOUT THIS CAR YOU'RE TAKING TO LAS VEGAS?
"It hasn't been to Las Vegas. This is a car we used last year and we did a complete re-build on it. We re-bodied it and stripped it all down. We tested with it a couple times in Kentucky and Mark was just real happy with the way it drove. Seeing as how Kentucky and Vegas are similar, not exactly the same but it has some of the same characteristics, we decided to take it as opposed to a car that we actually planned on taking, which was a brand new car. That one just didn't feel quite as right at Kentucky."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT AN HONOR IT IS TO WORK WITH SOMEONE LIKE MARK? "It's an awesome experience because it helps you more than just in racing, it helps you in life to be around somebody like Mark that has a true never-quit philosophy. He makes you look at not only racing, but a lot of things in life. You sit back and say, 'Doggone it, it didn't work out for me, but I'm not gonna stop trying. I know it will work, I've just got to keep going.' It's an awesome situation to be in actually. It's helped me personally in racing and in my personal life."
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD GET A CHANCE LIKE THIS?
"No. I knew where I wanted to be as far as at least working on a Winston Cup team and working with one of the top drivers, Mark being in my opinion the top driver. I knew where I wanted to be, but I didn't expect to get this far. This was a little bit of a surprise that it came to me this quick."
DOES VEGAS CARRYOVER TO THE NEXT FEW RACES?
"Setup-wise, Vegas is gonna be something different than the next couple of races - Darlington, Texas and Atlanta. It takes a little bit of a different setup, but you can carry some aero-balance issues over. If you have an issue with front downforce or rear downforce, Vegas will really be your first big key to knowing what you have going on and you can get to work on it before you maybe even get to Atlanta. And then maybe you can have it fixed before you get to Texas, but as far as chassis setup there's not a lot. The aero-balance and driver comfort, there's a fair amount of similarity just because of the speed and the way the track is as far as being flat and really fast."
SO IF YOU'RE FAST AT VEGAS, YOU SHOULD BE GOOD AT ATLANTA AND TEXAS, AND IF YOU'RE BAD YOU HAVE A LOT MORE WORK?
"Exactly right. If you're bad, you've got to overcome some aero issues. If you're good, then as long as you don't miss the chassis setup and miss the springs and bar setup, you know that your aero package is real close."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT?
"Anymore it's incredible. The aero-balance is incredible on these cars anymore. It's not where it was last year. It's not where it was five years ago. It's 100 times where it was seven years ago. The aero-balance is almost as important as what springs and shocks you have on the car. You hear about everybody getting an aero-push behind cars and all that. If you can get that out of your car, then you've done something that nobody else has been able to do and it's a huge advantage. The aero deal, even with the new templates and everything, still plays such a major role in these cars. Like I said, it's just as important as the right springs and shocks and bars."
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN CREWMAN WHEN YOU HAVE OPENINGS AND DO YOU SEE NASCAR TECH EVENTUALLY PROVIDING PERSONNEL?
"Absolutely. Right now when we go out looking for a person we look at their experience and background. We also look at their people skills because it's such a team-oriented industry. The other things that we look at is what they've done in the past, what can they bring to the table for us. We're not just hiring mechanics. We're not just hiring somebody that bolts cars together. We want somebody that's gonna bring something to the table, bring something new to us that we haven't seen and maybe answer some questions that we don't understand that someone is doing. The NASCAR Tech deal will and has provided people that will help the industry. The day and age that you get somebody who worked in a garage or tune-up shop to start on the ground floor and being a mechanic on Winston Cup cars is kind of gone. Those people start in ARCA and that's what we end up doing, looking at people in the ARCA division, looking at people in the Busch division and look at people who have kind of paid their dues and come up through the ranks. When they come in, they've got a lot of background knowledge. They've been through a lot of tough times, so to speak, and have figured things out for themselves. Then we just take them and go to the next level and polish on them a little bit."
IS STARTING AT A LOCAL TRACK THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED?
"I believe so. There's no substitute for putting time in on the job. You can teach and show people a lot of stuff, but until you get put in situations and have to figure things out for yourself, which, like I say, local tracks and the ARCA division - a lot of that stuff puts you in situations that takes a lot of aptitude to figure out. Then, obviously, with that being a lower budgeted division, all that does is grow character and that's a major plus as well."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK WITH KURT BUSCH?
"Kurt is extremely talented. He's a great talent. Me and Kurt were both kind of at the same point in our careers. We were both rookies, so there were times when the one couldn't help the other. What's happened is we've just coupled experience with inexperience with the switch we did last year. It's grown both teams. Rather than having two rookies kind of floundering and some weeks hit on it and some weeks miss it and watch that grow together. Instead, if you switch and put your strong person with your weak person and vice versa, it brings your two rookie people up fast and it also, because of the rookies having a different outlook on things sometimes, it also takes the older more experienced people and gives them a new look on some things."
SO YOU"RE NOT SURPRISED WITH KURT'S RUN RECENTLY?
"Absolutely not. He's got so much talent it's incredible. He's an extremely talented driver and he's a real good person to be around. Nothing would shock me out of what Kurt Busch can accomplish."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE INSPECTION PROCESS?
"I think John Darby and all the officials have done a great job as far as keeping the playing field level. Inspection is harder to get through and it does take a lot more focus on things, but as long as it's even across the board, that's all I ask for as a competitor. As long as everybody is going through the same inspection process that I am, and I feel confident that they are, then that's all I'm worried about. It is harder. Rockingham was a lot harder than what maybe Rockingham was in the spring last year and the spring before that, but it was harder on everybody. It is what it is."
HOW MANY INSPECTIONS TO YOU GO THROUGH AND HOW DO YOU USE TEMPLATES AT THE SHOP?
"For instance, the car that we took to Rockingham, which we were fortunate to get our sticker on the first try because everything passed, that car had every template put on it three different times. It's just a fact of checking and double-checking. When the sheetmetal gets hung on the plate, before it gets off the plate every template gets put on it. When it goes to the body shop and they're getting ready to put paint on it, before they put paint on it every template went over that car again. And then on Tuesday of last week every template went over that car again before we loaded it up. That's just what inspection takes now. They're enforcing the templates that we have and the onus comes back on the teams to make sure and double-check and triple-check themselves that it's right when you unload."
WHAT DRIVES YOU AS A CREW CHIEF?
"I think it's everything. It's the competition and coming out at the end of the day knowing you were in the top five or top 10 or were the best. It's the love of racing. For me, it's the love of seeing a car that's been put together with just absolute perfect standards. The quality of work that people do and just having a car that is a true hand-built piece in which every piece on it has been built to its absolute best possible standards. It all goes hand-in-hand for me. When we unload a car, I'm proud to stand next to it. That's the love of racing for me, to have a really nice piece and then to take what you think is a perfect car and make something out of it on a given Sunday. That's what the whole deal is for me."
HOW DEEP CAN THE FRUSTRATION GO?
"I don't know that there is any limit to how deep the frustration can go. On bad days, it's almost unbearable. On good days, there's nothing like it. The frustration on a bad day is unimaginable, but the feeling you get on a day where everything goes right or even only half the things go right but you end up with a good finish, that's also another situation that's almost unexplainable."
WOULD YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IF MARK DIDN'T WIN A TITLE?
"I would be disappointed for him in the fact that I couldn't take what I feel is the best driver in the garage and win a championship. I know from talking to him that he feels he has no reservations about anything that's happened in his career or any championships that he might have won or might not have won because he's had such a great career. Myself, to be selfish, I would like to be able to put him in a position to win his championship."