Las Vegas: Tony Raines preview

UM, WHAT HAPPENED? DLP Team Heading to 'New Look' Las Vegas Motor Speedway CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 6, 2007) -- Imagine you've been going to the same casino in Las Vegas for about 10 years. You only visit once a year, but you stay at the...

DLP Team Heading to 'New Look' Las Vegas Motor Speedway

CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 6, 2007) -- Imagine you've been going to the same casino in Las Vegas for about 10 years. You only visit once a year, but you stay at the same place every single time.

You know where the sports book is, where the blackjack tables are set up, where your favorite slot machine is located. You even know where the good restroom is.

Then one year you head out to the casino and everything has changed. Management has remodeled the casino and suddenly everything is new and in a different place than it was before. Not only can you not find your favorite slot machine, you can't seem to find the good restroom either.

This is the story of the DLP HDTV Team as they head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) for this weekend's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event.

LVMS officials have completely renovated the infield area with new garages, a new pit road and a new media center among other things. They've also drastically changed the racetrack, increasing the banking from 12 to 20 degrees.

Everything anyone has learned about the track in the last 10 years -- including where the good restrooms are -- has gone out the window.

The changes may, in fact, help the DLP team since Hall of Fame Racing -- in only its second season -- has only competed once at LVMS. Teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing have competed at Las Vegas with multiple cars for many years. But now the information those teams have gathered throughout the years becomes irrelevant because of the track's new surface and banking.

The good news is that all teams are on equal footing in terms of track time, as each took part in a two-day test at LVMS in late January. However, the DLP team got off to a rocky start in the test when they crashed a brand new car early in the session on the first day.

But crew chief Brandon Thomas and driver Tony Raines still gathered valuable information that they hope will pay off with a large jackpot come Sunday.

TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

What are your overall thoughts heading into Las Vegas?

"I think the situation is the same for everybody. We had a test out there and everyone got a look at the new surface. In a lot of ways it was the same old Vegas. It seemed very similar, except it had more banking and was faster."

Do you like the old or new configuration?

"I think I like the old one better. The infield improvements are going to be great. Pit road being closer to the grandstands is great for the fans. That's all good. The increase in the banking has increased the speeds, and in the long run, I don't know if that will help or hurt it. If the track 'grays out' a little bit, it might get better."

You tested at Las Vegas in late January and had a decent run at California. Is Hall of Fame Racing's intermediate track program getting better?

"Well, we hope so. Our engine trouble during the first practice at California kind of hurt us a little bit. We didn't get as much practice time as we would have liked. I think we raced a little better at California than we had and we had a good test at Vegas. That was our weakness last year, so we're working hard on improving that."

Do you enjoy spending some time out in Las Vegas?

"Yeah. I like a little (Texas) Hold'em, a little craps and a little blackjack. I do a little bit of all three because when I'm not doing well at one of them, I go to another game. I give myself three chances to donate."

You took part in the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow (COT) test last week at Bristol (Tenn.). How did that go?

"It went OK. I'd like to be a little better. I think we were in the top-15 out of 50 or 60 cars, so that was encouraging. At Bristol the times are really, really tight, but I think we gained a little bit throughout the test and hopefully gathered enough information to look at to make that even better. It's a different animal, for sure, especially at Bristol with the track being so banked and rough. With the amount of travel you get, it really makes a big difference in the car."

What did you do on the off weekend?

"Just played with the kid around the house, did a little fishing and took some nice walks. Really, we just kind of hung out."

BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):

What did you learn at the Las Vegas test in late January?

"Don't hit the turn 4 wall because it will tear your car up."

How big of a setback was that crash early in testing?

"In the grand scheme of things, probably not a big one. Short-term, it hurt our track time at the test and shook our confidence a little bit. That was a brand new car and it was only the fourth lap on it. So, that set us back a little bit on some hardware for a bit of the year. The car has been replaced with an even better car. It wasn't the best thing to happen, but that stuff does happen and we moved on."

The focus has been getting the intermediate track performance improved. What did you learn at California and are you seeing progress?

"Yeah, we're seeing progress. Maybe not to the level that we want to. We have a decent handle on our setups, but we need to be better yet. One of the things we're struggling with right now is just basic balance issues that we just don't seem to be able to get around the corner on. So, we're going into Vegas with a couple of newer ideas based on what we felt like happened to us at Fontana. We have a couple different approaches we're going to take for Saturday practice and Sunday race preparation."

Is it difficult right now to juggle both the COT and the current car?

"Sure. We're very busy building cars, but we're busy building COT cars and not current cars. We're trying boost up our inventory to have enough because the COT events -- while they weren't at the beginning of the year -- they are now all right in a row here in the middle of March and beyond with more testing and more races. You can't count on cars not getting damaged at Bristol or Martinsville, so you have to have enough cars prepared and get through those two events and then a test right after that. So, it's very taxing on the shop from a preparation and fabrication standpoint. Then, from the technical side, one of every two conversations is a technical discussion on what are we going to do on the COT. Learning from our test at Bristol, what are we going to do to get better yet when we get back? That's only one track that we're going to run at. There's still the flat tracks --Martinsville, Phoenix, Loudon, there's a Dover thrown in there -- and we have no idea what Darlington is going to be like."

How did the COT test at Bristol go for the DLP team?

"The test went well. We were pretty happy. We were quick on the speed charts -- right around top-10 in every session but the first one when we were just shaking down the car. You can't read a whole lot in that, because if we had picked up six-hundredths of a second, we would have been second on the chart. Not necessarily a true indication of performance. We feel we have several things to work on when we go back. We know some areas that we really need to get better at in three or four weeks time. It was a good test. We were far better than most people, but we weren't the best and there were people way better than us, so we've got work to do still."

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Raines
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing , Hall of Fame Racing