Loudon II: Tony Raines preview

Long Week: I-85, Virginia, Alabama, New Hampshire CORNELIUS, N.C. (Sept. 11, 2007) -- Since the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway Saturday night, one would think the DLP crew enjoyed...

Long Week: I-85, Virginia, Alabama, New Hampshire

CORNELIUS, N.C. (Sept. 11, 2007) -- Since the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway Saturday night, one would think the DLP crew enjoyed an extended weekend with some down time on Sunday.

But, in the words of famed ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend!"

Tony Raines, crew chief Brandon Thomas and the rest of the DLP team are in the midst of traversing the East Coast this week as they travel from a race in one state, to an important test in another, and then back to a race in another state.

It's all part of the life that is NASCAR. Actually, it's one that more resembles a presidential campaign schedule.

The No. 96 DLP HDTV hauler, which is being used at all three stops this week, could play the part of a presidential campaign bus. The DLP truck traveled north on Interstate 85 last Thursday to Richmond, Va., where it remained through Saturday night's race before heading back south on I-85 to the team's headquarters in Charlotte.

From Charlotte, the hauler left Sunday afternoon and traveled down the southern portion of I-85 through Atlanta before heading west on I-20 to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for a two-day test with NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow. Following the conclusion of the test on Tuesday, the hauler was to travel back up to Charlotte, reload on Wednesday, then hit the road on Thursday for to New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon for the three-day Sylvania 300 race weekend.

A long week? Certainly. But very much like a presidential campaign, victory in New Hampshire can be a great reward.

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

Talk about the first race at New Hampshire with the Car of Tomorrow in July:

"I don't think we were that bad in the race. Our speed was pretty good. We struggled in qualifying. It was the first time we'd been there with the COT. I think we'll go back there with a pretty good race package. It always seems like each race is a little different. Going back where we were will just be a starting point."

How did the COT handle at New Hampshire?

"I thought it handled pretty well there. It's like a big Martinsville. You could pass just fine. I thought, in that respect, everything went pretty well. Everyone was just fighting tight in the center, like you always do there."

What is the one thing you want at New Hampshire?

"You want the car to roll through the center and come off strong."

Do you like New Hampshire?

"It's a nice place to visit. The track's all right. It's a little like Martinsville. It's a little tough to race on. It's got long straightaways and tight corners. They've done a lot to the groove and the surface over the last couple of years, so they've certainly done everything they could to help promote racing. In that case, it's a good thing. We have to have good brakes because that track is capable of being hard on the brakes, since it's got such long straightaways. The Gibbs motors will run pretty well there, so we'll see how it all pans out."

What does it take to have a good lap at New Hampshire?

"You want to get into the corner at a good clip, but you want to get a really smooth entry with the car to where it's rolling really free through the center without flipping the tires in the back or starting to shove the nose. Grip there is really the key to getting through the center of the turn and onto the straightaway. You want to be able to pick up the gas early and smooth and have the car really pick up a lot of speed without scrubbing either end. That seems to be the key to going fast. Getting through the center freely is worth a lot."

Do you like the New Hampshire area?

"Yeah, it's nice. I like that type of area -- lots of woods and good, hard-working people. I certainly enjoy going up there. Hopefully, we'll have a good weekend."

Talk about testing the COT at Talladega this week:

"It went well. In single-car runs we were pretty decent. It drafted pretty well. It's like the (NASCAR Craftsman) Trucks. It's got a lot of drag. The car is a little slow to get up to speed. You can get a pretty good run on people, but if you step out of line, you pay the price. With more motor, you've got a bigger restrictor plate, so that works out well. You'll see a lot of lead changes and a lot of action."

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

Talk about the first race at New Hampshire with the Car of Tomorrow:

"The biggest thing probably was that a lot of teams tested at Milwaukee for New Hampshire and New Hampshire is really nothing like Milwaukee. So, a lot of what we learned and felt confident about leaving Milwaukee didn't help at New Hampshire. We struggled pretty badly on Friday and Saturday at the race track. Once we got away from a lot of those set-up ideas, we had a pretty good car Sunday in the race, except that we were so far back we only worked our way up to the mid-teens."

What is the difference between Milwaukee and New Hampshire? They are both flat, mile ovals, aren't they?

"In Milwaukee, the corners are a lot longer. The radius is a lot longer. If you stand on the frontstretch, the backstretch is further away from you at Milwaukee than it is at New Hampshire. So, at New Hampshire, you have a sharper corner. You brake more in a straight line and then you have a sharper corner to change direction. So, things that you're trying to do to get the car to rotate through the corner at Milwaukee don't necessarily work at New Hampshire because the radius is so much different."

What are your thoughts on the COT test at Talladega?

"NASCAR is still kind of in a decision-making stage as to what the rules package is going to be. After the morning speeds (on Monday), they kind of went back and made a couple of aero changes to slow the cars down a little bit. Really, what I don't like is that the cars in a pack during drafting can close up from a great distance, more so than they could before. So, you don't really lose the draft. It's a different package. It's going to take a different motor package and really a different driving style, as well. Those things all sort of require a lot of adjustments, but the cars themselves are all pretty well-matched in terms of performance."

What kind of race do you think we can expect in the fall?

"It kind of seems like you're going to have a lot of closing speed on cars around you at pretty awkward times, so I think you'll see a lot more incidental contact in the draft, front-to-rear."

How hard is it going from the Saturday-night race at Richmond, to a two-day test in Talladega, to a race weekend in New Hampshire beginning on Friday?

"Obviously, it's pretty difficult. We've been rotating back and forth between truck drivers. We're actually using our regular race trailer for all three events, rather than the test hauler. What really falls through the cracks is the level of preparation you can put towards each event. We had to leave early to go to Richmond, so I missed out on some time with the speedway cars before the Talladega test. Being at Talladega, I missed out on being with the Loudon car before it leaves for New Hampshire. So really, myself and the road crew, we miss a lot of time with the cars before they hit the road. That, and it's just tough to spend even more time on the road."

-credit: hofr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Raines