Saturday, Oct. 2, 1999. Martinsville Speedway. NAPA AutoCare 500. Chevrolet notes and quotes. BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I think we were eighth or ninth quickest in practice, and we never made a...
Saturday, Oct. 2, 1999. Martinsville Speedway. NAPA AutoCare 500. Chevrolet notes and quotes.
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I think we were eighth or ninth quickest in practice, and we never made a qualifying run. We went out first, and I know somebody's got to be first. People walk across the track before qualifying and it makes it dirty. If dirt doesn't make any difference, we could run as fast on dirt tracks. I'm complaining, but somebody's got to be first. If it wasn't right for me, it wouldn't have been right for somebody else. You just fight it and go. The only bad thing about it is, I don't care about the starting position. It's the pit. I could almost say I would almost rather have the back straightaway. It's just one of them deals. The existing front straightaway pits are still the best pits. If you get on either end, you're bottled up and turning. People turn in in front of you and behind you. You're still all bunched up and blocked up. They put the effort into it to make it better, but it's almost like it would have been better if we still had the back straightaway pit, but at least they're trying to improve it. We'll be somewhere coming out of turn four. Maybe the faster guys didn't like the turn up here in turn one and it'll open some of that up. I don't think a lot of them are comfortable with that new pit road turn. It was real congested. We've got to try to get to the front, but it's the same deal if you were pitting on the back straightaway. You can lead the race and pit in a bad pit, by the time we get out, we're going to be eighth or ninth again. That's just a bad thing about the qualifying.
"We brought the same car back we ran here last time. I'm not so sure the other one might not have been better, but it kept raining on us during the test (Tuesday and Wednesday at Greenville-Pickens Speedway). This car was just faster, but we didn't get a chance to try a lot of stuff. We actually got finished with the test on this car, but we didn't get a chance to test the other one like we needed to.
"I've got a good race car. I think a lot of it has to do with the driver. I'm a real disciplined driver. I can take my time. I can run this race at times and not have a scratch on the car if I want to. If you do that here a lot, people expect that out of you. Then they race you a little harder. Sometimes you just need to knock 'em out of the way and go on and make an example of somebody. It's happened to me the last two times we've been here. I sort of remember the people who ran over me. You just make an example out of them guys and everybody else will say they don't need to mess with you because they see you're pretty serious.
"This race last year, we qualified 16th and a plug wire fell off and we went to 43rd. Then we came up and led the race. I'm not really concerned about the starting position. You go to some of these race tracks and you say it's not a big deal. That's the way I feel about Martinsville. I don't think anybody is any better than we are. I feel good about the last five or six races. If you look at the finishes, you won't see it, but we've been pretty competitive every week. We're just in one of those modes. Every decision we make is a pretty good decision right now.
"We could have won the race last week. We had a bad starting place and were tight at first and got a lap down. That place changes from one day to the next. We just couldn't go anywhere at first. We came in and made an adjustment and it took off. This track stays pretty much the same. It's probably one of the most consistent race tracks we go to. We haven't made many adjustments here in the past."
BOBBY HAMILTON (No. 4 Kodak MAX Film Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"This is a good track for me. We've got better tracks. I call it a mini-superspeedway because you have to take care of brakes. You have to keep the nose on the car. You have to take care of the motor. It's a drivers race track. You have to do all of the above. You have to take care of the tires. You have to drive traffic correctly or it'll get you screwed up. That's a lot of things you have to do to be a contender here, and it reminds me of restrictor plate racing. You have to be on top of your mental game to participate in superspeedway stuff, and this place is probably just as drastic as any place.
"I said here a while back that I still feel good about winning this year. I've won races at three of the next seven tracks. It's like I don't even worry about winning because it's going to happen. It might not, but I just know it is. I just take each week and go as hard as we can go. I hadn't won but three of these races but they just fell out of the sky. It's the easiest thing I could ever do. It was a hell of a lot easier winning those three than it is running fourth sometimes. I feel like if you can just get your stuff together and keep doing what we're doing, having good game plans, we'll be in good shape.
"This is just another race track. If you keep the brakes on and keep the nose on it and are in the top five or six the last 80 laps of the race, you've got a shot at winning it. We'll get up there."
GEOFFREY BODINE (No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I've won a lot of races in a lot of different kind of cars here. People think I've got this place figured out. Well, you need to be a good driver, but a lot of good drivers are out here. You need to have good equipment. I've had good cars here in the past, good cars, good engines. That's how you go fast here. You need a little luck, too. That's one thing this team hasn't had. We haven't had good racing luck yet. We're working on that. We're getting better everywhere else. Our qualifying since Indy has gotten consistently better, but we still don't have racing luck to finish it off. You need a lot of that here. Starting up front helps. You make a lot of your own luck. By starting up front, you've already made some good luck for yourself. You don't have to beat your way through traffic. Hopefully the car will be good enough to stay up there.
"A lot of good drivers aren't starting up front, and they're going to find out how hard it is to work through the traffic. We didn't qualify well here last time (30th), but our engines are better and our cars are better now. I'm better because I have better equipment. Better equipment makes the driver better.
"I got my first win here in '84 with Rick Hendrick and Harry Hyde. It was our eighth race out as a team. I remember Harry Hyde telling my fan club that we had a pretty good car but it wasn't quite good enough to win with. Then they gave me the mike, and I said, 'Harry, I agree with you. We've got a pretty good car, but I think it is good enough to win with.' I passed everybody in the race. It wasn't a race where everyone fell out. We passed all the good guys. I passed on the outside. I was thinking it was like I used to do in the modifieds. I guess that's when my reputation started as having this place figured out. It was just a good car."
"That was 15 years ago. I was in pretty good shape back then because I was working all the time, but I'm in good shape now, too. I work out and I've watched my diet the last 20 years of my life. Working out has really helped, too.
"I want to win again. This is ridiculous. It's been 99 races since I won back in '96 at Watkins Glen. It seems like an eternity. I'm hungry. I wanted to win the first race this year, but we understood it was going to take time to get to that point. I don't even know if we're to that point yet. We'll find out Sunday. Pit stops are important, everything needs to work almost perfect. We're close to being able to do that.
"New guys are winning, and that's great for the sport. Everyone was complaining when Gordon was winning all the races. He still wins, but new guys are winning, too. I haven't heard any complaints. I think everyone likes to see someone win their first race. Different winners every week are good. I just want to be one of them. I'd like to be one of them.
"Too many variables, too many things are involved in winning. You've got to keep brakes and fenders on the cars. You do everything you can to have the best of all that. You never know when something might fail or someone might have something a little better. It doesn't get any easier, but it can get a little less complicated. We have a chance to win. I don't know who's got the best chance to win, but we're in there somewhere."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
"Right now, the cars are the same and basically the people are the same. We're missing Ray, but Brian Whitesell has done more than I think people know the last few years. Not a whole lot has changed as far as his role to get the cars working as best as he can, but it's a little bit different. Everybody has taken on a little more responsibility, and yesterday was great for us. There was some pressure on these guys and on myself. We knew that if we didn't qualify good the first thing everybody was going to say was, 'oh man, what's wrong?' So, it was nice to have a good qualifying run.
"You're going to see more guys contributing. We want it to be a total team effort and want the chemistry to be there. We want everybody to feel like they're involved and a part of this deal. We've been so used to Ray leading us and always knowing what to do. Now it's time for us to take all we've learned from him and all the things we've just experienced through the years and continue to grow with that.
"I say the same things. I've got a different person responding. Tomorrow is going to be a good test for us. I don't see any one race track now being critical. We want to get through the next how ever many races are left this season and get comfortable and get used to working in a little bit different environment. Tomorrow is going to be important to get Brian a little bit more comfortable with calling the race. He's been right there by Ray, but he hasn't been the one pushing the button and making that split second decision. Again, I'm going to try to help and contribute as much as I can with the rest of the guys so when we make a decision it's a decision we all feel is the right one.
"I was feeling a little bit of pressure yesterday. This is a great race team with a lot of depth. I feel like there's so much potential here, as much as I miss Ray being here, I really don't feel like we should skip much of a beat. This is really why I wanted to get Brian in this position this year so that if there are any kinks, any things we need to adjust to, we can do it this year so that we come out rolling at Daytona next year. There's a little bit of pressure. There's always been the question. Is it Ray? Is it Jeff? Is it Hendrick Motorsports? What is it? Is it just really good cars? The truth of the matter is, it's never been just any one person. It's always been the group. Ray deserves most of the credit for orchestrating those people and putting them in place and putting the right people in there that made up that chemistry. Now it's going to be more my responsibility, more Brian's responsibility. I've seen Rick and John (Hendrick) get a lot more involved and other people at Hendrick Motorsports.
"It's going to be different (during the race). We miss him. If I had my choice, I'd love for him to be there, but I support him in him wanting to do something else, and I knew it was something that was right for him. I wasn't going to keep him from his dream, as much as I wanted him to be here and at Hendrick Motorsports. We're going forward. I think Brian has already done an excellent job. We had a good job yesterday, and I was excited about that. This morning was a typical practice where things went well. We made some changes. Sometimes we were fast and sometimes we weren't. It was a pretty typical Martinsville. I'm looking forward to Happy Hour this afternoon, but tomorrow is going to be different. When it's different, you're not sure what the feeling is going to be. I think there's going to be some feelings of excitement, but there's also going to be some feelings of disappointment that Ray is not there.
"I was the one who pushed very heavily for Brian because I wanted to keep that team chemistry that we've always had. I think that the guys will rally around Brian. Brian is a very intelligent person, and he's learned from the best. He's learned from Ray. Even though I'm sure he's going to do things a little bit different, he's been in and among this team since it started in 1992. He knows how these guys work. He knows what they like to do. He knows their complaints over the years. He knows what they've raved about over the years. All it is I see is just getting him the experience of calling the race and working closer with me and these guys as the leader of the race team during the weekend. I feel like when he gets more experience, he's very capable of being the best crew chief in this garage.
"I think we've probably been a little bit surprised it has drawn as much attention as it has, but Ray and myself have been a great team. This team has been together since 1992 with very few changes. I knew that if it ever came, it would be a big story and it would be a test for Ray, myself and this race team. I think everybody thought there was a confrontation, that there was a problem between me and Ray, a discussion or had a conflict. It wasn't like that at all. I've known a lot of what's happened for a long time. This whole year we've been trying to determine what direction we were going to be going in 2001. I knew that Ray was thinking 2000. I knew my contract came up with Hendrick in 2000, so I was thinking 2001. I think he was thinking 2000. I knew he wasn't going to be the crew chief here. When we talked with Tommy Baldwin, it wasn't about being the crew chief. It was about being side by side with Brian. I think that was a little bit of a misconception. It's one of those things where I knew what was going on, but I thought it was going to be at Hendrick Motorsports. Some of the things that came up lately are some of the things that he and I talked about a long time ago, but they kind of got dropped. Recently they came back in the conversation. When he told me about it, I said, 'Ray, this is a perfect deal for you. It just isn't perfect for me. I'm happy for you and we don't always have to be together, as much as we want to be, there may come a time when we go our separate ways.'
"We had a good conversation about it and there were times when we were sad. There were times when we were excited for one another. It's just part of this business and part of life. I knew about it prior to Richmond. We were testing. Really, I didn't know the final decision until before New Hampshire. That's when I wanted to start working Brian in and a lot of things leaked that I wish hadn't. The leaks caused more of a problem than anything that was internally happening. It was all these questions that were coming up that we weren't prepared or ready for. There really wasn't anything dead set at that time.
"We talked about a lot of different things, and that's when I knew we might be doing something different. My goals and where I want to be and what I want to do in the future was a little bit different. As soon as I have my press conference and he has his press conference, until then there are still a few things we just can't discuss. In respect to Ray and what he's doing, I want him to be able to bring it out, and the same thing with me. I want to be able to talk about it when we're ready to talk about it. I know you basically already know, but officially when you find out I'll be able to talk about it a little bit more as far as why I made my decision and why he made his decision and why we weren't able to do it together. We definitely talked about it.
"We went back and forth so many times. Over the last off season, we got together and said we wanted to know exactly what we're doing. We had a lot of offers. He had some things come to him. Some included me, some didn't include me. I had things that came to me. Some included him, some didn't include him. We were trying to do the thing we were both together on. One week it was, 'man, we're going this direction. The next week, no we're going this direction.' It was one of those things where we weren't ever really positive. I pretty much knew what I was doing for sure about a month ago. Shortly after that, he knew what he was going to do.
"I think about that myself. I remember when we dominated here at Martinsville. We came up here and tested, and man we dominated this place. People got better. Maybe we didn't. Maybe we stayed the same. It's one of those things where I haven't tested here in a little while. It seems like guys who come up here and test really learn a lot with the technology of the telemetry and all the stuff we have on the cars, guys learned a lot about shocks and found ways to get around here better. It's one of those revolving deals where the guys who come up here and test seem to come back here and do really well. It's one of those decisions you have to make. We're pretty good here. We always run good here. We seem to always have a car that's capable of leading or running in the top five. We haven't had that dominant car it takes to win here in a couple of years. Maybe it's time for us to come back here and test next year.
"We've run pretty good here. We've got a pretty good basic setup. We were decent here the last time. I'd say this is a good place (for Whitesell to make his debut). It wasn't about where. It was just about timing and getting ready for that. It just worked out better for here instead of Dover.
"It's not necessarily how you cool them (brakes). It's how you keep from overheating them. That's the way I look at it. If you run behind a guy, working on him several laps in a row, you're going to overheat the brakes. If you run too fast, you're going to overheat the brakes. This is one of those tracks where you've got to run your own race and pay attention to what's going on around you. I feel like I lost at least one or two positions the last time we were here because I ran too hard late in the race and I was just hanging on there at the end. I had no brakes, no tires. Hopefully I'll learn from that and I'll be able to be a little more patient at the end of this race. It's important to save as much as you can for the end, and this place does change a lot toward the end of the race.
"Before too long, he (Rick Hendrick) is going to be off his medication and he wants to be more involved and wants to come to the race track more. He's been on this medication and he's been going through this illness and it's been very tough on him, but he's excited about getting off of it. He's been a real trooper here the last couple of weeks. He's been real involved in everything that's happening. I know we've been wearing him out, and we've tried not to do that, but he wants to be at the races every weekend. He wants to be at the shop everyday. His presence does so much for people and the team. Of course John is going to be involved and you're going to see some other people at Hendrick Motorsports step up, too."