Martinsville II: Tony Raines preview

TONY RAINES Momentum Going into Martinsville CORNELIUS, N.C., (Oct. 17, 2006) -- Tony Raines drove the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet to a season-best seventh-place finish in last Saturday's Bank of America 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at ...

Momentum Going into Martinsville

CORNELIUS, N.C., (Oct. 17, 2006) -- Tony Raines drove the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet to a season-best seventh-place finish in last Saturday's Bank of America 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.

The finish was one position off from his career-best sixth-place finish in November 2003 at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.

But while Raines, new crew chief Brandon Thomas and the rest of the DLP team enjoyed their success on a rare Sunday off -- it's time to get back to work. It starts with a test session at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway this Tuesday and Wednesday.

From there, the DLP team will take their momentum into the half-mile paper-clip track known as Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for Sunday's Subway 500. Raines qualified a strong 12th there in the spring -- his first race in the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy -- and finished 21st.

Now, Raines, Thomas and the entire DLP team are looking to carry the momentum gained by a strong run at Charlotte to produce another strong run at Martinsville.

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

Now that you've had a few days to let it sink in, how do you feel about the seventh-place finish at Charlotte?

"We unloaded for practice on Friday and the car wasn't bad. The only real hiccup all weekend was qualifying. We didn't qualify as well as we should have. Happy Hour was pretty good. We weren't real high on the (practice) sheet, but our lap times were pretty good, so Brandon (Thomas) felt good about the car. Brandon told me not to worry about the speed chart because he felt race-pace-wise, we were top-15. The race just went well. The car was fast early in the race. We had a few breaks throughout the race and we ran well and led a couple laps. It was a just a good, solid night. I think we can certainly improve on that. We've had three or four chances this season where we could have done that, but for one reason or another, we weren't able to put that together. We finally did. It was a good lift for the DLP team and it was certainly a good lift for me. Those guys have worked hard, and they certainly deserved that."

The DLP team has struggled on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Did it surprise you that you had such a strong race at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track?

"Yes and no. Obviously, if you look at our record this summer, the 1.5-mile tracks have been our Achilles heel -- our worst performance track-wise. But on the other hand, we were pretty decent at Charlotte in the spring. We were good in practice, but crashed. Then we had an engine failure, which was our only DNF (Did Not Finish) of the year. I wasn't surprised that we could have run well there. I was a little surprised that we were consistent throughout the whole race. I felt like we were pretty strong all night. Everything went the right way. The 1.5-mile tracks have been our weakness, so hopefully we can keep these good runs going into Atlanta, Texas and Homestead."

Can you talk about the communication between you and Brandon?

"He's worked with a lot of different drivers and he's got a lot of good experience under his belt. He was specific on what he wanted to work on. I think his experience over the past two or three years has probably done more for him than anything else. Having worked with a bunch of different drivers and having worked through the process of this particular setup style, it gave him a lot more experience. I feel that his demeanor and the way he approaches things is like he's 'been there and done that.' I think it just lends itself to some confidence that he can make the car better. He has a sense of what he's going to do, whether it's right or wrong and he's going to stick with it. Part of that is confidence and part of that is experience. If you know what you're doing is right, you just do it. You don't worry about it and you hope it works out right. Sometimes it will and sometimes it won't."

"Charlotte was a weird race with the hard tires and the small fuel cells. You knew there were going to be lots of pit stops. There were going to be lots of two tires stops, and it made it unique in that respect. You kind of had to trust yourself, from a crew chief-standpoint that it was going to be that way and not get off your game plan."

After having a good finish like that, is it nice to get right back in the car on Tuesday and Wednesday for the test at Homestead?

"What I'm anxious for is to spend a little more time with Brandon. Obviously, things went well and it's easy to talk about a good weekend. But when you have a bad weekend, or when you're struggling and can fix it, that's what separates good teams from bad teams. I think the more we can spend time together, the better we'll work together. He'll learn more about my driving style and I think that's a positive. I like to test anywhere. It'll be good to get two days at Homestead. We're not going down there to be super-fast. We're going down there to sort out our program so we can be better everywhere."

Talk about heading to Martinsville this week.

"In the spring, we had a good qualifying run and we ran OK in the race. It'd be nice to qualify strong and get up front so we can avoid some of the wrecks that you know are going to happen. We'll just approach it like we do every weekend. During practice we'll shake the car out and make it drive the best that we can. We'll try to stay out of trouble. We have a good chance of finishing 25th in (owner's) points and we're only like 80 points out. We don't want to get crazy. We need to finish the race and finish it the best way we can."

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

What are your overall thoughts after your first race as crew chief for the No. 96 DLP team?

"I thought the first race went pretty well. About the only hiccup we had all weekend was qualifying. I think we ran pretty competitive in all of the practices and got a lot of good information. The race went real well."

Talk about your communication with Tony, considering that you have only been working together for a little more than a week.

"It has been a short time. Before we ever got to the track, Bill Saunders (managing partner), myself and Tony all sat down and basically I explained to Tony that all I really needed him to do was drive the race car. It was my job, (Steve) Hoegler's job -- the engineer -- and the team's job to take in and understand what Tony needed. Really, I wanted him to be able to concentrate completely on driving. I think that was good news for him -- something he took well. He's kind of running with it, and I'm very happy with that."

It seems that 10 or 15 years ago, drivers really knew the cars inside and out. Have you seen a shift where now the driver's role is not to know as much about the car, but rather drive the car and be able to give good feedback?

"Yeah, a little bit. The more successful combinations right now are in that mindset. The car is just complicated. You look at what a car was 10 to 15 years ago in this series compared to what it is now, and it's just completely different. There are so many things you worry about and so many rules and regulations that you have to worry about. You don't want the driver worrying about those things as he's driving into a corner. You want them concentrating on the feel of the car."

Did you have any idea that you would have as much success in the first race as the team did, considering it was at a 1.5-mile track where the team has struggled in 2006?

"I wouldn't say I woke up on Saturday morning and went to the track and expected to finish seventh. But, I'll be honest. I feel like our cars, our equipment, our motors -- our program is good. I feel like we're making the right decisions along the way and making good decisions. I thought we had as good a chance as anybody there. Obviously, there were a couple of really good cars that we weren't competitive with, but we were competitive with everybody from fourth on back."

How do you set the tone for the team that a seventh-place finish was nice, but still not where the team needs to be?

"I don't know. I think you have to set the expectation that you don't just want to finish seventh once in a while. I'm just not trying to play up this seventh-place thing to be the world's greatest. That's what we expect out of ourselves. I think you have to have -- from the top of the organization down -- people who expect to run well. You have to have guys who expect to struggle at times but be able to figure out why and go on. I guess the magic is the knowledge of how to fix it or get around the problem. So, that's what you try to instill. We didn't back into this. We sat down, worked on the car, made a lot of decisions and went and did it. So there's no reason we can't do that every week. It's not going to be handed to you, but if you work on it, it will happen."

What do you want to accomplish at this week's test at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

"We're trying a lot of different things. It's a brand new car for us -- one that I have pretty high hopes for. We have a lot of stuff to work on with our cars and we need to get Tony comfortable with those changes."

-credit: hofr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Raines