RICKY CRAVEN: 32-Tide Taurus DID YOU THINK YOU COULD PICK UP OVER SIX-TENTHS OF A SECOND? "I did. I wasn't banking on it, but I knew that the chance was there. And, the guys made some great changes, some great changes. It's been that way all...
RICKY CRAVEN: 32-Tide Taurus
DID YOU THINK YOU COULD PICK UP OVER SIX-TENTHS OF A SECOND?
"I did. I wasn't banking on it, but I knew that the chance was there. And, the guys made some great changes, some great changes. It's been that way all year. The last four or five races it seems like we're really starting to hit on all the little things. Mike Beam, I'm really glad that I hooked up with him, it's been a lot of fun racing with him this year, and Cal Wells gave me the opportunity, but what's really got me excited is racing for Tide. They're behind us 100 percent and things are looking great."
WERE YOU LOOKING FOR CONSISTENCY DURING PRACTICE?
"That's a brand-new car and our approach today was to sort of test. We had two hours to sort through that new car. So, for me to run fast, I couldn't evaluate the car, so I'd run as hard as I could, but still think about the car, come in, say, 'Mike, here's what I think,' and he'd tell me what he thought. We threw a bunch of stuff at it, but every time we went we got more and more comfortable. I told him I had good run going on my practice lap, but I lost it off of four, and I said, 'I gave away a couple tenths there, guys, so if we can get that back and you give me a little bit more in the Robert Yates motor, we're gonna have a shot.' And, they did a great job."
"I've always enjoyed it here and the proof of that is that I know that I know that there's some commentary or some articles last week where I said, 'Hey, I can't wait to get to Michigan.' I've run well here, led laps, qualified in the top five a few times in the Bud car, and I just thought like this is a place where we could turn the corner. And, actually, the last month we've really run well, and I'm just so proud of the guys. Every week I keep getting a car that's better and better. We brought a brand-new Tide Ford here, didn't have any idea what to expect. The first hour of practice wasn't a lot of fun, the second hour was better, and then qualifying was just about perfect. It was a credit to Mike and Roy and all the guys, because they made several changes and they just all worked out."
ON HIS PRACTICE TIME.
"A little bit misleading because my qualifying run in practice, I had a very good lap going and it just really got away from me getting off of four. And, I had said the guys, 'Hey, if we can fix this, then we got a shot.' But, the circumstances were nice - being able to go last, and they tuned the engine up, and, hey, I really have a very good team. This team is different than it was two months ago. The last month we've run in the top 10 every week since New Hampshire, and it's feeling like we starting to get it together. I'm really enjoying working with Mike Beam. So, life's good."
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD THAT YOU WON THE POLE?
"I really felt good about one and two. I just knew one and two were fast. I jumped back in the gas in three and it got away from me a little bit, and I said, 'Well, I gave it away there.' But, I really felt like it was top-five because I had so much momentum, and Mike came on and I can't say exactly what he said, but it was pretty encouraging."
WITH ALL OF THE UNCERTAINTY WITH THE OPERATION, HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO AND NOT BE CONCERNED WITH WHAT'S GOING ON ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE GARAGE?
"What helped a lot was Proctor and Gamble and Cal stepped up in Chicago and said, 'Hey, we're going to dinner tonight.' Went to dinner, met all these folks from Proctor and Gamble, and they said, 'Hey, let's toast our driver for next year,' and they basically were extending my contract. So, the opportunity for a lot of distraction, and Proctor and Gamble immediately said, 'Hey, let's just get this over with because we feel good about what we have,' and I feel great, I really do. I think that this team is going to be a contender, and because of that we just continue to look forward. I give very little consideration to what happened in the past, and just keep working with my time."
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHANGES YOU MADE FROM PRACTICE TO QUALIFYING.
"We made some pretty big changes between the middle part of practice - the beginning of practice and the end - so in the middle we made some big changes. Mike unhooked a rear bar, the rear sway bar, and he and Roy and I talked about several things. They surprised me, really. They made some great changes. I knew the car was fast, in practice, but it got away from me on our qualifying run. Really, the track was a challenge today, in practice. Stickers were a commodity. Your second run was very difficult, so you really had two runs this morning to evaluate yourself. Our second new-tire sticker run, the time didn't really represent what the car had."
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW TIRE? IT'S YOUR SECOND TRIP TO MICHIGAN WITH THE TIRE. HAS THAT HELPED YOU?
"It's helped the team. It has been our objective all year long and we approach each week on how we are going to work around the tire being tight. When I first came to PPI and I began driving the Tide Ford, I struggled with the balance because it was different from the Chevrolets and over time we've corrected that. Cal spent a lot of money in the wind tunnel and doing things to help us, to give us the tools to learn, and now I think we have a pretty good handle on it."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO START ON THE POLE ON A BIG, EASY-TO-PASS TRACK LIKE THIS?
"Track position is the most important element of Winston Cup racing. Any team has to look at track position as a priority. A great example of that was a few weeks ago when Jeff Gordon led a hundred and twenty-something laps at Pocono, lost track position and was just another car, and he battled his way back to eighth or ninth. But at that point we were racing him door-to-door, and swapped positions a few times. We ended up 10th, and we came away from Pocono saying, 'You know, if we can get and then maintain track position, we've got the speed.' So, that's our objective. Track position is critical."
WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR SUNDAY?
"We got to have a good practice tomorrow. I think back to the times that I've been on the pole and it didn't work out so good. There are a few times - the last couple of times, I think - gosh, we were really fast straight-line speed, so you get the pole, but then you gotta back it up. I believe the team can back it up, and here are the reasons why: because we've got momentum; we've run well for the last month, month and a half, we've run very well, not great, but we've run well and we've made progress; we've settled in on these new chassis' that Cal spent a lot of money designing and preparing - this is what we know as a two-point-oh chassis - and I've run them exclusively since New Hampshire. Not the same car, but the same chassis. It's a car that we build in-house and it's paying off for us. For that reason I think that we're going to be strong. Now, because we won the poll, I'm not going to say that legitimizes us to be the favorite for Sunday, but I think based on how we've run at Indianapolis and Pocono we expect to run top 10."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE FULL-CIRCLE YOU'VE COME IN THE LAST YEAR?
"What's really interesting about that is if I were to campaign, I would say to a room full of columnists, 'I'm 35 years old - I'm 34 when Cal and I got together - but, the next five years are going to be the best of my career. I've got great health. I've got more experience than I had five years ago, when I could've gone several places. And, I'm not tearing cars up like I was then.' I think the next five years are going to be the best of my career, I really believe that. And, thanks to Cal and thanks to Todd, I've been given that opportunity. The key for me and the key for Mike Beam and everybody on our race team is to settle in and we need longevity. All of us need to stick together and work together for a long time. Because the power in that is incredible. Change is difficult and swapping people, there's just no future in that. I believe in what we have; now we just gotta leave it alone and let it nurture or let it materialize. It's starting to pay off, I believe. Again, the last four, six races have been very productive. It is so interesting to think back, a year ago I'm floating around Moosehead Lake in northern Maine with my wife and two kids. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for me because I'm gonna tell you something: It was the greatest time of my life. I got to play with my kids. I wish I were racing every week, but as an alternative, if I wasn't racing that 50 car, I would not go near a television because it would be too painful, it'd be too aggravating. So, as an alternative, I would hope in the boat with the kids and I would do things that Jeff Burton and John Andretti would love to be doing - and I'm not going to be able to do that for five more years. I want to race five more very productive years. But, as bad as it was that I wasn't in the position that I wanted to be professionally, personally my life was very good. So, I made a positive out of whatever it was I had."