TONY RAINES, DLP HDTV TEAM: ROLLING INTO THE IRISH HILLS CORNELIUS, N.C., Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 -- Tony Raines grew up in La Porte, Ind., just 150 miles south of Michigan International Speedway. As he got older, Raines did plenty of racing...
TONY RAINES, DLP HDTV TEAM: ROLLING INTO THE IRISH HILLS
CORNELIUS, N.C., Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2006 -- Tony Raines grew up in La Porte, Ind., just 150 miles south of Michigan International Speedway. As he got older, Raines did plenty of racing at small tracks in and around Michigan, often passing the vast, 2-mile oval to get there.
But there will be no passing Michigan International Speedway this week, home to Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race.
Instead, Raines will drive straight into the track's infield on Thursday night where he'll spend the weekend driving the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for Hall of Fame Racing.
Raines comes into Michigan after logging his best finish of the season -- an 11th place result Aug. 6 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But he was a bystander last Sunday at the road course in Watkins Glen (N.Y.), as veteran driver Terry Labonte took the wheel of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet for the final time this season.
Back in the seat and hungry for action, Raines returns to a track where he finished 38th in the Nextel Cup Series' June visit. But the result was not indicative of the team's performance, as a cut tire put the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy off the lead lap and out of contention. Before and after the tire failure, Raines was turning laps as fast as the leaders.
If the bad luck that bit the team two months ago stays away, expect the combination that made Raines so fast in June to continue in August.
Raines and the DLP team have quietly gained knowledge and experience throughout the summer, and it's beginning to pay off. In the last three races in which Raines has driven, the team has qualified in the top-20 and scored three top-25 finishes.
Not bad for a team that is still just 22 races young.
TONY RAINES (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy):
Talk about the first race at Michigan:
"We struggled a little bit in qualifying, but in race trim, we thought we had a pretty good car. Unfortunately, we had some bad luck. We ended up cutting a left rear tire, and then the rain came, which shortened the race. So, we never got a chance to get back on the lead lap, and we didn't have a chance at a good finish. So, we're looking forward to going back there, because if the car will drive and handle like it did in that first race, I think we should have a good day."
After having the cut tire and going down a couple of laps, you still had a competitive car, didn't you?:
"Yeah, we thought the car was really fast, and that was encouraging. We need to see if we can get back there and get that same feel and see if we can get the car to handle the same. Hopefully it will run the same, speed-wise, and we'll have a decent car."
Is the track condition of Michigan the same in August as it is in June?
"I think it's a little slicker in June. Typically, it just gets hotter and greasier, but with the weather coming in like it did (in June), we never really got to find out. You never know what you're going to get with Michigan. It could be hot, or it could be 50 degrees. We'll just have to wait and see what happens there."
It seems like the team is coming together, especially after the strong, 11th place finish you earned at Indianapolis. Would you agree?
"I think we've kind of figured out some of the things not to do in the last three or four weeks. We've had better qualifying, and we've raced better. I think we're getting the car to drive better, and that's the key to this whole game in the Cup garage -- just getting your car to drive well. When they drive well, they're normally fast. We'll just keep working on it. We've still got a lot to gain on some of these other guys. Getting down to crunch time here at the end, the guys that are better are going to keep getting better, and the guys that are struggling are going to struggle more."
Can you describe a lap around Michigan?
"The frontstretch has a slight D-shape to it, but typically you run off of Turn 4 pretty high coming to the green and you drop down to pick up a little speed down the frontstretch. Then you swing back up and arc it into Turn 1. Turn 1 is a little bit tighter and banked a little bit more than Turns 3 and 4, so it's probably one of the tougher corners, especially when you're getting in there at more than 200 mph. You're trying to get the car stable and rotated where you can get wide-open into the backstretch. Getting into (Turn) 3 is fairly easy. The track is so wide, your car can work anywhere. It might work on the bottom, it might work in the middle, it might work up top. It's one of those places where there isn't a specific groove. It's just what your car likes."
Your hometown of LaPorte, Ind., is about 150 miles away from Michigan International Speedway. Is this sort of a home race for you?
"Yeah, sort of. It's probably the closest other than Indy or Chicagoland. We'll be close to a lot of friends and relatives, so that's pretty neat. It's the first racetrack I ever went to as a fan to watch a Cup race, back in the mid-1980s. So it was kind of neat to be there then, and even more fun to get out there and compete on the race track."
What do you remember about that first race you attended at Michigan?
"I was in the grandstands, and I don't think I was even 21 yet. I just remember the cars, the quality of cars and sponsors, the paint jobs, the crowd. It was just a real exciting event. I remember Rusty (Wallace) leaving pit road -- they didn't have pit road speed then and he'd just hit the chip on every gear on the way off pit road. He got on and off pit road better than anybody else. That stuck out as the most memorable thing."
You did a lot of racing around Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin when you where coming up through the American Speed Association. What do you remember about those days?
"I drove by that track (Michigan) many times on my way to another track to race. I ran an ASA race at Michigan in the mid 1990s. I think I've probably got as many laps there as I do anywhere else, so hopefully we can unload pretty strong and work on it and get better at it as we go along."
What were some of the surrounding tracks you raced at?
"There were a lot of them. Berlin, Kalamazoo, Motteville and Toledo, were a few. There's a lot of good racing and a lot of good race car drivers around that area."
What's your favorite Michigan short-track coming-through-the-ranks story?
"I don't know. I just remember Berlin being a fun track to race at. It was such a unique track. There's been good drivers that have gone to Berlin and haven't been able to figure it out. It's just a tough, tough track. Once you figure it out though, it's fun."
Do you have any family and friends coming to the race at Michigan?
"I'm sure there are people coming. I haven't looked at the guest list, but I'm sure it's pretty full."