ROGER PENSKE (Chairman Penske Corporation) "It takes human capital to build great organizations. I've been blessed with the ability to attract some great people, and those people have delivered to us. I heard about 26-10. I like change. We're...
ROGER PENSKE (Chairman Penske Corporation)
"It takes human capital to build great organizations. I've been blessed with the ability to attract some great people, and those people have delivered to us. I heard about 26-10. I like change. We're all about change, and I think we're all here because we've had a successful business with NASCAR. We have a world class group of sponsors, and we couldn't get to the racetrack without them. We keep our sponsors. It's about the business-to-business part of racing.
"As I look at the 2004 season I see a great group of drivers. I see some tremendous teams. You see some new names. The Shane Wilsons of the world, Brendan Gaughan, we saw Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and other people come up through this sport. There are going to be some new ones this year. Maybe it's Brian Vickers and people like that who are going to change the game. What's it going to take? It's going to take consistency, reliability and it's certainly going to be the teams that have the strategy. No matter what the rules are, it's interesting how the teams seem to melt their way into where they need to go. That's important with us as we go forward."
COMMENT ON NEW POINTS SYSTEM
"I think change is great. NASCAR has brought us to where we are today, and I think we need to follow them. It's going to change the strategy. Good drivers, reliable teams are going to be in the running for the championship. Just think if you were 400 points out and 12th or 13th and you had a chance to pop up there and be 65 points behind and run for that championship, it's going to be exciting. We can't wait for the first race. Our strategy is going to be to win races and stay in these races and gain points. We're not going to worry if we're 12th or 13th. We want to be in the top 10 when the bell goes off for the final playoff.
"I think the drivers have to step back and say 'how did you get here? What was the organization that brought you to the top? Who's giving you the notoriety to be a superstar?' It was NASCAR, and I think we have to take our hats off. I remember when I got $250 from Bill France to go home when I didn't make the race, so it goes back that far. These guys are thorough. Brian put the TV package together, got the tracks together and I think we need change. I'm not on the side of the drivers on this one. I think it'll only make the sport better."
WHAT ARE THE BIG CONCERNS IN NASCAR TODAY?
"I think people are concerned about safety in all forms of auto racing. I think the soft walls are making a huge difference. Safety is No. 1, and I think we also need to make sure we don't have too many tracks and build more seats than we can fill. For the schedule we have, it's getting to be a real burden for everyone to meet all the requirements of the sponsors and fans. I think the sport is in good shape. I've never seen the investment in facilities like we have today. I think if the teams stay within the guidelines and the cost doesn't get out of sight, and that goes back to the sponsors being able to write the check to give the team what they need to be competitive."
COMMENT ON COST OF RACING
"Value isn't just a car running around the racetrack with a No. 2 or 12 or 77 on it. I sat on Home Depot's board, and I see what Tony Stewart has done for Home Depot. I see what Jeff Gordon has done for DuPont. If we continue to have superstars that are accessible, that's a big thing. Look at Formula One and you never see the drivers. We can't lose that edge."
HOW DID YOU LEARN TO PICK THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO WORK FOR YOU?
"You've got to go back to your mom and dad. They say good people are the ones you want to associate with and work hard. There is no question that teams that seem to get ahead are the ones that put the most effort in. I've tried over the years to take young people, people that maybe haven't gotten to the top and give 'em a chance and see these folks really blossom. We've seen that within our teams, both the IndyCar teams and NASCAR teams. It's all about people. We try to pick people that are committed, that are loyal, that have integrity. If you take those ingredients together, that's what our sponsors want. This is a big team now. There's a lot going on, and everybody wants to go racing. Get the best people and you can win, and I think that's what we have in NASCAR with our Penske Racing teams. I think the association with Doug and his team that have come together and Scott, the engine shop. People want to work for us. The day I don't feel that's the right thing, maybe that's the time I've got to get out, but today I never felt better. Seeing Larry (Carter) and some of the new people that have joined us -- Shane Wilson and Brendan... It's a people business. You've got to be sure you pick the right people. Not everybody can be a leader. I think we need to sort out who's going to lead and who's going to follow. As far as these three drivers are concerned, I want them all going across the finish line at the same time. That's what I'm looking for."
WHAT WILL BE THE FOCUS IN 2004?
"Our focus will be to win races. As you get toward race 24, 25, 26, the strategy will be completely different. The guy that's soundly in is not going to want to make a mistake. He's going to want to try to finish, so reliability becomes important. Taking a chance on the engine won't happen, but those are the things that are going to make it interesting. Being in the top 10 with 10 races to go with only 45 points between first and 10th, to me that's going to be outstanding. It's going to make for some great racing. It's going to be like The Winston every weekend. You've got to be willing to take a chance and step up because the same routine is not going to get you to the top. They call 'em the young guns, but I think it's just evolution. We want to give more young people chances. Since Newman, a lot of the teams are starting to dig a little deeper (for young drivers). I think that's the evolution of the sport. What we look at is No. 1, Have you been a winner? No.2, what are your people skills? And No. 3, can you communicate from a technical basis?"
ARE YOU A GAMBLER?
"I guess you might say I'm a risk taker, not a gambler. I take calculated risks. I try to have a game plan. The benefit of having a team like ours, when you call someone to talk about a deal, you can get to the finish line pretty quickly. It's a matter of do they want to drive for you or not? In most cases over the years, they do want to drive for Penske Racing, and that's given us an advantage."
WHAT DOES NASCAR NEED TO DO TO TAKE THE SPORT TO ANOTHER LEVEL?
"I think we need to maintain a realistic schedule so we don't burn out all the people. That means everyone involved. I would hope we don't see a lot of change in the new point system. There might be some tweaks, what I call engineering changes, needed as we go through the season. We need to maintain integrity in the officiating system. That's the main thing, if Brian France can continue integrity in the officiating. Paying a fine doesn't do anything. They need to be tough on people who cross the line. I don't care what team it is, our team, Earnhardt, Hendrick, Roush. I think giving us a chance to digest what we have in place for 2004 is important."
IS THE SEASON TOO LONG?
"I don't want to see it any longer. I think we've got to be able to make use of our time at the tracks. Shorter schedules, which they've done, and getting qualified and being able to get ready for the race setup is positive. Using one engine is positive. We need to get our guys home earlier. Transportation is getting tougher and tougher to travel with as many people."
ARE YOU STILL CONFIDENT THAT RUSTY WALLACE CAN WIN?
"It's interesting. People would die to have Rusty Wallace on their team. The problem is in 2003 when you compare Rusty with a guy who won 11 poles and 8 races, you say what's wrong. I think Rusty had a tough year. Some of it was imposed himself and other was maybe he didn't take the risk with the setups that Ryan had. I think he's going to take that approach this year. I think the change of crew chiefs was a positive one. Billy Wilburn has been a great resource for Brendan, but I think Rusty is a top driver and he can win races. He will win races in 2004. Look at Terry Labonte. Jeff Gordon had a tough time winning races. Look at Tony Stewart. I'm sure Ryan had a tough time getting that first one. Just because you've been a champion and have won races, you can't just throw your helmet out there. It's not automatic, and there's so much competition. The difference between a good car and a bad car might only be a tenth or two a lap. I wish we could get so far ahead that nobody could catch us. That's the strategy that Matt used on fuel economy. Ryan was driving that car sometimes with tires that had 50 laps more than anybody else. That shows the kind of driver he is. I'm not sure that came out. There was a lot of complaining about fuel economy. Rusty is a quality driver and many, many teams would have him as their No. 1 driver in a minute."
RUSTY WALLACE (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
COMMENT ON NEW POINTS SYSTEM
"Last year was the first year in 16 years that I didn't make the top 10, so I never have thought about being out of the top 10. I do agree change is good. I didn't know if it needed total overhaul, but they have and I'm going to support them. It's going to be an exciting series and there is a lot of hope when they said that guys outside of the top 10 if they're within 400 points of the leader you can still win the championship. I'm OK with it. The rules have been laid down, so let's get after it and start racing. I'm not one of the guys who will sit and complain about it. I'm going to try to take advantage of it. With the new opportunities it'll build a lot of excitement for our sponsors."
HOW DO YOU KEEP UP YOUR CONFIDENCE?
"I've always said I'm an optimistic person. I like to win. I've been accustomed to winning my whole career. I've got great owners and great partners and wonderful sponsors. They expect me to win, but above that I expect myself to win. When the season was over last year I felt like I was kicked. I was black and blue, beat up and embarrassed. I'm ready to go out and prove a point this year. We'll see what happens."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW TIRE?
"Every time you pit you're probably going to want four tires. I don't think you're going to be staying out or taking two tires. I think it's going to be a whole new strategy with the shorter spoilers and softer tires. It's nice to be with an organization that's on the game. Matt and Ryan proved to us last year they led when it came to technology. They were open-minded and they did a lot of cool things. I've got to tell you I'm a slow learner, no doubt about that. My eyes and Larry's eyes are definitely wide open this year. It is going to be a totally new year. We're going to push the reset button. The strategy is going to be very important, although I think the pit crew is going to be more important than ever. These guys are going to have to perform some super fast four-tire stops and there were a lot of fast stops last year, but we're going to have to be quicker and more consistent this year to get the job done."
LARRY CARTER (Crew chief No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ON THE HOT SEAT WITH RUSTY?
"It's going pretty good. There's a lot of responsibility, and it's a great opportunity. I'm working with a great racecar driver. We've got a job to do, and I feel like we're capable of getting it done. We're going to Daytona and try to sit on the pole and do our job."
RYAN NEWMAN (No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge)
COMMENT ON NEW POINTS SYSTEM
"I guess for me, it's the same situation as always. You're there to win the race and that's what we focus on. In that respect, it's the same for everybody. If I've got a 200-point lead with 10 races to go, I'm not going to be terribly happy about it, but if I'm 200 points behind with 10 races to go, I'll look at it in a different way. We'll let the cards fall on the table and we'll see what happens."
DO YOU WISH MORE EMPHASIS HAD BEEN PUT ON WINNING RACES?
"I've always said it's coulda, woulda, shoulda when you look back. It's tough to say. It's the same for everybody. We'll go out and do the best we can and where we come out, we come out."
DO YOU ACCEPT THE ROLE AS FAVORITE TEAM TO WIN TITLE IN 2004?
"When you're voted upon by your peers to be recognized as a potential champion, it does feel good. That's our goal to live up to it. It's our personal goal, so we'll try the hardest and darnest we can."
COMMENT ON NEW TIRES
"We got so good fuel mileage last year, that we've been out here (California Speedway testing) running old tires. We're just trying to keep the budget right and see how everything goes. This is just one race track. We're the first car that's tested on it, so we'll have to see what it's like on other tracks, but I think getting downforce off the car is the right way to go and the right thing to do. I think there's definitely more steps that can and should be made to make better racing every weekend."
MATT BORLAND (Crew chief No. 12 ALLTEL Dodge)
COMMENT ON HOW NEW POINTS SYSTEM COULD CHANGE RACE STRATEGY
"Obviously you want to be in the top 10. If you're fighting for eighth, ninth, 10th or 11th, you're going to have to use a little different strategy than if you're in the top five. All-in-all it's going to be basically the same. We're going to go out and try to win every race we can and every pole we can and let the points fall where they fall. We're going to make sure we don't fall out of races and hopefully we're leading at the end."
COMMENT ON NEW TIRES FOR 2004
"If it does what they say it's going to do, it's definitely going to cut out some of the fuel mileage races. It might change the setups around quite a bit. We haven't had a chance to get on the new tire a lot this year. We're going to have to wait and see how it plays out and do our homework after each race. We've got to figure out what advantages we can take with it and what to watch out for. We'll see where it goes from there."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING THE FAVORITE TO WIN 2004 TITLE?
"It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you've done your job well, but we look at every year as being a championship contender. With the people and resources we have, we should be able to win championships and races and poles, so we also look at it as a job. We need to be doing that. We need to look at every year as being that championship contender. It's great for people to say we're the team to beat, but you can't look at it that way. You've got to look at it like you can win every race and every championship. We won't change any of our focus on what we did last year or this year."
BRENDAN GAUGHAN (No. 77 Kodak Dodge)
COMMENT ON DRIVING FOR ROGER PENSKE
"It's an honor to be driving for such great owners. Roger Penske, Doug Bawel, are there any bigger names in racing? I love (Georgetown basketball) coach (John) Thompson to death. It was a great opportunity I went through there. I think this is even a bigger opportunity. Looking at the back of the room I see Rusty Wallace's name on a Dodge. I see Ryan Newman's and I see mine on a Dodge next to it. That's pretty special. I think they're going to give us every opportunity and every piece we need to go fast. Kodak has stepped up and has brought a lot to the table. I'm going to try to keep my mouth shut and do what Mr. Penske says, listen to him as much as I can and try to stay out of trouble. "
TALK ABOUT THE TRANSITION TO THE BIG LEAGUES
"I've been working pretty hard the last few years with the Orleans team, having a lot of fun. The only difference was we didn't have a sponsor. It's a different world now. I have great owners. I have great sponsors. The team is backing me up, and I have other people I'm responsible for, so maybe I need to tone down my excitement a little bit. Maybe I need to be more careful with my choice of words some days. As long as I keep Kodak and their employees happy, as long as I keep Mr. Penske and Mr. Bawel with the Penske-Jasper team happy, I think we'll be OK. I've got a guy I'm learning from named Rusty Wallace who was a little out-spoken in his day. It's going to be fun hanging out with Mr. Wallace -- Sir."
WHAT'S GOING TO SEPARATE YOU FROM THE OTHER ROOKIES IN 2004?
"I think it's the men sitting up here on this stage. We have some great people backing us up. The Jasper Team over at the 77 shop has been working hard. They're pumped up over there. Kodak is going to be the difference. We believe we have the best sponsor. I personally believe we have the best owners, and I know we have the best engineering, the best motor program with the Penske-Jasper engines. We know that's the best engine program around, and with the engineering help that Penske brings and the over-the-wall crew that the Jasper team had, I think all those things are going to make the difference."
DID YOU WRESTLE WITH THE DECISION TO LEAVE THE ORLEANS TEAM?
"When you're dealing with a company like Kodak, Roger Penske and Doug Bawel, and the caliber of Jasper and Penske, it didn't take a whole lot. The Craftsman Truck team is going to be successful with Steve Park. They're going to have a new sponsor and things are looking very good there. Dodge is still affiliated with my Craftsman Truck team and I'm very happy. As long as that was taken care of, it was an easy decision. I don't know if it was as easy for them to pick me as it was for me to say yes to them. "
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR 2004?
"I think Kodak, Dodge, Mr. Penske, Mr. Bawel, want to win some races and hopefully we can win a couple for them this year. Rookie of the year is obviously at the top of the list, and we want to see what happens with the new point system. It could work great for a rookie team like us. We can get some time to gel, stay in the top 10 and stay within 400 points of the leader and make a run for the championship at the end."
SHANE WILSON (Crew chief No. 77 Kodak Dodge)
COMMENT ON TRANSITION FROM TRUCK SERIES TO CUP
"It's been great. Everyone here has been great, and the resources are awesome. They've all really been trying to help us the best they can to get us up to speed. It's been a great deal, and I'm having the time of my life."