Pocono II: Donnie Wingo - Dodge Saturday interview

DONNIE WINGO (Crew chief No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger) NOTE: The last time the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit came to Pocono six weeks ago, Wingo had just found out that driver Casey Mears would not return to the Chip Gannasi Racing with...

DONNIE WINGO (Crew chief No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger)

NOTE: The last time the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit came to Pocono six weeks ago, Wingo had just found out that driver Casey Mears would not return to the Chip Gannasi Racing with Felix Sabates team next season. The same thing happened to Wingo the year before when Jamie McMurray left the team. So Wingo, a 46-year old NASCAR veteran from Spartanburg, S.C., realized he would be working with a third driver in as many years in 2007. Little did he know that the new driver would be Juan Pablo Montoya. Wingo has worked with Bud Moore, Jimmy Means and James Hylton, a 71-year-old driver that qualified for today's ARCA race at Pocono, but he's never prepared cars for an F1 driver from Bogota, Colombia.

DO YOU EVER ASK YOURSELF WHERE YOU'VE GONE WRONG? "I don't know what I've done wrong. It will be a challenge, but it's something I'm kinda looking forward to. You know the guy has got a lot of talent or he never would have made it as far as he has. It's going to be a different challenge. We were talking the other day at the shop and basically he hasn't put gloves on in six years and hasn't put a steering wheel on in six years, so it's going to be a big challenge."

WHERE DO YOU START? "You teach him all the basics of what makes a car work. You teach him what a track bar does. You teach him what wedge does. If you don't know what it does you don't know what adjustments to make. I think it's going to be a lot tougher (than training other rookies). Everybody coming in had a better idea, a better understanding of these cars. They know what makes them work. A guy coming in like this, I'm not saying he doesn't know the basics of a racecar, but he doesn't know the basics of what makes these cars work."

WHERE DO YOU TAKE HIM FIRST? MAYBE MARTINSVILLE? "That's my opinion. That's what I would do. I'd take him to a place like Lakeland (Fla.) where you've got to get used to the brakes and throttle. I think that would be the first step, but I really don't know what the plans are."

YOU GUYS COME FROM TOTALLY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS EXCEPT FOR RACING. DOES RACING HAVE A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE? "I think it is to a certain degree, but I think people like him might have a little different lingo with understeer and oversteer. I was going over that with Casey Mears. He's pretty good at that because he still remembers it, but once we get that all squared away we'll be OK. I think we've just got to start off and test and let him get a basic understanding and make adjustments and let him go out and see what they do. There's no doubt the guy's got a tremendous amount of talent. Some guys that came from open wheel have made it and some guys haven't done as well. He made this statement to me, in 2000 or 2001 he said he couldn't have come to Cup and made it because he wasn't mature enough. He feels like now he's mature enough to make this step and make this commitment to get the job done. I thought that was a big step in his mind, to feel like he's mature enough to come over and make this transition and make it work."

WHY DO YOU THINK HE WOULD GIVE UP F1 FOR NASCAR? "I think it's a challenge for one and he gets to race more. He says he tests more now than he races. He might not run 10 laps before the race starts when he goes to the track. Plus, he's got a family now. He wants to be closer so he can go home after the race and spend three or four days at home instead of going to test the whole next week. I think they do a lot of that. I think he's at the stage of his life where he wants to make a change and go in a different direction."

WHAT DID HE DO AT THE SHOP THIS WEEK? "We got a few things fitted up for him. He met all the guys. We can't test with him now. I don't know what kind of schedule we're going to have. No one knows what his schedule is going to be because he's not completely released out of his contract."

HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BREAK HIM IN? "Testing at Lakeland and maybe Kentucky or Nashville and let him get used to what he's doing. Then toward the end of the year maybe run a few races -- Busch races, ARCA races and maybe if he's ready he could run the Cup race at Homestead. Just talking with him about it, he doesn't want to run any races until he's ready. I think that's smart. You can lay out a schedule for a guy to run a bunch of Busch races and ARCA races or whatever, but I don't know how much you learn just racing. If we can go test with him some and get him used to the changes you make on the car and let him know in his mind when he gets in a race he'll know what the adjustments will do."

WHEN DID YOU FIRST FIND OUT HE WOULD BE YOUR DRIVER FOR '07? "The Saturday before the Chicago race. There's a lot of different ways to look at it. I think with some of the guys that were available to put in the car was that the right thing to do? Maybe not. You can kind of go out of bounds to get a world-class driver like that. I think from the sponsor's standpoint, from NASCAR's standpoint, I think it's a big step. It's going to be pretty big. We're going to have to step up. I think it's going to take a little bit of time, and he realizes it's going to take a little bit of time. That's why he wanted a long-term contract. He doesn't feel like in a year or two he's going to be where he needs to be, but after that I feel like he thinks he's going to be where he needs to be, and I think he will. You don't go to the level he's at and not have a lot of talent."

WILL IT BE DIFFICULT TO STEP UP YOUR PROGRAM WITH MONTOYA? "After a certain point, I think he can help us step up our program. It just depends on how long it takes him to catch on to this type of racing. The downforce level is going to be a lot different. The grip in the tires is going to be a lot different. We're just going to have to see how long it takes him to mature."

IS HE IN STORE FOR A BIG CULTURE SHOCK? "Everybody comes from a different background. I think it all pertains to what you learn when you come through the ranks. If you keep up with times, if you keep up to what's going on, then when you get to a certain level everybody's at the same point. You've got to keep up with the times. If you miss three months in the garage you're behind. As long as you keep trying different things, I think you can keep up with it. I don't think it's going to be a problem. I'm sure he's used to just working with engineers and we have a lot of those. I don't think it will be a big issue. I think the biggest issue is just getting him adapting to the cars and getting him used to what changes you make to make the car do what it needs to do."

HAVE YOU TALKED TO MONTOYA MUCH? "Yeah, we talk a lot and the one thing I get out of him is he's a guy that's full of energy. I think with him being around his energy will boost everybody's morale. I'm sure he's going to get aggravated and get testy here and there, but from what I've heard at the end of the day he appreciates what everybody does for him and that's all you can ask. As long as people treat people with respect everything will be fine. This is something he really wants to do, and I admire him for taking this step. Everybody on the team seems to be pretty pumped up about it. It's a different direction than we've ever gone before. I think it's good for NASCAR to go out to different countries. I don't know if I want to go race a lot internationally, but you have a lot of Latin American people in the United States right now, and that's a new following from those people. It's a big shot in the arm for NASCAR."

WHAT HAS CHIP GANASSI HAD TO SAY ABOUT IT? "He's real pumped up about it. He's driven for Chip before and won the CART championship and the Indy 500. I think that's what made Chip want to take this direction. When he came into the CART cars he really hadn't run any ovals, and when he ran the ovals that was probably some of his best tracks. I think the guy catches on real well. He has a lot of talent, but this is totally different racing, so we'll do a lot of testing and hope we go in the right direction. I've tried to make him understand the way you get respect in this sport is to get the respect of all these guys in here. If you come in and don't treat these guys with respect, then it's going to be hard for you to make it. That's one thing I've talked to him about. These guys help determine whether you make it or don't. If he keeps his attitude and does the right thing and treats all these drivers in here with respect, which I think he will, they'll respect him back. I think it'll be the same way with the fans. Just going out to lunch with him, he'll have fans come up and ask for autographs and he doesn't have any problems with that. He doesn't have a negative attitude toward that, so I think that's a step in the right direction to make it in this sport. The drivers are always accessible to the fans when you see them out, and as long as you treat all those folks with respect that's a step in the right direction."

-dodge motorsports-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya