TONY RAINES, DLP HDTV TEAM, CROWN ROYAL 400 NOTES AND QUOTES CORNELIUS, N.C., Tuesday, May 2, 2006 -- The 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is 25 percent complete. Throughout the first nine races, the new Hall of Fame Racing team and the...
TONY RAINES, DLP HDTV TEAM, CROWN ROYAL 400 NOTES AND QUOTES
CORNELIUS, N.C., Tuesday, May 2, 2006 -- The 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is 25 percent complete. Throughout the first nine races, the new Hall of Fame Racing team and the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy are 24th in owner points -- not bad for a team that didn't have a race car until seven months ago.
While the team has not challenged for wins, they have managed to do something that many new teams throughout history have struggled to do: Finish races.
Terry Labonte and Tony Raines have split the driving duties, with Labonte competing in the first five races, while Raines has driven the last four. The two have finished every race, completed 2,870 of a possible 2,883 laps, posted seven top-25 finishes and three finishes of 17th (Daytona 500, Phoenix and Talladega).
The 24th-place standing in owner points puts the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy ahead of the No. 16 (Greg Biffle), the No. 12 (Ryan Newman), the No. 19 (Jeremy Mayfield), as well as two cars from Chip Ganassi Racing.
Who could have predicted that when the season began in February?
That said, there is still plenty of work to be done. And the season rolls along with the Crown Royal 400 Saturday night at the .75-of-a-mile Richmond International Raceway. Raines and the team tested at Richmond April 12-13 and learned quite a few things that helped them have a strong run two weeks ago at Phoenix.
Both Raines and crew chief Philippe Lopez are confident that what they learned at the Richmond test and at the Phoenix race, will help them at the Crown Royal 400.
TONY RAINES (No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevy):
Overall thoughts heading into Richmond:
"I've enjoyed racing at Richmond over the years. We've had some great races there in various series. We're taking the same car we ran at Phoenix, and coming from Phoenix to Richmond, a lot of stuff will apply. We had a really good car at Phoenix, so I'm hopeful that if we can carry the momentum from Phoenix into Richmond we can have another strong run."
What makes Richmond such a good track?
"I think it's got characteristics of a short-track, combined with some bigger-track speed, along with the fact that there is typically two grooves there. If the car isn't quite set up right, you can move to a second groove or move around a little bit. There's a little bit of flexibility in the racetrack, which I think makes it some of the drivers' favorites. That translates into a good race for the fans."
Do you like driving at night?
"I think driving at night is fun because it's typically better for the driver. The temperature of the track is more consistent, you don't have the sun beating down on the track. The car runs better because it's cooler, the brakes are cooler, the tires are happier, everything just seems to go along with racing a little bit easier. Most of the time it's a little bit more comfortable for the fans, because they aren't sitting in the boiling sun. At night, watching the race, the lights and the flashes, it just makes it look more spectacular."
How does the rain at Talladega affect what is already a short week? You were at Talladega on Monday, then you are testing at Charlotte on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by going to Richmond for an appearance on Thursday, then the Friday/Saturday race weekend.
"It took my one day off this week and trashed it. It's no big deal really. We certainly would have liked to have gotten the race in on Sunday and got out of there, but it was much nicer on Monday not having to deal with the rain and fight the darkness. From a standpoint of racing green flag to checkered flag, it was a better day Monday. It's going to be a short week, but we've been in that situation a few times before. Really, the test at Charlotte, because it takes two days, won't be a rush-rush test. We should benefit from the testing. It might be a couple of long days, and we may be a little worn out going into Richmond, but there's enough time there to have a good test and pace ourselves and still be fresh enough for Richmond."
Are you concerned with the amount of cars that will be testing at Charlotte, considering it was supposed to be two days of testing, spread out over three days and now it is every car on the same two days?:
"I'm not worried. We had 50-some cars at Richmond, and because you have so much time, people kind of pace themselves. They don't get out there and race in traffic, they kind of spread out. You really just want to test your car against the racetrack, not against anybody else. I think it will work out fine. It will be busy, but it won't be overcrowded."
You tested a Richmond a couple of weeks ago, how did that help you going into this week?
"I thought the first day wasn't that great. The second day we gained a lot and got a lot better. We left there and went right to Phoenix, and we had a good race car the whole race. We struggled a little bit in qualifying, but I thought we made the car better in the race. We had a top 10 car speed-wise, so I'm hoping to repeat that at Richmond."
PHILIPPE LOPEZ (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
The team tested a Richmond April 12-13. How did that test go?
"We struggled a lot the first day, but everything came together the second day. Everything we learned at Richmond, we applied to Phoenix. I thought we had pretty darn close to a top 10 car at Phoenix. We just had issues in the pits. But, I'm looking forward to going to Richmond. It's the same car, basically the same setup, and if it behaves like it did a couple of weeks ago, I think we'll really have something."
What kind of setup does it take to go fast at Richmond?
"Richmond is a tight racetrack. We all work on getting the car to turn, but sometimes what happens is the drivers get loose in, which is not a good thing to have happen at Richmond. If you are loose in, you're giving away the bottom and you set yourself up to be passed a lot. You've got to work on things that make the front-end turn, without compromising the entry. If you can get that, and hold the bottom, then, sure, you're still going to get a little tight, but Richmond's the kind of racetrack where there are several grooves and several different ways you can get in. It's a driver's track. That's what's nice, is you can get the car close, and then it's up to the driver to find that little piece of grip he needs. If you've got a driver who is willing to work with the racetrack, you'll do well. If you got a driver who says, 'I'm going to lift here and get on it here and this is what you do because the video game says so,' then you're going to struggle all night long."
How important is qualifying at Richmond?
"It's about as important as anywhere else. I've had cars that have qualified very well there, and it hasn't paid dividends and I've had cars that qualified poorly, but the car was really good in race trim. Bottom line at Richmond: If you're fast, you're going to pass cars, because the track will let you pass cars. It's not a follow-the-leader racetrack. So, do we want to sit on the pole? Sure we do. But, during the test, we didn't really put any emphasis on qualifying, because it's an impound race, and I wanted it to be right in race trim. As long as it races well Saturday night, we'll be all right because you can pass cars there."
With the short week, how does it affect a team like Hall of Fame Racing since it does not have as many employees as teams like Hendrick, Roush or Gibbs?
"We're a point right now where we've got really good people at the shop and good department heads and they've really organized their time well. Our Charlotte test stuff is sitting at the shop right now, ready to go. The little bunch I've got there right now is working on Richmond stuff. The pain for us is we don't have an extra hauler. We use the same hauler for testing and racing. The guys had to get in really early Tuesday morning to swap everything out and then get to the track in a hurry. Then after that, we'll end up packing up at around 10 p.m. Wednesday night (after the test concludes). They're parking trucks at Richmond at 7 p.m. (Thursday), so we've got to get the truck out at 10 a.m. Thursday, so there again, it's another early morning frantic swap out. As far as car preparation, that's not going to suffer. There's just a lot to swapping these trailers out. We were at Talladega, so everything in the truck is aimed at superspeedway cars. When we go to Charlotte, that's a whole different bunch of pieces and parts. Then, that's followed by Richmond, which is a whole different set of parts. It wouldn't be so bad if it was three intermediate tracks in a row that we were coming from, testing at and going to, because the trailer would stay relatively unchanged."
How many teams have a test trailer?
"To be honest with you, I think any team that has been around for four years has an extra trailer. It's just one of those things where you don't really set out to go buy a test trailer. Usually after four years, when you want a new trailer, your old trailer becomes the test trailer. Well, we just got ours on Dec. 1, so it not ready to retire yet."
Can you assess the year up to this point?
"Just the fact that between Terry (Labonte) and Tony they didn't tear anything up, that, from a competition aspect, has helped us a lot. We can come home on Monday and make the car better. We're not trying to fix the car. From the standpoint of where we started, I'm pretty happy. We've given up a few runs. All in all, I think everything has preformed relatively smoothly. However, we are 24th in points and some of the guys on this team came from top 10 teams. So, that's where we want to be. Regardless if you have a legitimate excuse or not, you still want to aim toward getting better. I'll be happy when we get in the teens. I believe this team can get in the teens. We started out behind, but I feel like we're getting more and more caught up each week. We're definitely ready to go to Daytona and start a season. The problem is, we're nine races into it. We have to catch up and so far nothing has hampered us from doing that."