Robert Yates Racing hosted breakfast as part of the second full day of the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour. Car owner Robert Yates, along with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Ricky Rudd and David Gilliland, and NASCAR Busch Series driver...
Robert Yates Racing hosted breakfast as part of the second full day of the Lowe's Motor Speedway Media Tour. Car owner Robert Yates, along with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Ricky Rudd and David Gilliland, and NASCAR Busch Series driver Stephen Leicht, answered questions from the media about the 2007 season.
RICKY RUDD -- No. 88 Snickers Ford Fusion
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR DECISION TO RETURN TO RYR AND FULL-TIME RACING? "First of all, I'm real excited to be a part of this team at Robert Yates Racing. I drove three years earlier back in 2000 to about 2003 or so with the team and had a lot of great on-track success and to have a chance to come on board and drive the 88 Snickers Ford and be a teammate with David Gilliland is an exciting opportunity. When I took a year off, I mainly took that year off just to sort of clear my head and figure out what I really wanted to do -- did a I really want to be a part of this sport or was I gonna retire. There were several opportunities that came about in February and March, and I declined a lot of those just because I wasn't ready to make that decision at the time. When we got together it was fairly late in the year. When I did step aside it was a big risk for me because the chances of waiting that long and having a ride for '07 was probably getting slimmer, but, anyway, when I decided I really wanted to get back into the sport and was hungry to be a part of it, it just so happened that an opportunity opened up at Robert Yates Racing. These guys struggled last year and Robert's made a lot of changes. I just couldn't be happier with Butch Hylton being the crew chief. I'm real excited. I'm basing this on testing. We had a great Daytona -- a great Daytona test down there. Not only did we have one, but David and the M&M's car had one, so we're looking forward to getting the season rolling."
DAVID GILLILAND -- No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion
HOW DID 2006 HELP YOU FOR THIS SEASON? "The 2006 season really helped me a lot. I'm very fortunate that Robert Yates Racing and M&M's gave me the opportunity to finish out those 14 races. I learned a lot. I was able to go to some of the tracks that I had never been to and learned kind of what it takes to get around there. I was able to work on my communication skills as far as learning what Todd needed to hear from me to make our race cars better. I feel like I came a long way. I feel like it was a great opportunity for us to evaluate our equipment and our team and, like Ricky said, Robert made some great changes and towards the end of the year our performance picked up tremendously. With having a teammate like Ricky Rudd, it's like a dream come true. I always tell everybody that this deal just keeps getting better and better. We've got Todd Parrott, a championship crew chief, I'm driving for a championship team and I've got a great teammate with loads of experience and knowledge. His willingness to help me has kind of knocked me off my feet a little bit and it's been great. So far our results, like at Daytona and the other tests we've done have been outstanding in my eyes. I'm very, very lucky. I want to thank Robert and Doug Yates for coming over and giving me the opportunity to put their faith in me and present me to Masterfoods and give me this opportunity. Masterfoods really stepped up with M&M's and Snickers. To sponsor both cars, like was said earlier, they're the only ones doing it right now. I feel like that's brought our teams closer together. Last year it was UPS and M&M's. Now we're all under the same roof and pulling in the same direction, so a special thanks to Masterfoods and all they do for our sport as well as our team."
ROBERT YATES -- Car Owner, No. 88 and No. 38 Ford Fusions
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO HAVE THESE TWO TEAMS AND DRIVERS WORKING SO CLOSE TOGETHER? "I am excited. The other owner that's absent right now (Doug Yates) is doing something that's very important. He's having twin girls right about now. I would have had you all at the Waffle House, but we would have had to have gone to Atlanta because that's where they have so many of them together that we could get everybody in one place (laughter). Why I'm here, Whitney (Yates) told me that she wanted me to go ahead and come here because the last time she had a baby I was out fishing with Ernie Irvan and they were trying to find me. A guy came flying up in a boat and said, 'Hey, your wife is having a baby,' so she said, 'I want you to do out there and sit in for Doug so he can do his baby thing.' That's certainly occupying my mind right now, but I'm happy to be here and happy to have Doug's pick with David and Carolyn's pick with Ricky. I'm happy to have all of them here as our drivers and looking forward to it. We're just happy and really looking forward to what Vegas testing brings to us. That's really the department we didn't do so well in last year and hopefully we're prepared well for that, but that's a very important test coming up. We're just ready to go racing."
STEPHEN LEICHT -- No. 90 Citifinancial Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Busch Series
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE SEASON? "I'm very excited to be part of such a great organization and a great program. I think our entire team is very optimistic about our chances this season. We're very thrilled to have Citifinancial back on board this year full-time and hopefully we can continue that relationship because it's worked well in the past. Robert has put together and awesome Busch program this year. We've got a very strong team in place and I think it showed. Our testing over the off season has gone very well. I think we're very prepared for this season and we're looking forward to taking what we've learned on the tracks during the off-season and taking it farther at the track to learn more and hopefully get some top-5, top-10 finishes that we know we're more than perfectly capable of getting."
DO YOU HAVE MORE CONFIDENCE WITH SOME OF THE EXPERIENCE YOU GOT LAST YEAR? "Definitely. Mentally I'll be a lot more prepared this year when I go to the track. I won't be spending the first half-an-hour to an hour just adjusting to the race track. When we go back, I'll be able to take that full two hours and put it into the race car and make the car right for the race, so I think that will be a huge advantage for not only me but the team as well. I think that physically I've worked very hard in the off-season to be physically prepared for this year. I know the Busch races are relatively short compared to Cup, but I think I'm more than prepared to take on that part of it. I can't thank Citifinancial enough for their support and I can't thank Robert and Doug Yates enough for this amazing opportunity. We're ready to get this season kicked off and have a very successful season."
ROBERT YATES CONTINUED -- ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC STEPHEN CAN GET THAT FUSION INTO VICTORY LANE? "Certainly his track record is excellent (crew chief Cully Barraclaugh) in working with Stephen and he's excited about that. It's really nice to have that program from within really stand alone and it can help us. Before we tried to run it as, 'Hey, we'll be there in a little bit and help you out,' and you find yourself really not putting enough emphasis on it, but Cully brings that to the team and that should be a very outstanding Busch team this year."
ROBERT YATES Q&A SESSION
IS THERE A COMFORT FACTOR TO HAVING RICKY BACK WITH THE TEAM? "The best thing that does is it really takes a lot of stress off of us. You try to train too many guys at one time and Ricky walks in the door and he's so helpful. He's got all of our team pumped up and we're excited about having that stability and that wisdom that we know can help David. His formed seat, he actually fits better in David's than his own, so that works out real well. They've been testing together at several different places. The three years we worked together we were in the chase all the time, so if we can repeat that, we're gonna be extremely happy."
IS IT A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR FORD? FORD'S KIND OF LAGGED A LITTLE BIT HERE LATELY? "We've run a lot of races for Ford. Certainly from the engine side I think it's been about 35 wins in the last three years, but we want to get our part of them with our team. We're all committed and we're gonna get it done. We're looking forward to it. There are a lot of challenges and a lot of people out there to out run, but I think we have all the ingredients to do that, so we're looking forward to it."
DALE JARRETT WAS A LITTLE CRITICAL OF FORD SAYING THAT THEY DIDN'T REALLY GIVE AS MUCH AS OTHER MANUFACTURERS AND WOULD HAVE TO GIVE MORE. WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF THAT? "I think Dale Jarrett can thank Ford a lot for what they've done for his dad's career and himself, so I don't think there's any criticism due Ford from the Jarrett family."
IS THERE ANY LESS GIVING FROM FORD THAN THERE IS FROM TOYOTA OR CHEVY? "What built this sport was Ford and Chevrolet, and certainly Dodge has been part of it too, but I'm happy with Ford and we plan to be more of a threat this year. Ford has been a threat and won a lot of races and I think will continue to win. They've build this sport and they're still with it and they plan to stay with it, so we're excited about it."
WHAT KIND OF CHANGES HAVE YOU MADE THIS YEAR? "We changed the way our management style works. We've adopted a lot of things that Doug Yates has actually put in place, so I think communication is much better. We've changed the quantity of people around, but certainly added a lot of quality. We talked about 25 in numbers, but we added about 75 in knowledge and wisdom, so I think it's gonna show in the performance end of it -- just the whole style of the way we do things. I'm the guy that's got to get it done this year. This is my 40th year doing this and I've got to gather up all the wisdom and put a lot of energy into it and I'm fired up. I want to go get it done. Come on, let's go racing."
WHAT DOES RICKY BRING TO THE TEAM? "It starts with Carolyn and Doug and the whole entire team, they know what you get with Ricky. They know he can get it done. When we go test he comes up with so many things that we didn't even think of, so he just brings all the wisdom to the table. The first test we were on David was like, 'This guys has given me so many tips and things to look for.' He was able to get in his car, so they could jump in and out of the cars. It's exactly the same seat and say, 'This is what you need to start the race with.' That's what the rookies need. They don't know exactly what the car needs to feel like when you get 40-50 laps on your tires and Ricky knows that. He knows how you have to drive them, how much cushion you have to have to stay going in the right direction on the race track, and our team needed that. We needed that stability, that wisdom, that knowledge and ability he has brought to us. I want to thank the Mars family for really supporting the fact and what I'm excited about is I really see and feel and know that Ricky wants to do this. He's excited about it and I'm looking forward to it. Out of the four years I've worked with Ricky, I think this will be our best one. Everyone knows what the others were like, so we're gonna go get it done."
WHAT ADJUSTMENTS DID YOU MAKE TO THE ORGANIZATION? "Really the management style. We had it where one person had to touch 153 people. Now there's no one manager that has to deal with more than 10 people. Communication is much better -- a lot less time of somebody waiting in line to get some information. We've got Todd back in a 100 percent capacity there -- good crew chiefs in Butch Hylton and Cully Barraclaugh. We've got a lot of energy. Our quality is up because we're happy. We were a little bit afraid that we wouldn't be able to keep all the quality, but we have it and I'm excited. I think they have the right stuff. I want to see how our mile-and-a-half stuff goes. We've been doing some testing with the COT. I think we're gonna be on that game real well and our mile-and-a-half stuff is where we suffered so much last year and that's one we've put a lot of energy into. I think the Vegas test is gonna be one that will certainly tell us a lot about what's gonna happen in the major part of the year."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHANGES IN THE CHASE? "It's like you're dead if you're not in the chase and adding that two with the competition level that's in there -- you could certainly look back two years when we were 11th -- so we know what it feels like. Certainly when you win as many races as Tony did, he really deserves to be in there like that with added points for winning. I think that puts a little more excitement to get that win for that because the race is about the chase now and that's just more exciting. If I'm sitting in the grandstands or watching it from pit road, I like to see that. I love racing and I like to see it hard fought and a fun battle."
WHAT ABOUT TOYOTA? "We've got somebody that we can really feel good when we beat them, so we're out to beat them."
WAS IT A CASE WHERE THINGS JUST NEEDED TO BE TWEAKED? "I've done this for a long time and I'm not known as a manager. I don't really like that role, but Doug Yates has been giving me a lot of tips on how it should be done and it makes all the sense in the world. We're applying that style of management and I think the people are much more informed. We've tried to run our quality up. We changed that and I think that's certainly what we needed. I think it's gonna be a lot more effective, but, really, it's about the physics of the car, how you get the car prepared and I think we've got the right people working on the right stuff and I'm ready to go racing."
WHAT ABOUT THE TWEAKS TO THE POINT SYSTEM? "That is a race. You want to win races. If you win a race in a year, you can have a pretty good year but now it's about the chase. The championship certainly doesn't come after you get in the chase. I like that style. It's not so long and drawn out. For so many years you go to a point where you just had to protect that lead and protect that lead and you have to really about quit racing about July. Now you can really return to full-blown racing, so I think it creates a lot of excitement for that part of the season and it shortens up our season a little bit to where you are, so I like that format and I like adding the extra two to it."
WHAT IS THE KEY TO GETTING YOUR INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM IMPROVED? "You have to understand how to get the wheels on the ground. We spent a lot of time building this beautiful chassis, but we didn't really work on the wheel department. We actually discontinued our chassis build, which we started in about 2002, and we're really working on the right area of the car. That's really what bit us. It's easy to look back and see where we missed it so badly, but I'm sure everybody else is figuring out a lot of the same stuff, but our focus is on the right area of the car. Todd has brought a lot back to us. He went outside and looked back at us and was able to walk into the shop and said, 'This whole aero program is wrong.' He's straightened that out. We think we're 95 percent now on that, instead of 50 or 60. Butch has brought a lot of technology and guys are developing a lot of it. We're not having to use a cell phone to find setups. I feel like we can stand on our own two feet now and get it done."
WHEN DID YOU KNOW RICKY WAS AVAILABLE? "Ricky had been sending some messages that he would help me if we needed help, but I never thought of it as a season long deal. When I talked to him he was like, 'Man, I'm ready. I want to do it. I don't want to pick out some races, I want to be there every week and stay in the deal and get it done.' Everybody wants to take Ricky Rudd to Sears Point and Watkins Glen or Daytona or anywhere else, so he brings just a lot of experience that's all positive back to our team. We had it when he came before. We went from 25th in points back to about to win the championship with him the first year he drove for us and I think he hasn't lost that. I think he's more determined and he wants to do us good and I think we can all have fun doing this. There's a lot of excitement in the team. The fact is when he walked in the door, that's the most popular guy we could have picked in the grandstand and from our guys in the shop, so that goes a long way. Guys want to be there. They want to be there and get it done and Ricky brings a lot of energy to our team."
RICKY SAID HE SAW THE FIRE IN YOUR EYES WHEN YOU GUYS SPOKE. WAS THAT SPARK LACKING BEFORE? "I'm an engine builder I guess, most people think, but I've worked on cars for 40 years and I've always said that I can fix a really bad car, and I didn't do a good job last year. I'd like to sort of step back and say, 'Well, that really wasn't my responsibility.' I worked on Daytona cars a little bit, but you've got to have the people. I've never done anything by myself. It's always been a team thing and I think the teams are focusing on the things where the car operates at, having the wheels on the ground right, and that's where we missed the boat. It's pretty easy to go back and see why we ran so poorly last year and everybody wanted to scatter and get all unfocussed and I was probably part of that too. I had a lot of questions about whether I deserved to be here and was it the right time, but I feel like I've got my hands on it and my arms around it with the right people working together. I hope we can scare the heck out of everybody because I feel like we're gonna outrun some people."