NEXTEL WAKE-UP CALL FEATURED RON FELLOWS, DRIVER OF THE NO. 32 TIDE /DOWNY MONTE CARLO SS: You are here as a road course ace, and yet you still have to qualify on time today. what kind of pressure does that put on you? Unbearable (laughs)....
NEXTEL WAKE-UP CALL FEATURED RON FELLOWS, DRIVER OF THE NO. 32 TIDE /DOWNY MONTE CARLO SS:
You are here as a road course ace, and yet you still have to qualify on time today. what kind of pressure does that put on you?
Unbearable (laughs). It's always more difficult when you're in a situation when you've got to get in on time, but I've been pretty much doing that with most of the racing that I've done. You've had to make it in on time. We feel like we're a little bit better prepared for this one. Pratt and Miller, who do our Corvettes in the American Le Mans Series, as well as building the Cadillac CTS we race in the SPEED Challenge, have built the chassis for myself and Travis (Kvapil) in the (No. 78) Furniture Row Chevrolet as well as Jimmie Johnson. I would prefer Jimmie didn't have one (laughs). But anyway, we're certainly feeling better than we did last year in terms of our outright speed.
Your best starting position here has been third and your best finish has been seventh. what does it take to really be successful at a track like Infineon?
The closest I have come to winning one of these races was in '03. We actually watched that tape again this week and that's as dominant a car that I've had in Cup. It was the Pennzoil car with DEI. The mistake that we made was not pitting soon enough under green and I think that's the key. Certainly track position it critical. If you've got a good car that is consistent through a long run and that's the key, then everybody tends to be pretty good for the first five laps and then tire pressure and your chassis balance starts to take over. Generally the difficulty here is that the car stops turning once the tire pressures build up and then power down becomes an issue. So if you've got a good car, you can pass here. But as the race unfolds, you've got to kind of continue to do the math from 110 back and it just depends on cautions. But certainly you don't want to be on the lead pack and get caught on the track while everybody else has pitted under green. You're on the track; it goes yellow; you have to pit; you go to the back of the line. And that's what happened to us in '03 in the last 20 laps or so. On the lap we were coming in on, it went yellow and when we came back on the track with about 20 (laps) to go, I think we were 29th or 30th, and that made it tough to get back to the top 10. That's about as much as I know. I just try to keep the thing on the road as well.
Have you done any special preparation for this road course race?
One of the things we did with Chevrolet was utilizing Bob Bondurant's school in Phoenix and a number of guys have gone there multiple times. I know Jimmie Johnson has and I know it will help him because they really work on that corner approach technique that's critical in getting set-up for a 90-degree corner.
Do you have the tire pressure figured out?
The trick here is having it as low as you can manage for the first few laps and I think now that -- I'm guessing here, but I think there's a minimum pressure that they'll check and your starting pressure is going to be in the mid-to high teens I would think -- especially here. Tire pressure is a huge tuning tool and you hear about it every week in NASCAR -- particularly on the ovals. But it's no different here on a road course. The applications are similar. The difference here is everybody is trying to find more grip, whether it's cornering and low speed for the front and getting power down at the back coming off. Again it's part of the tuning tool. Do we have it figured out? We're going to find out.
Can you go over the time table of bringing the Pratt & Miller chassis to Cal Wells?
It started last summer when I talked to Gary Pratt about doing a Cup chassis. I kind of went through it with Doug Louth, who is the chief engineer with Pratt & Miller, to work out the details with Chevrolet. Pratt & Miller has an engineering contract with the NASCAR teams for Chevrolet. And it was a matter of going ahead and making it happen. It took me a couple of months to convince Gary that he was not going to lose too much money (laughs). Cal was keen right from the start. It really began after the Watkins Glen race where I really feel like we needed to have a specially built car for the road courses. And Chevrolet has been able to offer them to some of the other teams. Like I said Jimmie Johnson has one. Travis has got one, obviously. And so far; so good. We tested well at VIR. VIR is a very different surface than this one. But hopefully with the things that we learn we can adjust the car quickly and in the right direction in the two hours of practice that we have today.
How did Hendrick find out about this build?
In the build process, a number of Chevy teams came and looked at the chassis at Pratt & Miller shop in New Hudson, Michigan. Some took orders, some didn't. Hendrick knows the price, and they bought one. Jimmie and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) have liked their car so far - hopefully not too much!
After last year, did you start to make preparations right away for this race? How much were you involved in the specifications for this year's car?
The conversations certainly started after Sonoma last year, and built steam after Watkins Glen when it looked like Pratt & Miller would be able to devote the time not only to the design of the chassis but to build cars to meet whatever the demand might be.
That was the month when things really started to move forward. It just seemed the thing to do. The answer is yes, I was bugging them pretty hard to help.
How does PPI compare as far as their resources and preparation to other teams you've raced with?
To date, DEI is the best team I've driven for, with the kind of effort we put in with DEI in '03, but Cal has been extremely committed to this and the guys have done a great job. I feel this is very similar to the level of preparation we had in '03. With the engineering support we're getting from Pratt & Miller as well, I feel this is as well prepared as I've been in years for a Cup race. Hopefully it will go well. I'm as excited as I've been at one of these races for a while. To answer your question accurately, this is similar to the level of preparation we had in '03 with DEI.
What do you think about NASCAR having a Busch race at Montreal?
Have they decided on that? I've been in France for three weeks. The last time I ran there was 1989 in a production Camaro. It's a great circuit, it will be taxing on brakes, it hasn't changed a lot since I ran there. I think it's a really cool deal for NASCAR to do. Selfishly I'd prefer it was at Mosport because I live an hour from Mosport, but the bonus with Montreal is that it's a turn-key operation for NASCAR with the way the garages are set up. I think they'll get tremendous Canadian interest there. Montreal is a great city. Because it's a current F1 track, I think they're going to get a lot of international interest. That's what I said to the NASCAR guys some time ago, that's the upside to running in Montreal. It will be a spectacular event. And no, I don't have a ride yet, but I'm sure glad they're going to get it done before I get too old and too slow.
Who do you consider your biggest competition out there?
It used to be five or six years ago, when you counted the guys you were going to race against, it was maybe four to six guys who were going to be the best on a road course. Now with the strength of the multi-car teams, there isn't a weak link. If you look at the Roush cars, all of those guys can drive. They're very good on a road course, as is Denny Hamlin, who won in Mexico. At DEI, Martin won Mexico the year before. Junior has won a Busch race, so there's another Chevy team that's good. The difficulty now is that when you look at the quality of the teams, there are 20 guys who are capable of winning, can drive, and have the car.
What will it take to win?
We've come close. The draw for me is getting the opportunity. It's unfinished business for me to win a Nextel Cup road race. We've done it in the truck series, we've done it in the Busch series, and have come close in Cup a few times. I want to do it; I want to do it. The value that I see with the Tide crew is that we had really good pit stops last year. When you're a part-time team as well as a part-time driver, that makes it more difficult to compete on pit lane. The value with this crew is that they have really good pit stops.
They showed it last year and that's a big plus. Although I'm the part-time guy, we've got a solid crew on pit lane and I'm hoping that is going to help bridge that gap somewhat.
How long did it take you to be accepted in Cup?
I think about the story that Mario Andretti told about Steve McQueen leading at Sebring. He just said, "I'm not letting some actor win." I feel more comfortable racing in Nextel Cup than I do in the Busch Series just because these guys are a little more predictable. I've always raced them clean. When you get down to the end, if they can see you, I'm sure they're going to shove you out of the way because they're not going to see you next week. That's the reality of it.
I cut my teeth in the Truck Series, then the Busch Series, and then the Cup Series, so I think there is some value there. I haven't had any serious run-ins with anybody, so that's of value too.