SONOMA, Calif. (June 19, 2002) -- Rick Hendrick's Hendrick Motorsports leads the Chevrolet teams with wins on Sears Point Raceway's road course. Jeff Gordon won three straight here on this scenic Northern California circuit, in 1998-2000, giving...
SONOMA, Calif. (June 19, 2002) -- Rick Hendrick's Hendrick Motorsports leads the Chevrolet teams with wins on Sears Point Raceway's road course. Jeff Gordon won three straight here on this scenic Northern California circuit, in 1998-2000, giving Chevrolet Monte Carlo a total of five victories here since 1989. Dale Earnhardt (1995) and Ernie Irvan (1992) won the other two. Only Ford has been able to match Chevy's success here, with five wins as well.
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo for Hendrick Motorsports, holds the race record on the 1.949-mile course of 78.789 mph; 2 hours, 26 minutes, 46 seconds, set June 25, 2000. The race record on the 2.52-mile circuit is held by Ernie Irvan in a Chevrolet, established June 7, 1992, of 81.413 mph; 2 hours, 17 minutes, 26 seconds. In 2001 the track was reconfigured from 1.949 miles to 2 miles.
Nearly midway through the 2002 season, the successful Hendrick Motorsports operation is going through unplanned changes, with the replacement of Jerry Nadeau with Joe Nemechek in the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo, and, most recently, with the addition to that team of new crew chief Brian Pattie, formerly Nemechek's car chief at NEMCO Motorsports, owned by Nemechek. Ken Howes, who took over crew chief duties when Tony Furr stepped down in April, returns to his position as director of competition at HMS after seven races.
Following are conversations with Joe Nemecheck, Brian Pattie, Ken Howes and Rick Hendrick:
ANY TALK OF RE-ARRANGING CREWS SUCH AS RCR DID? "No. I don't see any need for that right now. With crew chief Jim Long and Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevy Monte Carlo), things are coming on well there. Jim's made a lot of progress. We feel like they've had some good races this year. We feel fairly pleased. Although it was a 15th place finish in Dover it was still a good run for the team. They were competitive. Terry drove hard all day and as competitive as it is these days, just to stay on the lead lap some of the days is an accomplishment. We feel good about the way that team is going right now. The 48 team? We wouldn't change that. The 24 team and Robbie Loomis? They'll be OK. They've not had the best season so far, but they're third in points. We're pretty encouraged; we know this stuff kind of cycles and in the second half of the year they'll probably start to wake up out of the funk, come out of the fog and possibly enjoy another championship year. It will be interesting."
DID YOU EXPECT THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON WOULD BE SO AWESOME? "No. It's a total surprise to everybody; obviously a pleasant one. Our goals, our sights, were set a lot lower. You always hope to win a race or you like to think that you can. The reality was we knew it was a new team, (and) a lot of new people had come together. It was a team put together in a new way for us, because it's two teams housed under one roof, which we had not done before. We were expecting to take some time to figure out the problems and let Jimmie gain more experience. So, yeah, we're totally surprised."
THE 24 (JEFF GORDON'S DUPONT CHEVY MONTE CARLO) AND 48 (JIMMIE JOHNSON'S LOWE'S CHEVY MONTE CARLO) ARE IN ONE BUILDING? "They operate out of one building, which is not the way we have done it here before. You have a lot of people under one roof, so you have to have more management in place, more things you have to control. We felt like it was the way things needed to go, so we took the plunge and did it. It will be interesting to see if we can keep this going. Jimmie is way ahead of the curve, I suppose -- as the saying goes -- way, way ahead."
NO WAY TO GO BUT DOWN? "We understand that and we're prepared for it. Perhaps they won't; maybe they'll ride the wave for a long time. Who knows? They've accomplished a lot, obviously, in a short time, so if they were to run into some problems, we can live with that. We will help them work through it and come out the other side. All teams go through that -- good teams, bad teams. Luck turns around sometimes and goes against you. You have a couple of bad races. We can live with that right now."
ARE WE AT A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD AT THIS STAGE? "No. Chevrolets are still at a disadvantage. We've got good drivers and good teams. We tend not to dwell on that too much here. The rules are the way they are and we are just working as hard as we can to do the best we can. If GM or somebody can politic to get us an advantage we're certainly happy to take it and go on. The emphasis right now is on doing the best we can racing week in and week out."
AS A SUCCESSFUL FOUR-CAR TEAM OWNER, IT MUST BE FRUSTRATING WHEN NOT ALL THE TEAMS ARE DOING WELL: "It's very frustrating. It's always frustrating when you have to make the kind of changes that we had to make on the 25 team mid-year. But, when you see that it's not going the way it should you've got to go ahead and make those changes. It's just tough when you have two cars that are running pretty good and two cars that aren't. Terry's (Labonte, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo) running a lot better. But the 25 car has probably been the biggest struggle I've ever had in racing. We're determined to get it fixed and I'm very involved. I've been in the middle of all of the decisions and so I take all the blame or all of the heat, or all of whatever comes with it. We've just got to get it fixed."
DOES ANY ONE MANUFACTURER HAVE AN ADVANTAGE AT SEARS POINT? "I don't think so. I think it's going to be driver, and setup, and the crew calling the right shots. It's a driver's track. The road-race guys do well there. Jimmie (Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo) tested awful well there."