NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference GM Racing highlights July 29, 2003 Part 3 of 3. Q: DO YOU THINK THE POCONO RACE SHOULD BE SHORTENED FROM 500 TO 400 MILES? GREG ZIPADELLI "It is a long day. That race track is big. It's long. It's hard ...
NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference
GM Racing highlights
July 29, 2003
Part 3 of 3.
Q: DO YOU THINK THE POCONO RACE SHOULD BE SHORTENED FROM 500 TO 400 MILES?
GREG ZIPADELLI "It is a long day. That race track is big. It's long. It's hard on equipment. You're at such a high rpm for a long period of time that you see some motor and transmission failures there. Obviously, I would have loved to have it be a 400-mile race last week. But it didn't work out that way. If any of them need to be shortened, I would agree that one could be. It is an extremely long day. But then it's always been 500 miles. I don't think there's any right or wrong reason to keep it the same or shorten it."
Q: WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE ENGINE AT POCONO AND WHAT WILL YOU DO TO KEEP THAT FROM HAPPENING AT INDY?
GZ: "It was obviously something internal with the motor. We're still working on pinpointing exactly about what came first, the chicken or the egg. When something blows up and breaks as bad as that motor did, it's hard to say a valve broke or a piston broke right off the bat. We've got some good ideas, but we're not drawing one conclusion. We're looking at every thing and every part. It was valve-train related and we're working in that area. We had some new stuff that they've been working on that we wanted to get in the race car that we've been testing. It's shown to be very durable, but it hasn't run a race yet. This is the same stuff that we ran at Chicago and Loudon and tracks like that where we haven't had a problem. We're not sure what the main reason was. Pocono is one of the hardest tracks on motors because it stays at such a high rpm all the way around the track. If you're going to have problems, that would be one of the places."
Q: HOW MUCH OF A TEST IS IT FOR TONY TO GET THROUGH THE EXCITEMENT AND ANXIETY AND RAMAINING CALM AT INDY THIS WEEK?
GZ: "I think you'd be testing that for the rest of your life. When you have that competitive nature and fire that he has, those are struggles. We all have them. Yours are different than mine. There are things you learn and work at and try to be better at every day of your life."
Q: DO YOU WORRY THAT TONY WILL SIGN ELSEWHERE OR DO YOU THINK HE AND JOE GIBBS WILL WORK OUT AN EXTENSION AND HE'LL BE WITH YOU LONG-TERM?
GZ: "When you have somebody who is as talented as that, of course you want him signed up to know he's on your side and in your camp for the next four, five, or six years or whatever the contract may be. I feel in my heart that this is the best place in Winston Cup racing. We've got as good or better equipment than anybody. They're dedicated to winning and taking care of their people. That's a rarity in the sport. A lot of this sport has changed. A lot of teams have made better places to work with benefits over the past year and that's good. You shouldn't have to work as hard as these guys do for us and give up their weekends and days and family and not be rewarded for it somehow. This is a great place and we've given him a great deal. We can only hope and pray that he makes a decision to stay with us."
Q: HAS THE TEAM BEEN DISTRACTED BY THE CONTRACT RUMORS?
GZ: "Anytime you have anything going on of significance at this level it can surely be a distraction. All it takes is one little tiny thing to distract you today in Winston Cup and you're going to get run over because there are so many other people who are focused and hungry. It's become mentally grueling to stay focused for that long. The season is long. This is the long stretch of the year. I know a lot of the guys at the shop are concerned and hope we can get things ironed out. I know I am. Joe is and we'll do whatever we can."
Q: SOME PEOPLE THINK TONY WILL GO WITH GANASSI BECAUSE HE'LL HAVE A LOCK ON BEING ABLE TO RUN THE INDY 500 EVERY YEAR
GZ: "He's got the same opportunity here. We told him the day he came here that he can run Indy every year if he'd like as long as he puts forth the effort that he can and Winston Cup doesn't get punished too badly because of his efforts over there. We'll do whatever we can and compromise whatever we need to for that week to help him live a dream. We still stand strongly by that."
HIGHLIGHTS OF Q&A'S WITH JOE GIBBS:
Q: HAS YOUR ROUGH WEEKEND AT POCONO FOR BOTH THE NO. 20 AND NO. 18 TEAMS AFFECTED YOUR PREPARATIONS FOR INDY?
JG: "Yes. We were in here first thing Monday morning trying to find out exactly what happened to these motors. Sometimes it's hard to tell because you destroy so much stuff that it's hard to pinpoint it. But we certainly think we have a game plan worked out. You're always on the ragged edge with the motors and this one really bit us. It's something that you just can't come back from, obviously. It's the one thing in motorsports that is the end of your day. I hate it because it seems like whenever something like that happens to us, one of our cars is running up front. In this race, had something not happened to Tony I think he would have been one of the challengers."
Q: ON THE IMPORTANCE OF NASCAR AT INDY
JG: "The very first time we went, I can remember how I felt. As a kid, I had been to Indy before. I remember the very first practice and the feeling that we had. It was kind of neat. Dale Jarrett was driving for us at that point. He was halfway through his first lap and he came on the radio and said, 'Guys, this is great.' He spoke for everybody. It's one of those really neat places and we're just thrilled about being there. I think we add something to it to. I think we bring a lot to the table because our races are great and our cars beat and bang on each other. I think we have some great races there."
Q: AT POCONO, WERE THE ENGINE FAILURES THE SAME FOR BOTH CARS?
JG: "We think so. It's very hard to tell. Bobby's (Labonte) was totally different because it blew the whole bottom end of it out. In Tony's, that wasn't the case. But you could also have something that was starting -- and Tony's never went any farther than that - but if it kept going it might have blown the motor up out the bottom. We think it was. We think we've got it pinpointed what it is. But it always makes you nervous. But we're going to try and get the best game plan we can for Indy."
Q: WITH BOBBY IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT, DO YOU TUNE THE MOTORS MORE AGGRESSIVELY FOR TONY AT THIS POINT?
JG: "Not really. It's up to Greg. When you get in this situation, we'd have a tough time protecting ourselves as a Winston Cup winner with Tony. We may take a few more chances on gas mileage. I think it would be taking more of a chance during the race. You wouldn't tune the motors differently or anything. They're pretty much set to go the full 500 and I don't think we'd want to take a chance because we think we have good race teams and good drivers. So if we just do our part and keep the stuff under them, normally we have a chance."
Q: WHEN THE DUST SETTLES ABOUT THE CONTRACT, WOULD YOU EXPECT TONY TO STAY WITH JOE GIBBS RACING?
JG: "Obviously I don't have the answer. But I would expect him to stay here. To follow up on what Zippy said, the most important thing for drivers is to have a place where they think they can win races. That would be the people around him. The crew chief is critical and we know how Tony feels about Zippy. Our number one job as a race team is to make sure we're in the forefront of what's going on and that any driver would think he has a chance to win in our stuff. If you have great stuff, we think we have a great chance to keep our drivers happy. When you go through a process like this, you've got to make the best preparation and make the best offer and we feel good about it. I think Tony is going through a process too on his side and has all of his people analyzing things. The fact that it is a long-term deal means that there are a lot of tax ramifications and there are also different ways to take the money. Those are the kind of things we're going through now."
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PROCESS OF RE-SIGNING AND SIGNING DRIVERS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEASON WHEN THE CONTRACT DOESN'T END UNTIL THE END OF NEXT SEASON?
JG: "We purposely did it that way and we think it makes sense for us. You're not going to be able to get away from that unless you just tried to time it in the off-season. We don't want to do that because it puts the race team in a bind. We make long-term plans here. We try to sign all of our people to long-term deals - including our sponsorships. It's just a part of what we do. Other than the driver input on it, it's pretty much up to us to try and get something done with Tony. Greg and the team worry about it. It does cause some worry there but that's just part of what we do and that's part of pro sports. It's just a natural case in NASCAR."
Q: HOW MUCH PREP TIME DO YOU PUT INTO MAJOR NASCAR EVENTS LIKE THE BRICKYARD?
JG: "The one that we probably put the wrong amount of time on is Daytona because it comes first. It is so big. Everybody in here is extremely competitive and we have two months to worry about it. We test, we worry, and we fret. We go down there and spend two weeks making tons of laps. Almost anybody will tell you that that race takes on so much more than it probably should. The next week is going to give you just as many points but we put a lot of emphasis on Daytona. Then when you start into the rest of the year, it's pretty hard to put emphasis on one particular race. We have a limited number of tests, but normally you put that emphasis on places that you don't run well. What's unusual about Indy is that Pocono comes the week before. If there are two race tracks that are the closest on the circuit with turns and configuration, it's Pocono and Indy. We think if we do well at Pocono, we're going to have our best chance of running well at Indy."
Q: WHEN YOU GO TO INDY AND DAYTONA AND DARLINGTON AND PLACES WHERE THERE IS MORE MONEY AND PRESTIGE INVOLVED, IS THERE MORE OF A BUZZ AROUND THE SHOP?
JG: "I think so. When you get bigger purses and everybody knows it's one of the crown jewels and this winning Indy would be a big deal for us. The good thing about our sport is that we've got so many big, big races. The other thing that you miss sometimes is going to regional parts of the country where we don't get to go that much. Take Texas, for example. It's a huge deal for us. Bobby is from Texas and a lot of our people are from Texas. So many times it's the regional part of it and the fact that it's a big race. It has one of the biggest crowds. That would be an example of a very big race for us. We haven't done particularly well there, but we'd like to."
Q: WHEN DID YOU TENDER THE CONTRACT OFFER TO TONY STEWART AND HOW LONG ARE YOU LOOKING TO LOCK HIM UP. ALSO, WHAT IS YOUR SITUATION WITH GREG ZIPADELLI AND HOME DEPOT?
JG: "We're working on all three of those. Zippy's deal is a little bit different because we actually re-did his last year. When we do our contracts, typically it's very long. And that's all I would say about them. It's longer than a two or three year deal. We look for long-term stability. We're working hard on the Home Depot and the Tony situation. That's a process that's not easy sometimes because of the fact that you are trying to go for long-term deals and there's a lot involved with that because people are making commitments over a long period of time. There is a lot involved with it."
Q: WHAT IMPROVEMENTS HAS TONY STEWART MADE ON HIS REACTIONS TO NEGATIVE SITUATIONS?
JG: "A couple of things probably happened. One was winning the championship. I did notice a different attitude after he won the championship. Everyone was thinking he might struggle with New York and being there for a whole week doing a lot of press stuff. He actually handled it very easily. When you get Tony in the right frame of mind and away from the race track, many times that's when he's very engaging and tells stories. I think the press has probably seen that too. Winning the championship has helped. There is a lot of pressure off. He seems to have taken a step up and doesn't let as many small things bother him. The second thing is probably just a maturing process over a period of time. If you jump out there and do some things because of the amount of attention on yourself, it's a learning process. Even though we haven't had the success we had last year, I think he's handled everything very well this year."
Q: HOW MUCH EASIER DOES THAT MAKE YOUR LIFE?
JG: "Obviously you don't like having negative things happen. You realize it is part of pro sports. And in motorsports in general, we have a lot fewer critical things. Our key issues are many times not the real serious things. When you have a lot of people together and you have money and competition, it's constantly changing. You just need to be the one to handle the changes the best."