Talladega: Michael Waltrip media interview

Michael Waltrip , No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo was today's guest at the Nextel Wake-Up Call. The following are highlights of his visit with the media WHAT'S THE NEXTEL CUP PLAN WITH KENNY WALLACE DRIVING THE AARON'S DREAM MACHINE THIS...

Michael Waltrip , No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo was today's guest at the Nextel Wake-Up Call. The following are highlights of his visit with the media

WHAT'S THE NEXTEL CUP PLAN WITH KENNY WALLACE DRIVING THE AARON'S DREAM MACHINE THIS YEAR?

"We have five races scheduled for 2004 with Kenny driving the Aaron's Dream Machine in the Cup races. This is the first time we've been able to put together a schedule of races for the season on the NEXTEL Cup side. It's real important to me grow the Busch team. Having a Cup effort enables the Busch team to get stronger. When you hire guys for five Cup races, obviously they're going to have time to work on the Busch car at times as well. At the end of 2003, we felt like we had the best Busch car on the track. Bobby Kennedy left and took a couple of guys with him. We reorganized in 2004, but we weren't at the point we were in ''03. We were consistent, but it wasn't performing the way I was expecting it to. The Cup effort will allow us to spend more money and hire more people in order to make the Busch car better. Right now, as far as my team goes, my goal is to make the Busch team the best it can be and hopefully perform at a level that is acceptable to Aaron's. We hope to run more Busch and Cup races in the future."

ARE YOU EXPECTING A GOOD FINISH AT TALLADEGA TO PUT YOUR TEAM BACK ON TRACK?

"We'll see how it goes. We're going to start good (second) and we could very well win the race. That would certainly be a boost. I expect to win the race tomorrow. That's what my goal is. We're certainly not out of being a part of the Chase for the Championship. But we have gotten ourselves into a position where we've got to perform week in and week out. The interesting thing about our season so far is that when we started 2004 with the Cup car, we had every reason to believe we'd be one of the fastest cars on the track. We almost won Loudon last fall. We won here at Talladega. We finished fifth out at Phoenix. We had fast cars at Phoenix and Rockingham. Everywhere we went, the car performed. We started this year with no changes and the same crew and it won't go. It wouldn't run right. We couldn't get it to handle. But we're working hard to put that behind us and be right for the rest of the summer. The summer of 2003 was really a fun time for me with the way our team performed. We finished in the top five pretty consistently and we need to get back to that."

WHAT'S THE ONE THING YOU HAVE TO DO RIGHT TO WIN AT TALLADEGA?

"You have to come here with a fast car. That's the key to success at Talladega. Our team did that. Yesterday we qualified up front. The main thing I need to win here, I have. After that, you have to be a good drafter and have a good strategy and have good pit stops. Obviously, I have all the tools to do the job with on Sunday."

IS NASCAR BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE BY TRYING TO MAKE RACING EXCITING AND SAFE AT THE SAME TIME?

"I don't know how you would describe the situation. A rock and a hard place might be fair. The product that 175,000 people will watch at Talladega on Sunday is over the top. It's everything the fans want to see. So now, we've got to figure out how we are safely going to race 43 cars in a pack for 500 miles. We've got to make the cars as safe as we can make them. The SAFER barriers are a huge step in making the facilities safer. There is no way to have any other type of racing at this track than what you'll see tomorrow. What we have to do with that in mind is make everything as safe as possible so we can race without getting hurt. We're probably going to pile up at some point. What you hope is that everybody is going in the same direction when they pile up and that you've got SAFER barriers around the facility and that everybody will just slide to a stop somewhere."

ON NASHVILLE'S CONCRETE AND MARTINSVILLE'S CONCRETE

"The track at Nashville is cool but concrete is a pain in the neck to run down the straightaways. No matter how well you smooth it, it's constantly like concrete. It's not like asphalt. The cool thing about Martinsville is the asphalt straightaways allow you some time for the car to smoothly go down the straightaway. The concrete turns provide the grip and the stability to allow big cars to make that sharp turn at Martinsville. But it's been well documented that Rusty (Wallace) told them they needed to grind the track to make it smoother so the racing would be better. Well, they ground the track and screwed up the bottom groove and made the top groove an option. So they accidentally fixed that track. I don't think they can be that lucky again. What they should do is pave it and leave the concrete alone. They should study it and understand why a big chunk of it came up and see it it's repairable instead of needing to be redone."

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REALITY THE REALITY WHETHER OR NOT YOU CAN WIN VS. YOUR EXPECTATION THAT YOU CAN WIN?

"Reality. I needed a solid top 10 performance at Martinsville. A lot of the top teams would have told you the same thing. There were people there who expected to win and people who thought they could win and people who felt they had a chance to win and others who thought they might be able to get a top five or top 10. A realistic goal for me tomorrow is to win. That is based on fact. It would be hard to look at my recent stats at Martinsville and say I'm going to go there and expecting to win. You're setting yourself up for a disappointment. But if you look at my history here, obviously the expectations are very high. All my goals and all my thoughts about a particular event are based on facts. You can look it up in a book. I create my expectations from that."

WILL YOUR BUSCH TEAM RUN A FULL CIRCUIT AND RETURN TO NASHVILLE IN JUNE?

"We haven't decided that for sure. Right now, the plan is just to run through Charlotte and revaluate. We have a lot of races between now and Charlotte. We race here and California and we're definitely going to Gateway, then Richmond, and then Charlotte. The plan is not to run them all. The plan is just to run until the end of May and then finish up in the fall when the Cup cars join back up with Busch. That's our plan. I have a great sponsor in Aaron's. When they tell me to do something, I usually do it."

WITH THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM, HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY PEOPLE ARE RACING?

"Not at all. Everybody is racing the same. I love it when somebody comes up with an idea. I've done this deal for 20 years. I'd have never thought of that. That idea is perfect. Everybody was critical of it, but that's people's nature. Everybody was critical of the tires and the spoiler. Everybody is critical of everything. This Chase for the Championship format is over the top entertainment for the fans, which means you guys (the media) has a lot of stuff to write about. It's only going to get more and more intense as we head in that direction. There are going to be two to 10 big points. The first is going to be the 26th race and then watching the final 10 play out from a championship chase perspective. And then during all that, you're going to have people desperate to win races whether or not they're in the top 10. The intensity is going to be unmatched in our sport. That should be a good time for all of us."

WITH THE FALL TALLADEGA RACE BEING PART OF THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, ARE YOU VIEWING THIS RACE AS A LEARNING CURVE?

"No. We race every race trying to learn for the next race. The last 10 races are important, but they're no more important today than the next 10 races. They'll only be important when we get there. And we'll take notes. We write down everything we learn here. People who aren't race car drivers or crew chiefs seem to have come up with all these crazy ideas about the last 10 races. Our teams and teams in general just aren't looking at it that way. We're not doing anything different today that will affect those last 10 races. We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

SINCE YOU'VE BEEN IN THE NO. 21 CAR BEFORE, HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT RICKY RUDD WINNING THE POLE YESTERDAY?

"Everybody in the garage area was happy to see the Wood Bros get a pole yesterday except me. I was second."

WAS IT BITTERSWEET?

"No. It was bitter (laughs). I was kind of hoping they'd find him low or something and I'd get the pole. But when it's all said and done, and they got the pole, I was happy for them. I appreciate their approach and the success they've had in the past and to carry that into the present. I'm happy today that they won the pole and that they are the ones who beat me. But it was challenging yesterday. You prepare your car and do everything you can do to get the pole. That just goes to show you. You talk about NASCAR in general or about this race track, you never know who your competition is going to be. Yesterday it was the Wood Bros. That's quite an accomplishment. I'm real proud that they got it done."

SINCE YOU KNOW THE TEAM WELL, WERE YOU SURPRISED THEY HAD TO MOVE TO MOORESVILLE?

"I saw it coming and I thought they did too. There were times they've been in the crossroads. Are we going to stay here or go there and be a bigger part of the sport and make sure our future is secure? It's been a family operation forever and that's certainly continuing with the success that John has had in the trucks. To me, the sport is more intriguing to be involved than ever before. It's interesting to feel that way. You have SAFER barriers and talk of a new car coming down the road here before long. Obviously the TV package has made it more socially acceptable to be a NASCAR fan or to be a race car driver. They see all that. They want to secure their future in the sport as well."

WHAT'S YOUR MASTER BUSINESS PLAN FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

"I would like to think that in five years I could have a Cup team or two that competes on a regular basis. I've enjoyed owning and developing a team more than people know. I would like to continue to run Busch for myself and continue to run the NAPA Chevy for DEI and maybe have a Cup team in a few years where somebody else would drive for me. That's the plan for now.

"My shop right now is located behind my house. Michael Waltrip Racing has had humble beginnings. We've only done what we could afford to do to grow the team and build it into a position where we could afford to spend some more money and buy some better engines and hire some better people along the way. Now I think we've maxed out our Busch team. We do everything that most teams do. There are some that have more budget than we have and are able to do more wind tunnel testing. But we've got it covered pretty well. I'd like to think that I could develop a Cup team in the future that would allow me to build it the same way. But I've got to build a building and move out from behind the back of my house. My wife is tired of me being back there."

SO YOU WANT TO CONTINUE DRIVING?

"I would like to own a care and drive for DEI at the same time and let that deal run itself. My ownership role is a basic Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday managerial role. I check in on what the guys are struggling with or what they're up against and see where I can help them accomplish the tasks at hand. Bobby Kennedy was a great manager for Michael Waltrip Racing. Sometimes you don't know how bad you're going to miss something until it's gone. I felt that with my help and with Baxter's expertise, we could send Bobby over to Darrell's. Darrell would be happy and we would be happy and we wouldn't miss a beat. But it wasn't quite that smooth because Bobby had knowledge all the way across the board. He really did a lot more than I probably knew. So I've gotten more involved in my management of the team this year and it's been pretty fun."

ON THE SPECULATION OF SCHEDULE CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR

"I think NASCAR is working hard to juggle everything. They have all the facts. All these people are studying and working on coming up with a decision that will not only grow the sport but are doable by the teams. At the end of the day, I really respect their decisions. I'd hate to race any more weekends but I hate testing. We spend as much money going to test as we do to go race. If you could figure out how to race during the middle of the week or someway to add a couple of Saturday races and get rid of testing so we can go and get a little bit of money for our teams, I would be all for that. They might have already considered that option. Whatever they come up with will be good."

REGARDING TEAM OWNERSHIP, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM DARRELL?

"Darrell has tried to help me learn from his mistakes. Obviously he doesn't have a team anymore and he's had to sell it because he wasn't successful. I think I've gone about it differently than Darrell. I think I've got about it differently than Darrell. He would spend a lot of money on things that maybe he couldn't afford. He would go in directions that maybe in hindsight, he wished he hadn't. I've just listened to that advice. We've just taken it a step at a time. Hopefully we can continue to do so. I've also been able to get great advice from other owners. But mainly it comes down to being secure with sponsorships. Darrell's woes began when sponsorship wasn't available. Any team in the garage area is going to have trouble when that happens. You've got to maintain sponsors and you have to perform. If you have a good relationship with your corporate backers like I do with NAPA on the Cup side and Aaron's on the Busch side, hopefully their business plan doesn't change on you and you can keep clicking right along. His advice is to make sure you keep your sponsor happy. You can be as smooth and entertaining as possible in a setting like this and they love that. But if you go out and win the race, that's what it's all about."

ON ELIMINATING HAPPY HOUR

"I love it. I think it would be great. If they were just working on the cars right now and getting them ready to race, I'd be happy. We have found at Daytona and Talladega especially that we're going to race our qualifying set-up. My car is ready to race. I don't even have to practice. Practicing means taking chances you don't have to take. Plus, this all stems from the fact that guys have oil or magic potions they put in their cars to qualify and give them all this speed and NASCAR wants to eliminate their ability to do that by making them race what they qualify. Whatever the reason would be behind it, I like the idea of that."

WAS JASON OVERSTREET ON YOUR BUSCH TEAM LAST YEAR?

"Yes. His role was the set-up guy at the shop. He would work with Bobby Kennedy and Baxter on all the decisions that were made with the team. He's become a key part of Darrell's operation. He's just a talented young man who has worked on trucks and cars his whole life and is right there where he needs to be. One day he'll be a Cup crew chief and people will say, 'Man, where did he come from?' And he could spend the next hour explaining what he's done and where he came from."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Bobby Kennedy
Teams Michael Waltrip Racing