Nextel Wake-Up Call with Team Owner Rick Hendrick Dickies 500, Texas Motor Speedway WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES STAYING ON TOP OF THE SPORT AS IT HAS EVOLVED? "I think just trying to keep everybody together. When you have success you've got ...
Nextel Wake-Up Call with Team Owner Rick Hendrick
Dickies 500, Texas Motor Speedway
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE CHALLENGES STAYING ON TOP OF THE SPORT AS IT HAS EVOLVED? "I think just trying to keep everybody together. When you have success you've got teams that want to gain or grow then you have a lot of people offering your folks opportunities. You can't have one crew chief and one car chief. You've got a lot of people that are car chiefs that have gone on to be crew chiefs other places and good top mechanics that have gone on to be car chiefs at other spots. The real critical thing is to keep everybody together. The most important thing to me now in these last three races believe it or not, I'm looking at it as we race as hard as we can. If we win it, great but we just go about our job and try to remind everybody if we don't win it we've got to come back next year, it's another year. Don't burn ourselves up. Don't start finger pointing. Don't talk about woulda, shoulda, coulda. You can't help the things that have happened. You just get on with it. I think the Chase puts a lot of pressure on people.
"Like you said, it gives everybody a shot to win the deal. But you've got a lot of new teams coming in next year and they need people. Where are they going to go to get people? The top choices would be the guys that have won it and have been there. If you can get that experience, that's what they are after. Keeping your folks together and keeping them motivated and keeping them to work together, when you have situations like Talladega. That can cause you a problem. A credit to our guys, they had handled that themselves before we got to the plane that night, as far as the 48 team and 25 team. Jimmie went to the 25 shop and congratulated them. It was just a racing deal. Those kinds of situations can really tear down an organization that works really hard to make everybody work together.
"There's where a guy like Terry Labonte comes in. He's like the statesman. He'll stand up and tell the guys why this is important. I don't care if you're Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Matt Kenseth. If Terry Labonte walks up in the room and says something, he doesn't show up much and he doesn't say much, but when he says something you know he's thought about it and he means it. He's been really good for our organization."
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION TO MOVE FORWARD? "This is me. I try not to worry about everybody else. I challenge everybody in our organization, and say that all we need to do is come back every week and be a little bit better. Look at where we are and where we're weak and let's be a little bit better, each team and forget about everybody else. If we can do that then well stay where we need to be. If we start focusing on everybody else we'll get off track. We've just got to make our deal a little bit better. If we come back the same as next year, we're going to get beat. There will be people stepping up. I think Jack (Roush) had five cars in the Chase. I'm telling you, people don't realize what an unbelievable job that was. I've told him that a million times. But everybody caught up. Everybody kept working. You can see teams out here, they kind of dip then they start clicking and start hitting on it. Just because you are one of the top guys when this last three is over doesn't mean when you start next year somebody else hasn't figured something out. You're going to have to move the ball and do it every week and you can't wait until the end of the year. You've got to work every single day and show up every single race better than you were last race or you're going to get beat."
ON HAVING THE CAR OF TOMORROW TO DEAL WITH NEXT YEAR AND IF THAT MAKES IT MORE OF A WILD CARD FOR TEAMS TO STAY ON TOP: "I think next year is going to be an unbelievably up and down year. There will be so many variables coming in - the Car of Tomorrow, the standard car, new teams, trying to figure out this car, no testing. You have to maintain your fleet, build a new fleet and merge them in. It's going to take more manpower at time when more teams are starting up. It's going to put a lot of stress on everybody. Then we've got a new motor too so we've got to deal with that. So we have to run two parallel motor systems and two parallel car systems and integrate it in. It's going to be a challenge for the guys that have been here but for the new guys it's really going to be a dogfight."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THE NUMBER OF TEAMS COMPETING NEXT YEAR AND SOME GOOD TEAMS GOING HOME AND NOT BEING ABLE TO RACE? "Yeah, it is. I'm in the automobile business so I look at the economy as a whole. If one piece of the economy struggles it's going to affect everybody sooner or later. When you've got this many teams trying to show up to race some good teams aren't going to make it and some good sponsors could end up leaving the sport. I think next year is going to be the biggest shake out that we've seen. I think we'll see a lot of people that won't be there in '08 that are there in '07 because it's going to be a very, very competitive deal and it's going to be a lot of pressure. It's going to be a lot of new faces. It's going to be a lot of people shifting around. I think it's going to be a wild year. I really do. I think you're going to see people changing in the middle of the year. I think you're going to see teams doing radical things three-quarters of the way through the year. I don't think you've seen nothing yet compared to what drivers, crew chiefs and teams are going to be doing next year."
ON THINGS IN RACING GOING IN A CIRCLE AND HOW THE CAR OF TOMORROW PLAYS INTO THAT: "This is definitely a new deal for us. I know we can figure the car out. We've got too much talent in that garage area. The question is do we have time and can we race and figure that car out and put on a good show and run the other car. NASCAR is going to have to be pretty creative as we roll on because we don't know how good this thing is and we've got to have a good show for the fans or people won't watch it on TV and won't show up at the race track. We've got to protect our investment.
"I feel like I'm a stakeholder in this. I've got single purpose buildings and if I don't have these cars race then I'm in deep trouble so it's our benefit for this thing to work. NASCAR works with us extremely well but we've got an awful lot on our plate. That's just pure and simple when you're going to run 38 weekends and you're going to introduce a new car and get those cars ready and tweak them as well as run the old cars and keep those cars competitive with a bunch of new folks there. That trailer is going to be awful busy net year. I'm glad I'm not Mike Helton next year."
HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THIS IN THE HISTORY OF NASCAR?: "Not this much. I've never seen this much change. I can remember when we brought out the new Monte Carlo. I can remember way back when you were probably wearing diapers when they put the back glass in the super sport, but we did it and we always worked our way through out. This year we have so many things happening. We're going to run Busch races up north. There's so many new deals happening. Are they going to change the rules in the Chase? If they change the rules in the Chase, how is that going to affect our strategy for the year? The new car, how is that going to play into it? Is it good to run a new car in the middle of the Chase? There's so many variables. We've always been able to deal with it and we will deal with it next year. Next year there will be a new story every week because of something whether it's a good team that didn't make it or a team that's shifting or realigning or manufacturers realigning. It's just going to be pretty exciting I guess."
ON RATINGS AND ANY POSSIBLE SPONSOR CONCERNS: "Not really. No. I was thinking the other day when you can watch the World Series, football, basketball, pre-game, racing, we just got an unbelievable amount of sports. I think we've got to figure out when the fans want to watch it, how long they want to watch it, can we make them shorter, better prime time night races, whatever. I haven't had any of our sponsors mention anything about that."
ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S ATTITUDE DURING THIS CHASE AND HOW HE'S BEEN MORE POSITIVE: "I think Jimmie has taken the same approach that we've all taken here. You can't do anything about this Chase deal. It's the luck of the draw. He had a spark plug wire. You run so good the first race then get wrecked then you come back and have a cut tire in the last race last year. You win four races in the Chase one year and you don't win it. I try to tell Jimmie this, you won Daytona, the Indy race, the All Star race. There's guy that would take that in a career and you've done it in a year and you led the points. You can't let this championship thing eat you up. He and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) last year, we met off-season and spent a lot of time talking about this (being) not life threatening. We want to be here for 10 years. You guys are young. You'll be the guys to beat every year but in order to do that we can't let the pressure get to you.
"So we started the year with a different attitude. Chad has taken it in stride. As soon as we had problems, we said hey let's just go win races and don't worry about it. If it happens it happens. Let's try and see how many races we can win. I'll tell you it's a whole lot more fun. They're asking me how many rooms I want in New York. I said 'Hey, I'm going like we're not going to win it. I'm going up to just be a part of it.' You can't do any more than you're doing. You go to the track as good as you can and be very competitive. You cut a tire, you get caught in the pits, somebody spins in front of you like poor Mark Martin. He's had two races where it wasn't his fault and he just gets out of the picture.
"When you have that many good cars running that close together, is it anybody's fault? It's really not. The guys are trying to do the best they can. The guys that aren't in the Chase are trying to save their jobs. The guys in the Chase want everybody to give them a break. How do you race 43 cars out here at this speed and not have things like that happen? I think what we have to do is pay more points for the winner. "
ON HOW WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN THE 48 TEAM PERFORMS THE BEST: "They're a good team and they're good every week. If they're not good they'll figure out a way how to come back. When they have had a bad week it's because they had back luck. They are good but so is Matt Kenseth. He had a gear problem but they find a way to come back and that's why they are still up there in the points. Jeff's (Gordon) situation, you brake a fuel pump, you brake a piston, and you can't come back from that.
"Like Tony Stewart, you know Tony Stewart was a championship caliber team but for circumstances he didn't make the top 10 but he's going to win races. If you went by wins or points for wins it probably wouldn't have been a question if Tony or Kasey Kahne were in the Chase or not.
"The good guys are going to figure out a way. Every good team will have a bad day. You will get there and you're going to be a 20th place car because you just missed a setup because there's too many good teams. But day in and day out when you can be in the top 10 in practice and qualify up front and come back. I think you see Tony, Jimmie and Jeff, nobody is cutting their wrists because of this championship deal because they can't control it. It's not because they don't have a good team. It's not because they haven't run good. They just had bad luck. It's one thing when you get beat. When you get out there every week and you can't keep up and you're running 11th and 15th and waiting for everybody else to brake, that's a discouraging deal. But when you lead the most laps in Kansas and you come to pit road and there's a car sitting in the middle of pit road and you have to go around then you end up giving up points there or you're on the last lap in Talladega and you're either going to win the race or be second or third and then you're 16th, there's just nothing you can do about it."
HOW HARD HAVE THE UPS AND DOWNS IN THIS YEAR'S CHASE BEEN FOR YOU? "I'm not making light of the championship but I look at life a lot different now. It's not life threatening. We do the best we can. You can't control it. It's one of those things where you've got to have good luck. You do the best you can. Yeah, I'd like to win seven or eight championships but hopefully we can get that 150th win this week and just make the guys as good as they can be and be competitive. This championship thing is the luck of the draw and a crapshoot right now. You've got to have good luck. You're running third or fourth or you pit and you come out of the pit and somebody runs over you. That could be the championship, one race out of 36. That's one situation. In the past if you were good all year you'd have a good enough lead (where) you could just run safe and that's probably not good for the sport. I just don't think the championship the way it's structured is necessarily a representative of the champion."
WOULD JIMMIE JOHNSON ALREADY HAVE A CHAMPIONSHIP IF WE WERE OPERATING UNDER THE OLD SYSTEM? "Oh yeah, I think so."
ON BRIAN VICKERS' LAST COUPLE OF RACES WITH THE ORGANIZATION AND HIM GETTING THAT FIRST WIN IN THE 25 CAR: "Because of my dad and Ricky (Hendrick), that was very special and those guys work hard. It's tough when you have four cars there and one car works just as hard and they don't seem to get the results. It's hard to motivate those guys on the team. It meant a lot to see the team win. I think it did the team a lot of good. Brain is a special guy. Him and Ricky were close and we're friends. I look at him kind of like a son. Maybe we were too close, maybe could have been some of our problem. I want to see him do well and win another race and carry a good momentum for that team so when Casey (Mears) comes over we can pick up and go right on."
ON THEIR DRIVER DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS: "I've kind of left that up to Doug Duchardt and Doug has got a young guy he's been looking at and been talking to. The problem is if we go spend a lot of time and effort in a young guy now, where are we going to put him? If we get a guy ready for Cup, where is the seat going to come (from)? So we're looking at doing some things with other teams to work together on technology and maybe have a guy warehoused somewhere. We don't know. That's totally Doug Duchardt. I'm not in the driver development program."
IS THAT BECAUSE OF THE TEAM LIMIT? "It is and because of the age of our guys. We're happy with our guys. Unless something happens that I don't know about, our guys are there for a while. To get a guy ready and develop him in your organization and then have him walk in one day and say 'Look, if you can't get me an opportunity to go Cup, I'd like to go somewhere else.' That's not good for us. And with the Busch deal like it is today, all our sponsors want our Cup guys in there. We wrecked 51 cars in the Busch Series the year before last. Man, our guys were like get these drivers to come in here and work on them. We don't want to fix them anymore. And our sponsors were saying if we have a choice of a driver development driver or a Kyle Busch or Casey Mears driving the car then we'd like to do it that way.
"I don't know what the answer to that deal is because we need more slots for the young guys to learn but the sponsors and the fans want to see these guys that are Cup drivers drive the cars so we're kind of in a trick bag there. I don't know what the answer is there."
WHO IS JIMMIE JOHNSON'S BIGGEST COMPETITOR FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP RIGHT NOW? "You know what I've learned in this deal, I'm worried about all of them. Anybody that is mathematically there is a threat because things just turn around overnight. If two or three of these guys have a bad race then here's a new guy. If you look at the record, Kenseth has been good all year and he's sitting on top so he's got to be one of your main concerns. But any of those guys, Hamlin can get on a streak. We could have a pile up here Sunday and then in Phoenix and then all the sudden Homestead Jeff's back in it or whatever so I'm kind of worried about all of them."
ON JEFF GORDON'S NEXT WIN TYING HIM WITH DALE EARNHARDT: "Jeff with his age and the years he has left and his talent, that's going to come so that's not going to be a big milestone because I've been expecting him to do that here pretty quick. I see in Jeff too, and I'm sure you guys have, where he was so burning to get number five. This thing is so competitive and you just don't have much control and there's so much competition. I think you just come out here and want to race and be competitive every week and lead and be up front.
"He and I laughed about this the other day. I think maybe some of the good luck he had early on in his career is catching up and we're getting some of the average luck now. You've got seven or eight motors in the race in Charlotte and you lose his motor running second. Then the fuel pump deal. For 10 years and 800 motors a year, we've never had that brake, never. You just have those kind of things happen that driver you nuts. I think all these guys in the garage are learning you just got to show up everyday and do your job and take what you get. Nobody's going to dominate this thing anymore. If you do, then NASCAR's going lay your stuff out in the garage and let everybody see it. It just ain't going to happen."
ON BEING COMPETITIVE: "I am very competitive. I hate to lose and I keep it inside. We're all competitive and we want to win. You want to do the best you can. Let me tell you, you don't want to ride home on the plane with me after we had a bad day. I don't say much. I'm not myself. My job is to make us better and look at ways where we are short and make the team and organization better. It bothers me when we have good guys that work hard and do well and we come up short. It's one thing when you know you're behind and you've got to fix it. When you just have bad luck, that drives me nuts and I hate to get beat when we run good enough and things happen out of our control. I am competitive. At my age I wouldn't be walking this concrete and pavement if I wasn't competitive. To me the exciting thing is a watch guy like Terry and Kyle Busch. I've got both ends of the spectrum. I've got a young kid who can drive the wheels off a car and is trying to learn and doing a good job. And you've got Jimmie who I've know since he was 16 driving for me. To see these guys mature and Chad. I'm as proud of our crew chiefs. All four of those guys started in the organization at basic jobs and to see those guys running the organization. I sit back on the bus sometimes and listen to them and I think how I can't believe that I really am old to watch these guys be able to grow up and do this. It's almost like a family and a tradition and we enjoy it and it's the toughest it ever has been."
ON TERRY LABONTE: "He's brought an awful lot of class and character to our organization. He's just been a great friend. You love being around him when we go fishing and when we do things together off the track. Some of the most fun I've ever had testing would be with (Ken) Schrader and Terry. We'd go to Phoenix and just listing to Terry and Schrader. They're funny together. He's a good person and has a good family. You want to be around somebody that is that kind of guy. When I was sick he stepped up, his wife stepped, anything for my family. He's one of the neatest people regardless of racing that I've ever seen. He's a great person."
-credit: gm racing