This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo and two-time Daytona 500 champion. Waltrip discussed his season to date as the series moves to Talladega for...
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo and two-time Daytona 500 champion. Waltrip discussed his season to date as the series moves to Talladega for the Aaron's 499 this weekend.
Waltrip won the fall race at Talladega in '03. He has accumulated six Top-fives and 12 Top 10 finishes in his Cup career. Waltrip is also the current Busch Series point leader and recently won at Nashville. He will compete in both the Busch and Cup races at Talladega.
Q&A's with MICHAEL WALTRIP:
IS THE TIME RIGHT FOR A TURNAROUND FOR THE NO. 15 TEAM?
"I think so. We're building toward better performances and the results have indicated that. We feel like the races we were strongest were Daytona, Rockingham, Las Vegas, and Darlington, but at all four of those races we had trouble. We struggled at Texas and came home 20th. We struggled at Atlanta and came home 23rd. We're not panicking. We can still make things work. We like the fact that we're heading to Talladega, where we tested last week. It went really well. California has been a good track for me. We finished second in the Busch race out there last year and in the Top 10 in the Cup race. So, everything is better. We certainly got down and out in a hurry. But with the finish at Martinsville, we moved to within 100 points of the Top 20. That's nothing. So we're just going to set small goals and try to knock off positions in the points throughout the 2004 season that remains. Hopefully we can knock off enough guys that we can be 10th by the time we get to Richmond."
ON HIS EFFORTS IN THE BUSCH SERIES TO DATE
"Ken Butler is the president of Aaron's and he and I talked last December and decided to just run them for a while. We felt like last year we were as good a team as there was on the Busch circuit. If we ran them for a while, we should be able to lead the points. And that has certainly come to be the case. We're going to run until possibly Charlotte or even Nazareth. That would get us through Dover running all the races. We'll see where we stand at that point. I really don't have any desire to run all the races. But when you make that statement, there are only a couple that would be a problem. One would be Milwaukee. Another is Pike's Peak. I've always been very sensitive to my sponsor's desires with Michael Waltrip Racing. I not only drive the car, but I own the car. I always want to hear what Aaron's has in mind and want to cater to their needs. If they want to run them all and want me to continue to race for the championship, then we'll certainly consider doing that."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TALLADEGA SET-UP UTILIZING WICKER BILLS ON THE BUSCH CARS?
"I've felt like maybe in Cup we could run the wicker bills. Certainly we could decrease the size of them prior to taking them off. But in the Busch Series I always questioned the decision to put them on there because of the fact that the ability to run in packs is greater. Like Dale Jr., I was very concerned at Daytona. But after the race at Daytona, which was a typical restrictor plate race that was not really any big deal and not really any different, I go to Talladega a little bit more at ease. But with that being said, there's a lot more room to put yourself in compromising positions at Talladega than there is at Daytona. You just hope that people understand. If I could tell everybody one thing, it would be don't forget that you need to let off the gas. You can catch back up. There is nothing pressing enough to try to get into a hole or try to push a guy into a place you don't need to. Just remember that the wicker bill can be your friend. You can let off the gas and then make it up in a hurry because of the drag on the race cars. You just hope that people are mindful of that and don't make a mess. Whether they're on there or not, we've had a history of crashing. I don't really see where one is any worse than the other."
DO YOU GO TO TALLADEGA MORE CONCERNED ON THE BUSCH SIDE THAN THE CUP SIDE?
"No. The best way to miss a wreck is to be first or last. At Daytona in February, we blew a tire and crashed in practice. I had to start last. I couldn't really figure out any way that I was going to get from last to first before they wrecked. So I just simply ran last until they wrecked, which was on lap seven or eight and we missed the wreck. You just have to be smart. You have to assess your situation and circumstances and adapt. Hopefully our Aaron's Dream Machine that we're carrying down to Talladega this weekend for the Aaron's Dream Weekend - Aaron's is sponsoring the Aaron's 312 Busch race on Saturday and the Aaron's 499 Cup race on Sunday - that might be a record number of sponsor mentions a guy can say in one breath - in Victory Lane. On Sunday, I'm racing the Aaron's Dream Machine again as a car owner with Kenny Wallace driving. We'll have a presence both on Saturday and Sunday."
WHEN OTHER DRIVERS TALK ABOUT TALLADEGA THEY SAY THEY JUST WANT TO GET THERE AND GET OUT, BUT NOT YOU. WHY?
"I don't worry about anything, much. That's not how I go about life. People who talk about the softer tires and the new point system and the spoilers - everyone wants to predict the worst and be so negative. I don't go about it that way. I feel like my team is going to give me a car where I can be right up front. And I'll win the race. That's my goal and that's my mindset."
IS THAT WHY, MENTALLY, YOU HAVE SURVIVED ALL THOSE TOUGH YEARS IN THE CUP SERIES?
"I think that's why I am the way I am today. It's because it was hard for a while. A lot of people make a big deal out of it. But the fact of the matter is, I was out running Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip on one Sunday or another back in the late 80's and early 90's. I knew I could do the job. I was convinced I could drive as good as anybody. I just needed to get in the right situation. Fortunately for me, I eventually did."
WITH THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM, DO YOU VIEW THE SEASON ENDING AT RICHMOND OR AT THE FINAL RACE IN HOMESTEAD?
"At the final race. Winning races is the most important part of our week-to-week job. If you race to Richmond and you're 11th in the points and you quit, what sense does that make? There are 10 more races to go. There's a chance to win at Talladega again and at the season finale at Homestead. You can accomplish so many wonderful things throughout the entire season. That's what's so great about this Chase for the Championship. You're making people talk about the championship every day. Can you get there by race 26? What do you do if you don't? To me, whoever thought of that idea, I want to pat them on the back. They made NASCAR racing more interesting by the way they changed the battle for the championship. And incidentally, I am not out of this battle for the championship today. I'm 31st in the points and probably a couple of hundred points out of the Top 10. But if you look at some of the streaks and runs in the 2003 season - our team included - you can make the numbers work still. And that's my goal. That's my focus."
ON THE MOVES THAT ARE MADE AT TALLADEGA, HOW MUCH OF THEM ARE MADE BY INSTINCT?
"It's fifty-fifty. Sometimes you have to go with a gut feeling and sometimes you have to base what you're going to do on facts. If you see a line moving on the outside and you feel like there's enough help to get you where you're going, you just say you're going to be a part of that. If you create a move, with instinct, thinking you're going to get where you're going, then that happens as well. There's no real set thing one way or another."
ON THE TRACK BREAKING UP AT MARTINSVILLE, WHAT CAN BE DONE TO CHANGE THINGS BEFORE THE SERIES RETURNS IN OCTOBER?
"I saw the track breaking long before they threw the red flag and long before Jeff (Gordon) got his car tore up because of it. Once they repaired it, I couldn't even tell where it was. You couldn't see where it had broken apart they fixed it so well. As a competitor, what you would hope is that after years of Martinsville being a single-lane race track that nothing has to be done to the concrete itself in order to go back there. I'd hate to see them replace the concrete because the racing is so good there now. They're going to repave the asphalt part and hopefully leave the concrete in tact just like it is now. And then (they should just) study the concrete over the next three or four months and make sure there aren't any other cracks that could develop into potholes and patch those on an as-needed basis."
HAVE YOU AND DALE JR. TALKED ABOUT DRAFTING AT TALLADEGA?
"No, we don't ever do that. We just always figure that both of us are smart enough to get to the front and if we both wind up there, we'll implement a plan at that point. But there is no use in really talking about a plan prior to a race because there are too many moving variables that can mess up your plan. So we just fly by the seat of our pants on that deal."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE SENSATION OF DRIVING AT TALLADEGA WITH THE SPEED AND TRAFFIC?
"It's maybe the easiest, most boring thing in the world to do when you're qualifying or practicing by yourself. And then, all of a sudden, it becomes the most difficult and intense thing you've ever done in your life once the race starts and drafting starts. You have to focus in on what type of air you can pull off of other guys' cars in order to put yourself in position to gain spots. It's a constant experimentation. You're trying things every lap to figure out what you need to do to get where you're going. Mentally, it's a taxing process. But we're experienced at it and understand that. Therefore, I don't ever get too far off base with what I'm doing."
WITH DEI'S SUCCESS AT PLATE TRACKS, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL ANTICIPATION OF SUCCESS WHEN YOU GO TO TALLADEGA THIS WEEKEND?
"I have a lot of confidence. Not only do I know how to win, but I also know I'll have a car capable of doing so. When you go to a race track, that's a re-assuring feeling. It makes you appreciate all the hard work that the crew does and all the resources that DEI has for us to build those types of race cars."
GIVEN WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS, DO YOU FEEL ANY MORE PRESSURE TO CONCENTRATE MORE ON THE CUP SIDE INSTEAD OF THE BUSCH SIDE AT TALLADEGA?
"Like everything in our sport, that type of thinking comes and goes. Four or five years ago, people said you shouldn't run Busch because it would mess up your focus on the Cup side. Now, they say you can run both because it'll make you better in the Cup car. So I don't agree with either side of that. If I'm not smart enough to race both those cars........ Racing is how I learn. It's what I do. I'll do whatever I want and people can think whatever they want, but it won't affect what I do."
DON'T YOU THINK THAT BEING OUT OF THE TOP 10 TOWARD THE END OF THE YEAR THAT YOU SHOULD CONCENTRATE MORE ON CUP?
"It sounds like that's what you think, but that doesn't matter to me. I know my situation. l know how to race cars. I know how to focus on one and focus on the other. I know how one can feed off the other. If I can't handle doing both, then I've got bigger issues than that."
ON BEING A CAR OWNER ON THE CUP SIDE WITH KENNY WALLACE DRIVING THE CAR THIS WEEKEND AT TALLADEGA
"Ownership is something I love being a part of. I was able to start my Busch team back in 1996. Since that point, I've grown my team into a top-notch organization. NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing is part of my future on the ownership side, and I'm just trying to use the resources I have available to me to field the best program that I can. In 2004 that program consists of a five-race schedule with Kenny Wallace driving for us at Talladega, Daytona, Bristol, Indy, and Atlanta. So we have plans for that schedule in place. This is the first time we've had a multi-race schedule in place for our team. So that's another step. That's growing it. If we are able to expand that and do more than that in 2005, I would enjoy that as well. Learning about owning race cars and what it takes to organize a successful effort it something I enjoy. It gives me something to do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at home to continue to focus on racing and learning on how to be a better race car driver - which I think ownership has helped me to accomplish - but also to learn more about our sport."
WHEN YOU'RE OUT OF THE SEAT YOURSELF, IS OWNERSHIP YOUR FUTURE?
"I would like to think so. I really enjoy that side of it. I'd like to think that one day I could be an owner. Rusty (Wallace) is part owner of his team with Roger Penske. My brother has owned cars throughout his career. He raced for Childress and owned the cars that (Steve) Park and (Dale) Jr. and I drove. There are plenty of options as far as ownership situations go as you look to the future. I just want to figure out what's for me."
WHEN YOU'RE IN THE DRAFT IN TALLADEGA AND YOU END UP IN THAT MIDDLE LANE, IS IT HARDER?
"No, not really. We sometimes choose to go up that lane to make progress. And that lane will make progress at times. It's obviously a little more risky because you've got moving traffic on both sides of you that you're counting on not to screw up. Ideally, you'd like not to be in that situation, but they'll be a time when all of us wind up there during the course of the day. And the cars drive so well and they're so stable at Talladega, being in that position really isn't an issue. You just hope none of the other drivers, or you, make mistakes."
WILL THE TIRES MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE AT TALLADEGA?
"I don't think so. Handling isn't an issue. That track is designed for us to run 220 mph, so we should be able to run 180 mph. So, 190 mph is not fast enough to make handling an issue."
ON RACING TWICE AT FONTANA IN '04
"My sponsors love it - NAPA Auto Parts on the Cup side and Aaron's Rents on the Busch side. I have so many sponsors and associate sponsors that just love being on the west coast. They are the people that make it all work on the team side. They want to be a part of it because of the fans. And the fans support the sponsors that sponsor the cars that support the teams. It's important to make everybody happy. But sometimes that's not possible. If we have to leave a venue to expand to a bigger market with more fans, then that makes good business sense. NASCAR will always keep us grounded at tracks that are important to the history of our sport, but yet growing and expanding our sport to other parts of the country is the most important goal at this point."
WHO ARE THE NASCAR DADS, AND HAVE THEY BECOME A POLITICAL FORCE?
"I think what NASCAR represents is something the grassroots of this country is made of. And that's hard working folks who are passionate about our country and those types of people are the types of Americans you want on your side. Using NASCAR to try to gain strength in the poles is a great idea. It's important for the drivers is not to compromise their beliefs or passions for the cause. I would never have a sponsor on the side of my car that I didn't respect. I would never publicly talk about a political candidate that I didn't share his views or support him. You have to stay true to yourself, whether it's talking about the auto parts you use or the political candidate you support."
ARE THERE ANY MORE MARATHONS IN YOUR FUTURE?
"I plan on running on one more. I always had a goal of making one in less than four hours. I ran three. My buddy made one of them in 3:50. My best was 4:15. I've lost 30 lbs since I ran my last marathon and I've continued to work out and keep distance running in my work out regime. So, I'll run another one of those one of these days, but I don't know when."