NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series MIKE BLISS, DRIVER OF THE NO. 2 TEAM ASE FORD F-150, WON HIS SECOND RACE OF THE 1998 SEASON AT PHOENIX THIS PAST WEEKEND. THE MILWAUKIE, OREGON NATIVE STARTED ON THE POLE AND LED 74 LAPS OF THE 186-LAP EVENT.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
MIKE BLISS, DRIVER OF THE NO. 2 TEAM ASE FORD F-150, WON HIS SECOND RACE OF THE 1998 SEASON AT PHOENIX THIS PAST WEEKEND. THE MILWAUKIE, OREGON NATIVE STARTED ON THE POLE AND LED 74 LAPS OF THE 186-LAP EVENT. BLISS AND HIS MOORESVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA BASED TEAM HAVE HAD AN UP AND DOWN YEAR. MIKE HAD HOPED TO CONTEND FOR THE NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP IN 1998, BUT MISTAKES AND MISFORTUNE HAVE PLAGUED THE TEAM MOST OF THE SEASON. ALTHOUGH HE HAS FOUR POLES AND TWO WINS TO HIS CREDIT, BLISS IS CURRENTLY RANKED 11TH IN POINTS, THE HIGHEST HE HAS BEEN SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON.
MIKE BLISS - NO. 2 TEAM ASE FORD F-150 --YOU WERE THE 12TH CONSECUTIVE DIFFERENT WINNER IN AS MANY RACES WITH YOUR VICTORY AT PHOENIX. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT? "The competition level has gotten a lot better. It seems like every race another team pops up in the top-five that has run 10th or 11th. The way the races are going with the pit stops, I think that has thrown a lot of curve balls in there, and it has added excitement to the racing, and it means the teams have to come up with more strategy."
WE HAVE HEARD YOUR TEAM IS BRAKING UP AFTER THIS SEASON. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON WHAT IS GOING ON? "We had all decided we were going different ways. Then I hear some rumors that maybe the team will stay together. When you win a race, and the weekend before you have a chance to win a race, it makes you think twice about what is going on. This team is a good team. Things have gone a little bit wrong this year, but they've gone right too. There are some rough edges, but as a team we could be better. Maybe we were all trying to bow out, but maybe if we stick together we could solve it. It was a rough area toward the middle of the year."
DO YOU THINK YOU WILL STAY WITH YOUR TEAM NOW? "I don't have a place where I'm going yet. We're still up in the air. Everyone is kind of 'second thoughting', but as of right now I don't know where I'm going."
RIGHT NOW YOU ARE ONLY 23 POINTS OUT OF THE TOP-TEN, AND YOU HAVE HAD THREE CONSECUTIVE TOP-TEN FINISHES. OBVIOUSLY, YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET INTO THE TOP-TEN IN POINTS WITH A GOOD FINISH AT LAS VEGAS, AND MAYBE ADD ANOTHER BUSCH POLE TO YOUR RECORD. "That is what our goal is now. That helps when people look back on the stats that we have finished in the top-ten every year we've been in the trucks."
YOU HAD A PRETTY GOOD RINGSIDE SEAT WATCHING TWO OF THE ROOKIES BATTLE FOR THE LEAD AT PHOENIX. "I saw Greg Biffle and Andy Houston battle. Those two were going at it. I kind of backed off, thinking I've got a front row seat here, and I did not need to have them in my seat. While they were doing it, they were using their tires up more and more. We were a little bit on the loose side all day, and we had to kind of conserve and not tear our rear tires up. Once we adjusted on that, and then we had a better truck than they did."
YOU TALKED ABOUT LAYING BACK. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU HAVE LEARNED? "I've been through a lot this year, and I've led a lot of races and I've lost a lot of races myself just by over driving. Jeff Gordon is there at the end. He just lays back. When the tires are brand new you just want to go out and run as hard as you can. At Bakersfield I ran pretty hard all day because I wanted to win so bad. That doesn't win races. You've got to be smart to win races. I knew I didn't have a good truck (at Phoenix), and I knew we had a chance to adjust the truck on our pits stops. I knew I had to be calm and cool so that if something happened to the guys in front of me I had somewhere to go. The crew was talking to me all the time, calming me down. They said we'll adjust it. Don't worry about it. It paid off."
CAN YOU WANT TO WIN TOO BADLY? "Yeah. That's the position I've put myself in this year with the dnf's we've had and finishing out of the points. I've wanted to win every race. I didn't try to finish second, third and fourth. I've been trying too hard. Bakersfield was one instance where we had the truck to beat. Then the last ten laps we didn't have the truck to beat. I just kept driving harder trying to stay up and catch the guy that won. I lost the truck. I guess you just have to go through that period to learn it. I've learned a lot this year. You need to race with your mind instead of your right foot."
DID THE TEAM GO THROUGH THE SAME THING? "This team is good. Everyone on it is good. I wouldn't trade. It just got where we weren't as close as we had been. They were behind me 100 percent every where we've gone. But maybe I thought we'd be better one way, and they thought we would be better another way. A driver just needs to sit back and drive the race car. He doesn't need to tell the crew chief or the owner how to build a shop or a race car. I think I put too much of that into it, and I should have stayed focused on racing and driving. I kind of blame it on myself a little bit."
DID YOU LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT WINNING AT PHOENIX? "When I won Milwaukee I drove the same way I did at Phoenix. I didn't have the truck early in the race to win, and we adjusted and got it better. Phoenix was the same way. We just adjusted the truck all day to the track. It's a lot of patience. With the pit stops it changes the way you drive. I think you can see with the different winners in the series drivers like Ron Hornaday and Jack Sprague, guys like that have to drive a little different."
YOU QUALIFIED REAL WELL LAST YEAR AT LAS VEGAS (SECOND)AND RAN WELL (FINISHED FIFTH) AND YOU JUST WON AT PHOENIX. WHAT DOES THAT DO FOR YOU CONFIDENCE COMING INTO THE LAST RACE? "We're pretty pumped up right now. At Vegas last year we had the truck to beat. We had a motor problem and broke a rocker arm or something. I love that track. It's real racy and it's fast. We seem to run better on bigger tracks. I don't know if that's because I like them or if Barry Dodson is that good on big tracks. He knows what the truck needs. I like that style of race track. It's wide and fast."
HOW WILL RON HORNADAY AND JACK SPRAGUE RACE AT VEGAS WITH ONLY 13 POINTS SEPARATING THEM FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think both of them are going to have to race like they want to win it. But they've got to be there all day, top-five all day. I know Jack, and I know Ron, and they are going to race as hard as they can. I've had both Jack and Ron come up to me and ask "what are you going to do for me if I need that spot?" I've told them I want to win just as bad as you do. You'll have to spin me out or put me in the wall to get past. I'm not going to pull over. I think it's going to be a dang good race from the stands. You've got two guys going for the championship. I think you're going to see two good races out there."