NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Mike Stefanik has led the 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year standings all season long and currently holds a 20-point lead over second-place rookie driver Scott Hansen. Last weekend at Michigan...
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series
Mike Stefanik has led the 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Rookie-of-the-Year standings all season long and currently holds a 20-point lead over second-place rookie driver Scott Hansen. Last weekend at Michigan Speedway, Stefanik finished seventh by moving up an amazing 20 spots after starting a disappointing 27th, his third consecutive top-10 finish.
This Sunday, the 41-year old New England native returns to familiar territory at the New Hampshire International Speedway, a track where he has seven overall wins, six in the Featherlite Modified Tour and one in the Busch North Series.
MIKE STEFANIK -66- Carlin Burners and Controls Ford F-150 LOOKING BACK TO MICHIGAN SPEEDWAY THIS PAST WEEKEND, YOU HAVE TO BE PRETTY PLEASED WITH YOUR TOP-10 FINISH AFTER STARTING BACK IN 27TH? "Yes we are pleased with the seventh-place finish. It was a long week for us. We rolled in there on Tuesday and when we got on the track on Wednesday to test, the truck was just a handful for those first few days. We chased it and chased it. We talked to some of the other drivers about it. I know that I'm still learning as I go here but the truck just wasn't cooperating whatsoever. The team just sweated and worked their tails off on the thing and we finally slept on it Friday night and came back on Saturday with a list of things that we needed to do. After talking to Roland Wlodyka (new crew chief) and thinking about it myself, we made some changes to the front suspension geometry and really just settled the truck right down. I really was nervous about going into the race because the truck was not handling very well and I couldn't race next to anybody. I certainly didn't want to end anyone else's day prematurely. I knew before we went to green that the truck steered so much better. Even at pace speed, I knew that we were going to be okay." WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "It's such a tough field of trucks. I'm really enjoying the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this year. This is all that I'm focused on instead of running in multiple divisions. I really want to go after the USG Rookie-of-the-Year title. We're trying to get back into the top10 in points. We're only about 60 points out of 10th. I'm really excited about Roland (Wlodyka) coming on board. I think that he's going to bring us to the next level. He has a wealth of knowledge in the truck series and I think that will help us to unload and be closer to where we need to be." WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO RACE IN A MAJOR NASCAR DIVISION SO CLOSE TO HOME? "It's going to be really neat. I'm very excited to go to New Hampshire with a whole different series. I've been going there with the Modified Tour and the Busch North Series. I've certainly gone there feeling very competitive. And now we're getting our program on track in the truck series and just two hours from home, boy that's going to be a nice change."
WHAT IS THE KEY TO WINNING AT NEW HAMPSHIRE INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY? "You've got to roll the middle (of the turn). You can't afford to be stopping in the middle. That's the big key there in either series. You have to be able to get in and really carry some corner speed through the middle. That's no secret. That's what we're going to try to work on right off the bat."
YOU ATTEMPTED TO RUN IN THE BUSCH SERIES LAST YEAR AND STRUGGLED. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO FIND YOURSELF BACK ON YOUR FEET IN THIS MAJOR NASCAR SERIES? "Lately it's been my goal to move out of the ranks of the regional series like the Modified Tour and the Busch North Series and move up to a national touring series level meaning the trucks, Busch or Cup. I've tried a couple of times to land that Cinderella deal and get into the Busch Series and run a full season. But it seems like every deal I've run into has run about four or five races and for one reason or another just went away. Every time that I go to race now, I feel fortunate that the truck is sitting there with my name on it and I can get into it and race. There are a lot of racers out there across the country that would love to trade places with anybody that is in one of the three top series. I'm just really happy to have a seat."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE GETTING A LATE START IN YOUR NCTS CAREER? "Age is just a number and I think that if you can hold your own and do your job well then you deserve the opportunity to race. But if you're not doing your job and somebody else can do it better then I guess you just have to step aside. After a while I never thought that I'd get a chance to get out of the regional touring series. Not that it's a bad place to be but I feel like I've paid my dues and have been in the trenches beating and banging on these short tracks. I've wanted to get up and spread my wings and run against some different people. Believe me, I get a smile on my face when I can drive alongside some of these guys and race with them. This is where I want to be. It was very frustrating at times to have some deals just slip away. I'm so glad that this deal here hasn't slipped a bit and is just getting stronger. It's a dream come true to just fly around the countryside and do what I love to do and that is to race. It's a wonderful time."
DO YOU FEEL VINDICATED TO HAVE PAID YOUR DUES FOR SO LONG AND TO NOW GET YOUR CHANCE IN THE TRUCK SERIES? "I feel really lucky! I've got to feel bad for the other guys in the series that I used to race in. They've seen how much success our team has had and how hard it was for me to move up and move along. They have to be saying to themselves that they've got to do something close to what he did to get a chance and that's got to be even more frustrating for them. I look at it on the bright side with the glass being half full instead of half empty. I'm not a negative person and I'm just a very satisfied and happy person to be in the truck series."
TALK ABOUT HOW TOUGH AND DEMANDING THE TRUCK SERIES IS, COMPARED TO WHAT YOU'VE DRIVEN IN THE PAST? "Certainly the guys at the shop put a lot of sides on the trucks and they just kind of joke about it. I know that we've torn up a bunch of sides. I think that it's a very aggressive series. But talking about the talent in the series, most of the drivers have been champions from somewhere or another. There is not a lot of wrecking in the truck series though. A truck will spin once in a while but no one is really tearing up a lot of equipment. This is an aggressive series and there is a lot of pushing and shoving and bumping and running and things like that but that's just the nature of the beast. The trucks don't handle as well as you'd like them to and they have an awful lot of horsepower. It's exciting racing and it's a dogfight out there. It's tough, nose to the grindstone racing."
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU CAN CARRY OVER TO THE TRUCKS FROM YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE AND DO YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE THERE? "I don't know if there's an advantage. Certainly my comfort level will be higher than it was last week when we went to Michigan and had never seen the place before. As far as a competitive advantage, I'd say not really. These guys that I'm competing against in the series have been there is the trucks and have their notes from last year and the years before. They're not intimidated by me or by anyone else that they think might know the track a little bit better. It's going to come down to the team that can best adjust their truck and qualify up front. Track position is very important. I know the important things to do but so do a lot of other competitors. I'm not guaranteeing anything. I'm just going there with the same attitude that I take to every race and that is to do the very best that I can and if it's a win, fantastic. If it's a top five, I'll be very happy. I want to get in the top 10 in points and I'd like to win a race this year and maybe a place like New Hampshire will give me a better chance than a place that I haven't seen before. I'm going there very optimistic but I have to be a realist too."