Today's teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Ricky Craven (driver of the No. 99 Superchips Ford). After four starts in his first full season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Craven has three top- five finishes, and he sits...
Today's teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Ricky Craven (driver of the No. 99 Superchips Ford). After four starts in his first full season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Craven has three top- five finishes, and he sits 2nd in the points standings.
Craven and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series return to action this Saturday, April 30 at Gateway International Raceway for the Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200. The race is scheduled to start at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Q: You have come out of the gate this season on fire and seem to be knocking on the door of your first win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Talk about your first season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
RICKY CRAVEN: It's been a good start and I want to give that credit where it belongs - Roush Racing. The organization is everything that I expected perhaps even exceeded by expectations. They deserve the credit. The Superchips Ford team has done a wonderful job. They continue to improve, and I appreciate them and thankful to be racing with them. It's been a great start for us. Our concern during off-season as we looked forward to a new season and a new Series and a new opportunity was probably the first five races. I wasn't unfamiliar with the tracks, but certainly a big learning curve for all of us. The opportunity to race with Mike Beam has helped because I have a crew chief that I've raced with, had success with, and been to victory lane with in the Nextel Cup Series. So with that and the enthusiasm the team brings, it's been a great start and a great group of people to race with and I have enjoyed the season so far.
If I had a wish, and I'm going to get it -- that would be to race more than once every three weeks. The schedule is going to heat up here in May, June, July and it will be back to normal.
Q: Talk about your name being mentioned for the No. 6 Nextel Cup car once Mark Martin retires.
CRAVEN: I think it is remote to discuss any idea of me being any part of the No. 6 team next year. But having said that, I think it is a fair question because there's certainly some interest and there's been some discussion. Not really as much discussion on my end as there has been among fans and perhaps some of the media. But to be clear, that's an interest of mine. It's an interest because I have a desire to get back to Nextel Cup Series level and compete and have success. That's part of why this path I've chosen to be part of Roush Racing is so exciting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity. The fact is, I've got a job to do, and I'm excited about this opportunity and I want to capitalize on it and I don't want to make the mistake of being distracted by something else and allow that to have a negative effect on what the Superchips Ford team is doing. If we don't give 100 percent to this effort, we'll fail miserably, and I'm not interested in that happening. I'm looking forward to the remainder of the season. Maybe as we get down the road a bit it'll pop up again, and it will be more of a real discussion.
Q: Roush Racing had more than you expected. What have you discovered there and can you learn something by coming over to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series?
CRAVEN: There are a few things that have really exceeded my expectations, although they probably shouldn't have if I would have been more educated or given it more thought. First of all, the company itself is a big, strong, healthy company that has plenty of resources. I think that's obvious. Roush Racing has won the last two Nextel Cup championships with two different teams and two different drivers. I think that in itself speaks volumes. Those are the obvious things that everybody knows, and the things that aren't so obvious that surprised me is as a big company, it surprises me how efficient everything is at Roush, how organized things are. I believe that is one of the challenges as a company continues to grow and gets bigger, you lose some of that efficiency and you lose some of that personal touch with the employees. But that doesn't exist here. There is a great connection among all of the crew members, the employees and the administration. It's clear that Roush Racing takes care of its employees. It's a very good company to work for along with race for. And that fact is, there's a lot of information that's shared. That's the biggest thing. Although I shouldn't have been surprised because that's part of why I came and wanted to be a part of this, and I'm thankful that I got the opportunity. It has exceeded my expectations because prior to this, I was with a single car team for three and a half years, and I just didn't have the exposure. I didn't understand. I was getting beat by multi-car teams in 2004, and it was miserable by all measure. It was very difficult for all of us on that team last year to not perform, but now it makes more sense. This is a big strong company.
Q: What has been the easiest part of transitioning to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and what has been the most difficult part?
CRAVEN: The easiest thing for me is a couple of things. Number one -- I'm used to a more demanding schedule. So the extra time off that we've had , I've used to help better prepare myself for racing and to be a racing driver and an athlete and whatever else it is we need to do. And the race tracks themselves. Although I'm new to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, I've got several laps and miles at Daytona, California. I've got several laps at Martinsville and Atlanta, and I think that served us very well in the first four races. Not so many laps at St. Louis and Mansfield, those are the next two events. So you know, those might be the biggest challenges and the biggest surprises.
I've got to say that I was not surprised by the competition. I knew coming into this that it would be very difficult, and it is very difficult. Nobody should take this thing lightly. The Craftsman Truck Series has great balance, great depth, and has a Series has come a long way in the 10 years it has existed, and I'm proud to be part of it
Q: What have you guys done to prepare for these race at the tracks that you don't have a lot of laps at like Gateway and Mansfield?
CRAVEN: We watched the videos of last year's race over and over and over. Mansfield believe it or not is still a question mark. We had considered a number of things, but none of them really made sense or were reasonable. So we may go to South Boston or another track that we think is similar perhaps mimics Mansfield. The other thing we're going to do is we're going to take the same truck that we finished second at Martinsville with so we've got some familiarity with the Superchips Ford that I'll be driving there. I'll also use Carl Edwards and other employees at Roush Racing as a resource. I'll go to that well and get any information I can. I think the fact that John Monsam (crew chief No. 50 truck) and Mike Beam both have so much experience has helped Roush Racing's truck program a lot this year. So we'll use all of those things and try to play catch up a little bit. I think the most important part of the schedule this, however, is going to be the mile and a half race tracks. When you look up and down the 25-race schedule that we have this year, it seems clear to me that the championship will be won on those mile and a half race tracks.
Q: How good does it feel to you to be mentioned as a possible successor to Mark Martin.
CRAVEN: It is nice, but having said that, I am also a little uncomfortable with it because I have raced with Mark for quite a while. But I was watching Mark long before I got to Nextel Cup with admiration. He's one of the best, and so my focus on the 6 team right now is more about watching Mark battle for a Nextel Cup championship, one that I believe he deserves. I think that's obvious to anybody who has ever raced with him. I know that he still has the desire and ability, so I'm hoping that 2005 delivers Mark the championship that he deserves. Beyond that, it probably sounds like a stretch, but I'm not thinking much about Nextel Cup or any opportunity that might exist because again I don't want to be distracted by anything. These are great times for me right now. I'm enjoying myself. I'm enjoying the Superchips racing team, my family. Everything is really good, and I just want to capitalize on this opportunity. I know it sounds redundant, and I don't mean to be redundant to repetitive, but I want to thank Jack Roush and everybody here at Roush Racing. This is quite a company.
Q: What have you learned from other guys in the stable?
CRAVEN: An example of the fraternity if you will is having the opportunity to go to Texas. I got a call from Jack on Saturday, and Kurt wasn't feeling that well. I hopped on a plane early Sunday morning and went to Texas somewhat as a stand-by in case Kurt wasn't able to make the entire event. I had some great communication with him before the race, actually listening during the race, and then I flew home with Kurt after the Texas race. I've had that since I've been here. I like having access to other driver's opinions, perspectives, but I also like the opportunity for Mike Beam, my Superchips Ford crew chief, to communicate with other team members within Roush Racing. I just can't believe how well that works, and what an asset that is.
Q: When you do finally get to victory lane, you're driving that No. 99, have you practiced your back flips?
CRAVEN: I'm not going to try and duplicate Carl Edwards' backflips or any of the other great accomplishments he's had. I have got my own agenda along with this Superchips team, and we want to win. Every one of these events that we enter, we want to win. Bottom line, however, is that we're going to exhaust ourselves in an attempt to be Craftsman Truck Series champion in 2005 and be the championship team and that's a tall order. We've got great concern, and we are working hard to do that because gosh, I look at the teams we are competing with week in and out and I've got great respect for Bobby Hamilton, Dennis Setzer, Ron Hornaday, Ted Musgrave and Jimmy Spencer and Johnny Benson and on and on and on. I'm enjoying it, and we'll just keep battling.
Q: How did the deal with Roush come down and what were your thoughts about taking a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series ride?
CRAVEN: The first thing you got to do anytime you are in a high profile situation is to try and immune yourself from other people's opinions and how they might approach something or how they may feel or view a certain opportunity or situation. That's become easier for me as I've gotten older. As a youngster, I was impressionable and very concerned about what everyone else thought. Having said all that, when things came to a close with the 32 team last year, I was as disappointed and frustrated as anytime in my career. Very, very disappointed. The disappointment came from several angles, but in large part because we had success, we had gone to victory lane twice in the previous three years as a single car team. I scratch my head as to how we can quite be in this position, meaning where we were at in 2004. When I left PPI, I thought at 38 what opportunities exist for me? I very much wanted to compete, and I still had the hunger and desire to be a Nextel Cup race car driver, but I was not going to do that in a situation where I was going to have to work four or five years to reach my objective or my goal. I just wasn't going to sacrifice my family in terms of time away from them for the idea of being in a successful Nextel Cup situation at the age of 44, 45, 46 -- I don't think that's realistic. In fact, my opinion, and it is only my opinion, I think that trend is shifting, and it is becoming clearer and clearer to most of us that of the 43 spots that are available, they are being filled by 20 year old race car drivers or perhaps 30 year old race car drivers, but fewer and fewer 40 year old race car drivers.
Jack (Roush) gave me a ring. It was unsolicited it was just out of the blue on a Saturday afternoon, and I thought 'Holy smoke, he's going to start a sixth Cup team. This is great.' I thought a mile a minute because I have always watched Jack and admired his approach and the success he has had and all that. He asked me if I would be interested in racing in the Craftsman Truck Series with him in 2005 and with Ford, and it was very interesting because I hadn't given it a lot of consideration. Though I must say the one race I ran in 2004 in New Hampshire was a lot of fun. You cannot do this or any other job successfully without bringing in the element of fun. Jack and I agreed to meet. After spending 30 minutes with Jack, it was clear to me that this is what I wanted to do. And I can tell you the biggest reason I wanted to do this was because I obviously wanted to continue to race but I wanted to do it in an environment with an organization that had the depth and resource and really eliminate some of the distraction maybe or just challenge myself. Say 'Hey, I know this will be great equipment and great engines and great people.' So why wouldn't you do this? The decision wasn't that difficult after that. This is a Series that got my attention.
Q: Had it not been Jack Roush, had it been some other owner, would the decision have gone the other way?
CRAVEN: That's a great question and a hypothetical that I can't answer because there's so many circumstances. But I can tell you that if I didn't view it in the same respect that I viewed Roush Racing, I probably would not have done it. I have tried to be very clear from the beginning that I still have interest in Nextel Cup. I don't want to miss that opportunity. I maintain my best years are still ahead of me. I don't want to contradict myself because I made it sound like there's not a long life expectancy for 40-year-old race car drivers. I think there are exceptions to every rule, and it's always been my goal to race into my early 40s. But I won't be a mid-40s, late-40s race car driver. It's not going to happen. It doesn't interest me. But I've got a burning desire to get back to Nextel Cup, and there are races that I want to compete in and I want to win. I'd like to win Daytona 500. I want to win it as bad today as I did 10 years ago when I won rookie of the year. Without that hunger or desire, I don't have a chance. I wouldn't do it. But if none of that happens, I can assure you that this is an excellent place to race. I'm having the time of my life right now. The fact that I am having the time of my life my thwart that whole plan.
Continued in part 2