Skinner, Sprague - Toyota teleconference, part 1

TOYOTA CRAFTSMAN TELECONFERENCE MIKE SKINNER AND JACK SPRAGUE MARCH 29, 2007 THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. Mike is the driver of the No. 5 Toyota ...

MARCH 29, 2007

THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. Mike is the driver of the No. 5 Toyota Tundra for Bill Davis Racing, and he has won the two most recent Craftsman Truck Series races in Atlanta and California.

Jack is the driver of the No. 60 Con-way Freight Tundra for Wyler Racing, and he won the Daytona season opener. Mike currently leads the series point standings and Jack is fourth, and they're both getting ready for the next Craftsman Truck Series race on the schedule, which is the Kroger 250 this Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

To start out I'll ask a question to both Mike and Jack and then we'll open it up to questions from everyone. Mike, can you talk a little bit about your strong start to the season, currently leading the point standings and winning the two most recent races.

MIKE SKINNER: It's been awesome so far. We won two races but Jack won the big race. Daytona is a great place to win. Actually there's no place that's bad to win. We've had a really, really good start so far, and our Tundra is running really, really well. We're excited about it. We feel good about it so far. Awfully early, though.

THE MODERATOR: And Jack, last October you won the race at Martinsville. Can you talk a little bit about that win and what it meant to win a race at Martinsville?

JACK SPRAGUE: Well, it was huge. I never thought I'd win at Martinsville, a place that I've ran decent at, but Tony (Furr, crew chief) and the guys gave me such a great truck, and I was able to get done with it.

My hats off to the guys; they've built great trucks all along. And to win Martinsville, center pole, to win Martinsville was huge, and then to come back and win at Daytona, another place I never dreamed I'd be able to win at. The guys have just worked really hard.

I've got a great race team and Tony has assembled some great people. It's shown. We've ran really good all year long, (in the first) three races.

Unfortunately we had a little bit of shifter trouble in Atlanta, which kept us from a Top 5 finish. I certainly didn't have a truck to beat Mike (Skinner) or Todd (Bodine), but I was third in a fifth place truck, which would have been a great run. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but we're still in great shape and the guys are still doing a great job and we're running really well.

Q: For both of you, I was talking to a Cup Series competitor the other day who said the COT should be called the DLT, "Drives Like a Truck." A lot of people are saying the Truck Series racing is the best racing we're watching. Can you guys both comment on that, not in the form we've always bragged about truck racing but compare it to the other series right now?

MIKE SKINNER: I've actually had the pleasure to drive a COT car, and it is very, very much like a truck. The trucks are exciting for a number of reasons. One is the aerodynamic package. Obviously they knock a big hole in the air. We've got a lot of downforce.

I think Jack and I were there way back in the beginning of the Truck Series, and they were a lot slicker on the front ends and they probably had less drag than they have now. But they didn't have near the downforce they have now.

So it's made for good racing. But the Car of Tomorrow I think if NASCAR can get the excitement that's built into the Craftsman Truck Series races on Sunday for the length of the race, the race on Sunday, they're going to have a heck of a show.

Q: Do you think that it drives like a truck, very much so, Jack?

JACK SPRAGUE: I haven't driven one, so Mike is probably a whole lot better person to ask that question to. I think by looking at them, they're certainly a whole lot closer to a truck than they were, and I think it's pretty much taken the aerodynamics out of the hands of the fabricators because there's no wiggle room on the cars, and NASCAR is not allowing any.

I think putting it all back into the drivers' and the crew chiefs' hands and the mechanics' hands more so on the aero side of it, which apparently has worked really well for the trucks. I think once the growing pains of getting through tech and things of that nature get over with, I think it's going to be some pretty -- it's already been great racing, but I think it's going to be a lot easier on the teams.

Q: This question is for both Mike and Jack. The two of you guys along with Ron Hornaday established yourselves as the drivers to beat in this series not long after it was founded. All three of you kind of left for a time and came back, now you're sitting 1, 2, 4 in the points standings. In your opinion has the Truck Series almost come full circle with you guys being back on top, and what's it like knowing you may be racing each other for the Championship?

MIKE SKINNER: I'll tell you, it certainly has for me. We have -- we started out in the Truck Series, and we had a little success, as well as Jack and Ron. I think we all three can probably answer this question close to the same.

But you go on, everybody wants to be in the Nextel Cup Series if you're in the late model stock series, and the Truck Series is definitely a steppingstone to that. Once you get there, if you're fortunate enough to have the success of a Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon or somebody like that, it's wonderful.

But sometimes the rides just don't come for you, and for myself anyway, I got hurt in my career, and it set me back a couple of years. Then the next thing you know, those rides aren't out there for you like they were to start with.

You know, for me it's the place to be, and Jack and I have talked about this several times, and we're having a lot of fun racing, and that's why we started racing to begin with.

JACK SPRAGUE: I'm pretty much right there with Mike. I mean, if you can't place yourself in a Cup car with one of the big four or five teams, then you're pretty much -- you struggle. So I had a little stint, a very little stint, a half a year where I put myself in position. I may have not, probably should have, but I just have a really good time in the Truck Series, and I've been fortunate enough to be teamed up with great race teams like now with the Wylers and Con-ways as sponsors and a bunch of great guys.

I just want to race. I'm at a point in my life, and I think probably Mike and Ron are, too, where I don't want to be gone 45 weekends a year and be doing this that hard.

But I enjoy the series. I give it 500 percent, and I think it's the coolest thing in the world that us three are fighting for this thing early on as we are along with Todd (Bodine). I think that's the way it should be.

There's a lot of great teams in this series now, a lot more competitive than it ever has been, and it gets harder every year, and to be able to race each other like they did, heck, 10, 11 years ago and still be on top, I'm pretty proud of that actually, and I have a lot of fun with these guys and they're some of the best friends I have in the world, even though we don't leave the racetrack and hang out together. When we're here, my personal feeling is I feel like they're my brothers.

I race them hard, I certainly am not going to do anything to hurt either one of them or anything intentional to hit them, but I'm going to race them hard and they're going to race me hard. I think we probably race each other with a lot more respect as we get older and farther along into this deal than we ever have, and I think that's pretty cool.

Q: Just as a follow-up, how has the series changed in both your opinions since the good old days in the mid-'90s when you guys were so strong?

MIKE SKINNER: Well, you know, the series was awfully strong -- it was new, it was fresh, and we were fortunate enough to be three of those guys that helped bring it along, along with a lot of other guys. There's too many to mention.

Then it kind of went into a lull, and then I think when -- I think the start of it was when Bobby Hamilton kind of jumped out of the Cup Series and went back, and Jack jumps out and then several other of us.

We're back home, we're having fun, but the Truck Series is very, very exciting and it's strong right now. By being exciting and having a lot of things to talk about during a race, it gives the commentators something to talk about because there's a lot of lead changes, there's a lot of things going on.

The biggest difference now is there might have been five or six of us that was racing for a win back then. Now, man, there's guys that are -- 15th place trucks can win the race nowadays.

Q: You all can stand to get a boost from Fox's broadcast this weekend in terms of -- you're kind of putting it out there in the way that you can't get on Speed. How are you really anticipating that, looking forward to that?

JACK SPRAGUE: I think obviously it's huge for the series. I mean, I think it's great for the series. As drivers, we're going to see a little bit of the ramifications of it, be it interviews and things of that nature. I think Speed does a great job for this series, but I also think being on Fox this weekend is a huge deal for this series to be on a station that everybody in the United States can get.

But I think also that the series deserves that. I think back to the last question a little bit, I think when the series started, a lot of Cup owners jumped in, they thought it was a novelty, it was kind of cute, it was different, race a pickup truck, that's kind of goofy, let's try it, and then the lull Mike talked about, a little bit of the novelty wore off the series.

And then as time went on, the caliber of owners and sponsors and drivers that are in this series now, this is a for-real deal, and I think it's perfect for the fans. I mean, if I was a race -- I am a race fan, but if I was sitting home and had to pick a race to watch, I would watch the Craftsman Truck Series because, number one, there's always a lot of action; number two, it's the perfect length. You don't necessarily have to sit there all afternoon and watch the race. They're two-, two-and-a-half-hour races, and you never know who's going to win.

As drivers we never know who's going to win. Look at Mike in California; he probably never dreamed he was going to win that race, but he was in a position he needed to be in to win it. You just never know. And Daytona, I certainly didn't know I was going to win the thing until 100 feet to go. That's the way it is a lot of times.

I think that kind of excitement obviously parlays over to the fans watching the race because they watch them because they don't know who's going to win these races. I'm very proud to be a part of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and be doing what I'm doing and I'm having a lot of fun.

Q: As a follow-up, do you think that knowing that you're on that national TV, do you think some guys might try to make it a little more exciting if you know what I mean?

JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I don't think they better mess with none of us. How can it get more exciting?

Q: Mike, can you talk a little bit about you have two wins in a row, and I guess at Martinsville you'll be going for the hat trick to win number three in a row. What will it take to accomplish that?

MIKE SKINNER: Same thing that happened in the last two, a fast truck and a lot of luck. You know, we have put ourselves in position to win, but we have had luck on our side. So many times in the past two years we've had the dominant truck, we've sat on the pole, led the most laps, been leading down the stretch, then the caution would come out and then it would be Todd or Jack or somebody else that was able to capitalize on the caution flag or another turn of events.

And the last two races I was that guy that probably was going to finish second or third. We might have been able to win Atlanta, I'm not sure, but California, we were second or third place truck. But we were in that spot and the caution came out at the right time.

You can call it luck -- you've got to be in that spot, but you also have to have that turn of events fall in the right sequence for you to be able to get to victory lane.

We're going to Martinsville with the thought in our mind, we want to get out of there with the fenders on in the Top 10 somewhere. That's the same mindset we took to Daytona, the same mindset we took to California and the same mindset we took to Atlanta.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Hamilton , Mike Skinner , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jimmie Johnson , Jack Sprague
Teams Bill Davis Racing