Skinner, Sprague - Toyota teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: For both of you, both of you are obviously champions, but why is it so hard in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to repeat as champions? We've never seen that happen. MIKE SKINNER: Jack has. JACK SPRAGUE: ...

Continued from part 1

Q: For both of you, both of you are obviously champions, but why is it so hard in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to repeat as champions? We've never seen that happen.


JACK SPRAGUE: Not back-to-back. I have every other year. I think it's because it's so competitive. If you look, I don't think repeat champions in any of these divisions is too common.

You know, it's very difficult to do. There's a lot of, like I said before, a lot of great race teams and great drivers in this series, and a lot of it is based -- I hate to use the word luck because I feel like you make your own luck to an extent, but Mike was right, he's had so many races won in the last couple years to not win, and one of them he was leading at Texas and caught in the wind.

So many things can happen that can change the whole day, and it's not the fastest truck wins because very seldom the fastest truck wins the race. This very seldom happens.

I was able to win Martinsville last fall and I felt like I was the fastest truck. But I very easily couldn't have won that race, too.

I think you've just got to eliminate all the problems you can. We had problem in Atlanta with a freak deal with a shifter that should have never hung up in its life, it was designed not to hang up, and it hung up. You have to eliminate the bad days, and we were three races in and we had one bad day. But it wasn't catastrophic, it was just not cool. So far Mike has not had a bad day, and hopefully he won't.

That's the things that win championships, you don't have to - (David) Reutimann finished third last year in the points and never won a race. You don't have to win these races. Don't get me wrong, we all want to win. But you have to eliminate the bad days as much as possible. Luck has a lot to do with that.

You know, finally Mike is running like he always has. He's not all of a sudden running good, he's been running good. It's just things aren't going against him. I'm not going to say they're going for him, but they're not going against him, which has enabled him to win the last two races.

When you get on a wave like that, it's almost like you can't screw up. When you get off the wave, you can't do anything right. I've been on both sides of it. As great as one side is, it's just horrific how bad the other side is. You kind of go along and do the best you can and do in your heart what you know is right, and sooner or later it comes back to you.

MIKE SKINNER: That's kind of funny because Jack and I were just talking about this last week. It is so true. You don't do anything different. You do the very best you can do every time you go out there. It just -- the cards fall where they may, and things happen the way they're going to happen.

Like Jack said, what you've got to have in this deal is when you have a bad day, it needs to be 15th, not 35th. Unfortunately for me, several of the times we had bad luck or mechanical failures or we had some suspension problems last year a couple of times, man, we were 32nd or 33rd, 35th, whatever. When you can take those days and turn them into is 12th or 15th place finishes, at the end of the year when all the points are added up you're still in the hunt.

Q: Two questions, and you can take your choice which one wants to answer which one, just the first question is with Toyota dominating the series, basically winning one out of almost every three Craftsman Truck starts since you've been in it, is there a concern on your part that people might stop watching because they feel like it's going to be a Toyota walkover, or do you feel like there's a parity with all the makes that can keep people attracted and draw them into the quality of racing rather than the makes?

JACK SPRAGUE: I think the biggest thing is you have to realize -- don't get me wrong, Toyota is awesome. Don't get me wrong, these guys work hard, we've got great horsepower, they live and breathe racing, and they've given us great pieces to race with.

But along with that, NASCAR has made sure that these trucks are so even, I'm not going to say they're as close as the COT car because those things are unbelievably even. But NASCAR has made these trucks so even that the only difference in these trucks manufacturer to manufacturer is the nosepiece and the tail. Everything else is identical.

And actually I think the reason -- I know the reason that you're seeing what you're seeing and the dominance of it, you have to look at the drivers that are driving and the teams that own these Toyotas. Toyota came in here, and within a couple years has positioned themselves with great race teams and great drivers, and that's the reason you're seeing what you're seeing.

I'm not saying Hornaday can't drive, because he's right there third in points or wherever he's at, in a Chevrolet. But you also have to look at the champions and the Cup drivers, former Cup drivers that are in these Toyotas, and that's where you're getting your differences.

Q: The second question, since we're talking about Cup, as well, do you see like the initial struggles by Toyota on the Cup side as just as normal? How long do you think it's going to be before they really start to see some consistent results and kind of basing that maybe off of what's happened in the Truck Series?

MIKE SKINNER: I think the same reason you're seeing the success with the trucks is the same reason you're not seeing the big success right away, anyway, with the Cup cars.

If you look at it, right now, Dave Blaney has probably shown more promise in the Cup program than any other driver out there as far as showing promise about being competitive. It's about the teams.

All those teams except for the CAT car are startup teams. There's not really any established race teams who have been in this sport and been in this business for a long time with a lot of depth in their program.

As these guys get more depth in their program, they'll get better and better and better -- all of them. But right now, it's -- you say Toyotas dominate; well, it's the same people and the same mentality that's building those Cup cars that's building these trucks.

We're racing against the same guys; we're racing against Childress engines, they're racing against Childress engines; Yates engines; Roush Fenway, whatever, it's all -- we're racing against the same people they are.

So it's just a matter of time for these race teams to get the depth in their programs to compete at the Cup level, and the Cup level is definitely up several notches from where we're at in the trucks. But there's just more and more.

We talked earlier about when Jack (Sprague) and (Ron) Hornaday all started in this deal, there was five or six guys that could win a race. Now there's 15 or 20. In the Cup Series there's probably 35. So it's just that much more tough.

Q: Do you think they can break through this season?

MIKE SKINNER: They could win a race this year. I think anybody that makes a Nextel Cup race can win a race. Is it likely they're going to go out and dominate and run and be as competitive as the trucks are? No, they're not going to be as competitive as the trucks are. If you think about it, this is our fourth year in the trucks.

When Toyota is in there for four years, they will have either gotten their current race teams established with the depth it's going to take to be competitive or they'll have lined themselves with the team that's capable of doing that.

Q: With so much emphasis on the young guys over on the Cup side, how gratifying is it as veteran drivers to still be considered drivers to beat in the Truck Series?

JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I think this series has a lot of diversity. I think you have the veteran drivers, I think you have the young drivers that are trying to get to where they can hopefully one day run the Nextel Cup Series, and I think you have a middle ground there where there's guys that are not really sure what they want to do but are good drivers.

You know, I think -- I just think that's the way this series is and I think that's what makes the series so cool is we have Mike and myself and Hornaday and (Ted) Musgrave and (Dennis) Setzer and we had Bobby Hamilton, and it's not necessarily an age thing as much as on the Cup side right now they're so driven on getting these 20-year-olds, 18-year-olds in these cars, and that's just their mentality at this point.

I remember when I was coming up through the ranks and trying to do that and I was in my mid-20s they didn't want to touch anyone that young. They wanted 35- to 40-year-old drivers. I think it just goes in cycles and I completely missed the whole thing (laughter).

I think that's the way it goes. You know, being 45 or 50 or 40 years old, it doesn't mean you can't win anymore. That's obvious. All the guys top four or five in points are 42 or plus. I think I'm the youngest one. Todd is 43 and Mike is a little older and Ron is a little older. We're still way capable of doing what we need to do and probably smarter race car drivers than we ever have been. I think I am and I think all of us are.

Q: Mike, do you mind elaborating on that?

MIKE SKINNER: I'd love to. I'm kind of over the young guns deal because I'm an old guy. But it seemed like a few years ago if you were old enough to shave, you were almost too old to get a Nextel Cup ride. Like Jack said, we missed it. We came in, we didn't have enough experience. Then the next thing you know you've got the experience, you're too old.

That is going away. It's a wave, and it's a matter -- at the end of the day, people are going to want who can get it done. I think what happens is if you want a long-term relationship with a sponsor, you don't want to put a driver in there with four or five years left in his career. You want to put a guy in there with 15 or 20 years left in his career so he can give you years and years of that service as far as the brand loyalty and the whole thing behind the sponsorship.

As far as too old to get it done, aw, I am probably -- I'm very weird about this. I'm a huge Kyle Busch fan, and we just hit it off, we get along good, we race hard on the racetrack. I was so happy to see him win Bristol. But put Jack in that 5 car, put Hornaday in their 5 car, they're going to run up front. It's a lot to do with the equipment that these guys are in.

And when the young guns deal came along, they weren't driving for the back market teams like it used to be. They were driving for Richard Childress and Robert Yates and Jack Roush, and these guys are -- Rick Hendricks, they're sticking their necks out there because they had some veterans in the organization and they could afford to roll the dice and take that chance, and they've come out on top, and that's what's made the young guns deal such a big deal.

At the end of the day, there's no substitute for youth, but there's no substitute for experience, either.

Q: Mike, just as a follow-up, do you think the sort of on-track rivalry that you and Jack and Hornaday had back at the beginning of the series, do you think that rivalry is still intact?

MIKE SKINNER: Yeah, that's funny. You've got to give us both a shot at that. You know, it's funny because back in our younger days, if you ran into Jack and you made him mad, he wouldn't talk to you for two or three months, and Hornaday and I could run into each other and go drink a beer after the race.

Now Jack and I seem to be -- we can run into each other and get over it in a couple of days, and Ron, he's just still Ron. I think Ron is always going to be Ron. I don't really know that there was ever a big rivalry to be honest with you.

Q: What about you, Jack?

JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I think the biggest thing with duels and all that in the earlier days, number one was the media, they loved it. I mean, they used it to their fullest extent, to the point of at the end of one season Hornaday and I had boxing gloves for some media deal. But I also think back in the early days all three of us were trying to become Nextel Cup drivers, and that was our goal.

And to be able to get into that series and get a quality ride, which Mike was able to do, you have to win and you have to be a bully and you have to do whatever it takes.

Now none of us are trying to get there. We're where we want to be. We're -- I certainly know I'm smarter than I was knowing that these guys are here for the same reason I am, and they're good race car drivers, I'm a good race car driver, we're going to race each other as hard as we can. The cheap shots that were taken back then, you just don't see that anymore these days. This series has come so far that this is racing like any other racing. This isn't Saturday night racing anymore.

It started out in the Saturday night racing mentality. I just think the biggest thing is back then we all wanted to be Cup drivers so bad so we took a lot of chances that we probably shouldn't have. All of us did.

Now we race each other for the most part with a great deal of respect. I certainly respect all of these guys that have been doing this for as long as I have, and actually some of the rookies I'm really impressed with. I keep saying this, but Erik Darnell, I think he's going to be a superstar. I think he's got a lot of talent and he's way beyond his years in the way he drives and handles himself. There's guys like that that are coming along that I have a lot of respect for. There's not many that I really don't.

Q: A follow-up question, Jack, not wanting to take your mind off Martinsville, but in a couple weeks you're going to be in Michigan, your home track pretty much. Mike won at his home track in California. How special would it be for you to win there in Michigan?

JACK SPRAGUE: It would be awesome for me because I've never ran good there. I have no clue why not. I just -- Johnny (Benson) won there last year, it was pretty much his home track, also. But we had other issues that we found out later, reasons why we didn't run so swell last year.

But to be honest with you, I've never hit on much there. But it would be awesome. I never dreamed I'd win at Daytona or Martinsville, and my team was able to give me a good enough truck to do that. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. It's certainly one of the places that I certainly would like to conquer and go away from there knowing why I finally did good there. Like we've said all day long in this conference, there's so many people that can win in these races that you just never know. And to go there and be able to win would be awesome.

The biggest thing, like we both stated all along, is get the Top 5 finishes, get the Top 10 finishes, make a bad day into a decent day and salvage something. That's who's going to come out in the end as your points champion, and that's what we all need to try to do.

THE MODERATOR: I want to thank everybody for participating in our teleconference this afternoon with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. Again, they'll be in action Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Mike and Jack, thanks a lot for participating.

-credit: toyota

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Mike Skinner , Jack Sprague , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Dave Blaney , Erik Darnell , Kyle Busch