HE CAN ALMOST RENT A CAR: Justin Labonte will celebrate a birthday on Saturday, Feb. 5. The driver of the No. 44 Coast Guard Chevrolet started racing on the Busch Series circuit in 1999 when he was just 18. This Saturday, he will wake up the ripe...
HE CAN ALMOST RENT A CAR: Justin Labonte will celebrate a birthday on Saturday, Feb. 5. The driver of the No. 44 Coast Guard Chevrolet started racing on the Busch Series circuit in 1999 when he was just 18. This Saturday, he will wake up the ripe old age of 24.
SO WHO WEARS THE PANTS THEN? Although he has accumulated more than $4 million in his Busch Series career (not including the nearly $12 million he's won in Cup Series), racing was not always so lucrative for Kenny Wallace. While "Herman" ran the American Speed Association circuit, his wife worked two jobs to pay the bills. "Sometimes I would sleep in the car just to save a few dollars," recalls the 1989 Busch Series Rookie of the Year. This week, Wallace is at California Speedway testing out his cars for the upcoming season. "We're trying to start the year out knowing what we have," he said Monday.
QUOTES FOLLOWING TUESDAY MORNING'S SESSION:
WES WARD (Crew Chief, Kenny Wallace, No. 22 Stacker 2 Chevrolet, ppc Racing):
"It went real good. Basically, we're just trying to learn Kenny. We were pretty close with both cars when we showed up, but we're just trying to learn what he wants, what he likes, being that this is our first year with him. We're happy with the speeds. We changed a lot: shocks, bars, springs. We did a lot of work in two days. Actually, we're done. It's lunch on the second day and we're done. We're going to get ready for Vegas. We're pretty happy. Kenny's happy, and we're excited about what the future might bring."
The No. 22 team was so pleased with their performance at California Speedway that the hauler pulled out of the garage shortly after lunch to head to Wednesday's test along with the No. 32 Trim Spa and No. 41 Discount Tires teams.
QUOTES FROM LUNCHTIME PRESS CONFERENCES:
MARTIN TRUEX, JR. (No. 8 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, Chance 2 Motorsports):
"The wind is really strong. I'm hoping the wind is hurting us because we're not running too good."
"We're just going through some stuff. We've got a car here we've had a whole lot of success with, but it's not running too good here. It seems like a lot of the stuff we're running last year doesn't seem to work on it. We've got a new car we're trying out, and it's about the same. So hopefully it's the wind that's screwing us up."
"We've got a lot to work on. We've got a lot to learn about. Hopefully, we can learn some stuff we can take to Vegas."
On being the 2004 Busch Series Champion: "It's been a lot of fun. I've done a lot of cool things being the Champion. You get to go to Florida. You get to go to New York City. But the time off seemed to go by real quick. I wish I would have had a little more, but it's time to get back to work now. I'm pretty excited about this year."
On his friendship with Dale Earnhardt Jr: "We like to do a lot of the same things. We're just good buddies. I think if I sucked as a racecar driver, we'd probably still be friends. I just wouldn't be driving for him."
"He's been good through this whole deal, telling me what to look for, what to watch out for. He's made it a lot easier on me. Obviously, he's been through it."
On racing Cup: "We're going to run seven races with one car this year. The plan is to go full-time next year."
On the younger drivers: "It just seems like over the past 10 years, they keep getting younger. I think the big thing is the sponsors. People want to put their name on a young driver."
On the West Coast swing at the beginning of the season: "I think it will be fun, as long as I don't lose my whole bank account in Vegas. I'm going to be there for like two weeks, so it could get kind of crazy. As far as the racing goes, I really like racing at California. There's a lot of cool fans out here, and the race track's been great."
PAUL MENARD (No. 11, Menards Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt, Inc.):
"We ran 14 races last year, just kind of building for this year. We're pretty excited."
"The wind's hurting us, but it's the same for everybody. Our car's good. We're just trying to get it more consistent and freed up."
On the younger drivers: "It's very sponsor-driven. That's where the TV is, the sponsors are, so that's where the drivers are."
"As long as I've been racing-I've been racing since I was 8-this is what I wanted to do. I fell in love with it at an early age, and I still am in love with it."
On DEI: "It's one big family, even though there are four racing teams under one roof. Everybody works together. Everybody's real close. There's no secrets."
On the West Coast swing to start the season: "It's pretty cold back home. It's pretty nice out here. I like it out here. I'm looking forward to going to Mexico. That's going to be a cool experience. I like racing at California. Vegas, I'll know more about it tomorrow. It's going to be a fun little swing."
MICHEL JOURDAIN, JR. (No. 10, ppc Racing):
On his move from Champ Car to NASCAR: "Of course I loved the series (Champ Car) * I was there for nine years. I was not as successful as I wanted. I had a couple of good seasons, won a few races. I really hope they succeed (Champ Car). This is my job, I love driving race cars. I'm looking to the future and looking at what NASCAR is now. I'm having a lot of fun."
"People tell me it's very hard to get into the NASCAR scene, but everyone's been great to me."
"To make the decision (to leave Champ Car) was hard. It wasn't hard to leave the series, but to come into something so new. I think it's the hardest competition in the world. I hope I do well. The risk is what made it hard."
On his transition from open wheel to stock car racing: "The last couple of years racing in Mexico I was racing cars and trucks 30-35 weekends a year. I love it. I love being behind the wheel. It's going to be harder because it becomes more like a normal job than before. I'll have a little bit less time at home but it's Ok with me."
"Right now I'm going back and forth to Mexico. We're having our first baby at the end of February. As soon as the baby is born and my wife is able to travel we're going to move to North Carolina and spend our winters in Mexico. I want to spend more time in the shop."
"Driving with a roof, it hasn't been a problem. It's not like I raced open wheel cars all my life. I raced semi trucks for three years and sports cars. The (stock) car is so much heavier and the tires are half as wide, because of that you go so much quicker.
"Of course I talked to Christian (Fittipaldi), we are good friends. He told me if I have the chance, I should take it. He's not here (stock car circuit) but it's not because of lack of talent. I don't think he had the right equipment. I think me coming with ppc, which is a stronger team with the support of Ford, I think I have the chance of making it."
On the Busch race in Mexico: "That helped me make the decision to come over. I started talking to NASCAR teams in 2002 but at that time there was no race in Mexico. Jimmy (Vasser) was telling me I should make the move and that they were looking for a good Hispanic driver. But that was why I stayed with Champ Car last year and didn't go over to the IRL * it's important for me to race in Mexico."
CHANGES, SHMANGES: With this season's rule changes igniting a frenzy of hype, drivers testing at Las Vegas and California say the practical results have not quite lived up to the hype. "It really hasn't had a dramatic effect," Mark Martin told NASCAR.com after about three hours of testing on Monday at Las Vegas. "There's been a lot of hysteria built around these changes, but I can't tell any difference. It doesn't feel any different to me."
Team Hendrick also chimed in on the topic: "We came here a little bit tight and we stayed a little bit tight," Gordon told NASCAR.com. "There maybe isn't as big a difference as we thought. We're just trying to get as much information as we can. The cars want to move around a lot more in the corner. But I felt like we were not far off of where we were last year."
"The teams are way too smart," Jimmie Johnson told NASCAR.com. "Our car has been great. I don't care what it drives like or what it handles like as long as I'm in Victory Lane."
The trial will continue as all three drivers-along with 41 other teams-will make their way to Fontana to test at California Speedway Feb. 2-3.
SO I GOT THAT GOIN' FOR ME, WHICH IS NICE: A four-sport prep athlete, Dale Jarrett earned all-conference honors in football, basketball and golf at Newton-Conover High School in North Carolina. Upon completion of his high school golf career, the University of South Carolina offered Jarrett a full golf scholarship. Had it not been for racing, he would have attempted to forge a career as a professional golfer.
HE'LL DO THE WALK, HE'LL DO THE WALK OF FAME: As a result of his win last May in the Auto Club 500, Jeff Gordon will again be inducted into California Speedway's Walk of Fame during this month's race festivities. Last May's checkered flag marks Gordon's third win at California; therefore, this month's induction will be his third into the Speedway's Walk of Fame. Fans can join Speedway officials at Gate 12 as they further imprint Gordon's legacy, placing his footprints, signature and bronze plaque-with the winning race date and his likeness-into the cement. For more information, check out www.californiaspeedway.com.
QUOTES FOLLOWING TUESDAY AFTERNOON'S PRACTICE:
Stacy Compton (No. 59, Kingsford Ford, ST Motorsports):
"I thought it went pretty good. We unloaded pretty good this morning. We lost some speed, and at the end of the day, we got it back. I was pretty happy with it. We were almost three-quarters of second faster than we were here in the fall race. Everybody looks like they're a little bit quicker. I think we're probably a lot better than we were when we were here before."
"We only spent one day out here. We've always ran so well out here."
"Here, you have to work on aero stuff. Everything you do here is aero. This place has got such long straightaways. It's a lot like a Michigan or an Indianapolis. The straightaways are so long you've got to get the cars down. You've got to get them sealed to the race track. And that's about all we worked on all day."
"We actually changed a couple noses around. We tried some different stuff. We found some things that really didn't make a lot of sense to us, but it would make us run faster. Now, we have to look at what the computer told us, figure out why it did it, and be better when we come back."
In Vegas: "Basically, we'll work on the same things. Vegas, you can work on chassis and aero. And here you can work on a little of both, but I think you lean a little more toward aero."