Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Ford Taurus, won a series-best four races in 2003 en route to a fourth-place finish in the final driver point standings and is among the preseason favorites to capture the Busch Series championship in 2004.
Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Ford Taurus, won a series-best four races in 2003 en route to a fourth-place finish in the final driver point standings and is among the preseason favorites to capture the Busch Series championship in 2004. Hamilton spoke about being a preseason favorite to win the championship and the issues surrounding the Busch Series as the season commences.
BOBBY HAMILTON, JR.-25-Team Marines Ford Taurus
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE TEAM HAS IMPROVED THE CAR SINCE THE TEST IN JANUARY?
"I guess, but we're not where we need to be at all. Qualifying is qualifying and we need a decent spot for all kinds of different reasons like pit stalls and the whole works. Right now, it's not running good. I don't know what it is. We've done all of the gear things. The body is one of the best ones that they've seen in the wind tunnel, so I don't know, it just ain't running."
HOW IS THE NEW AERO PACKAGE GOING TO AFFECT THE CARS IN THE DRAFT?
"You'll see probably one of the best races. You'll see three-, four-wide passing, it won't be riding, it will be passing. It'll be the best Busch Series race they've ever seen here."
ARE YOU CONCERNED AT ALL ABOUT RUNNING IN A TIGHTER PACK DURING THE RACE?
"The only way that they're going to learn to do it is to go out and do it. The big thing is that they've got them to where they are driving so good, so actually the cars do drive better and that gives more comfort in their hands and a little bit more stability in their steering wheel. Granted, there are some teams out there that you're iffy about, but the only way that they'll get any good at it is to go out an do it. We'll see in Happy Hour, so come back and see me after Happy Hour and I'll be able to tell you if it's going to be one of them where you're holding your breath the whole time."
THERE AR A FEW CUP DRIVERS RUNNING THE FULL BUSCH SERIES SCHEDULE THIS YEAR. IS THAT A CONCERN TO YOU?
"What do you say? I thought this was the Busch Series and that over there was the NEXTEL Cup Series. I don't like it because what's the point? I could always swallow the 15-race deal, maybe the 20-something race deal, but trying to come in and do both, that ain't cool. But, they're not going to win the championship; they're not going to take it from a Busch guy."
DOES NASCAR NEED TO ADDRESS THE FACT MORE AND MORE CUP DRIVERS ARE COMPETING IN THE BUSCH SERIES?
"You're going to have to get to that point because the Busch Series now, it's no big secret, you're making a little bit of money over here. Last year, I think our team made $1.6 million after the points fund was awarded. That's a pretty good deal through the year. Compared to two years ago, it's huge, and every year it grows. Eventually they're going to have to look at it otherwise you'll have 30 Cup teams running in the Busch Series. But then again, if they're running, it brings the fans in and it's just up to us to do what we do to them every other week - kick their butt."
DAYTONA IS THE BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR FOR THE BUSCH SERIES, BUT IS IT THE MOST IMPORTANT?
"The guys, myself, we haven't forgotten what we need to do. Everybody knows this deal at Daytona; you're just in control of yourself and not somebody ahead of you. If they have a big pile up, you get in a big pile up and there's nothing you can do about it. All you can do is keep putting as much time and effort in these cars as you do your intermediate track cars. But, Ronnie (Russell, spotter) said the best thing, you have 34 races and you can't let one of them destroy your whole season, and it's not going to. Whatever happens here happens. We want to win and we want to be at least a top-five and the best Ford, we want to lead a lap and do everything we can, but you're going to have bad races sometime or another through the year and if this is the first one then we know what We have to do in the next five to make up for this one."
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE FORD TEAMS ARE STARTING TO WORK MORE WITH ONE ANOTHER IN THE BUSCH SERIES?
"You have to because you've got one manufacturer trying to help everybody. If we all get together and share notes, we have our people we share notes with and we have people that will share their notes, but if you get us all together and throw us in a big, old barrel you're going to build a pretty good hot rod. Then all of a sudden it's just us Fords winning all of the races and that's what we want. You can tell from the teams and the crew chiefs are starting to talk a little more and figure out more stuff. We say we learned this at Daytona or we learned that at the wind tunnel, so it's getting better and it keeps on getting better the more the year goes on."
YOU ARE NOT ASSOCIATED WITH A WINSTON CUP OPERATION, BUT YOU HAVE BUILT A SUCCESSFUL ONE-CAR BUSCH SERIES OPERATION. HOW DIFFICULT OF AN OBSTACLE IS THAT TO OVERCOME?
"In all reality it has to hurt compared to the extra practice they get because we only have one car that goes to the wind tunnel, let's say, five times and they have seven teams that go five times. It has to help to be associated with the Cup deal. The cool thing that a lot of people forget is that we're not associated with any of them and we can outrun them the majority of the time. You just have to do your deal and pick the people you want to help because they help you, and go from there."
LOOKING AHEAD, WHO ARE SOME OF THE COMPETITORS THAT YOU WILL FEEL COMFORTABLE WORKING WITH IN THE DRAFT?
"Me and Hornaday worked really good with this package at Talladega. A lot of the Fords weren't down there that day so we didn't get a chance to run with them. Anybody that has run the Cup with these types of rules are the ones you want to get up and get to the front of the pack or go to the back and ride and when it's time to go you have somebody or whatever your deal is. It also depends on who you can run with. If you're just really horrible, you can't run with the best car, you have to find somebody that can pick you up two or three tenths. You can pick your friends now but it will change a million times before the checkered flag falls."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW TIRE COMPOUND?
"I can't imagine at Rockingham here soon, but here it's about like Rockingham where you put on a new set of tires and pick up two tenths. Normally it was never that bad. It's going to put it in the crew chief's hands for more handling and whoever figures that out first is going to win the majority of the races."
IS THERE A CHANCE THAT WE WILL SEE A TWO-TIRE STOP IN THE RACE?
"You might see it, but you saw what happened in the Shootout. Jeremy and all of them got wiped out because they couldn't on to it; it was too loose. It goes back to the way it was 10 years ago, kinda like Late Model tires. You're going to see four tires and it's going to make better racing. A lot of people don't think so, but it will because you won't have anybody sitting back there saving fuel and winning the race. You're going to see somebody put four on and win the race."
IF THE NEW TIRE PUTS MORE OF AN EMPHASIS ON THE DRIVER, WILL WE SEE MARK MARTIN DOMINATE THE SERIES LIKE HE DID IN THE PAST?
"It's a whole lot different than it was when he was running. Don't get me wrong, he'll be good, especially at a place like Rockingham. He's liable to go up there and clean house and win, but I don't think there will only be one guy that can run, I think there will be four or five. For instance, if Jamie runs, he's good there, we finished third the last time we were there. There's all kinds of different scenarios from the way it used to be. He may still come over here and win five or six of them, but it's going to be a little bit harder for him."
YOU EXPERIENCED YOUR BEST SEASON IN THE BUSCH SERIES LAST YEAR AND HAVE BECOME A FAVORITE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. DOES THAT CHANGE HOW YOU APPROACH EACH RACE?
"In all reality, you have to look at points, but we didn't get to where we were last year looking at points. We were just all out and whatever happened, happened. How can you go back and change that? We can't because the way we approached the end of the year was just to go out and win the race, period. If we finished third, we went back and said, 'Why couldn't we have won the race? What put us off?' You have to go back in there with that same mentality and that's what we're going to do."