ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, DRIVER OF THE NO. 5 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note: Was 31st on the speed chart for final Happy Hour practice; this will be his first NASCAR race on an oval track. Press conference highlights: (ON THE PRACTICE SESSIONS...
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ, DRIVER OF THE NO. 5 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note: Was 31st on the speed chart for final Happy Hour practice; this will be his first NASCAR race on an oval track. Press conference highlights:
(ON THE PRACTICE SESSIONS AND HIS COMFORT LEVEL IN THE CAR TODAY) "I'm very excited. This is a new experience for me. I've been able to get used to more things and Jimmie Johnson has been instrumental in my getting adapted quickly to the car. We tested here for two days. We're actually doing pretty good times. This morning I felt pretty good in times of race pace. We were a little bit off but we managed to get some things sorted out toward the end (of practice). We were making a little bit too many changes. But we needed to do that to know the direction we wanted to go, so we didn't have the time on the race track that we wanted. And then in the second session, we really improved the car quite a bit. I was running basically the same pace as Jimmie (Johnson). We just managed to put in one qualifying run. That's why I didn't manage to get a good time. But this thing starts moving and you think you've got it and then you didn't get it and then you go very close to the wall. I'm starting to understand more about that. I almost brushed the wall in Turn 4 in my opening lap. So there are quite a few things to learn in qualifying trim. You have to change some things that I really don't understand. I'm asking a lot of questions. Tomorrow, we will go out 7th in the qualifying order, which is I think good. But I think we can improve tremendously from there. I feel good about my race car. I have run with some (other) cars today and I felt good. It's going to be very interesting. The biggest thing for me has been the heat. I have everything maxed out -- the air conditioning and all (laughs)."
(WHEN YOU KNOW OPEN-WHEEL CARS SO WELL, ARE YOU FRUSTRATED WHEN YOU CAN'T TELL THE CREW TO DO THIS AND DO THAT WITH A STOCK CAR?) "Yes, but in other ways I have a great team. Hendrick Motorsports is a great organization. There are a lot of guys there trying to help. Lowe's is a great sponsor. I feel they really want me to do well. As a driver, that makes a big difference. They really want to help me. I'm really not getting frustrated. I'm really enjoying my time here. I would like to be in the top five. But I know that will come with time. I managed to stay behind Carl Edwards for a few laps just to see his lines and things like that. Obviously, to be able to carry those speeds on the outside, you have to have a good entry and everything has to be working well. I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity. I'm really doing my best. I just want to finish the race. I don't want to get involved in any stupid things. They say if I finish the race in the top 20, that's pretty good. But when they told me that, I said that's pretty bad."
"If it's your first race here with no experience, that's pretty good. So that's my first goal. My second goal will be to improve that. The drivers have shown a lot of respect for what I've done and I have respect for what they've done and they've been fair with me on the race track."
(HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS TRACK?) "The consistency is very important. But the problem is we haven't made many long runs. But we're going to qualify and that's it. Here, to make changes, it takes a lot longer than our cars (open-wheel). And qualifying takes a long time. You have to cover everything. You have to warm the oil. So we were rushing a little bit toward the end just to barely get through that. I can see that set-up is so important. It's hard to catch up sometimes. But I feel comfortable with the race track. I know the track. I have tried different lines on the outside and the inside. You have to be patient. It's so easy to overheat and to kill the front tires. I've been learning a lot of that. For me, the biggest thing is just to keep cool in the car. It's hot inside. I was starting to smell like chicken legs burning. I don't have very good legs (laughs). One time I took my glove off and was resting my hand on the shifter but it was really hot. You're on top of the engine. In open-wheel racing, the engine is in the back. It gets hot there, but not as hot as this. You have to make sure you have the cover and the air conditioning. But after a while, the air conditioning is nothing. But Jimmie is making sure I am drinking a lot of water and keeping hydrated."
(HOW DIFFERENT IS IT TO GET ON AND OFF PIT ROAD IN THIS SERIES? YOUR TEAM HAS SAID YOU ARE PRETTY GOOD AT IT FOR A GUY THAT COMES FROM A SERIES OF RACING WITH A RACE CAR THAT HAS A BUTTON TO PUSH) "To me, that isn't the most strange thing to do. They want you to have a speed limit. In Mexico I was trying to tell them the speed limit and I crashed in qualifying so I started from the back. Everybody was telling me about the pace car and the speed limit. I didn't want to make a mistake but at the same time nobody was giving me any rpm (limits). That was tough. Apparently on the ovals it's better. Our (limit) was 50 or 60 miles per hour. If you were at 61, you were out. But you can see it. We have things like telemetry and our guys are watching it. Here it's very different, even to stop the car and to get through the rest to know where you are. Another tricky part is that you don't even know where your pit is until race day and you've never even been in your pit ever. So that's another weird thing. I have to be looking for the guys or I have to go out there and try to figure out where my pit is. When you have 43 cars coming, it's hard to find your place. I remember in Mexico, I was saying 'where am I?'
(ON BEING A GOOD COMMUNICATOR BACK TO HIS TEAM) "One of the things I have told them is that I make mistakes like anybody else. One day when we were testing here, I was one second and a half off the time. I said that I couldn't see and I didn't feel good because of the sun. The problem sometimes with drivers is they try to lie or make it up so they don't make mistakes. That's bad. You have to make that trust. We are humans. We all make mistakes. You have to tell them what you feel. Even if you don't feel anything, that is fine. Even today (in practice) I had a situation where I said 'I don't know.' I try to tell them as specific as I can feel from the experience that I have. I'm open to everything. Before I was driving an open wheel racer. You have to be more gentle with these cars. I'm open. I want to learn. I'm a rookie here, but I'm not a rookie. I've been racing for 23 years and I have a lot of wins. These guys are ahead of me because they have a lot experience with these cars. I'm sure if you take tough guys from here and put them in open wheel racing, they will go through that but eventually they will get it. "That's why it's so important to be with a top team like I am to be able to learn those things with top drivers."
(ON HIS RACING PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR) "This has been a different year in my life. To be honest, I have achieved a lot more success in my career than I ever dreamed. First my dream was to get in open wheel racing. Then I got there. Then it was to stay there. Then it was to win races. Then it was to own your own team, then win races with it and we did it. We have done a lot of things that I have never dreamed that I could do. I am in a fortunate position. I'm very happy to still have an opportunity like this. This year I got married and we are very happy. My father had a big surgery. There have been a lot of changes (this year) but I have been going to the races with my team. I still feel like I don't feel like right being just the owner. I still say 'get out of the car, I drive.' I feel like I needed the driving side of it. I have five races that I'm going to being running and will see if I am enjoy it. I'm not doing it for the money. I'm doing it because I like it. I like the challenge. You just have to work at it but the first thing that I have to do is enjoy it. If I can enjoy and have fun and have fun in the community, which everyone in NASCAR has been extremely nice to me, then maybe we can do it. But I really have to enjoy it first. This is going to be a good test with five races and different tracks."
(ON THE POTENTIAL OF THREE HISPANIC DRIVERS MAKING THE FIELD TOMORROW AND NASCAR'S DIVERSITY PROGRAM) "I think there will be more opportunities for Hispanic drivers and this is going to help them tremendously. Now we have the NASCAR Series in Mexico and we had the Busch race there, which was a total success. Now with the three of us here, I think it's going to create more awareness of our series in Mexico. It's definitely different than what they're used to but I'm sure they will start learning pretty quickly. The Hispanic community is very big. We have a lot of fans that have been following us for many, many years. I saw a lot of them last night at an appearance at a Lowe's store. It was nice to see them. Fans brought pictures me in '93 when I was racing. These fans are there. A lot of them don't know what we are doing but they are starting got come back. It's going to bring a lot of Hispanics here. They are very loyal. They are great fans. I think it would be a great compliment for NASCAR to have them. They have supported me all through my years and they told me that whatever I drive they will support me. That's pretty cool."
(IS THERE ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE ATMOSPHERE RACING HERE IN THE U.S. OR ARE YOU JUST ONE OF THE GUYS?) "It used to be like that in our series. We had a lot of fans here especially the years when I was racing with (Juan Pablo) Montoya. We had a lot of Colombians and a lot Mexicans and a lot of fights between them (laughs). It was cool. Obviously when we went to our country, it was huge. We still have a lot of fans coming to these races. I think what is nice here is that the atmosphere with the drivers has been great. I came today to a rookie meeting, which is funny when they tell you you're a rookie. I said hi and shook hands with everybody. I think you just have to have fun first. We may be trying to beat each other on the race track, but at the end of the day the more fun we have on the outside the better. All the years I have raced in CART and the IRL, we have a lot of good friends - Tony Kanaan and Helio (Castroneves) and all those guys. I've been able to meet a lot of good guys here. They have respect for what I have done and I respect what they've done. They know I'm in the process of learning but they know I'll be there soon."
(IS TEAM OWNERSHIP A POSSIBILITY?) "Ownership is something I don't really know much about. I can never say no. Rick Hendrick has been extremely good to me. He has been extremely a gentleman to me. He's such a nice guy. In the spare time that I've been able to meet him, he and his whole organization have been fantastic. That's why he has such a successful team. I've learned a whole lot of things from him even as an owner. Maybe things will change there. Maybe opportunity will come. Right now obviously there is nothing there. Like I said, if I like it and enjoy it and feel like I can be competitive, I may be here for a while. I'm 42 and I'm not afraid to say it but I've always kept very fit. I'm always looking at my nutrition. Last year we won three of the last five races. All those guys were at least 10 years younger than I was. My career just started a little bit later. The opportunities that I had, I had to open them because there was nothing. I was young when I started but there was nothing there for drivers so I've had to take a long time to break through but I still love to drive. I am having fun and that is the main thing."