BUSCH: Preseason Thunder: Ford - Hamilton Jr interview

Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Ford Taurus, held a brief Q&A session during the lunch break of Saturday's Busch Series test at Daytona International Speedway. Hamilton, who won a series-best four races in 2003 en route to a...

Bobby Hamilton, Jr., driver of the No. 25 Ford Taurus, held a brief Q&A session during the lunch break of Saturday's Busch Series test at Daytona International Speedway. Hamilton, who won a series-best four races in 2003 en route to a fourth-place finish in the final driver point standings, spoke about being a preseason favorite to win the championship and the impact crew chief Harold Holly had with the team's late-season success.

BOBBY HAMILTON, JR. -25-Team Marines Ford Taurus

WITH THE CHARGE YOU MADE IN THE POINT STANDINGS AT THE END OF LAST SEASON, DO YOU WISH THERE WERE A FEW MORE RACES? "Last year we do. We wish we had at least a 10th-place finish a Kansas. That would have put us right there, but that's just the way it goes. Somehow or another, it wasn't our year, but the good thing about it is we added some more people, didn't get rid of any people and built race cars identical to ones we won all the races with. If we had a year where we were close enough to win a championship, this one coming up will definitely be it."

YOU HAVE BEEN TABBED AS ONE OF THE FAVORITES TO WIN THE BUSCH SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR. DO YOU LIKE THE ROLE OF BEING THE FAVORITE? "I like it because the bottom line is you get more media attention for your sponsors, you get more media attention for yourself and team. If there's anything I've learned the last few years in the sport is that it's all mind games. When the reporters keep talking about the 25 is going to be one to beat, half of the guys are already beat before they walk in the gate because they're like, 'What about us?' They're already doubting themselves. Any time you can get in a position that we're in now, you definitely want to take advantage of it. Plus, the momentum we had, so if we can just carry half of that through the first half of the season and pick up where we left off, we'll be fine."

HOW NICE WOULD IT BE TO GET A WIN AT DAYTONA TO START OFF THE SEASON? "That would be really great, but as long as that 8 car is here, I don't think that's going to happen. Today he is out there just playing around, you can just see it, they're not even working and they pick up two tenths every time they run. You want to get out of here with the fenders on where it's less work for Talladega and then go start the season at Rockingham. To end here with a win would be great because it's the Super Bowl of our sport, like the 500 is for the NEXTEL Cup. The way it is now, a win anywhere, a win in the backyard would be fine as long as you bring home a trophy, check and points; you can count it all good."

DID YOU DO ANYTHING IN THE OFF-SEASON TO IMPROVE THE TEAM? "No, really what we did was try to make the team better. If we were lacking in any kind of position as far as at the shop, but it was all so pumped and good that we didn't want to fool with too many changes so we just went and hired some extra help. We just kind of lean on each other if you need to, but this is what we need to do, this is our goal. I guess we just got some ammo for the ammo boxes and just really for the season. We didn't make any changes as far as letting anybody go or nothing like that, no changes up in the offices. Everything is the same, and that was our goal. Everybody is happy, everybody is ready to win races and if you've got that, 50 percent of your problems are already solved."

YOUR LEVEL OF OPTIMISM SEEMS REALLY HIGH. "It has to be. With the season we had last year, and we just have so much more help. We have so much help from Robert Yates, Ford, everybody. You don't ever picture yourself in a position that I'm in because you're almost the number one contender about everywhere you go, and that's a great feeling to have. The guys feed on that. When they get to the race track, they talk the same smack as I do. They tell all of the other pit crews that they're going to stick their face in the mud and all that. They do the same thing. Everybody is really pumped up and we have to be because the minute you walk in the gate just hoping to get a top-10, you're beat. When we walk in the gate, we're here to win and nothing else."

IT SEEMED THAT THE CREW CHIEF CHANGE WITH HAROLD HOLLY LIT THE FUSE WITH THIS TEAM. IS THERE ANY MORE GROWTH LEFT IN THIS TEAM OR DID YOU PEAK LAST SEASON? "We haven't won a championship yet. The big thing that we had for us, everybody takes at least 10 to 15 races to learn each other as far as crew chief and driver because there are so many things that I like that he's not used to, or the opposite. Even with those occurring, it was still fast race cars and still like, 'I see what you're saying now.' It was still one of those communication things that if there was a little bit of a gap there you could just tack a bridge on there and walk straight across it. We had everything that we needed and through the wintertime we were talking about more cars and more ideas of what I like and what he likes. It was everything that every time that we've won a race, we've had that blend. He had that same momentum with (Jeff) Green when he was winning all the races and I had that same momentum coming up through the career, so we just kinda threw it all in there, so there's no reason to think that we peaked out. We hadn't won a championship yet. It would be different if we won two or three championships and won all of the races every year, but it's almost like alcohol, the longer it sits the better it gets."

WITH YOUR TEAM'S ASSOCIATION WITH THE MARINES, DID YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO GO OVERSEES THIS WINTER? "Well, we had a chance to, but the way that testing was and the way the scheduling was on my end, it just didn't fit, but hopefully we do enough during the year going to a lot of Marine camps and bases to show our support for those men and women."

THAT'S AN IMPORTANT TO MESSAGE TO SEND? "That's their life, and their wives and girlfriends are all tied up in that, too. They live on the base or they know when it's time to go, their husbands or wives, they're got to go. They've got to go to protect us and that's part of their life and they know that, so if we can carry a race car up there and sign autographs for two to three hours and get to blow stuff up an shoot weapons, I'm all for it."

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH YOUR DAD? DO YOU DISCUSS A LOT ABOUT THE TRACKS WHEN YOU HAVE COMPANION EVENTS WITH THE TRUCK SERIES? "We do. Mainly it's him and Harold talking more than anything. I threaten him and I say, 'If I catch on the phone too many times with Harold, I'll cut your lifeline off.' Like I said, Harold is so smart just on common sense things that we forget, and he just kinda keeps that ball rolling for you. When we're at the race track, we do our talking during the day as far as if he's over in my garage we'll talk about it, or if I'm over in his garage we'll talk about it. When we're up in the busses or whatever, it's who's going to build the next pool or who's going to do this or who's going to do that, just normal father and son stuff."

YOU HAVE A PRETTY CLOSE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FATHER. "Yeah. When we first started racing it never was a real father-and-son deal where we did a lot of hugging and telling each other that we loved each other. It was like, 'See you next week or something.' After the Adam Petty and the Earnhardt thing, that hit from both sides. Especially the Earnhardt thing, that wasn't supposed happen to Superman and it did so that really woke us up. Now every time we talk it's, 'Hey, I'm in your driveway.' 'All right. Love you, bye.' We make sure we know. The relationship has really, really grown. I'm having halfway success in the sport that I'm in and he is too, growing his truck team, and right now life is great."

YOU VIEW LAST SEASON AS 'HALFWAY SUCCESS?' "Yeah, but I haven't won a championship yet. I guess that's really the bad thing about winning four races and having the most top 10s and tied for the most top fives, there is so much more we can do. Now we know we can do it, so there's no satisfaction of being just four wins. Now we know we can do four or so at the end of the season, so why can't we do four at the beginning? You just keep building yourself up, and like I said, until you get to a point where you've won four or five championships and all of the races, then it's like, 'Well, we've done all we can do here.' But, right now there is still work to be done. Plus, it's so easy to walk out of here with your head so blown up that you can't fit out the door, but in all reality, these guys that you race against are like rattlesnakes and dart somewhere. You hear them and you see them, but you don't know where they're going to come from, so you have to be prepared the whole time and keep your game face on and walk out of here knowing that at any time you can get put in your place. Ninety-five percent of the time you do, so you just have to keep building everything up, your guys and you. You're mediocre. You won your races, you had a good year, but there's still work to do."

COMMENT ON THE AERODYNAMIC CHANGES TO THE BUSCH CARS THIS YEAR FOR THE SUPERSPEEDWAY RACES? "Man, great. Whether we go out on lap one, whatever, you have to get out and pat NASCAR on the back because (Brian) DeHart and all of his guys went down to Talladega with us and just tested. We tried different packages, different this, and you can actually pass now. You don't have to ride in line wide open all day. We even got to pass the 8 car believe it or not, so that was a change. I was smiling when I came out saying, 'I passed the 8 car.' The way that the packages are, there is a lot of throttle response, so hopefully the wrecks have gone out of the situation because you can back out and not lose positions. You can pass. If you get the right help you can go from the back all the way to the front. Just a heck of a job and heck of a decision. I'm glad they did it. I was always afraid that they didn't trust us enough to do, but now they have and they went and saw the test and enjoyed what they saw, and we enjoyed being part of it. It was like, 'Keep doing more, keep doing more,' until they got to the point where we were 14 wide at Talladega and hardly had to us the throttle and they had to bring it back a little bit. They did an excellent job and they drive like a Lincoln. If they get out and complain about this they need to go back and drive a Late Model or something because this is probably the St situation the Busch Series has ever been in."

DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR TEAM WILL BENEFIT FROM THE YATES-ROUSH COOPERATIVE EFFORT? "I'm sure we will because you're putting the two best names in the sport in one basket and giving us toys to play with. Stuff that maybe Yates didn't know that Roush did, they can combine to help run against the other competitors and we all benefit from it if you're part of the team. Like I said, with the support that Ford has been giving us and the help of the engine program as far as any kind of growth is good, and right now it's all good. We're getting more horsepower and more response as far as throttle response, so everything right now is looking as good as it has ever been."

DO YOU FEEL THAT THE FORD TEAMS ARE STARTING TO WORK MORE WITH ONE ANOTHER? "We have to, even though there's only one Ford that can win the race, it's as simple as that. There are always notes that we're going to keep in our back pocket that nobody knows that we've maybe found a tenth here and there. But, any of the major stuff that you have to go home and draw it up on paper and pick up, we always share that with everybody. Like Keller and the ppc deal, we always shared. Just everybody that is part of the family we try to help because some time or another we've been off and they've helped us and that's what we have to have beat the other manufacturers that are coming in and stepping their program up and also the ones that have been here steeping their program up. That's why they call it the Ford Camp because we're all under one big teepee. We've just got to get it together and make it work. Everybody here that they support are winners, so it's just a matter of time before it happens."

DO YOU HAVE ANY NEXTEL CUP PLANS FOR THIS SEASON? "I have no idea. I've heard we've got a new sponsor, Spwipes, and it's for eight races. It's just another opportunity to help our team grow and help us move to the NEXTEL Cup hopefully in '05 because we've done it before. We went to Kansas and really ran well and went to Atlanta and really ran well with our Busch team. Any kind of growth that we can do is good and right now we're headed that way. We have a lot of stuff happening. We just need to keep focus and that's winning the Busch championship and keeping our Ford Taurus up font."

THERE ARE A FEW MORE NEXTEL CUP DRIVES COMPETING IN THE BUSCH SERIES FULL-TIME THIS YEAR. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF DRIVES RUNNING BOTH SERIES? "I never did mind the whole 15-, 18-race deal, but if they need to come back and get seat time to run, they don't need to be in the Cup Series. It's as simple as that. This is the Busch Series, but it's a double-edged sword. You can't go and say, 'You can't run because you're running NEXTEL Cup,' but then again when you look at it from the opportunities that they have as far as resources and laps they have, they triple the laps compared to what we run. It puts them in a different category and it's really hard to beat those guys sometimes. You can sit and whine about it an say it's not fair, but then again, I'm never going to change the rules here so I mine as well be quiet about it and kick their butt as much as we can."

-ford racing-

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Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Adam Petty , Robert Yates