NASCAR Media Conference
April 11, 2006
TRACY JUDD: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference which is in advance of Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway. Both the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series have the Easter weekend off. For those of you who will be attending the race there, will be a Raybestos Rookie press conference at Nashville Friday on 11:20 a.m. in the infield media center.
On today's teleconference we'll have two guests joining us, last year's first Nashville race winner, Reed Sorenson, along with Johnny Sauter.
Reed is one of seven drivers who is attempting to compete full-time in NASCAR Busch Series and Nextel Cup. He won this event last year from the Busch pole at Nashville registering his first career NASCAR Busch Series victory and Busch pole. He'll once again run that No. 41 Coats Dodge in this event.
Reed, talk about your NASCAR Busch Series season thus far, if you would, and if you could touch on the aspects of what it's like for you running full-time in both series.
REED SORENSON: Well, the Busch Series car hasn't been running up to par this year. We've had two engine failures this year and some other problems we've had to deal with. We feel like we haven't really done our job as far as that goes. We're really looking forward going back to Nashville and hopefully turning things around by getting a win this weekend. The team is excited about going back to a place we had success last year.
Running both series has been pretty good so far. This is I think the second weekend coming up where Nextel Cup has had a break. It's been nice so far. I haven't had too much of a problem. There's been a couple weeks where I've been going for about 14 days straight. This is one of those weeks because we're testing here in Richmond this week. It's been good so far. I've had a lot of fun. I like both the teams I'm working with. Can't wait for the rest of the year.
TRACY JUDD: We'll go to some questions from the media.
Q. How is the testing going? Is there a different feel now that you have so few out there? Is it pretty intense?
REED SORENSON: Yeah, definitely. Testing the way it is now is so much different than the way it used to be. You used to come test and there would be 10 to 15 cars at the most. You really didn't have too much to compare to others those guys that were here. Now you come to test, you got everybody to compare to. You know exactly how you are when you leave the racetrack after the test.
The track gets rubbered up just like it does race weekend. Everybody is here. Everybody brought their best stuff. It's really cool. You really know what you got. You don't have to guess. You know if you need to go back to the shop and work on some things and try to get a lot better or if you just need to get a little better or what you need to do.
The test is going really good so far for us. We've had some pretty good runs. We did a couple long runs this morning when it was cooler, closer to race conditions. Obviously tonight when the sun goes down, we're definitely going to do some long runs tonight. I think everybody will. This after lunch break going into 5:00 this afternoon will be kind of a deal where we're just going to have to waste some time because the sun is going to be out. Just have to wait till tonight to get some long runs in. We're looking forward to trying to get our car really good on 30-, 40-, 50-lap tires. We got the Busch car really good here, got some ideas to try to get the Cup car better
Q. How do you approach testing on a day like this? Some people used to think it was boring.
REED SORENSON: Yeah, it's definitely not boring, that's for sure. We got two cars going here. As a driver, on one track they're doing something to the other one trying to get it ready. We've been kind of back and forth on two different cars. We're planning on taking one to Phoenix. We're not really sure which we're going to take there yet, but we're shaking both of them down. Probably tonight we'll probably pick a car and run that one only tomorrow.
Q. For some of you young guys running in both series, is there a natural kind of instinct to concentrate more on the Cup ride than the Busch ride just because it seems to be more -- the higher-rated series?
REED SORENSON: Well, I mean, that's a tough question to answer. But I can speak for myself. I don't know about everybody else. But I try to put a hundred percent on both sides. That's hard to do. At the same time, I mean, you owe it to the Busch guys no matter if it's a lower series or whatnot. I mean, those guys are the guys I started out with and ran my rookie season with. I definitely give them all I got. I do the best job I can.
It seems like it's been harder this year to get the Busch car going than it has the Cup car. It seems like -- it almost looks like I'm putting a little more effort or the team is putting more effort in the Cup car. Those guys work just as hard. I'm going to work just as hard as well.
Q. You're doing better in your Cup operation, Bowyer and guys like that seem to be performing better in their Cup cars.
REED SORENSON: You're correct. I don't understand. It. If I could explain it to you, I would. We had two DNS's in our Busch cars. We really haven't been horrible. We haven't been great either. We've just been okay. We'd have been okay in the points if we hadn't had blown two motors. But it doesn't matter now.
The Cup car every weekend has been a little bit better than I thought it would all year. We've had really good race cars all year. I'm a little disappointed on how we're running on the Busch car. We go places and we have top 10 cars. Running the Busch races, just from last year how we ran, we'd like to be top five every weekend. That's tough to do with all the Cup guys running this year. That's just going to make us work harder. We still got a long year. We're going to keep working at it.
Q. You think drivers like yourself can concentrate on both equally?
REED SORENSON: Yeah, I think so, I mean, when you go into a race weekend, especially when you're at the same racetrack. I think when we go to different racetracks, it's definitely going to be tough to fly back and forth to some of those races. This past weekend, we were at Texas. When I'm in the Busch car, I'm worried about that car. As soon as I get out of it, I'm worried about the Cup car.
You got to try to keep two separate tracks of something in your head. You got to keep one car on one side, another car on the other, try not to mix them up. That's the tough part going back and forth in practice.
Q. When you go back to a track like Nashville where you broke the ice for winning, is that special for you? Do you feel a little more confident than you feel at other tracks?
REED SORENSON: Well, the way we ran there last year, I mean, obviously the whole team feels more confident I think going in there. I was talking to my crew chief last night. It's definitely going to be a lot tougher this year. I think the first race we won by 14 seconds or something. This year it's going to be a lot tougher.
We got a lot of good guys coming. I think Kevin Harvick is running the 21 car so you know he'll be really good. The Gibbs cars are running really good this year. We know it's going to be a lot harder this year. We just hope we have as good of a car as we did last year and hopefully we're able to battle out for a win. This is definitely the racetrack we needed to come up and turn our season around with. We're hoping that we'll be as good as we were there last year.
Q. When you have so many more Cup drivers, including yourself, veteran Cup drivers in the series, in the Busch Series, how many degrees up does it become tougher?
REED SORENSON: It's kind of strange. I mean, on Sunday you race against almost the same guys you race in the Busch race. At times you feel like in the Busch car these guys are really wearing you out and doing really good, then the next day in the Cup race you're out there and you're beating them really bad. It's sometimes backwards. Somebody will beat you really bad Saturday and Sunday you'll do that to them.
It's tough. I mean, it's tough in both series. It's definitely not easy running the Busch car when there's 10 or 15 Cup guys running every weekend. Then the Busch regulars aren't any slackers, that's for sure. I was one of them last year. I felt like everybody that runs in the Busch Series is really good. There's a lot of good equipment out there, a lot of good race car drivers.
Q. How amazed are you at how different things are now compared going into this race last year? Talk about how things have really taken off for you in the last calendar year.
REED SORENSON: I mean, everything's changed as far as obviously the racing goes, running both series now. At this point last year, I didn't really know what I was going to be doing this year. Just the way things turned out, the way things came up, I ended up running the Target car this year and also running the Discount Tire Busch car this year as well.
It's a lot different. I mean, I didn't know where I was going to be at that point last year. I was just trying to do the best job I could. It was my rookie season in Busch. I was excited to be there. Now on one side it's kind of the same thing again. I'm a rookie in Cup. I'm trying to do good, trying to earn respect, have some good finishes. On the Busch side, I feel like I'm more confident and we're hoping to get a couple more wins this year in that car.
Obviously, everything's changed. There's a lot more media obligations and things like that to do. I'm having a great time right now driving both the cars that I am. Each weekend I can't wait to get to the racetrack.
Q. You obviously took a liking to the Nashville track. How bad would you like to see them get a Cup race there? Do you think that will ever happen?
REED SORENSON: I don't know. I guess it's possible. I know Kentucky and a couple other places would like to have one, too. I just stay out of that. Wherever they make us race, it seems, you know, it doesn't matter to me because everybody's got to run on the same track. We really seemed to have good luck on concrete racetracks last year. Maybe we'll go to some more concrete racetracks.
TRACY JUDD: Reed, we appreciate you taking the time today out of your testing at Richmond. Best of luck to you at Nashville this weekend. We'll see there.
Johnny Sauter has joined us. Thank you for taking the time to join us. You're seventh in the NASCAR Busch Series points standing. After a season-opening finishing of 35th at Daytona, you've come back to finish no worse than 15th in that Double Zero Yellow Transportation Chevrolet in your last six races.
During pre-season testing here in Daytona, you felt this team, led by your crew chief Harold Holly, having Yellow Transportation follow you over to Haas CNC, had a shot at winning quite a few races and obviously challenging for the series title. What is the reason behind that optimism and do you still feel that way seven races in now?
JOHNNY SAUTER: Without a doubt. The reason the confidence change is I think I'm a lot more comfortable in myself as a race car driver. I've been around the block a time or two now, have been to these racetracks, have pretty much encountered every scenario you could come across as far as crashing, blowing tires, blowing engines.
The confidence comes from obviously Harold Holly, the success he's had as a crew chief in the NASCAR Busch Series, Haas CNC, Gene Haas, awesome, plenty of resources to work with, obviously our affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick horsepower, that never hurts anybody. It's just a total package. When you feel like you got the total package, obviously they always say when confidence is up, grip is up, and that's just the way it is.
I'm pretty confident in everything we got going on and I absolutely think we can still make a legitimate run at the title.
TRACY JUDD: Why don't we go to some questions now for Johnny Sauter.
Q. What is Harold Holly like? What has he got that's so good? A lot of people know you can driver a race car, but they know that Harold Holly has something special. What is it?
JOHNNY SAUTER: You know, it's one of those things where you see crew chiefs have their time of success I guess in any series, and maybe times sometimes it passes them by. I think Harold is tenacious enough. He always makes the comment that he races for trophies, he doesn't race for money. I've always kind of cut myself or pretended -- not pretended but always thought I was under kind of the same -- built out of the same mould, I guess.
I just got a lot of faith in Harold. I think Harold brings that out in people or his drivers. He makes them feel confident in the equipment he's bringing to the racetrack. Like I said, he's tenacious. He wants to do this week in and week out. That's what makes it fun.
Q. What are you most excited about as you head to Nashville? What do you think about that speedway?
JOHNNY SAUTER: I'm in love with concrete racetracks. I've always run well at concrete racetracks, whether it be Nashville, Dover, all those types of racetracks, I seem to adapt to. I think I finished second two or three times at Nashville Superspeedway, but never been able to pull into Victory Lane.
I always love going there. I like that it's a Busch stand-alone event. It's good for the Busch Series. It's just good for the Busch regulars to get a little bit of an opportunity to not be under the microscope of the Cup guys. They got a great racetrack out there, awesome fans, and it's definitely one of my favorite racetracks to go to throughout the course of the year.
Q. Yesterday talking to Kurt Busch, he said that he understood why Cup drivers drive in the Busch Series on a companion weekend because of more seat time. The Busch races ought to be left alone just for the Busch drivers. Can you expand on that a little bit? Do you think that's the way it should be?
JOHNNY SAUTER: Well, you know, it depends. I mean, there's pros and cons, it's a double-edged sword, I've been saying that for the last couple weeks, it seems to be the a big topic. Everybody is talking about the Busch Whackers.
At the end of the day, it is the NASCAR Busch Series, its 25th season, which is remarkable in and of itself. But the Nextel Cup guys bring a little bit of star power, a little bit of corporate money to the NASCAR Busch Series. At the end of the day, they're using it as a test. Somebody said the other day, why don't they take the points and money away from them.
At the end of the day, I think you're still going to see the Nextel Cup guys over there in the Busch Series racing. The way that testing is right now, it's a pretty good balance or a pretty good (indiscernible) to prove the balance of these cars, and these guys can learn a lot about tires and things like that. On the flipside of that, it just makes it tough for the independent guys.
That's the nature of the beast. That's what we've got to work with. You can't get ahead looking at what everybody else is doing; you got to focus on your own program and just keep your nose to the grindstone and keep going at it.
Q. You lead the Busch regulars. Everybody above you are Cup regulars. That's got to be a little special pride for you.
JOHNNY SAUTER: It's pretty cool. I mean, numbers don't lie. The way I look at it, we're still seventh in points no matter who we're racing against. We got to continue to believe in ourselves. I know Yellow Transportation believes in us and Haas CNC believes in their program. We believe we can beat the Cup guys week in and week out.
This is a new deal, me coming over there, getting to work with these new guys. We're seven races into it; we're seventh in points right now. We looked yesterday, I was at the shop, Martin Truex I think was 300 some points out of lead last year, and he was sixth in points. We're a hundred points closer to the point lead right now. That just reconfirms my belief that we can make a run for this championship.
TRACY JUDD: Johnny, to extend that point a little bit, only 52 points separates 3rd through 10th in the series standings right now. You said you're 7th. Just 16 between you and the 10th-place driver, Jamie McMurray. Do you think in your time in the Busch Series, last year it was arguably the most competitive season, what do you think about the 2006 season and the competition you've seen thus far? Is it, again, the toughest that we've seen in the NASCAR Busch Series?
JOHNNY SAUTER: Without a doubt. I think it's hands-down by far the toughest year in the series. When I first came to the series, there was your selected few teams. I always usually used to say there were 20 teams that could win on a given week. Now I actually believe there's 30 to 35 teams that can win week in and week out. Obviously that raises the bar on the competition side of everything.
As long as you feel like your team and yourself can rise to the occasion, that's what this is all about. As far as the NASCAR Busch Series, this is pretty overwhelming I think for the Busch regulars, especially the independent teams. But like I said, that's the cards we're dealt. I'm having a lot of fun with it.
TRACY JUDD: You mentioned a bit ago that you're in this thing, you're solid seventh in the points, where Martin was at this point last year. Where do you make your move for the title run? We have the stand-alone racing coming up in the middle of the summer, that's where it bit Carl Edwards a little bit last year who was attempting to run full-time in both series. Where is it that you look to make your move or with your no worse than 15 finishes in your last six, are you making it now?
JOHNNY SAUTER: I don't know if we're making that much ground right now. Kevin Harvick seems to continue to run in the top 10 every week. To beat him, we got to get our program a little bit better. We brought a new car to Texas and struggled a little bit with it. We're learning in the process. But we're still maintaining a decent finish out of it.
It's no secret. The time to make our ground up is going to be in the summer months when those guys are trying to do double duty back and forth. Milwaukee is obviously one of those racetracks I feel like I can capitalize pretty good. Another five or six races we're going to be able to capitalize.
Another area where I think we capitalize pretty big is the short tracks coming up. We have Phoenix coming up, which I always seem to run well at. Richmond, obviously. I seem to run a little bit better at the short tracks a lot of times and, you know, them are going to be our two strongholds.
TRACY JUDD: You've got two brothers running in the NASCAR Busch Series with you this year, your brothers Jay and Tim. Talk about the competition with them almost every weekend with you on the NASCAR Busch Series. Family competition, brotherly feuds, or do you help each other out?
JOHNNY SAUTER: There's a lot of brothers I think in the sport that have feuds with one another. I'm pretty close with both my brothers. I attribute Tim to making me -- putting me in a position to be where I'm at in my career. If it wasn't for the break he got me in ASA, I probably wouldn't be talking to you guys today.
I got a lot of respect for both of my brothers and the things they've accomplished in their careers. I treat them I guess on the racetrack no different than I treat anybody else. I race them as hard as I can. I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't conscious of where they were at all times, trying to look at scoreboards and things like that.
It's just one of those things that we compete against each other week in and week out and we have a lot of fun with that.
TRACY JUDD: Johnny, thanks for taking the time to join us today. Best of luck to you this weekend at Nashville.
We'd like to thank all of you for taking the time to join us today as well and wish everyone a happy Easter. Thanks, everybody.
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