NASCAR Winston Cup Preview
Topics: Winston Cup
MODERATOR: We now have with us Ricky Rudd. A new era moving over to a Virginian team, the Wood Brothers; how is things coming together?
RICKY RUDD: It's going really good right now. We came back from Daytona, we were the second shift that went down there. Things went good. Communication was good. Cars ran pretty good. Ran really good in the draft. We had two cars that sort of surprised me, I knew we had one good car, and the other car was mediocre at best; we put them in the draft and we had already ruled out that one of them was not going to be brought back to the race track, but after drafting so well, we might have a Bud Shootout car, too. It was a good test in the fact that things went smooth, we were able to get three hours of draft practice, which to me is the top priority when we go to Daytona because few cars are going to win the pole, but you spend all winter getting ready for one or two laps. Very happy with the way things went.
Q. I often thought the idea of running these 500-mile races are physically grueling on your body to do it week in and week out. On the off-season, I know you spend a lot of time on your cars but just on your bodies, what kind of physical training do you put yourself through?
RICKY RUDD: I agree with the rest theory. That means you don't do any working out, no running, no jogging, no nothing for like two months. That's my theory and I stick to that. I had a tough winter last year; I had a back operation. It really wasn't tough but it forced me to sit down and relax a lot. This winter it doesn't seem like a winter to me. It's gone pretty good, a lot of family time. But really it's about as much a mental break or a mental rest as it is so much physical. The schedule does get hectic. It's a struggle to get eight hours a night sleep during the race season. And off-season you work hard to get eight hours but the mental rest, mental escape, so you can tackle anything that gets pretty grueling. It kind of gets pretty grueling so my deal is just clear my head as much as I can and get ready to go again.
Q. Are there things your experience can do in terms of offsetting some of the things that tend to be problems for single car teams?
RICKY RUDD: I think if it was a true single-car team in that sense where you had no help from anybody, I think experience would really help on that. Where if you put Elliot in that seat, a young guy, if he had nobody to bounce ideas off of, he doesn't really have any info to pull from -- he doesn't know if it is driving good. He has nothing to pull from. Where if you had teammates, and you are a younger driver - good example like (Ryan) Newman and Rusty (Wallace), I am sure that Ryan was able to play off of Rusty's setups when he first got going and Rusty is around a lot of years -- Ryan could -- at least he knew what a car was supposed to feel like; then he can take it and go from there. That's probably the disadvantage of being a single-car team if you have got a young driver - the Woods are a single-car team, I guess technically I bring experience in the driver seat which I can tell them the car is good or bad without having to look at a stop watch. It's not really a true single-car operation. The Roush camp is very open to these guys. We run Roush chassis. All of that information is available. So it's sort of a unique situation. Experience in this situation certainly couldn't hurt and consistency is the biggest thing these guys need. They've had a second at Daytona 500 and Darlington, but they had a lot of times where they didn't finish because of accidents and hopefully they could eliminate those problems.
Q. Ricky, after the way things played out last year, were you kind of mentally drained? How important was it for you to get a fresh start?
RICKY RUDD: I think the biggest word for last year was frustration. I can set aside differences, it was not the most pleasant situation in the world to be going through. Usually teams that don't run well or are having trouble making races or whatever, they come apart. It was kind of hard to have a team that was so rock steady. Really thought would be a Championship contender. Mathematically we were a contender up until Charlotte raceweek. Just trying to get these guys to understand hey, whatever is going to happen next year forget it, that is next year. Let's go right now and pull together. We got mathematical chances of winning the Winston Cup Championship. Whatever differences, whatever they might be outside let's go out and work on these race cars and try to win races and work as a group. That being said, a lot of that group has never be in that position to challenge for a Championship. They don't realize how few times those opportunities come along. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get it pulled together and it grew farther and farther apart. The crew chief cut a deal with Bobby Labonte. He left at the end of the season. It was by no means the most ideal circumstances at the end of the year, and I was looking for a breather. But by-golly, I was going to get through that last race and finish in the top-10. We were able to do that. It was nice to be able to put that year behind us. .
RUSTY WALLACE: There's a whole lot of optimism going into the new season with the new Dodge program going on; been in the wind tunnel, on the engines, dynos a lot; been seeing a really cool, positive result out of testing with everything we have been doing. Daytona, both the test sessions for Ryan and me went real good. We are super optimistic going into it. I'll be in Kentucky next week testing, I will be in Memphis testing. Ryan is going to be in Nashville testing. We are doing tons of testing together to get all of the information we can to start the 2003 season. Right now we are looking real good and real happy with what we are seeing.
Q. Talk about the tire situation.
RUSTY WALLACE: I think it's important for me to get the tires softened up because right now, we don't have any tire wear and it is becoming just a race where you don't put tires on, you put two tires, maybe four tires. I think it's affected the outcome of a race too many times. A lot of guys won races that didn't have the fastest car, just kind of out-guessed a couple of guys in pit strategy. I know there has been pit strategy in NASCAR forever. The biggest thing I'm campaigning for is to get the rear spoiler cut off and soften the tires. I think that would take a ton of the aero push away. I think that it will get closer racing together. I know that's the way to go. But if you don't do the tires you will get aero push. Got to have both.
Q. Even with less spoiler?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yes.
Q. Are you more comfortable now with the computer?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yes, I was a slow learner, very conservative because of the things I had done in the past, and it's hard to have a lot of success in some tracks and say okay, that's not the way you need to do it any longer. But I have been believing in the computer more and more. At the end of the year I was exclusively using it real hard. I ran real good with it - second in Phoenix we almost won. We had good runs in Homestead only to have a problem with the little wreck. Long story short we have really good engineers now. I have been used to making the calls from the seat of my pants my whole career. I definitely changed and definitely paying a lot more attention to that. And using what Ryan is doing on his test sessions to our advantage and he is doing the same in what we are doing. After Daytona was over we discussed everything each one of us had done. When both cars go to Daytona they should be identical, very close.
Q. Do you have something to prove this year because you didn't win last year?
RUSTY WALLACE: It's not that I have anything to prove. All I can tell you is going into this particular race, I have come close to winning the Daytona 500 many times and that is all that is in my mind right now; to win that big race. I would love to win that big Daytona 500. And I was in total disbelief that we didn't win last year being the way we ran. We had a good second-place finish so it didn't happen. But a real strong run. A lot of seconds. When it was all said and done we were 220 points out of the Winston Cup Championship. I don't have anything to prove. I think I have proved everything I got to prove so far in my career. I think I have won enough races that I don't really have anything else to prove. I do have things I want to do. I want to win Daytona, win the Brickyard, things like that.
Q. You talked quite a bit that you learned much more from your rookie teammate as he learned from you last year. What were you able to help him with and as he goes into his second season, what more this year you might be able to help him with?
RUSTY WALLACE: I got to tell honestly, a lot of people would think that he would have learned a ton from me. I will tell you that team has been pretty damn self-sufficient. They did so much testing. They tested a ton. And they learned so much with their test sessions that we learned a couple of things. I can't be specific about what we did, but I probably learned more from their engineering team than he learned from me because they started off with a goal in mind, and that was they are basing everything off of the computer. Basically everything off of a number and I based everything off the seat of my pants. At the end of the year I was coming closer to those guys. I'm never going to be totally confident in everything it does, but I am getting a lot of my stuff off of the computer. Computer can't sense temperature changes, tire wear, a rough racetrack, a lot of things like that. Nowadays about every single team has access to that stuff. What makes it more successful from team to team is the people you hire that can understand that information and translate it into the right springs and shocks and stuff. So like I say, he started off believing in it 100 percent. I didn't believe in it. Halfway through the year I started believed in it and then finally caught up with them. I learned more from them than they learned from me.
Q. Is there anything that you can help Ryan with in dealing with the pressure?
RUSTY WALLACE: No, he doesn't have any problems off the track. He is a real quiet fellow. He really lays the numbers down on the racetrack real hard. He doesn't have to do anything off the racetrack to enhance his popularity or performance or anything like that. Performance is going to speak for itself. He hadn't gotten into any trouble that I know of. If he did he wouldn't tell me anyhow. He has been testing his brains out. A lot of people think he has a great shot of winning the Winston Cup championship. I personally feel we both have a very good chance. We have identical cars. I feel real confident going into it.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, we are very optimistic about the fact that we can win that race again. We went to Daytona last year after a very solid test and qualified in the top-10 - was leading the 500 when we had a suspension part on the car break. We goofed around and still finished 5th. But we felt like when that race started we were going to win our second Daytona 500 in a row. I have those same feelings now as we prepare to head back to Florida for the race. The car was great in testing. We didn't see anybody that was any better than us. I know how to get around that place. I know every bump. I can shut my eyes and run a lap around it. I visualize tracks a lot. I can run a lap around it and time myself and get within a couple of tenths of what I really run. I'm in touch with the place and have a great racecar. I have always had success at plate racing even when my cars would qualify 30th, I can wind up leading and running up front. Now I happen to have one of the fastest cars, so therefore it makes perfect sense to me why we are so successful there.
Q. I know you are looking forward to going back to Daytona. But in my own backyard at Martinsville Speedway, with the improvements they have done, has that enhanced your fondness for the short tracks?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We love Martinsville. It's so important that NASCAR Winston Cup Racing offers diversity in the schedule. It's cool to see the cars going around Talladega and Daytona in packs of 40. It's cool seeing us turn left and right out in California, jumping curbs on the road courses. Another very important package are the short tracks, and nothing is more fun to me than racing at Martinsville. The changes that Rusty, I believe, suggested that they made last year were interesting; that's why every time he talks about his soft tire and spoiler I scratch my head because last time he came up with an idea it didn't turn out right. Or it didn't look like it was going to turn out right. But in hindsight -- looking back, it was perfect. What it did, it kept everybody from lining up and running around the bottom of the race track and being in the line, you had to search around for a groove, it opened the door kind of what they did at Loudon (N.H.), I thought what they did there was a real improvement as well. All of those types of venues are real important for the Winston Cup schedule and as long as they can keep building grandstands and people continue to have an interest in going to watch, we will be there forever and I am confident of that.
Q. Kevin has to go in seven minutes. A question for Kevin.
KEVIN HARVICK: I'm not telling anybody anything. We are going to race and do the things we are going to do. I'm going back to racing Busch cars and trucks and IROC and all the things that I like to do. Last year they talked me out of it, and I wound up -- we struggled, we got in trouble. I'm going to go back and do what I like to do and race the car and enjoy myself and enjoy everything around it. If we make expectations people eat us up if we don't live up to it.
Q. Ryan Newman, a great year last year, what more can you expect for a rookie season, great expectations for the 2003 season.
RYAN NEWMAN: If you say so. We look forward to a bigger and better year. I guess the biggest thing for me, the first time around on some of the racetracks, and getting experience. We have to figure out shocks, springs, combinations, things like that. Hopefully those will be the biggest things to propel us to being a better team and a better performer in 2003.
Q. Kevin, you seem a little aggravated. Did you not have fun last year? Was it not a fun year for you? Were you not racing the way you wanted to race, is that the reason why you wanted to do so many different things?
KEVIN HARVICK: Don't get me wrong, I put myself in that position. It's tough to race with one arm behind your back when everybody is racing as hard as they can. Like I say, I put myself in that spot. Those are the things that you have to deal with when you put yourself in a situation. If we get beat this year we have tried and everybody has stepped up to the plate and made things better and really worked on a lot of different things to try to make ourselves better. Heck, we still might go out and get our butts kicked because everybody else is trying to do the same thing. We just go out and do the things that we need to do and hopefully things come together. It can't be any worse. Well, it could always get worse, but shouldn't be as bad as it was last year.
Q. Ryan, you and Jimmy represented yourselves extremely well as rookies last year.
RYAN NEWMAN: One of the biggest things for us was our teammates first of all. We had a lot of respect from them and other drivers because of our teammates. At the same time, we had a lot of respect for our positions and our jobs, and we didn't want to make any mistakes. We had a lot of, I won't say pressure, but a lot of expectations put on us by a lot of people, and at that time I felt we needed to deliver.
Q. For Michael and Kevin, racing Busch Grand National schedule the same weekend as Winston Cup, is that a positive thing? Is it a business thing have you to do both of those? Michael you seem to enjoy promoting your current sponsor on TV. Is it more of a business thing or fun or an advantage?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it helps. I mean, it gets you in the groove before everything gets going. It really just helps you in that regard more than it does anything. For me it's more something that keeps me going during the weekend. That's why we are going to plan on racing 70 some times this year, just go out and race. That's what I like to do; that's what I've done to this point. Everybody says, what if I get hurt? You can get hurt walking across the road. I enjoy being in a race car, that's what my fans like and that's what I like and that's what Richard likes, I think. So we are going to go out and do that.
RYAN NEWMAN: For me, looking at the numbers, optimizing our wins. We had 14 top-5 finishes and one win. Not to be greedy, but we would like to do better than that. The other thing more importantly was the DNFs we had, the engine failures. We had one or two crashes all year and the engine failures were one of the things that really hurt us.
Q. Michael will answer the question about driving in the Busch Series, do you enjoy it?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Yes, it's not a hindrance at all. You get track time whether you are 20 or 40 it's an advantage to have track time for the weekend to see what the tires are like and how the surface matches up to the tires. I like getting that opportunity. Plus I have just really enjoyed owning my team. Arrons is more than my sponsor, they are kind of a partner, we make decisions together. It's opened my eyes a lot to the business and what it takes to be successful and what are some of the key aspects of building a team capable of winning. I think I figured those things out now. My team comes from just average to a team that you are going to have to beat every week. Those are good things for me. It's been a positive experience being a part of the Busch Series. I never got that opportunity when I was coming up to race Busch.
Q. Michael, you tested very well at Daytona. How much difference is it from testing to when you are going to go back three weeks from now to race for real?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We think -- I think we were real conservative during the test and yet we were one of the top-5 or 6 fastest cars. We are very optimistic that we will be fine. It always changes. There will be guys that you saw up top that might have trouble repeating and there will be some guys that you did not even hear from during the test that might sit on the pole. So it will definitely change. We feel like we were consistently and steadily up top-5 car in testing, and we feel we can be that going back. It's really not that random. Everything is so computerized these days, and all of the data that you collect, you are able to pretty much predict where you are at and what you are going to do. It's not like a few years ago where you saw things out in leftfield because these days everything is totally tracked and registered and filed and torn a part and reduced, you can't imagine the technicality that's involved in racing at Talladega and Daytona.
Q. Michael, you have been around racing for a long time, and you saw Kevin up there seem a little bit on edge, is that the pitfalls of being a young guy with a strong team and not living up to the expectations?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Did you see the guy up next to me that wasn't on edge? It's individuals. Everybody tries to group things -- put everything into groups, the young guys, the old guys, the guys that have a lot of pressure and the guys that don't. Everybody handles what they are loaded up with differently. And Kevin just had a little bit of trouble handling all that was put on his plate for a while. I think he has probably come out the other end of it. But Ryan and Jimmie Johnson got a lot put on their plate and they handled it perfect. They are just as calm and cool as they have ever been. It's unfair to say that the pressure that's put on the young drivers with expecting to succeed or whatever you said, it's unfair to use that generality as an answer to a question. It's just individuals trying to figure out a way; not only to win races but to scratch out a living, make their wives happy and be able to look in the mirror and smile. And Kevin has had some trouble with NASCAR and working this stuff out, but I bet you he is a better person today because of it and he will be -- he is still a great racecar driver. He was so successful in 2001 and then this year he wasn't. He can jump and win the Championship this year. I believe that. I believe it's how individuals handle what they're presented. Like I went over 462. I don't know what that means. It's a long time.
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