NASCAR Media Conference
Ron Hornaday, Jr.
April 10, 2012
JAMYE AVRIT: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's two‑part NASCAR teleconference. We are going to open today with Ron Hornaday, Jr., driver of the No.9 Joe Denette Motorsports Chevrolet. Four‑time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Hornaday currently sits ninth in the points standings entering the inaugural Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 Sunday at Rockingham Speedway. Immediately following Ron we will be joined by NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Elliott Sadler.
Ron, coming into the race this weekend, you were one of the few NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers to have experienced racing at Rockingham Speedway, a track where you have raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. Talk about your experience racing The Rock and what it means to you to return.
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, hopefully we bring a little different tire. Back in the days, you could go about two laps and then you really had to just manhandle the tires and try to save them and everything. I heard they tire tested down there and the dropoff wasn't as much as they anticipated, so it looks like it's going to be a great race down there with Andy and everybody down at The Rock. I got to see the new victory lane and graph looks beautiful down there, the new soft wall. So I am looking forward to it.
It's pretty exciting to go back to a track which really made the NASCAR world, and I'm glad Hillenburg and everybody down there, the whole staff, got this thing going.
Q. Ron, can you talk a little bit about driving for Joe Denette? I guess he's not your conventional car owner. Can you talk about how that experience has been?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Pretty exciting. Joe is a really pumped about his race team, and it's quite an honor to drive for Joe and his whole family. They have really dedicated to racing. They put two tracks in the Camping World Truck Series, and it's an honor.
Our trucks are still built up there at KHI. We lease the shop from Kevin and DeLana and got the fabricators and got Mark Smith doing the motors and all the support from Chevrolet, so it's been a real honor to drive for him just because with Jeff Hensley and all the guys really getting the trucks prepared right.
The first two showings haven't shown how good the truck is. We spun out at Martinsville and came back through the pack a couple times and got a penalty and went to the back about three times and came back through there. If that shows anything what we have this year for the competition‑‑
Q. What's his input been? How active has he been?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: He's at the shop as much as he can be. He makes sure he follows us every week, and he just enjoys racing. He's got the No.9 on the side for Bill Elliott. He's really a big Bill Elliott fan, and he stays not only at the truck races, he stays for the Cup races where he shows up. So his involvement in racing, he wants to be a champion owner some day.
Q. Finally, had it not been for him, what might have happened to you this year after Kevin closed down?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Could never tell. Maybe I'd be washing cars or doing something; who knows.
Q. Lots of drivers talk about Rockingham as kind of a classic track. They talk about it with great memories. What makes that track so cool?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: It's just the history of the racetrack. You know, I'm not‑‑ they repaved it but they left the characteristics in it a couple years ago where it's still got the little whoop‑di‑dos on the bottom and the middle groove is pretty smooth and the top groove is really smooth. But they still use the asphalt from down there where it still wears the tires out, so you've got to really be patient and control your truck for the whole run and figure out how many sets of tires to get in and see what you've got for the race and plan that out.
It's still old Rockingham, but it's got a little narrower now where you can't run real close to the wall because of the soft wall moving in. So there will be a different groove up there.
Been down there, tested with the Gunbroker team last year and made some laps, and it's the first time I've been around the track in a truck. It's going to put some exciting racing on because with the new tires you're going to go out there wide open and then in a matter of five or six laps you're going to start to really feather the throttle and try to save the tires.
Q. Are whoop‑di‑dos bumps?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, you've always got a bump going across the racetrack whether they put a tunnel or not. This is more like a washboard effect where if you get in there and you've got new tires you can really feel it. The shocks work a lot more. I don't feel that a lot of people are going to be coiled by them because you want to get the tires to really soak up through the shocks instead of through the sidewalls of the tires. You get down into Turn 3 and 4, and you can really feel that the truck, it'll take about three or four little bounces through the corners, and as long as you're pointed all right, you can get back to the gas real hard.
Q. Do you have any kind of memories as far as like off the track at Rockingham that you can give us or anything about that track that kind of sticks out in your mind?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: All I know is it's really fast for the first ten laps, and I just didn't know how to save my tires. Yeah, it's a fun racetrack. The way they built the garage areas and getting on and off pit road, the banking, it don't show on TV but how steep the banking is and coming down off of it onto pit road. It's such a multigroove racetrack.
I had an opportunity to run for Dale with the Smith& Wesson car down there, and we were faster in both practices and they rained qualifying out, so that was kind of a bummer to us because it's probably the best car I've ever had down there and didn't get a chance to run.
Yeah, just learned a lot. I've got Ted Musgrave spotting for me because he was so good down there, and he'll be down there for the open test day where maybe he can teach me some patience and try to save these tires.
Q. Do you feel like the competition this season in the trucks race is just getting as tough as ever with all these young drivers really stepping up and having solid equipment, and is it going to just put a lot more pressure on you to be a championship contender?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Definite. What NASCAR has done with the rules and how they've got them so‑‑ the trucks so competitive and equal now with all the manufacturers, any given day anybody can win when the green flag drops, and it just shows you who's been running up front. Yeah, it's quite an honor to run for the Camping World Truck Series because you've definitely got to be on your game when you unload and be prepared, because any given day, like I said, anybody can win.
Q. With this tough start to the season you've had, do you feel like you could still mount a charge right back up the championship and give John King and the rest of the drivers a run for their money?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, I sure hope so or I wouldn't be doing it. We finished Daytona but not like we wanted, and Martinsville, we got our problems out of the way, and then what my team did there, losing the alternator and coming in and changing batteries twice and not losing a lap, that's a championship caliber team. Martinsville is just a short track, and coming over what we had problems with and learning by it, yeah, there's no reason why we can't give these guys a run for their money.
Q. You've had a win in every season in the Truck Series with obviously the exception of four. Do you feel that your experience at Rockingham and most of the other drivers' inexperience, do you think you can keep that streak going this weekend with good chances, or is there another track you have circled on your schedule that you feel is your strong point going forward?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, hopefully. We got our truck in the wind tunnel for the mile‑and‑a‑halfs, and Jeff is really excited about that. You know, Rockingham is something different to where hopefully a lot of guys been down there testing because they used it‑‑ it wasn't on the schedule last year and a lot of people were down there testing. I think the guys that went down and tire tested got a little bit of advantage right now, so hopefully we can get up to speed on the open test day and give them a run for their money on Sunday.
Q. Heading back to Rockingham, is this the kind of move that NASCAR needs to be making, taking you back to some of these great old tracks?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: I feel it is. When the Truck Series started they weren't going to go over a mile racetrack, and you see the venues that tracks have got now, to bring a Rockingham back into it, that brings the heart back to NASCAR racing because, I mean, I talked to Andy, and Andy says it's amazing how many motor homes he's going to have here and the grandstands is going to be pretty full. They really love their racing down there, and I just can't wait to put on a great show for them because this is kind of‑‑ when you used to watch it on TV and you watched the Allisons and the Pettys and everyone, it always brought up The Rock. Yeah, I can't wait to see their trophies down there.
Andy said I can't do a burnout on his new grass, but hopefully I can christen his grass for him.
Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the Joe Denette Motorsports team. You're working with Max Gresham who's a rookie, so what kind of mentoring have you provided him so far this season?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, Max is a very unique individual. He's raced a lot. He understands racing. The only thing I help him with is how to race the other drivers and when to race them and stuff like that. We went down and tested a couple times before we went to Martinsville, and he still had the old park the car way into the corner like a late model car, and I told him with the horsepower we have in the trucks, you don't need to do that.
Max is definitely a fast learner. He asks a question, he's not afraid to try it, and only good thing is both our trucks leave the shop exactly the same, so I understand what he's asking me, and hopefully I can help him with it. He's not one of these kids that thinks he's better than the rest of them. He definitely asks questions, and I really admire somebody that asks questions, even if they know the answer. He still asks the right questions.
Q. Having a lot of success in the Truck Series, is there any particular goals for this year that you want to accomplish?
RON HORNADAY, JR.: Well, I'd like to get my fifth championship, and it would be the first one ‑‑ I had the honor to give Dale Earnhardt his first championship in the Truck Series and it's been an honor with Kevin and DeLana getting their first one, so hopefully I can bring one to Joe Denette Motorsports. This is their second full season, and bringing Max aboard, it just shows how much dedication they have. These guys are just really working their guts out and bringing some beautiful trucks to th.
E track. We're still working on a major sponsor, but we've got Anderson's Maple Syrup that's been helping us out; we've got AM FM‑energy.com that's going to be on the truck all year. It's wooden pellet stove heating unit. So we're excited with everything going on. We just got to grasp at major sponsors so we can move forward a little bit more.
JAMYE AVRIT: That concludes our first portion of the teleconference.
We are now joined by Elliott Sadler, driver of the No.2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Sadler currently leads the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings and has racked up two wins, a pole and four top‑five finishes in the first five races this season. The NASCAR Nationwide Series moves to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, a track where Sadler has a strong record, including a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
Elliott, your friend Bubba Watson won the Masters this past Sunday. What was the reaction like in the Sadler household?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, it was definitely a great reaction for us. It was neat to watch somebody who is a friend of the sport, a down‑to‑earth guy, very emotional guy. It's neat how open he is with his emotions, how open he is about his faith, but just an ordinary‑Joe style of guy to win the Masters. So we were definitely pulling for him. We were all at the beach watching, and we had a lot of people in the living room watching the whole last round, of course, but especially towards the end when he made four birdies in a row and had a putt on 18 to win it and another putt again on 18 to win it and then of course the remarkable shot out of the woods on 10, which is neat.
But someone that's a race fan, a friend of NASCAR, I mean, he bought the General Lee for God's sake. I mean who my age didn't grow up a Dukes of Hazzard fan? So it's just a lot of neat, I think, similarities between he and a lot of the NASCAR people that are involved not only in the sport on the inside but also race fans, so it's neat to see somebody like that win a dream‑come‑true tournament something like the Masters. That's just like our Daytona 500.
Q. I know you're in Texas this weekend, but you're a late‑model guy at heart. You've won at Rockingham. What would it mean to you to see a good crowd at The Rock on that track sort of be revived a little bit?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I'll tell you what, I'm jealous. I'm jealous truck guys getting to run there. I was hoping they could do a good joint weekend with the Nationwide cars and the trucks. But very happy that NASCAR has made their way back to Rockingham. I really hope the fans in that area really roll out Sunday and support the Truck Series and support NASCAR. The more the fans support that track in that area and support Andy and what he's done, it's just going to help the future of that racetrack.
But I won my last Nationwide race in 1998 there until I won again here in Phoenix, so it's a pretty special place here to me. I still have the trophy from the Rockingham racetrack here in my office. It's just a neat racetrack, just one of the first places I ever went to test a Nationwide car way back in I think 1996, and it's just a place I used to go to as a fan because it's so close to home. But I just hope the fans turn out.
It's a great race with a great racetrack because the Goodyear tires wear out quickly there. It has a lot of falloff, the grooves move around a lot, just always creates some really good finishes, and hopefully they'll have another one there on Sunday.
Q. Certainly you had a fine year last year, and this year you're really off to a fast start. Could you talk about the difference between this year and last year, and was last year sort of a shakedown, get used to Nationwide again, and this year you're just off to this really good start?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, last year we did have a great season. You know, but it was the first year with this Nationwide car, and we all kind of had to learn it together, not only myself but also my crew chief Ernie Cope and also everybody at KHI. We went through some growing pains towards the beginning of the season, I felt like we got okay there at the end of the season and just missed our goal a little bit. We really wanted to win the championship and that didn't happen, but it wasn't from lack of effort. But we felt like we steadily improved as the year went on.
Fast forward to this year, I just think being on the same campus as a Cup‑affiliated team and being on the same campus with Cup teams that have so much engineering help and so much technical support, and a lot of that trickles down to our shop. Just helps our program a lot.
We're definitely off to a fast start. We're competing at a higher level this year than what we did I feel like the whole entire season last year, which is always good. We feel like as a team we're communicating together very well. We have a lot of experience on my race team. A lot of the guys on my team have been on the 29 Cup car the last couple years, so experience is always a key factor, and we feel like we're bringing really fast race cars to the track, and we're still improving. We've got better, faster stuff coming down the pipeline, but we've just got to compete at a high level week in and week out because that's what we're going to have to do to stay where we're at in the points.
Q. Do you know if you're going to get any races in the 33 Cup car?
ELLIOTT SADLER: That's a good question. Yeah, that's a good question. We're looking at it, and we're working on that. We actually thought we were going to be able to run the Texas race, and we've gotten a few other offers since the MWR stuff that went on early in the season, but we're not going to do it unless we can do it correctly and put myself in a good situation and RCR in a good situation. We just don't want to do anything halfway. We both want to be able to do it 100 percent, so we were just not able to get everything that we needed for the Texas race to go there and feel like we were going to have a shot to win the race. So we decided to wait until the stars line up a little better, not only just for me but also for RCR as a whole.
Hopefully that opportunity will come again. We've definitely got our ear to the ground and waiting for a good opportunity to come along, and hopefully if we keep running the way we're running the Nationwide cars that some more opportunities will continue to open up. So we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
Q. And also I was curious what you thought, it looks like Trevor Bayne is not running this weekend, Kenny Wallace isn't running this weekend. Especially with Trevor being somewhat close to you in the points, how do you feel about not seeing those guys in the field?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I hate it. I hate it a lot. Kenny has been a face of the Nationwide Series for a long time. He's got the most starts and he's very vocal and he really supports the Nationwide Series on and off the racetrack.
And I'll tell you what: My heart is broken for Trevor Bayne. He's just such a good guy, and I became friends with him long before he became who he was, even back where he was driving the 99 car for Michael Waltrip Racing. I was able to sit down with him a couple times, and just a great race car driver and a great kid, and it's just‑‑ times is tough right now for all teams, and we understand that, and it's hard to find sponsors. But Trevor I think still has a bright future in this sport. I think he's going to go down there and run very well in the 21 car for the remaining races that he has for that.
I just hate he's not in Nationwide Series, especially this week, because I know that once you miss that one race it's tough to overcome it, especially trying to win a championship. And he's such a good kid, man. He's just, I think, a great race car driver, too, especially a race that he won last year I think was at Texas. So this is very, I'm sure, a tough weekend for Trevor.
Q. So far this season with your two wins and the Nationwide guys really taking all the wins away from the Cup guys, what do you think the difference is from last season to this season, the competition in the Nationwide Series?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I think everybody is learning more about these cars. I think the Cup guys had a lot of experience in this style of race car for the last five or six years. A lot of Nationwide guys it was their first year in this style of car with the splitter and now the valance and stuff on the front end. The cars definitely drive a lot different, react a lot different in the race, react a lot different in traffic and aero wise. So I just think everybody has learned more about these cars this winter and we're all kind of, I think, closer on the same playing field, and I think that's why we're seeing some different winners than what we saw in the past.
You know, we were able to win two of them. Of course Ricky won one in Vegas, and then of course winning at Daytona was pretty neat with the last‑lap pass and wrecks and things like that. But I just think all the Nationwide guys have definitely been faster this year compared to last year. I think everybody is getting more and more used to this race car.
Q. How much of a boost has it been to see more Nationwide drivers winning to start off the season? Do you feel higher energy with the Nationwide regulars that they can all just go out there and take on the likes of Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards when they're on the track?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, it feels good. I'm not going to lie to you. It feels good personally when you can go out there and compete on Saturdays against a lot of the guys that win and run well on Sundays. The race we won in Phoenix, I had to outrun Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, guys that really run good at Phoenix. When I went to Bristol and won the race, I had to compete against guys like Kasey Kahne and Dale Jr. and Brad Keselowski again and Kevin Harvick, and these are all people that win and run very well on Sundays and are high in the points. So of course it feels good when you can go out there and compete with these guys in the same equipment on Saturday. It gives you a lot of confidence, feels like it gives you some momentum, gives you kind of the attitude that if you're in a good situation on Sunday that you could also run with those guys then.
So I think it's neat that the Nationwide guys are running as good as we are this year. I think it's good for everybody.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Texas this weekend because last season you had top 10s and a pole, so I assume you're very excited to be heading back to the Great American Race.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I like Texas a lot. I was actually the first person to ever drive a race car around there in 1996. I think it still had lime on the racetrack. It's always been special to me. We've always ran very, very well there in the past, a home of one of my Sprint Cup Series wins. I think the last‑ever Cup race I ever ran at Texas, I sat on the pole and ran the fastest‑ever lap time ever ran by a COT car, and that still stands today so that's pretty special. I think the last time I was there in a Nationwide car we sat on the pole there in the fall.
So to say that I like Texas is definitely understated. It's a place I look forward to. It's a place I feel like we're going to run good at and we have a chance to win even before we unload. We're taking a very good race car with us there this weekend, the same car I had at Vegas that we sat on the pole with, and hopefully we'll go there and be fast and have a good weekend.
It's a fun racetrack. It's definitely aged a lot over the last couple years, which has created some really, really good racing. The grooves really open up. You can really challenge this track, especially at nighttime, and should put on a good show for the fans there. Hopefully they'll come out and support us.
Q. Last year when we talked, you were happy to be back in Nationwide and in a situation where every time you went on the track you were able to compete for a victory. With things going so well now, are you beginning to think more about moving to Sprint again?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, if the opportunity comes, I would definitely like to be in the Sprint Cup Series again, but only if the opportunity is correct. I have been in some situations on the other side of the fence in Sprint that were just not a lot of fun to be a part of, and it's really hard to race that way. And if you don't have all the pieces to the puzzle, you're not going to compete at a high level week in and week out with these guys.
I think we're showing that we can do this and we can be competitive with the finishes that we're getting, the people that we're outrunning on Saturday, so I feel very good about that, and we'll just see where this road takes us. I would definitely like to get another shot at it with a really good race team, and we're all on the same page and everybody supporting each other. I haven't had that feeling since I drove the 38 car, and I found it again last year at KHI and of course again this year where everybody is on the same page and everybody is pulling the same direction and everybody believes in each other. It really says a lot for a race team on how good you're going to run on any given weekend, and right now we have that and it's a lot of fun, but we want to keep adding to it.
JAMYE AVRIT: Thank you, Elliott. We appreciate you taking the time to join us today.
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