National Hot Rod Association Media Conference
August 14, 2007
MICHAEL PADIAN: So I would like to welcome the media who have joined us for today's NHRA POWERade Series teleconference. This weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania, site of the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals, we will complete the NHRA POWERade Series 17-race regular season and set our first playoff field in this inaugural season of the Countdown of the Championship.
Joining us on today's call are the three drivers who are all within three rounds of one another for the eighth and final playoff berth in Top Fuel. Dave Grubnic in 8th place; Melanie Troxel, two points back, in 9th place; and Cory McClenathan, 50 points back in 10th place.
Still in play but not on the call on Top Fuel are Doug Herbert, who is 53 points back, and Team Kalitta teammate Doug Kalitta and Hillary Will who are 63 points back.
I'll begin with an opening statement from each of the three drivers, and then I will open it up to questions.
Dave Grubnic, we'll begin with you. You were on the call two weeks ago with us. We talked about keeping pace, making sure you stay ahead of the group that's behind you.
And at this point going into Reading, there's no room left for error, huh?
DAVE GRUBNIC: No, that plan didn't work. Melanie obviously did well, went two rounds, and caught up to us there. Two points is nothing, really, qualifying -- depending on how we qualify can change that.
So we've obviously got to get our act together. We started -- the car started to come around in qualifying there and branded, but it didn't work out for us on race day.
We definitely gotta be on our game this weekend going into Reading, so that's our plan. I'm sure we'll give it our best effort. But it is what it is.
Our goal is to obviously stay in the Countdown to the Championship, and we're going to give it our best shot, that's for sure.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Melanie, I'll go to you next. You're two points behind Dave. And you've consistently been qualifying in the top half of the field the last several races. And you picked up three points in qualifying on Dave last weekend in Brainerd. The question I have for you is how much is your team pointing to qualifying this weekend in terms of trying to position yourselves to get that last playoff berth?
MELANIE TROXEL: That's definitely one of the things we've had going for us in the past half dozen races, is that we're qualifying well. Unfortunately, we weren't going rounds on Sunday. And that's where you're going to make up the majority of the ground.
So it's great. It's definitely narrowed up that gap for us, being able to qualify well. But really for us, I mean you go out every weekend, you want to qualify in the top half of the field. That's important. And it can help you out on Sunday.
But in reality, you know, one round will wipe out whatever you've done in qualifying probably for the last five events. So, you know, it's going to be more important to go rounds on Sunday. And our destiny is in our own hands in this situation.
We can go out. And if we run well on Sunday, we've got a great chance. And I think, more importantly for me, you know, we've qualified well for the last four or five races, but hadn't gone any rounds on Sunday. And I quite honestly didn't have a ton of confidence that we could go rounds on Sunday.
I had more of the feeling that we might get lucky and go out there and put one or two round wins together and get ourselves right back in the hunt to make the Countdown. But now I feel like we've got a car that can go out and win races. I'm excited to get out there and run.
We're not going to luck into it at this point. We've figured something out. I think we've put maybe 12 runs together where we've gone down the track and made good runs; and when we've lost, it's just been because we lost good, close races. So I feel much better about our situation than I did, say, two races ago.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Third driver we have on the call with us today is Cory McClenathan. Cory, you've been lurking just outside the top 8 all season. You're as high as 9th place for three weeks, and as close as 10 points back in the middle of the regular season there. But you've never been in the top 8.
Have you worked out the scenarios in your head that would put you in the top 8 by Sunday night?
CORY McCLENATHAN: Obviously our chances are a little slimmer than Melanie's and David, definitely especially with Herbert only a few points behind me. But at the same time I think our biggest decision was that we had to change the way the team was going, with the Scott Griffin deal, and taking on a whole new car, different parts, different people working on it, new crew chief.
I mean it's a huge undertaking. So last weekend we just wanted to go in and qualify and at least get a few runs in and try to get ready for Reading. I didn't expect me to actually be in this position, to be honest with you. We weren't trying to make the top 8 as much as we were trying to get maybe a jump on next year.
So it's still exciting to be in this position. I think right now our game plan has really not changed. We need to be consistent. We need to qualify well. We need to go some rounds on Sunday if we're going to be in that top 8, be part of the points deal.
But kind of slim for us at this point. So we still are concentrating more on, let's say, being a spoiler in the deal towards the end of the season, and those top 8 cars are already placed in down to the 4 and through the rest of the season. If our car starts to step up like I think it will, you know, kind of we'll get ready for next year. But at the same time we can play the spoiler in a lot of roles.
Right now David Grubnic, he's got a great -- he's got a lot of team cars, a lot of information they can share. But even David knows that a lot of things change, drivers make a lot of difference in how cars work. Their cars can be identical but they won't always run identical.
It's just one of those deals. Melanie has had a great car here. She had a great car on Sunday. So I may be a little bit more confident if I was in that position. But right now we're trying to go A to B, not hurt any parts. We didn't hurt anything from Saturday through Sunday and that really is a plus for us.
But when it's all new, it's a lot harder to make it go A to B and not hurt anything and kind of have an idea what you're really looking at.
So we're still just -- we're trying to get the trailer wrapped today. So our focus is not exactly on the top 8, which it really should be at this point. But right now we're trying to look towards the future, the rest of the season, the next couple of years with Fram and trying to keep it together, but also still excited to be part of it.
MICHAEL PADIAN: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. This is for all three. What kind of is the approach this weekend? Just treat it like another race, not worry really what's at stake?
MELANIE TROXEL: I think that that's ideally how you should always approach it. I mean any time you go up there with thinking that you've got to make something happen, I mean I've found that you tend to make more mistakes. And if you're not going up there every race doing your absolute best to win that round, then there's something wrong.
So in theory that's what we're going to do. We're going to go up there -- like I said, I have more confidence about it, which I think will help me as a driver. It's always better as a driver when you really think you've got a good car behind you and you don't have to go out and you're not thinking about okay am I going to have to pedal this 300 feet out, this or that. I feel like the car is going to go down the track so I can focus on cutting a good light.
I think that will definitely be an advantage. But it's not going to be any different than what we do any other weekend. We'll go up, do our best every round, and the goal is to win the race on Sunday.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Dave, you've been in the middle of this almost all summer; what are your thoughts? Do you look at this differently?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Like Melanie said, we do it every weekend. Our goal is to go out and win. And every time we go up to the start line, we go up there to win. So that's already in place. So if we get the round wins and if we end up being in the top 8, then so be it; but nothing really changes. We go up there to obviously win the event and win rounds.
There may be in the back of your head, there's that thought, well, if I win the round or Melanie gets beat and so forth, that will change the whole situation around. But the primary objective is, as Melanie said, go out there and win rounds, regardless.
Q. Depending on how qualifying goes, whoever is ahead, will that affect your decision, if you have the choice for which pair of when you want to go out? Do you want to go before the other driver, or do you want to wait until he or she is done?
MICHAEL PADIAN: Dave, if you qualified higher than Melanie, were in 8th place, would you want to see her run first and wait or would you prefer to go first?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Right. That's honestly more of a crew chief question rather than a driver question. We don't get involved in the pairings and so forth. That's up to the crew chiefs. What's going to determine that, I would assume, would be the conditions and where we are placed in qualifying. Sometimes we really don't have a choice. If we end up being 8th or 9th, we have no choice and we'll end up being first pass.
So but, again, that's a crew chief question. They'll weigh out the situation. They'll look at what cars are there and track conditions and then they'll make the decisions from there. But really that's not going to matter. It's like we said before, going up there and actually getting the round win.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Melanie, did you have anything to add to that?
MELANIE TROXEL: David put it exactly right. First of all, the drivers, we don't get a choice on any of that. We're not going to have any say in it. And usually by the time the pairs ahead of you get to pick, it's narrowed down to a few choices. And I can't even imagine what different choices the crew chiefs would make if they were put in that situation where they knew that. I mean you want to win the round. So what's going to change?
If they win or lose, you still want to win the round and there's nothing more or less you can do other than go up and race your lane of the racetrack. You want to run as good as you can in your lane and not try and push it faster than the lane will take.
So that kind of stuff can't help but get in your mind a little bit. But that's kind of our job, is to keep that stuff out of your head and don't let it interfere with doing the same job that you do every week. It's just like you want consistency in the race team, that they put the car together the same way every time. We want to do the same thing: We want to go up there as a driver, have the same thoughts on the starting line, the same focus and so that kind of becomes part of the job, is to not let things like that interfere with your decision-making process.
MICHAEL PADIAN: How about you, Cory, knowing you need Dave and Melanie to go out early for you to have any chance, are you going to be watching what they do first round on Sunday?
CORY McCLENATHAN: Well, substantially, I'm kind of in the same boat they are. The crew chief's going to make that decision of lane choice. But if you have -- if you're in a situation where you're able to kind of pick what pair you're going to be, obviously Melanie with two cars over there, Kalitta with all the dragsters they have, they'll have more track data. So the earlier their cars run, the better they'll be off as far as where the track is at, the condition of it on Sunday.
So we may opt to try to get out there and run earlier if I have to run Melanie or if I have to run David, versus if it's another scenario.
So it's all going to come down to where we qualify at, how close we are and what happens there. That would play a big part in it. We may take a shot at, if I had to run David, try to go earlier, because the more cars in there stable that run, the more conditions they're going to know about that are out on the racetrack themselves.
Q. This is for David and Melanie. We're about three-quarters of the way through the season. Now with the new countdown format, the two of you are virtually in a dead heat. This has to ratchet up the pressure tremendously. I realize you know what you have to do. You have to run mistake-free and win rounds, but this has to put a lot of pressure on you. What happens if you don't make the Countdown? How does it affect you?
DAVE GRUBNIC: Again, this is the first year for this format. And when it first came out, we all had our opinions. And in all honesty I really didn't have one. It's one of those deal where we have to go try it and see how it works out, it's like. If you go try a new piece of food, you have to eat it to decide whether you like it or not.
So the world's not going to win for us. We've got supporters in Zantrex-3 and Max Tools, Techna Car, Red Line Oil, they support my team tremendously.
If we don't make it, well, it's a shame. But the position we're in right now, if we were on our old format, it doesn't look that good we'd have a shot at it anyway. So this opens it up for teams like mine right now, and it's a bonus and hopefully we'll get there.
If not, we continue as is, like if we were in the position that we were in our old points system and we go into Indy, our goal is to win Indy. So if we don't -- if we do not make into the championship, we are going to go to Indy with the intention of winning the U.S. Nationals. We'll go to every event during the course of the rest of this year with the intention of winning that event. That's the way we operate. That's what we'll do.
MICHAEL PADIAN: Melanie, give us your mood and the mood of your team going over the last couple of races and going into Reading.
MELANIE TROXEL: I think David had a great point that, you know, if we hadn't changed to this new point system, then at this time of year there wouldn't be a whole lot of excitement around points for our team. I mean, you know, being 9th in points, it would be pretty unlikely that we would come back and win the championship.
It might be the best we'd hope for is to win several races and make a big jump and get maybe get in the top 4 or something. So it has added a lot of excitement and some pressure.
It's no different than pressure in any kind of points battle that's coming down to the end like that, if you were at the end of the season and had a shot at winning the championship. So it's just happening a little earlier for us. It does add a little more excitement to our season, and hopefully we'll make it in. But if we don't, you know, life goes on.
Like David said, we probably wouldn't have had a shot at the championship with the old point system. So this gives us a little excitement this time of year, a shot to get in the top 8. If not, there's a lot of races to go to, some big races, Indy, obviously, the World Finals. And we can still have a great time this year and go out and win some races and have a good year.
We're just not going to end up with -- if we don't make the top 8, we're not going to end up with a championship or top 4 position, but there's still a lot to look forward to. And, like I said, especially for our team, I feel like we've made a lot of progress here in the last couple of races. We went to Martin, Michigan, and were able to do some testing, which is not an NHRA event, but in that off weekend between Sonoma and Brainerd, and we really figured some stuff out.
And I think that's kind of -- we'd like to make that top 8, but even if we don't, I think it's kind of exciting for our team. We feel like we've got a new lease on life and we can go out and hopefully play a big part in how the outcome of the last quarter of the season, how the races go.
Q. You both brought up a good point in that your season right now, you're in the middle of the pack and you're pretty much, in a normal format, would consider yourselves written out of a chance for the championship. But if you're in the final 8 when the points are recalculated, you actually do have a shot at winning, which is something you didn't have before. So this does make it pretty important to get in that top 8.
MELANIE TROXEL: Yeah, it's absolutely important to get in if you want a shot at the championship, which you wouldn't have had otherwise. And, yeah, I think that will make it more exciting. We're going to close up the points. I've been joking all year long saying that really the way to go at the season if you had a choice -- obviously you'd choose to win all the races if you could -- but is to come on strong at the end of the year. And last year we were really strong in the early part of the year and fell off really hard.
So I'd like to say that we planned it this way and we're coming on strong as part of our plan at this time of the year. I certainly don't think we would cut it this close if we had a choice on it. But we're excited. If we get in, we feel like we definitely have momentum and the car is running good. That's the best possible scenario for the new point system is to come on strong in the late part of the year.
So hopefully we just aren't a little too late to make that happen. But if we make it in, I think we've got a great shot.
Q. This is kind of a question everybody has mentioned, the excitement and the importance of rounds and, of course, the importance of rounds have always been there, but there's kind of the added excitement. How would you explain that to a fan, and do you think the Countdown makes it obvious that there is going to be more excitement, that the fans probably are going to get more excitement out of this than you are? Is that a possibility?
MICHAEL PADIAN: What have you noticed in the pits?
DAVE GRUBNIC: I would think, yes, at this stage, I don't want to be premature on it, but the excitement is definitely there. I made a comment on our last teleconference that you could conceivably win the championship without actually winning a race. That is possible.
And Bob Frey brought up an interesting point that in Brainerd, Bob Vandergriff, Jr., locked into the chase right now, is -- the Hunt for the Championship, excuse me, he hasn't even won a race. He could conceivably go on and win the championship. He could win the championship before he won a national event.
So it's definitely opened it up for a lot of teams. So like what we had last year with Tony Schumacher and my teammate Doug Kalitta where you've got two teams running away with it, but it's definitely not going to happen this year, not by the looks of it. From an excitement standpoint, at this stage, I definitely think it's going to be exciting.
MELANIE TROXEL: I agree, I mean last year we had some really exciting, the way the points came down at the end of the year. But if you look over the history of maybe, say, the last 10 years, I think this system would have made it a lot more exciting. So not only are you going to have an exciting last, say, four races where people are fighting it out for that championship, but I think it's added excitement even this early in the year.
Normally, this time of year, people are where they are in points. You might be having a change for the lead or something; but it can kind of be a long part of the season for us. We're tired and worn out and traveling all over the place.
I know from our standpoint, obviously, it's because we're the teams that are right there on the bubble, but it's definitely made it more exciting for us.
Q. Did you think that, for anybody, if they want to answer, do you think that the fans expected that out of the Countdown?
DAVE GRUBNIC: I think that was the initial goal of the Countdown was to lift the excitement and to get the fans behind it and everything. And as I said before, without being premature, it looks like at this stage it is and it's definitely -- well, from a personal standpoint it's made it exciting for me.
Even though Melanie, she's tied with me as far as I'm concerned, I definitely have not discounted Cory. Doug Herbert or both my teammates. Now I know for a fact that both my teammates are going into Reading to try and get in. That's their job. That's their goal.
And it is conceivable that Melanie and I could both lose first round and Cory could have a good day and go to the final, and then, boom, all of a sudden he's in or Doug Herbert or whatever.
It's even exciting from that -- anything can happen in this sport. I've seen it and I'm worried about all of them, to be quite honest with you. It's definitely exciting for me.
MICHAEL PADIAN: I want to thank Dave Grubnic, Melanie Troxel and Cory McClenathan for joining us on today's call. And of course the media as well.
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