Infiniti Pro Series: California 100
Topics: California 100
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our second-place finisher in today's race and second place in the final Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship standings for 2005, Jeff Simmons. Jeff, why don't you tell us about your day today.
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, I mean, it was a good day. It was a hard day because Travis had a fast car. We had to kind of guess at what we were going to need for the gearing and everything today because we've been dealing with wind yesterday most of the time, then we had a pretty calm day it seemed like. I guess the wind kind of picked up some there for the race. We had a car that was good enough to win. It wasn't the fastest car out there, but I was able to push Wade away and then get a gap. I was trying to make that last lap pass. I had room on the inside. I moved town there and Wade just kind of moved down and hit me to kill the run. I almost lost it really. It was a pretty jarring hit. I'm glad I saved it and managed to hold on to second. Could have been a lot worse. It's a little gratifying to do exactly what I had to do to keep second place in the points and to have that work out right, but we certainly wanted the win today.
THE MODERATOR: Going into Milwaukee, you were 10th place in the points standings, put an incredible march on from Milwaukee to where we are sitting here today. Talk about that march to the championship standings.
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, obviously we came into the season thinking we were certainly one of the championship favorites. It was the worst half a season I think I've ever had. It was unbelievable. Nothing went right. We had mechanical problems. We had guys taking us out. I think we had two or three last-place finishes. Never want any of those. After that, Team ISI and Kenn Hardley Racing just kind of put our nose to the grindstone, started working harder, trying to make sure we didn't have those same problems. We still did have problems, but they weren't large enough to stop us from winning races and being competitive this second half. Obviously, we showed we were probably certainly a championship-capable team. It was a great run there. We won on every single track, which is something I think you need to do to show your versatility and show the team owners and everything what you're capable of doing. It was a terrible first half, and a great second half.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jeff.
Q. Was it a part of your prerace plan with Wade to work together and neutralize Travis?
JEFF SIMMONS: No. Actually halfway through that race, Wade and Travis were trying to work together to get away from me. Wade knew he didn't have to worry at all about Travis. Once a couple cars went out there, Wade knew he didn't have to worry about me either for the championship. Wade just wanted to win the race. Late in the race, I called and said, Think we can get him to work with us now? They said, Yeah, he'll work with you, when I was in second during that caution. Then I just tried to push him away, which was tough to do there for a little while. Finally we were able to do it. No, we didn't have any plans at all. Obviously, going into it, I was going to try to go out there and lead the most laps, which I was pretty confident we weren't going to be able to do. For part of it, like I said, Wade and Travis, I guess they had actually communicated and were trying to work together.
Q. Do you wish maybe you tried that pass a few laps sooner?
JEFF SIMMONS: No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, I had the pass made. It was done. We had enough of a run. If it happened two laps earlier, maybe that loss of momentum that I had there would have allowed Travis back up there and maybe he could have gotten back up by. I don't know how far back he finished. I set it up exactly how I wanted to do it. I didn't know if I was going to be able to go high or low. He left the inside. Went in there, knocked me off the track pretty much.
Q. Any damage to your car that affected you for the half lap?
JEFF SIMMONS: No, I don't think so. Obviously your tires get really dirty, which caused me to slide up the track there some coming out of four. Half of me wanted to slide up the track there, too, though.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, what is next for you?
JEFF SIMMONS: No idea. I guess a little vacation. I've been trying for a few years now to try to get up into the IndyCars. I was able to get the opportunity with Mo Nunn for the 500. One more opportunity with Patrick Racing to replace Al Unser, Jr. just looking for a full-time ride. Right now there's nothing -- there's very little talk, simply mostly rumors.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jeff. Congratulations.
JEFF SIMMONS: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by today's race winner and 2005 Menards Infiniti Pro Series champion Wade Cunningham. Also joining Wade is Brian Stewart, and Doug Hoy, team manager for Brian Stewart Racing. Today, first win ever for Brian Stewart Racing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. What a special win it is, clinching a championship. Wade, tell us about your day.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know, we were going through all the scenarios of points, if Jeff does this, if I do this, whatever happens to the points. Once the green flag dropped, I just wanted to go to the front. I just wanted to get out front and run my own race. I thought we had a pretty strong car from qualifying. Didn't have the outright speed that the Sam Schmidt cars did, but I was pretty confident that it wouldn't be easy for people to get around me. The minute I got the opportunity, I went to the front. Most of the time we were strong enough. When the wind shifted every now and then, people got runs, they could go around me, but within a lap or two, I could go straight back to the front.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, from your perspective, a win today and a championship, if you could talk about that.
BRIAN STEWART: I'm just really happy for Wade. For me, this is my 40th year racing cars. We did it in like Indy Lights before we came over here for 15 years, won the championship over there. Came over here four years ago, won the championship here. I'm going to be back next year defending the championship. I'm happy for Wade.
THE MODERATOR: Doug, if you would maybe talk a bit about Wade. You look at his season: 13 top five finishes in 14 races, a top 10 finish in all 14 of those races, earned a pole in Watkins Glen, then capped off the championship today with the win. Talk about Wade.
DOUG HOY: When we started this season, Wade and I sat down and we had a discussion. Our job this year was to finish every race the best we could. We focused on that all year. We didn't take chances that would put us out of the race. We tried to finish every lap of every race. We had one DNF at Chicago, and other that we did the best we could and just built on it.
THE MODERATOR: Wade, did you feel pressure to win today?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I definitely felt people would talk if I won the championship without ever winning a race. But if that was the case, it wasn't the true scenario of the year we've had. We led at St. Pete, we led at Indy oval, we led at Watkins Glen, we led at Milwaukee, we've been second at pretty much every other track on the calendar this year. We've always battled at the front, always been at the lead. It's always the stupid things that went wrong. Most of the time, stuff I couldn't control. Today when those things didn't happen, we were strong and we took the win.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our panel.
Q. Wade, did you have a prerace plan to work with either Travis or Jeff?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No. I was a bit of a prostitute today. Whoever was in front, whoever was behind me, I was like talking to the spotters. If anyone wanted to work with me, I was keen from that at the start of the race. Travis and I completely checked out. There was no way anyone was going to catch us. Yellow flags came, I went back to the front on the restarts. Jeff got into second. I think Jeff recognized I had probably the strongest car today. His spotter talked to mine and organized - tried to organize - for Jeff and I to work together. That seemed to work. Travis was dropping back slowly. Then there were more yellows. Everything sort of just played out like that today. There was never the opportunity to make the big break. But we did at the end. Jeff made a pretty smart move, nearly took the lead on the last lap. No way I was just going to give it up for anything.
Q. Your opinion of that last-lap incident on the backstretch.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Not a lot to say. I was just defending my lead. Last race of the year, going for the championship. I would have done absolutely anything to keep the win.
Q. Did Scott Dixon have any advice for you coming into the weekend?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No. We hung out back in Indy. He didn't have anything in particular. Just go out and have fun.
Q. What are your plans for 2006?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: We're still working on them. My goal long-term is the IndyCar championship. Whatever comes along for next year that best suits me to get me to that position.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, you have a few championships in your back pocket there over the years. This one any different than ones past?
BRIAN STEWART: Yeah, this one here is more special because I had a championship with Paul Tracy, but he'd already been in the Indy Lights Series for two years. I had him in the third year. He was an experienced driver. The next year I won with Eric Bachelart. He had done the series the year before. Over the years we had Cristiano da Matta. We brought him from Brazil as a rookie. We won three races. We fought for the championship all year long, but ended up finishing third. This one is special because Wade came here as a raw rookie. He hadn't raced on ovals before. We have fairly good oval experience, although we are road racers. It all worked out. The chief engineer did a great job, Doug Zister and Doug Hoy. They all cooperated and talked it out. We led a lot of laps on the ovals and on the streets, on the permanent road course at Infineon. I'm just real happy. I think the whole year worked out really great for me.
THE MODERATOR: 14 races this year. You go back, look at race reports, you're not winning. Is it hard to believe that you're here today, have won a championship?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Not really. If you compare us to everyone else in the series, start of the year, the people that were strong were the Sam Schmidt guys on the ovals, but they didn't have the speed for the road courses. We were on the podium every road course this year. We battled for the lead for two of them, two out of the four road courses. We were sort of the next best challenger for most of the year compared to the Sam Schmidts. I'm happy with our performance. I think as a team we maximized our equipment at nearly every other event. Other people didn't do that. I think we're deserving champions this year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much and congratulations.
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