NASCAR Media Conference
July 12, 2005
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. As usual we have a little bit of housekeeping first. This week's NEXTEL Wake-Up Call will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at the national championship International Speedway infield media center. Our defending series champion Kurt Busch will drop by to meet with the media corporation covering the event this weekend. Today we're joined by Joe Nemechek who usually does well at New Hampshire. He won his first career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race in the fall of 1999. I believe he also has a NASCAR Busch Series win there. He also finished sixth in last fall's event at New Hampshire. Joe, New Hampshire is a unique track with a unique layout. Is that one of those places where once you find your comfort zone, and you find out how to attack it, you can get very comfortable there, can't you?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, you definitely can. New Hampshire, it's actually a pretty tough racetrack, being the corners are so flat. Getting into the corners is very, very tricky. If your brakes are right and your chassis setup is correct, there's a big advantage that can be had on getting into the corners. That seems like where I've always been able to get my race cars right in the past.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Let's open it up to some questions for you.
Q. Let's talk about New Hampshire, Loudon, this weekend. What are some of the critical things we should look for? Is one of those the ever-presence of the tire problems that we've seen in the last few weeks?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, that is going to be a very interesting thing. I'm not sure what's going to happen as far as the tires are concerned at New Hampshire. We cannot go up there and test. I know there's been a couple cars that have went up there. We haven't heard of any issues. I know the tires have definitely been softened up since last year, which is a good thing. If the tires wear out, that means that the drivers have to be more tire conscious under managing the tires, not burning them off. I say, the other part of that is chassis setup is going to be very, very critical.
Q. How different do you have to drive the car with the softer tire? Do you even have to get into a different mental mode because of what's been happening?
JOE NEMECHEK: No, not really. I mean, the way everything is going right now, everybody is driving them as hard as they can drive them every lap. I think it's more having the chassis right, but just knowing what you can and what you can't do to make those tires live. Some of the same things we fought at Michigan. If your car was tight or your car was loose, that was the tire you were going to use. You just have to keep all that in mind when you're out there racing.
Q. The flat track at Loudon, how do you like that? Is this a track that tends to play towards you?
JOE NEMECHEK: I think so. I've had a lot of success at Loudon. Man, you know, we've only won one Cup race and one Busch race there, but we've been so close so many times. That just shows me that we are capable of running good anywhere. But for some reason, since I started going to Loudon, since the inaugural race, we've always run well, whether it's the high-speed getting in the corner, right on the edge of getting loose, you know, it's really tricky getting in the corners. But then you have to have your car to where it will rotate correctly and have good traction off. There's a lot of things that have to be right in order to run well.
Q. Quick follow-up on the tire question. Do you think a lot of it is heat related or does it go way beyond that?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, again, most of the drivers last year wanted to have tires that would wear out, so everybody got their wish. You know, Goodyear is building tires to what they're basically told to do. The tires are definitely softer. I mean, we get everything we can out of our cars. I mean, we're not going to run the things half throttle around there. I mean, we abuse them more than anything should ever be abused.
Q. Does it kind change the focus of your team now that you have that nod from your team owners that you're going to be around for a couple years? How does that change the attitude within the team?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, I don't really think it changes. I mean, it's a relief to everybody. But one of the things that we're trying to do week in and week out is we're trying to make sure this Army car runs good. I mean, I'm proud of representing all the soldiers out there. I want to make sure that this car, the Army Chevy, is up in front where it needs to be. I mean, our team takes a lot of pride in that, and we're trying hard every week to make that possible, to do the best we can. You know, as far as getting the contract thing done, I mean, it doesn't change the way I drive. It doesn't change anything. I'm trying to go as hard as I can go all the time.
Q. 10 years ago you made a foray into the area of owner/driver. It was tough then. Can something like that happen now? Can somebody be successful as an owner/driver?
JOE NEMECHEK: Oh, I think the possibilities are still there. But the tough thing you have, and I know NASCAR has got a lot of stuff in the works as far as trying to get the teams back even from the big teams to the small teams, it's tough. I mean, when you're competing with Roush and you're competing with Yates, Hendrick, I mean, it's a tough, tough battle out there. I think the biggest advantage they have is their testing policy. They can test so many times with so many different teams. They have data from every racetrack they go to.
Q. You're going to be coming up here to our neck of the Woods in New Hampshire, racing at New Hampshire International Speedway. Talk about the challenges of racing on this particular short track. Is it really a situation where pit strategy becomes so critical because it's so tough to pass on this track?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, it's like everywhere we've went this year: pit strategy is definitely going to be crucial. Being a flat track, it is very, very hard to pass. You know, I think the call for two tires at times is -- a lot of guys are going to end up doing it. Maybe for a whole tire run it may not be right, but pit strategy is going to be crucial.
Q. Now, it seems like a lot of drivers, when they race at New Hampshire International Speedway, maintain a certain type of driver style up until probably the last 30 or so laps of the race, then everybody tries to make something happen. What do you do at a tail-end of a racetrack like this to get position and to try not to be involved in the accidents?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, just trying to be smart. You have to drive a smart race. You have to know who you're around all the time, where you're at on the racetrack. I'm sure fuel mileage will end up playing a factor into the race. Seems like it always does. The crews, pit stops, the thing to do is get four tires if you need it. Hopefully your crew can have some awesome jam-up pit stops all day and you can make up spots on pit road.
Q. In the many miles that you travel, what is best about coming back to Lakeland?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, there's a lot of things. We spent a few days in Lakeland right after -- I should say over the 4th of July, after the Daytona race. Still got a lot of family that live in Lakeland. We enjoy coming down there. I know it's hot all over the country, but it's seriously hot in Florida right now. I mean, I grew up there. From the heat to the scenery, Polk County was my stomping ground . I just really, really enjoy the Lakeland area.
DENISE MALOOF: Joe, would you take us along a lap around New Hampshire, describe how you attack that track and how you drive it, the best grooves and so on.
JOE NEMECHEK: Okay. Well, a lot has changed over the past couple of years because they've actually widened the racetrack out on the bottom. You know, normally we used to go in. We'd run right in on the white line getting in the corner. Well, now there's an extra groove down there. So it's actually pretty tough trying to figure out where you need to be at on the racetrack getting in the corners. But you're midway up in the racetrack getting in the corner, through the center of the corner. Depending on how your car is working, especially when you're racing, if your car has very, very good grip, can you run right on the bottom. The downfall to running on the bottom is it seems like your car really wants to get loose coming up off the corner. Then the outside line has the advantage. Turns three and four is very, very similar to one and two. Seems like you're kind of driving downhill just a little bit getting into turn three. One of the things that does happen in turn three more than turn one is you get a little bit lower and then you actually slide up the racetrack, right in the center part of the corner, making more of a diamond shape out of it. Having traction off of four seems to be one of the really, really tough things during the race, really wanting to spin the tires right there. If you can have an advantage on somebody getting traction off, that's normally where you can get up underneath of them to make the pass.
Q. How do you feel about the impound rule?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, the impound rule, I think it's a good thing that NASCAR has going on. In the long-term I think it's good to save all the teams an awful lot of money. This is the first year of it, so they're trying to get the bugs worked out. I know that it's something that is constantly talked about. But when you don't have to practice for two hours to make one qualifying lap or two laps for qualifying, that's an incredible amount of savings. I mean, when we show up for the impound races, we show up in race trim. We work really hard on our race trim. NASCAR dictates what kind of adjustments you can make from after the time you qualify to the time you start the race. So those are the things we can do to the car, and that's it. You do that, you work on your air pressure, you got to go qualify. So far this year, I think impound qualifying has definitely suited my style and my US Army team style.
DENISE MALOOF: The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has been going to New Hampshire since 1993. You mentioned the track obviously has changed, as most tracks do as they age and they try to get better and better for you guys. What is it like to go to that part of the country? Those stands are always full. Those fans are always so glad to see you guys when you're up there. They really support you. What is your feeling when you go up into the New England area?
JOE NEMECHEK: Oh, I definitely like it. You know, everywhere we go is unique. But going up to New Hampshire, it's one of those places when we go there, we get some great seafood. Normally they're having lobster cook-outs everywhere, so that's a really good thing. Just a lot of great race fans up in the New England area. You know, they're great race fans across the country, but there's a lot of race fans in New England. We have a good time going out signing autographs, meeting with them. Loudon is a special place for me. After winning my first Busch Grand National race there, beating Dale Earnhardt, Sr. there, it kind of put me on the map. It beat him by a fender in one of the best races that was ever run there. The fans remember that. Every time I'm back there, that's one of the big things that gets talked about.
DENISE MALOOF: When you either hit a milestone or you have a particular career accomplishment at a track like that, whether it's your first win or something on that order, does that special feeling stay with you every time you go back to that track? Does it honest-to-goodness help you with your confidence there?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, I think it definitely helps with your confidence. But the NASCAR sport is ever-changing. Rules change, a lot of things. The Goodyear tires change from year to year. It's a tough thing to get your cars to handle right all the time. Right now we've been pretty good as far as hitting our handling package and getting my cars to drive good. Man, if you're off a little bit, you're off a long ways any more. Seems like one guy will set a blistering pace out there in the front, and if you miss it just a little bit, you're going to be a lap down pretty quick.
DENISE MALOOF: That's an interesting point because I've heard quite a few guys talk about this year just how tough the competition is, it's the toughest and best it's ever been in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. Are you in that camp, too? Do you see that?
JOE NEMECHEK: Oh, absolutely. It's the toughest as it's ever been. Unfortunately for us, we still haven't won a race. We've came very close. Two races we definitely had awesome race cars at: California, Charlotte, actually Vegas and Atlanta. We had some issues in those races when we were in the perfect position to win them. It's definitely tough. I mean, you see a lot of different drivers out there that have opportunities to win. When you see that, that means it's competitive.
DENISE MALOOF: At the same time I get the sense your team is almost there, that you're just an eyelash away from being where you want to be, from being in Victory Lane, that kind of thing. Are you that close and luck has bitten you a couple of times?
JOE NEMECHEK: I think we're definitely that close. I mean, we've been a little bit inconsistent, but for the most part we've had good race cars. The pit crew has been right. Everything has been right. A couple times strategy has worked out in our favor and we were in position. If you can run consistently in the top five, I mean, you're going to definitely win your share of races.
DENISE MALOOF: New Hampshire is the only track that's in the Race to the Chase, which is of course what we're in now, and then also the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. That makes it obviously a very important track. Do you think there will be a lot of searching, a lot of reconnaissance, a lot of research done this weekend for when we go back there in September?
JOE NEMECHEK: Oh, I think everybody -- the guys that are in those I can't even say top 10 any more, because the top 10 really doesn't mean anything. I think there's going to probably end up being more guys than 10 in it, if that ends up being the case. I know Jimmie Johnson went up there and tested. Probably smart on his part because he can burn a test for two races now. He learned something for both of them. You just got to learn all you can learn every time you're out there. I mean, there's nothing given to you free in this sport. You got to earn every bit of it, and you're graded weekly on it.
DENISE MALOOF: Talk to me a little bit about Ryan Pemberton, your crew chief. I know you have a really strong pairing there. He's been a good match for you. He's sort of up from that neck of the woods. Talk about how you guys have really put your stuff together the last couple years.
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, Ryan and I have been friends for a long time. He was a good friend of my brother John's. You know, I've been trying to get hooked up to work with him for a long period of time. Just never -- it never happened. Then when this opportunity came about, it was pretty unique. He's a great guy. He's a people person. I mean, he keeps all of his guys and troops pumped up. I mean, that's what it's about. You got to put the best possible people around you all the time so you can achieve the most success you can.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. I'm going to let you go. Thank you for making time for us today. We appreciate that very much. Good luck on Sunday.
JOE NEMECHEK: Thank you very much.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks, everybody, for your participation today. We'll see you all next week.
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