NASCAR Media Conference
May 14, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everyone this morning to a special Monday morning NASCAR teleconference in advance of Wednesday's NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge that will be held Wednesday nice in Charlotte, North Carolina at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.
The Pit Crew Challenge kicks off a great couple of weeks in the Charlotte area which also includes Saturday night's NASCAR Nextel All-Star Challenge, and the week after, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27th. Both of those races are held at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the great facility in Concord, North Carolina. Today's guests are some of the finest crew chiefs in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series. We are joined by Robbie Reiser, chew chief for Matt Kenseth 17 DEWALT Ford, and Mike Ford, crew chief of the No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet driven by Denny Hamlin, and we'll be joined by Kevin Manion, crew chief on the No. 1 No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet driven by Martin Truex.
We're going to open up with Robby. Robby has really developed one of the finest pit crews in the series many recent years, and what a lot of people hopefully remember is in a previous pit crew competition NASCAR had prior to the start of the NASCAR Nextel pit crew challenge, the No. 17 team won that competition a couple of years.
Robby, maybe you can talk about your chances in this week's NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge and give us an idea of how important the pit crew is to the team's chances in the All Star event.
ROBBY REISER: The chances at the competition this year are pretty tough for our team with the structure that they have. The pushing of the car, my guys are not really structured to push the car real fast. But they do great pit stops, and we'll see how they make out. I think individual-wise they will be pretty tough. But on the overall competition, they are going to have their work cut out for them.
I think, you know, over the years, the 17 has been very fortunate with the group we've had, and we've had a lot of long-time loyal members of this team that have put a lot of dedication to this thing, and they show it every week they go on the racetrack. I mean, yesterday, they were second to none on pit road, getting five, six spots at a time coming out of pit road, and they were the ones that helped us get a Top-10 finish.
Our car was not all that great the at the end of the race, and the job they did on pit road put us in a spot of running decent was a job they were getting done and it was pretty awesome.
THE MODERATOR: When you guys won the championship in 2003 with Matt, that was a championship that was built on consistency; just how important was the crew's work to that championship season?
ROBBY REISER: Well, you can't win a championship without a team effort, and it takes everybody throughout the year to do that. And not only all of the work they do in the shop but the work they do over the wall is a key ingredient to making that all happen.
Like I say, we've had a group of people that have stayed here for a long time. I think, you know, three out of the five guys that go over to the wall, tire changers and jack men are the same people in Chris Brooke (ph), Justin Nodestad (ph) and Russ (ph). We have a couple new guys in Dave Smith and Jason Benger that carry rear tires and they do a great job every week. Our fuelers have always been the same, Dave Ebert (ph) and Dave McDonald (ph) have been with us for a few years. So having that core group stay together makes a big difference.
Another thing that helps us out is the guys behind the wall do an exceptional job supporting those guys and making sure they can do their jobs; with the detail they work they do, it makes it all possible.
Q. Can you talk a little about what the All-Star event means to you as a crew chief? You guys won it a couple years ago, and to me it seems like the ultimate racing event since there's no points on the line.
ROBBY REISER: Well, I think the All-Star event means a lot to everybody because we're in it. Just it separates the elite, and I think that makes everybody feel special, and, you know, allows us a chance to go run against the best and that's what everybody wants to do.
With the way the All-Star Challenge is set up, it allows the guys that work on the car every week to get to step out on stage and see what the fans all think of them. And it gives them an opportunity to be a part of it by, you know, in the qualifying event where you go three laps, we get to do a pit stop can which gives us an opportunity -- a couple of years ago we sat on the pole, and it was all because of our pit stop, which makes our guys feel really great.
The way the race is structured, two of the stops we'll be pitting on the fly. So it gives the guys on pit road a real opportunity to be a part of this race and make a difference.
Q. Are they the most underrated guys in the race team, the guys who go over the wall; do they ever get their dues in this?
ROBBY REISER: Well, I mean, the way NASCAR is structured, obviously it's all towards the drivers. But I think if you watch during the race and the things that have gone on the last few years, they get their opportunity to shine every week and they put the car in a position to win and I think that's satisfaction for them.
Q. It looks like the 24 car is coming together at this point, Letarte and Gordon; how important is the relationship and the chemistry between the driver and the crew chief in terms of success?
ROBBY REISER: Well, it's a major ingredient. If you don't get along, you're probably not going to be too successful.
I think the communication and the things that we do as a group between myself and Matt is a reflection on our whole race team. If we get along well and work well together, the rest of the team sees that example and works well together. You know, that kind of sets a tone for what is going to happen during the season or during a race. And as you work together during the race, it's very important that you communicate and understand what the other person is trying to say so that you can try to help him with his issues.
Q. Were and you Matt comfortable right off the bat together?
ROBBY REISER: I think if you look back at our backgrounds being that we raced as kids and our fathers were a major part of it; we grew up kind of in the same area around the same racetracks and had, like I say, a family base that helped us. So I think that part of it made us look at racing the same. You know, we didn't have highly-financed backgrounds or anything. We just had family teams that wanted to go stock car racing, and both of us wanted to win and go to the racetrack and do that.
You know, our dads taught us well, and when we got together, it just kind of fell together. He wanted to win races; I wanted to win races; and we never really had the money to do it with, but we just went at it as hard as we can go and it's worked out.
Q. Can you talk about the training your pit crew goes through on a weekly basis?
ROBBY REISER: Well, it's gotten a lot more involved over the years. You know, now at Roush Racing here, we actually have trainers hired that are on staff and we have pit crew coaches that are on staff, and they try to take care of all -- I think we have 13 teams here and they pretty much try to cover all of that.
So if you look at it that way, then the fellas that are required -- the seven guys that go over the wall are required to be in a workout program Monday through Friday; some of it more stressful than others. Wednesday is usually the hard workday here when you take them out back and really run them through their bases, and they are required to work out every day. Then they have a pit stop practice three times a week which is Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And there's one day that's set aside for just looking at films from the previous race so we can pick out things that we want to work on.
We also have a full-team practice where the guys behind the wall work with that same group so that everybody is pretty coordinated when we show up for the racetrack.
Q. And to follow up on that, how many of your crew guys are just crew guys versus people who actually have shop day duties throughout the week?
ROBBY REISER: Well, I think to tell you that the only thing they do is they go over the wall; here at Roush Racing, that's not the case. Everybody that goes over the wall on the 17 team is also a mechanic on this team, and I think that's pretty hard to find in this sport today.
I think, you know, these guys have a part of the car, plus what they do over the wall and maybe that's what brings them success. But we are required to use mechanics to go over the wall here at Roush.
Q. How much has changed as we head into the Pit Crew Challenge this year based on the Car of Tomorrow, the preparing for it; how much has your job changed, your role changed?
ROBBY REISER: Well, I don't really know if it's changed all that much. It's definitely been more work because we've had the two cars to work on. And getting involved with pitting the cars, you'd have to look at it a little differently, because the bodies are a little more set backwards on the COT car than what it is on the current car. So we have had some work to do there.
But I would say that all in all, I show up for work Monday through Friday and do the same thing, work on race cars and try to go fast.
Q. Aside from the combination of the Pit Crew Challenge, talk about the competition on pit road in general which is so separate from what we see, a great competition and fun to watch, but it's a little bit different down on pit road.
ROBBY REISER: Well, that's what kind of puts us at a disadvantage for the competition. It's not really built around what we do during the race. During the race, we pit a car and we try to change four tires and fill it with fuel and do that as fast as we can do it.
In the competition, each person is separate, at a separate station and then they have to run to the back of the car and then they have to push the car. Probably 75 percent of the competition is pushing the car.
So the way our team is kind of structured, we're not real good at the push so it puts us as a disadvantage. So I would rather be pretty stellar on pit road on race day than what I am in the competition.
THE MODERATOR: Your team overall, got to feel like there's another championship or more in you, don't you think, with Matt and the whole group?
ROBBY REISER: I hope there's a few more championships. I ain't planning on giving up in the near future.
THE MODERATOR: In all seriousness, the new format, you guys were the last team to win at pre-Chase but have been real competitive since we started the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup which kind of showed that Matt kind of took a little bit of a -- kind of got a label on him that he was all about consistency and he's shown that that isn't really true. With the new format and emphasis on winning, he's shown he can win a lot of races; how do you feel about your championship chances?
ROBBY REISER: I think they are real good. In the years past, we have been contenders and this year we'll be contenders.
The biggest challenge ahead of us is to be ready for the last ten races. Last year I thought we were really prepared. We went into the first five races and did a really good job. We were right there until the end. We just didn't have the car performance-wise to be able to finish it off.
And this year, I think we got a little slower start on the COT, but everybody seems to be working hard at it. And maybe what it comes to them last ten races, we'll have all our stuff together and we'll go get them.
Q. It's been quite a while since we've had a double-digit victory on the season in the series. A lot of people thought those days might be over, and this year you have two people headed there. What does it say about parity and the sport in general?
ROBBY REISER: I think you've got to look at the sport for the team that's winning right now and Hendricks has done a really good job of putting a lot of support into their COT. And they have come out of the box stronger than the rest of us, and I think that's shame on the rest of us because we didn't do as well of a job as what they did. They came into the season more prepared than what we were and they are reaping the benefits for it.
I don't think that the days of domination from a certain team are gone. I think that, you know, you've got to commend those guys for the effort they put in, and all of the things that they have done to be ready for the season. I think that they deserve a lot of credit for that and we shouldn't look past that point.
They did do a great job, and it's up to us, you know, the teams that are on the outside right now to step it up and try to be competitive for the rest of the season.
Q. Does the Car of Tomorrow have something to do with it?
ROBBY REISER: Whenever you have something new, you're going to have teams that are going to be on top of it and you'll have teams that are going to struggle. The commitment Hendrick put into the COT char -- and Chevrolet teams in general, Gibbs and Childress, all those teams have really stepped up and come out in the COT and said, hey, come get us, guys. They are out there running well, and the rest of us are playing catch-up.
Q. What was your fastest pit stop yesterday? The guys on the air said it was a 13-flat or something. And how did you have to adjust for the Car of Tomorrow? And the one thing that the guys said in the booth was the fact that you're still hands-on with your guys to get over the wall. Do you think that that's what has made the difference over the year?
ROBBY REISER: Oh, I don't know. I just don't know how to do it any other way. This group here has been together so long, I just try to be a part of it. That's part of my job I feel, and what we do on pit road is I'm responsible for this race team, so I try to keep my nose in there a little bit.
I've got to give a lot of credit to the trainers and the pit coaches and all of the other people that help. They are part of this, too, and they all try to help to make it better. So I don't want to say that I'm the only guy trying to help here. All of these guys work together and try to make it the best. I try to keep my nose there because it's my team, and when things go wrong, I'm the first one to yell. I want to be there to make sure -- to make sure we're doing it and be as prepared as we possibly can. I'm pretty proud of the track record that we have on pit road over the years with our race team. It's been second to none and I'm pretty proud of that.
Q. Can you talk about the adjustment that you made for the Car of Tomorrow, and when did you start training with that in mind, because it did change the dynamics, didn't it?
ROBBY REISER: Well, it did, and what we did was we came out -- probably in the off-season, we had one car that we were using for testing and we went and did a couple of stops and just looked at it and said, okay, where is it going to be different, what's it going to affect us, where the hoses are going to lay and are we going to be able to gas it the same and work around the wing and do some of them things.
It really wasn't that much of an adjustment from where we were at. There were a couple small things that we had to change and we fixed, and you know, other than that it was pretty much the same.
Q. Back to recognizing your coaches and trainers for your pit team; what are their names?
ROBBY REISER: Wayne DeLorean (ph) is our head pit coach and Andrew Carter who works with our 17 team. And we have a fellow named Jesse Aupps (ph) at the Busch shop that oversees that. And then we have Robert Johnson who is a trainer on the 5 Winston Cup program, so them are the fellas that help. Pretty much Andrew Carter and Robert Johnson are involved with our team on a day-to-day basis and help me with -- when we have injuries, and when we have problems, they help me sort them out.
THE MODERATOR: Robby, thanks so much for joining us, we really appreciate that. Great information leading into the NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge. Best of luck to you.
We are joined now by Kevin Manion. He's the crew chief of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet driven by Martin Truex, Jr. More importantly today, his team is the defending champion in the NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew Challenge.
Thanks for taking some time, and what's your chances of defending the championship this week?
KEVIN MANION: I think they are pretty good. I believe their practice went well down there. I think they are holding the unofficial practice time to beat, so that's a positive thought.
THE MODERATOR: The event, what's the link between this event both in terms of motivation and just the way it's applicable to the All-Star Race itself?
KEVIN MANION: Well, it's just a great weekend for motor sports in general here, being based out of Charlotte, the guys, a lot of their families can come out and see them perform.
But it just gives them -- it just gives them that -- all year we were able to carry that banner, and just gives them great motivation going into the 600 weekend where you've got to do 15 pit stops. That's pretty cool.
Q. Can you talk about the transformation your team has gone through since last year? It seems like you're at least always up in the Top 15 now, where last year that might have been more of a struggle.
KEVIN MANION: Yeah, absolutely, week-in, week-out we feel like our goal is to run in the Top-10, and other than one or two races, we pretty much accomplished that goal. Just haven't had the finishes or the results to show for it.
Yesterday was another perfect example running sixth and the pit, caution came out again which put us a lap down and was able to fight back and get an 11th place finish. But the team is a year older and I feel like the 15 car is having the same struggles we had last year.
Basically a new, start-up team, don't have a great notebook. You know, last year we finished 12th at Darlington fairly early in the season but we were able to take the notes from that -- granted, it was a COT car, but it's the same old track that eats tires up and wears yourself down. So just having a notebook and having a year with the same guys, a couple new pit crew members, but the same guys and a great attitude by Martin and the team.
Q. Do you think there's a completely new attitude on the team and with Martin? Are they to the point where he has the confidence to do what needs to be done because the 8 car came over after winning two championships; they didn't have the perfect freshman year, either.
KEVIN MANION: Yeah, the motivation Martin has had lately, it started the end of last year. We hit on something just throughout testing in the last ten races, and we used them as kind of like our little own Chase and finished the season out with a second place, led some laps at Homestead. Couldn't wait to get started this year and we started Daytona and really thought we had a legitimate shot to win at Daytona. So that gave him motivation.
But the team, we're not -- we're not happy yet, but we're just happy with our performance. Martin's thrilled the way the car has been running. Like I said, a little bit of luck, we still need -- we still need to elevate ourselves so we can start running in the Top-5 and once you do that, the wins will come.
We might sneak one out here or there, but just the whole team is on the up and up right now.
Q. I want to ask you about the Pit Crew Challenge to start with and that is this: Robbie Reiser was just talking about how difficult it is for his team to win a Pit Crew Challenge because they are not great pushers. What kind of practice have you guys had pushing the car at the challenge?
KEVIN MANION: Well, that is key. The push is definitely part of it. What's so cool about this way that Nextel has set this up, you have individual stations where the guys can shine individually. And a lot of the gas guys are these huge, huge guys that can lift this big can up, but they might the be good pushers and they might not be good runners.
So you need -- our jack man, I put him up against anyone. He can push the car by himself I think and he's like the anchorman. He's the first one to the car. He get the ball rolling and that's the hardest thing to get it rolling. Once you get it rolling, you just keep adding people on and it will go, but the pushing is definitely important.
Q. And you're not going to help; you stand on the podium and watch them, and what's your role in all of this? Last year I remember you were cheering them on like crazy.
KEVIN MANION: It's just a lot of fun. I wasn't expecting that when I went down there. I didn't know there was that type of format. I read the rules and all, but it just didn't make sense until I got there and I said, wow, that's really neat. To sit and cheer them on, they work so hard week-in and week-out, I think we had 11 pit stops yesterday and they just -- to go there at Charlotte down here and have everyone around, it's going to be fun for them.
Q. Always it's important to treat the guys right and all that kind of thing, but keeping guys around for several years, not just one year, but maybe as many as five years, like you look at Ginn Racing and whatnot, keeping guys around is such a key role now, not just getting good guys, but to be around long enough to build winning teams.
KEVIN MANION: I think the best pit crew out there, and I know they have won a couple of awards this year is that Ginn Racing team with Ryan Pemberton, we had the rainout the other night and a couple crew chiefs were talking about a few things and we were talking about the guys -- I've had a lot of my guys together for a few years, our jack man, Jeff Kirk, he's been with the team since we started the Busch team. There's our tire carriers -- you know, you lose your changers here and there. They will bounce around a little bit, but having them guys that are loyal and come in and stay healthy is very, very important.
So we've got another good group of guys right now, it's a couple different from last year but a lot of the same guys. So having the same guys year-in, year-out is very important.
Q. I have a question for you. I was wondering what kind of pressure does a younger team feel? Obviously the killer bees, either they have been in the Chase or they have been in the hunt for championships, what kind of pressure does a younger team like yours feel going up against the Hendrick juggernaut?
KEVIN MANION: It's quite a bit of pressure. I've always said the teams that run up front in the Top-5 are the teams on TV every week, but you don't always see the guys running back 10th, 11th, 12th, fighting for that Top-10 position. You never see the pit crews on TV; they could be a second faster every week, but no one would ever know it at home.
It's great being the underdog. It's great going in for them guys knowing that if they win it, they beat what we think is the best. So it's pretty cool.
Q. Yesterday we saw a situation where Denny Hamlin's team had one bad stop and just basically took them out of contention. You know, what do you do as the coach to get your guys to rally around after something like that happens and just kind of keep the eyes on the prize?
KEVIN MANION: Well, we're all human. We're all going to make mistakes. The best thing to do is to pat the guy on the back, look over the tapes, find out where the problem was, and just if you take it easy and show them their problems, work it out, shake it off.
The best thing is not letting the pressure get to you. If you let it get to you, your next stop is going to be bad. The guy that can shake it off, if he's a little slower on the right front they generally try to make it up on left front and they can't do it. Just staying smooth and steady and keeping everyone motivated.
You know, the driver is very important. Denny Hamlin, I'm not sure what he said after that yesterday. He easily could have lost his cool, and then the guy that made the mistake could have felt bad and it will just escalate. But the best thing to do is cheer them on. You know that it only happens once in a blue moon, and like I said, we have more stops than any other on the racetrack, and you just have to keep them on the motivated.
Q. Do these philosophies -- inaudible -- chaos?
KEVIN MANION: That's a great question. I'm not going to comment on that.
Q. Would you please talk about the training your pit crew goes through on a weekly basis?
KEVIN MANION: Sure. Walt Smith is actually our strength coach, our conditioner. He's the world-known gymnast basically. He owns his own gym here in Charlotte with his brother. It's a family-owned business. They have a couple of gyms around the Charlotte area, and he's been with the team ten years now.
Two to three days a week in the mornings, our team will work out for an hour and a half doing cardio, hand-eye coordination skills, and two or three days a week in the afternoon they will actually work on a live pit stop car with a driver, pit sign, a pit wall, basically everything you go through.
So it's about on an average three to four hours three to four days a week for training.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin Manion, best of luck, pal, on trying to defend the NASCAR Nextel Pit Crew All-Star Challenge, and best of luck down the road.
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