NASCAR Media Conference
July 17, 2007
TRACEY JUDD: We're now joined by our second guest, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader Mike Skinner, who is fresh off his series-leading fourth win of the season last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway. Thanks for joining us today.
MIKE SKINNER: No problem.
TRACEY JUDD: Are you still here in Daytona with this thunderstorm as we are?
MIKE SKINNER: I am. I'm hoping it don't mess the telephone up.
TRACEY JUDD: The trucks are off this weekend, which is probably good news for your competitors since you've built a 164-point lead through the first half of the season. What is your team's plan to maintain that lead through the second half of the year?
MIKE SKINNER: Well, basically we just need to do the same thing we've done since we went in the gates at Daytona back in February. I use the phrase: Keep the train on the tracks. We're not desperate to win a pole. We're not desperate to win a race. We're not desperate for anything.
We have the ability to hopefully with any luck at all race a little smarter, just try to get top-10 finishes. That's kind of what we've done all year. We found ourselves in position to win three or four races. Two of the races we put a dominant performance on. One of them we were about a third-place truck and ended up in Victory Lane. The other one we worked really hard and won.
It's been a great season for us.
TRACEY JUDD: We'll go to some questions for Mike Skinner, please.
Q. At this stage of your career, do you think you're a smarter and more mature competitor?
MIKE SKINNER: I hope so. I've never been labeled as a smart competitor before prior to this year. Since the first time I ever got in a race car back in the mid to later '70s, I've always been win, crash or blow, and basically take-no-prisoners kind of guy. I've been able to win three dirt track championships, late model championships and a truck championship. It's never been from being a smart competitor. It's been from running hard and winning races.
I think in this day and time, you know, that works really good if you're running a limited schedule. But if you're trying to race for points, you've got to change your attitude a little bit and that's what we're trying to do.
Q. Are you comfortable in this change? Obviously you're successful.
MIKE SKINNER: No, it's not my style. It's really not. I have to praise Gayle Davis, Bill Davis, my wife Angie, my spotter Mike Swaim, Jeff Hensley, all these people got this bit in my mouth. Every time I start to get out of whack a little bit, they pull it back like they're pulling a horse to back up.
It's not really my style. I think it's working for us. We've had a great season. I guess when the day comes I say, Okay, this is my last year, I can go back and just have fun. I told Jeff, I said, Build lots of trucks, let's get lots of sponsor money to pay fines (laughter).
Q. Back in a familiar place: up top. When you got into this going on 12 years ago, how did you look at it? What's different between then and now? Did you think you'd get maybe one or two championships after winning that first one?
MIKE SKINNER: Like most drivers at that stage of my career, the Truck Series was a steppingstone. We were fortunate enough to win a championship. Then I wanted to be in the Winston Cup, now NEXTEL Cup Series. We did that.
Unfortunately along the way we got hurt a couple times really bad. That hurt my Cup career. I took a little time and healed up, had the opportunity to get my act back together. The U.S. Army car really helped me a lot with my career when Jerry Nadeau got hurt, they put me in that car. We ran up front, got poles, was a threat to win races. That really helped me.
That full-time premiere ride just wasn't out there for us. We got the opportunity to go back and race trucks again. When they said Toyota was interested in us, they were going to be the sponsor on the truck, I said, Heck, yeah, let's go. We've been having a blast ever since.
Q. A lot of competitors are still looking for the championship, but still saying it's yours to lose at this point. Talk about how you feel about that and comparing your '95 championship season to how you're running right now.
MIKE SKINNER: First of all, I certainly hope they're right. 1995 I was an aggressive driver that wanted to prove to the world that I needed to be in the Cup Series, that in top-notch equipment I could get the job done. It was a different attitude. It was a different period in my racing career.
Now coming back and doing this, I don't have to prove myself every week. I don't feel like my job's on the line. I don't feel like you're only as good as your last race to this organization.
That's a really good comfortable level. I actually think it makes you more productive knowing that you don't have to go out there and feel like your job's on the line every time you get in the race car. I'm enjoying this more.
Q. Talk about racing at IRP. What is so difficult about it?
MIKE SKINNER: I look back in the years, Butch Miller, when we had some good races there. He could run right around the bottom of that place. Only guy I could ever see that could run around the bottom of it. Every year I try to set my truck up where if I have to go down there, I can, especially in three and four.
At the end of the day, ORP is exactly what it is. It's just another racetrack that we have to survive. It's good to have a have a victory this past week, to go there and say, we don't need to win this race, we need to finish in the top 10, we don't have to force the issue, knock the fenders off our truck. We don't feel like we're that desperate.
Hopefully that works out. We'll see.
Q. You talked about a different comfort level with racing. Guys talk about how much fun it is to race in the Truck Series. Some guys are working their way up. There's champions using it as a part-time deal. Where you are in your career, how much of racing in this series is this is where you're going to be to the end or do you hold out feelings you could still get it done and move back up to the Cup level?
MIKE SKINNER: I know I can still get it done in the Cup level. I don't have any question about it. It's a matter of where your comfort level is. This is where my comfort level is. No one can get it done in the Cup level without super strong race teams. If we could take this race team over and run a handful of Cup races, I feel like we'd be competitive.
What my goal is in the next couple, two, three years is basically if we could run four or five Cup races a year, I would be very, very content. I don't really have a big desire to go back and run the full schedule. The only way I would do that is it would have to be a top-notch team with top-notch equipment. That's the only way I'd even consider it.
Q. How much longer do you feel like you can race like you're doing now in the Truck Series?
MIKE SKINNER: My gosh, the day after my birthday party I thought it might be that week. Thought that might have been it. We celebrated an awful lot for an old man.
I don't really know. I had planned to retire when I was 50. Bill Davis, along with the Toyota folks agreeing to sponsor us for three more years, let us drive their branded truck, they talked me into doing three more years. We got one half of one of those years done now.
I think the last year of this contract, we'll really evaluate first of all am I still competitive, and second of all am I still having fun. First and foremost, if they're interested in going a little bit farther, we're still having as much fun as we're having today, we might extend it a couple more.
How healthy am I and are we still competitive is the biggest things.
Q. Have you thought about what you might do when your driving days are over?
MIKE SKINNER: There's several things I'd love to do. It goes from going in the booth. I don't have a big interest in ownership. It's too much like a real job and too many hours. I feel like I'd be really, really good at being like a driving coach or a consultant for all the Toyota teams, maybe still hopefully do something in the Toyota family. If not, find a position similar to that that you can take 35 years of experience and spread it out.
Those are some of my real big goals right there. We just kind of got to see what happens. I don't really know what I'm going to do when I grow up, that's just what I'd like to do.
Q. You have a comfortable lead right now. The history of this series has shown nothing is really comfortable. As you look at the second half of the season, how do you see things shaping up? Do you expect guys to make pushes now that you're going back to these tracks a second time?
MIKE SKINNER: I tell you, historically the 5 team has been stronger the second half of the year than they have been on the first half. Gosh, I just hope that that's true to fact for this year.
We're not comfortable. I don't think you can ever get comfortable in this thing until it's mathematically impossible for somebody to catch you. I don't see that happening probably until the checkered flag drops at Homestead.
No, we're not comfortable. That's exactly why we're out testing, trying different setups, searching for more speed, more downforce, better engines. The whole organization is definitely not sitting here, All we got to do is just kind of finish races now. We're working hard.
Q. Do you wish sometimes when you go to Indy, you'd like to have maybe a couple cracks on that track on a truck?
MIKE SKINNER: Oh, heck yes. I mean, you know, I don't know that that will ever happen just because of ORP being so close there, such a good Craftsman Truck Series race at that racetrack every year. I don't know if you remember when they first built Homestead, it was like a shrunk-down version of Indy. I loved it. We did get to run the trucks there. We ran exceptionally well.
Yeah, I'd love to take that pickup truck over there and just see how quick it would get around that place.
Q. Toyota's first year in the Cup. You have had experience with them in the Truck Series. How do you guys in the Truck Series that drive Toyotas view the foibles, ups and downs that Toyota is having in the Cup Series?
MIKE SKINNER: Well, I honestly -- my personal feelings is there's nothing wrong with the car, there's nothing wrong with the motor. It's the fact of getting the race teams to gel together. The only established team that they have was the Caterpillar car. Other than a series of horrible, horrible luck for Dave Blaney and the Caterpillar car, they've pretty much carried the torch.
As far as the Toyota goes itself, I'm not so sure that we can look at the manufacturer side of it as much as we need to get these teams a little more time together, let them make all the adjustments at the end of this year they think they need to make. I think there's a lot better things to look forward to in the future.
We don't have a Rick Hendrick organization or a Jack Roush huge organization with unlimited money. We don't have that in any of our Toyota teams. Red Bull is as close as you're going to get to that and they're a start-up team. They'll be strong, it's just going to take some time.
Q. Do you ever see having the trucks on a track like Infineon in Sonoma?
MIKE SKINNER: Well, we did race Infineon when the Truck Series started. It was one of my favorite racetracks. It's actually one of my favorite places to go. My wife and I actually have a lot of friends out in the wine country. We go out there on vacation sometimes.
I would love to see us race the trucks again on the road courses there or Watkins Glen, either one. We used to go to two or three of them. I really miss going to the road courses.
TRACEY JUDD: Mike, we appreciate your time today. Congratulations for making it through the thunderstorm. Want to wish you best of luck in the second half. Thanks for taking some time out for us.
MIKE SKINNER: You bet. No problem. Bye-bye.
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