NASCAR Media Conference
April 15, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the weekly NASCAR teleconference. This week it's in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, that's the Corona Mexico 200, presented by Banamex. That's at the historic Mexico City road course, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
We have two great guests today, two of the race favorites: Mexico City's own Adrian Fernandez driving the No. 5 Lowe's Chevrolet for JR Motorsports and owner Rick Hendrick. Adrian is famous for open-wheel racing worldwide. He's also been very successful in this Nationwide Series event in Mexico City, with two top 10 finishes in three races.
Also joining us is a man who is arguably America's greatest road racer over the last 20 years, Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 40 Fastenal Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Scott won the pole last year in Mexico City, finished second in the race to teammate Juan Pablo Montoya. It was an exciting, controversial finish. We'll hear more about that in a little while.
Scott, that was a pretty memorable race in Mexico City last year. As I said, you won the pole. Looks like you were going to win the race. Then you and Juan Pablo got tangled up. Talk about last year and what you're looking for this time around.
SCOTT PRUETT: We're looking for a win. Yeah, it's always exciting going down there. Exciting coming off our season in the Rolex Series with two wins in two races with Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates. Excited with the new sponsor, Fastenal, the 40 car. I'll be doing the sports car race on Sunday and the Nationwide race on Sunday.
Looking forward to big things. We did finish fifth last year, not second. It was very controversial. It was the talk of the town for the week afterwards. Most certainly something that's behind Juan and I. Again, he was my teammate for the 24 Hours, which we won.
But, you know, Mexico City, what can I say? We're involved with Telmex, with the sports car program. Going down there is always exciting, being involved with my teammate. Feels like Mexico City is a second home for us and most certainly it's going to be one of the biggest races of the year for us.
HERB BRANHAM: Adrian, maybe you can reminisce about the past Nationwide Series races down there in Mexico City, what your expectations are going down there this week.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I'm excited to go back to Mexico again. It's always a pleasure to race in front of our fans. Everybody has been always very supportive. It's a great event. It's nice to race with a lot of good friends.
You know, it's such a different car and such a different experience to go there, it's always a pleasure to be there. I'm expecting to hopefully put all the ingredients together so we can be in a position to win the race at the end of it. We've been pretty competitive in the last few years. But always we've been somehow hampered from winning by small things.
I have the best team with JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick. I'm going to take the opportunity and hopefully we can put all the things together so we can fight for the win this year.
HERB BRANHAM: Very good. We're ready now to go to the media for questions for Adrian Fernandez and Scott Pruett.
Q. Scott, what are the fans like down in Mexico? Are they really into NASCAR and the stock car racing? Also, are you going to be racing at Infineon or any other races?
SCOTT PRUETT: Answering the first question, it's awesome. I mean, the Mexican fans are absolutely rabid. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that, you know, we're involved with Telmex. Telmex is a -- obviously has their headquarters there in Mexico City, so we continue to get a lot of coverage anyway no matter how we're running.
Now coming off two wins in the sports car series, now we look at coming down there with the Nationwide car, especially after what happened last year, it's exciting. Coming down there with the fans, I mean, there's nothing like 'em. They're just rabid about the Rolex Series and Nationwide. We love coming down there.
As far as going to Infineon, unfortunately that's a conflict for us. We'll be in Mid-Ohio at the time. But I will be doing MontrÃ©al and Watkins Glen in the Nationwide car. Who knows, I might end up in a Cup car in one of those, as well.
Q. What do you look forward to in Mexico City coming off your racing in Long Beach, coming into this race, Adrian?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: We have two races during this weekend. We have Long Beach racing with the American LeMans Series in Long Beach, then the race in Mexico. So it's going to be a quite busy schedule. Thursday I'm going to be in Long Beach, Friday I'm going to be in Mexico, Saturday I'm going to be in Long Beach, and Sunday I'm going to be back in Mexico.
I'm very glad that Lowe's has supported us through this whole experience again. Unfortunately, the Mexican race was moved one week, so we have these two races on top of each other. But at the end, the schedule, we somehow managed to work it out and make it possible where I can do both events. This race is so important for Lowe's, opening stores in Mexico in 2009. And since my birthday is on Sunday, hopefully we can have a good result, so I'm looking forward.
Q. Scott, if you and Judy were writing a children's book about last year's Mexico City race, I was curious how you would go about it and what would the moral of the story be?
SCOTT PRUETT: There you go. That one's still in the works. But interestingly enough, we have another one in print right now, at the printers. We'll have it by the end of this month, first part of May. Selected Target stores will be carrying them as well as on our website. It's going to be called 'Racing Through the Alphabet'. It's an alphabet book, A for announcer, B for brakes, all the way through. Real excited about that.
The other one -- that's a good point, that's definitely in the works. Moral of the story, I'm still working on that one.
Q. What would the moral of that race be?
SCOTT PRUETT: I'd have to say, I hate to use the word, but 's-h-i t' happens. It does everywhere. I've been around racing long enough to see that even the best-laid plans and everything that's talked about sometimes can go out the window. You know, us as drivers, we make mistakes. It's certainly not the first time and definitely won't be the last.
Q. Scott, it's been a long-standing goal of yours to win one of these NASCAR races. Coming back in 2008 after what you did last year in and the circumstances of losing, what would it mean to win this event in Mexico City?
SCOTT PRUETT: Huge. I mean, it was huge last year. It's gonna be huge again this year. I think even for myself, you know, one, it's always exciting having a new sponsor like Fastenal. This isn't a sales job, but I go to Fastenal stores. I'm a do-it-yourselfer. I love Lowe's, I love Fastenal, places where I hang out. So that part of it's exciting as well.
But getting down to Mexico, especially, you know, the reality is that, you know, I've been heavily involved with the Mexican-based sponsor, with Telmex and Carlos Slim since our start with Grand-Am and Ganassi. With that, there's a big following for our team down there.
And to go down there, I think it's a little bit more personal with what happened last year, and it's also a little bit more personal with the fact of this long-standing relationship with Mexico. So for me personally, it would be huge. I'm excited to get down there and see if we can win that race.
Q. I know you competed last year and didn't compete in the first two what were Busch races at the time. How do you see the stature of that event as we go into its fourth year in '08?
SCOTT PRUETT: Continuing to get bigger and bigger. You know, there was always that bit of confusion with the open-wheel guys going down. The first year we went down with open-wheel, then we as in the Rolex Sports Car Series, then we started going down with the Busch Series, now the Nationwide Series. It continually grows.
As NASCAR works at broadening their horizons, one of their focuses was South America, having drivers like Adrian, very talented guys, come in that are Mexican-born is huge to even get more exposure. I think all the way around, you know, with what was a sport that I think was very limited to Mexico now is becoming stronger and stronger each year. Going down this year, I see it to be bigger again.
Q. Adrian, with your schedule this weekend, has it been determined who will qualify your Nationwide car on Saturday? How impressive have you found these NASCAR stock car competitors on road courses?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, your first question, David Green is going to qualify the car. He'll be practicing also with me some on Friday. He's been on the car. He tested on the car before prior to this event just to have everything -- you know, that we are on the same page.
And then, you know, your second question, the competition is always strong. The level of NASCAR drivers that compete is very strong. I was very surprised in 2005 of how many good drivers are there.
You know, one thing is the ovals and the other thing is the road courses. I think some are more experienced on road courses. We have much more opportunity to be competitive straightaway in a road course versus ovals. Ovals you definitely need a lot more experience. These cars, they behave a lot differently.
I think the race in Mexico is going to be very strong again. It's going to be a great fight with good friends like Scott Pruett. We know the track. Having many drivers that have come there, I don't think anybody has an advantage. I think it's pretty wide open.
One of the things I have found is that these races, they go forever. You just have to be patient and be there at the end. If you analyze each of my laps, the three or four years I've competed, I've always been strong, but always something happens. If I could have had my car complete, with no problems towards the end, I believe I could have been in a position to win.
So, you know, hopefully this year will be the year. But it's always great to compete with them. It's definitely a different feel to drive a NASCAR car than, for example, my American LeMans car. The American LeMans car, you always attacking, you can always attack, you can brake late, you drive 1010 almost. Here you drive 1010, but you have to be a lot more careful with the brakes, the tires. It's a totally different approach, but I like the challenge and I like the competition.
The funny thing is that when you come into the race you don't practice your pit stops. So really the last time I had a pit stop in a NASCAR -- in the race, was really last year's race. The next time I'll do that will be in my pit stop on the race. There's certain things in NASCAR you can't practice, but I've been practicing in my mind a lot. Hopefully we have a good weekend and we can give a good show to our Mexican fans.
Q. Scott, what was the last time you did a back-to-back like this?
SCOTT PRUETT: It would have been MontrÃ©al last year. It's not a problem. Jumping back and forth between the cars, even though they're different, I've been fortunate enough to spend time in both.
The biggest thing that I see different this year is the fact that the Nationwide car has probably 80 to 90 less horsepower just because of the rule change. I think that's even going to be bigger as we go to Mexico because of the higher altitude, you're going to notice that that much more.
If anything, I see the cars being easier to drive than harder to drive. But it does take a different technique. You have to roll the car through the turn. You got to keep up your rolling speed because you don't have the horsepower that you did. You're going to have to keep up that rolling speed. You know, that just goes hand in hand with what we do with our sports car.
On both sides of it, jumping back and forth, I spent a lot of time in Mexico, won down there in Mexico, qualified on pole for the Busch race last year, had a great run, led most all the race. You know, I'm just looking forward to it. I can hardly wait.
Q. What has been the ingredient this year that has you off to such a good start?
SCOTT PRUETT: You know, Lexus, I felt we were a bit behind. This was just from a ruling standpoint, from Grand-Am, where we were within the specifications. They changed that at the end of last year. So our last two races, unfortunately TRD and Lexus weren't able to spend the amount of time getting the engine right. Even coming into this year at Daytona, we weren't real happy with the way the engine was performing.
I got to take my hat off to TRD and Lexus because they changed their philosophy on how they do the mapping, and the engine runs better not only full throttle, but all that transitioning runs better than it ever has before. That made the car such a pleasure to drive at Homestead, I can't even tell you.
We had just a great time. The car was very dominant. Like I said, this is a huge -- winning Daytona is our No. 1 priority. Winning the championship is the No. 2 priority. Winning the Mexico City race as a team is our No. 3 priority. This is huge for us as we head on down south this weekend.
Q. Adrian, just in general, what makes NASCAR so appealing to open-wheel drivers? What draws them into this aspect of the sport?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: What makes it strong I think is just the lack of work in open-wheel racing. It's what happened to open-wheel racing. Now that open-wheel racing is back together in one roof, you know, hopefully it can get back to what it used to be. I always said, they don't compete to each other. They have different markets. You have different type of fans that like open-wheel, NASCAR, et cetera, et cetera.
Unfortunately last few years open-wheel racing, and Scott can confirm this, it's just been bad for open-wheel racers and young drivers that always dream about being in IndyCars. So really a lot of these drivers, they didn't start their careers like most of the NASCAR drivers did, in Sprint cars, Super Modified cars, all the type of cars that will allow you a better platform before you jump into NASCAR.
So a lot of these drivers, you know, like Dario and Sam Hornish, other drivers like Patrick Carpentier, that run with us for so many years, basically they looking into their future. If I was in their shoes, I probably would have done the same.
I'm in a different stage. I had the opportunity to do that with Lowe's and Hendrick at some stage. But I'm 45 now. I want to enjoy more my family. I'm working under different circumstances. But if I had their age, I was in their time, I definitely would have done the same.
NASCAR right now puts you a better future, more growth with sponsorships and everything. So it's definitely the place to be right now.
Q. In terms of the fans in Mexico, is NASCAR popular year-round or does it peak this time of year?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I'm not hundred percent sure. It feels like it's more of a peak when it gets to Mexico because there's a lot of good drivers from Mexico that compete. It gets well-promoted. It's a good event. It's a good race. The fans have an opportunity to see a lot of the drivers that they don't see through the year.
Through the year, you know, I still have my doubts. I don't think it's being followed as much as everybody would like it to, or NASCAR would like it to. And I think the key is that we really haven't had a Mexican driver that represents NASCAR in a consistent basis that they can follow through the year.
The real fan fans, they follow it through the year. But a lot of them, you know, you need definitely the identity of somebody that they can follow. NASCAR is totally different than what Mexican fans are used to. They're used to open-wheel racing. They understand the racing better. NASCAR is a little bit different. The races are a lot longer. There are a lot more races. There are a lot more competitors.
It's a process of education. I think it's a lot more -- the fans are a lot more knowledgeable about NASCAR in general and I think there's a lot more. But to really make it a full success, I think definitely you need to have a Mexican or some Mexicans competing in the Nationwide Series and in the Cup Series consistently to be able for the media in Mexico to cover it race by race, and also the local channels, so it can become a lot stronger than maybe right now.
Q. How does it feel to run in all these different cities? Emotionally, how does it feel to be running in Mexico City this coming week?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I have never done a race in the same weekend in two different countries. I mean, I've done it like Scott is doing it now where he does the Grand-Am and he does the Cup race, but I've -- the Nationwide, but I've never done it in two different countries.
I feel very -- about my fitness and all that, I haven't really changed anything. I keep doing what I have done, which is eating well and preparing myself physically like I have always done it. That really hasn't changed much. Really the biggest thing is the logistics of JR Motorsports and Fernandez Racing, they have helped me to make sure everything runs as smooth as possible, the coordination with David Green and Luis Diaz on each side when I am at the other place. We've done a lot of work. My PR person Tammy (indiscernible) has done a lot of work in that respect to make sure everything runs in order.
Emotionally, going back to Mexico, for me Mexico has always embraced us with a lot of support in all aspects. For me to go back there and to be able to give them a win would be a very, very special moment. It will be a very big day for me and for Mexico. It's always great to be back in Mexico, like I said before. But also Sunday is my birthday, so I'm sorry, Scott, but I have to win this one this time. It's not your birthday (laughter).
You have to send me some of your books because, as you know, I'm working on my family. I have a baby now that is going to be one year old the 29th of April. We have a son coming pretty soon, hopefully in the next three to four weeks. I'm quite excited.
SCOTT PRUETT: We'll get you some books. Not a problem.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I'm excited about this weekend. I think it will be great. A lot of things happening in my life in the next four weeks. We've been running very competitive in the American LeMans Series, but things have not turned out our way. We are very strong. I believe this can be a good year for us in Mexico.
Q. Adrian, I know you're busy with your AMLS team, but this year the fewest number of Latin American drivers entered in the race. Do you have any insight? Have you spoken to any of the guys from Mexico? Would you have any idea why that is?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, I haven't really had time, I've been so busy. I haven't even looked at the entry list. How many are there?
Q. There are six.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, some of the things I said, sometimes when I talk, people think that I'm crazy. I have come from rock bottom to what I've done in my career. To me there is no instant success. Success happens with hard work and consistency. To develop something for a long-term needs to have consistency. You cannot be a star for one event and not follow up.
I think the reason maybe what's happening is because we come to these great events in Mexico and we have all these Mexican drivers. We have had guys like Carlos Contreras, Michel Jourdain, Jorge Goeters, myself. Taking me out of the picture, because I have a ride, I have my won team, I'm very fortunate to have Lowe's. The other drivers haven't had the opportunity to have the sponsors to follow them through the whole year and that has been a problem because they haven't had this opportunity to go jump into a Nationwide car in a consistent basis. Michel did have his opportunity. Unfortunately that didn't turn into a full-time ride. The same with Carlos Contreras. He has done on and off different races. He has shown his potential. Unfortunately, the sponsorship hasn't turned out into a situation where he can become a full-time driver. I think all these things affect it.
Eventually as things happen you get the excitement of the first race, everything is happening. But if you don't keep following up in terms of the drivers, eventually he may become less attractive for some sponsorship or something like that.
I really wish there is more help for some of these drivers. I think it's key for NASCAR to have a Latin driver in Mexico. Mexico is not just Mexico City. There's a lot of Latin drivers that we have here in America that have supported through the year. That's a good way of bringing to the series new fans, and then you can assure that success will be continuous and keep going in Mexico and also in America.
Q. You both get a lot of seat time in sports cars. Are there challenges of a road course race in general and in particular in a stock car that fans may not be totally aware of?
SCOTT PRUETT: You mean more from a full-time NASCAR driver making the transition to a road course or a general statement, as it compares to ovals? I'm not sure what you mean.
Q. What fans might not really understand about road course racing in general, then in a stock car. They might not understand a lot of things that you might be able to bring out because of all your experience.
SCOTT PRUETT: I think it seems like there tends to be that differential of fans who love road course racing and are very passionate about it, understand it inside and out. Then there are the fans who are very passionate about the ovals. Then there's those crossover fans in the middle that like both and may not know a hundred percent of either but enjoy watching it.
From a driver standpoint technically it's a lot more difficult at least from my standpoint doing a road course because you're shifting. At Mexico City you're shifting, gosh, 25 times a lap, upshift, downshift, braking. So the challenge or the opportunity certainly to make mistakes is a lot higher.
And typically the way that I've always pointed it out, whether it's been my IndyCar years or even in NASCAR, there is a point of which a driver can make up some speed and lap time on a road course where when you get to an oval you really have to be -- it's very difficult for a driver to make up speed on an oval. The car really has to be there because the driver can't make up for it.
I think with that challenge in mind, one of the big things I stress with the NASCAR drivers I work with and try and help them along in their road course ability is just not making a mistake. When you're making that many shifts a lap, when it's up and down, when you're braking that many times, the opportunity to flat spot tires, other things that can take away from the opportunity for a win, are just that much greater on an oval.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I a hundred percent agree with Scott. Adding to his comments, one of the things, an oval, you get in a groove, and basically it's all about reading the car, if it's pushing, if it's loose, how it is in traffic. There are certain places, like for example the Indy 500, Indianapolis Speedway, it's a place where you need to be very precise in your entry and exit because it's 90-degree corners and you have to pick up your turning. If you turn too early, you're too wide on the exit, et cetera, et cetera.
But beside that, the other general oval tracks, it's not so critical where you entry or where you exit. There's different lines. Your car is working well, you get in the groove, it's good. Road courses, for example, you come into a corner, you want to be precise and consistent and take care of your brakes, your tires, whatever, you come into one corner where you need to look at your braking reference, right? If you brake a little later, if you brake too early, you can make time or you can lose time. Always you're apexes, where you cut the corner, makes a difference.
You go to street courses where there is absolutely no margin of error because if you are a little bit wide, you're within millimeters of the wall. If you make a mistake, you're into the wall, you damage the car. You're constantly in this tunnel vision where you have to go by reference.
Fans ask, What are you thinking when you're driving on a road course? Well, what you're thinking is just about what is your next move. For example, in the American LeMans Series, you have shifting points. You're looking at your light to shift. Once you go through all your lights, you may want to change your brake balance. You also have different buttons on your steering wheel you can change. So there's maybe certain things that you're doing at the same time while you're going to your shifting points. Once you get to the next corner, you're concentrating on your braking point. Once you're at the braking point, you go to the next corner, the next braking point, the next one, the next one, the next one.
A good road course driver is one that can constantly repeat these things and not make mistakes and be precise and be within a 10th of a second of his lap time, reading the tires, knowing how to take care of the tires, everything.
In NASCAR, it's the same thing. You don't do as much shifting as you do in the Grand-Am or American LeMans car. But the braking is a lot more difficult in NASCAR than the car that Scott and I are used to because these cars are a lot more heavier, they transfer a lot more weight. It's easier to block tires. It's easy to overdrive a corner. But at the same time you have to have your reference. You have to have very good braking points and knowing the tires, knowing those things. There's a lot more going on in a road course than there is in an oval.
If you have a bad car in an oval, it's going to be the longest day of your life because it's not easy. I tell you that.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, Adrian and Scott. Best of luck this weekend down in Mexico City.
SCOTT PRUETT: Look forward to seeing you in Mexico City.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: See you there, my friend.
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