TALLADEGA, Ala. – Six NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams participated in a Goodyear tire test on the new racing surface at Talladega Superspeedway Tuesday and Wednesday, Sept. 19-20, 2006. The drivers and teams participating in the test were No. 1 Martin Truex, Jr., No. 25 Brian Vickers, No. 38 David Gilliland, No. 40 David Stremme, No. 32 Travis Kvapil and No. 12 Ryan Newman. The drivers took a break during testing on Tuesday to address questions from the media. The first group of interviews included Truex, Jr., Vickers and Gilliland. The second group included Stremme, Kvapil and Newman. Select quotes from the interviews follow:
Session One – Martin Truex, Jr., Brian Vickers and David Gilliland
ON THE NEW RACING SURFACE AT TALLADEGA:
Gilliland: “It ran great for me because I have never been here! It’s very smooth and has a lot of grip. Goodyear has got a great tire I think. Even with three-wide and the drafting deal, it is very smooth and very nice.”
Vickers: “I agree with that. It is a very smooth race track. They did a great job with the paving all the way around the race track. As far as the race is concerned, it is going to be good. It is probably going to be about five-wide and nine-deep. From a superspeedway standpoint, for any standpoint obviously, I have driven on a lot of new surfaces and this is definitely one of the best ones I have driven on as far as the quality of how smooth it is. I think it is going to be a good race. It has a lot of grip out there. It’s not going to get single file, that’s for sure.”
Truex, Jr.: “They did an awesome job repaving it. It’s really, really good, really smooth. One of the things we fought here in the past was all the bumps. They’d grind the valance off the car and stuff like that. So, it’s really smooth and a really cool race track. I don’t think the racing is really going to change all that much. The tires are going to be a little different; they don’t really wear out, so a lot of guys won’t be putting tires on in the race. But we still have to fill a 13-gallon (fuel) cell up, and the racing should be as good as it has ever been, if not better.”
“There was starting to be an issue with tire wear, and the surface was really old and really bumpy. It had a lot of cracks and holes in it and stuff, so it’s a lot safer for us now. But I don’t think it will really change the racing all that much. Like I said, tire wear is going to change and you aren’t going to need tires as much as you used to, but I don’t think the racing is going to change at all.“
Vickers: “That last race was a good race for us. A lot of guys will tell you they either love or hate superspeedway racing. I have always loved it. I am probably in the same boat with Truex, there. I know he always enjoys coming to these tracks as well. Time will tell if David loves or hates it, but, we were fortunate to have a good run. As far as the track surface and changing the race, I would have to lean very strongly toward the comments of Martin. I don’t think that the racing is going to change a lot. I think the track does have a lot of grip, and I think guys are going to feel a lot more comfortable side-by-side, three-wide, maybe even four-wide, I don’t know, especially toward the end of the race. But we always saw that here anyway. The tires are going to last a long time and I think you will see some different pit strategy, but it is still a superspeedway race.”
“They did a great job with pit road. I think getting in and off of pit road and in the box will be a little bit easier. I know this track, with the lack of grip of the asphalt in the pit boxes and as hard of a tire we run here, you always saw a lot of guys go sliding through their pit boxes. Maybe that will be a little bit better, but in general I still think it is going to be a superspeedway race.”
WAS TIRE WEAR A BIG ISSUE BEFORE THE SURFACE WAS REPLACED?
Vickers: “I don’t think it is a big problem or concern in either direction. We managed here just fine. I don’t really remember having any major tire issues. Goodyear always brought an appropriate tire for the surface. But nonetheless, the surface was really getting old and really wearing out, a lot of holes and bumps and different things. Now we still have a very similar hard tire, and it is fine. It is not good or bad, it just is what it is. I think the tire is going to be fine. If anything, I think you are going to see more guys not take tires. That is probably going to be the biggest difference in the race. You’re going to have guys come in and take two, take none, but you are not going to be able to run a whole race on a set. You are eventually going to have to change them for sure.”
GILLILAND GIVES HIS THOUGHTS ON HIS FIRST NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES START AT TALLADEGA:
Gilliland: “I am really excited. I don’t think I would pick a different team to come here with. They have had a lot of success here. The car has always been great in qualifying and in race trim. The car has been pretty good in the last couple of days in qualifying trim, so we are looking forward to coming back here for sure. To prepare myself, really without drafting a lot, my main focus when we come back here and even today in drafting practice is just to try and gain the respect of my fellow racers and the people I am racing around so I can maybe get some help by the end of the race and maybe just stay out of trouble. I have been watching a lot of races on TV from the past here and doing a lot of simulation races on the computer and just trying to learn all that I can. My main focus when I come back here is just to work on gaining the respect of my fellow racers.”
ON THE DECISION TO EXCLUDE CHASE CONTENDERS FROM THIS TEST:
Gilliland: “You’d have to let them all come test, or not. I feel like they made the right decision. None of us are in the Chase, and you can’t let one or two of them and not the rest. So I think they did is what is most fair.
Vickers: “I agree with that. I don’t think Chase guys should be testing during the Chase. I think it is an unfair advantage unless you take all 10 of them, so I think it worked out great.”
Truex, Jr.: “I don’t think it really matters. The guys that are in the Chase are there because they run good every week. They are going to bring cars here that are proven from past races with them. So if a few of them came, I don’t think it would change anything. They are all going to come here and run well like they do every time.”
ON WHETHER THE NEW PAVEMENT AND TIRE COMPOUND WILL INCREASE THE LIKELIHOOD OF A BIG INCIDENT DURING A RACE THIS FALL:
Truex, Jr.: “That is hard to say. Sometimes there is a big wreck and sometimes there is not. That is the only cause of wrecks here, people making mistakes. We are all guilty of making mistakes, but when you do it here there are a lot of circumstances. I don’t think the tire is going to change anything. You can’t say because this tire doesn’t wear out that there is going to be a bigger wreck or a smaller wreck. It depends on the circumstances.”
Vickers: “I agree with Martin. I think the one thing that people lose sight of when we come to a restrictor plate race is that we have on average probably fewer wrecks here than anywhere we go. Whether they are here, at Bristol, or Loudon, they are caused by people making mistakes or two people going for the same real estate. Not this most recent race at Loudon, but the one before, we had more cautions than we did this time. I don’t know why. The tires are the same. Maybe people were in a better mood. Maybe people were more willing to give a little bit more instead of take so much. I think it is going to be the same thing here. The only difference here is that it gets so much more attention because everybody is three-wide, 15-deep and so when you make a mistake it is more apparent and makes a bigger mess. I don’t think that is going to change any than it normally has. We may go this whole race and not have one, and we may have a bunch of them, I don’t know.
Session Two: David Stremme, Travis Kvapil, Ryan Newman
ON THE NEW RACING SURFACE AT TALLADEGA:
Stremme: “The paving crew did a great job of paving the track. . . . It is just like what it was here before, just really smooth.”
Kvapil: “I can echo probably what everybody else said. The track is great. It is such a change coming back. It was really rough and we were bouncing around. Now it is ultra smooth and has ultra grip. The tire is great. There are no tire wear issues. There will be a lot of two-tire and gas only stops. It is cool and is a lot of fun.
Newman: “I think they did a great job paving the racetrack. It is super smooth just like these guys said. It is going to be very competitive. You are going to want to bring a fast race car here because it is going to be totally opposite Daytona now, as handling is going to be next to nothing, if nothing. It is definitely a big change and improvement as far as smoothness goes, and hopefully we can put on just as good a race. That’s the bottom line.”
DO YOU THINK THIS TEST GIVES YOU MUCH OF AN ADVANTAGE?
Kvapil: “I think we all get a pretty good advantage. We came with what we normally run here and we’ve picked up speed along the way. But for the most part, we really haven’t found an incredible amount of speed. It’s not a huge advantage, but I think it gives us a little bit of a heads-up on things to expect. We can look into the strategy a little bit and see where the tires wear and that sort of thing. Any time you get track time, we get to work on the engine and anytime we get to test we learn something. So I think it is a neat little advantage for sure.”
Stremme: “We ended up trying a lot of different stuff and really didn’t find anything. This is actually a third car that we actually keep as a back-up. As Ryan said before, there has been a difference between Daytona and Talladega and now there is a greater difference. Our Talladega car, we’ll probably do a little fluffing and buffing here and there on it, but we have tried all kind of stuff – just real goofy stuff just trying to see if anything will work. A lot of times an error will happen and you gain speed and learn things from mistakes. I haven’t seen a great deal of difference.”
Newman: “I drove around with my right arm, and never touched the steering wheel with my left arm, so it is definitely easy to drive but it is going to get a lot more difficult when other cars are out there. I just look forward to the race. Like I said, the bottom line is we need to have a good show for the fans and represent the sport the way we always have.
ON HOW THE NEW SURFACE MAY AFFECT STRATEGY:
Newman: “I think we will have to see what the track really is like when we get 40 or 43 cars out there and see what the situation is going to be like with tires and if the grip changes between now and then. I think the other biggest part of that, is because the track is so black, to see what kind of weather we have; if it is going to be 55-degree day or an 85-degree day. If it gets hot, it can get greasy and slick. The combination of what the traffic is like and what all that stuff is like will depend on the strategies and who is doing what. It is going to be different – an even bigger change – having guys that are in the Chase this year, with this type of change, having to worry about the strategy a little more.
Kvapil: “Like Ryan said, we won’t know until we come back how the track is and how the tires are and things like that. But everything we are seeing so far, the tires aren’t wearing out and we probably won’t have to put four tires on every time probably. There will be less of a handling factor than this place has ever had. There is a lot less handling involved than Daytona for sure, but it is exaggerated now. I think it is going to be big pack and tighter racing in a bigger group than we’ve ever seen here. We are going to be able to drive the cars even more aggressively.”
Stremme: “Guys are going to be a lot more aggressive with their moves when they are in a bigger pack. It is easy to run four- or five-wide. There are no bumps to make the car jump around. Goodyear asked me what I thought of the tires and I told them it was like having brand new tires every lap. I couldn’t tell a difference. So there are going to be big packs and a lot of cars around each other and hopefully nobody makes a mistake. But that is why people come and buy tickets for this place and it will be the same thing again, I think.”
ON WHETHER IT WAS A WISE DECISION FOR NASCAR TO EXCLUDE CHASE CONTENDERS FROM THIS TEST:
Newman: “I’d say so for sure in fairness to everybody. They wouldn’t have a fair opportunity to give everybody that chance, or have everybody given that opportunity, with testing because of the way the situation is this year with tires and the limit on tires and the limit on testing. They wouldn’t be able to be fair everybody. So yeah, I think the best thing to do to be fair to everybody, was to eliminate that question mark.”
Kvapil: “I agree. Obviously those top-10 guys, even the 11th and 12th place guys battling for the 11th position at the end of the year, they’ve got a lot on the line. It would be tough to be able to invite one or two of those guys out of the top 10 and not be able to include all of them. I think it is a great decision. Obviously there are still great race cars outside of the top 10 they can gather great information from.”
Stremme: “I agree. They shouldn’t be allowed here. I know they are talking within the company of Juan Pablo (Montoya) making his ARCA start here and trying to get some speedway experience and other stuff. So we are gathering data for that along with the Cup team. But there is not a lot of data to grab, it’s pretty smooth.
Newman: “Is his name Juan Pablo, or Juan?”
Stremme: “He told me Juan Montoya. Somebody called him Juan Pablo, so . . . “
Newman: “I don’t want to aggravate him at the first race in Daytona and start calling him JP!”
KVAPIL, EXPERIENCED IN THE NASCAR CRAFTSMAN TRUCK SERIES, ADDRESSES THE UPCOMING INAUGURAL TALLADEGA 250 SET FOR OCT. 7:
Kvapil: “It is going to be a pretty crazy event. There are going to be a lot of spectacular moves and passing. I am sure many people have seen a truck race at Daytona, and it is easy to run three-wide and make very aggressive moves with the slingshot. The trucks punch such a big hole in the air and they don’t have a restrictor plate on them. They are so much fun to draft and you can really manipulate the air as a driver. Going to a racetrack that is so much wider than Daytona, so much smoother and has so much more grip than Daytona, the truck race is going to be pretty wild. It is definitely one that if I can’t get in it, I will definitely be watching. It is going to be a great show.”
WILL THE NEW SURFACE LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD TO ANY DEGREE?
Kvapil: “I think the cars that sit on poles and win these races are pretty fast race cars, especially the guys that are able to qualify good. I think that is going to make the teams with the fast race cars excel even more. Like Ryan was saying earlier, it is not really a handling issue. I think the teams with pure speed and pure horsepower will be the ones in front of the pack.”
Stremme: “The good teams always rise above everybody else. It is just through hard work and what everybody puts into their team. It will be the same thing whenever they unveil the Car of Tomorrow here, the same teams that have always run well in speedway races will still probably run well. Our program we are working hard on to keep improving and I think it is getting better, but Hendrick and a lot of places have always been strong and they just stay on top of it.”
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