Transcripts from interviews with Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Colin Braun of NASCAR as well as Danica Patrick, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti of the Indy Car Series
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver TONY STEWART of Stewart-Haas Racing
You don’t think as an owner out there on the track? You’re just a driver, right?
TS: Honestly, the only way it really works is to be a car owner four days a week and to be a driver the three days we are there at the race track. It’s hard enough just doing the driver role, but that’s part of having people in the right places and having someone like [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins. He kind of plays that car owner role during the weekend and the short amount of time that I’ve been with him I can tell you I have 110 percent confidence that if I wasn’t at the race track at all during the weekend that everything is fine with him at the helm.
How do you think the economy is affecting NASCAR fans planning on attending this season’s races?
TS: The thing about race fans is that people that come to one race a year literally save up the whole year to go to that one event. The things you normally hear the fans talk about the most is gas getting there and the hotel prices. We can go across the street to a hotel and it’s probably $80 a night right now. When you come back in 40 days, it’s going to be a $380 room and you have to buy a minimum of three or four days whether you stay there or not. It’s just things like that that drain the race fans of going to the races. The facility here, not charging for parking, is a great idea. Why should anyone charge for parking? That’s showing how the promoters and tracks are trying to help. I always lean on [TMS President] Eddie [Gossage] for my information as a promoter and we try to do the same things at our race track and try to figure out how we can help the same way. But that’s the things you hear them talk about, when you’re talking about just getting to the track is the hardest part for these people.
Is NASCAR more susceptible to the economic hardship as opposed to basketball or football?
TS: I don’t know. I’ve not been a part of basketball or football so I really don’t know. A basketball game is a one night game where our events are two- to three-day weekends. That’s where those lodging costs and the fuel cost getting there come in. You don’t normally see too many people drive eight hours to go to a basketball game, but they do it to go to a NASCAR race.
Have you encountered any surprises on the owner side thus far?
TS: Everything has been pretty sane from the ownership side. There hasn’t been a huge curveball come our way yet that we didn’t expect. Honestly, I just don’t think it’s happened yet. I’ve been so proud of [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins, [crew chiefs] Darian Grubb, Tony Gibson and Ryan [Newman]. To come in here and to get these groups of people that we’ve got there at the shop have come from all different teams. To be able to go to Daytona and for us to be both competitive like we were was something that I was really, really proud of.
How has the owner’s role changed you as a driver?
TS: It hasn’t because I take that owner’s hat off on Thursday night when I get to the race track and put it back on Monday. I’m still dealing with three pedals and a shifter when I get in the car. It’s the same thing as it was last year whether I was a driver or an owner. That’s the reality of it. My job when I get in the car is to drive the car. It’s not until Monday that I focus on that [being an owner]. It’s a full-time job being a driver, but Monday to Thursday when I’m not being a driver we still have to shuffle things around like appearances and media days and try to figure out how we need to get done and do all these obligations. It’s been something that I think we’ve all been pretty efficient about so far.
Discuss your relationship with Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.
TS: A lot of it starts with Eddie Gossage and the respect I have for Eddie and this facility. Eddie and I have had a long relationship with each other and since I’ve become a track owner Eddie has been a guy I have been always able to have the ability to pick up the phone and call him and ask him a question and get his input. And he has always taken the time for me. That’s something that has meant a lot. When this is all said and done and we all quit driving race cars and you guys quit writing articles and quit covering sports, the things that we have left are the people that we have met along the way. Eddie is one of those people that have made a huge impact on me as a person away from racing but on the professional side, too. I believe in everything that he has done and he works hard and any time he asks us to come do an event we are willing to do it.
Do a lot of drivers think that way?
TS: It’s like we were talking about the economy earlier. Everyone wants to do their part to make it better and I’m not sure we know exactly what that answer is but our intentions are to do that and to do what we can to help make it a better experience for the fans and make a better product for them every week. It is one thing for the economy to be bad, but we are competing in a time where everything is on the Internet and there are so many things for people to do. The simplest part about what we do here every weekend is we are in the entertainment industry, and we are competing against everybody else whether it is high school football on Friday night or whatever. We are trying to figure out how we get these people to come watch us do what we love to do. And that is the challenge every week for track owners and sanctioning bodies. It’s how do you make it better. When the economy gets bad like this, it makes it that much tougher of a challenge.
You try and find more ways to make it more efficient for the people to come watch us do what we love to do every week.
Thoughts about leaving the door open to compete in the IndyCar Series?
TS: That’s why I’ve learned to say never say never. I retired from open-wheel racing once and it wasn’t about three months later that I realized that that was the dumbest thing I had ever done. You learn to say never say never with it. I don’t know what will happen, but the good thing is I have a plan for what we’re going to do life beyond being a driver. We will still have our race tracks and we want to have our race teams as long as possible. I really enjoy that side of it. I’m still having a lot of fun being a driver to and that’s what I love the most.
Did A.J. Foyt give you any advice on being a car owner during the Daytona 500?
TS: We don’t talk about it a lot. A.J. and I have had a great relationship for a long time. Normally when we get together, we are talking about him tipping over his bulldozer or fighting with something with whatever city on the south end of as he’s fighting with. We have fun away from racing. For a long time we always talked about racing, but as time goes on we like those conversations away from racing that don’t have anything to do with what is going on at the race track. We spend more time catching up on what each other is doing.
How special was it to have A.J. Foyt at the Daytona 500?
TS: It was the icing on the cake for the week for me. Anne Fornoro who works with AJ [as the team’s publicist] said he had an absolute blast. And that’s something we wanted him to come there and have fun and be proud of us and hopefully be proud that we ran that No. 14 [Foyt’s number] toward the front. The coolest part about this was the very first race we ran in the No. 14 car was at the shootout, and we led the 14th lap. That was cool to have A.J. see that No. 14 car out leading again.
What does the team need to do to get your teammate Ryan Newman going?
TS: To get the bad luck and the monkey off his back. He is just had rotten luck.
He is just had rotten, terrible luck. We’ve got to find some way to get rid of his bad luck for him. I don’t know how we do that, but whatever the way is we’ll find it. The good thing is the cars are running well and that is encouraging to both of us. We at least know that the cars can run out front. It’s just a matter of getting luck on his side.
Does a testing ban help or hurt a team like yours?
TS: I think it goes both ways actually. It was a blessing in disguise for us through the winter because instead of being gone 15 to 20 days during the offseason -- which we probably would have been if the testing was opened up -- that helped us keep everyone back at the shop. The little bit that it hurt us helped us at the same time.
Can you learn from the troubles of Michael Waltrip as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver/owner?
TS: I don’t know if we looked at what they did as much as how are we going to do it. How are we going to do it in a way that makes sense and gives us the best shot to be successful. I don’t know if looking at what they did was part of our equation. We never really looked back and said ‘what did they do.’ We really don’t know what they exactly did and how they were doing it. But looking at the equation when we first sat down and talked about this process was looking at where the key tools and pieces were in place to do it. And, obviously, with Gene Haas and Haas Automation having built a beautiful shop, they had all the equipment there that we needed. It was a matter of having the right group of people together.
Tell me how you’ve been able to manage your time trying to get this team up and running with all the driver commitments you’ve got to make while also being the team owner. That’s got to be stressful.
TS: It is - it’s a good weight-loss program so far (laughing). Honestly, it’s like Ryan [Newman] mentioned earlier. We’ve got what I feel like are the right people in place earlier and getting Ryan as a teammate was a huge piece of that puzzle, Darian Grubb as my crew chief, Tony Gibson as Ryan’s crew chief and when we got [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins I feel like that really was the glue that started pulling all the pieces together.
Once we got that group, there it kind of became their responsibility to go through the system and get the crews together - tire changers, carriers, fuel guys and all the spots at the shop that make the pieces to the puzzle fit. Now I’m more in a learning stage than an ownership side of it. I’m watching Bobby and Darian and Tony Gibson, and learning from those guys.
Has it been as tough as you thought it would be or tougher?
TS: I’ve been a car owner since 2001 with the World of Outlaws sprint car series and in 2002 we started adding USAC programs to our equation and started buying race tracks so we’ve kind of been in this ownership role since 2001. Everybody thought it was going to be something we didn’t really have any knowledge of, but from day one we kind of had an idea what was going to happen. It’s a lot larger scale at the NASCAR level with 150 employees at the shop. I was used to dealing with 14 or 15 guys in the whole open-wheel program, so it’s a ten times bigger program. It’s been different I should say, there have been a lot of things that I didn’t think about but I knew there were going to be situations like that or like human resources departments. I’m normally an HR nightmare and now I’ve got to worry about our HR department at our shop. It’s been fun to learn. Nothing’s been a total shock. By the time we left Daytona, Ryan and I realized that between two drivers we used five cars. Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth so far.
As owner of the team and driver of the No. 14 car, how does the owner of the car deal with the driver of the car when he gets out of control?
TS: Easy - they don’t fight with each other. That’s the good thing. It’s hard to unless I just stand in the mirror, and either way nobody wins that. I think it’s probably calmed me down a little bit from the standpoint that there’s 150 people at the shop that I’m responsible for and it’s not only them. It’s their spouses, their girlfriends, their children so easily that number turns into 450 so everything that you do you try to keep in mind how it’s not only going to affect yourself but how it affects the other people in your organization.
So the driver… you don’t see any outbursts from him this season?
TS: Oh, I’m sure there’ll be some somewhere. Let’s not be unrealistic about this Ryan Newman: Seriously, we’ve got a shock collar for him this year. It’s underneath his collar. And for whatever reason, they gave the button to my wife. So I just give her a little wink and she knocks him right down.
Eddie Gossage: Now we know.
TS: Well, it’s sad because it’s true (laughing).
How do you feel going into this deal as an owner? Obviously you dealt with a backup car at Daytona, but you are running Hendrick Motorsports equipment and motors. Darian Grubb comes out of that program. Does that give you more confidence that you don’t have to sweat start-up issues, like Michael Waltrip did, and that you have a great opportunity to compete for race wins and the championship?
TS: Yeah, we feel that way. That’s why we made this decision. The process started two [NASCAR championship] banquets ago, so two years ago in December is when this first was even mentioned to us. So the process of trying to figure out what pieces were in place, what are the other hurdles that need to be fixed, how do we fix it. We spent a lot of time going through that and weighing those options before we ever decided what we were going to do. It’s not that we expect anything out of the box, not that we expect to do well but we feel like we have a great opportunity to run well right out of the box and that’s because of exactly what you mentioned. We know that the Hendrick engines are proven, we know the Hendrick chassis are proven. Having somebody like Darian Grubb [Stewart’s crew chief who came from Hendrick] that is very familiar with their system on our side helps so we feel like all those pieces are in place. It’s like Ryan mentioned getting the right core group of people was the biggest part of the equation to try to make it all work. We went to Daytona and everybody said “Are you surprised?” and I’m not surprised either way but it was because we knew there was potential. It was just a matter of how soon it would come together and how soon would it gel.
How many Nationwide Series races do you plan on running this year and for who?
TS: A total of three. Obviously, we ran for Mr. [Rick] Hendrick at Daytona with the Hendrick car and had an awesome race in the Nationwide Series race there. We’re going to run the second race for Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. in the No. 5 car and we’re going to run a race for Kevin Harvick here in Texas [O’Reilly 300 on April 4].
You’ve said many times that you would have loved to have won the Indianapolis 500, but now you own a team in NASCAR. Do you ever see a scenario, at some point down the road, where you might give that another try?
TS: As much as my heart wants to say yes, my mind says no. There’s a lot more responsibility obviously now being a car owner and the logistics of it still make it impossible to do. When they moved the start time of it back two hours the logistics of being able to complete the [Indy] 500 and get down to on time to start the [Coca-Cola] 600, you can’t do it. I’ve learned to never say never, but unfortunately that is probably a chapter in my life that’s passed. I’ve chosen my path especially being a car owner in this series now so I doubt that it will happen.
With the struggles that the big three have had in the economic climate and racing in NASCAR and Toyota being there, is there a sense of trying to be better than Toyota?
TS: I can’t honestly say that I feel pressure from that standpoint. Obviously, we’re in an economic time that’s tough on everybody, especially the big three [GM, Ford, Dodge].
It’s not at all about what we do here in racing; it’s how much it’s going to affect our country if we lose those three manufacturers. It would obviously be devastating to our sport, but on a bigger scale all the families that it would affect that are all employed by those three manufacturers would be a much bigger concern to us.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver RYAN NEWMAN of Stewart-Haas Racing How is the economy affecting NASCAR and is it hitting this sport more than others?
RN: I think the more money that is involved, the more it affects you. It’s kind of an expediential scale. I think NASCAR has done a good job with the banning of testing. I think the tracks have done a good job dropping ticket prices, concession stand sales, things like that are huge. I have always said that NASCAR is a family sport and when it’s irrational to spend money to come to the race track then something needs to be done. Obviously in these economic times, to me the most important thing that there is is the fans.
What have you noticed differently of Tony Stewart now as an owner?
RN: He’s dedicated. He wants to win. That’s probably why he got as much criticism in his racing career was he got asked the wrong questions at the wrong time. You guys have a job to do -- don’t get me wrong -- but that’s the last thing we want to talk about. And that just shows his dedication. That shows his emotion. I think that he’s a racer and from an owner/driver, from the things that he sponsors, his race tracks, he’s a racer. That’s one of the things that I admire.
I’m sure you never imagined Tony Stewart being your boss?
RN: I never envisioned it. I never envisioned Roger Penske being my boss before he was. I just didn’t know. You just don’t think about those things. If you’re playing hockey, you would like to be able to have Wayne Gretzky on your team but you really just want to play hockey. You want to win. You would be just as happy beating Wayne Gretzky. To me, I’m in a position I’m grateful for and I’m proud to have the U.S. Army on the side of my car and on my chest.
Do you feel better about Goodyear?
RN: I felt better about Goodyear after California. But that’s behind us now.
How has Texas Motor Speedway aged?
RN: Basically it’s gotten wider. It’s gotten a bit more character. A little more bumpier which is fine, I like it. The tunnel bump here in [turns] one and two was getting pretty big so I’m glad they took some of the ‘character’ out of it. I think that in general the track has gotten wider and racier. It’s got less grip. But that is fine, I’d rather slide around a little bit and be in charge of my race car than be stuck to the race track.
What impresses you about TMS President Eddie Gossage and what he does at Texas Motor Speedway?
RN: I don’t know if Eddie would appreciate me saying this, but he’s kind of like the modern-day Humpy Wheeler. Humpy was a great promoter and he did a lot of great things for the sport and Eddie does a lot of great things for the sport. He’s always thinking of the next thing that is going to set him apart and I admire that because that is what sets you apart.
It’s not just doing it, but the thought process to do it. He’s been successful. He’s been here awhile. The trophies make a big difference. From the driver’s standpoint, we cash the check and when we say we won the race the trophy is what stands behind and says this was a cool race. From the trophies on up, he does a great job putting on the race.
Has Eddie asked you to do something that you’ve said no?
RN: We’ve butted heads on a couple of things, but only because it’s our opinion. That’s part of it. Like I said, he’s done a great job.
What has Tony Stewart said to you about the start of the season?
RN: I guess it was two nights ago we were staying in Vegas and Tony gave me $14 and he said ‘Here, just put it in your pocket and see if it works for you.’ It’s still in my pocket.
The plane stayed in the air [coming to Texas], everything has been good so far and we’ll see how the racing goes this weekend.
Do you approach racing differently knowing you don’t have unlimited resources?
RN: It’s no different. I drive to win the race and sometimes that gets me caught up in someone else’s crash. Sometimes I miss the crash and sometimes I go on and win the race, but that doesn’t change anything in respect to that. I don’t consider myself a reckless driver.
I don’t do anything reckless to try and put myself in position to win the race. I race to race.
And Tony [Stewart] does the same thing.
Is there a challenge of not having a full-year sponsor?
RN: We obviously have the U.S. Army, and Haas Automation is on board as well. We are still actively seeking sponsorship. We feel fortunate to have names on the car. There are a lot of guys that don’t have names on the car. I know this is a new situation and a new team and Tony [Stewart] is in a great situation with Office Depot and Old Spice. I think if we can come out of the box a little stronger than we have in the first two races and get some top fives and earn a couple of poles that will fill in accordingly. No matter what the economy is, there are still people spending money. There are people looking for advertisement. And that is out there.
What were the key factors that helped you decide that you wanted to join Tony and the Stewart-Haas organization?
RN: The biggest thing was I know Tony as a driver. I’ve always thought a lot of him in reference to that and as an owner I know his experience with the Outlaws team and the USAC teams. I know his dedication as a racer and that’s different from being just a driver. I told him point blank after I had actually signed my contract that I just want to have fun.
Obviously, I want to win races, lead laps, win poles, all of those things, but I want to have fun doing it. I don’t want it to be like working and it had become work where I was and it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. Not that it wasn’t fun; it just wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. The one trait that I’ve always said I admired about Tony is he can drive anything, anywhere, any time, any place as a driver and I look forward to being part of the Stewart-Haas team throughout the rest of the ’09 season.
Has it been fun?
RN: It has been fun, yes. We haven’t had the success that we wanted in the first two races, but it has still been fun so that’s nice to say.
You kind of had a stressful Speedweeks, tell us about that time.
RN: Speedweeks is something to forget. The one thing that I’ll say is people have asked me several times if there is a bunch of risk involved in going with Stewart-Haas Racing and I don’t look at it that way. To me, there was more risk involved staying where I was, trying to make something happen that hadn’t happened in the last five years and that was winning a championship. I look forward to putting Daytona behind us. We went through two race cars and were on our third and luckily the rain came.
So you didn’t have a chance to really finish off the third one…
RN: I know how the last 15 laps at Daytona always go so there was going to be a crash at some point and we had some misfortunes. We actually went from California to Vegas and the guys were actually out there working at one of the guy’s shops so I was over there Monday helping them, making sure everything was good with the seat for my Vegas car.
But you’ve run well in spite of the misfortunes.
RN: We were really fast at Daytona. We struggled a little bit at California for speed, not in qualifying trim, but in race trim. I’ve always said when the car feels good in qualifying trim you have the speed. It’s just the matter of making it fast for those race trim laps. I was happier being fast in qualifying trim, knowing we could make the car go fast than I would have been if we couldn’t have qualified well and we couldn’t have found the speed in the car and just had an okay race.
What has the transition been like for you to a new team, moving from Dodge to Chevrolet, and with a new crew chief and new crew members and what have you?
Do you expect that to be a season-long process, several months or a few weeks before you really start feeling comfortable?
RN: The biggest thing in respect to both Dodge versus Chevrolet and Penske versus Stewart-Haas is people, and it is one of the things I talked to Tony [Stewart] about way before we ever got to the point of signing any kind of paperwork was tell me about the people. What’s your plan for the people? And then you have to actually follow through with it. I feel that Tony has done a great job with all the people at Stewart-Haas to get the right people in the right places and the right capacities. For instance, [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins -- lot of great experience, a great guy, a true racer. He’s basically our general manager. My crew chief Tony Gibson and [Stewart’s crew chief] Darian Grubb, all the people at the shop. Those are the most important things. Then the difference between the Chevrolet group and the Dodge group isn’t just the nose or the tail template here. It’s the people that actually make the difference and the insight that they can give you to make your race car go faster. As a whole, I think the biggest difference and the biggest change is just the people from where I have been and where I am now.
Coming from military city USA, we have a huge support system here in San Antonio. How important is it for you driving for the U.S. Army and representing some of our nation’s biggest and best heroes?
RN: That’s exactly the way I see it. There are a million people out there who I feel are our heroes and I’m representing them with the U.S. Army across my chest so it’s a unique situation. Both Tony [Stewart] and I have had good sponsors in the past but this is a different kind of sponsor. You’re representing our fight for freedom and their fight for freedom and at the same time for me I have to do my job to help the recruiting process for generations to come so that we can continue to do these things and watch races and have the freedom that we enjoy. I got a little experience going to . We did that back before the season started and I had an absolute blast there in more ways than one. They had dynamite going off and shooting guns and had us flying in the vertical wind tunnel, so I’ve gotten to experience some of the things that they do from a safety standpoint and the technology and the training standpoint, but I really look forward to doing a lot more things with the Army to understand it better so I can speak educated about the things that they’re doing that we don’t see to you guys or other groups.
What are you and your team’s goals for the end of the season? Where should you be in the points and all of that?
RN: I’d be kidding myself and everybody else if I didn’t say we were here to win the championship, but I feel that with our situation, the testing process and all of that I think that we have all the tools and all the people and all of the things that we need from a performance standpoint to be in the Chase. Once we’re in the Chase, we’ll be able to determine how good of a championship contender we would be. My ultimate goal is to be in the Chase and give ourselves a shot at the championship, win some races, lead a bunch of laps and just have fun doing as I said from the beginning.
I’m curious to know your thoughts about this drug-testing program and what effect it might have? Don’t you, as a driver, have to have kind of an innate confidence to begin with that your fellow competitors are clean to start with?
RN: I think it’s great what NASCAR is doing. They are working on their process to redefine it, to take it to the next degree each and every time. For me personally, I don’t drink and I’ve never done drugs so it’s kind of different. I don’t think about it and that’s probably part of why it’s important. There are so many things we’re doing working on our race cars, doing an appearance, doing a commercial, things like that that we don’t necessarily think about. You know the condition of the other drivers as we’re competing against them and for that matter it’s not just the drivers, it’s the crew members, it’s the guy that’s doing the nut and bolt list on your race car before you go out or the guy that’s back at the shop that’s welding something together. It’s the importance of that from a safety standpoint, not just for the drivers on the race track but for the fans in the grandstands as well.
There was not as much testing coming into 2009. Do you feel that you were prepared better or worse coming into this season as opposed to seasons before?
RN: I feel that after California that was our first true test as a team with the No. 39 car.
We went to a couple small tests, but they’re not like the real thing they’re not. I think a lot of people can consider California their first test. As we progress throughout the season, working with [crew chief] Tony Gibson, working with Tony Stewart, working with our communication, and doing the things that we would normally do testing that we will evolve and the successes will come easier. To me, it doesn’t change the racing. It doesn’t change the end result, but in hindsight I wish we would have a little bit more testing but I don’t think it was necessary.
Have you added any new cars to your personal collection? Perhaps a GM product since you now drive an Impala on the Cup Series.
RN: Thankfully my wife when I turned 30 and 31, she got me my newest vehicle, which is not new because of age, but new to me is a Master convertible, which happens to be the only GM product in my entire camp. I have about 13 old cars that I work on and play with. There’s no bias to Ford or Dodge or General Motors. I’ve got a Hudson, I’ve got a Jaguar, I’ve got a Triumph. I’ve got some different things and different cars, but thankfully she got me that so I’ve got one. It’s one of the four cars that was used in the movie, “Rainman.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver COLIN BRAUN of Roush Fenway Racing With already winning a pole in the season opener at Daytona, what are your expectations this upcoming season?
CB: Certainly for me last year, we had some great races and we had some very disappointing races. It was kind of an up-and-down season and the goal for this year is to be consistent and to have top-10, top-five races and be a consistent contender week in and week out. Definitely the bar has been raised and the standard has been set. Obviously, Mark Martin and Travis Kvapil have had a lot of success in this truck and have proven that it can win races and win the championship. I feel we just got to go out there and get the job done.
What does it do for you being the only truck in the Roush Fenway Racing stable?
CB: For me, I think it kind of just puts a little more emphasis on our truck. I think it kind of helps focus everyone’s effort within the company on one truck to win the championship.
How many Nationwide Series races will you compete in?
CB: It looks like I’ll be doing one Nationwide race. I’ll be driving in Montreal for 3M.
I’m definitely excited about that. I wish I could do more, but with the way the economy is and the fact that I have a full season truck racing. I guarantee that they didn’t want to split up too many races and distract me too much.
Have you mastered the truck yet?
CB: No. I haven’t even got close to mastering the trucks I don’t feel like. There is still a lot to learn. There is definitely a lot to learn not only driving the trucks but about racing with them and those guys. Racing neck and neck with the Ron Hornadays, Todd Bodines, Mike Skinners of the world.
What has been the talk among the truck series drivers about the sponsorship issues in the series?
CB: I don’t think the drivers are really talking about it. It just makes us fortunate to have a sponsor like Con-way Freight that is signed up for a full season to sponsor our truck. It makes us very fortunate that Roush Fenway has the capabilities to have an entire marketing and sponsor development team within the company to find those sponsors and make sure that we have people to help pay for our racing and to keep us in jobs.
From TMS President Eddie Gossage: Now didn’t you get suspended one time by Grand American Racing for a little fracas that occurred at a race?
CB: So the first thing you ask me is if I got suspended… what a question to ask (smile).
EG: You’ll fit into NASCAR just fine.
CB: I did get suspended for rough driving in that Grand-Am series for a race, which I didn’t agree with the call but apparently the sanctioning body did so I sat down for a race.
EG: When I read that, I said this guy needs to be in NASCAR so we’re glad you’re here and hope you give our >Texas fans someone to pull for for a long time to come.
CB: Absolutely. It’s great being from Texas and I love coming out here, racing at this track and all the fans come out from Texas and they all have great stories about how they drove up from Abilene to come watch this race or come from all over the place to check this race out.
EG: You’re from Ovalo… About 700 people live there I understand… CB: It says 700, but I have no idea how there’s that many people there… it seems way smaller than that to me…
It had to be a difficult journey to find places to race growing up and ultimately be noticed to reach the professional racing ranks. Can you give us an overview of how you made it from small town Ovalo to the bright lights of NASCAR?
CB: I guess the quick overview is my dad was a professional race car engineer when I was a little kid. Ever since I was about five years old, he race engineered cars so I guess I kind of grew up in the sport and have been involved in the sport ever since I was a kid. I started racing quarter midgets in Austin and San Antonio, Texas. After that, I started racing go-carts when I turned eight and raced all over the country. With my Dad traveling and racing, obviously, it was hard to find places to go race and hard to find race tracks that had races on weekends when he wasn’t racing. I certainly didn’t race as much as I would have liked to when I was a kid, but I got out quite a bit and a lot of times took the summer on a racing trip. I went off for three or four months and then came back home to Texas. It was a lot of fun. I did that for a while and then I started racing open-wheel formula cars on the West Coast. I won a couple of championships there and got the opportunity to go and drive a sports car in the Grand-Am Series and nearly won the championship in that. I won a couple of races and a few poles and had a lot of fun racing there. I guess that kind of got me the opportunity to be recognized by [Roush Fenway team owner] Jack Roush and the people at Ford Motor Company because we had Ford-powered engines in our prototype cars. After that, they gave me the opportunity to come and do a couple of ARCA races and that went well and then they said here why don’t you come drive a truck for us. Con-way Freight, my sponsor, stepped up and said we’d love to have Colin come and drive the truck… and there we go.
How far is Ovalo from Texas Motor Speedway?
CB: Basically Abilene is about 200 miles from here and my hometown of Ovalo is about 30 miles south of Abilene… so way out in the middle of nowhere. It’s about a four- or five hour drive to get here.
There are more Californians running in Sprint Cup that any other state in the Union. Something’s very wrong with that picture…
CB: I’m excited definitely to be from Texas. I have been in North Carolina and haven’t come back here since the last race we had back here and I’m actually going back this weekend to visit with my family. I get a chance to see where I grew up again and I’m really excited about that. I love coming to Texas.
The truck you’re sitting in with Jack Roush, you’re in a pretty good position because guys like Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, David Ragan, have all worked their way up into the Cup Series from that. Have you had any conversations with Jack about your future and what is your plan for the next three years?
CB: It’s a challenge really to map out what the plan is with any great amount of certainty.
It really depends on what happens with sponsors, what happens with NASCAR limiting the teams and what Jack decides to do with the teams that he has and the drivers that he has. I’m just focused on running well this year, gaining some experience and earning some respect from the veteran drivers. I’m going to kind of let Jack Roush and Brian Wolfe at Ford Racing figure out what they want me to do and what they want me to drive and how they want me to get there. Jack has been a great owner for me. He’s been a really good guy and has helped me out a lot. He taught me a lot of things so I really enjoy driving for him.
How much of a difference is it for you now that you’re in the truck series, from getting out of the Grand-Am Series cars and if you can explain that to people? Also, are you looking at any other opportunities or will they allow you should you get the chance to jump in a Grand-Am car on an off-weekend of trucks and get to race?
CB: I really enjoy driving in that Grand-Am sports car series. I’ve had a lot of success there and really enjoyed going back there and seeing the people that I raced against for a long time. As far as having the opportunity to go and drive one of those cars, I don’t think the schedule really works out where there are many weekend where I’m not racing a truck that I could go and drive one of those cars, but I would absolutely love to. I love doing things for Ford Racing and driving for a guy like Jack. He wants you to go out and race as much as you can and do whatever you can do to get as much experience so he’s a big supporter of it. Certainly, it’s a lot of fun, but it’s just a lot different than racing in the truck series -- maybe not how the cars drive or how they handle, just how they race compared with the trucks.
It has to put a lot of pressure on you to know that these guys have done it at Roush Racing. Does that add any extra pressure to you?
CB: Well for me, it doesn’t really add a lot of extra pressure because I know I’ve got a great group of people behind me, a great team behind me. It’s great having guys like Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth and those guys that I can walk over to on the weekend or call on the cell phone and ask them questions. There’s never a time I walk away from something going ‘I just don’t understand how this works.’ There’s always somebody there to ask, somebody there to help you out, somebody that wants to give you the information and wants to see you succeed. For me, that’s the coolest thing about driving for Roush Fenway Racing.
Eddie Gossage mentioned you got suspended for rough driving. How are you going to be able to hold your own against veterans known for roughing people up with just one year in the truck series?
CB: Last year was definitely a rough year for me. I feel like I learned a lot from the veteran drivers and they certainly enjoyed teaching me, I guess you could say. But it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot and I feel I might have not done the greatest job to get their respect early on in the season. I feel like I kind of turned that around toward the end of last year and I feel like this year it has really paid off. Those guys have raced me really well, really clean and I think I’m a lot more accepted into the group. I figured coming from the sports car stuff that I would get here and these guys would beat the heck out of me and they did a little bit. Then I kind of went and said I better be nice to them because they can easily end your day the next weekend. It’s a challenge to balance that whole aspect of it, but it makes it a lot more fun.
IndyCar Series driver DANICA PATRICK of Andretti Green Racing (via satellite from Homestead, Fla.) You are coming off a great 2008 campaign. Are your expectations higher for 2009 as a result with possibly an eye on multiple wins and a run at the championship?
DP: That’s definitely the goal. We [Andretti Green Racing] all didn’t run up front as much as we wanted to last year, so we’re definitely looking to win more races as a team and for me individually. I think that if we can win a few races in the season, then it means you’re a strong competitor and you probably have some seconds and thirds in there too and that a championship is on the table. So that is definitely the goal. We’re going to try and come out strong for the first couple of races and really get the season going.
Testing started Tuesday at Homestead, how is it going?
DP: We’re here for our second day now. It seems weird, like the days are forever long.
You get up in the morning and then you have a whole day, and at 4 p.m. you start your next day which is the test until 10 p.m. at night but we’re all settling in.
Good to be back in the car after a little break?
DP: Yeah. I think each year you kind of get comfortable a little quicker than the year before. I was flat out and happy and comfortable in the first three, four or five laps, and then we got on with the testing program.
Are you feeling really confident now with a couple of years under you belt at AGR and with your engineer that you guys can get the car back out front? Are you feeling confident now that you can take the lead especially on the AGR team and contend with the Penske and Ganassi cars for the wins rather than being just behind them?
DP: We’re always very confident coming into a season. We know we’re a top team.
Unfortunately, it looked like we were a little off yesterday on our first day of testing, but that doesn’t mean anything quite yet. You don’t really know what’s going on until the first race. I think for me I’m excited about some of the changes that have happened with the No. 7 car.
We have the same crew, same teammates, but I have a different engineer this year and [team owner] Michael Andretti is calling my races so the other half of the real core of figuring out the car has definitely shifted. So I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a fresh change and I’m excited.
With Michael’s success through the years, does that put pressure on you where you know you’ve got to deliver now that you’ve got Michael making a lot of these calls with you?
DP: No, I’m actually more excited. You always hope that you can get somebody with tons of experience and knowledge on your car. So I think it’s a good thing that he has had the success that he’s had and he’s achieved what he has because it means that he knows how and to have that on my car is a good situation.
How do you feel you are as a driver as far as all the different race tracks and street courses and ovals and everything that you see? What is your strength out of those?
DP: I think that I was surprised probably in the beginning to find out that the ovals were something that came a little bit easier to me than the road courses. I was even more surprised that the short ovals were even stronger than anything. I didn’t expect to like those so much, but I definitely enjoy the short ovals. I think that it really lends to a driver to getting the car set up to something you like, something you can hustle around. Then the bigger ovals, the speedways are probably next after that, and then the road courses. I definitely didn’t expect that, but I do think the road courses have really been coming along.
It’s something that I’ve put tons of emphasis on over the last couple of years. It was nice in ’07 to have a couple front-row starts and some top-five or six finishes. That’s good -- there’s some incredibly good road-course drivers out there in the IndyCar Series and to run with them and to run with the likes of Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan is a big accomplishment. So now it’s time to really buckle down and get out there and beat them instead of just run with them. It’s hard, though, these drivers are not making it easy.
Could you speak to the overall health of the IndyCar Series right now and given the economy do you as a high-profile driver feel any extra pressure to kind of pick up the slack this year?
DP: I try and always pick up whatever I can. There’s always a lot of demand for me to do things and it’s all about making sure it doesn’t get in the way of the racing. I’ve always done everything that I could. We have never been in a situation where we are turning down great things, so we need to continue building and I think last year was a good year from a publicity standpoint and for the union of the two leagues. I think it really created good momentum for us. Now the economy has affected everyone some way or in some form whether its you or who you work with but you can’t keep a good product down and the IndyCar Series is competitive, it’s exciting, it’s technical. It’s got all kinds of interesting aspects to it so we’re not going anywhere but have we been affected? Yeah, sure. I’ve been affected. But we’ll get through it and we’ll move on just like any other successful product.
Has anyone called you in regard to the USA Formula 1 team that’s being formed?
DP: No, I haven’t heard anything. All I’ve heard is what all of you have and read what you have so there’s been nothing more on that.
In regard to USF1 program, you really cut you teeth in racing overseas, in England, in Europe, on the open-wheel cars and what have you. Your phone rings tomorrow and Peter Windsor wants you to come test the car. Do you take that call and do you go test the car?
DP: The first thing I think of is does it even fit? Is it going to get in the way of my IndyCar season? Is it going to get in the way of my prior obligations? Is it going to make me tired? Is it going to be something that’s not going to just really work into the schedule and then also is it something that I really want to do? I don’t believe that it’s very productive to lead people on if it’s not something that I’m interested in because you’re really opening yourself up then. What if you go and do it and it doesn’t go ideally or perfect and you don’t set the world on fire? Then all of a sudden all you did was just open yourself up to criticism.
So I would think about it and I would check the schedule, and we’ll cross that bridge if it ever comes.
IndyCar Series driver DARIO FRANCHITTI of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (via satellite from Homestead, Fla.) After running stock cars last year, how long is it going to take you to get comfortable in the car again and how important is this test at Homestead that started Tuesday for you to accomplish that?
DF: I think the test is hugely important. I did, I would say, 70 or 80 laps last [Tuesday] night and I was starting to get comfortable by the end. But those first 20 laps, man, the things were coming at me fast. The last time I drove here [Homestead] was in the Nationwide car at the end of ’07 and I don’t know what the average speed was but last night we were running average speeds of 210 [miles per hour] and it was all coming at me a bit quick. So I had to just let the brain start to speed up again as it needs to. It feels good. I think the good thing for me is that the Target cars are really quick and that helps me. I know we don’t have to work on the car so much for speed. I’ve just got to get myself back up to the level that I need to be at.
Can you talk about your disappointment from last year as far as stock cars are concerned and the disappointment you had transitioning back?
DF: There’s disappointment that I didn’t win anything. I’ve been lucky enough to win in everything I’ve ever done so to come over and have everything cut short by not having a sponsor it was pretty tough to take. I felt at the start I was really struggling to understand the car and the cars weren’t particularly competitive at that time, either, but the more I ran the better it was getting at driving the cars and understanding the car, the better the team was getting. But unfortunately I broke my ankle and that set us back again so it was a character building year but there were definitely some high times and starting to run more competitively in Sprint Cup was really satisfying for me toward the end. Unfortunately for a bunch of reasons, we didn’t get the results we were probably looking at and then running the Nationwide car and qualifying on pole on the road course, qualifying for the front row at Bristol and running up front there and leading a bunch of laps at that race gave me a lot of satisfaction but it would have been nice to have kept that going, but it wasn’t to be. When I sat down with [team owner] Chip [Ganassi] and we talked about Indy cars we did it at an Indy car race so the deck was kind of stacked in favor because I watched the cars going round and round on the street course at Detroit and at that point I realized, okay, I have been missing driving these things a lot and the chance to get in the Target car in a unified series - all those things stacked up and we did the deal.
Is there anything you learned from your NASCAR experience that you can apply now in IndyCar?
DF: Absolutely. I’ve been driving the Indy car for a long long time -- over 10 years -- and I got used to driving the car a certain way and I was comfortable in that. When I went over to drive in the NASCAR series, Nationwide or Sprint Cup, I had to take myself out of that comfort zone. I had to learn to drive a car completely differently, a lot looser than I would have driven, a completely different feeling, a different style of racing, becoming more aggressive. All those things were plusses and things I learned. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to always be with good teams and never have been in a situation of losing a sponsor like that and not being able to run so that was character building. A lot of my friends have gone through that before so I take something away from everything I learned last year.
NASCAR suspended pre-season testing due to the economy, but IRL did not.
Having driven in both series, do you think the IRL should have followed NASCAR’s example and saved the teams some money for their cars?
DF: Well, I’m quite happy now that we’ve got some testing but it’s very limited. We have two days here at Homestead with all cars from the series. We have two days in Barber Motorsports Park on the road course and that’s it for pre-season testing. They’re really tightening up the testing rules. There’s not really any private testing -- I think each team gets a couple, three days or something and that is it so they’re really trying to tighten things up. I think obviously the guys over in NASCAR had to do that and they felt they had to do it. I hear the guys speaking on the various shows that they have felt that impact and it’s saved them money. Right now I’m glad we’re getting a couple days running because I’m getting back up to speed.
IndyCar Series driver SCOTT DIXON of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (via satellite from >Homestead, Fla.) Your homeland in New Zealand honored you as its Sportsman of the Year as well as putting you on a postage stamp, and you received a lifetime supply of free lamb for winning Indy. So give us a little insight to what the off-season has been like for you as the reigning champion of the series and the Indy 500 and some of your personal highlights.
SD: You know it’s been different and I’ve had a lot of fun I think this off-season. When we won the [Indy] 500, I didn’t really get the chance to get back down to New Zealand so I made two four-day trips, which it’s a long way obviously to get to New Zealand. I think it’s about 24 hours from Indianapolis, but to get down there and finally see how people received the win and the championship at that point because I didn’t get back there until October before the race in Australia so it was lovely you know. We’ve always had a ton of support from New Zealand, but to see things like that was great. The “lamb for life” -- there was a bit of a joke made about that because I actually thought it was “land” for life with a “d” which I was pretty proud of that until they told me it was “lamb” so it was a bit of a downer when I got down there and they told me that. The rest of it, obviously the Halberg Award was fantastic and more amazingly, the stamp. Not too many people can say they saw their face, or not my face, but their car on a stamp in New Zealand so I was pretty happy about that.
Are you enjoying the lamb?
SD: Yeah, we’ve definitely had plenty of lamb, especially since we got down to New Zealand. Actually, one of the farmers from New Zealand sent some lamb and we had it at the Watkins Glen race, around July 4 I think, just after the [Indy] 500 win and we had a few people come up and cater that and we definitely had plenty, so I’m all “lambed” out at the moment.
Here you are, you’re a quarter turn away from two championships in a row and now you’ve got the guy who beat you the previous year on the team with you, Dario Franchitti. How is your relationship with him melding and what are you looking at as prospects going into 2009 to repeat as champion?
SD: I think the prospects of going into 2009 are fantastic. I think many series at this point have cut back on off-season testing and even testing during the season so for us if we can continue on with the momentum that we had, and, obviously the cars were very good with Team Target, I think that definitely bodes well for us. You can see that from the moment of the first test last [Tuesday] night. I think we were first and third. As for the relationship with Dario, we’ve been great friends for many years. Actually when I first came in to Champ Car in 2001, I think it was, he’s a guy I definitely looked up to. He was someone that had been in the series for a little while and was always easy to talk to. It seems strange to have fought and raced against him for so many years side by side and now he’s actually on the team so it’s going to be even more personal and probably even closer because he’s got the same equipment now. I’m definitely looking forward to it. It was fantastic to have the [non-points] race in Australia [after the regular season]. For us to at least work on the relationship and see where we like things the same or different and surprisingly we like the cars very similar. It’s a pretty big year for us. Team Target, when you look at it, has got two of the last [Indy] 500 champions and two of the last series champions so we’ve definitely got the target on our back and we’re going to be trying to push as hard as possible.
Do you have professional chefs that travel around with you and your racing teams to prepare you meals? What sorts of meals are prepared?
SD: We do have a chef that travels with the team. We had fried chicken last night and that probably wasn’t a good choice, but typically on a race weekend and throughout the season they prepare, obviously for the sponsors that come too, very nice meals but I think most of the drivers typically like chicken or pasta or something along those lines. Something quite simple and not too spicy or anything like that. Something that gives you the energy and the carbohydrates to get through the race. We typically try to eat fairly healthy throughout the season.
With the Champ Car guys coming into the series late in their development last year, how difficult is it going to be to win a championship this year with them basically having an even playing field that they didn’t have last year?
SD: That’s definitely a good question and something that all of us definitely understand.
It’s a time that we all had to embrace, and it was definitely harder for them because we were continuing on in a series that we had been in, at least for me, for the last four or five year. I think they had a month or even just a couple of weeks to get ready for the first race which was very tough. I think when the competition is so close and you’ve got the same chassis, the same engine, the same tires it’s all the little fine details that takes all the time to actually improve on and make the Indy car’s faster. I’d definitely say they were at a large disadvantage on the ovals. The short tracks maybe not so much because it’s more about driving and really getting the cars to work with the driver, but definitely on the bigger speedways, mile-and-a-halves. Two-mile speedways are a little different because you can still trim the car out. This year is definitely going to be very tough. You’ve got a lot of teams that have spent their time in the off-season to prepare their cars better. I’d say for sure PKV and Newman/Haas and teams like that are going to be very tough to beat. I think you’ll see a lot of different winners this year in the IndyCar Series.
What kind of cars do you and your wife drive on the street and why?
SD: Well, of course for me I’ve got the best car, a free car, and it’s supplied by Honda. I actually drive an Acura MDX and my wife, she’s British and she tries to keep it to tradition, drives a Range Rover Sport. Her car is worth probably three times the amount of mine so I don’t know what’s up with that.