ASHLEY JONES:Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference. Our guest today is David Stremme, who is joining us from Penske Racing in Mooresville, North Carolina. David is the driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge and he will be making his debut for Penske Racing at this year's Daytona 500. David is also participating in this weekend's Sprint Sound & Speed event in Nashville, Tennessee.
David, I want to open up with a quick question. You've participated in the Sprint Sound & Speed event for the last two years. What's special about the event that makes you keep going back?
DAVID STREMME: Well, one of the things is when we go to Nashville, obviously the setting there is really great. You see a variety of artists from country music, along with different racing drivers that you haven't seen, say, probably over the short time we've been off, different people involved with NASCAR. But kind of everybody gets together and we get to see the mixture of fans that turn out in Nashville, too. We raise some money for some good causes and have a lot of fun.
I know the last two years I've walked away from the live auction with a hat. I don't remember what I bought last year. It ended up going to somebody else's place. But had a lot of fun there, too.
It is a great time and definitely looking forward to this Saturday.
ASHLEY JONES: Thanks, David. We will now go to the media for questions for this week's guest, David Stremme.
Q. Do you have any musical talents? Do you play instruments? Do you have a guitar? Do you sing?
DAVID STREMME: Well, my girlfriend has been trying to teach me the guitar hero. We have some fun on that. But I have some musical talents I feel when I'm in my street car driving around, singing to the radio. But, no, I don't (smiling).
We just go up there, have fun. I mean, that's something that I got a lot of respect for those artists, getting up and performing in front of thousands of people. I obviously like a lot of their music. I don't have any kind of hidden talents at all.
Q. And your favorite part of the Sound & Speed event? It seems like a two-day party. What part of those two days do you most enjoy?
DAVID STREMME: Well, I would say the auction part is pretty neat, the dinner. We sit at a table where people have paid to kind of I guess enjoy the evening with us as a guest. We have a great time. They get to know us one-on-one. And the auction is normally really good. Michael last year was the emcee, Michael Waltrip. He ended up taking his shirt off and auctioning his shirt off. So you never know what's going to go on. I remember last year Reed Sorenson and myself were sitting at a table. We started talking and moving our hands. Reed is bidding on Kevin Harvick's racecar that was up there at the time. There's numerous things that go on. We have a good time. It's really laid back. Again, it's for a good cause.
Q. How is the transition going into Penske Racing, especially without the sanctioned tests this year? How is everything going? Do you feel you're getting acclimated to the team? Do you miss the tests?
DAVID STREMME: I actually feel very good getting acclimated here. I was able to test through them all throughout the summer as a test driver while I was running the Nationwide Series for Rusty Wallace. We've been here getting fitted into cars. I got to do a tire test at Vegas. That went very well.
I'm excited. I'm ready to get going. We've got a couple more weeks. I think it's right around 30 days before we get to run at Daytona for the 51st running of the Daytona 500. I'm excited. We've got to get a few more cars built around here.
But everybody around the shop is really amped up and ready to go. I just was in a meeting with my teammates today. I know we were talking about everything, what progress they've made here at Penske Racing. I'm excited. I feel that '09 is going to be a statement year for not only myself but for the whole organization.
Q. After losing your run at Ganassi, are you happy you're back in the Cup Series? You were telling a lot of people when you went to the Nationwide Series that you would be back. Are you surprised you're back so quickly?
DAVID STREMME: I'm not surprised I'm back so quickly. It was more of me being patient than anything because I wanted to make sure I was in the right surroundings. And a place like Penske Racing has got great people around here that Roger has put in place. It was difficult at this time last year because I wasn't sure of how many Nationwide races I was running for Rusty. It worked out to where I run all but three of them. We had a very successful year there, where Rusty was able to build a second team. We had a lot of success.
Right now with these times, everything going on, I'm happy to have a great sponsor like Alltel and be here with Roger and all his people at Penske Racing because I feel we're at a very strong state and moving forward into the 2009 season. Where we're at competitive-wise, I think we'll be right there with the best of them.
Q. Your career at Nationwide and Sprint Cup over the past five years has been up and down. Can you describe your emotions and determination through those changes?
DAVID STREMME: Well, it's been tough. Throughout, I would say before I even started running the Cup Series and Nationwide as Chip's first development driver, running for independent Nationwide teams that I would say were under-funded, then going into a Cup car that was going through a transition of a company of losing a driver and a lot of management and different things, it's been tough.
But in that sense of just like last year I was able to prove with Rusty Wallace and his people there, we added a second team, took an independent Nationwide team and run up front with Cup-affiliated teams every week. We didn't win a race, but we came very close.
I think through all that I was able to showcase that last year of everything I've learned in the previous years. Then coming to a place like Penske Racing, I wouldn't say I'm able to relax more, but I'm just at ease of knowing the people that are around me are just as dedicated and ready to go out and win, especially the owner. He wants to win more than anybody. But I've got a lot to show I feel, and what a great place to be able to do it at is right here at Penske.
Q. How does it feel to be driving the No. 12 going into the Daytona 500, knowing its history there?
DAVID STREMME: Well, I mean, what's probably more interesting is that Ryan and I grew up in the same hometown, not too far apart from one another. The 12 has always been to me, I think of like Neil Bonnett, Bobby Allison and Ryan Newman. Ryan has had a lot of success here at Penske. He's the defending Daytona 500 winner, this team is.
It feels good going down there. I feel we have a lot to continue of the legacy of that car, not only that car but Penske Racing as a whole. Roger has a lot of success in motorsports. To be able to put in my effort, to be able to participate and continue this legacy is really special to me.
Q. The 12 car has had a good history at Daytona, but you also seem to run good at restrictor plate races. Do you feel like you have more of an advantage at the Daytona 500 than you might have some other places starting the season out?
DAVID STREMME: I don't know necessarily Daytona or Talladega. I do enjoy restrictor plate racing and we've run well there. They're working hard here with the Dodges and getting everything prepared. I feel good going into it. I think the Shootout is what's going to be especially unique in our position because we're going to be able to work as a team together and get geared up for the 500, where testing is limited right now.
Daytona is going to be good to hit the floor running and go out and run well. But that's not the only race here. We have 35 other races we're going to run, too.
Q. Looking forward to this weekend, what country music star have you met or do you want to meet that you'd be really excited about?
DAVID STREMME: I don't know. It varies a lot. I enjoy country music. I like guys like George Strait and Rodney Atkins, Sugarland. There's all kinds of groups and individuals. I even like Taylor Swift's songs.
But it's neat being able to go there and compare a lot of what they do to the racing world. There's a lot of similarities. People think of Nashville as country music. And it's the same way here in North Carolina as racing, because you see a lot of drivers that live in the Charlotte area around here. With both of our schedules, what country music goes through on their road tours, recordings and everything, it's the same way with our racing. We're able to put together a fan base of what they have and what we have, have some fun, relax here at the beginning of the year before our season gets kicked off, get some money for Victory Junction Gang Camp and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Q. Looking ahead to the Daytona 500, is it going to be a little odd without all the hype and pre-season thunder leading up to the race itself this year?
DAVID STREMME: I don't necessarily think so. I think when that Shootout comes around, everybody rolls into Daytona, I think there's going to be more than ever of hype going on. I remember even before I come to this level of racing watching the practice, getting ready for Daytona, the 500, everything going on during January testing. You got people bluffing and doing all kinds of stuff. But when we go down for the 500 weekend, it's going to be legit. You're going to see what teams have done their homework, who has worked very hard.
I feel all the guys here on the No. 12 Alltel team, along with everybody else in the Penske Racing organization, have worked hard. We're going to have something to show for it when we go back down there.
Q. You said earlier in this that you feel '09 is going to be a statement year, not only for yourself but for the team. What do you feel that statement needs to be for you on your behalf? What do you need to say to the people out there watching?
DAVID STREMME: Well, I think a lot has to do with all the teams I was with before, it's not disrespecting any of them, were all in either I would consider B or C team environments. I'm at an A team now, where I'm able to go out and I feel like I can win here at this organization. They've put people around me to go win races, just be competitive each week. That's the main thing. Especially starting out at the beginning of the season, we haven't worked together, but, again, we have a little bit throughout the testing. The test team I was with here last year.
But as a company, you know, it's neat to sit in and hear Roger say, Hey, look, we need to run better, we need to do this. They won the Daytona 500. They won the Loudon race. A lot of owners, they can't even say they've won in the last three years and here is a guy sitting where two teams won, he wants to perform better. I like that. That's something that I want to go out and be able to show why he's hired me, why I've been able to be brought to this level, people have believed in me. I think this year is going to be a year for that.
Q. You talk about moving up in the organization. I think a lot of people would look at the sport right now and probably concede there are really four elite teams: Gibbs, Hendrick, Childress and Roush. Those are teams that had cars in the Chase. Then the second tier, Penske, Ganassi, even with your wins last year. What are the challenges of bridging that gap or getting your car or your teammates' cars in the Chase? How do you get from Point B up to the higher level?
DAVID STREMME: Well, I think a lot had to do with people, Roger and Tim Cindric and everybody is very good at that. They've had a lot of changes here.
One of the things you have to look at, you had Sam Hornish come in. He was a rookie, going through all kinds of new things, new environment, learning the stock cars, not having a lot of experience. He had a lot of highs and lows. You have Ryan new, started out the season very well. He knew he was leaving. He done a very good job, but he was on his way out. He was going to look to do other things. And you have Kurt there, who is on and island by himself, looking around like, Man, I need some teammates to lean on. Him and Sam were talking. But it's like I said, Sam was learning. As a company, they had management changes, different personnel.
I felt through all that, that was a building year. You look at the end of the season, Penske, how they run, especially with the new Dodge motor, the R07. Kurt run second there at Phoenix, was strong all day. They've had strong runs a lot of places like Charlotte, Atlanta. Those I think had to do with results of how hard everybody has been working.
I know when you just look with the state of racing and the economy and everything else, Penske Racing is strong. We're very fortunate to have three great partners like Alltel, Miller and Mobil 1. Then we had AAA come on board. They haven't released anybody here. We've been working forward to try to make the products better. And I feel they're doing that with building us new cars and doing a lot of research and testing. A lot of other teams are looking to just stay alive and stay afloat and letting people go. I feel that's where our strength is going to be.
Q. You talked about just the things that the organization is doing, Sam Hornish being a rookie. You mentioned with Ryan, saying he did a good job at the start of the year, then looking to do other things. Are you almost suggesting he kind of gave up on the team or the organization last year?
DAVID STREMME: I don't think Ryan gave up at all. You look at his performance. He was still there, running well. It's just as a driver and as a team, you know, you could see towards the end of the year when there's a lot of things happening, you're talking about next year. He finished the year out strong. He done an exceptional job, I thought. It's hard to build when you say Kurt's team, they're working on a lot of setups and things for the next year, where some of the other teams you might have been like, We're still running things, still working on stuff. It's hard to kind of explain, but there is a little bit of a setting there where if you're going to another organization, it's in your mind of, Hey, I'm leaving, I'm going to a better place, they feel.
Q. Just wanted to double-check. Has Roy stayed on as your crew chief?
DAVID STREMME: Roy is my crew chief.
Q. What are some of the changes you talked about within the team? Anything in particular? Just moving guys around?
DAVID STREMME: Well, there are some guys moved around. We had the engineer off the 2 car come over to the 12 team. There were some other changes going on throughout both teams. Mostly just people here in-house kind of switching personalities up, drawing everybody closer together so we can help each other's performance. Then you had Tom German come over from the IndyCar side of things. He's been with Roger I think 13 years. A very strong guy. He's not a person of, say, Hey, we need to run this setup or anything else, but he holds people accountable for doing their job and he makes sure they're doing it. I think that's something very important to be able to help out with Michael Nelson, who is also the team manager.
There's a lot of things going on. There's other things I would like to talk about, but I'm not gonna. We'll wait throughout the year. But I feel that's definitely going to help our performance. I'm looking forward to it. I'm here about every other day in the shop watching, seeing what's going on, and I'm excited.
Q. With all that is going on within the auto industry, how in the heck do you guys keep your mind focused on racing? Is there any one thing that you do when you hear stories every single day about the auto industry?
DAVID STREMME: You know, one of the things I think, I follow the auto industry, what's going on there, probably not as close, but I do follow it just to watch the news. It has an effect on our racing. But I feel very strong on all three of the big manufacturers, Dodge and the other two in our series. I feel that what we do on the track and throughout the weekend is going to help their performance both on the street and through selling cars. That's what's always helped them out. Right now they've got plans and they're coming up with stuff. I'm just happy to be a part of it and trying to help out whatever I can do to help them.
Q. I know you've made the transition and you've worked with Rusty and all. Who has given you the most help and most advice in your transition to Penske Racing at this time?
DAVID STREMME: Well, I think you answered your own question there. It's definitely Rusty. Him and I, we were friends before. Steven and I have been really close friends, his son. But throughout the year, getting to drive for Rusty, learning from him, that guy has a wealth of knowledge. What better person? He's been I think 19 years here at Penske Racing, had a lot of success. Him and Roger still talk quite a bit. I feel he's played a big part in myself getting this ride and also helping me become a better person and run better.
We still talk. I have my own personal race shop that's right next to his Nationwide shop. I go over there, even though I'm not driving for him this year. I still have interest in his company and in Steven and his-self. He's played a huge part in that.
Q. Who in Penske Racing has been the most help to you in the transition?
DAVID STREMME: I would say – it's going to seem a little weird – but Sam has really. Sam and I talked when I was running in '07. I run some Nationwide races, and Sam was also. I just got a great deal of respect for him. He's won over on the Indy 500 a couple different times, he's won the championship, had a lot of success there. I think it's really neat, him coming over here. He's shown his talent. I think with starting a third team there, putting people around him, they're really going to show what they can do this year. But he's helped quite a bit within the company.
ASHLEY JONES: Thank you all for joining us today. David, best of luck this season. Have fun this weekend at the Sprint Sound & Speed event.
DAVID STREMME: Thank you.