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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 3, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We will start off with our first guest, Juan Pablo Montoya.
Juan, if you could just give you a brief update on how your morning went so far.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think pretty good. We run probably 20, 25 laps straight, couple different things in the car, trying to understand where we need to go with the car and make some changes.
But generally it's been a pretty good morning. We ran pretty good in the morning. Right now the track is a little slicker than when we started, so just trying to catch up a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. How do you like the track out here in Phoenix, racing out here?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's pretty challenging because it's one of the few tracks that actually both corners are completely different. To actually make the car work is one of the hardest tracks. Most of the ovals, both ends are pretty similar. Where here, there's nothing common with one corner and the other. Turn one and two is pretty banked and tight where three and four is flatter and wider.
It makes us work really hard to make sure we can get a decent car on both ends.
Q. Talk about the 24 hours turning around from Vegas to here. Good run in Vegas.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, it was weird because we tested there and we were so strong in the test. It was actually very disappointing from the beginning of the test. We crashed the car on Friday, not even up to speed. We run half decent on Saturday. And on Sunday we actually started really bad. We went a lap down really fast. We were always in the back of the line. We actually came into the pits, we were making camber changes, you know, big changes where you normally wouldn't do that in the race.
I told them, If we want to get any better, we going to go there. And we did. It was a little late, but we actually managed to get back into the lead lap and pass a couple of guys. So from what looked to be a 35th-place car, we brought it all the way to a top 20, so it was pretty good.
Q. Hard turning it back around from Vegas to here, short period.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Not really. I think it's harder on the guys. They work all weekend so hard. For us, yes, we raced yesterday, it was a little hard. But you just get here, you just drive the racecar, so it's not so bad.
Q. Looking back at Las Vegas, you along with a bunch of other cars had problems finding the wall. Was that a setup issue or was that the Goodyear tires or a combination of both?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Normally there's a lot of grip out there. Race day was a little better. But the first two days, especially when it was hotter, there's just no grip. You know, when you have no grip, you start having a lot of issues.
Our car worked really well when he had had a lot of grip. When we had little grip, we would really struggled. It was a combination of everything, you know. The tire seemed to be very edgy. But, you know, we didn't really have any tire issues, to tell you the truth, in our cars. It was just more lack of grip. And it was a real handful.
Q. Are you finding the same thing at Phoenix?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Here is pretty good. Here it's about normal. We ran pretty good this morning. As it gets hotter, always gets slicker. But that's pretty normal.
I think what's good about where we're testing now, the weather is a little bit more similar than when we run normally. I think that's going to help it.
Q. When the race starts here, it's daylight. It ends at night. Is there a big transition from day to night here?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It starts at 5:00. Yes, it does changes a little bit, but it's not as bad as you'd think. Like right now, whatever we practice right now is not really going to simulate the race. We trying a lot of basic things right now. We going to wait till the evening to really try a lot of things specific for the racetrack.
Q. How big a factor do you think age plays in a driver being able to race in the Sprint Cup? Do you think an 18-year-old is too young to be driving in the series?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's hard to say. I think racing, the age is not such a big deal as the amount of experience the guy has. You know, if the guy is 18 and run two years in Busch and a year in the Truck or something or whatever, you think he's got enough experience. I don't know.
I think whatever it is, it's on the NASCAR judgment to make that decision. You know, you never really see any of the series race such a young drivers on the top of the series. You know, I think like when I won the IndyCar championship, the CART championship in 1999, I think I was the youngest guy there and I was like 24 years old. I think it's a big difference.
Q. Do you think maturity plays a factor at all in decision making on the track?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, I think, you know, you just -- with time and more things you become a wiser driver. You understand what's some risks worth taking and what's not. I think when you're younger, you go for anything.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Sam Hornish, Jr.
Sam, this place holds an important meaning in your career. You won the last IndyCar race here. You made your Sprint Cup Series debut here last year. Talk about coming back to Phoenix.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah, I mean, made my Sprint Cup debut. Also made my Busch, now Nationwide debut here. Won my first IndyCar race here. Won the last IndyCar race I ran here. So I've had a lot of really fond memories of Phoenix. It's been a great place for me to be able to come out here and to run.
I can't think of anything better than to come back out here. We had a good run last year. Had a couple small problems that kept us from having a top-20 finish.
But I think this year, being a little bit smarter, knowing more about the cars, I look forward to coming out here and getting a little bit of track time, learning a little bit more and hopefully having a good run when we come back out here for the race.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. I'm wondering your thoughts on Vegas and then the quick turnaround. Is it harder on you or your crew?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thoughts about Vegas. We had a pretty good qualifying run. We were doing okay in the race. We ended up losing the right front tire going through the tri-oval. Ended up banging up the car pretty bad. Had to come in. Spent about a hundred laps in the pits getting the car fixed. That was difficult for us. We are, just like everybody else, trying to stay in the top 35 in points. That's especially important to me going up to some of the places where I haven't been able to race at before in the Sprint Cup Series.
So I think, you know, we just need to keep our heads up, keep working. It does make it tough on the teams, though. That's why we decided not to run this morning. We were able to get in here about 9:00, almost 10:00 last night, let the guys sleep in just a little bit today.
It really probably is more beneficial for us to run the afternoon and the evening practice tonight just because it's more like what we're going to get when we come back out here racing anyhow. It was real nice for me at least to be able to sleep in a little bit. I know the guys appreciated it, too.
Q. Sam, when you were back in the IRL, the schedule was obviously far less than it is now. Now you have a 38-week schedule, testing, all the other things you have to do with appearances and stuff. Is it what you expected and are you kind of settling into it?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, it's a long schedule, for sure. The good thing about running last year in the Nationwide Series, running the IndyCar Series, all the other things we did, not only did I race about 39 weekends last year, but I was in all different kinds of cars. So we had a whole bunch of testing that we were doing. Really gave us an opportunity to see what the schedule was going to be like.
Obviously, right now it seems like time is really, you know, kind of flying by. And that's a pretty good thing when things aren't going your way because it's only the next week before you go race again. You kind of have an opportunity to turn it around.
Q. You're now a new father. How is that factoring in?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Oh, I've said this a couple times. I'm probably not up for Father of the Year. I've been home probably about eight days out of, I don't know, about 30 so far. I haven't got as much time at home as I'd like.
But I've got a good support group as far as my parents and my wife's parents at home, you know, helping her out. I'm out on the road. So, you know, that's made it a little bit difficult, you know, not being able to see them as much as I'd like to.
But, you know, the first month or so of having a baby, it's kind of hard to be out traveling around. I've really enjoyed being a dad. Look forward to moving forward with that. Really looking forward to the week after Atlanta. They're going to come down to Charlotte, spend the week down there with me, so I'm looking forward to that.
Q. Word has it that the Dodge car was behind last year. Over the months during the off-season, seems like the Dodge is running much better. Can you give us your feelings on how you feel the Dodge has performed this year compared to last?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think obviously with the performance that we all had at Daytona, eight out of the top 15 cars being Dodges, I think that really shows the teamwork that the Dodge camp had. And that's exactly the place where you need the most amount of teamwork.
We haven't had the success to get back to Victory Lane since then. I think Dodge has really renewed or started to show how committed they are to Sprint Cup racing. I think that's a good thing for anybody in the Dodge camp.
I think we'll continue to move forward. I think they've really upped what they're doing as far as the technology goes and hopefully they'll continue to do that in the future.
Q. Was there one certain thing that maybe stood out this year over last year? It seemed to me that last year on a green flag restart the Dodge just didn't come out of the hole as quick, and now it seems like it does. Anything else you can pinpoint why it's become stronger?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Not any one thing. You know, I think constantly the engine companies are working at getting the most horsepower that they can, doing all the aerodynamics and things like that.
I think the big success that everybody's looking at is really Daytona. And I think that goes back to the teamwork. Whereas a lot of times the guys over the past years may have thought they had to fight the other Dodges more so, trying to kind of gain the supremacy of who is the No. 1 team or things like that, I think that was kind of thrown out the window this year and everybody was, How do we help each other and get a good victory?
Q. You talked about all your accomplishments here. What do you attribute your success here at PIR to?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know that there's, you know, any one thing. But, you know, I think a lot of it is just the timing. First time I came here with Panther Racing was the first time I won my IndyCar race. That was the first time I was with a really good team that was capable of winning. I was able to make the most of it.
The last time I was here -- last time I won an IndyCar race here I was with Penske Racing. Roger and I decided to make the gamble of not coming in for tires there with about 15 laps to go on a caution, and was able to hold my teammate Helio and Dario Franchitti off for the last 15 laps. So I thought those are the -- things have kind of always generally tended to work out well, you know, here for me. Not any one thing. I've always enjoyed coming out here. I remember coming out here as a kid, watching the IndyCar race, and Long Beach, on back-to-back weekends back in the early '90s.
A lot of people took family vacations to remote places or whatever growing up. My family, we'd go and we'd get out here on a Saturday night, go to the IndyCar race, Long Beach day, Phoenix all the next week, and watch the race here Sunday, fly back Sunday night so we could be back to school on Monday. Things like that. We went to races. We'd go up to the Cup races in Michigan or to the Brickyard, just whatever.
A lot of people ask me, How could you leave IndyCar racing, it means so much to me. It does. That was the first thing I really wanted to kind of accomplish in my racing career. But when it came down to it, I'm a racing fan. I don't care what kind of racing it is. I'm a really competitive person. I just always feel like, you know, if I'm in a car or anything that you can possibly race, you know, I'll race it. When it comes down to it on a weekend, you know, I might go and run the Sprint Cup race, but when I get home on Sunday night, you know, I'll have the IndyCar race, I'll have drag racing, you know, whatever DVR'd. That's what I watch during the week, is the other races that went on. I'm a big race fan.
Q. Robby Gordon says he might enter in the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Would you ever consider doing that?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I'd consider it. Whether I could get the team to do it or not. Obviously with Penske Racing having both an IndyCar team and a stock car team, that would be optimal for me to be able to do it. You have to go through getting the sponsors to be interested in that. Obviously I think that we need to be doing a little bit better in the points at that point in time to even think about that.
But I think that would be something would be a lot of fun to do. It would definitely be tough. You know, racing 500 miles in a day can wear you out, let alone 1100. I think hopefully someday down the road I'll have an opportunity to do that. I don't know that it will be this year.
Q. How big a factor do you think age plays in a driver being equipped to handle the series?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think if you really look at it, you know, a lot of advancements have been made in safety over the past years. Each series has a different kind of age that you can race to. If you look at Formula One, you know, a lot of guys retire by the time that they're 35 or so. If you look at IndyCars, a lot of guys are early to mid 30s. Stock car drivers generally tend to be able to last a little bit longer.
It's a physically demanding schedule to be able to run 36 weekends and to run 400-, 500- mile or lap races every weekend. What you really have to look at it, that's difficult on your body. But a lot of people ask, What is safer, the stock cars or IndyCars? It's really just a big thing about physics. The IndyCars, when we used to come here and run, we'd average almost 180 miles an hour. Here it's 150. I mean, if you're in the middle of the corner, you spin and hit the wall, you're going 50 miles an hour faster.
It really just is one of those things where you've got to look at that takes a big toll on your body. So I think the impacts here is sometimes less, but you don't necessarily ever want to have to go through that. Just differences in how the cars, you know, react when they have a problem, how your body can handle it or not.
Q. Now that you've got Las Vegas under your belt, you have experience at Texas, you're heading to Atlanta this weekend, what are you expecting with this COT there?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I really have no idea what to expect. Atlanta's one of the tracks that generally tends to be the fastest for the Sprint Cup cars. You see some of the fastest corner entry places.
I think that it will be a great place for it. There's a lot of different lanes that you can run. You know, you can run anywhere from the white line to the wall, whereas Las Vegas, you know, there's basically one or two lanes that you could run as opposed to four in Atlanta.
I think I'm looking forward to it. I've had experience at Atlanta in both IndyCars and stock cars. I had my best Busch finish there. So I'm really looking forward to going there. I think it's a big weekend for us. Very pivotal. We need to just make sure that we go out there and finish all the laps, you know, get a good finish and get some good points out of it.
Q. Juan Pablo mentioned earlier that the Phoenix track was tricky because of the handling of the car, especially on turns. Does a lot of that have to do with this being the new car, most of the drivers still being in the learning process, or is it that the track is just a hard track?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think the thing you see different about this track than most other ones is both ends are completely different. They're really not anything alike. A lot of times this track is a compromise, you're compromising one end or the other to make your car do what you want it to do. Very seldom do you ever get the car where it's really good on both ends. You're always kind of, Well, I'll give up the back straightaway so I can pass somebody going into turn one, or I'll give up coming off of four so I can be really good coming off of two.
It's really a compromise. The track is pretty tricky because a lot of times it's very hot out here. If you get a lot of sun beating down on the track, it makes things pretty slick. It's definitely a track that's one of a kind for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, thanks for joining us.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by J.J. Yeley. Open up with your thoughts on coming back to your hometown, how your morning went.
J.J. YELEY: Well, my diet has been going good, so coming back is going to kill me because I'll get loaded up on In-N-Out and Mexican food.
You know, it's always fun to come back here to Phoenix because this is the racetrack I have the most experience. I've had a lot of good runs here. So far today through practice, we were third fastest in the morning practice. It's nice to come back and feel comfortable and go fast.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. Your thoughts on Vegas, how it went for you, the quick turnaround, how difficult it is for you and your crew to be back here and testing less than 24 hours later.
J.J. YELEY: For us, Vegas didn't exactly go great. We struggled trying to get the car comfortable all day long. It seemed like once we got the car where it was fast enough to run the top 15, we were already a lap down and just couldn't get the track position we really needed.
We were a tremendous amount better than what we tested there. We had a test that wasn't good at Vegas or at California. So, you know, to really be able to evaluate how the team has been doing has been tough.
You know, for me, after yesterday's run, I was really looking forward to getting back here to Phoenix. We ran well here last year. The Hall of Fame team ran well here last year right out of the box. The car was very fast, very comfortable.
We have a ways to go still. You know, it's a new team. We're just trying to get the relationship between myself and Brandon Thomas, the crew chief, all of the guys. You know, there's a lot of different packages you can run with these COT cars. It's just a matter of trying to find the fastest one that's going to be the most comfortable for me.
You know, we're running through a lot of different things. Like I said, when we tested at the other mile-and-a-half racetracks, we were off and we couldn't find what we really needed. We have a better understanding of the car now and we're looking forward to the future.
Q. Yesterday Gordon hit the wall pretty hard at Vegas. What are your thoughts on putting SAFER barriers on all the walls, inside, outside, wherever?
J.J. YELEY: There's actually been some discussion about that. I know we've had some in the Nationwide Series, previously the Busch Series, that had some accidents very similar to where the walls don't overlap quite enough. It's almost a head-on blow. I know at Nashville, some of the other racetracks, those problems have been addressed.
I think it's something that NASCAR really is going to have to look at all the events we go to, you know, because after watching that wreck on TV, if he could have hit a little bit earlier or later, I think that wreck would have been a lot less of an impact for him. But it was definitely a tough lick to take.
Q. Right now most of them are in the corners. Are they needed on straightaways as well or not?
J.J. YELEY: Generally they don't use them on the outside of the walls because it takes up so much room away from the racetrack. It is something they could look at putting on the inside of the racetrack.
I think the only place they've really looked at doing that was at Indianapolis Motor Speedway there on the inside coming through the corners just 'cause they'd already had some previous problems there.
Q. Your team is kind of a satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing, getting help and information. Can you explain to the fans exactly what you're getting from them and how much?
J.J. YELEY: We are not a satellite team of Joe Gibbs Racing. We are an independent team, Hall of Fame Racing. We do get our equipment from Joe Gibbs Racing. That would be the engines, the chassis and the bodies. All the finish fab and all the components that are put on the racecar are done at Hall of Fame Racing.
In the two years that Hall of Fame Racing has been around, they've done a very good job of making it as a single-car team. Unfortunately, there's not that huge information sharing between themselves and Joe Gibbs Racing. Unfortunately for them being a new team, it would be kind of a one-sided street where they would be getting a lot more information than they'd be giving back.
Hopefully as the season progresses with me coming from Joe Gibbs Racing, some of the testing, the engineering we have here at Hall of Fame Racing, we'll be able to learn some things that maybe the Gibbs guys haven't thought of. Once you can open that door of information sharing, maybe we can get where we can almost be more like a fourth team versus a single team like we are.
Q. Could you talk, those of us here in the valley know about Jeff Moorad, the Diamondbacks ownership with you, how that's progressed and worked out?
J.J. YELEY: It's been tremendous. It's amazing that for me coming from Phoenix, you know, Phoenix is not known for a racing town, and going through all the different paths that I've had to get here, for everything to turn around and my team, my NASCAR team, be owned by someone here from the Valley of the Sun. It's been a lot of fun.
You know, Jeff and Tom are both really super guys. They're going to open up a lot of doors for myself and this team from a business standpoint. I know that it's going to be a lot of fun. I know I've already been scheduled to throw out the first pitch at one of the Diamondbacks games. Hopefully I can get out there and make it a strike.
It's going to be fun coming back and have that relationship to really try to build something for the Phoenix-based fans, to give them something to root for.
Q. How about this track day to night? How different does it go?
J.J. YELEY: It is a pretty big change between the day race and the night race here. You know, this racetrack being fairly aged, it cools down and just gets so much more grip. I think it's pretty evident from this morning's practice to what you'll see in the next practice. The racetrack will probably be close to 3 or 4/10ths slower just because it was cooler. When you run the race here in April, you'll generally see the second and third grooves open up. You'll see a lot more racing than we generally get to see in the November race.
For me it's a lot of fun because qualifying isn't as big a part. You can kind of start wherever you need to. You can go out there and really race and pass. That makes it a lot more fun versus having to have a car that really runs good on the bottom and being stuck on the bottom groove.
Q. Do you prefer the night race to the November day race?
J.J. YELEY: Absolutely. You know, there's just something about racing at night. You know, the cars look faster. There's more fans. It's obviously more comfortable for the fans. But the night racing to me, there's a lot more excitement. The racing is generally better at all the racetracks we go to that are night races. I think that pretty much stays the same here at Phoenix. Like I said earlier, you can go out there and run two or three grooves. It's a lot more fun. The racetrack is not as slippery. It has a lot more grip and produces a lot better racing.
Q. How does it change testing during the day as opposed to when you're testing at night?
J.J. YELEY: I think that's something that PIR and NASCAR are doing that's good. They're offering us three sessions today so we can actually test all the way through 9:00 tonight. We're going to be able to get a lot more information to use for the April race where we generally don't get to do when we go test. Like I said, the track will cool down, you'll be able to get a lot more grip. I think they will have enough cars on today's racetrack, into the evening, the groove will widen out. You know, the biggest thing for all these teams is we've got all of our data on these racecars. They can look at how the night changes, affects of the car's handling, the travels, all the things they'll get from the computer that I can't give them just from telling what the car feels like.
So having gathering that information is the most important thing.
Q. Do you think age plays a part in how prepared a driver is to race in the Sprint Cup Series?
J.J. YELEY: I don't really think so. There's a lot of young guys. I guess I kind of fit in the middle. There's a lot of young guys that don't have a lot of experience that are running really good right now. You have a lot of veterans that have the experience. With the way these cars handle any more, the COT car's a little bit harder to drive. They're a little bit slower than the cars that we used to run. And that experience in knowing what you need out of your racecar is going to be pretty big.
But because these cars are so new, the younger guys can just go out there and drive the wheels off them and still be fast. So I don't think there's a huge advantage to either having a young guy or having a guy who's been around in the sport for 20 years, other than the experience level.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the kind of pressure that comes with trying to make sure you're in the top 25 in points after the first five races?
J.J. YELEY: There's a lot of pressure to it. You know, we haven't gotten off to a very good start our first two races. Going into yesterday, I know that I probably could have drove the car a lot harder and maybe picked up five or six positions. But at the same time, because my car was so loose on entry, I could have very easily spun and hit the fence and finished in the back.
So you have to be very aware of how the car is in your surroundings, knowing that you can't afford to have one bad race in these first five races because it's just so tough. You don't want to be in that position where you have to qualify in. Most of those guys spend so much time in qualifying trim that, you know, a couple thousandths is the difference between making the race and going home. I've been in the situation before in the past that I had a great racecar, a car that was capable of racing in the top five, but we just didn't make the race because we didn't spend enough time in qualifying trim.
We definitely don't want to be in that position where we have to qualify our way in. We're still in a decent position, about 27th, 28th in points. We have to be smart these next few races. Hopefully once we get to the point where we have gained some ground back to where you're maybe in the low 20s, you can go out there and race a little bit harder, put it out on the line knowing that if something happens, you're still going to be safe in points.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, J.J., for coming in.
J.J. YELEY: Thank you.
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