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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 2, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this special edition NASCAR Grand Am Teleconference. Joining us today are Bob Stallings, whose team won its second Grand Am Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Championship this year, along with driver's, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, and two special guest drivers.
First we'd like to welcome Bob Stallings with some good news to share regarding the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing, Daytona Prototype for the 2010 season for which the team has continued to lead the way by filing the very first entry for the season opening Rolex 24 at Daytona in January. Bob?
BOB STALLINGS: I didn't realize we were the first ones to file. Maybe that's a good omen for the win at 24. I'd like to announce two exciting items for our 2010 program. Number one we have to pick an engine manufacturer for the 2010 season. We've had terrific luck with our GM program. We won a championship in '07 and in '09. But, unfortunately, Pontiac is no longer available to us.
But Chevrolet is available to us, and we're really excited to get the bow tie put on the car. And we'll be running a Chevy at the 24 Hour race this year and for the balance of the 2010 season.
I'm also very excited to announce that the same four drivers that got us a second place position and a seventh place position in the two previous runs are going to join us again this year for the 24 Hour race.
Jimmie Johnson, Jimmy Vasser, Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney will be in the car driving, and I'm real excited about this year. I think we've got the team and the equipment to pull off a win at the 24 Hour race.
THE MODERATOR: That's great news. We'll take questions for Bob, along with Alex, Jon, and Jimmy Vasser in just a few minutes. But first we'd like to welcome Jimmie Johnson, and thank him for taking a few minutes away from celebrating his unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Jimmie, what would it mean to become the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion to also win the Rolex overall at Daytona?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It would be unbelievable. I've had such a great time with Bob and his entire race team. I'm really looking forward to the 24 Hour race. Big compliments go out to the GAINSCO team and their championship.
It was exciting to watch last year and an awesome battle all the way to the end. Very proud of the guys, and I hope to be involved and do a better job this year.
The 24 kind of broke our toy last year after a pit stop. We've had a great time though, and I know that it's very important for all of us to win the Rolex 24. We're going to show up with that in mind.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Now please comment on the championship aspect of this team, the defending Grand Am Rolex Champion and yourself getting together for the Rolex. Secondarily to that, does finishing second in the Rolex suck as bad as finishing second with the Cup at Daytona? And with your history in that race, what would it mean to win it you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my perspective, to go off and race a different vehicle. The second place we were able to get a couple years ago meant a lot to me. You know, in a Cup race a second because we've won there before is a little more aggravating than finishing second in a Rolex race for me, and I would assume for my teammates it's kind of the opposite way around.
But it's such a great event. So much fun. Such a challenge for me to learn the car, the braking zones, turning points and everything that goes with it. You know, a competitive run, racing with the top guys in sports car racing really from around the world they compete in the race. It says a lot for me, and means a lot for me to leave my comfort zone and to do something different.
Q. My congratulations to you on the Sprint Cup championship. My question to you is what kind of either mental or physical adjustments do you have to make in transitioning from the heavier stock car to the sports car where you're around drivers you don't know a whole lot about and an entirely different racing mode or racing environment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's a totally different world. Spotters aren't regularly used in Grand Am Racing. The seats themselves, you know, are designed to fit all four drivers instead of just molded to one guy and all comfortable in all the things that I would want.
The head and neck systems are different, so there is a lot more strain on your neck and shoulders. Plus the car is more physical with the braking and the G's that it pulls in the turns. Obviously, the length of the race.
So there is a much greater physical demand on on the body, mentally as well. You're out on the track with a variety of different not only classes, but as far as drivers and their abilities. It's really easy to get sucked into situations with some of the GT cars and even some of the prototype cars.
It is a totally different discipline, and that's what makes it so interesting and challenging for me is that it's so outside of my comfort zone, that I really, really enjoy the challenge that comes with it.
Q. I was interested in the mental aspect of going from sort of a mono situation where it's you and Chad and, you know, the whole thing. Maybe I could -- the one point that I wish you'd comment on, how much prep and plans are made now with four drivers? Is that like a lengthy process? Is there like a pre -- like a lot of meetings about that or is it more of a casual thing where you'll take the first run and I'll take the second? If you could answer that, I'd appreciate it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There is a lot of stuff that goes on from the team's side. I feel pretty fortunate as a driver and coming in for just the event. But I just need to focus on the areas that I'm driving the car, and some of the meetings that I need to attend.
But I know from Bob Stallings standpoint, and Kyle and others at the Stallings team, there's a lot that goes on for this race for four drivers. It's tough enough to take care of one in cup, and generally two in the Rolex Series.
But when you have four guys there's a lot of planning and a lot of strategy involved for how the rotation works. Also, too, the night, physically how guys are doing. What's been going on. Who is in the other cars on out on the track. So there is a lot of strategy that's involved.
But we're just going to do our thing. They wake us up, bring us to the pit, tell us when to get in. The engineers make all those decisions though.
Q. Given the fact that you've done so well over in the Sprint Cup, the first time you ran in the 24 was Butch Leitzinger and Elliot Forbes-Robinson I believe along with you for the ride. You finished second. That seems to be a rather repetitious thing for you second place. In so far as best finishes go for the Rolex 24 is concerned, why do you keep coming back for such abuse?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I like the abuse. I've been growing up racing a lot of endurance off-road races. And back then I really liked the race in theory, but wasn't mature enough as a driver to last and survive, and finished I think second in the Baja 1000 in a buggy. But all the other attempts were short lived. I was fast for a period of time and didn't finish.
I feel since I've matured as a driver, yeah, I do appreciate the talent that comes with an endurance race and really enjoy the physical and mental demands that come with it. Just really think it's a great series, great cars, the people, everything associated with it is is really a good time. And I enjoy competing in it.
Q. Are you going to have an opportunity to test at all before the 24 with GAINSCO?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're looking at it. My schedule's pretty full. So I'm not sure it's going to workout like we'd hope. So right now I think it's a no until race weekend.
Q. You've done various steps in racing you were talking about the Baja 1000, and I know you've done the race of champions. The Rolex 24 is kind of looked at like an All-Star event. Where does it rank in the races that you run? How important would it be if you won it as far as like between that or race champions or Sprint Cup race or something like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think from racing Champions is a fun event, but it's really a show. You bring in two representatives from each country and have fun, and put on a short format for the fans. The Rolex 24 is an event that's been around for ages. A lot of prestige that goes with it.
To me it's in the Top 5 of races in the world. You can lump it in with the 24 hours at LeMans, Daytona 500, the Monaco Grand Prix, you know, Brickyard. I don't know if I mentioned Daytona 500 in there. But it's in those top 5 tracks in races. I think it's in the top 5 of all racing worldwide.
Q. I'm wondering what kind of parallels you see between Bob's team and your own championship winning organization?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I do see a lot of similarities. First and foremost, good people. People that really enjoy to go racing, and love racing, and because of that, you know, it doesn't seem like work, all the hours and time that's put into it. With all the time that goes into it comes the result, so I have a great time working with everyone. Very professional, organized and accomplished race team. So I've really, really enjoyed it.
Hopefully as time goes on we can draw more attention to the team and bring in more revenue to help grow the team.
Q. You look back at the history of this race, and really NASCAR drivers haven't done as well in recent years where casey became the first full-time driver to win the event, then you have Juan Pablo. Will you be looking to those guys for advice to run in the streets even though you've run it in the past. And what would it mean to be part of that exclusive group?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think any of them are going to give me advice, especially if they're racing in it. They're so competitive anymore. No one's really offered me any advice except for my teammates which I greatly appreciate.
That's a good thing. There is nothing wrong with that. That means we're a competitive race team and real threat to win this thing. I wouldn't expect any handouts. Look forward to being out there with those guys.
To me, on a personal note, to win this race, it's hard to say where it would rank. But it is extremely high on my list. Because it's outside of my comfort zone. And cars I haven't spent a lot of time driving. Just don't have experience in higher down force cars.
To run well and finish second in the two times I have is really special to me. Certainly hope we can win this year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for taking the time to join us. We'd now like to welcome back Bob Stallings, along with his two-time championship winning drivers, Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty, and special guest Jimmy Vasser. Alex, you and Jon have won 12 Rolex races and two championships. What would it mean to join your father on the Rolex 24 Daytona winner's list?
ALEX GURNEY: I think it would mean a great deal. Having won two titles I think Jon and I feel like we've established ourselves in the series. We hope to continue that for a long time. The 24 Hour is our marquis event. And I think it's -- to win it shows, you know, the medal of the team.
And I know it's a big goal of Bob Stallings, and it has been from the inception of the team, you know, a big goal for all of us as drivers.
I love that we're going back with the same team, Jon and Jimmie and Jimmy. You know, we've all become really good friends. You know, to attack this race together and really go into it knowing that we've all got each other's back can be totally open about everything. It's a great way to go into this race and try to win it.
THE MODERATOR: Jon, you're entering 2010 with plenty of momentum ending the past season with five consecutive poles and six of the final seven races. Can you continue that momentum into 2010?
JON FOGARTY: Definitely. You know, with the continuation of an existing excellent program and, you know, our relationship now with Chevrolet, I think we have a great opportunity, you know, to start the season off strong. You know, we can't lose sight of the fact that even though the 24 Hours at Daytona is kind of the crown jewel of the season it's the race for the championship.
You know, Alex is probably going to qualify the car, so all that weight is resting on his shoulders to keep the pole streak alive.
But ultimately a win here is what he we want. So, you know, it's pretty ideal situation. Like Alex had mentioned, the consistency with our driver line-up and our crew and our car, I think is going to be very strong.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmy Vasser, you've already won the Rolex 24 at Daytona, winning in the GT Lights class in 1992 in your first start in the event. How important is it to be running with the same three teammates in this race for the third consecutive year?
JIMMY VASSER: Oh, I think that's a key ingredient, you know, continuity and chemistry with the team, like the guys have said.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Bob and Alex and Jon who have the confidence in me really not being in the seat much at all anymore. This is going to be a year since I've driven. I'm flattered that that confidence is there with those guys, and I thank you guys for that. But you see it with Bob's GAINSCO team.
You see it with Hendrick Motorsports, you see it with Ganassi, all the great dynasty style teams. The key ingredient is continuity and chemistry. So to answer your question, I think it's most important.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to questions for Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser, and Bob Stallings.
Q. Mr. Vasser, you alluded to it earlier, you don't get much seat time. Your credentials are second to none. There may be equals but I don't think many, if approximate any at all, can surpass you in the championships in the races which you've won.
JIMMY VASSER: Thank you.
Q. However, as we all find out, Bob's going to speak to this, Alex and Jon can't other than the fact that Jon's losing his hair, but that's at an early age. When you start getting a bit older, you start losing a lot. And I don't mean any disrespect to you, but you're not a spring chicken anymore. How are you going to deal with the 24 Hour race like this coming up?
JIMMY VASSER: Well, I have to get myself in shape. Just got to dig deep and make it happen. I haven't really encountered like any really big problems in the past races as far as in the seat or pace or anything like that or fatigue. But I'll sure let you know when that sets in. I'll let you know that it's starting to happen. I do have some gray hair though.
Q. Bob, as an owner of auto racing for quite a long time, it's always been my impression that sports car racing was more about the cars than the drivers. I think things have sort of maybe moved to something more even than that. But it's more about cars, what the car is than a lot of other series. You're making this change, the engine change, from Pontiac to Chevy. What is going to be -- is there any problem there? Is this going to be more of a --I think they still call it rebadging or just putting decals on the car? Or is this a really substantive change?
BOB STALLINGS: Well, from a mechanical point of view just in terms of weight and where the weight is in the motor, it will be substantially the same. It will be a different motor in that it will have a very slightly different configuration.
But in terms of the way it will affect the balance and the handling of the car I really don't expect there to be any changes whatsoever.
I'd also like to follow up on what D.C. was saying or his conversation with Jimmy Vasser. One thing I can tell you for sure is when Kyle and I sat down and talked about the driver lineup and when I talked to Jon and Alex about the driver lineup, we had a lot of I guess alternatives to choose from to bring those two fill-in, team members, if approximate you will, into the club.
The reason we picked Jimmie Johnson and Jimmy Vasser is because we think that gives us the best opportunity to win. And we really want to win this 24 Hour race. Winning any race in the Rolex Series is a lifetime achievement award. It's just very hard to win.
But having the continuity and four drivers that know each other and get along well with each other are kind of like the same kind of car. And also having the experience of running these races, I think it's a very big advantage. We're awfully excited about all four drivers being in the car this year.
Q. You've obviously looked at a few different engines since Pontiac pulled out. What was behind the decision to go with Chevy?
BOB STALLINGS: Actually took about six months to decide. And we've actually thought about alternative motors all the time we've been in the series. And there are pluses and minuses, frankly, on all the engines. Grand Am has done an exceptionally good job of trying to find balance and parody in terms of power, because many of the engines are so different, it's really hard to get them all to be perfectly equal, if you will.
But all in all we think that the GM has been extremely reliable. It gives us enough power on most of the tracks that we run at to be successful. And I really do think that in 2009, the season, got it pretty close. As you might imagine I don't think we had as much power as maybe some of the other guys did. But we had enough to win. We had enough to win a season.
I'm also kind of a loyal person. I'm definitely hung up on American things. I like American teammates, American drivers, and American manufacturers. And so having an American made car was a pretty big deal for me.
I certainly wouldn't dismiss the idea that Jimmie Johnson has been a very important part of our team for three years. We have much more than a tactical -- I'm sorry, we have actually a more strategic relationship with Jimmie, and the fact that he's a GM driver and Chevrolet driver certainly weighed into that process.
Q. Alex or Jon, when Jimmie was on he was talking about operating outside of his comfort zone in these cars. I wonder, is he just being humble or has he been a pretty quick study in these cars for as little as he drives them
ALEX GURNEY: Honestly, I think he's being humble. You know, he's taken very little time to get up to speed the last few years that he's done it with us. Especially the first year we were really surprised. Just hopped in and we said, hey, this guy's, you know, there's no worries here at all.
So we've been really impressed with what he's done. He's super disciplined, very focused, and very good in communicating to our engine near and communicating to all of us. In general just a nice guy to be around.
We haven't really found much negative with him. You know, we love watching him kick everyone's butt in NASCAR, too. So a great addition to our team, I would say.
JON FOGARTY: I can echo those comments. I think if you can be comfortable in a draft at the Daytona 500, it's pretty hard to step outside of your comfort zone. So he's obviously extremely talented, and shows us that every time he steps into one of these prototypes.
Q. Alex and Jon, given the different weather environments and conditions and all the things that happen during the 24 Hour race, what do you see as your most challenging parts of the race whether it's the beginning or the end, the darkness or whatever. And do you have a favorite part of the race that you say I really want to be behind the wheel at that point?
JON FOGARTY: Alex's favorite part of the race is when the sun goes down. So he'll be in there during that point.
But obviously the weather conditions vary from year to year, and there are so many challenges and pitfalls and things you kind of need to avoid more so than you need to accomplish.
We just try to keep the car in one piece, and that is kind of the biggest ticket. Only pit when you have to for fuel and tires. So keeping everything in line mechanically is kind of the number one objective. And that's what we're going to shoot for.
But my favorite time of the race is actually in the early morning hours, the darkest of dark. Once the race has settled into a pace and there is a rhythm to it. 3:00, 4:00 a.m. in the morning. It's a bit of a thrill feeling, and while things may appear to have been settled down from a spectators perspective, the teams and the drivers are absolutely going about their business trying to get the job done. You really feel like you're in an endurance event at that point
ALEX GURNEY: I would say a lot of the same that Jon said. I think rely ability is the number one -- rely ability is the number one thing at Daytona. It's very difficult for the team to anticipate what is going to break on the car. You know, things are going along fine then all of a sudden something creeps up.
So I think it makes everyone a little bit paranoid. You know, the guys on the team trying to think of everything that can go wrong, there's just so many things. The race is so long. The car takes such a pounding that that's the number one problem.
As far as what part of the race, I'm hoping this year it will be five minutes to go and we'll have a nice five had-lap lead. Just some nice Daytona sunshine and cruise it on in.
Q. Alex, Jon, and Jimmy, when they have the drivers meeting for the Rolex 24, obviously there are so many drivers in it, it is too big for the media center, normal meeting room for drivers at Daytona. My question is what do you guys take away from the specious of gathering with so much talent and competing against so much talent at the Rolex 24?
JIMMY VASSER: It's a bit of a reunion of sorts for some like myself. It's a good chance to catch up with some old friends and really you looked at the room and you see the amount of talent that's in there and the varied variety of disciplines, that it's really cool. It makes you feel proud to be a part of it.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, it is. Just great to see those guys and obviously to run against them out on the racetrack. It's definitely an All-Star event. You know, a lot of talent out there. There are a lot of guys that I think show up. You know, obviously it's an interesting situation. You have a lot of guys that are just there for the 24 Hour race, and I think their objectives are solely to win the 24. Then you have full-time guys who obviously want to win that 24 Hour race, but also have a bigger picture in mind.
It's interesting when you're on the racetrack. You can kind of tell the difference a lot of times between what the objectives are. But it's a -- just a great time to see a lot of people that maybe raced against or with in the past and catch up, and then go race.
ALEX GURNEY: I would say I'm a racing fan as well as a driver. So I get a kick out of the driver's meeting and seeing the different guys that, you know, you watched on TV over the years, and maybe looked up to. So it's always a lot of fun.
More importantly, to get a chance to, you know, go up against them and mostly equal equipment and kind of compare yourself. You know, there are so many guys in there that have, you know won in every major discipline out there. It's all the top guys. So it's fun to be able to be a part of that.
Q. Mr. Stallings, you're incorrect about your American drivers. Johnson surely is an alien from another universe given his track record in Sprint Cup. Gentlemen, I'd like to know from Mr. Vasser, Mr. Fogarty, and Mr. Gurney as to what their favorite times of the race to drive, what they may be? And who is the one who actually determines that, Bob?
BOB STALLINGS: Actually, the lineup itself is pretty much determined by Kyle. And a lot of that just has to do with getting the right rotation of guys getting in and out of the car. My guess is our rotation will be the same this year as it was last year.
JIMMY VASSER: My favorite time to drive really is, I think my best memories are always when the sun is coming up. When the dawn breaks. If you're in the car at that point in time, it's really a beautiful time.
JON FOGARTY: Like I mentioned earlier, kind of right before sunrise when it's really starting to feel like an endurance event. Assuming you've made it that far. And it's also really cool, I've been in the car once or twice at midnight when the fireworks go off. And that's always pretty neat.
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, I agree with both of what Jon and Jimmy said. But I hope our favorite time is coming up this year with a few minutes to go.
Q. They've moved the start time of the race around a little bit from I know it used to be noon or 1:00 o'clock. Now it's close to 3:30. Does that change any aspects of the race for you guys?
JON FOGARTY: Not so much. You know, it's a grueling event no matter how you slice it. It's 24 Hours is 24 Hours, really. The amount of daylight versus night isn't drastically altered.
A late start like that you're kind of waiting around. You want to get things going. You want to get the race Underway. So I guess pre-race, those pre-race jitters and pre-race time just seems to drag on a little bit longer.
BOB STALLINGS: I would add to what Jon said. I think, unfortunately, that later start time has its most profound effect on the crew members, you know. Kyle, myself and Chuck and Terry who are on the timing/scoring stand. Because while the drivers go back and at least try to get some rest or some sleep in between stints, the rest of us are up the whole time. Hopefully we're awake.
It actually makes it a lot longer day because we're not sleeping any later the night before or the morning before. We're all kind of getting there at the same time, and it adds a lot of time. And I noticed that the crew guys were a lot more fatigued at the end of the race this time than they were before.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thank you, Bob, Alex, Jon and Jimmy for joining us with the exciting news as we look forward to the 2010 season and the 48th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
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