March 21, 2004
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with the press conference with the second and third place finishers. In a few minutes, Tony will be in. We will pick him up when he gets in. Third place, we have Dan Wheldon. Dan was our pole sitter. This is his back-to-back third place finish this season. Dan, you were sort of the beneficiary of that last yellow. Tell us how the day went for you.
DAN WHELDON: You know, it was certainly. The Jim Beam car at the start of the run was not too bad. I know TK was very quick. I'm happy for him to score another win at Phoenix. He seems to like this place a lot. Maybe the IRL will take this off the calendar next year if they could. My main problem at the end of the stint was I'd get pretty loose. When you have Honda power like we've got, it gets ugly. I tended to back pedal at the end of the run. Certainly I think if we can continue like this when you're struggling to come in third, I think that bodes well for the future.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Dan. Finishing second, Scott Dixon. Scott, you started in fifth today. You were a couple seconds behind Tony today. Tell us about your run.
SCOTT DIXON: It wasn't too bad. I think, you know, the car was very good on long stints. I think that last yellow didn't really help us too much. We could sort of close in on Tony, maybe get within two car lengths, burn the tires up, he'd sort of stretch out again. It was kind of frustrating. It was not so easy to pass here today. You'd get a run occasionally, but guys had to be pretty kind to you to go through and pass easily. I think all in all, we're fairly happy. It's good points. It's a lot better than Homestead. We'll take this.
THE MODERATOR: I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Pretty clean race until that last lap. How did each of you find traffic?
SCOTT DIXON: As I said before, it was fine. Everybody was fairly good. I think I had some problems with Helio for a while, but I think he was trying to fight to get another lap back, early on when he was behind Tony. Apart from that, everybody was doing a pretty good job. If you stuck your nose in, especially guys that had been lapped were very courteous.
DAN WHELDON: Pretty much the same as what Scott said. It was pretty difficult for me towards the end, I was getting loose. If I got close to anybody, it would make the situation for me worse. I think all in all, pretty good.
Q. Have you ever raced in worse conditions?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't think the temperature was too bad. It was kind of hot. We in the car, it's fairly decent. Races like Chicago two or three years ago, with the humidity, that's the killer. Here was fine. It's dry, hot. It's not terrible.
DAN WHELDON: It was fine for me also. I think it's been worse in England when it's been freezing cold and torrential rain. I much prefer the heat to the rain and the cold, I have to say.
THE MODERATOR: For the record, the ambient temperature was 96 degrees, and track temperature was 123.
Q. Scott, when you're in a race like this, you start to see other potential contenders fall out, do you start making notes to yourself, this happened, that happened? How do you feel about that? Penske fell off.
SCOTT DIXON: I think, you know, with Helio, he fell off pretty much immediately. Within 10, 15 laps, he got really loose. I think Sam was struggling a little bit before he spun. He seemed to be very good in the first stint with getting through the traffic pretty well. But I think he had some more problems. The guys that spun out were not going to be too much of a hassle with you anyway. You notice guys falling back, who's good where and who is not.
Q. Scott, having finished second four out of the last five races, does it get frustrating finishing second?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's definitely getting old.
Q. Do you think you put the one jinx behind you?
SCOTT DIXON: You're the only one that keeps reminding me of it, though (laughter). I don't have a problem with numbers. Seems to be going all right.
Q. Better finish the Homestead.
SCOTT DIXON: I couldn't do much worse than what I did there.
DAN WHELDON: You talk about jinx of the Rookie-of-the-Year, too. You're a pain in the butt for drivers (laughter).
Q. What did they do to you?
DAN WHELDON: I'm not even going to tell you.
THE MODERATOR: For the record, Dan, what highjinx did the team pull on you last night?
DAN WHELDON: It's best kept private, let me tell you. It's ugly.
Q. Were there things you thought you could do to change the car during the race? You had a couple pit stops. Is there something you tried?
DAN WHELDON: No, not really. I think the thing that I found is with the controls that I've got in the car, to try and make it better, everything I seemed to touch made it worse. The first stint was really bad for me. It seemed like it was a long stint. They said 10 to go. That felt like three hours for those 10 laps to pass. I think once I reset everything to how I started the race and just left it and dealt with what I had, it seemed to work out better for me.
Q. Dan, in talking about team culture, how is the situation with Dario going to play out?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I think Dario, it was just a bit unfortunate. I don't know what happened. The thing with Dario is he's been around long enough to know how good he is. You know, he's actually very laid back. Situations like this will not bug him at all. It's quite amazing really. I'd be pulling my hair out. But he's calm. He'll be really strong at Motegi. I think obviously he's got a good relationship with Honda, he knows how important that race is for them. I'm sure he'll up his game. You can never discount Dario. He never really gets down. He is what I would call a good team leader, because he is good from that standpoint. Tony and I get antsy sometimes. He's good for calming us down. Bryan is good for that, too.
Q. Before the last caution, were you starting to get in a position where you were trying to squeeze him, catch up a little? Were you able to do that?
SCOTT DIXON: I think on the longer runs we definitely did. I think especially around three and four we had a better car than Tony. That's why we were really wanting to go green the whole way. I think we would have had a lot better chance to fight for the lead. I think as you could see, four off when we were starting to close in there. Especially with traffic, it seemed like our car was a little better. But that's hearsay, so...
DAN WHELDON: Not really. I think the main difference between Dario and I, like I've told a few people, if he goes out to dinner with you, I guarantee you you're going to buy dinner. If I go, there's a chance I could possibly buy. I'm learning from him, that's for sure.
Q. Do you have any special competitions?
DAN WHELDON: No, not really. I think obviously you've got to focus on the people to beat. Right now TK is very strong. I think Scott is going to be very strong, as is Penske. I think they're the main focus.
Q. Are these cars getting more difficult to pass on a flat-mile oval?
SCOTT DIXON: I think a combination of, you know, the heat today, the cars having less downforce. The tires haven't changed, they're just burning off quicker. It's hard to get close. You don't have the grip to make a couple lanes occasionally when you need to. It's hard to get the car stuck. It is definitely a little harder. It's always been hard to pass on our level. Someone messes up a bit, you can get a decent run, things like that. If you work on something long enough, you'll eventually get them. I think for the drivers it's a lot more fun because the cars are a lot more difficult to drive. I was definitely on my tippy toes all day, especially on four. So it was good.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, guys. (Pause in press conference.) We'll get started again. We have with us the race winner, Tony Kanaan, now the current points leader. Tony started second. This marks his second IndyCar win, both at Phoenix in a rather dominating performance today, having led 191 out of the 200 laps. The last time there was a performance that good was Bobby Rahal back in 1992, just to give you an idea of things. Tell us how the day was. The car looked pretty flawless, didn't seem like you had many issues out there.
TONY KANAAN: Well, it's a great team effort, I have to say. The whole 7-Eleven team, with the other guys, they did a great job. We had a long, long conversation after Homestead. When we came here to test, I wasn't happy with the car at all. They did a lot of work in the shop. I gave that back to them. I think I came here confident that I knew I could do the job because I did it before. With the help of my teammates, Michael and engineers working together, I knew we had a good car. We had a good qualifying run yesterday. I think I was happy for Dan to get his first pole. I was so close. This morning I felt that I had the car to do it. It was just going to be a matter of taking the right opportunities at the right time, use the traffic at my advantage. I think we did that. It was a tough day out there, very hot. The car would start to go off after 50 laps. So the last 15 laps was hard for everybody. I work my way to the traffic. It look easy, but it wasn't at all. I think great pit stops. Honda worked so hard on the engine, to make that better for us, some of the aspects that we complained when we came here in the winter. It's great. We had a big crowd from 7-Eleven here, all our co-sponsors, as well. I promised them last night I was going to win. I promised my boss that he need a winning helmet to put in his collection. I think he got it. It's just a great team effort. Definitely I'm extremely happy. Bringing the momentum up for Japan. We been so close there for so many years. Let's see. It's a good start.
THE MODERATOR: Michael, from a team perspective, it was a very strong performance as well. Most of the race your four cars were in the top six or seven positions. Tell us what today's performance means to you and the team
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was huge. I think Tony said it best. It was a total team effort. Tony did an awesome job. The Team 7-Eleven did a great job. The last pit stop is what kept the track position for Tony. I think that's what helped win it. He drove the wheels off in the end. At one point I think we had four cars in the top six. That was pretty exciting. I was hoping it would hold there. I just feel bad for Dario. You know, Dan did a great job, hung in there, had some problems mid race, but hung in there and brought it back, brought it back in third, right up there in the championship. Bryan hung in there, too. I could see his car wasn't working quite as well as the others. He kept driving it, held off Helio there in the end. It was good. A really fun race to watch. A little nerve-wracking in turn one a few times. But it was good.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, tell us about your thoughts during the last yellow. It was within about 20 laps from the end that you seemed to have a pretty strong car up until then. Did you want to see that yellow come out?
TONY KANAAN: Doesn't matter. It's a race condition. I came, I took it. I think it was on my advantage, for sure, because it was a hard race, like I said. Probably I would have to use all my tires up to that point. So I needed probably -- my car needed a little break. So everybody else. First I was worried about Dario. I saw him walking out of the car, he was okay. After that, I kept myself calm. I mean, I said, "Come on. I led the whole freaking race. I'm not going to lose it in the last six laps." I kept myself concentrate to do a good restart. After that, it was just controlling him. I think he tried to be really aggressive with two laps to go. That was my win right there. I took it easy, cruised around. I took the victory.
Q. Dan Wheldon said they should take this race off the calendar, that IRL should take the race off the calendar. What do you say to that?
TONY KANAAN: So far the only possibility I have to win, so I would say no, keep it on. No, Dan did a great job. He was really concerned I was going to get him on the outside in the first corner, like I always do - as I learn from my boss here. No, I love this place.
Q. Did you ever have a race like this in your career? Any point before the last yellow, did you think Scott was going to make a run on you?
TONY KANAAN: I did long time ago in go-karting when I used to be good. Definitely when you move up to higher levels, you never have an easy race. Today looked easy, but was just a momentum that I kept going. About Scott, I mean, we've been racing together. We've been crashing together. I know him very well. I knew he had the car. But you don't worry about people behind you too much. What I try to do is say, "You know what, I'll set my pace. If he's going to be strong, he's going to have to find his way to pass me." I'm not the kind of guy that is going to block him. If he's strong, he needs to find a way to pass me. I tried not to look in my mirrors so much. I just looked in front, taking advantage of the traffic I had, saving my tires and working with my car. The worse thing you can do is worry about somebody else. You have plenty of problems between yourself and your car, why you have to worry about somebody else. I just said, "Hey, if he's going to pass me, he's going to have to find a way to do it."
Q. Were you surprised to see the 6 car spin by himself?
TONY KANAAN: Not really. I mean, I don't know what he did. It's his problem, not mine.
Q. It's often said this track is a setup track for the Indianapolis 500. Is it?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Who said that (laughter)? Back in 1956, they said that. No, totally different. The aerodynamic package is totally different. It's a mile oval. It's like apples to oranges really. It's not, I don't think.
TONY KANAAN: I think my boss said everything.
Q. How did Dario get into that wreck?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think what happened -- I have a feeling it was a miscommunication from the spotter. I don't think he knew that the yellow was out. Then he got caught. He was so focused on Scheckter that he didn't see the yellow. The spotter didn't call it. He drilled him.
Q. Michael, so many times in your career you ran away with races only to have something happen at the end. Tell us what was going through your mind?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Exactly what would be going through my mind if I was in the car with him. I was in the car with him really. You just never know. You hang on all the way until you know you can beat the guy by coasting or whatever across the finish line. In fact, I heard him scream in the radio before he got across the finish line.
TONY KANAAN: I knew even if I go black boards or upside down, I was going to cross that finish line first (laughter).
Q. Do you feel like your team is almost like Animal House, with all the different characters and personalities you have?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I never thought of it that way. But, yeah, I would say in a lot of ways. I know we have fun just like they did in Animal House. Every now and then the principal has to come over and talk to us. I guess that would be Brian. Not Bryan Herta, but Brian Barnhart.
Q. Tony, were you making many in-car adjustments yourself?
TONY KANAAN: Not really. I mean, the way I like to race is, when I work on my car, I like the car to be really consistent and make as little change as I possibly can. I mean, I just leave up to my engineers to work on the tire pressures and something that we can do, front wing or something. But today I work out with my weight jacker a little bit. Did help me a lot in the beginning. I had set my car to be an easy car to drive because I knew it was going to be a difficult race. We have a big asset in the team between Michael and Peter Gibbons that we just brought in a couple months ago. They won so many races together and Peter was working with da Matta. I remember the way they used to set their cars. I tried to get closer to Peter and get Eric, my engineer that has been with me for like eight years, to get the mentality. For the first time I think now I understood why he won so many races, beside his big talent, because they have a way to set up a car that I started to like it. I think it worked really well for me today. No big changes in the car at all.
Q. Did you know you had enough fuel to last till the end after the last pit stop?
TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I did. Obviously, we knew a stint would do like 65 laps. I looked, it was like 60 laps to go. Obviously, I have Kim talking to me on the radio. He says, "Go to full mixture." If he tells me that, it means we're good to go till the end. Thank God I didn't have to make those calculations. It's up to the engineers. They just tell me what to do, I'll do it. Towards the end, Kim wants it to be a little safe, so we kept saving a little bit of fuel under the yellow flag, in case something happened, like Michael's days. They gave that extra gallon in the car for us to finish the race.
Q. Michael, Dario has to be feeling bad. What did you say or what will you say?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I just feel so bad for him because he was driving the wheels off that car. I mean, he was all over Scheckter. He had in his mind he was going to pass him. I know he was going to before the end of the race. I just feel so bad it happened. As it ends up, you know, I think it appears that it is his fault, but I think there were circumstances to it that it really wasn't his fault.
TONY KANAAN: Dario is a strong guy. He's not going to take a hit like being down. That actually makes me worry for Japan because he's going to come back real strong.
Q. Dan said whatever you did to him last night was ugly, but he wouldn't elaborate.
TONY KANAAN: I didn't do anything. I saw his girlfriend came over, flew over last night, so maybe that's the point. I had dinner with my boss. I was away from that. It wasn't me. It was Bryan Herta and Dario. I don't know.
Q. You're saying Bryan is the wolf in sheep's clothing?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No way.
TONY KANAAN: We work together. It's three against one. You figure out who is the one we always pick on.
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