NASCAR: This Week in Ford Motorsports, Jimmy Spencer
29 April 1998Excertps from Winston Teleconference.
Jimmy Spencer posted his best finish of the 98 NASCAR Winston Cup Season Sunday, placing second in the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. His finish vaulted Spencer into 10th place in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings, up from 14th. The following is from his interview on the Weekly Winston Teleconference on Tuesday.
JIMMY SPENCER -23- Team Winston Taurus -- WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE THIS SEASON FROM LAST WHEN YOU WERE 30TH IN THE POINT STANDINGS? "I think that the team has really grown well together. We had a lot of growing pains, so to speak. When we had a good run, the following week we'd seem to have bad run. The following week we'd come back and we couldn't get our heads screwed on straight and could never get regrouped. It would take three or four races. Today, as competitive as it is, if you have a bad week, you better forget about it and come back the following week. I think that's the biggest thing the team has done this year. Last year we had a pretty good year, but we just had a lot of little things happen. The fan belt came off, motor failures, a lot of things that were probably not of the team's making. This year we started out pretty good. We had an engine failure at Atlanta and then came back and ran well at Texas. We made a couple of mistakes this year, but we're still 10th in the points and we feel like we can be there all year long."
YOU HAD A LOT TO SAY AS FAR AS WHO WAS GOING TO WIN THE RACE SUNDAY, HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHAT CAR YOU'RE GOING TO FOLLOW IN THE DRAFT? "We sort of were the determining factor of who was going to win the race and I didn't want to show any favoritism to either Terry or Bobby, they were just two competitors. It goes back to where somebody has helped you in the past. Bobby helped me at Daytona. Schrader and I got together with about three laps to go and we got into the wall. We still finished 15th, but that day Bobby got shuffled out of the draft and I got shuffled out of the draft. There was about 30 laps to go and I got back up on his back bumper. I said, 'Don't hang me out to dry.' He didn't and, in turn, we ended up coming back to sixth and seventh, and eventually got to second and third.
"I said, 'Well, I guess I owe him a little bit.' He said he was gonna make his move at the end and I said, "I'm going with you.' I felt that our car wasn't capable of winning the race. I think our team is capable of winning races, so don't think I'm saying our team can't win. What I'm saying is that at that particular time and day, we weren't going to win that race. We felt like we had to do the best thing we could and that was to finish second. I felt if I helped Bobby, then he wouldn't hang me out to dry when he did get past Terry and shoot down in front of him. That would have shuffled me back to fourth. He didn't and it worked out well.
"I feel bad for Terry not winning and I feel bad for Dale Jarrett not winning. Most of all, I feel bad for myself not winning, but I think we brought the Team Winston car home second and that was the best we could do that day."
THERE ISN'T ANY DIRECT COMMUNICATION BETWEEN DRIVERS, THOUGH. IS IT JUST THROUGH SPOTTERS? "You just relay to the spotter and through hand signals. He kept giving me hand signals. There were a couple of times I could have shuffled him out, but I think his car was so strong that he still would have got back. Then I would have said, 'Well, that's a bridge I burned, and I'm not going to get back across today.' I felt that was my best opportunity. Him and I kept motioning to each other and it worked out well. I think that some day, we've still got two more superspeedway races to go, that, hopefully, the shoe will be reversed and Bobby can help me win the Winston 500 or maybe the Firecracker 400 in July."
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE LIKE AND HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR TIME? "I think a Winston Cup driver's life is good. First of all, to be in the position in front of a national TV audience and the national media coverage that we get now, we're becoming pretty popular people. Yesterday, we did an appearance with R.J. Reynolds and myself at Bruno's Golf Tournament in Birmingham to raise money for local charities. That was the day after the race and we got home last night. I spent some time with the kids, and I'm going to take my boy to the golf course on Wednesday. I'm leaving Wednesday night to go to California.
"I think that we treat Monday and Tuesday as our weekends. Today, I'm going to go to Travis Carter's shop and talk about what happened this weekend and what we can improve on. My sponsor, R.J. Reynolds, is great. They don't really book me up in the middle of the week. We work pretty hard Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but they're very good about Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I enjoy that. I think a lot of guys work a little more than I do with sponsors and certain events, but R.J. Reynolds works me only around the races. My off time is usually Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That was a rare occasion yesterday, but yet you get to play golf, so that's an enjoyable day."
DO YOU GET TO SPEND TIME WITH YOUR KIDS AND THEIR ACTIVITIES? "The biggest problem you have with Winston Cup is you don't have the weekends when the kids are at home. A lot of times they go to the races, but a lot of times they stay home. They're at the age, 12 and 10, where they've really got a lot of friends. We've got a babysitter that sits with them when they don't want to go. We try to go to the movies when we can on Tuesday and Wednesday. You've got to watch their school, but I try to spend as much time by making sure I'm at home every night Monday through Wednesday when I can be.
"They have a tough life. Most of all, the children of Winston Cup crew members have it tougher than anybody. I think it's a lot tougher for them and their family members, more so than the Winston Cup drivers, because we really don't have to go to work on Monday or Tuesday, if we don't schedule anything. You try to spend as much time with your family as you can and I'm sure it's the same in any other sport, whether it's baseball or football. But our Winston Cup schedule is about 10 or 11 months out of the year now and the time you do get, you never know what you're gonna do the following week, so when you do get the time, you try to utilize it as best you can."
IT LOOKED PRETTY ROUGH OUT THERE SUNDAY. HOW ROUGH WAS IT? "I think you have come to the situation at Daytona and Talladega that it's like, 'We know there is going to be a big accident. We hope it doesn't happen, but you know it's inevitable.' What we did Sunday, Donnie (Wingo, crew chief) and I talked about it. I said, 'Donnie, don't get panicky here, I'm gonna stay in the back of this pack. I just feel like the guys are driving a little more aggressive than I'd like to.' And that's coming from me. But I think you know it. A driver made a mistake Sunday. It's always a driver error, unless a tire fails or something. Ninety percent of the time, there's usually a driver's error that causes those accidents and you just hope you don't get collected up in them."
HOW MUCH MARGIN FOR ERROR IS THERE? "I think that we drove a perfect race. I think we had perfect pit stops and I think everything worked out the best that we had. I think Bobby Labonte drove it a little bit better than us. We drove 99 percent, he drove 100." HOW ABOUT AVOIDING THE WRECKS? "I think a driver just has to anticipate it. You've gotta rely on your spotter and you've gotta rely on what that team and competitor has been doing all day. A lot of the competitors were moving around the race track an awful lot. Their car might not be as fast as somebody else's, so they're trying to get everything they can out of it to stay in the position they're in. You've gotta watch that. Some cars don't handle as good as others. Our car handled awesome all day and we knew we could get back up. We knew we could catch back up when we needed to. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Fortunately, we were down on the inside when the accident happened. If we were on the outside, we probably would have been collected in it."
WHY DO YOU RACE ON A TRACK WHERE YOU KNOW AN ACCIDENT LIKE SUNDAY CAN HAPPEN? "It bothers you. I don't think NASCAR likes it at all, but there's no fix to the problem, yet. You've gotta admit, the races are awful exciting. They love it that way, they just don't want to see the accidents. So for them to fix the problem, I don't know how they can. They need to separate the cars at Daytona and Talladega. There's no question that there's got to be a way of separating the fields. Atlanta, I wish they never would have reconfigured it. Atlanta was to me, one of the best race tracks we went to and now it's become a factor where it is brutally fast. If your car is off a little bit, you could very easily spin out and hit the wall.
"The track we're going to this weekend, California, is awesome. You can have two and three-wide racing. I don't think you're gonna see pileups. Las Vegas is another one. The Las Vegas race wasn't as exciting as it needed to be, but when we go back the second and third time, it will be more exciting. California is the same, Pocono, you separate the field. I think the fans enjoy watching a race where they see cars pass and they rely on pit stops and things like that. When you're at Daytona or Talladega, you have to rely on all your competitors to help you. Bobby Labonte wouldn't have won the race Sunday if Jimmy Spencer didn't help him. Now maybe Dale Jarrett would have helped him win the race, I don't know exactly. But, it's a shame that not necessarily the fastest car wins at Daytona and Talladega. It's the guy that gets the most help that day that wins the race.
"To me, when you go to California or Vegas, sometimes the fastest guy wins the race. I think it's usually the guy that had the best pit crew that day, the best brakes and the whole nine yards. Winston Cup racing is so competitive. On the other side of the equation, you don't look forward to going to Atlanta. I look forward to going to Daytona and Talladega, but I've been collected in those accidents and there's not much you can do. You just sort of say, 'Hopefully it doesn't happen today.' And we were fortunate on Sunday it didn't happen to us.'"
IS THERE A POSSIBILITY THAT NASCAR WILL HAVE TO LOOK AT A SMALLER MOTOR FOR PLACES LIKE DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA? "I think they'd still go just as fast because they could take a V-6 engine and still run 200 miles an hour with it. I think NASCAR's looking at some aerodynamic deals, some shock limitations, some coil spring limitations. They're looking at a lot of things.
"They took the cars to the wind tunnel to see what they can do to try and keep the racing as competitive as it is, but, yet, get the field separated and not have these major pileups. The smaller engine block is going to cost the car owners a tremendous amount of money. The engine builders, they're the smartest people in the world. They will come up with solutions in horsepower. If you put a small restrictor plate on them, they'll keep spending thousands and thousands of hours trying to figure out how to make the most power. In turn, it costs the car owners more money.
"NASCAR knows it and Bill France knows it. When he makes a decision, he does it for the betterment of the sport. He'll figure something out.
He doesn't want to see any driver get hurt because he knows that's his bread and butter. I think that he's working with everybody and I know NASCAR officials are working with all the car owners and drivers trying to figure out how we can get a good solution to the problem."
THIS HAS TO BE ONE OF THE MORE SERIOUS PROBLEMS TO SOLVE, RIGHT? "Very true and NASCAR knows it. We were fortunate that nobody has really got hurt bad at Daytona and Talladega lately. We actually got some drivers hurt worse at Atlanta and Texas with broken bones, mainly because of the impact into the wall with the track conditions. I think they will try to come up with a fix for it before July. I think they're gonna do some testing at Talladega and Daytona with some teams and I think that they will have a solution. Hopefully, it's the right one and, hopefully, it'll be as competitive but yet we won't have the accidents."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO WINNING AT CALIFORNIA? "You need a lot of horsepower in Winston Cup racing and you have to have a good motor at every race track. California is no different. California is probably as much of a horsepower as we go to all year, but on the other side of the equation, you've got to have good fuel mileage. It was won last year by fuel mileage.
"It becomes a factor where who knows what's going to happen. Is there gonna be a caution with 40 laps to go? Is there gonna be a caution with 60 laps to go? Can we go 60 laps? You never know in Winston Cup racing the outcome. We go there with the best package we feel we can have.
"We had a good car last year. We cut a tire down, made a lap up, and came back to get fifth. We're hoping to improve on that a little bit. We hope the Taurus is a little bit better car than the Thunderbird and we'll be a little bit more competitive than we were last year with the Thunderbird. But at California, of all the race tracks we go to, has got really big corners and you have to handle really well. You also have to handle down the straightaway and that's a lot of horsepower."
DO YOU LIKE TO DRIVE ON A TRACK, LIKE CALIFORNIA, WHERE THERE IS NO RESTRICTOR PLATE? "I think all the drivers dislike the restrictor plates. Yes, the fastest car wins sometimes, but you still have to rely on somebody helping you. California, you can just flat out beat somebody. Michigan, you can flat out best somebody. Bristol, you can outhandle somebody and win the race. Martinsville, you can just have a car hooked up like Bobby Hamilton did and annihilate the field. That is a more satisfying win that Bobby Hamilton had two weeks ago than what Bobby Labonte did simply because he showcased his crew, his car and everything about it.
"I think you'll see that at California this week. I think the team that wins can say, 'Hey, we had the best car on Sunday.' I think that's what the drivers like to say. They want to say, 'We had the best weekend we could have because we ran really good, qualified good, and we won the race. We didn't rely on somebody helping us draft past somebody to win.' I think you'll see that at California and I think, for sure at The Winston in two weeks at Charlotte. That's the whole package. It's the car handling really good, relying on the horsepower and relying on your pit crew. You do the same thing at Daytona and Talladega, but you really have to rely on the draft there."
DO YOU MIND BEING CALLED MR. EXCITEMENT? "Originally, Mr. Excitement came from being aggressive and giving it your all. I still do that, but I do it in a more mature way and Mr. Excitement still comes out. It's good for me. It helps with my fan base, which is getting bigger and bigger and I think it helped a lot because I said it the way it was. It wasn't a matter of Ford, Pontiac or Chevrolet Sunday, it was a matter of Jimmy Spencer and his crew trying to win the race. If we couldn't win the race, then we needed to finish second because first pays a whole lot more money than second. I think it's the same in every race on Sunday, you try to take your team and your sponsor to the winner's circle."