NASCAR Media Conference
August 25, 2009
TRACEY JUDD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. This one is in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200 presented by Dodge. It's a standalone event for the NASCAR Nationwide Series in Montréal. We're joined by two drivers today, veteran NASCAR road ace, the defending race winner, and native Canadian Ron Fellows, who will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He's on along with Colin Braun, who is a regular in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He'll be pulling double duty this weekend, racing at Chicagoland Speedway Friday night before heading on to Montréal where he'll drive the No. 16 3M Ford there. Thanks for taking time to join us this afternoon.
Ron, we'll start with you. You're a four-time winner in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but none of those victories may have been at big as that win last year in your native Canada, in the rain no less. Can you talk a little bit about last year's race and how you see Sunday's event taking shape where you have a pretty strong JR Motorsports team, along with Brad Keselowski running along with you in the 88 car.
RON FELLOWS: As Dale Jr. and Kelly reminded me a number of times, it was also the biggest paying race in terms of the year in terms of prize money, which is a good thing.
I did just one race last year with JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick in the 5 car. It was obviously a successful one. It was a wild, wild day with certainly the threat of rain, getting an opportunity to actually race the Nationwide cars in the rain. We had a little bit of practice to that with our Corvette team, but the group that I've been with Brian Campe as the crew chief and engineer, Cam Strader car chief, same crew as last year. We had a decent run at Watkins Glen. Really enjoy working with this crew. They're a great bunch of guys and have quickly been able to get me a car that works for me and quickly understand what it is I need the car to do for me. It's been a lot of fun.
We know we got to be better than we were last year in the dry based on what we saw at Watkins Glen with the strength of the Toyotas and Carl Edwards in the Ford, we have our work cut out for us. I know that the Hendrick guys have been working hard or getting us a little bit more for this weekend. Very much looking forward to it.
Certainly it was a special win for me being Canadian and having grown up watching Circuit Giles Villeneuve and having raced on that track back in the late '80s, a very special win.
TRACEY JUDD: Colin, you'll be pulling double duty this weekend along with our NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Kyle Busch. You're going to race the trucks under the lights at Chicago before you come over to Montréal. You haven't started a Nationwide Series race since you won the pole and finished second at O'Reilly Raceway Park a year ago. You haven't raced on a road course in national series competition since winning that pole in Mexico City last year. Although you did practice the car for Greg Biffle in Montréal last year, and he finished eighth, nice setup job by you, is there any negative impact you see as far as being in a truck and then moving over to the Nationwide Series car with so much time in between since you've raced the Nationwide Series car last?
COLIN BRAUN: I don't really think so. One of the really cool things about driving for a big team like Roush Fenway is the opportunity I'm afforded to be able to test the Nationwide cars, test their Sprint Cup car. Even though I haven't raced one of these Nationwide cars in a year, I've certainly done quite a few days of testing in the Nationwide car and the Cup car.
You get a chance to go and feel what these cars are like to drive, get a chance to work with all the great people at Roush Fenway. I'm definitely excited about it and feel like we're going to have a pretty fast 16 3M Ford Fusion up there in Montréal. We always have fast trucks in the Camping World Truck Series. It's going to be a cool weekend for me getting to race in both series.
TRACEY JUDD: Give us a preview of your prospects for the trucks.
COLIN BRAUN: Well, I feel like our truck program is really coming along here. We've been getting a lot better on a lot of these short tracks where I haven't had a lot of experience. I've certainly been learning a lot on how to race these short tracks, racing against the veteran guys in the Truck Series. I feel like I'm still learning a lot and still have a lot to learn as a driver.
As far as our trucks, we show up at the racetrack and we're fast and we always have competitive trucks. I think that just goes to show all the hard work that my guys have been putting in back at the shop. Having a veteran crew chief like Mike Beam is a huge help. He's taught me a lot, certainly always knows what I'm looking for in my truck. I feel really good about Chicago. We seem to run good on the mile-and-a-half racetracks. Definitely looking forward to it.
TRACEY JUDD: We'll go to media questions for both Ron Fellows and Colin Braun.
Q. Ron, I guess there are nine Canadians and three others from outside the U.S. What does that say about this race?
RON FELLOWS: I think for the Canadian contingent, it's a big opportunity to so showcase their abilities in front of an international audience. Although Formula One missed it this year, they're scheduled to be back at 2010, it's a tough place to race these cars. I think guys that have some experience on the track, it plays to their favor. It's an unusual road circuit. It's more like a temporary street circuit.
Again, it's one of the biggest racing events in Canada. I'm sure that's the reason for it, is to be able to showcase what they can do.
Q. You talked a little bit about this last year. They called it about the right time. What is something else that maybe NASCAR can do to help improve the cars, tires, if it rains again there?
RON FELLOWS: I don't think it's anything NASCAR needs to do. I think the teams certainly learned a lot in terms of maintaining some level of visibility for the drivers. NASCAR did absolutely the right thing in delaying when we got going just because the Montréal circuit is essentially a temporary facility. As flat as it is, you get an incredible amount of standing water. When you see that in sports car races that I've done in the past with Corvette, like at LeMans, when you get heavy standing water, out comes the pace car. In a 24-hour race you're going to wait it out. They had the jet blowers trying to clear off the standing water. Standing water is where you come into problems with the racecar. You hydroplane, completely out of control when you hit a puddle. There was a lot of standing water in a hurry on that particular track.
Q. Ron, just want to carry on for a second. The race at the Glen, the Cup race was postponed. There was a lot of talk about why can't the Cup cars do what they did in Montréal last year with the Nationwide cars, and that is run in the rain. One of the arguments put forward was because the Cup cars have so much more horsepower, it wouldn't work. You've driven a great number of Cup cars. Could you give me your view on that argument and whether the Cup cars could ever race in the rain on a road course.
RON FELLOWS: I think they can. Horsepower aside, you just got to learn how to manage it and keep it on the road. The difference is that they haven't -- NASCAR hasn't told the teams that that's going to happen, whereas for about as long as I can remember, we're talking at least eight years or so in NASCAR competition, they have told the Nationwide and truck teams if it rains, be prepared for it. It hasn't been a factor with the Sprint Cup. Rain at Infineon is certainly very rare. This is the first time we've had it on a Sunday at Watkins Glen in about the 10 years I've been doing it.
I think it's a matter of deciding is it something they want to pursue. Obviously I'd love to see it. The road racing crowd is certainly prepared for it. We'll see.
Q. This being the first time in Montréal when the Nationwide Series is on an off Cup weekend, that means there will be many more Cup drivers involved in the race than there have been in the past two years. Do you see that as a good thing from a competition point of view or would you rather they not be there?
RON FELLOWS: No, we welcome the competition. It's great. These are the guys that have the profile, Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Carl Edwards. This was what it's all about. They have Kevin Harvick winning the first year. The opportunity they have this year is certainly a lot better in being able to come to the event and be part of all the practice sessions. In the last two years a lot of them have missed the practice sessions because of Pocono and parachuted in. A lot of them had to start at the back. Robby Gordon passed up Happy Hour one year in the first year to make sure he at least qualified.
I think it's going to be a lot more difficult because the regulars that are competing are going to be there for the entire weekend. They'll be tuned up and ready on Sunday.
Q. Ron, this is a pretty strong field. As the defending champion, do you feel you're the favorite? Does what happened at Watkins Glen dull that a little bit and show you how many crazy things can happen to blunt what you're doing?
RON FELLOWS: Are you referring to our pit lane penalty (laughter)?
Q. Always something.
RON FELLOWS: Yeah. I think the guys who were in the top 10, some of those guys in the top 10 at the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen would certainly lead you to believe they're going to be a threat on Circuit Giles Villeneuve, no question. Colin is a bright talent, good stuff with Roush Fenway. So he'll be a threat. He's run there before. It's going to be ultra competitive.
I think based on what we saw at Watkins Glen, the Toyotas were very strong. Marcos Ambrose is on a bit of a roll. Chevy and the guys at Hendrick, we know we've got to be better than we were last year and have worked hard, have been down to Charlotte, had some conferences, done a little bit of development with the car and motor to try to be better than we were at Watkins Glen. Hopefully that will translate into being competitive this weekend.
Q. How difficult a time do you think Alex Tagliani is going to have coming to grips with the Nationwide car at Montréal?
RON FELLOWS: I think he'll be fine. He spent some time in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series cars. They use more production-based parts. Probably a little more, although less powerful, you can't be quite as aggressive with those cars. I think he'll be fine in the Nationwide car. He does have some sort of finesse, heavy stock car experience, has got a fair amount of knowledge of Circuit Giles Villeneuve. I think he'll be fine. He's a talented guy.
Q. Colin, I guess the schedule would have eliminated any thought you might have had of trying to get a triple of getting into Grand-Am, your first love. For you, how neat is it to see your old Grand-Am buddies? Do any of them pick your brain about how they might be able to go NASCAR racing?
COLIN BRAUN: Well, love to go back and run the Grand-Am Series from time to time. Doing the Daytona 24 Hours is always a hot point to my season. I love doing that race. It's a lot of fun. The people at Ford always make it great to be able to do that. I certainly enjoy doing that race.
Not many of the Grand-Am teams have talked to me about what it takes to go stock car racing. For those guys, they always wonder what it's like to race over there. It's such a different world, I guess you could kind of say. A lot of them just question different things that they see on TV and have heard, things like that. None of them have really seriously asked about what it would take to go stock car racing.
Q. Ron, a few years back you were looking for a full-time NASCAR ride. Along the way you learned that people thought you maybe were not young enough. Do you find it sort of interesting now these many years later that you're winning NASCAR races?
RON FELLOWS: Well, the difficulty for me has always been trying to accommodate the scheduling of any NASCAR races. I made a commitment to do the long distance sports car racing with Corvette and have enjoyed about 10 years of that and certainly have a little more of a free schedule now to do the NASCAR road races.
Yeah, the full-time dream for me is would I like to do it? Absolutely. But there's a reason Mark Martin and I share the No. 5, and it's because our birthdays actually start with a 5, as well. We're in our fifth decade. But right now Mark is proving that to be very fashionable. So, hey, let me at it.
Q. You've known Dale Jr. for quite a while. Can you talk about how your relationship with Dale Jr. has developed over the years.
RON FELLOWS: Obviously it's really very cool. For me to get the opportunity to not only drive for Dale Jr. and Rick Hendrick, but to have won a race for them as well. That relationship goes back to 2001 when Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. drove as teammates with our Corvette program at Daytona, the Rolex 24. I got to drive for DEI in some Cup races, had some great races with them. That's sort of how it has evolved since that meeting back in 2001.
Q. Ron, many NASCAR drivers say the road courses are their toughest duty. Is driving a bulky stock car going left and right or is the tough nature of road courses in general?
RON FELLOWS: I think it's a combination of both. You're certainly a lot busier, and Colin could address this better than I with more oval time than me, but the added change of road courses, there's a variety of speed corners. Certainly this weekend at Circuit Giles Villeneuve, a couple times we're in first gear, some second gear, then third and fourth. There's a variety of corner speeds, different gears. The footwork involved keeps you on your toes, no pun intended. That's probably where the difference is.
It's primarily the footwork. There's a finesse involved. It's easy to overheat the brakes. You're on the brakes hard. Particularly this weekend, stopping power and maintaining it consistently through the 74 laps is not going to be easy. There's some finesse involved there. It's a different kind of physical than running on an oval.
Q. Colin, could you comment on that also. Also, there is a lot of young talent that have been having problems finding seats in NASCAR because of the sponsorship. You're one of the few surviving. What do you attribute that to?
COLIN BRAUN: First off, to follow up on your question for Ron, I'd have to say from my standpoint I agree with Ron completely. I think one of the more challenging things, too, is these cars are obviously mostly designed to run on ovals, designed to turn left. They have do a really good job of that for how heavy they are. I think it's just a challenge to take something that's mainly designed to go on an oval and drive it on a road course. The brakes aren't meant to really last that long. The gearboxes aren't meant to withstand that kind of punishment, things like that. We've obviously had to do a lot of work to build different brake and transmission packages to make these cars work on road courses. I think that's just as big of a challenge from a mechanical standpoint as from a driving standpoint. You spend 95 or 90% of your time thinking about oval track racing and racing ovals. You get a couple road course races a year, it's tough to be as competitive as a guy like Ron is on road courses.
Q. About being a young talent, surviving. Some guys can't find seats right now.
COLIN BRAUN: I think the biggest thing is the resources that a team like Roush Fenway has. They have so many resources from a marketing standpoint, from a sponsorship-finding standpoint. I think Jack Roush is someone who definitely believes in promoting from within. He's strongly believes in the fact that you need to have younger drivers to develop and move up through the ranks. For me that's obviously a great thing. Certainly appreciate all the effort and things he's put into trying to develop young drivers, people from a pit crew standpoint, mechanical standpoint, things like that.
It's great to have Jack Roush on your side. He's certainly a really good team boss to drive for. Look forward to working with him for many years.
Q. It's not all organization. It has to be some kind of talent also.
COLIN BRAUN: I'm sure that definitely helps. I feel like as long as you're within the organization, doing the things they ask you to do, you show you're growing, improving, learning, you show that you can be molded into the kind of driver that they want you to be, I think that's just as big of a part of it.
Q. I constantly hear people say, Road course is just a road course. Would you explain to the people that all road courses are not the same. Name some of the courses that are very different.
RON FELLOWS: Colin, how about you first.
COLIN BRAUN: Well, you know, for me I've raced at not nearly as many road courses as Ron has. The different road courses that I really enjoy racing at are obviously a place like LeMans. That's one of the my favorite racetracks. I've only gotten to race there once, but it's a pretty special race. Laguna Seca, Infineon, Watkins Glen, those historic road course races are just amazing racetracks.
They're certainly not all created equal. You have different types of racetracks, different types of corners, the way the elevation changes are, the way the whole racetrack kind of flows is different from every racetrack.
I can't think of two road course racetracks I've been to that I say, Wow, these are pretty similar. They all seem different and have their individual characters. I certainly enjoy driving on all of them, but they're all different.
RON FELLOWS: I think Colin makes a great point that a lot of the road courses, they don't adjust the terrain to accommodate the track. You have certainly Mosport is a track built in the same era as Watkins Glen, just east of my home in Toronto. It's very, very hilly. The track follows the contour of the land there. Certainly you get that all across North America, for sure. The Road America, Road Atlanta, they're awesome, awesome road courses.
Like Colin says, I'm with him. I can't really think of one that this one is like that. Some are flatter, much like temporary street circuits. But they all have their own very distinct character.
Q. Ron, you talked about the braking on this particular course, being a course that's different from any other. What is going to be the toughest restart? Double-file restart for the first time, are they doing that there? Where is it going to be toughest to pass?
RON FELLOWS: Yes, they will be doing double-file restarts. This being long straights, fairly slow corners at the end of them, the premium will be on maintaining quality stopping power and trying to not wear out the brakes between lap one and lap 74. Again, the nice thing about this particular track with being long straights, slow corners, there's lots of places to pass.
Having said that, the restarts in the turn one-two complex will be a little more difficult. We've seen pushing and shoving in there with single-file restarts. That's going to probably be the most difficult, is the turn one, turn two area on the restarts. Turn one is fairly quick, and then in second gear and down to first gear for turn two, a quick following almost 180 degrees. That's where most of the difficulty will be, I think.
Q. Colin, adapting from a truck on Friday at Chicagoland, then going right into the stock cars, especially not having been in one for a race on a road course for a while, how much adapting do you have to do in your driving style between the two? The trucks are heavier, set up different, race trim is different. So are the Nationwide cars.
COLIN BRAUN: Yeah, it's definitely going to be different to try to adapt from all that. You know, I feel like obviously it's two different sets of standards. I kind of have a road course -- idea of what I want my road course car to drive like and an idea of what I want my truck to drive like. As soon as the checkered flag falls for the truck race, I'm thinking about what I want my car to drive like in Montréal, where I'm going to brake for this corner, things like that.
I feel like there's definitely enough time in between to kind of transition in between those two different types of vehicles and types of racetracks. I could see it would be really difficult to do it on the same weekend. I don't see how the Cup drivers go from a place like Pocono to Montréal in a matter of a few hours. I think it won't be too difficult.
I have a question for Ron. I want to know how Ron can be so fast up there in Montréal having not raced up there. I need all the help I can get.
RON FELLOWS: What brand of car you drive again (laughter)? We'll see. To be honest with you, I think the man to beat is going to be Mr. Ambrose. He was quick there last year, fast at Watkins Glen. But, hey, be glad to help you.
COLIN BRAUN: Good. I'll come find you.
Q. Colin, your buddy Brad is racing up there. Have you made any bets on this one?
COLIN BRAUN: No. Brad and I have not made any bets on this race. I haven't actually talked to Brad in a few days. I'll have to call him up and ask him if he wants to bet on this race. I don't know if I'll be able to make it in time for the first practice. Maybe I can use that as a little bit of leverage for my bet.
Q. Jack said he wanted to put you in a Nationwide car full-time next year. Anything new on that? Have you talked to him lately about that?
COLIN BRAUN: No. Nothing really new on that. I guess I can say (indiscernible) and places like that. He's told me a few times that's the plan for next year. Looking forward to that. That's going to be an awesome opportunity. Really looking forward to running some laps with a strong teammate like Carl Edwards. It's going to be a great year.
TRACEY JUDD: Guys, we appreciate your time this afternoon. Ron Fellows, our defending race winner, and Colin Braun, pulling double duty at Chicagoland and then heading over to Montréal. Guys again, thanks, best of luck this weekend.
RON FELLOWS: Thank you.
COLIN BRAUN: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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