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NASCAR Media Conference

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Mike Skinner
Jack Sprague
March 29, 2007

THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's teleconference with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. Mike is the driver of the No. 5 Toyota Tundra for Bill Davis Racing, and he has won the two most recent Craftsman Truck Series races in Atlanta and California.
Jack is the driver of the No. 60 Conway Freight Tundra for Wyler Racing, and he won the Daytona season opener.
Mike currently leads the series point standings and Jack is fourth, and they're both getting ready for the next Craftsman Truck Series race on the schedule, which is the Kroger 250 this Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.
We'll start out with I'll ask a question to both Mike and Jack and then we'll open it up to questions from everyone. Mike, why don't we start with you and maybe you can talk a little bit about your strong start to the season, currently leading the points standings and winning the two most recent races.
MIKE SKINNER: It's been awesome so far. I mean, we won two races, Jack won the big race. Daytona is a great place to win. Actually there's no place that's bad to win. We've had a really, really good start so far, and our Tundra is running really, really well. We're excited about it. We feel good about it so far. Awfully early, though.
THE MODERATOR: And Jack, last October you won the race at Martinsville. Can you talk a little bit about that win and what it meant to win a race at Martinsville?
JACK SPRAGUE: Well, it was huge. I never thought I'd win at Martinsville, a place that I've ran decent at, but Tony and the guys gave me such a great truck, and I was able to get done with it.
My hats off to the guys; they've built great trucks all along. And to win Martinsville, center pole, and to win Martinsville was huge, and then to come back and win at Daytona, another place I never dreamed I'd be able to win at. The guys have just worked really hard.
I've got a great race team and Tony has assembled some great people. It's shown. We've ran really good all year long, three races.
Unfortunately we had a little bit of shifter trouble in Atlanta, which kept us from a Top 5 finish. I certainly didn't have a truck to beat Mike or Todd, but I was third in a fifth place truck, which would have been a great run. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but we're still in great shape and the guys are still doing a great job and we're running really well.

Q. For both of you, I was talking to Cup Series competitor the other day who said the COT should be called the DLT, "Drives Like a Truck." A lot of people are saying the Truck Series racing is the best racing we're watching. Can you guys both comment on that, not in the form we've always bragged about truck racing but compare it to the other series right now?
MIKE SKINNER: I've actually had the pleasure to drive a COT car, and it is very, very much like a truck. The trucks are exciting for a number of reasons. One is the aerodynamic package. Obviously they knock a big hole in the air. We've got a lot of downforce.
I think Jack and I were there way back in the beginning of the Truck Series, and they were a lot slicker on the front ends and they probably had less drag than they have now. But they didn't have near the downforce they have now.
So it's made for good racing. But the Car of Tomorrow I think if NASCAR can get the excitement that's built into the Craftsman Truck Series races on Sunday for the length of the race, the race on Sunday, they're going to have a heck of a show.

Q. Do you think that it drives like a truck, very much so, Jack?
JACK SPRAGUE: I haven't drove one, so Mike is probably a whole lot better person to ask that question to. I think by looking at them, they're certainly a whole lot closer to a truck than they were, and I think it's pretty much taken the aerodynamics out of the hands of the fabricators because there's no wiggle room on the cars, and NASCAR is not allowing any.
I think putting it all back into the drivers' and the crew chiefs' hands and the mechanics' hands more so on the aero side of it, which apparently has worked really well for the trucks. I think once the growing pains of getting through tech and things of that nature get over with, I think it's going to be some pretty -- it's already been great racing, but I think it's going to be a lot easier on the teams.

Q. This question is for both Mike and Jack. The two of you guys along with Ron Hornaday established yourselves as the drivers to beat in this series not long after it was founded. All three of you kind of left for a time and came back, now you're sitting 1, 2, 4 in the points standings. In your opinion has the Truck Series almost come full circle with you guys being back on top, and what's it like knowing you may be racing each other for the Championship?
MIKE SKINNER: I'll tell you, it certainly has for me. We have -- we started out in the Truck Series, and we had a little success, as well as Jack and Ron. I think we all three can probably answer this question close to the same.
But you go on, everybody wants to be in the Nextel Cup Series if you're in the late model stock series, and the Truck Series is definitely a steppingstone to that. Once you get there, if you're fortunate enough to have the success of a Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon or somebody like that, it's wonderful.
But sometimes the rides just don't come for you, and for myself anyway, I got hurt in my career, and it set me back a couple of years. Then the next thing you know, those rides aren't out there for you like they were to start with.
You know, for me it's the place to be, and Jack and I have talked about this several times, and we're having a lot of fun racing, and that's why we started racing to begin with.
JACK SPRAGUE: I'm pretty much right there with Mike. I mean, if you can't place yourself in a Cup car with one of the big four or five teams, then you're pretty much -- you struggle. So I had a little stint, a very little stint, a half a year where I put myself in position. I may have not, probably should have, but I just have a really good time in the Truck Series, and I've been fortunate enough to be teamed up with great race teams like now with the Wylers and Conways as sponsors and a bunch of great guys.
I just want to race. I'm at a point in my life, and I think probably Mike and Ron are, too, where I don't want to be gone 45 weekends a year and be doing this that hard.
But I enjoy the series. I give it 500 percent, and I think it's the coolest thing in the world that us three are fighting for this thing early on as we are along with Todd. I think that's the way it should be.
There's a lot of great teams in this series now, a lot more competitive than it ever has been, and it gets harder every year, and to be able to race each other like they did, heck, 10, 11 years ago and still be on top, I'm pretty proud of that actually, and I have a lot of fun with these guys and they're some of the best runs I have in the world, even though we don't leave the racetrack and hang out together. When we're here, my personal feeling is I feel like they're my brothers.
I race them hard, I certainly am not going to do anything to hurt either one of them or anything intentional to hit them, but I'm going to race them hard and they're going to race me hard. I think we probably race each other with a lot more respect as we get older and farther along into this deal than we ever have, and I think that's pretty cool.

Q. Just as a follow-up, how has the series changed in both your opinions since the good old days in the mid-'90s when you guys were so strong?
MIKE SKINNER: Well, you know, the series was awfully strong -- it was new, it was fresh, and we were fortunate enough to be three of those guys that helped bring it along, along with a lot of other guys. There's too many to mention.
Then it kind of went into a lull, and then I think when -- I think the start of it was when Bobby Hamilton kind of jumped out of the Cup Series and went back, and Jack jumps out and then several other of us.
We're back home, we're having fun, but the Truck Series is very, very exciting and it's strong right now. By being exciting and having a lot of things to talk about during a race, it gives the commentators something to talk about because there's a lot of lead changes, there's a lot of things going on.
The biggest difference now is there might have been five or six of us that was racing for a win back then. Now, man, there's guys that are -- 15th place trucks can win the race nowadays.

Q. You all can stand to get a boost from Fox's broadcast this weekend in terms of -- you're kind of putting it out there in the way that you can't get on Speed. How are you really anticipating that, looking forward to that?
JACK SPRAGUE: I think obviously it's huge for the series. I mean, I think it's great for the series. As drivers, we're going to see a little bit of the ramifications of it, be it interviews and things of that nature. I think Speed does a great job for this series, but I also think being on Fox this weekend is a huge deal for this series to be on a station that everybody in the United States can get.
But I think also that the series deserves that. I think back to the last question a little bit, I think when the series started, a lot of Cup owners jumped in, they thought it was a novelty, it was kind of cute, it was different, race a pickup truck, that's kind of goofy, let's try it, and then the lull Mike talked about, a little bit of the novelty wore off the series.
And then as time went on, the caliber of owners and sponsors and drivers that are in this series now, this is a for-real deal, and I think it's perfect for the fans. I mean, if I was a race -- I am a race fan, but if I was sitting home and had to pick a race to watch, I would watch the Truck Series because, number one, there's always a lot of action; number two, it's the perfect length. You don't necessarily have to sit there all afternoon and watch the race. They're two-, two-and-a-half-hour races, and you never know who's going to win.
As drivers we never know who's going to win. Look at Mike in California; he probably never dreamed he was going to win that race, but he was in a position he needed to be in to win it. You just never know. And Daytona, I certainly didn't know I was going to win the thing until 100 feet to go. That's the way it is a lot of times.
I think that kind of excitement obviously parlays over to the fans watching the race because they watch them because they don't know who's going to win these races. I'm very proud to be a part of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and be doing what I'm doing and I'm having a lot of fun.

Q. As a follow-up, do you think that knowing that you're on that national TV, do you think some guys might try to make it a little more exciting if you know what I mean?
JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I don't think they better mess with none of us. How can it get more exciting?

Q. Mike, can you talk a little bit about you have two wins in a row, and I guess at Martinsville you'll be going for the hat trick to win number three in a row. What will it take to accomplish that?
MIKE SKINNER: Same thing that happened in the last two, a fast track and a lot of luck. You know, we have put ourselves in position to win, but we have had luck on our side. So many times in the past two years we've had the dominant truck, we've sat on the pole, led the most laps, been leading down the stretch, then the caution would come out and then it would be Todd or Jack or somebody else that was able to capitalize on the caution flag or another turn of events.
And the last two races I was that guy that probably was going to finish second or third. We might have been able to win Atlanta, I'm not sure, but California, we were second or third place truck. But we were in that spot and the caution came out at the right time.
You can call it luck -- you've got to be in that spot, but you also have to have that turn of events fall in the right sequence for you to be able to get to victory lane.
We're going to Martinsville with the thought in our mind, we want to get out of there with the fenders on in the Top 10 somewhere. That's the same mindset we took to Daytona, the same mindset we took to California and the same mindset we took to Atlanta.

Q. For both of you, both of you are obviously champions, but why is it so hard in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to repeat as champions? We've never seen that happen.
JACK SPRAGUE: Not back-to-back. I have every other year. I think it's because it's so competitive. If you look, I don't think repeat champions in any of these divisions is too common.
You know, it's very difficult to do. There's a lot of, like I said before, a lot of great race teams and great drivers in this series, and a lot of it is based -- I hate to use the word luck because I feel like you make your own luck to an extent, but Mike was right, he's had so many races won in the last couple years to not win, and one of them he was leading at Texas and caught in the wind.
So many things can happen that can change the whole day, and it's not the fastest truck wins because very seldom the fastest truck wins the race. This very seldom happens.
I was able to win Martinsville last fall and I felt like I was the fastest truck. But I very easily couldn't have won that race, too.
I think you've just got to eliminate all the problems you can. We had problem in Atlanta with a freak deal with a (inaudible) that should have never hung up in its life, it was designed not to hang up, and it hung up. You have to eliminate the bad days, and we were three races in and we had one bad day. But it wasn't catastrophic, it was just not cool. So far Mike has not had a bad day, and hopefully he won't.
That's the things that win championships is you don't have to -- Reutimann finished third last year in the points and never won a race. You don't have to win these races. Don't get me wrong, we all want to win. But you have to eliminate the bad days as much as possible. Luck has a lot to do with that.
You know, finally Mike is running like he always has. He's not all of a sudden running good, he's been running good. It's just things aren't going against him. I'm not going to say they're going for him, but they're not going against him, which has enabled him to win the last two races.
When you get on a wave like that, it's almost like you can't screw up. When you get off the wave, you can't do anything right. I've been on both sides of it. As great as one side is, it's just horrific how bad the other side is. You kind of go along and do the best you can and do in your heart what you know is right, and sooner or later it comes back to you.
MIKE SKINNER: That's kind of funny because Jack and I were just talking about this last week. It is so true. You don't do anything different. You do the very best you can do every time you go out there. It just -- the cards fall where they may, and things happen the way they're going to happen.
Like Jack said, what you've got to have in this deal is when you have a bad day, it needs to be 15th, not 35th. Unfortunately for me, several of the times we had bad luck or mechanical failures or we had some suspension problems last year a couple of times, man, we were 32nd or 33rd, 35th, whatever. When you can take those days and turn them into is 12th or 15th place finishes, at the end of the year when all the points are added up you're still in the hunt.

Q. Two questions, and you can take your choice which one wants to answer which one, just the first question is with Toyota dominating the series, basically winning one out of almost every three Craftsman Truck starts since you've been in it, is there a concern on your part that people might stop watching because they feel like it's going to be a Toyota walkover, or do you feel like there's a parity with all the makes that can keep people attracted and draw them into the quality of racing rather than the makes?
JACK SPRAGUE: I think the biggest thing is you have to realize -- don't get me wrong, Toyota is awesome. Don't get me wrong, these guys work hard, we've got great horsepower, they live and breathe racing, and they've given us great pieces to race with.
But along with that, NASCAR has made sure that these trucks are so even, I'm not going to say they're as close as the COT car because those things are unbelievably even. But NASCAR has made these trucks so even that the only difference in these trucks manufacturer to manufacturer is the nosepiece and the tail. Everything else is identical.
And actually I think the reason -- I know the reason that you're seeing what you're seeing and the dominance of it, you have to look at the drivers that are driving and the teams that are owning these Toyotas. Toyota came in here, and within a couple years has positioned themselves with great race teams and great drivers, and that's the reason you're seeing what you're seeing.
I'm not saying Hornaday can't drive, because he's right there third in points or wherever he's at, in a Chevrolet. But you also have to look at the champions and the Cup drivers, former Cup drivers that are in these Toyotas, and that's where you're getting your differences.

Q. The second question, since we're talking about Cup, as well, do you see like the initial struggles by Toyota on the Cup side as just -- as normal? How long do you think it's going to be before they really start to see some consistent results and kind of basing that maybe off of what's happened in the Truck Series?
MIKE SKINNER: I think the same reason you're seeing the success with the trucks is the same reason you're not seeing the big success right away, anyway, with the Cup cars.
If you look at it, right now, Dave Blaney has probably shown more promise in the Cup program than any other driver out there as far as showing promise about being competitive. It's about the teams.
All those teams except for the CAT car are startup teams. There's not really any established race teams who have been in this sport and been in this business for a long time with a lot of depth in their program.
As these guys get more depth in their program, they'll get better and better and better, all of them. But right now, it's -- you say Toyotas dominate; well, it's the same people and the same mentality that's building those Cup cars that's building these trucks.
We're racing against the same guys; we're racing against Childress engines, they're racing against Childress engines; Yates engines; Roush Fenway, whatever, Yates, it's all -- we're racing against the same people they are.
So it's just a matter of time for these race teams to get the depth in their programs to compete at the Cup level, and the Cup level is definitely up several notches from where we're at in the trucks. But there's just more and more.
We talked earlier about when Jack and Hornaday and all started in this deal, there was five or six guys that could win a race. Now there's 15 or 20. In the Cup Series there's probably 35. So it's just that much more tough.

Q. Do you think they can break through this season?
MIKE SKINNER: They could win a race this year. I think anybody that makes a Nextel Cup race can win a race. Is it likely they're going to go out and dominate and run and be as competitive as the trucks are? No, they're not going to be as competitive as the trucks are. If you think about it, this is our fourth year in the trucks.
When Toyota is in there for four years, they will have either gotten their current race teams established with the depth it's going to take to be competitive or they'll have lined theirselves with the team that's capable of doing that.

Q. With so much emphasis on the young guys over on the Cup side, how gratifying is it as veteran drivers to still be considered drivers to beat in the Truck Series?
JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I think this series has a lot of diversity. I think you have the veteran drivers, I think you have the young drivers that are trying to get to where they can hopefully one day run the Nextel Cup series, and I think you have a middle ground there where there's guys that are not really sure what they want to do but are good drivers.
You know, I think -- I just think that's the way this series is and I think that's what makes the series so cool is we have Mike and myself and Hornaday and Musgrave and Setzer and we have Bobby Hamilton, and it's not necessarily an age thing as much as on the Cup side right now they're so driven on getting these 20-year-olds, 18-year-olds in these cars, and that's just their mentality at this point.
I remember when I was coming up through the ranks and trying to do that and I was in my mid-20s they didn't want to touch anyone that young. They wanted 35- to 40-year-old drivers. I think it just goes in cycles and I completely missed the whole thing (laughter).
I think that's the way it goes. You know, being 45 or 50 or 40 years old, it doesn't mean you can't win anymore. That's obvious. All the guys top four or five in points are 42 or plus. I think I'm the youngest one. Todd is 43 and Mike is a little older and Ron is a little older. We're still way capable of doing what we need to do and probably smarter race car drivers than we ever have been. I think I am and I think all of us are.

Q. Mike, do you mind elaborating on that?
MIKE SKINNER: I'd love to. I'm kind of over the young guns deal because I'm an old guy. But it seemed like a few years ago if you were old enough to shave, you were almost too old to get a Nextel Cup ride. Like Jack said, we missed it. We came in, we didn't have enough experience. Then the next thing you know you've got the experience, you're too old.
That has -- it's going away. It's a wave, and it's a matter -- at the end of the day, people are going to want who can get it done. I think what happens is if you want a long-term relationship with a sponsor, you don't want to put a driver in there with four or five years left in his career. You want to put a guy in there with 15 or 20 years left in his career so he can give you years and years of that service as far as the brand loyalty and the whole thing behind the sponsorship.
As far as too old to get it done, aw, I am probably -- I'm very weird about this. I'm a huge Kyle Busch fan, and we just hit it off, we get along good, we race hard on the racetrack. I was so happy to see him win Bristol. But put Jack in that 5 car, put Hornaday in their 5 car, they're going to run up front. It's a lot to do with the equipment that these guys are in.
And when the young guns deal came along, they wasn't driving for the back market teams like it used to be. They were driving for Richard Childress and Robert Yates and Jack Roush, and these guys are -- Rick Hendricks, they're sticking their necks out there because they had some veterans in the organization and they could afford to roll the dice and take that chance, and they've come out on top, and that's what's made the young guns deal such a big deal.
At the end of the day, there's no substitute for youth, but there's no substitute for experience, either.

Q. Mike, just as a follow-up, do you think the sort of on-track rivalry that you and Jack and Hornaday had back at the beginning of the series, do you think that rivalry is still intact?
MIKE SKINNER: Yeah, that's funny. You've got to give us both a shot at that. You know, it's funny because back in our younger days, if you ran into Jack and you made him mad, he wouldn't talk to you for two or three months, and Hornaday and I could run into each other and go drink a beer after the race.
Now Jack and I seem to be -- we can run into each other and get over it in a couple of days, and Ron, he's just still Ron. I think Ron is always going to be Ron. I don't really know that there was ever a big rivalry to be honest with you.

Q. What about you, Jack?
JACK SPRAGUE: Well, I think the biggest thing with duels and all that in the earlier days, number one was the media, they loved it. I mean, they used it to their fullest extent, to the point of at the end of one season Hornaday and I had boxing gloves for some media deal. But I also think back in the early days all three of us were trying to become Nextel Cup drivers, and that was our goal.
And to be able to get into that series and get a quality ride, which Mike was able to do, you have to win and you have to be a bully and you have to do whatever it takes.
Now none of us are trying to get there. We're where we want to be. We're -- I certainly know I'm smarter than I was knowing that these guys are here for the same reason I am, and they're good race car drivers, I'm a good race car driver, we're going to race each other as hard as we can. The cheap shots that were taken back then, you just don't see that anymore these days. This series has come so far that this is racing like any other racing. This isn't Saturday night racing anymore.
It started out in the Saturday night racing mentality. I just think the biggest thing is back then we all wanted to be Cup drivers so bad so we took a lot of chances that we probably shouldn't have. All of us did.
Now we race each other for the most part with a great deal of respect. I certainly respect all of these guys that have been doing this for as long as I have, and actually some of the rookies I'm really impressed with. I keep saying this, but Erik Darnell, I think he's going to be a superstar. I think he's got a lot of talent and he's way beyond his years in the way he drives and handles himself. There's guys like that that are coming along that I have a lot of respect for. There's not many that I really don't.

Q. A follow-up question, Jack, not wanting to take your mind off Martinsville, but in a couple weeks you're going to be in Michigan, your home track pretty much. Mike won at his home track in California. How special would it be for you to win there in Michigan?
JACK SPRAGUE: It would be awesome for me because I've never ran good there. I have no clue why not. I just -- Johnny won there last year, it was pretty much his home track, also. But we had other issues that we found out later, reasons why we didn't run so swell last year.
But to be honest with you, I've never hit on much there. But it would be awesome. I never dreamed I'd win at Daytona or Martinsville, and my team was able to give me a good enough truck to do that.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. It's certainly one of the places that I certainly would like to conquer and go away from there knowing why I finally did good there. Like we've said all day long in this conference, there's so many people that can win in these races that you just never know. And to go there and be able to win would be awesome.
The biggest thing, like we both stated all along, is get the Top 5 finishes, get the Top 10 finishes, make a bad day into a decent day and salvage something. That's who's going to come out in the end as your points champion, and that's what we all need to try to do.
THE MODERATOR: I want to thank everybody for participating in our teleconference this afternoon with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague. Again, they'll be in action Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Mike and Jack, thanks a lot, and thank you, everybody, for participating.

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