I’m proud to introduce Frontstretch’s newest column, “Frontstretch Phone-In.” Every week, one of NASCAR’s biggest and brightest stars will call us up for an interview to talk about what’s on their mind. Topics can go all over the place, from how their season is going, to some of the major issues facing the sport today, to what their biggest strengths and weaknesses are on the track and why. It’s our hope that these Question & Answers will allow you to go more in-depth and find out what you really want to know from the drivers you follow week in and week out on the NASCAR tour.
Our inaugural “phone-in” driver is Scott Wimmer from Bill Davis Racing. After a rookie season that saw him finish 3rd in the 2004 Daytona 500, Wimmer has struggled to find the type of results he and the team were expecting for 2005. And with the added burden of being a single-car team, the driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge for Bill Davis Racing has found himself facing an uphill battle, although it’s one that he’s appeared to have taken in stride.
In a lighthearted and engaging 20-minute interview this week, Scott opened up on a variety of topics : everything from who he’d like to bring back to drive against one more time in Nextel Cup, to the challenge of being the father of a newborn son. And while he hasn’t had the season he’s hoped for, it certainly appears Scott is enjoying more than ever the opportunity to race at NASCAR’s highest level.
Tom Bowles: First off, congratulations on the birth of your son Hayden a few weeks ago. How does it feel to be a father, and how has it changed your outlook on racing?
Scott Wimmer : It was really exciting. Being so busy, being out of town so much and having such a hectic schedule, (Hayden) was hard to plan for. We were just fortunate enough (Hayden) settled on a weekday to go and have a successful birth, so I was able to spend a little time with him before I had to leave.
Tom: How often have you been able to see him?
Wimmer : You know, it’s probably about three times a week. Usually, I get home Sunday night, and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the only times we’re around town, so I get to spend some time with him then. Hopefully, in the next few months we’ll start taking him to the races, and we’ll get to spend time with him there, too.
Tom: Well, I have to ask before we get any further, my editor Nikki Krone wanted to know if you had any parenting advice, as she’s just about to have her first child in a couple of months.
Wimmer : Well, tell her the biggest thing is to get the sleep now because there definitely isn’t much when your baby’s born! Our sleep has really gone out the window, it seems like. We’ve been able to get quite a bit when me and my wife are in town, but when I’m gone she’s got to take care of everything, so it’s a little tough for her to get some sleep then. But"¦it’s a great time for both of us right now. We’re really enjoying it! I never thought…sometimes you think you’re not ready for a baby. But it’s been so much fun.
Tom: Alright, let’s turn to racing for a little bit. How would you describe your season to date at this point? You guys have certainly dealt with your fair share of bad luck this season, that’s for sure.
Wimmer : Yeah, we definitely have. You know, I don’t think our season is where we wanted it to be at all. We’ve had struggles and we’ve had ups and downs. I think we’ve had real good cars at times, but just haven’t been able to make it to the finish of a race and had some sort of mechanical problem or something like that. But that’s really what keeps us going; we’re encouraged by the runs we’ve had, and we know we should have had better finishes. I’m excited about the rest of the year and going into the Chase races. We’re not going to make the Chase, but I think we’re a car that can contend for wins, I think we’re a car that can run in the Top 10. It’s just a matter of getting up there and doing it.
Tom: Now, you mentioned mechanical problems. When you guys do have something like that, or certain incidents on the track that are out of your control, how do you go back and motivate yourself for the next race on Monday? Does Derrick (Finley, crew chief for the CAT car) take the lead there, do anything special to pump the guys up?
Wimmer : Yeah, he tries to. I mean, it’s been tough this year because at one stretch there, I think we wrecked six times in a row. When you have a wreck one week or two weeks, it’s a little easier to overcome than a long string of ‘em so… you come back to the shop, and Derrick’ll talk to the guys and get them fired back up. We know we can do it"¦we know we can run up front. We just need all the things to fall into place for us to do that.
Tom: Now, in NASCAR you know you’ve heard the term “sophomore slump” kicked around for a lot of drivers through the years. Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, and yourself are among the second-year drivers who really have not had the seasons they expected in 2005. Is the "slump" a superstition you believe in, and do you think it’s harder to race in Cup your second time around compared to your rookie year?
Wimmer : Well, I just think every year the competition gets more intense. We’re getting better teams and better sponsors around us"¦everything just gets elevated every year, and I think that’s what a lot of people are saying. I think the sport’s changing so much, and the competition’s elevated so much, and that’s really what you’re seeing year after year. I don’t think it’s necessarily a "slump." I think the competition might have been a little easier the year before, and it’s just harder to get your car to run up front. I don’t really believe…I’m not real, real superstitious. I used to be, and then I thought “Well, maybe all my superstitions are making me not run so well,” so then I kind of threw them all out the window.
Tom: Now, of course you guys are only a single-car team for the most part on race weekends. How does that contribute to your success or failure this year? Having a second car part-time, is it as good as having a full-time teammate, or do you struggle having that second car roll into the racetrack, only not to appear again for another month?
Wimmer : Yeah, I think it (being a single-car team) does hurt us. It’s something where we’re seeing teams add 3, 4 cars, and in some cases 5…and it’s just more information you can bring in. As far as having a teammate on a limited schedule, 5, 6, 7 races, it’s tough because with the new points structure and having to be in the Top 35 to be guaranteed into the race, my teammates are always going onto the racetrack and concentrating on qualifying. All they’re going to do is try and get in the race, while with us being in the Top 35, we don’t really have to go into the race looking at that. We are more concerned about the race setup. So, that’s one of the things that I think hurts us a little bit, is we can’t go and share more of our notes on what we’re going to be using in the race. A lot of teams want more and more cars and more and more things, and I think it’s something that hopefully we’ll overcome. I know they’re working real hard on getting a second car up here, and getting a full-time driver in place that I can work with, and he can work with me and just get more information. That’s the big thing about this sport now; the more information you can bring in, the more you can look at, and the more you can make changes on the car.
Tom: My thoughts exactly. And something I’ve been thinking of with single-car teams, what else might affect them more than others"¦is the impound system. Do you feel that as a single-car team, one of the drivers that doesn’t have the resources of the multi-car teams, that the impound helps or hurts you guys?
Wimmer : I think it hurts us a little bit, basically because of the practice time we lose. It seems like on non-impound weekends, we have practice before qualifying, and then we have two practices after qualifying. Whether it’s Happy Hour or a practice and then Happy Hour, we are just on the track a lot more (in non-impound races). But it’s kind of one of those deals, you think it’s better one way, or better the other. I do really enjoy the impound races, basically because it does give the guys a little more of a break. They don’t have to work quite so hard on the cars to get them ready.
Tom: Let’s turn to your brother for a minute. How has Chris’ career been coming along? He’s gotten some starts in the CTS lately for Green Light Racing (#07/08). Do you think it’s been harder to bring him up in this day and age then when you came up the ranks a couple of years ago?
Wimmer : Yeah, I definitely think it has been. I was very fortunate when I got into this sport. It was more about what you did on the racetrack. Nowadays, it’s a lot about sponsors; if you can bring money to the team, or if you can offer the team something other than driving skills. When I got into it, I just went out and won a couple of races, and that was kind of the start of my NASCAR career. Nowadays, it seems that if you can bring in a big sponsor, you can get a shot. It is real tough. We’re trying hard to get him something. We’re getting him rolling in the Truck Series, but if you’re not with a top team, it’s hard to get real good seat time there. Hopefully, in the next few years we’ll get him something. I know he’s starting to get to the age where he’s getting a little worried about people not taking a look at him anymore. So, hopefully in the next year or so we can get him in something solid, and he can show what he can do.
Tom: Do you think it’s gotten to the point in the sport where even if you’ve got a “Wimmer” or “Bodine” or "Wallace" last name it’s no longer worth anything if you can’t find the proper backing to fund you?
Wimmer : Yeah. I mean a lot of kids are talking about Jimmie Johnson’s brother (Jarit Johnson). You talk to Jimmie, he says "He needs a lot more time, he needs a lot more laps." Just because your brother or your father is racing in the Nextel Cup Series doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll make it there. It’s a tough sport, it’s a tough business, and it seems like every year it’s getting tougher to get into these top rides and have a lot of success in the series.
Tom: Some of the biggest news in the sport recently has dealt with drivers breaking contract. You’ve seen Kurt and Jamie and their situations; how will their actions affect the sport in the future? And how comfortable is it for you to have the long-term backing of Caterpillar"¦ is it nice to not hear your name thrown around the rumor mill?
Wimmer : Yeah, I mean I made a commitment to Bill Davis when I came up here and started driving the Caterpillar car. I was going to drive it for three years, and that was the contract. A lot of these drivers trying to get out of their contracts early, I think it really hurts the race team. You know, I don’t think you should really be shopping around until your contract’s up, or you got six months left or something like that. So it’s a different way now about going at getting out of your contract, and you know I’m sure some car owners aren’t real happy about it. I just think it’s a thing we’re going to have to deal with the next few years of this sport. Contracts are always an issue; it seemed like owners could always get out of their contracts real easy, but drivers couldn’t get out of theirs. So I think that’s going to change a lot now.
Tom: Alright, now for some fun questions! You’re racing me, one-on-one on any Nextel Cup track on the circuit. I would assume that you would beat me, although it’s said I drive a mean go-kart. Where would you want to race me at, and how would you beat me (what’s your biggest strength on the track)?
Wimmer : The place I’d probably most like to race you at would be Dover; it’s a track I just really enjoy racing at. I got my first Busch win there a few years back, and just love that racetrack. It’s fast, and there’s not a lot of room for error. It seems like if you mess up a little bit, you’ll hit the outside wall, and then automatically go down and hit the inside wall after that. It’s a tough race track to get around"¦really, the major strength that I think I’ve got is getting the car to the end of a race. We’ve got to run these cars so on the edge every lap. You’ll see drivers that are able to qualify real quick and have a good qualifying lap, but they can’t make it quite through the race without either falling way down or having problems or things like that. I think my biggest strength is being able to get the car better throughout the race, and ultimately making it to the finish.
Tom: If you could pick one driver that you could race against one-on-one, past or present, who would you want it to be and why?
Wimmer : I had the chance to race with the late Dale Earnhardt at Atlanta when I made my first Cup start there back in 2000. I was leading the race, and I looked in my mirror and he was running 2nd. That was really a special moment in my life. It was an unbelievable feeling to have such a great race car driver behind you. Trying to hold him off…you know, it wasn’t for the win, but it was for position, and being my first race (it made it special). Didn’t get to race with him after that, but certainly if I could race one-on-one with him one more time, especially with all the experience I’ve got now, I’d like to see with what I’ve learned over the years if I could still stay ahead of him.
Tom: And finally, if you couldn’t race anymore, what would you have done for a career?
Wimmer : Well, my father was in the construction business for many years. Actually, when I got out of high school, I went to work for him. I worked for him for a couple of years before I decided that was too much work. It was a lot of long hours and long days, but that’s the field I would have chosen. I would have followed my father’s footsteps, gotten into his company, and did some sort of role there. I still enjoy it. My dad’s still got a couple of pieces of equipment and got some jobs around our hometown, so I like to go in the off-season and work for him a little bit. It was a good business for our family, and we still have a lot of friends in it and family in it and it’s still a lot of fun for me.
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