Bryan Davis Keith, Frontstretch: What’s been going on in the Rensi-Hamilton camp to prepare for 2010?
Eric McClure: Well, we’re back to Team Rensi Motorsports now. I don’t really know any of the details behind that other than that we’re not Rensi-Hamilton anymore. But everything’s been good. The guys were able to work all winter, which helped us get our stuff ready, get ready to go for the first few weeks.
Keith: Hefty’s coming back. With the sponsorship, what are you going to be able to afford resources wise? I know you ran last season short a couple sets of tires every weekend.
McClure: We’re still in the same boat that we were. Obviously, NASCAR is a free enterprise to a point, you get everything you can get and you kind of base yourself off of that. We’re a small team, and we have to maximize what resources we have. Unfortunately, when you back everything up, and figure out what you need to get to the racetrack and what it takes to run all year, one of the luxuries is a full allotment of tires, so hat’s [among] the first thing to go. We do have sponsorship for one of the road races this year, which was different from last year.
So we’ve got a situation where we do the best we can, go to the racetrack and try to beat everybody we can beat, hope its good enough to be where we need to be in the points and compete for what we need to compete for.
Keith: Last year, one of the things you highlighted was your ability to finally pass some cars out on the track. This year, with the field likely to be down, does the competitive side of you have different expectations for results?
McClure: I may be wrong, but I think there will be a greater number of teams competing in the Nationwide Series. If you just break down who says they’re running all year, I think the Nationwide Series will be in sheer number of cars stronger than it was last year. With all the new teams coming in affiliated with Cup programs committed to running the whole schedule, I think its going to be even tougher. That may not be accurate, but that’s what I think.
I’m actually approaching this season a lot different than what I did last year. Contrary to what the results showed, the last five or six weeks of the season I felt from a competitive standpoint that we were as good as we’d been all year, save for the time in early spring when we weren’t bad. We had wrecks at Memphis and Phoenix, and both of those races would have been top 20s. We were top 20 at Charlotte and Texas, and at Homestead we did a wave-around and had a shot for a top 20 (wound up 28th), but at some of my worst tracks, when we compared to some of the other guys that are in the same situation, we were running better than they were.
I’m coming in with an open mind in the aspect that I really believe that I’ve gotten a lot better as a driver. I can’t control what other people do, or who comes and how many resources they have, I can just come in, know that you’re going to have the best you’ve ever been, and hope that’s good enough. As far as worrying about am I going to pass these guys or beat that guy, to answer your question, I’m just going to come in, go as fast as I can and hope that’s good enough. But I feel like from a driving standpoint last year I was where I should have been my first year. I got quality laps, I learned a lot. At the end of the year, I was able to give the best feedback I’ve ever given. I still have a long way to go, no doubt, but I definitely made a lot of progress, so hopefully from a confidence level we can start out a little bit better than we did last year.
Keith: The Nationwide CoT is coming this summer. What is your team doing to prepare?
McClure: We’re actually a little bit concerned about that. Long-term, I think that’s going to be a very good move for the series, but short term I think it’s going to hurt a lot of the smaller teams. We do have a couple of chassis that we were able to get from some Cup teams that were getting rid of what they had. You know, some of these bigger Nationwide teams have already certified their cars, they’ve already tested their cars, so from a smaller team’s perspective its going to be hard just to be ready for them. They talked about testing, but I don’t think we’ll be there for it. I just don’t see it from a financial perspective. We’re budgeted off just getting to the racetrack. So I think its going to be harder for the smaller teams. We’re definitely going to have to think about it a little differently, have to lean on a manufacturer or something to be a little closer prepared when we get there. It’s just a reality of the sport. You take it as it comes. In terms of longtime preparation, we really haven’t had time to work on that. But, we try to take it as we can, get what we can get, and be prepared as best we can. We’re in the same situation as everyone else, we’ll do what we can do.
Keith: NASCAR also cut the purses for 2010.
McClure: It’s going to hurt us a little bit, because to be perfectly honest the prize money we won last year plus bonus money for being top 20 in the points is what kept our team from being laid off again this winter. So, it hurts us, we’re going to have to recoup that money somewhere. For example, we had two people leave the team this winter to join bigger organizations, and we’re not filling those positions just on the sheer fact that we’re going to have to take into account the CoT and the purse cuts But, like I’ve said, its better than what we could be doing. I love the Nationwide Series and NASCAR’s awesome, so that’s the reality of it and so is the economy.
Keith: Alongside cutting the purse money, is there anything that NASCAR can do to cut competition costs?
McClure: I’m sure there’s things they can do as a sanctioning body that would make a lot of sense, we’ve talked about in the shop. Obviously everybody has ideas about what they could do to cut costs, but as far as the integrity of the sport goes there’s not as much they can do. They’ve instituted the crew member limit, which doesn’t affect us, they’ve done some things with the tires that will help us, but again we’re an open sport.
I’ve said this all the time, everybody’s that’s out here has to afford to compete. It’s just like anything else. By what means you have, you can go faster. That doesn’t need to change, that’s the way it’s always been. The easiest thing to do is cut expenses, cut number of races run, but every situation is different. We run the full season because it’s what benefits our sponsor the most, it’s what meets their goals. I think NASCAR does what they can do to without eroding the means on which the sport was built. And I’m cool with it.
It’s kind of hard for the smaller teams, but if you look at any sport it’s the same way. I enjoy it, I think NASCAR does a great job. I really like the Nationwide Series. Whatever if there’s a bunch of Cup drivers. Whatever if there’s everybody else. NASCAR I think has a pretty good balance of how much they interfere with the rules, how much they sanction.
Keith: What do you think of Mike London?
McClure: I think he’s a good hire. The more I read about him, the more I really think he’s a pretty good coach and an even better person. I think that’s going to go a long way with recruiting and promoting the University. Time will tell, it’s like my career. It’s going to take some time, but I think they’ll get it pointed in the right direction. Same as the basketball team, they’ve really surprised some people this year with what they’ve been able to do. I think the future looks bright for both programs. And I’m excited about it. I hope we win some football games though.
Keith: They do play Richmond and VMI next year, so that’s two wins right there.
McClure: That’s what I thought about William & Mary last year. You never can tell. Hopefully its a good hire. I like the guy, and I’m all about people. I think character says a lot about a person, and he seems like a really good guy. I’m excited about it.
McClure’s prediction that he and his team had both improved with a year under their belts seemed validated in the season opener at Daytona. The No. 24 car was a top-15 entry in practice, with McClure finishing 17th in the race, a career best at the 2.5-mile oval.
Keith: You finished 17th. Talk about your weekend.
McClure: Well the car was very good. We had a hard time getting people to work with us. The car was overheating today, so every time the caution came out we’d have to go to the back and start over. On the last restart, I picked the wrong line and got shuffled back, and everyone wanted to race, so the lead pack got away. I said coming in if we got top 20 I’d be happy, but it’s hard not to be disappointed, because today you just felt something that today could have been top 10.
Keith: Still, you were a top-15 car pretty much all weekend. We haven’t seen that from this team in a while. Where have you made the gains?
McClure: Two things. One is I got good laps with a good team last year, and I’m a better driver because of it. Second is preparation. We were able to make it where these guys could work all winter instead of laying them off, so they were able to be prepared. They’re a great organization, and they maximize absolutely everything we have to work with. It’s one race, fortunately we stayed out of trouble, and hopefully we improve at every track this year. I’m excited because we ran a good race for the whole race.
Keith: You brought it home in one piece too.
McClure: That’s a very good thing, because we were right in the middle of just about all of them. I’m disappointed though, because there were some guys we were ahead of all day [that we didn’t beat], but last year we were way behind them. It’s a good start.
Keith: You all had a bunch of scuffs in your pits on a day that the cars were sliding everywhere. Did you ever get to run stickers?
McClure: Just after the first pit stop. We had to put them on early because we skidded our tires avoiding a wreck. You could tell our car came alive after three or four laps. It had to run on the high side, and once people had to start checking up a little bit our car was really good. I think it hurt us a little bit that we never had the long runs to put ourselves in position at the end. Made a couple wrong moves towards the finish, but we’re learning and as long as we keep racing them we’ll be OK.