A Few Words With: David Stremme
David Stremme is Penske Racing’s new man in the driver’s seat this year. He has taken over for Ryan Newman in the No. 12 car and has shown flashes of success. This week, he took some questions from the media about his gig. In his own words, it went like this:
Question: After your 14th place finish at Texas, your crew chief Roy McCauley glistened when he said, “David’s coming, I hope people are paying attention to him because he’s coming.” Some nice praise from one of the most respected tuners in the garage?
Stremme: I have a lot of respect for Roy (McCauley). He’s doing a great job this year. One of the things (that we’ve done) as a team is getting myself comfortable (inside the car) at the track; we really don’t have notes to go off of. We lean on our teammates and we’re trying to learn as much as we can as we go. I felt at Texas we made pretty good leaps. We had a good car. We didn’t qualify well, but we showed that we made improvements all day. I screwed up a little at the end. I got into the fence a couple of times when I ran through some floor (track) dry. I ended up cutting a tire down and we ended up finishing 14th which we felt that we definitely had a top-10 car. The main thing is that each week we keep improving and learning more. I can’t do it without those guys (teammates). I’m really happy with the people that I’m working with…with the job that Roy’s doing. Every week we enjoy going to the track even at a place that I really didn’t care for going to, I’m enjoying it. I have so much fun and also it’s just getting better working with those guys. It’s just very enthusing going to the track.
Question: With the uniqueness of the track dimensions at PIR, do you ever get a perfect handling car there?
Stremme: I don’t think that you get a perfect handling car anywhere unless you lead all laps and win the race…and then some guys will still complain about their car. I think the one key at Phoenix is understanding that you’re not going to have the perfect car and setup more for areas of where you’re going to pass, where you’re going to use the advantage to really gain positions on people. That’s something that’s big. I learned from Rusty (Wallace) last year of really just setting the car up for areas that you feel are optimal passing areas. If you take Turns 1 & 2 at Phoenix compared to 3 & 4, it’s a lot tighter, a lot more braking, heavier braking. It’s just different. As drivers, you really have to set you cars up for areas and try to learn throughout the race, as it changes, where it (the race car) likes to run. That’s the cool part about Phoenix because you can run high in the corners, you can run on the apron a little bit and there’s areas that you can definitely use to your advantage.
Question: How much do you feel like this is your ‘second chance’ to make an impression in the Cup Series and show what you’re capable of doing?
Stremme: My second chance kind of came last year with Rusty’s (Wallace) program in the Nationwide Series. That was a deal of, “Hey, I need to go out and make some noise and show that I belong at this level. And with doing that, we took a team that was not even in existence…an independent Nationwide team… and we were one of the frontrunners every week and built that program there. That was something that Roger and they had seen. And also with the opportunity this year with jumping into the No. 12 Dodge, that’s an opportunity that I have to take advantage of too and say, “Hey look, I can do it at this level too.” Already, we’ve improved at places. My finish was better (at Texas) compared to the four times that I’d been there between ’06 and ’07. A lot has to do with the organization and that’s one of the things as I went through my transition back to Cup and talking to different organizations.
I just really like what Roger (Penske) and all his guys do there at the Penske organization and how they’re able to help me become a better driver and use my abilities and experience to also help the organization too. We all do it as one. I feel pretty good about that. I feel like this is something that as the year goes on I feel no doubt in my mind that we’re going to be getting a lot better and contending for wins and possibly get a win. Our teammate (Kurt Busch) has been strong and it shows in the performance in their team. We’ve had some bad luck, but we’ve shown a lot of competitiveness in our No. 12 car. We just need to capitalize on some things and just keep moving forward.
Question: How much has your team been able to piggy-back off of the success of the No. 2 car?
Stremme: We actually were a lot closer at Texas than anywhere else. They actually were using some of our stuff at Bristol…direction that we were going there. We started out with what Ryan (Newman) and them had run (last year) and it just wasn’t working for me and we had to go a different direction and the 2 (car) went that way. Really, as an organization, it was the same way at Vegas when Sam (Hornish Jr.) helped me out a lot there. We were close in our set-ups. He went one way and we were able to draw from it and that’s what’s huge in having a multi-car organization is using the information. That’s something that we’re really concentrating on, getting all three teams working together. Kurt is definitely the most experienced, the lead driver. I think one of the reasons that they had success is that those guys have been working together for a little while now where Sam (Hornish Jr.) and Travis (Geisler, crew chief) have had just a few races last year and this year. Roy and I have just been working this year. As a company we have made a lot of gains, but we have so much more potential with the experience that all of us have working together that it’s just going to keep on getting stronger.
Question: Is there anything that you feel that you need to take your performance up one more notch?
Stremme: Just time. Time on all these tracks is all it is. Roger gives us (as far as the Penske organization goes) all the stuff we need to go and win races. We have a brand new Dodge this weekend that is lighter, better in the (wind) tunnel; they just keep working on it. The thing that we just can’t get a hold of is just time and working with these cars some more. We were at a tire test last week in Loudon and we got to utilize that time. You kind of have to be careful because it was 40-degrees outside. It was very cloudy and cold. We got to learn some stuff, but you really don’t know how much we get to put towards that race. We still utilized that, but that’s the thing, as we keep running and especially as we get to go back to these tracks that we’ve been to already, I feel like we’re going to be a lot stronger.
Question: What is fellow competitor Marcos Ambrose like on the track? Is he gaining respect among drivers? What does he have to learn?
Stremme: I think that Marcos has done a great job. He gained a lot of respect in the Nationwide Series and in the Cup side. He’s definitely shown an improvement. I think again it goes with the people that are around him. That Michael Waltrip organization, along with Tad Geschickter coming on, they’ve stepped up quite a bit. You can see that in results and I think that Marcos is doing a good job.
Question: Do you know him personally? Any good stories about Marcos?
Stremme: Not really. I have just raced with him, talked with him a few times here and there. I can’t say that I do.
Question: What still humbles you the most at the Cup level?
Stremme: I don’t know. Probably last year I was a little bit more humbled on opportunities and different situations that I was involved in. Probable one of the most difficult things at this level, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of say and a lot of what dictated my performance.
If you take short-track racing, normally you’re working on the car with one or two other guys and the hard work and other stuff is with how much you put in it. Here, there’s still a lot of hard work, but there are so many people that play a factor, so many ends that you have to cover, to where at other places I didn’t feel like I had a lot of say and people didn’t have belief in me 100%; there’s always questioning. One of the things this year at the Penske organization is that they really believe me 100%. I believe in them. We all sit down and talk. Even if it’s something kind of crazy, I’ll bring it up and we discuss things and they at least listen to me and don’t look at me like I have four eyes. It’s the belief in one another and I think that’s really going to help out long-term.
Question: Are there certain constant challenges at the Cup level? How does the company handle those challenges?
Stremme: It’s amazing to drive for Roger and everybody over there. From the Indy Car side of things, I was excited for them a couple of weeks ago…they won down there in St. Pete. Especially for (Ryan) Briscoe, he’s been through a lot of things through his career. But there are a lot of challenges on our side and the one thing that I’ve come to realize is that I worry about myself and worry about what we can do with our situation and keep getting better. Just like a couple of weeks ago at Texas, I know because of some circumstances that I created, it caused us not to get a top 10. I gotta not make those mistakes. It’s been like that with the team and there are just a lot of things that happen and I just know from my side of things that I can’t let things happen like that. We keep moving forward and just learning from our mistakes and I think we can get better results because our cars are fast and we just have to put those numbers up.
Question: Can you preview Phoenix this weekend?
Stremme: I think that anyone that knows Phoenix knows that it’s going to be exciting. Obviously the Hendrick cars have stepped-up their performance. One of the things I’m interested in is that Kurt (Busch) ran well there (finished second) in the fall. He had one of the new Dodge R6P8 motors and I feel going back there, they’ve got a pretty good baseline. We’re going to start right in that area and we should be competitive. I think that with having a new car going there, it’s lighter which I think is good on short-tracks. It’s going to be interesting to see what organizations have done their homework on short-tracks. We went to Martinsville and Bristol, but they’re totally different places than Phoenix and Richmond. As we move ahead here, it’s going to say a lot more of what to expect. This Phoenix race, along with some of these other tracks coming up, play a factor in the Chase. So how you run there can dictate a lot to if you make that Chase and your performance, so you really have to concentrate on those tracks and get the most out of them.No Comment