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2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference With Antron Brown, Ron Capps And Greg Anderson
Posted by: newsla on Jul 17, 2014 - 06:24 AM
2014 NHRA: NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Teleconference With Antron Brown, Ron Capps And Greg Anderson

The following transcript contains excerpts from an NHRA teleconference to preview the upcoming NHRA Western Swing featuring Top Fuel racer Antron Brown, Funny Car racer Ron Capps and Pro Stock racer Greg Anderson.


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MODERATOR: Thank you all for joining us today on this NHRA teleconference. The daunting Western Swing begins this week, which is three consecutive races that tests both the equipment and the teams as they race in the Western region of the United States. The Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, the NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California and the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways near Seattle make up the Western Swing. Only seven drivers have swept all three events, and today on our conference call we'll be joined by two of the drivers that have achieved that feat: Antron Brown in Top Fuel and Greg Anderson in Pro Stock. We'll also be joined on the call by Ron Capps in Funny Car, who has won each of the three races just not in the same season. First up, joining us today is Antron Brown, driver of the Matco Tools dragster. Antron has five wins this season, is currently second in Top Fuel points trailing Doug Kalitta. Brown is the last racer to sweep all three races in the Western Swing when he did it back in 2009. Antron, let's start with this season. Five wins but three first round losses have you, like I said, sitting second in points. Do you guys think you have found that sweet spot with the car and hopefully eliminated some of those first round losses?

ANTRON BROWN: It's been actually incredible this year. The whole competition in Top Fuel this year has been just insane right now. Battling out with Dougie (Kalitta), he's definitely been the leader of the class so far, but our Matco Tools car is definitely running like gangbusters. We had a little setback in Atlanta with the accident, but after that we actually started picking up the pace, and we've been right on track where we need to be. With that being said, we always look forward going on to the Western Swing because right now this time is real crucial for us to get going right now because once you get back from the swing we have the U.S. Nationals and then we're off to the Countdown to our championship, which is where the championship is won. Right now all the teams are hitting their full stride, and the Western Swing is one of those grueling marathons -- I call it marathon races because you travel on the West Coast -- but each race is almost 1,000 miles between each other, and the crews are going back to back to back and we're out there from Denver a mile high to going to Sonoma, which is wine country, where it's sea level and the track is always great, then you go to Seattle, Washington, where it's bright and sunny and the track can be tricky but it also can be good, too. With that being said, we're always thrilled to go on the Western Swing because it definitely shows you what the race teams are made of and it also is a test for us going into the Countdown because our Countdown is just like that where we have our first four races right in a row like that. It gets us in gear for that.

Q: You kind of alluded to it, but it's hard enough in this sport in Top Fuel and all the categories to win three races in a row, let alone the Western Swing. Just how special is that for you to be able to say that you've got the championship, you've got other feats, but that you are one of the few to sweep the Western Swing?

ANTRON BROWN: Well, the coolest part about that, honestly, is that when you look at the Western Swing, you go, all right, to win one race is hard enough, but then to win two of them is really hard. We came real close at doubling up I think it was in 2012 I believe it was. We won two of those races out there and then we lost in the semifinals of the last race. Everybody was like, you can do it again, and you try not to talk about it because to win one round of NHRA racing right now is crazy hard. To get past the first round is crazy hard. There's no more gimmies. There's 12 great race teams out there, and to compete out there in it is just it makes it that hard and difficult to try to get it done, and to say that you're one of the people that you can stand back and look at it and know it's a part of your history where you can go, hey, we just won the Western Swing, and you know you're part of history that's going to last forever because you just won three back to back races on the toughest stretch on our tour, and that's why the Western Swing basically got their name for when you do it, because to do it is just an incredible feat, how difficult it is just to win a race on the Western Swing, especially going to all the different climates and conditions that you're going to see, from being a mile high in Denver to all the different track conditions that you go through. To win all three of those races is just a testament to how great your team is. You have to have a serious team, not just mentally but physically. You have to have all the strength that you need to get it done mentally, emotionally and physically to get that job done, and in those years we had a great team, and I think this year we have even a stronger team than we ever had. Going in we're always looking forward to this challenge to get after it.

Q. Earlier this season you had a big boomer, had to go to the backup car that was the primary car that you were trying to get a handle on. What car are you in now, which chassis? The backup or the one you let go?

ANTRON BROWN: No, the backup is upstairs (on trailer). The one that let go is all done. We're actually running a brand new, brand new race car right now, so it's all brand new, and we actually brought it out in Bristol, the brand new car. We put the backup car back upstairs ready to go. So once we did that, we got the brand new car out, we broke it in Bristol, and we actually qualified well there, and we thought we were going to bring that one home, but we had a little mishap where we dropped the hole or something like that, but we went off, but that car has now won two in a row, so our brand new car is doing just fine, I think.

Q. How big a deal would it be for you to be the first guy to double up on the Western Swing?

ANTRON BROWN: Oh, it'd be huge. You'll be the first mark in history to do it, you know what I mean, and we came so close to doing it before. We go into Western Swing and we can think about that, but when we go into the first race in Denver, you erase all that from your mind because you don't let your emotions get the best of you to try to actually get that done, you know what I mean, because there's so much that you have to have go your way to get that done, if you're focused on that, you're not focused on the thing that you need to get done.

Q. All NHRA drivers and teams, you know, they have to be adapting to the travel and the changes like the Western Swing you're facing this week. You're kind of special in a way because you're a prime example of adapting, going from two wheels to four wheels to big speed to bigger speed. Can you comment on how you could accomplish all that in your career and still be doing so well?

ANTRON BROWN: Well, there's one thing that I can tell you honestly. It comes down to the heart and determination of the individual. You have to be willing and you have to want it, you know what I mean? That's the one thing that you can't teach people today, and you know, like that's the difference between somebody like Michael Jordan and somebody that comes off the bench. You can't teach want to, you know what I mean, and my deal is I just want it. I can speak for everybody on our Matco Tools U.S. Army Toyota race team is that that's what I'm telling you; we had a lot of talented guys before even that won the championship. We had great guys. But we have a group of individuals on our team that we make up one whole team together that has that want to, that desire. They want to win. The boys are hungry. They're willing to do whatever it takes, and they're all about being perfectionists, and that's what it takes to have a great team and win and they don't have no attitudes. They're willing to work together. That's the biggest thing, that we don't have one person going a different direction that we've got to reel in. We have all of our guys go together, it's nine of us, and we're going into the same direction. And that's something special right there. It's something really, really, really special. I think that's what makes the deal so great in doing what we want to do.

Q. What would be your advice to a young person to be successful in anything?

ANTRON BROWN: Well, my best advice for anybody to be successful in what they want to achieve or do is just never give up. My main deal in me is that I always set my goals real high and I shoot for them and I try to overachieve them, and then when I fall a little short I look back and I feel like I've accomplished a great bit of stuff. I think that's one key to being successful in life is that when you stumble and fall you dust yourself off and you give it another lick and you go at it even harder, but you learn from it and grow from it.

Q. Each one of these races has their own unique qualities. Could you mention a few of them with going out west in this Western Swing?

ANTRON BROWN: I would say of all the races that have their qualities, I would have to say it's got to be Denver when you go there. There's no other racetrack like it, so when you're going there, you're going there with something you have to try to figure out how to make it work up there. That track there has no air, no oxygen. What I call that race is a survival race, survival of the fittest. You've got to try to make as much power as you can. And then when you go to Sonoma, you go to complete opposite where you're right off the Bay, not too far from San Francisco, and then you actually get sea level conditions, really cool, calm weather that you're able to get after it and hit it. You know what I mean? And that's the cool part about Sonoma that you can actually set some records there. Then you leave there and you go to Seattle, Washington, which is all the way up in a state which you don't know what you're going to get there. It could be real cool at times but then it could be real hot and muggy, so you're racing like the middle of summer at the Midwest races like we're racing right now. So you have a little mixture of everything that we see when you go in the Western Swing, and I think that's what makes the Western Swing what it is. It's just all those different characteristics from those tracks that make it so unique to go out and do it.

Q. You guys have had a couple weeks to prepare for this Western Swing, and I know it's grueling not only on mileage but in altitude and air conditions and everything. Do you leave Brownsburg with a bunch of different setups for each race, or do you reconfigure the motors for each venue?

ANTRON BROWN: Yeah, well, what we do is we always look at the track from the year before from all of our notes. That's what you have a seasoned team for. And when you look at all the tracks with the season notes, what you try to do is you try to literally, like you know, prepare for when you go back in it because conditions aren't going to be exactly the same, but it's going to be similar because our main deal is trying to make the same power that you made the year before or make more, so that's what we work on hard and that's what we go after to do is we look on those last year's notes to make it right. That's the big thing about it. That's what we always try to accomplish and do.

Q. In addition to what you've got to do in terms of driving, I saw you at the LA Auto Show over the time off in the end of 2013, and you spent an awful lot of time with Toyota and speaking motivationally to students and some of the people who were there. Is that part of your job in terms of the next three weeks because you've got Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off?

ANTRON BROWN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's part of what I have to do. We actually do between races, I literally have to go there and it's part of the sponsor engagements. We'll do different stuff for Matco Tools, for the U.S. Army and speak to different high school kids and college kids, and then we also will go to we make a Sandvik visit in Seattle, Washington, because we're actually running the Sandvik Coromant car, which is our tooling company, that does all of our tools in our CNC shop. You always have to do the meet and greets and engagements. That's what makes it a little rough and tough because besides you working on the racetrack, you work just as hard off the racetrack. And you've got all that mixed up on the West Coast where you don't get to come home, where you're working throughout the week, but you'll get a couple days off during the week where you can lay back and relax and collect yourself and get yourself back together.

Q: Thanks for your time Antron and good luck on the Swing. We are now joined by Ron Capps, driver of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger. Thank you for joining us today. Ron is currently third in Funny Car points. He's raced to two final round appearances in the past three events with one win. Ron, you've had the two final round appearances but unfortunately four first round losses. These past couple of races have you and your team started to find a little bit better consistency with that Funny Car?

RON CAPPS: Yeah, yeah, we have, and we've sort of had it. We should have won the Norwalk final round, and the driver let the car get out of the groove a little bit and it spun just a little bit. I had done a good job all day of keeping the thing in the groove, and that's part of driving a Funny Car. These things are they never go straight. We lost a close race, but that would have been another win we should have had, and those are tough to come by because you get all the way to the final just getting past the first round is hard, but getting to a final you don't want to lose those close ones like that. But just having a car that's gone, I think (crew chief, Rahn) Tobler said we're into 20 something runs without tire smoke, which is good, because that's a consistency that you've got to have, especially in this Funny Car division right now. We say it all the time, it just seems like the competition gets tougher and tougher, and it's as high as it's ever been.
Q: You're obviously a West Coast guy and know the historic nature of the Western Swing. We've only seen one Funny Car driver sweep all three races, and that was John Force, but that dated back to 1994. Why is it so hard for the Funny Cars to sweep all three events?

RON CAPPS: Well, I mean, he had Austin Coil, and that was probably the biggest reason he was able to do that back then. Coil was, it seemed like, so far ahead of his time in the Funny Car division, and of course, John had all those championships, so you've got to remember to go I'm sure Antron, I didn't catch the beginning of his, but I'm sure he talked about it. It's as brutal a change or swing of conditions that you'll see. I don't know how these crew chiefs sleep at night to begin with, but to go up in the mountain like we have to go first and compete in those conditions and make power up there and do what we have to do, and come back down to really less than sea level almost in Sonoma and then go to Seattle where you've got all those trees producing the oxygen that you don't normally see. You've just got to have a good crew chief. As a driver, if a driver tells you that he's a bigger part of the equation of these race cars, then he really is, and he's fooling you. We're as good as our crew chiefs can give us as far as a car, and your job is not to mess it up and to go out and do the sponsor stuff, and that's part of the driver's job. I get to go do this racing a lot with dirt cars and NASCAR and some other things. You can take a driver over there and you could have a fifth place car and you could take a driver like Jimmie Johnson or (Tony) Stewart or Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., or one of those guys and make it a second place car, whereas drag racing you've got a car that's as good as it's going to get from the crew chief or as good as it's set up, and your job keep it in the groove and do everything right.
So I think that, to answer your question, was the biggest thing back then was Austin Coil. Of course he's got great crew chiefs now as a lot of us do, but it's just a matter of having a guy that can set the car up for you.

Q. When you get up on the mountain, do you have to change the way you drive the car at all?

RON CAPPS: The very first run and really the first day you do big time. And I think that's where it benefits me. (Team owner) Don Schumacher lets me go race these Nostalgia Series cars a lot, which I love to do; it's a great passion. Now we have more drivers with Del Worsham and Cruz (Pedregon) and all these guys building them, and I think that's where it helps us is you jump in a car that doesn't sound the same as you're normally used to, and you can ask any driver, after the first run you make, it sounds like the car is going to blow up at 40 feet out. It sounds like crap. They just don't sound normal like they do. They just don't have the oxygen. So as a driver, you've always been trained to save the parts, save any damage you can by lifting when the car doesn't sound good. Well, up there in the mountain, every run sounds like that. Sometimes I laugh on the radio to the crew guys or the crew chief as I'm rolling up the stage, I'm like, this thing sounds like crap, and then it goes out and sets low ET. As a driver, it just takes longer and it doesn't sound as good, as then even though you've got a hill, you've got to remember that when you pull the chutes, it doesn't have air to grab to slow you down, so you'll find all these guys that don't run a lot or forget about it will be off into the sand trap because they think being uphill and going slower would allow you to slow down better with those chutes, but you've got to remember there's no air to grab, so you always have guys that don't get the chutes out on time, and that's huge up there. You don't want to put your car in the sand.

Q. With thin air, I know you guys put the maximum amount of downforce on the car. Is it any tougher to keep it in the groove because you don't have the same downforce you do at sea level?

RON CAPPS: Yep, absolutely. You hit it on the head. That's the other thing. Leaving the starting line on time is always huge. That doesn't change up there except you want to be in shape, because maybe not the first day, but you're reminded when you walk up to the pit area from the parking lot, you're winded just walking up the hill even when you're in shape, you get a little winded. As the weekend goes on, those of us drivers that are in a little better shape are going to be better on Sunday mentally and physically, and so it's the same thing with the car. The car has lack of downforce, and if you let it get out even a little bit, those crew chiefs have to have them so nice and tuned up perfectly up there that if you get out and it does anything funny and spins a little bit, then you've kind of ruined the run. Yeah, it's more important up there.

Q. Does driving in the Nostalgia Funny Car give you an edge on that because they skate around in good conditions?

RON CAPPS: Yeah, and that's what's awesome about them. Yeah, I bet if you ask Del and Cruz and anybody else that drives them, it does; it's a throwback to the '70s with no big spoilers like we have now on like our NAPA car, and you shift them, and they do, they black track the whole way down, which is fun for a driver. It kind of puts the driving back into it. But you're right, it acts pretty much the same way up there. It doesn't want to stay in the groove very easy, and I'd like to think it really helps me.

Q. Ron, the Western Swing for you, is that like going home, and do you think that gives you at home field advantage? And I see on Facebook, you must be proud of your son surfing. In motorsports there seem to be so many second and third generation racers. Are you trying to persuade and maybe help him be a race car driver, also?

RON CAPPS: Yeah, the first part of your question, yes, Sonoma is home for me. I'm in Paso Robles, California. I grew up San Luis Obispo, so we spent a week every year we'd do this in the RV here on the central coast. It is home for me. Sonoma is only a few hours, and I grew up going there with my mom and dad and my dad raced, so it's a home track. I get the home cooking, the RV is up on the hill above the track, and it's just a great track for me. Whether or not that's helped or not, I've got a lot of wins there, and with some great crew chiefs, so it does feel like home. I always look forward to it. And yeah, you know, NHRA pushed the (Nitro) generation last year. You got some of the big name guys that I race with Top Fuel and Funny Car and Pro Stock that are second generation.
My dad wasn't a big name, but he brought me up in the sport as a sportsman racer, so I grew up in the sport. I joke that I was conceived as Famoso Raceway at the old Fuel and Gas Championships, so every year of my life, I went to two or three races as far back as I can remember. So Warren and Coburn and those kind of guys, watching (Don) Garlits at Famoso and Fremont, so I've been around it all my life. And yeah, I'd like to persuade my son to get into it. Hopefully he would. It would be great to see him. It's all I know. It's all I grew up on. It's my favorite thing in the world to go to an NHRA drag race. The coolest part is walking out of your trailer, and sometimes you look out and there's three generations. There's a grandfather, a dad with their little kid there taking them to the drag races. It takes me back to being a kid. Yeah, hopefully he'll follow me.

Q. Did your enthusiasm of coming out of Epping with a Wally reflect itself in your Instagram travels with Wally?

RON CAPPS: Yeah, yeah. I even had a couple people on Facebook that one guy kind of gave me a little bit of crap that I was acting too excited about that win and maybe I should act like I've won before. You know, I've got to be. I'm sponsored by a great company. I wanted to be nice to them. I don't think some people realize, even you look at Force, he's a great example. Last weekend or two weeks ago in Norwalk when we had that close race, you would've thought the guy just won his first race, and he's won, what, 140 of them? The win before that in Brainerd the year before, you never know if that's your last win. It could very well be the last win you have and you could have the best crew chief, the best team like I have, and it doesn't matter. It's so tough to win. I got pretty excited, and I started doing the Vine and the stuff on the way home, and I've kind of taken to that a little bit where the fans are really having fun with me with the social media stuff, and I thought it was fun to make some videos and take them home with me, and I'd love to do it again from Denver. It would be a fun trip home. But yeah, I've kind of grown to love doing all that stuff, and those Wallys, man, you forget how much you love holding those things at the track and how much work goes into it. It's something you really have to cherish.

Q. Is there some kind of catalyst that happened this year that made your team jell as it has and to have so many final rounds and finally a Wally this year?

RON CAPPS: Well, you know, again, Don made changes. He's done this in the past, and people sometimes raise an eyebrow up and wonder why he does what he does. But the guy is a genius at moving people around. John Collins, longtime assistant crew chief to Rahn Tobler, learned underneath him, trained underneath him, and he got put on his own with Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Make a Wish car, and what happens, they go out and win a race. As a new crew chief, it's almost unheard of to do it that quick. And then we brought in Eric Lane and he came over from Force's as Rahn's assistant. He was a longtime Jimmy Prock assistant, and Rahn Tobler is very tight with Jimmy Prock and those guys, so bringing him in has been seamless. He's sharp, as well, and will be a crew chief someday. And I've got the same team that came back. They're like family to me, and any driver or crew chief will tell you, to have the same people come back year to year is bigger than huge, whether you're NASCAR, IndyCar or drag racing. It's a big deal. It wasn't a matter of jelling. We've been trying different things. Well, to be honest, we tried different clutch levers and superchargers we tried from our Top Fuel counterparts on our Top Fuel teams and just little things that you try and you have to do it at the track sometimes under those conditions, and sometimes you suffer on Sunday and you don't do as well, but it's for the long run. So to answer your question, we've been jelling, it's just a matter of hitting everything right, and I think Tobler has.

MODERATOR: Thanks Ron, best of luck to you in the next three weeks. Greg Anderson is the driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro and is a four-time Pro Stock world champion with 74 wins in his career. He swept the Western Swing in 2004, which was on his way to his second of those four Pro Stock championships, and he is the only Pro Stock driver to sweep the Western Swing. Currently he's 11th in points after missing the first five races of this year following heart surgery. Greg, let's start with this season. You knew it would be a battle coming in missing those first five races, and obviously your push is to get into the top 10 if not higher, but is this kind of where you thought you would be by this point this season, or did you think you would have made it into the Top 10?

GREG ANDERSON: No, probably realistically I'm probably about where I thought I was going to be. When I originally did this heart surgery I was told it was going to be a full three months minimum, which meant six races on the calendar, and I really, really, really pushed hard all through the deal, all through rehab and everything, trying to get back just one race early because I knew in my heart of hearts that it was going to come down to just a few points one way or the other because the competition right now I looked at the top 10 cars as I sat on the couch before I could come back, and the top 10 cars are all race winning cars. They're all race winning cars. They're all No. 1 qualifying type cars. There's no ducks. There's nobody that's going to be easy to get around. I looked at that and thought, you know, one race is going to probably make the difference. If I can somehow convince the doctors that I'm ready to go just one week early, that would probably be a tremendous benefit to me and might make the difference one way or the other. That's kind of exactly where I was at. I was able to convince them to let me go back one race early. I'm back up to 11th now. I think I'm two rounds out of 10th. It's not going to be easy, got five races left to go. It's not going to be easy, and as I said before, I need to win races to get into that Countdown, and I think we've gained on our project, and we've been gaining on the performance of our car, and I expect bigger and better things as we go out west here. I love these three racetracks. I love Denver. Sonoma is probably my favorite track on the tour, had great success there, and love Seattle. This is the time for me to make my move and get in that top 10.

Q. I talked to Capps a little bit about if you had to change the way you drive the Funny Car in Denver. Explain what you have to do in the Pro Stock car and how different it feels at altitude in Denver.

GREG ANDERSON: It's completely different, and we're running about a half a second slower, we're running 10 miles an hour, 15 miles an hour slower than we do at sea level, so you'd think, well, it's got to be the easiest place to drive, right? It's absolutely the other way around. You have to kill these cars so hard with your gear ratios and things like that to try and get the car to have power that you do all kinds of things. You go through the gears way faster in Denver than you do at sea level, because you're trying to make the car think it has some kind of power because we lose 300, 400 horsepower when we go out there from sea level conditions to there. So it makes it harder for the driver to shift. It makes it harder to drive the race car there than it does at sea level, and I know that sounds crazy, but every single one of us will go out there, and on the first qualifying run or two we'll hit the chip, it's out of low gear, we'll miss the shift. It'll take a few laps, a few times down the racetrack to get it right and be able to shift the car quick enough because it comes by way quicker than we're accustomed to. Kind of the opposite of what most people would think and it actually makes it one of the tougher places to drive.

Q. Being in 11th and going into the Western Swing, how tough is the Western Swing and being the only guy in Pro Stock that's swept the Swing, how big a deal would it be to you and the team to duplicate that?

GREG ANDERSON: It would be huge. Actually the biggest thing right now for me and a huge thing for me personally and this team would be for me to win a race, and obviously I can't sweep the Western Swing unless I can win all three of them, so I'm going to have to win Denver to even have a chance at that. Right now for me to win a race, it would be huge. It's been two years since I won a race, and I know exactly in my heart it's going to take race wins to make this Countdown. That's going to be huge to me. I can't even look far enough down the road to think about sweeping the Western Swing right now, but I would sure love to start out at Denver with that first win in two years and get myself into that top 10. It would make things a whole lot better. We think we've gained on our project a lot. We think we're ready to race with the top cars, and I'm looking forward to it. Allen Johnson has kind of had everybody's number out there the last several years, but I think we've got something for him this year.

Q. What did you miss most when your health procedures prevented you from getting back in the car?

GREG ANDERSON: You know, obviously you miss driving the race car, but just going to the races and being with my team and seeing all the fans and just being a part of it. It's all I know, and I've raced for basically it seems like all my life. The day I graduated high school I started racing full time as a crewmember and then a crew chief and then a driver. It's all I've known all my life. I grew up with my dad doing it. It's all I've known. I've actually never had to miss a race in the last 25 years professionally for any reason at all, so it was a strange feeling. You know, it's all of it. It's being around the atmosphere, being at NHRA national events, all the guys that we compete against week in and week out that we love to go beat on the racetrack and beat our chest and prove we're the man. That's what you miss. You miss the competition and being at those events and just locking horns with those guys.

Q. Everyone finally hangs up the helmet; do you think it'll be the same? Do you think you'll probably be back at the track in some way?

GREG ANDERSON: Yeah, I think I'll be back at the track some way. It's all I've known. I love it. I did prove one thing to myself, that I was able to withstand it. It was tough staying on the couch, but I was able to sit back and watch my replacement Jimmy Ă…lund drive and cheer him on, so that was kind of a neat deal, a different feeling. I certainly wanted to be in it myself, but I think I proved to myself, maybe someday down the road I can stand back and watch somebody else drive my car. I want to keep doing it as long as I can do it at a high level, and when I get to a point where I can't drive at a high level, then I'll step back and I'll let somebody else drive that car, but I'll definitely still be involved.

Q. Earlier Antron talked about the Western Swing being a marathon and Ron Capps talked about how it's kind of like survival of the fittest as far as personal fitness. I'm wondering if there's anything about this stretch of races that really presents a problem for you coming off of open heart surgery.

GREG ANDERSON: I think I'll be in good shape. I've really tried. Before the surgery I thought I was in very good shape, and as soon as I was able to get back to the gym and start working out, that's what was able to get me back in the car sooner and quicker. I've had no issues ever since I've been back in the car. Everything feels great. I'm gaining strength by the day. Still not back to 100 percent strength wise, but I don't feel there's anything I can't do, so I think I'm going to be in good shape that way. He's right, it is sort of a marathon. It's not only a marathon physically, the beat up and down the road and race to race and guys trying to keep in the game, it's mentally, trying to keep yourself sharp. That's probably a bigger thing than anything. The mental part of this game is so important as it is in any major sporting event. To keep it for three races straight, three completely different type racetracks, to keep that mental sharpness, that's the tough part, and I think that's really the main reason why you've seen so few people sweep the Western Swing. I feel personally that I may have more blood going to my head these days because of the heart surgery, so I'm hoping I can stay sharp mentally, and I know I'll be fine physically, so I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Q. Do you feel you need at least one win on this tour to get yourself in shape for a Countdown run?

GREG ANDERSON: Yes, I do, I absolutely do, and I've said it many times. Not only do I think I need one, I think I have to have one, or there's no sense in me being in the Countdown. If I can't get my performance both car wise and driver wise to where I can win races before that Countdown starts, I don't need to be in it because then I'm not going to win that championship. I need to do it. I have to do it. Otherwise there's no sense being in it. But I think we can. I think we're ready to do it now, and there's no excuses. Just time to go out and get it done and get on in that Countdown and prove that we can win a championship.

Q: Greg, just to kind of follow up with Ron's question about just how hard it is to win one of these races and to get that Wally, are you starting to see that a little bit, like kind of like what Ron was talking about, just how difficult it is to win?

GREG ANDERSON: Oh, 100 percent. I never would have dreamed after my last win over two years ago that that would be my last one. Still don't know if it could be. So if and when I win again, yeah, it's going to be a heck of a celebration. I guarantee I've been accused of that before, just like Ron; why do you act like it's your first win, you win all the time, because I used to win fairly regularly. But you know what, you never know when it's going to be your last win. I'm living proof. Over two years now, and there's no guarantee it'll ever happen again. The competition gets tougher every year, fields get deeper, the competition gets tougher, and you just never know what your future holds. I went through heart surgery that I didn't expect. You just never know, and you've got to cherish every one of them. The way it is right now and as tough as it is, it feels fantastic when you win.

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