After a slow start during the first three months of the season, Jimmy Spencer gave his new team, Ultra Motorsports, its best finish of the season last Sunday with a fourth-place showing at the Coca-Cola 600. Spencer talked about adjusting to a new team and his prospects for the rest of the season.
Q: Your split with Chip Ganassi after last season resulted in your filing a lawsuit against him. Now you're with a new team. How are things going?
A: "I went through a bad year last year, and I know some other drivers who are going through that right now. They talk to me about it. I'm not going to say their names because it's between us, yet they say they can't believe in less than six months you go from being a nobody with the right people, the right organization to being somebody. Darrell Waltrip has said it: Some crew chiefs and drivers need to stay together. Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon clicked, and they were unstoppable. If you saw what Dale Earnhardt and Kirk Shelmerdine did and then Earnhardt was looking for something when he finally found Kevin Hamlin, and they clicked and started winning. They were a factor for the championship again. I think you see that with Jimmie Johnson and (Chad) Knaus. You see it with Ryan Newman and Matt Borland. They click. I think Tommy (Baldwin, crew chief) and I really get along great. The most important thing is the driver has to trust that crew chief. Tommy and I've got that, and it's really working good. We're having a good time, and we're going to win. I know where the winner's circle is. I've won in the Busch Series lately, but I haven't won in Winston Cup in a long time. I think we can do it this year."
Q: You took a new car to Charlotte and finished fourth. What will you take to Sunday's race at Dover?
A: "We're going to run another new car at Dover. We're going to Michigan to test. Tommy feels this other car has a little bit better front downforce. Dodges right now are lacking downforce compared to the Chevys and Fords. It's not a big issue until the race starts, and you start to put time on your car and time on your tires. Then you notice certain cars have a little bit better frontal downforce. Dodge, in my opinion, is at an aero disadvantage right now. We noticed when we started adjusting our car, we never could get the thing to turn the nose in the center of the corner like those guys could, and that's downforce. Tommy had a newly designed car to go to Dover with, so we're going to try it there."
Q: Where did you get your competitiveness?
A: "Growing up with a bunch of brothers and sisters, there were seven of us, three girls and three boys. We were competitive people. My dad was a very competitive person. When we played softball or soccer or whenever we played kickball, you tried to win. You tried to beat the other team. I think it was instilled at a young age. I don't see that today in a lot of children. I don't see that competitiveness. I see my daughter being a little bit more competitive than my son. It's really interesting to know how your kids grow up and who they hang with. That dictates a lot of it. The peers they're hanging with dictate their desire. My dad would not let you win. You had to beat him if you were going to play a game, and I admire him for it. I try to teach my kids the same way."
Q: You're known for speaking your mind. Are you ever worried about going over the top?
A: "I think the fans want to hear what it is you really feel. If you speak what's on your mind, you're not going to get in trouble for it. Look back years ago and drivers are saying it's just racing. They really want to say the (jerk) spun me out. The truth is, I think they sort of knew what you were thinking, and they were sort of hoping that's what you'd say what was on your mind. When you come out and say 'that's just racing,' I think that's not what Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison and Richard Petty did, and they made our sport what it is. They said, 'the (jerk) spun me out.' That's what made our sport what it is today. It's changing, and I think it's changing for the better."
Q: Ultra Motorsports has struggled since it joined the Winston Cup Series. Can you change that?
A: "Tommy and I sat down and talked about it in December. I knew what he wanted, and I think he knew what I wanted, and that was to be back competitive and successful and running up front. The thing that a lot of people didn't realize was how good a race team Jim Smith really had. He's got an awesome facility, a great bunch of girls. Vickie has been there forever. These girls that are at the front desk to the guys who are in the back that take care of the shop. He's got a lot of people who have worked for him many years. Tommy's the same way. When Tommy walked in the shop it was like, 'We've got everything we need here.' So I think that was something people didn't see from the outside, the media. That's why they called us a 35th- or 38th-place team. One of the reporters said we were coming to a gunfight with a pistol. I guess it depends on how big of a pistol you've got."
- Don Coble