Momentum Key For Foyt Team

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Momentum can mean a lot in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. One good finish could pump a team up enough to perhaps perform better than it probably is capable. One bad finish could send a team spiraling for no apparent reason.

For A.J. Foyt Racing, there have been a lot of bad finishes in the two-and-a-half years of its existence. Foyt has had seven drivers over that span, and not a single one of them had finished in the Top 5.

That’s a lot of the wrong kind of momentum.

Then came the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen last week. Foyt hired P.J. Jones for the Watkins Glen International road course, and all Jones did was post the best finish the team ever had. He finished fourth after a two-tire gamble by crew chief Mike Hillman and was challenging the top three of Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon when the checkered flag fell.

“I thought we had a shot at it the last four or five laps,” Jones said. “I could just see the fuel gauge going back and forth, so I kind of played a defensive role and made sure we stayed where we were. We had a shot at Stewart at the beginning. He was fast, but if you could have gotten in front of him, maybe you could have kept him there. But the top three cars we were all pretty much the same.

“It was just a good run for these guys at the Conseco team and Foyt. I’m so glad they gave me the opportunity to do this.”

The rest of the team was pretty pumped up, too, of course. The previous best finish this season was a pair of 18th-place efforts by Stacy Compton. Last year, Ron Hornaday did manage a ninth at Las Vegas. And Rick Mast was eighth at Pocono in 2000.

And that was the best Foyt’s team could do – until Jones came along.

“I am very happy and proud of the way this team ran (Sunday),” Hillman said. “This Conseco team has been stronger this year, and the equipment has been better prepared, but we just didn’t have the results to prove it. This team has had to endure several changes this year, but they have remained focused and dedicated to the task at hand each week.”

This week, the team heads to Michigan International Speedway for the Pepsi 400. Qualifying is slated to begin at 3 p.m. (ET) Friday, with LIVE qualifying on RacingOne.

Compton was ousted as Foyt’s regular driver before the second Pocono race, with Mike Wallace replacing Compton at Pocono and Indianapolis. Meanwhile. Hillman came on board after Daytona. Yes, there have been a lot of changes at Foyt Racing.

But Hillman hopes the team is headed in the right direction now said Jones’ run proves the team is capable of running up front.

“I love road course racing. The thing about this racing is that it’s not about the bodies, it’s not about engineers, it’s not about attitude for downforce and drag,” Hillman said. “This is about shocks and springs, man. This is about racing. This is where when you know your chassis and you know your driver and you know you can shine. It’s like short-track racing. That’s our strong point. We can race at places where we don’t have to have all the engineering and wind tunnel info.”

Unfortunately, perhaps, this weekend’s race isn’t one of those places. Michigan is a fast 2-mile oval where aerodynamics plays a major role.

“As far as tracks go, Michigan is not that difficult to drive,” Wallace said. “You have to have your car handling right so you can keep your momentum through the corners and then down the straights. It’s big and fast and wide.”

This weekend, NASCAR has given the Pontiac – the brand Foyt Racing uses – a rules break for Michigan. Grand Prix teams will be allowed a half-inch “kickout” on the front air dam, which should give the car more front downforce.

The team headed to Kentucky Speedway to check out the new configuration and see how it affects the car’s handling.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Hillman said. “It’s been pretty obvious the Pontiac has not been able to run with the other car makes under race conditions. It would have been nice to be able to take this car to the wind tunnel to test the rule change, but there wasn’t enough time. However, we are planning on testing the new package at Kentucky this week before heading to Michigan. I want to see how it affects the aero balance of the car on the track.”

If Hillman can get the car balanced, perhaps Wallace will enjoy as good a weekend as Jones did last week.

“Last weekend was the most fun I’ve had in a while,” Hillman said. “That’s the way I like to spend a Sunday afternoon. It just shows how hard this team has worked. They definitely earned this one. I was looking forward to A.J.’s phone call on Monday this time. He was pretty pumped up.

“We’re going to get him a win before this year is over. That guy is an awesome car owner, and he’s really been drug through the trenches a lot lately, and he doesn’t deserve it. We’re going to turn this thing around and just build on this.”

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