Wimmer says he would have preferred to move to Cup last season butcircumstances wouldn't p
Scott Wimmer's roots run deep in racing. He hails from the short track hotbed of Wisconsin, and his family has long been involved in oval track racing. As a Nextel Cup rookie for Bill Davis Racing, Wimmer has had his share of ups and downs this year--including an off-track incident that left him doubting his future in the sport. Wimmer recently sat down with Stock Car Racing to discuss all that's happened in his brief Cup career.
SCR: For starters, what do you think about your first full season on the Nextel Cup Series tour and how well you've done so far?
WIMMER: I was really excited about the first few races of the season because we were so competitive. We got off to a good start at Daytona and backed that up at Rockingham with another good run. Then we had a motor fail on us at Las Vegas and just didn't run good at all at Atlanta. Overall, the first few races were pretty good even though I would like to have had a couple of those races back. Then again it's a long season and we can rebound from that.
SCR: If you had to give yourself a grade so far, what would that grade be and why?
WIMMER: I feel like I've been about average - maybe a B or a B- driver. At times I've been able to give the guys real good information and they've been able to put some pretty good stuff underneath me. At other times I haven't communicated as well as I could have. It's just a matter of me being new and not having a lot of experience with these cars that have caused me to be a little bit hesitant, but I think it's something I'm going to get over pretty quickly.
SCR: You spent three full seasons in the Busch Series and had a lot of success. How much has that Busch Series experience helped you out in Nextel Cup racing?
After a finish of third at Daytona, Wimmer's rookie performance haslacked consistency.
WIMMER: Quite a bit. I never had the fortune to run the same car manufacturer in Busch as I've run in Cup. That right there has hurt me a little bit. Another thing has been getting somewhat familiar with all the tracks the Nextel Cup Series races at and all the different characteristics of how these cars work. I've really been working hard with all the guys on my team and that's helped because these are really a bunch of good guys. It's been a big transition because I first got started working with my dad and now I'm working with a huge NASCAR team.
SCR: What has been the hardest part of making the transition from the Busch Series into Nextel Cup competition? Has it been harder or easier than what you thought it would be?
WIMMER: It's really been a lot of pressure. Like I was saying earlier, when you're driving for your father there isn't a great deal of pressure to do as well as you can every week. At this level you have to perform and do well every week. So the pressure that has come along with moving up to Nextel Cup has been the toughest thing for me to deal with. Plus we've had to spend a lot of time trying to get the results we're looking for.
SCR: You got your start in the Busch Series for Bill Davis Racing where you remain to this day. A couple of years ago many thought you were ready to make the move up to the Nextel Cup Series, but yet Bill Davis kept you in the Busch Series. What are your thoughts on that?
WIMMER: I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get the chance to move up earlier. I really thought last year would have been a real good time for me to move up, but things just didn't work that way. Bill Davis had two solid Cup teams and sponsors lined up for last year and there just wasn't anywhere for me to go. This year I was fortunate enough that there was a place for me to go. Even though I had to stay back in the Busch Series for a little longer than I would have liked, I think it has helped me become a better driver and learn more about what I needed to do to make it.
SCR: Before the 2003 season started, some observers thought you would get the nod to move up into Cup racing in the seat that Kenny Wallace ended up getting. And some even suggested you should have been in the No. 22 last season. Was the delay frustrating?
WIMMER: No. Not really because I just didn't fit in or have a sponsor that was backing me. So I just took it as biding my time to eventually getting to the day when I did fit into a Nextel Cup car. Fortunately that was this year with a great sponsor like Caterpillar backing me. It was a little frustrating sitting back running one more year in the Busch Series, but I still enjoyed it and think it ended up doing more good than harm.
SCR: At some point in time, did it enter your mind that Jeff Gordon raced for Bill Davis in the Busch Series before he was lured away by Hendrick Motorsports? Were there any thoughts that you might want to follow in his footsteps and move to another Nextel Cup team and get that part of your career started?
WIMMER: Definitely. I had some calls from different teams when things looked shaky as far as us getting a sponsor for our Busch team and it didn't look like we were going to be able to run. So I really stepped up and looked for a job for the full season. Bill Davis ran our car for half a season in 2002 without a sponsor. There aren't a lot of car owners that would have done that, especially with the way we were struggling at the time. We ended up finishing the year out on a strong note by winning some races.
Wimmer climbed into the No. 22 vacated by Ward Burton, a long-timedriver for Bill Davis Ra
SCR: Did a different Cup team approach you and ask if you'd be interested in driving for them?
WIMMER: I did have some other offers, but I never really pursued them because I had such a comfortable situation here at Bill Davis Racing. I was happy with where I was and he assured me that he was going to move me up the ladder and he has done that. I'm excited to still be here. I started my career here and it would be great to end it here. Right now I'm just having a blast.
SCR: Through it all, you've remained very loyal to Bill Davis. Has that been a matter of thinking that Davis is going to take you where you want to be with your racing career or more a case of not forgetting the man that got you to where you are today?
WIMMER: I think I'm in a situation that is very similar to Matt Kenseth at Roush Racing because he has been loyal to Jack Roush since he got him into NASCAR. Matt has realized what Jack has done for his career and Jack knows what Matt brings to his organization. I feel the same way about Bill Davis because he's the one that brought me up from ASA without a lot of experience even though I'd won a few races. People like that don't come around too often and I was very fortunate to have that happen to me. I'm going to try to make his organization as successful as I can for as long as I can.
SCR: You actually made your first career start for Davis in 2000 at Atlanta and finished 22nd then went a full year without racing in NASCAR's top series until a three-race schedule in 2002. At that point, did you think you were ready to step into a Nextel Cup Series seat?
WIMMER: I personally thought the best time for me to move up was around the end of the 2002 season. I was really on a high note because I'd won four of the last eight Busch races and finished third in the points. Things were really going great for me and I was so excited, but the opportunities didn't work out the way I wanted them to work.
Frankie Stoddard, says Wimmer, is helping with the adjustment to the Cuplevel.
SCR: After it was announced last season that Ward Burton was leaving the team and that you were going to get his seat and move to Nextel Cup this season, how much of a benefit was it to get in the car with four races remaining to get acquainted with the team heading into 2004?
WIMMER: It was real important. Ward Burton is a great driver and he was at Bill Davis Racing when I first got there. Ward helped me out a lot with my career. Things just weren't quite the way they wanted them to go with him so he stepped aside and that really gave me the chance to get in the car early. Ward didn't have to do that but he did just to help both of us out. It was a chance for me to get started working with my new Cup team and the team he is driving for this year. It was exciting to me because I knew this was a great group of guys that I knew but had never got the chance to work with them before. I can't tell you how excited I was to sit behind the seat of the No. 22 car for the first time.
SCR: You obviously got the season started off in a pretty big way with a third-place finish in the Daytona 500. How much did that mean to you personally and to your entire team?
WIMMER: It obviously felt real good to me, especially because I went through a lot of personal issues during the off-season. To rebound from that and have a good run at Daytona and then leave Rockingham in fourth place in points meant a lot because I've worked real hard to get to this level. It felt good to get the season started off like we did. Now we have to continue that through the rest of the year.
SCR: Was that third-place finish the best race of your career even though you didn't win?
WIMMER: It definitely was. That was one tough race. I was driving my heart out every lap. I was up there running with some of the best restrictor plate racers in the business. We didn't have the best test session leading into the race, but to end up third in the Daytona 500 was a great accomplishment.
SCR: What were your thoughts in the closing laps when you were following two of the sport's biggest superstars in Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart in the biggest NASCAR race?
WIMMER: That was very special. We went into the race with a game plan and I was more concerned about finishing the race than winning. Then as the race went on, we were in a position to where we actually started to think about winning. When I was leading with about 20 laps to go, there were a lot of emotions running through my head. I ended up getting passed by Tony Stewart and Dale Jr., but I was still doing everything I could to get back around those guys. I knew if they would have had a little bad luck or gotten together, I would have had the chance to win the Daytona 500 in my first try. Even after I got passed, I just never gave up.
SCR: You had a tremendous amount of success in the Busch Series with crew chief Robert "Bootie" Barker, and won four races during the 2002 season. How big of a loss was it when he announced that he was leaving the team last season?
WIMMER: It was a huge blow because Bootie and I worked together for two years and finally started to get each other figured out. When I came into the Busch Series, he was a rookie crew chief and I was a rookie driver. We had our struggles at first, but in our second year we really started to gel, win races and do some great things together. What it all boiled down to was Bootie had some other avenues he wanted to pursue and I don't blame him for doing what he needed to do because it was a great opportunity. It was probably something I would have liked to have done with him. If we could have moved up to Nextel Cup together, I think we could have run real well and been strong. I learned a lot from Bootie and he is a great individual. He's a very smart man that is going to be in this business for a long time.
SCR: Was it a huge relief when you heard that Frankie Stoddard was going to stay on board as your crew chief after you'd watched all the success he had through the years with Jeff Burton?
WIMMER: It was a big relief to me. Frankie had a great track record for the last 10 years. He does a great job with all the guys back at the shop and all the guys on the crew. I'm excited about working with him because he's got a lot of great ideas and he knows that with me being a rookie driver there are going to be problem areas that I'm going to have to work my way through. Frankie is really trying to help me out as much as he can. I've never had a crew chief for more than two years, so hopefully we can stick together and reach some of our goals. We have a great relationship and I'm just looking forward to continuing that into the future.
SCR: How do you compare the contrasting styles of Bootie Barker and Frankie Stoddard?
WIMMER: Bootie was very aggressive with the cars and Frankie is trying to take a little more laid-back approach. Frankie knows that to be there at the end of the year, you've got to be around for the long haul and can't be on the set-ups every week. On the other hand, Bootie and I would just throw stuff in the car. Sometimes we'd look pretty good and other times we'd look kind of foolish. Frankie does a good job on the radio of keeping me calm and getting us in a position to win races or finish as far up as we can.
Despite his low points this year, Wimmer says he is grateful to BillDavis and Caterpillar
SCR: How did you first get started in racing and at what age?
WIMMER: I really got started when I was 15 years old running the Street Stocks around Wisconsin and I did that for three years. From there I worked my way up into Late Models and had a lot of success. Then I moved my way up into the Hooters ProCup and a lot of other Late Model touring divisions. Ultimately I ended up in ASA and really thought I'd be racing in that series for a long time, but then I got the chance to move up to the Busch Series.
SCR: When you were young, your uncle Larry Detjens was killed in a racing accident. What happened and did that take away a little of the desire that you had to make a career out of racing?
WIMMER: My uncle was one of the all-time great Wisconsin drivers who raced against guys like Dick Trickle, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. He won a lot of ASA races at short tracks. He was on the verge of really making his Busch Series debut before he got killed a couple weeks before that was going to happen. My whole family has always been a racing family. When my uncle passed away, my parents had to step away from the sport for quite a while until I started racing. It was really hard on them and they were out of the sport for 10 or 11 years. I'm just glad they are very supportive of me after all we've been through. I've loved racing since I was probably five years old when I lost my uncle. I don't remember a whole lot about him since I was so young, but what I do remember and hear from other people lets me know he was a great person as well as a great driver. At first it was a little scary for me - I think it was more a scare for my parents - but once I figured out what I wanted to do, it wasn't a tough decision.
SCR: We got to see a little of this last year when your fellow Wisconsin native driver Matt Kenseth won the championship, but your home state race fans have proven to be very passionate about Nextel Cup racing. Have the race fans from the Wisconsin area always been that passionate about racing or was it a matter of them having local drivers to pull for in NASCAR?
WIMMER: Wisconsin was kind of different in racing because we never heard of NASCAR that much. We were always looking to see what Dick Trickle was doing because he put my home state on the map. He really broke the ground for all of us because he put drivers from Wisconsin on the map. Then Ted Musgrave moved down and had a great career along with Dave Marcis who was at home back there. Wisconsin is really a great place to race because you can race four nights a week. I think the race fans from Wisconsin are more supportive than any other race fans around.
SCR: What would you consider a successful 2004 season? Have you and the team set goals as far as wins, poles and the final point position at the end of the year?
WIMMER: I think we all have our own goals. We've sat down and kind of talked about what we'd like to accomplish. Obviously our goals changed after the Daytona 500 when we left there sitting third in the point standings and we thought we'd be in a position to finish in the Top-10 at the end of the year. I don't think that goal has changed even though we've dropped off a little bit. I still think we can finish in the Top-10 and have a shot at the championship at the end of the year. To do that, we've got to win races and run up front on a consistent basis. I know we can win one race, but I think we can win a lot more. We started off with a lot of goals, but it seems like those goals change on a weekly basis.
SCR: You are one of a great crop of rookies who came into Nextel Cup racing this season, along with Kasey Kahne, Brendan Gaughan, Johnny Sauter, Brian Vickers and Scott Riggs. How hard do you think it's going to be to claim this year's Rookie-of-the-Year title against such a talented group of young drivers?
WIMMER: It's going to be extremely hard. This is probably the best rookie crop that has ever come into the Nextel Cup Series. Kasey Kahne has been very impressive, but there is still a lot of racing left to go. I think you're going to see a lot from this team. Scott Riggs, Brendan Gaughan and Brian Vickers are all great drivers and I think you're going to see a lot out of the rookies this season. The guy that wins this year's rookie battle is really going to be deserving of it.
SCR: One of the biggest stories concerning Scott Wimmer took place in January before the season stared when you were charged with drunk driving. Did you think that you'd thrown your future in racing, and all that you've worked for, out the window?
WIMMER: Yes, I definitely did. After it happen I just crawled into my house for a couple of days and didn't want to talk to anybody or do anything. It was very disappointing to me because I've worked very hard to get to where I'm at now. I could have thrown all that hard work away in one night. It's just something that you go through with age. It was one of those lessons the Lord wanted me to learn the hard way. A lot of times when you listen to somebody getting caught on television you really don't get impacted by it. When it happens to you it really affects not only you but also your family. I'm glad Bill Davis and Caterpillar gave me a second chance. Both of them work very hard to put cars out on the track for me and I could have thrown everything away for them too. I've had a lot of support from fans and friends, my race team and everybody. We're going to keep pushing through this and it's going to be a long road. It's something that's not going to go away and by no means do I want it to go away. This is going to be a huge learning experience for me and I'm going to try to do good things with it and keep other people from making the same mistake I did.
SCR: In the days that followed, how concerned were you of the possible implications from not only your sponsors, but also your team, NASCAR, the media and race fans?
WIMMER: I was real concerned. Once I figured out that it wasn't going to do any good to dwell on it and hope it would go away, I felt like I had to start talking to my team about it, as well as NASCAR, my sponsors and a lot of my fans. The majority of people were very supportive and that made me feel really good about something that can bring about a lot of very negative circumstances. People were really supportive of my race team and me for giving me a second chance. It seems like these days, people are a lot less willing to give people a second chance. So I've been fortunate to have a second chance. Bill Davis Racing, NASCAR and Caterpillar know I made a mistake, but I'm going to make it right and learn from it and never make the same mistake again.
SCR: That must have really proven to you that one mistake can throw away a lifetime of work and commitment with one bad move?
WIMMER: Most definitely. One of the problems is you never learn that lesson until something like this happens to you. I think it's going to make me a better person and I want to help a lot of other people who are faced with this problem. It's not only people who have had this offense against them before, but the people that haven't who think they've thrown everything away and are down on themselves. I think I can give those people a little bit of encouragement that things don't automatically go bad for the rest of their life. There are a lot of bad things in life that you go through and it means a lot for those people to help you get through those times.
SCR: On the other hand, there have been some groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and driver Kyle Petty who thought you should have been suspended from the sport. How do you address those critics?
WIMMER: Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I don't know because I try not to get into other people's business. I haven't heard about a lot of the things from an organization like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and what they've been saying. But I've always been under the assumption that this was an organization that was trying to help people prevent things like this from happening. I just really didn't know they were out to ruin or hurt people's lives. I guess my views and their views are a little bit different. I'm going to go out and try to prevent this instead of making people's lives end over it.