SONOMA, Calif. Klaus Graf, 32, tried his hand at Formula One and sports car racing, and now the German is hoping to make his debut this Sunday on the Nextel Cup Series in the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway.
Graf will drive a second car from the BAM Racing shops. He will be one of five "hired guns" from other forms of racing in the road-course race as the stock-car circuit makes its first of two appearances on circuits other than an oval. Graf talked about Sunday's race and how it compares to the other forms of racing around the world.
Question: What are your first thoughts of running a stock car in your first Nextel Cup Series race?
Graf: I am very excited. This is a very, very big thing. Back in Germany this draws a lot of attention. Going against these guys this Sunday is something really big for me. Although, I have been in a lot of important, really big races, and have raced amongst a lot of elite drivers. I am just going to try to enjoy myself and have a lot of fun out there. I have a blast driving these cars. This is a lot of fun for me and that's what I am trying to do. Obviously there is going to be a lot of attention and a lot of eyes watching me, but I am used to that. I think we should have a good weekend.
Question: What are your expectations?
Graf: Well we tested at both Infineon and Virginia International Raceway and had competition at both tests with other teams there. We were very competitive. Obviously our first goal, at our first race, is to make the show and finish the race. We know that we can do very well and we'll see how it goes. I don't want to say any position, but I think we can be very competitive. The race is long and it depends on how these other guys treat me. We will give it our best. I think BAM Racing is best prepared as possible.
Question: Are there tips you can pass onto your teammate, Ken Schrader?
Graf: I've raced sports cars (at Infineon) in 2000 and 2001 with the American LeMans Series and the configuration is a little bit different with the sports cars. We race the entire race track, with the carousel, but that is not a big change for us. It's a really fun track with elevation change, up and down, and it's a very unique track in terms of grip and setup compared to other road courses in America. Kenny is a good road racer. He has proved that in the past often. It's just matter of bringing back the memory and the feeling for a road course and road race. These guys go 34 times a year on an oval, and on a road course, you need a different kind of approach and different kind of driving style at least that's what I found out driving on an oval. It's hard, even if you have done some testing before this weekend, to adjust quickly to the different kind of driving style. I gave Kenny some help and I'll try to give some help in setting up the car.
Question: What are the biggest differences between a sports car and a stock car?
Graf: The oval races are not 100 percent, but that's what we are working towards. The first question, NASCAR Nextel Cup cars are very heavy compared to everything else that I've driven before. The sports cars I drove in America had very similar power, a little less, but similar. I also drove a 'stock' engine so I am used to the characteristics of that as well. Sports cars have a lot more downforce, but after say that, at the end of the day, stock cars are still a race car. They still have four wheels, an engine, and a steering wheel. You just have to get used to it. We spent time testing and we've prepared well for this race. I enjoy driving the car. They have a lot of power and it should be a lot of fun.
Going to an oval is a whole different story. Kenny (Schrader) said earlier that I did have some oval experience at both Kentucky and Nashville. I really enjoyed it. Going out on your own is maybe not as big as going out there and racing with 42 other drivers. It is going to be a quite a different experience for me racing at Infineon Raceway this weekend is going to be different. It's a big field and there is a lot of racing to be done. It's a 300-mile race. The duration of the race and the amount of cars is going to be a big addition.
Question: Do you still have a lot to learn about stock cars?
Graf: I've come from long-distance racing. The way our equipment is there, even though for 24-hour races we have two or more drivers, you are still in the car for maybe three hours at a time. I am used to being in the car for a long period of time and still keeping up a high concentration level. I don't think that will be the problem. I think the key for the race is to take care of your equipment, and especially your tires. You have to be there at the end of the race, and be able to charge hard when it matters in the last 20 to 30 laps.
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