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DRO: What are you going to be driving?

CP: I'll be in a Pontiac Firebird. I have new equipment. It's a car we built over the past season. It's all new, fresh stuff. We have a new transporter. My old car, my old Firebird, is going to be my back-up car.

DRO: Rumors have had you running just 12 races, but you are running a full schedule, aren't you?

CP: I'm going the full season, and it's a multiyear program. I wouldn't come back if (1) It was for only one year and (2) It was a part-time schedule.

DRO: How much does even a one-year hiatus set a driver back?

CP: I wasn't out too long. I made 10 runs last year at various tracks, doing match races. I never got out of the car for long. I feel I'll be ready to go by Pomona (the Feb. 7-10 Winternationals). We're going to test in Phoenix Jan. 18-21, get a little rust off. I'm not as sharp as some drivers who ran all last year, but I plan to come out of the gate strong. I don't feel there's going to be any lag time.

DRO: Are you skipping the Tucson and Las Vegas testing opportunities?

CP: I'm not planning on doing those. We have the option of staying over at Phoenix and testing some more.

DRO: What sort of a budget are you looking at? Will you be able to keep up with R&D and testing as the year goes on?

CP: Oh, yeah. Competitive Funny Car teams operate in the $2 million range. We're there.

DRO: Getting a long-term sponsor in this uncertain economy was a bit of a coup, yes?

CP: It's always tough. But certain companies do better in a bad economy, and auto parts businesses usually do well then. But I'm glad Advance Auto Parts saw the value in sponsoring my car. The saying is that for sponsors, every dollar you spend on the car, another dollar goes to activate the sponsorship. It's a huge commitment. You have to believe in the NHRA; you have to believe in the team. I've been talking to them for two years. After they said yes, it took about six months to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s.

DRO: What does your re-entry to competition say about the direction the NHRA is heading?

CP: We had two huge pieces of the puzzle to make us move forward and progress. One was the TV package. The other was the series sponsor.



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