Q: On that note, the Rahal family seem to be big fans of yours. Graham couldn't sing your praises high enough regarding your car-sorting abilities when you replaced Robert Doornbos midseason at Newman/Haas in '09. But earlier that year, Bobby Rahal said – after running you at Indy – that if he could find a budget to run a car for a full season, you'd be his choice of driver. Does that still hold true? Considering he's bought two new cars, is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing one of the teams on your radar?
OS: Yes, for sure. I had a great month of May that year. Even before you join, you know it's going to be a good team, but when I joined I was still highly impressed with everyone, from Bobby and Scott Roembke down. So, yes, that's one of the teams I've been talking to. As you know, it takes more than just desire to make these things happen, so there are a few things to work out, but for sure that is one of the teams I'd be happy to join.
Q: On a more philosophical note, is it annoying that apart from 2005 when you subbed for Bruno Junqueira at Newman/Haas, there has never been a time when you could just be plugged into an already competitive team? It always seems you join teams that need you to drag them to the front or, when you do join a strong team, it all turns to nothing in the off-season.
OS: Yeah, couple of days ago I was thinking, ‘Why the hell does this keep happening to me?' But what I realized is that it happens to many drivers, and after the second or third time they either give up or they just don't get a chance to do it again. So I guess you could say I'm lucky in that I keep fighting and have the resources and will to get in another ride. You can see it both ways, really. I get unlucky that things don't work out due to sponsorship or whatever, but you could say I was lucky to get other opportunities. It's by trying and working hard at it and making it happen.
Fortunately, I'm usually able to get a good job and by helping them produce better results than they had before, the process continues.
The truth is, the economic crisis we've had for the last five years has made life difficult for drivers – and also in NASCAR, Formula 1 and World Rally. You look at World Rally and you have maybe only five guys being paid by manufacturers. It's just tough, so you have to be really lucky in the racing world to be in a position where things like this don't happen. At Newman/Haas, we were so close to such a big sponsor that would have made the whole scenario very different. It just didn't come quick enough.
Q: Was Telemundo not satisfied with their coverage this year?
OS: They were very happy. Telemundo has expressed to me that not only were they happy, but they would like to continue with me. It's a program they wanted to grow through the years, and it was like a marriage that worked very well. So I'd bet they would be on whichever car I went, but it's just not enough to support a whole car for a season.
Q: So the deal was never as big as it looked on the car in 2011?
OS: Your words, not mine! What I know is that Telemundo is committed and trying to get the Hispanic rights to broadcast the races, so they're certainly not thinking of going away. The opposite, in fact.
Q: So what will you remember as your highlights of 2011?
OS: By far, qualifying on the front row at Indy 500. That was amazing because it was Indy, because it was the Centennial and, to be honest, because we didn't really think we had a shot. We were happy to reach the Fast Nine in qualifying, and thought by risking things we might be top six, and instead we got on the front row. So that was awesome.
And leading for 20 laps of the race was amazing, not just because I can say I led the 500, but also because of how realistic our hopes were to win the race, depending on how things went in the final stint. I had too much downforce, but on old tires and if conditions got slippery, I knew that I'd have a real shot at winning. I was thinking, “Man, in 100 more laps, depending how this goes, I have the car to beat.” You can't ask for anything more in racing, I think, than to have a feeling like that at the biggest race in the world. We were unfortunate that the yellows didn't fall the right way for us, but still, the feeling I had during those 20 laps was unbelievable.
New Hampshire had ups and downs, of course, but that whole weekend we were so competitive it was awesome. Also, Milwaukee was great as we came back from bad pit stops to finish on the podium. So the highlights happened to be on three ovals. But we also got on the podium in Baltimore and we were strong in Long Beach.
Q: Any other thoughts?
OS: I have to say that that although this is definitely not what I wanted, I have not one bad thing to say or bad thought to have about Newman/Haas Racing. Every time I drove in that team, the performance of the cars they've given me, the effort that they put in and most especially the treatment I got from the owners from 2005 right up until three nights ago, it was so special. I consider myself very lucky to have had three different stints with them. The people at Newman/Haas were just a class act in the way they operated as a team and in the way they were as human beings.