Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Leads the Way for Team Chevy in Daytona 500 Qualifying
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 19, 2012) – Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, earned a front row starting spot in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona Qualifying Races by posting the third fastest qualifying time today at Daytona International Speedway.
A total of 49 cars took turns for a run at the front row on the 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway. The two cars that earned front row positions are the only ones with guaranteed starting positions for Sunday’s Daytona 500. The remainder of the 43-car field will be set following the finishes in the two 150-mile qualifying races set for Thursday afternoon.
In addition to Earnhardt, Jr., other Team Chevy drivers who qualified in the top-20 today were: Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet – 6th; Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet – 10th; Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet – 12th; Paul Menard, No. 27 Menard/Peak Chevrolet – 14th; Ryan Newman – 17th and Kevin Harvick – 20th.
Carl Edwards (Ford) won the pole with Greg Biffle (Ford) on the outside of the front row.
Practice for the 54th running of the Daytona 500 resumes Wednesday. The Gatorade Duel at Daytona Race No. 1 is scheduled for Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET followed immediately by Race #2. Both races will be televised live on SPEED TV with radio coverage on both MRN Radio and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 3RD:
HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING EFFORT? "From the wind, we had a good lap. Credit it a little bit to the win. The team did a great job preparing the car and trying to put a good car under us for qualifying and they did a great job."
ARE YOU PRETTY PLEASED WITH THAT EFFORT? "Right now I am pretty pleased. We weren't able to find that speed yesterday. We did a pretty good job today compared to how the week has been going for this car. Particularly as far as single-car runs."
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT THE FORDS? "They definitely have found some speed over the off-season in their Daytona package for sure."
DOES THIS MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO GET A GOOD STARTING SPOT FOR THE DAYTONA 500 AFTER STARTING IN THE FRONT OF THE GATORADE RACE? "Starting on that front row gives you that kind of feeling. Third on back, you feel like you need to race because somebody's going to try to take your third starting spot in the 500 if that is where we were to end up. Somebody's out there to take it from you in those qualifying races so you have to run hard."
IT LOOKS LIKE YOU HAVE A PRETTY FAST CAR HERE AT DAYTONA: "Yes, the guys did a good job putting a good car out there for qualifying. We made a series of changes trying to improve the car's speed from yesterday. It didn't have this kind of speed. I'm sure we got a little help from the wind, but I have to give my guys credit for giving us a good opportunity. The machine they put out there today. A lot of hard work goes into coming down here. The guys at the engine shop and the guys at the body shop...this car particularly has been cut up several times this off season trying to improve it. So, a lot of effort goes into what you see happen here today and throughout the week."
HOW NICE IS IT TO HAVE THE LUXURY OF A FAST CAR FOR RACE CONDITIONS HERE? "Last night the National Guard Chevrolet was really quick in the Shootout. I felt like we had great speed. I expect to see the same thing out of the Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet when we get to the qualifying race and throughout the rest of the weekend. I feel like we will be competitive and should be able to be on the offense more than on the defense. That is what you want as a race car driver out there making passes."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 6th
ON HIS ROLLOVER AND CRASH IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT SATURDAY NIGHT “Oh, I was having a lot of fun right up until that crash happened last night. And as safe as these cars are, and with the Hendrick carbon-fiber seat that we put in the car, I’m pretty amazed how I feel today considering. Yeah, we were certainly hoping for a little bit more. The Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet; well right now, it looks like the Fords obviously brought something pretty special and we gave it our best effort. The wind is howling out there pretty good and we’ll see where we end up with that.”
IT IS JUST ONE OF THOSE DAYS WHERE YOU CATCH THE WIND OR DON’T CATCH THE WIND? “The wind can help you. But the wind is not going to help you by two or two and a half tenths; that lap Carl (Edwards) put up there is really spectacular.”
DID YOU ENJOY GOING BACK TO PACK RACING IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT LAST NIGHT? “I did enjoy it. I mean there is still a lot of risk involved in doing the tandem drafting and yet we’re still seeing it. You’ve still got to survive and play it smart but yet you’ve got to be aggressive. So, I like this; I feel like if you’re up front you have a little better shot of staying up there. I like that. That kind of takes me back to when I first started in this series. I thought it was a very exciting race and an exciting finish. I think we’re going to see a lot more of that this week.”
ON THE SAFETY CHANGES NASCAR HAS MADE IN THE LAST 10 – 12 YEARS, YOU ARE A WALKING TESTAMENT TO THAT AFTER THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT “Yeah, we’ve definitely made huge strides. That’s the first time I’ve been upside down and you always worry about when you’re rolling like that, what it’s going to be like. And that was the easiest part of the entire event. The big hit into the wall was much more severe; and that is a true testament to the safer barrier and the Hans device and the structure of the cars and the seatbelts that we’re running. It’s pretty impressive. I hate that it happened altogether, but we sure were having fun up until that point.”
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 MOBIL 1/OFFICE DEPOT CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 10th
HOW WAS YOUR RUN? “Well, we ran wide-open around there. So it’s not much from the driver’s side that you can really talk about. It’s just to showcase the guys; it’s always that way when we qualify down here. Nobody has handling issues during qualifying. The drivers don’t do anything. We ride ‘em around for two laps and then see what the guys have done.”
IS THE WIND SHIFTING OR CHANGING DIRECTIONS? OR IS IT PRETTY MUCH THE SAME FOR EVERYBODY? “I honestly don’t know. I was getting dressed when the first cars were going out and then coming out here. So I didn’t get a chance to watch to see what it’s done up to this point. But if it changes, that’s when you worry about it. If it’s the same direction and the same speed all day, it’s the same for everybody. But it’s when you get gusts or no gusts, that’s when it starts being a factor.”
WAS YOUR RUN ABOUT WHAT YOU EXPECTED? “I don’t know how you can expect anything today because the wind is going to always alter it.”
HAVE YOU DISCUSSED THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT WITH DANICA PATRICK? “We haven’t even gotten that far. This is the first time I’ve even gotten out of the motorhome since last night.”
WHEN YOU GET HOME FROM A RACE LIKE THAT, CAN YOU TAKE IT DOWN AND GO RIGHT TO SLEEP? “I was up until about four (4:00 a.m.) this morning trying to figure out what to do different.” DID YOU WATCH THE REPLAYS? “Yes. By four o’clock this morning I’d seen a couple of replays, yes.”
AND YOU WERE ALREADY FIGURING OUT HOW COULD I HAVE DONE BETTER THAN A SECOND PLACE FINISH? “Right.”
IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT, TWO CARS WERE ABLE TO BREAK AWAY. AND WE SAW THAT AT THE END OF THE TALLADEGA RACE. BUT THE FIRST TALLADEGA RACE WAS THREE-WIDE, TWO-BY-TWO. IS THERE ANY WAY TO KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON THURSDAY? “No, we don’t know what’s going to happen for sure. You can almost guarantee that it’s going to be a tandem that’s going to win the thing. But to know about the rest of it, it’s hard to anticipate that right now.”
IS IT ABOUT WHO YOU GET HOOKED UP WITH? “Well, (laughing), it’s about who gets hooked-up and when. Kyle (Busch) and I got hooked-up and the guys in front of us weren’t hooked-up and that’s why we drove by them and it just depends on if they get hooked-up and when they get hooked-up and if you get three groups hooked-up at the same time. But there are a lot of variables about whether or not that’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 12TH:
ON HIS LAP: "That was a solid lap for us. There are still a lot of cars to go yet, but hopefully we will be top-20; maybe even top-15. The conditions are so windy out there. There is no telling what's that is going to do. It is gusting pretty hard. It has helped some guys and hurt some others."
HOW IS THE CAR? "We are right about where we thought we would be. We've got good speed in the car. The No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) has been the fastest out of our cars here as well as at the test. We are real close to his speed. The No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) busted off a good lap. Happy to see that for those guys. But our guy is right on cue; right where we need to be. From what we saw last night, I don't think it matters where you start, you've got a shot at this thing the way the cars are drafting."
IS THE SPEED OF THE FORDS SURPRISING? "It is a bit surprising. Those guys have not had the fastest plate stuff in qualifying. They all race very well, but you naturally don't think of the Roush cars as contender for the pole. They have worked in a lot of areas, I'm sure and they've got a lot of speed."
WHAT DO YOU TAKE AWAY FROM THE SHOOTOUT THAT WILL HELP YOU IN THE TWINS? "The end of the race is going to be pretty crazy. (LAUGHS) Leading is about the safest place to be and that's even a question sometimes. So, the 500 is going to be an exciting race. I assume we will be smart until the end. Then at the end, it will be one heck of a show."
ARE YOU GOING TO BE PRACTICING YOUR SLINGSHOT? "The slingshot has won some. Then in some races, it's not the ideal position to be in. If they were two-by-two coming to the start finish, Kyle (Busch) wouldn't have had any room to get to the outside of the No. 14 (Tony Stewart). There isn't a clear answer if you want to be the one being pushed or pushing. I won Talladega being pushed because we got inside of two other groups that were outside of us. It really just depends how it unfolds at the end."
PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 MENARDS/PEAK CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 14th
ON HIS EFFORT: “Well, we picked up a tenth from yesterday, which is really good at plate racing. Last year I think we slowed down at every plate race from practice to qualifying. It’s good everything is not heat-soaked. Everything is a little cooler. I actually picked up. I think that looking at the times from yesterday it’s really close, but it’s going to be really close for the pole for sure. And we’ll be one of the guys contending for it.”
IS THE WIND A BIG FACTOR? “As long as it stays the same; there’s a pretty big tailwind down the back. But the only variable the wind is going to play is that it’s solid for one run and then more of a gust for the next run, then you could get an advantage or a disadvantage. But depending on what the wind does, handling-wise the car drives great.”
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 U.S. ARMY/QUICKEN LOANS CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 17th
ON HIS QUALIFYING: “It’s really windy down the back straightaway but our U.S. Army Chevrolet was mid-pack yesterday, so I don’t expect it to be anything much better today. But we’ll see how we can make it race.”
ON THE MANY SAVES BY KYLE BUSCH IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT “Oh, he did a heck of a job saving the car and then obviously getting back.”
DO YOU THINK WE’RE GOING TO SEE PEOPLE WILLING TO PUSH IT MORE IN THE DAYTONA 500 THAN WE SAW IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT? “On the last lap, yeah. That’s about it.”
HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING EFFORT? “It was not as good as it should be. We’ve been capable of much more than that here. We’re lacking a little bit of speed and don’t know for sure where we’re missing it.”
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 20TH
ON QUALIFYING “Well, obviously the car hasn’t been as fast by itself as we wanted it to be at the (January) test and we went home and worked on it and still didn’t gain the speed. But based off of our race last night, the car has a lot of speed in race trim. So we’re just going to have to go home and come up with a new plan.”
IS PRESERVING EQUIPMENT PARAMOUNT THIS WEEK WITH ALL THE CARNAGE IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT? PLUS YOU STILL HAVE THE QUALIFYING RACES TO RUN “I think so. I think last night was definitely an eye-opener as to who you want to race around and how you want to approach things. So it’s definitely something that you’ve got to think about.”
WILL THERE BE A LOT OF DISCUSSIONS IN THE GARAGE ABOUT WHO YOU WANT TO RUN WITH AND WHO YOU DON’T? “I think thank all the guys you don’t want to run with will most likely eliminate themselves before you get to the end of the race. So hopefully it has a self-cleansing type of atmosphere on Sunday.”
WITH THE WIND SO UNPREDICTABLE, IS THIS REALLY A LUCKY POLE DAY FOR SOMEBODY? “I don’t think so. We knew the Fords were going to be fast and obviously they are one, two, three, four right now. So, obviously we knew that was going to happen. I think the fast cars are still going to be the fast ones today.”
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 22ND
IS THE WIND TODAY THE LUCK-FACTOR IN RACING? “Well, certainly there’s some luck involved with it. You think the wind is going to stay steady, but it shifts. If you get a direct tailwind, it’s going to really help you. So there is some luck involved with that. We had a good wind. We didn’t have maybe the best wind, but a good wind. I think probably going earlier, the wind was probably better. But that’s just racing. Stuff happens.”
SO IT’S NOT SO MUCH THE LUCK OF THE DRAW AS IT IS THE EQUIPMENT? “First and foremost is good equipment. Good equipment is what is going to end up giving you a chance to sit on the pole. Getting the wind at the right time or in the right direction gives you the luck. But there ain’t enough good luck to take a car that can’t sit on the pole and sit on the pole with it.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 23RD
ON THE WINDY CONDITIONS “I think it’s the same for everybody. It doesn’t matter. We’re kind of disappointed. Yesterday we ran pretty good and today for some reason, lost a lot of speed. There is still a lot of racing to be done. I think last night (Budweiser Shootout) was a good experience for the (Daytona) 500, and the (Qualifying) Duels should be fun.”
WHAT DID YOU TAKE FROM LAST NIGHT, OR LEARN FROM LAST NIGHT? “That there are going to be a lot of wrecks in the 500 (laughter).”
DID YOU LIKE IT? “Yeah, I was more of a two-car drive guy, but I’m okay either way.”
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 24TH:
ON HIS QUALIFYIING: "We picked up a couple of tenths from yesterday,which I was expecting from our Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. That was what we had left was about two tenths. I would have thought the wind would have pushed some more, but it didn't seem like it did. There is definitely a lot of it. I was carrying a lot more speed down the back stretch. The rpms were higher and you could feel the splitter a little bit more."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHERE YOU WILL BE STARTING IN THE DUEL? "We are going to have a ways to go. We didn't qualify that great. We are definitely going to have to figure out how to race this thing better. I was in that first wreck last night. We need to finish. We need to get to the end and stay out of trouble. I like what I saw last night. It looked good. I wish I could have been a part of it for all 75 laps."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT STARTING FARTHER BACK? 'Well, last night it went green and I started back there. I was concerned so I waited for about six laps and then I started moving up and I was in the seventh lap wreck. It is just hard to judge. It is just hard to tell. It is hard to know when someone is going to spin someone else out or hit them in the left rear corner. It is easy to do. It is just something everyone just really needs to pay attention and try not to do it. But, it is still really easy to spin somewhat the way everything is right now."
IS THERE A FINE LINE IN THE 150S BETWEEN RACING HARD FOR THE WIN AND PROTECTING YOUR CAR AT THE SAME TIME? "I think our backup car is probably just as good as our primary car. You don't want to go to the backup car, but you want to win the 150. You want to start in the front of the 500, at least I do. So we are going to go for it. It's just about when do you try to go to the front and when do you get racing up there? Last night, it didn't really matter. It is just kind of a guessing game is kind of what it looked like to me."
IS IT ABOUT LEARNING SOMETHING FOR THE 500 ON THURSDAY? "Yes, I think so. I think we can learn some things Wednesday in practice and definitely Thursday in the 150s. The pack is still smaller than what it will be in the 500 on Sunday, but you can still definitely learn some things there. Just see where we can go. See how aggressive we can be and then that will kind of let us all know what we need to do on Sunday in order to be there at the end of the race."
JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 28TH:
ON HIS QUALIFYING EFFORT: “No real surprises with that run. We picked up about three or four tenths of a second from where we practiced yesterday. It was really windy out there so that may come into play with some of the cars that go out later this afternoon. We will look forward to getting a couple more practices on Wednesday to work on our care before the qualifying races on Thursday. We will have a chance to race hard on Thursday and get a good starting position for the Daytona 500. I think our Bass Pro Shops Chevy will be good in race conditions”
DANICA PATRICK, NO. 10 GODADDY.COM CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 29th
TALK ABOUT YOUR RUN “I’m curious about what other drivers say when you ask them to ‘Talk about your run’. What do they say?
THEY SAY ANYBODY CAN DO IT. MY CREW CHIEF IS THE ONE WHO SHOULD BE PRAISED. THEY TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY NEED TO DO “Yep, I pretty much just need to hit my shifts. And I did that. It felt better than it did in practice, so I thought surely this is a good sign. But as a driver, you just try and go through the gears smooth and be smooth on the track. And beyond that, there’s really not a lot more we can do. Yeah, I was asked yesterday what I was going to be asking my teammates before I go out (to qualify) because they are going before me. And I’m like, honestly nothing.
“There is really nothing that I can ask them that’s going to make a big difference. This morning I watched some of the videos from some of the other drivers out there that we get provided as a team, and I was looking at their lines and that was about it. I turned down onto the banking a little bit quicker because of watching the videos than I did in practice. But other than that, it’s really a product of the work of the guys through the winter and the details that they put into it. And honestly, I think we probably thought we might be a little quicker than we are right now. We were fast in January practice. It hasn’t quite translated in the way that we anticipated it would coming into this week. But that’s not the end of the world.”
HOW DO YOU USE THURSDAY (QUALIFYING RACES) AS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE? “Oh, wow. Bigtime, bigtime. It’s going to be about getting some rapport with some of the drivers I haven’t raced with yet and getting a feel for how the pack running is going to go. I’m not completely unfamiliar with the pack running. The first year here was some pack; and even last year in the first race of the year in Nationwide, we did pack running. It was interesting to watch how you can be very organized in a single file line. You can pull away. It was interesting to see how the tandem will work in the end. So, trust me, I’ll be studying that last pass at the end (of the Budweiser Shootout on tape) with Tony (Stewart) and Kyle (Busch) to see when the perfect time is to do that.”
HOW DOES QUALIFYING FOR THE DAYTONA 500 FOR THE FIRST TIME COMPARE WITH QUALIFYING FOR THE INDY 500 FOR THE FIRST TIME? “Well, honestly it’s a lot easier to drive the car here at Daytona. Since the track has been repaved, it’s very straight-forward as a driver. Indianapolis is something that is something that is a little more difficult. I think when Indy had been repaved, it was a little easier. But as tracks weather-in, they gain characteristics and they gain bumps and then they lose grip. I wasn’t there for that first year of the track. So it was very hard. In fact, every year it got more difficult than the year before. So this is very straightforward.”
EMOTIONALLY, HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE IT? “Well, since it’s easier, it’s a little less nerve-wracking because there is a little less to worry about as a driver. But to say that I wasn’t nervous at all is a lie. Of course I was, a little bit. I want to do a good job and I want to have a nice pretty smooth line out there and I want to do through the shifts nicely. But anyway, as far as nerves go, it was less nerve-wracking. But there was no lack of photographers and cameras.”
HOW DID THE WIND AFFECT YOUR QUALIFYING EFFORT? “Unless somebody’s got their finger up in the air and feeling what the wind was like for every driver, I don’t think we can really know. Whenever it’s windy, it gets a little inconsistent and it’s not predictable every single run. It’s not just going to be a 15 mph northeasterly wind. It’s going to be a little all over the place. So whether I caught a gust or not, honestly, it felt like it was running well. I didn’t feel like I got a tug from the air and I didn’t feel a gust slowing me down really. But we’re talking about very, very little out there. So everything was fine from my perspective.”
HAS YOUR FIRST WEEK IN DAYTONA BEEN A LITTLE BIT ANTICLIMACTIC BECAUSE YOU’VE JUST BEEN MAKING SINGLE CAR RUNS? “No, I think nothing is anticlimactic at Daytona. The week started off with me doing about two and a half hours of interviewing to start off the day on Thursday. So that’s not a small day. So, No; there is a lot of media going around with the event and I like the layout and the format of the week. Test and qualify; test and race. That’s nice. It reminds me of how Indy used to be before they shortened-up the month.”
KURT BUSCH, NO. 51 HENDRICKCARS.COM CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 33RD
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LAP “That was the fastest lap that we’ve made with our Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet. It’s good to do that when it’s time, you know; for the qualifying lap. So overall, we’re where we want to be with the effort we’ve put in and yet there is so much still left in Speedweeks with all the practice and of course the (Qualifying) Duels and we won’t lock ourselves in on speed, but we’re going racing hard on Thursday to get our car further up on the grid. That way we’ve got a great spot for the Great American Race.”
ON THE WIND “There was just a big headwind in Turn 1 and a big tailwind getting into (Turn) 3. If we went into Turn 3 like we did into Turn 1, we’d probably be seeing 206 mph.”
REGAN SMITH, NO. 78 FURNITURE ROW CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 38TH:
ON HIS QUALIFYING: "Definitely not the lap we wanted for the Furniture Row Chevy but we've been a little bit off on single-car runs since we got here. We need to work hard on making this car good in the draft now. Making it suck up; making it do the things that I need it to do to make moves to be aggressive in the pack and in the tandem stuff. It looks like we are going to be doing a combination of each. So, we're going to work hard on that. We really didn't qualify good here last year, it was the same situation. We qualified about the same as we did today and the car raced good. So, we're going to focus on that now."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE 150’S? "I think we are going to wreck a lot of cars if we keep running into each other. (LAUGHS) It looked to me like the majority of the wrecks last night (in the Budweiser Shootout) were somewhat avoidable. You just can't hit in the middle of the corners. You can't hit on the wrong corner of the bumper. That's not different now than it was a couple years back. We're all adjusting back to pack drafting. We haven't done it in a little while so we are adjusting. I venture to say when we get to the 500 it will be a much cleaner race. Guys were probably a little more aggressive last night than they will be on Thursday or on Sunday. The races will both have a little bit different feel to them."