Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Finishes Second in Rain-Delayed, Hotly-Contested Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 28, 2012) - After rain postponed the start of the 54th running of the Daytona 500 by more than 24 hours for the first time in history, a freak accident caused a massive fuel fire that stopped the race for two hours as safety workers used various forms of equipment including laundry detergent to clean up and repair the track.
In the end, the fans got the finish they had been waiting for in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season-opener as they cheered Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the runner-up finish in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet when he came up just 0.210 seconds shy behind race winner, Matt Kenseth (Ford). Greg Biffle (Ford) finished third, Denny Hamlin (Toyota) was fourth, and Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, rounded out the top five.
Richard Childress Racing (RCR) teammates Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/Peak Chevrolet and Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet crossed the finish line in sixth and seventh places, respectively; giving Team Chevy four of the top-10 finishing spots.
It was a tough night for Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet, who had a mechanical failure which led to a freak collision with a track jet dryer. Upon contact, the machine burst into flames, which resulted in the red flag for lengthy repairs. Montoya was sidelined; and finished 36th. Teammate Jamie McMurray, in the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, was also involved in a late-race incident and was relegated to a 31st place finish.
Other Chevrolet finishers include defending champion, Tony Stewart, was 16th in his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet; and teammate Ryan Newman, No. 39 U.S. Army/ Quicken Loans Chevy was 21st. Regan Smith, No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet finished 24th. Kasey Kahne finished 29th in his first race for Hendrick Motorsports in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. Teammates Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was 40th due to and engine failure; and Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished 42nd after being caught-up in the first caution of the race on Lap 2 of the 202-lap event. Danica Patrick, who made her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet was also involved in the Lap 2 crash, and managed a 38th place finish. Additionally, Kurt Busch was a victim of the same multi-car accident, and finished 39th in his No. 51 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – Sidelined in multi-car crash on lap 2
LOOKED LIKE A HARD HIT. FIRST ARE YOU OK? WHAT HAPPENED? "Yes, I'm ok. That side hit was hard. We were all just trying to make our lane work. A lot of energy in the lane. I was kind of pushing the No. 78 (Regan Smith) a little bit. I could feel some help from behind. Just turned me around. Sent me down to the inside lane and back up to the outside lane. When I was l sitting in the middle of the race track, I knew at some point someone was going to come along unfortunately. David Ragan had nowhere to go. I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard.
"I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way. For all the hard work that has gone into getting this Lowe's Chevrolet ready for tonight; we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing. So, I’m pretty bummed."
ARE YOU OK? "I'm ok. I’m just really bummed-out for this whole Lowe's team. To work as hard as everyone did at Hendrick Motorsports to get this Lowe's Chevrolet and to have it barely complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing is pretty sad. Disappointed, but nothing I can do about it now. We'll just go on and go to Phoenix and set our marks on winning that race."
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT HAPPENED? "We were all just getting up to speed and I had some help from behind that got me out of control. From there on I was just spinning."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET – SIDELINED WITH ENGINE FAILURE ON LAP 81
NOT THE WAY YOU WANTED TO START THE SEASON OR FINISH THE DAYTONA 500. WHAT HAPPENED? "There has been so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps or some high water pressure, then I would have kind of expected some of this to happen. But, I was actually seeing some surprising low temps and low pressures. I don't know, maybe something was off there.
"Boy, it is a shame. Our Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet was really strong. We were just biding our time and being patient and working with guys. Every once in a while we could get up there to the front. But, we weren't even really trying at that time.
"You're racing out there, but in order to actually make a big move to get to the lead, you have to push. Then you do take a risk of getting the temps up. It just wasn't time to do that. But, we were in a great position. Great pit stop there.
"I just have to thank Drive To End Hunger for everything they do for all the older Americans dealing with hunger issues. Thank DuPont. Thank Pepsi Max and Chevrolet; all of our sponsors. This is not the way we wanted to start the season or the Daytona 500. So we'll go on to Phoenix."
WHAT HAPPENED? DID YOU HAVE ANY WARNING? "My temps were looking good. Temps are such an issue here right now at Daytona. But all the temps looked good. All the gauges looked good. Just kind of came out of nowhere. First it popped and then it went up in a big ball of flames. So, you know that is down in the bottom end, and that is never good. So, I knew our night was done for the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet. I can't thank them enough for all they do for the older Americans dealing with hunger issues; DuPont and Pepsi Max, Quaker State, Chevrolet; all of our sponsors.
"Gosh, I am just so disappointed. It's not the way we wanted to start this season or the Daytona 500, and it is a shame to be out like this."
HOW IS THE RACING OUT THERE? IS IT WHAT YOU EXPECTED? "Well, lap one got everybody's attention. I don't know what happened. Who got in the back of Jimmie (Johnson). I just saw him get turned sideways. After that everybody was using their heads. You have got guys that are racing the bottom line and trying to manage their temperatures. Then, you have got guys on the outside that are able to manage their temps a little bit better, which is where I was. But, it takes a little bit more of kind of a team effort to get that lane up to the front. Most everybody that I was around looked like they were just doing what they needed to do to get to the end of this race. I can promise you, the end of this race is going to be intense. I was really looking forward to being a part of that battle."
DID YOU FEEL ANYTHING DIFFERENT? EVERYBODY WILL TALK ABOUT EFI (ELECTRONIC FUEL INJECTION) BUT WE DON’T KNOW. THEY CAN REALLY TAKE A LOOK AT IT A LOT EASIER AND FIND OUT WHAT IT IS QUICKER. “The good thing is you can go back-up your temps and everything. My gauges all looked good. I was not having any temp issues at all and no water pressure issues. If anything, it was alarmingly low. We are going to diagnosis that and we can get a lot more information with the new EFI system. Anytime you have a failure like this you want to get as much information, valuable information; that you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
DID THE LONG WAIT HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THIS RACE AT ALL? WE SAW SOME CRAZINESS ON LAP TWO. “Yeah, that was strange. I haven’t seen it. I just saw Jimmie (Johnson) get turned and it was really unfortunate for him. I know some other people got caught up in that. From that point on, everybody was really being calm and using their heads. The race was going along really smooth. The bottom line seemed to be able to maintain a little bit faster pace, but guys had to watch their temps a lot more. The outside lane had to work together as a team a little bit more to try to get up there, but you didn’t have to watch your temps as much. We were in the perfect position as far as I am concerned. It’s calm right now. It’s going to get insane. The only way you are going to be able to win this race is to really push hard. The cars, especially if the tires have some laps on them, they don’t drive very well when you start pushing.”
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET – Sidelined in crash with jet dryer truck on lap 160
YOU HAVE A LITTLE BIT OF A LIMP, ARE YOU OK? – "I'm ok. My foot hurt, but I'm ok. For as big of a hit that way; I'm pretty good to be honest."
TELL US WHAT HAPPENED? "Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer. I felt a vibration and came in. They looked at everything and everything was ok and I still told them 'I think there is something broke' and I was coming back into the pits and the car just spun by itself."
DID YOU TALK TO THE DRIVER OF THE JET DRYER TRUCK? "He came with me (in the ambulance). He was pretty scared, but he looked ok."
WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED? "I told them when I left the pits something wasn't right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack. Every time I got on the gas, it vibrated. So, I came back in and they checked all the rear-end and they said it was ok. I was going down the back straightaway, and I was going in fourth gear, but, we weren't even going that fast. Every time I got on the gas I could feel the rear really squeezing. I got on the brakes to travel up and while I was telling the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving, the car just turned right."
WE ARE GLAD YOU ARE ALL RIGHT “To be honest with you, it is tough. We were running a really smart race. Everyone on the Target Chevy really did a good job today. Just move on to Phoenix."
TELL US WHAT HAPPENED? “I did the pit stop and when I came out of the pits I felt a vibration in second gear. I told them I think either a transmission broke or something. I went to third gear and when I accelerated the vibration came back. I came back into the pits, they looked at everything tight and ok. I went again and I was in fourth gear. I wasn’t even going that fast and it was moving and traveling a lot. It just felt really strange, as I was talking on the radio the car just turned right.”
DID YOU HEAR THE EXPLOSION? “Oh yeah, it burned the helmet and everything. It’s not where you want to finish the Daytona 500. Everybody on the Target team, with this great Chevy car, did an amazing job today. We didn’t bump anybody, nobody bumped us, and we only had 40 laps to go. I thought we had a great car. I thought we were in the right place. Everything was working well and go through that, it sucks.”
HOW ARE YOU FEELING? “My foot hurts. I was full on the brakes and when I hit, I hit driver’s side and my foot slipped onto the clutch and it scratched the top of my foot.”
THIS IS CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MOST BIZARRE INCIDENTS WE HAVE SEEN “I have hit a lot of things, but a jet dryer? I mean, no.”
WHAT WAS THE TRACK LIKE? DID YOU GET TO SEE THE SURFACE OF THE TRACK? “No, I was too busy. I really got out of the car fast. I looked up and I saw the guy out of the jet dryer. I saw a little bit of fire, my car was on fire. I saw the ambulance and walked to the ambulance.”
WERE YOU PLEASED AT HOW QUICKLY YOU WERE ABLE TO GET OUT OF THE CAR? “I am always really quick to get out of the car. In open-wheel they always check you at the beginning of the year and you have a certain time you have to get out. You really learn to get out of the car fast.”
THE PERSON IN THE JET DRYER IS OK CORRECT? “I am sure he is pretty shaken and is going to be sore, but I think he is ok.”
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU REALIZED YOU WERE GOING TO HIT THE TRUCK? “I didn’t think about the truck, I thought ‘I’m actually hitting the jet and it’s not going to be fun.’ Before I got there I was thinking ‘this thing is going to be on fire pretty bad’ and it was.”
COULD YOU FEEL THE HEAT IMMEDIATELY? “I saw the flames. My helmet got a little burned and everything, but move on.”
JAMIE MCMURRAY, NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS CHEVROLET – ACCIDENT
WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE? "I don't know. I was the start of all that. I don't know if the transmission locked up or the rear end. Something broke in the car, and it was actually freakishly something similar to I think what happened to the No. 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya). So, I'm not real sure what happened. It was like the back tires locked up, and I started spinning."
WHAT ABOUT THE PATCH? WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO ROLL OVER THAT? "It was a little greasy initially, and it definitely has got a little bump there. But, after a few laps of us running across there, I really didn't even notice it."
DANICA PATRICK, NO. 10 GODADDY.COM CHEVROLET – FINISHED 38TH
WHEN YOU GO HOME TONIGHT, WHAT DO YOU TAKE WITH YOU? FRUSTRATION OR PROGRESSION OR WHAT? “Any lap that I turn is progression, that’s for sure. That’s why I was so proud of everyone working so hard. They were working hard to get me back on the track. Was there much to gain as far as position? No. What there was to gain was for me to get the experience of running out there. We ran in packs for a while. The car is a little bent up. Honestly, it didn’t feel perfect. So as it got later and later in the race, I didn’t want to have an influence on it. I didn’t want something to happen to it or break and shoot across the track. And then at the end there, I didn’t think we were going to get the first green-white-checkered in, but we did.
“So it was very perplexing in my mind. Do I want to get up there? I have nothing to gain; but I also have nothing to lose. And honestly, I think that I picked up a lot of good tips and I just wish that the beginning of the race could have been a nice single-file line like it was when I got back out there. But it wasn’t. And honestly, that’s my lesson to learn maybe is that just write-off that first little bit if you’re not up front. So, unfortunately we have another crashed GoDaddy car but just like the last time it did finish the race; but just in that darned 38th position.”
CAN YOU PUT THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE FOR US? “I kind of feel like I almost need to put the whole week in perspective; it’s just been up and down. Everything from running good in the Duels to crashing on the last lap, to qualifying on the pole, to running well in the Nationwide to crashing; and a lot of this stuff obviously is out of your control at times and that’s kind of the exciting time about Daytona and big tracks is that anything can happen and will happen as we’ve seen. Hopefully nobody was hurt with what happened in Turn 3 there. But I learned a lot. I got a lot of experience and I’m really proud of the crew putting the car back together. They had to do some welding and whatnot. But I got back out there. It felt all right considering the fact that they were welding; I think it felt really good.”
WHAT WILL YOU TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500? “I think the power of laying back at the very beginning there; there’s inevitably going to be a crash. Especially when you get all the cars out there at one time and everybody kind of shaking out the jitters of the Daytona 500 maybe. But also knowing that everything happens for a reason and there was some reason that today I had been running down low all the time and then I decided before the race that I wanted to run up high and I managed to get collected in the first lap accident. So, I’m a piece of it. It’s disappointing. I would have loved to have gotten a great finish. I would have loved to have been able to run on the lead lap there at the end. I feel back for disappointing my fans who were cheering for me; especially going out so early. But I’ll come back stronger.”
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, FINISHED 2ND:
DESCRIBE THAT LAST GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERD RUN: "I was kind of surprised how it played out. Matt (Kenseth, race winner) just had such an awesome car. Greg (Biffle) had a great car too. I was just kind of pushing Greg, and I had told him before the restart that I was just going to push him. Try to help him get the lead; then we would see what would happen after that. But, we couldn't ever get to Matt. So, I kind of waited until the last minute to get to the last minute Greg would have an opportunity to pass him. It wasn't materializing, so I just pulled out to try to get the second spot if I could. I thought it was a great race. I want to thank the fans for sticking around on Monday night and everyone who tuned in at home. Sorry about the trouble we had over in turn three. The delay to the finish of the race and everything; but, we're pretty happy. Our Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet was fast. I want to thank National Guard and all of our other partners. We had great engines. I want to thank all of the guys for the engines we had all week long. The body and the paint on this thing looks great. I don't think it has a scratch on it. This is the first time I have finished one of these for a while, so it feels pretty good."
GREAT WAY TO START THIS 2012 SEASON, TELL US ABOUT THE END OF THE RACE: "I would have liked to have won, but I told Greg I was going to push him on that last restart. I pushed him. I thought he was waiting and waiting and waiting. It looked like he might have been trying to make a move on the back straightaway. But, nothing materialized there. Then we came off of four, and I kind of waited until the last minute for him his opportunity to pass Matt and nothing was happening. So, I just pulled out and went around him. Matt had a strong car. The Roush guys were really quick all week. I was proud of the horsepower we had in our Hendrick car. It was great. We had great speed all week down here. Our car has performed well all week. They guys did a great job on the body. I want to thank everybody at the shop and all the guys that painted this car. This car looks so good every time it comes down here. The craftsmanship inside and out is amazing. It performed well. The team did a great job. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) did a good job calling a good race. It was unfortunate what happened over in turn three tonight and I'm glad everybody is ok. I hate it for the fans who had to wait around to see a finish so late. But, they stuck around. That is why NASCAR fans are the best. Hopefully they enjoyed it."
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET, FINISHED 5TH:
ON THE RACE: "We had a good evening. We ran in the front most of the night, and we were able to keep ourselves in good track position. We thought we had a really good shot at it. Paul (Menard) was hooked up to me, and we were coming pretty hard on them going into three. The group on the outside got a run on him and just sucked us off of each other. It is so hard to get tandemed-up. In the past, we could get tandemed-up a lot better. NASCAR did a great job. To be honest, I didn't think they could make these kinds of chances. But they did and they did a great job of breaking up the tandem. It made it for a completely different race."
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET - FINISHED 7TH
SEVENTH PLACE FINISH FOR YOU. TELL US ABOUT THAT RACE: “Right off the bat we got into a little argument with the cone (the orange commitment cone) there. We had to come in and fix the hole in the nose. We just decided to take care of the car for the first hundred laps and make sure it didn’t get too hot. Then there at the end, we just couldn’t get everything organized. You want to be in the front when you have those green-white-checkered situations like that because you can’t get everybody from the first two back attached enough to get going. It was a good day for our Budweiser Chevy a lot better than last year when we left here.”
THOUGHTS ON THE FIRE AND THE REMNANTS LEFT ON THE TRACK? “It was really just a lot of speedy dry and whatever they washed it with and one little bump. They did a good job fixing it. You couldn’t even tell.”
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THIS WEEKEND? “Weeks just weeks; it seems like we have been here for a month. Just a lot of strange things happening to tell you the truth, but I’m happy to get in the plane and head home.”
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN JUAN (PABLO MONTOYA) HAD HIS ACCIDENT? “That all happened behind us at that particular point. We just came back around and there was a big ball of fire sitting at the end of the back straight-a-way. It is definitely something strange that you don’t see very much.”
PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 MENARDS/PEAK CHEVROLET FINISHED 6TH:
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR RACE AND WHAT KIND OF RACING YOU HAD ON THE TRACK: “We had a pretty uneventful race, really. We just kind of rode around the first half of the race anticipating some big wrecks; there were a couple but not as many as we thought. I figured it was time to go about lap 120 and try to work our way up there. I really couldn’t do a whole lot of passing it was hard to pass. You could get two cars pushing for about half a lap or so before you could separate them. It was just a lot of riding around the bottom.”