Steve Park, No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo: On his qualifying lap "It really felt good. We came here and tested and that was part of the rehabilitation program. We decided after the test to come back here and race. To come back here and...
Steve Park, No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
On his qualifying lap
"It really felt good. We came here and tested and that was part of the rehabilitation program. We decided after the test to come back here and race. To come back here and qualify as well as we did is a testament to the team. They gave me a great racecar and all I had to do was turn the wheel. This is one of my favorite tracks. I gave a big sigh of relief when we qualified as well as we did. Now we can concentrate on racing this Sunday."
What was going through your mind when you climbed back into the racecar for the first time?
"Obviously I was nervous, but I was excited too. I've been racing since I was 10 so it was like getting back to normal. I knew we had a car that was capable of qualifying in the top five or 10. The team and the sponsors have stuck by me and maybe this is a small reward for them."
What was the toughest thing throughout this whole recovery ordeal?
"Not racing. Obviously getting hurt was the toughest thing. I've worked extremely hard with rehab and all to get back into the racecar."
Did your heart jump in your throat when you grazed the wall on your second lap?
"No really. That's just Darlington letting me know that she's still here. You're not running fast at Darlington until you hit the wall. When you come into the garage on Sunday, you'll see a scrape on everybody's car that's been up front."
What are the remaining steps in your rehabilitation process?
"It's not the last step for me. I've earned the right to be here today to qualify. And that was through hard work. We finally worked our way up where I felt comfortable coming to Darlington just to fill the field and qualify 28th. I felt that I was recovered enough to qualify good and race good on Sunday. We're not out of the woods yet. To race Darlington this week and Bristol next week are two of the hardest tracks to race on. Nobody can answer the question about how I'll feel after 400 or 500 miles. We'll find that out on Sunday."
On the significance of making his return at Darlington
"It's kind of ironic to get hurt here and then come back here. We didn't really plan that, it just fell into the right timeline that we had set for ourselves. I'm not going to let an injury overshadow how much I love coming here and racing here."
On making progress in his speech
"It is frustrating. I'm from New York and it's hard not to talk as fast as I'm thinking. When I learned down south, I tried not to use my hands and just let your mouth do the talking. So I can't do that now, and I'll just let my right foot do the talking for me."
Was watching Ricky Craven come back a motivational tool for you?
"It was. It was nice to be able to talk to him and know what he has been through. It makes me feel like I'm not on this island all by myself. There are other people out there too. That helps me."
How much do you feel you owe Kenny Wallace for his efforts?
"A lot. I can't think of a better guy than Kenny Wallace to take my place. He did a fantastic job. To represent our sponsors and race the car as hard as he did - I'm thankful for that. You have to remember one thing. I'm a racecar driver so I'm not good at patience. Pennzoil and Teresa Earnhardt stuck by me and gave me the opportunity to heal and come back on my own schedule. I probably could have come back a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to come back and qualify well and race well. It paid off today."
If at some point, you have to come back out of the car, would it be harder because of all the attention on you?
"Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. The main thing is that I feel good behind the wheel. There are 42 other competitors out there that I have to think about. If I don't feel good, I'll get out. We have Kenny Wallace under contract for the whole year to either race or fill-in or whatever. We're not out of the woods yet. Bristol is real hard on drivers. If we can get through the next two weeks, we'll be pretty close to being out of the woods. Right now, we're just taking it cautiously. I don't want to put myself or anybody else in jeopardy."
Do you think your doctor felt added pressure not to sign off on you too soon because of all the recent safety issues in NASCAR?
"If you sit out of a racecar and just sit on the couch, they'll be happy because you're less likely to get hurt that way. That's all I've done since I was 10 years old. It was tough for them to sign off because they know that no matter what we have in the way of safety devices, driving racecars is not the safest thing in the world to do. But we love it so much we take that risk. As long s you're healthy enough, nobody is going to hold you back from what you love to do."