NOT THE FINISH TO THE DUEL THAT YOU WOULD LIKE, BUT COMING INTO THE DAYTONA 500 WHAT IS GOING TO BE YOUR FOCUS TODAY AS YOU GET PREPARED FOR TOMORROW? “Just getting some more laps on this race car. We have been very impressed and happy with the speed this third car has had. Not a situation we wanted to be in by any means, but I wasn’t aware of the preparation and our car count coming down here.
Obviously we want to bring our best two race cars and we felt that was the case. But we brought two cars that we had a lot of success with last year and a build on those cars that were last year’s kind of mindset and technology. Some of our teammates built new vehicles and brought them down here and they have had a little speed on us even through qualifying. I wasn’t aware that we had a generation car like this and that is what is our third back-up is.
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE PROCESS AFTER THURSDAY WHEN YOU WENT TO THE THIRD CAR? “Chad (Knaus, crew chief) always has a plan. When I left the infield car center I went to the bus and I didn’t know anything until the next morning. I walked in for practice and there was a painted No. 48 car sitting there. I assumed it would be a wrap around the car and we unloaded a No. 88 car or No. 24. That is kind of how we have been in year’s past.
We will build two and focus on Phoenix and Vegas and really the rest of the season. I knew there would be a car, but I thought it would be a sticker wrap instead of a paint job. I was pleasantly surprised to see it was paint. I knew that of course Chad had his bases covered. Then it really just boiled down to what kind of speed the car had in it. That was a welcome surprise to see that it was a little quicker than the car we had slated for the (Daytona) 500.”
WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT WINNING THIS RACE AND WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO PUT YOURSELF IN POSITION TO WIN? “Plate racing is so different than the racing we all grow up doing. Competing, perfecting and then just working on that skill set. Here we have heard the comparisons to playing chess and it kind of is that way. You spend more time playing defense and your defensive moves and blocks create your opportunity to pass and to win.
Then the timing of when people’s decisions behind you when they take place and if you are able to block it, it gives you that surge down the backstretch or through (turns) three and four that brings you to the finish line. So it is just different, it’s a different mindset and I think you have to work really hard to change your mind set at these four tracks in order to be successful. All that being said (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) would probably be the exception to that with how many plate races he won and how long it took to win down here. I think he just had a black cloud over him for all those years and wasn’t able to get it. It’s a totally different mindset of racing.”
IN THE FIRST THREE CUP RACES WE HAVE SEEN HERE THERE WAS NOT A LAST LAP PASS FOR THE VICTORY. WILL WE LIKELY SEE ANY LAST LAP PASS FOR THE VICTORY TOMORROW OR IS THE NEW CAR MAKING THAT MORE DIFFICULT? “I’ve been surprised when I’ve been in second how little of a run I have had at the leader. I’ve felt like this taller spoiler would increase that closing rate and really help out. It’s created that opportunity further back in the pack and there is a lot more energy in the meat of the pack, but near the front there has been a little less closing rate.
IT’S BEEN 10 YEAR’S SINCE DALE EARNHARDT, JR. WON THE DAYTONA 500 AND HIS LAST PLATE WIN WAS 2004. DO YOU SINCE ANY FRUSTRATION FROM HIM HAVING FINISHED SECOND IN THREE OF THE LAST FOUR DAYTONA 500’S? WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT HIM PLATE RACING 10 YEARS AGO THAT MADE HIM SO DOMINANT? “Definitely know he’s irritated by not winning. I mean he’s an extremely competitive guy and wants to win. I know last year he was probably a lap or two away from having a shot at the win, just kind of ran out of distance. Made a great move and got to second and he’s very sharp and understands how to set up a pass for the win. I know he wants to win and I know he’s irritated that he’s been so close. I guess it maybe boil into a little bit of frustration. He’s a competitive guy and wants to win.
“The difference, you know things have changed so much with the draft. I feel like last year’s combination was very similar to the generation of car when Junior won. I know that the ‘13 rules package felt a lot like the ’06, ’07 in that time frame in what the cars did and how they react and how you set up passes. I want to say even Junior’s stats reflect that. I know mine certainly do. There was kind of a dry spell through some of the gen-5 stuff especially the push drafting a lot of DNF’s, although we did have one win, but our average is way down. I’m not sure you would probably have to ask him, but I think we have similar reasons why our style of drafting fits the gen-6 car and maybe his stats reflect that too.”
WHEN YOU HEAR CRITICISM THAT YOUR DOMINANCE AND YOUR SIX CHAMPIONSHIPS IN EIGHT YEARS IS DETRIMENTAL TO NASCAR AND THE INDUSTRY WHAT IS YOUR REACTION TO THAT CRITICISM? “It is a short sided comment. There are so many components and pieces to our sport. That is just a fan of another competitor with a narrow mindset or a short sided mindset. There are so many pieces of the puzzle as we all know from the economy.
We look at the construction that is going on out here and understanding how this facility is going to be like a football stadium before long. I was talking to Chani (Johnson, wife) about that this morning she couldn’t believe that there aren’t the mezzanine levels for concession stands and restrooms and all that stuff. When you really break down the sport and when you know the sport there are a lot of areas that need work and everybody is addressing that. One driver’s dominance is not the reason why.”