Camry drivers Michael Waltrip (second) and J.J. Yeley (third) recorded their first top-five finishes of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday. Camry driver Denny Hamlin also recorded a top-10 finish with an eighth-place ...
Camry drivers Michael Waltrip (second) and J.J. Yeley (third) recorded their first top-five finishes of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Camry driver Denny Hamlin also recorded a top-10 finish with an eighth-place result.
Tony Stewart led a race-high 132 of 284 laps and crossed the threshold of 10,000 laps led in his NSCS career.
Other Toyota drivers in the field included Stewart (13th), Brian Vickers (16th), David Reutimann (19th), Kyle Busch (25th), Dave Blaney (33rd), Michael McDowell (42nd) and AJ Allmendinger (43rd).
Camry drivers have earned 25 top-five finishes and 37 top-10 finishes in 2008.
Busch maintained the lead in the unofficial NSCS championship point standings and holds a 64-point advantage over second-place Jeff Burton.
Other Camry drivers among the top-20 in the unofficial NSCS point standings include Hamlin (seventh), Stewart (ninth) and Vickers (16th).
MICHAEL WALTRIP, No. 55 NAPA Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
Finishing Position: 2nd
What happened on the final laps and what was your team's pit strategy? "We had to start last because of an engine change on Friday. Felt like we had a really competitive car yesterday in practice. We haven't been able to find speed with our cars in any practice sessions leading into races. We've been in the 30s or even worse than that on the sheet in practice. But yesterday we were in the 20s, teens and 20s, both practices, so I knew I had a competitive car. Then we were able to hold off (Kevin) Harvick early when he caught me and out ran him for eight or 10 laps, stayed on the lead lap. Then just got a break there at the end with my strategy pitting and getting enough gas we felt like to get to the end, having a really strong car. I passed a bunch of guys to get into position to get to Kurt (Busch) and race him. I really wished there were a few more laps, wished we could have went back to green. As bad as I need those 170 points, (I'm) very cognizant of the difference between first and second. It's huge. To get a win for our team would have been very, very rewarding. I heard a gentleman walk in here and say a second ago to J.J. (Yeley), 'zero to hero.' I like to look at things, they're not ever as bad as they seem or as good as they seem. While I don't think J.J. (Yeley) was ever a zero, does today make him a hero? It feels good that we can change our fortune a little bit on a Sunday afternoon like we did today."
Does this finish seem a little bit unreal, surreal, kind of bizarre? "I had a vision that this could happen. You look at the way racing goes these days, it's just different than it used to be. You get track position and you can look like a hero. Getting track position is very difficult. So I felt confident when three or four of them stayed out behind me under the caution that I would have a chance to win the race. So if it were surreal, that went away as soon as I looked up and said, 'I could win this thing.' That's a great feeling. I'm real proud of my team. I'm not emotional about this, other than the fact to say it's amazing that NAPA Auto Parts is still on my car after what we went through the last couple years. Just to do anything good for them, outside front row at Daytona, to have a finish like we did today, I just want to say thank you to them by doing well. That's my goal, is to do good for them."
Did you think you could challenge Kurt Busch for the win? "Well, the rain, I will correct anyone, the rain isn't why I'm sitting here. The reason why I'm sitting here is because we got an opportune caution late in the race and took advantage of race position, the same thing we were unable to do all day long last Sunday in California. I would pit, everybody would pit, the caution would come out, then I'd have to pit. So I'm here not because of the thunder you hear outside. I'm here because of strategy and opportune caution that gave me track position. If the rain doesn't come and we're able to restart, I was faster than Kurt (Busch). I feel like I could have beat him. But he probably thinks he could have held me off. And J.J. (Yeley) was kind of hoping we'd wreck." (laughter)
How disappointing is it not to have had that opportunity? "I'm going to slip out here with my 170 points, 150 grand, start putting some patches on a sinking ship, what has felt like a sinking ship, for a year or so. If you want to know disappointment, I was coming to the white at Talladega with Jimmie Johnson glued to me running 20 miles an hour faster than the field driving by him. We were going to win that race, no doubt, and it blew up coming to get the white. Nobody ever knew about that. That was a game changer for our team. Hopefully today can be a game changer for it as well."
How difficult and frustrating has it been for Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR)? "Well, it's tighter than it was this morning. We are met with challenges. We don't have a full-time sponsor for our third car. We haven't performed like we hoped we would. To see David (Reutimann) out there running in the top-15 most all day and us being very competitive today, those are the types of things we need in order to keep pace and to try to hang in there and get a foothold inside this garage area so in '09 and beyond, MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) can become more of a force to be reckoned with."
Are you optimistic going to Daytona next week? "The story I told you about Talladega was all the inspiration I needed to go to Daytona and think we could win. We always figured out how to run up front down there. We're very confident. I wanted to have a solid run today -- wanted to have a top-20 run. I felt like after practice yesterday we could be in the top-10. That was our goal, so we could legitimize who we were somewhat with a solid performance today. I kidded my team. I said we'll get us a top-10 here and then we'll go down to Daytona and show them something. Hopefully we can do just that."
J.J. YELEY, No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry, Hall of Fame Racing
Finishing Position: 3rd
What was your team's pit strategy as the weather was approaching? "We struggled for the most part this year, especially on the mile halves. Our short track program has been pretty decent. We've made some big changes. We were the best we'd been through both practices yesterday. Felt really happy with the car and started out a lot tighter than we really anticipated. But it's funny, I spent pretty much the majority of the race with Mikey (Michael Waltrip) here all day long. I ran into him. He ran into me. We had a lot of fun. I, too, wish we might have been able to go to green just for the fact those guys racing for the lead might have opened the door for me to come back to third. We needed this finish really, really badly. I'm glad it's in the books and we'll look forward to Daytona."
Does the finish to this race seem a little bit unreal, surreal, kind of bizarre? "This is a place you want to be every week. This particular week I found the way to the back door so I could sneak in and sit in this seat. We had the same mindset. We just struggled a little bit. We got to where we had a really fast race car, just didn't have the track position. There's a lot of times we ran as fast as the leader for 20 or 30 laps under any kind of run. Be on the wrong side of the racetrack, that's part of it. You go and take two tires, you're going to gain some positions, but you're going to fall like a rock at the end of a run. We had enough fuel to make it to the end. Raced (Martin) Truex really hard a couple times --gave me the bottom, had to run the bottom and still was able to hold him off. I know if we went green I was confident we could have held on to third. There were so many guys that just went and got fuel that weren't worried about someone sneaking in on tires. I really feel that between myself and Mikey (Waltrip), we deserved these finishes. It's not like we were given it because of the rain."
Can you empathize with Tony Stewart and his unfortunate finish today? "Yeah, it was. If it wouldn't have rained, we would have finished. You have to look pretty much at all season long. A majority of these guys have been fast the entire race and still haven't won the race. It's happened to Tony Stewart. It's happened to a fair amount of other guys. The fastest guy doesn't always win the race. That's part of the sport. That's why the fans fill the grandstands and come watch because anything can happen, and it happened again today."
What does this finish mean for the momentum of your team looking ahead? "It's tremendous. Last week was a big blow because I didn't feel that I was going to miss the race at Sonoma. They had good finishes with the road course cars they had when they had Ron Fellows in the car. To go out there and miss the race by five one- hundredths, get ourselves further behind was devastating. It makes it even worse because I have to stay there Sunday, and I have to do hospitality and I have to go see fans. You try to explain to people why you missed the race. It is the toughest thing in the world. It's very surreal. Sitting in the grandstands or sitting in the suite having to watch the entire race makes you want it even worse than you could have ever possibly imagined. It was an extra fire for me coming into here after Loudon. This is a race track I've had the best average finish of any of the racetracks I've been to. It's going to give the guys hope. And that's the most important thing. It is easy to say, like Kasey Kahne, you run off of confidence in this sport. If everyone is happy, everyone is going to work harder, you're going to go out and run better. Hopefully this is just a sign of things to come."
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 8th
What was your pit strategy with the weather coming? "We knew it was coming. If we stayed out we were going to have to pit right about this time so it was going to be a gamble. We knew we could go about 11 more laps or about 20 more laps under caution so we could've stayed out and maybe snuck a win there. We were coming on that green flag run with about 25 to go or so with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and 20 (Tony Stewart). Everyone we're chasing in points is behind us anyway so congratulations to the guys that figured this rain out just right."
Do you feel like you and your teammate (Tony Stewart) need some luck right now? "Yeah, that's a shame for Tony (Stewart) to have such a dominant car there. We've been bit so many times. He's been bit so many times. The 18 (Kyle Busch) has got good fortune it seems like. They've caught a couple of wins like this before. The whole FedEx Ground crew worked hard. We had great pit stops all day. I've got to thank Toyota and all of those guys for backing us up all year. We're going to take this finish."
TONY STEWART, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 13th
How do you find the energy to get back in the car with so much frustration with the way today finished? "It's easy. We're racers and that's what you do every week. Forty-three of us start the race each week and only one guy can win. It's just been the oddest year I've ever seen for this race team. It's disappointing for all of us on the Home Depot team. I guarantee you there's a crew chief down there that they're hiding sharp objects from right now. He (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) gave me the best car I've had since Charlotte. It's just frustrating. There's not anybody that's going to tell you any different than that. There's nothing you can do. What knew what to do and if there was something we could do about it, we'd change it. We will just keep plugging away each week and we'll get it turned around."
Do you take any comfort in the fact that the car and your team are performing very well? "I think so. None of the results this year are due to lack of effort. I got some of the best guys in the garage area and I've had them for 10 years and this is the worst string of bad luck we've ever seen. There's nothing we can do about it. There's a percentage of this industry that's called luck and you can't change it. All you can do is do like we've done today and work hard and crawl away from 29th and get to the lead. You've got to have some luck on your side and we just haven't had any of it this year."
How frustrating is this finish? "I don't know how to put it into words right now. Everybody's worked hard. It's not for a lack of effort by anybody on this Home Depot racing team by any means. It's just one of those years where everything that can go wrong goes wrong. We've had years where we couldn't do anything wrong, too. It's part of racing. The good thing is no matter what the outcome is today we get to do it again in six more days so we just do what we can."
Were you thinking about staying out with the weather coming? "That's part of racing and that's the gamble you take sometimes. The result today wasn't indicative of how our car was and how hard our team worked. Everybody did a great job. That's racing man. That's the way it happens sometimes."
If the weather didn't come, did you think your car was strong enough to move back up to the front? "I don't know. For every position that we came out we were behind guys and stuck behind guys. There was a lap car inside of us, too. We were faster than the guys in front of us, there was just no way to go."
How did the weather affect your finish today? "Well that really stinks. We had a top-five car -- at least a top-10 car. We were about eight laps short on fuel so they decided to bring me in for two tires and fuel on the last pit stop. Unfortunately for us, the rain started eight laps later. I hope this does not hurt us too badly in the points."
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 25th
What was the incident between yourself and Juan Pablo Montoya? "I have no idea. I got a run on him earlier and I got on the outside and he kind of kept coming up a little bit. I didn't turn down into him and just barely touched his quarter panel. Then I got by him in three and four and he run me up the race track in the left rear. Then we came to that caution flag and he thought he beat me to the caution flag and I was just trying to get around the 40 (Dario Franchitti) car, who was in front of us there and touched him on the door and he just turned left and spun me down the front straight away. I don't know what his beef is, but obviously NASCAR should probably fix it."
How much did you struggle with your set-up today? "It wasn't something that was going to get fixed on the race track. We needed to go to the garage and work on it. We missed something all weekend and we pretty much knew it was going to be a dismal day, but we tried to make the most of it. If we would have stayed out there then we could have won the race -- we could have been where the 2 (Kurt Busch) car was. I didn't feel like that was the way to win a race, just to stay out and play by the rain. I didn't feel like we had a shot with the guys that were going to be behind us. We did what we did to try to pass some more cars."
What does this do to your momentum after such a good weekend at Sonoma last week? "Every week is different. You can only go as fast as your car will allow you to go. This week we didn't have a very fast car so we struggled. Right now we're the points leaders, but if we're not tomorrow that's okay because we're in 'Chase' contention and that's what matters. Today was a frustrating day and all we can do is go into next week and try to run better."
MICHAEL McDOWELL, No. 00 Champion Mortgage Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
Finishing Position: 42nd
What happened to your car to take you out of the race? "I just missed a shift on the restart. We all got bunched up and don't know quite what happened. I just missed a gear, went from third to second instead of fourth so nothing Toyota did there. Our Toyota engines have been great. It was just a mistake on my part. I'm real sorry for the 00 Champion Mortgage guys. It's definitely going to hurt our points. Hopefully we will stay in the top-35 and make up some ground in Daytona."
Did your car work better as the race went on? "Yeah, we really struggled early on. It was really bad. We just kept bringing it up, kept bringing and we actually got it pretty competitive there. I don't think (Sam) Hornish was too happy with me passing him there right before the green because he was two laps down. It kind of lifted me up there on the restart and just got antsy and missed the shift."
What happened that took you out of the race? "I think it blew up based on all the smoke that was in the cockpit. We started off the race good and we just kept screwing the car up with each change we made. It's just frustrating. We're better than this as a team and we just need to have some good results."
-credit: toyota motorsports