DALE JARRETT, No. 44 UPS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing How does it feel coming to Daytona this year with just a few races remaining in your racing career? "I think the biggest thing -- as I was driving up to the tunnel -- I realized this...
DALE JARRETT, No. 44 UPS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
How does it feel coming to Daytona this year with just a few races remaining in your racing career? "I think the biggest thing -- as I was driving up to the tunnel -- I realized this is my last time coming here as a competitor. Now, I start looking at things a little bit differently in that respect. But, I'm ready for that to happen. Hopefully, these last few races will go well and we'll finish up on a good note."
Do you have an extra 'bounce' in your step after the performance of the Toyotas in testing? "There's no doubt that we come here better prepared than we were a year ago. Last year, we were trying to just show up and this year we're here with a purpose. A lot of things about the new car are playing into our hands at Michael Waltrip Racing and for Toyota -- so that's good. It makes the team a lot more competitive. I come here knowing that if we do things right throughout the week, and if I can make the right decisions next Sunday , anything can happen."
Do you have a chance to capture the pole for the Daytona 500? "I was told that when we were here in testing, that was pretty much all we had. I don't know how they can go back and make more speed. I know a lot of the other teams that were out there have speed left. I'll have a better handle on that after Saturday's practices -- to figure out exactly how close we'll be to that. A lot of the Toyotas were fast in testing, but I think when practice starts on Saturday you're going to see a lot of the other car makes step up, too. It's not going to be nearly as defined as what everyone has been thinking since the testing."
Will the 'Shootout' give you an advantage as you prepare for the Daytona 500? "The 'Shootout' is a great opportunity to get in your car and run a race, and get a leg up on everyone else that's not involved in it. I've always looked at it as an opportunity to get some extra practice that other guys don't get. That's the great thing about being a part of it. It's a race that's just about winning -- it's fun in that respect. It also gives you a chance to practice up and knock some of the rust off, as far as drafting goes. It's particularly important this year with these cars we've never raced here before. I think it's a huge advantage to be a part of the race Saturday night."
Is there a chance you'll have to race into the Daytona 500 during Thursday's qualifying 150s? "There's definitely a chance that could happen. That's the way that we've come here. We need to either run fast enough on Sunday, or be racing on Thursday -- that's the whole mindset. It's another thing you have to do, and as a driver it's a challenge that you have. It will be an interesting day, but it's the position we put ourselves in."
Has the top-35 rule changed the complexion of the qualifying races? "There are a lot of interesting scenarios. It could get quite interesting if you get a couple of cars that aren't locked-in that happen to qualify on the front row, and get locked-in on Sunday. I guess you take four cars on speed that are going to make it regardless of what happens on Thursday, and that only leaves two available spots. You're talking about the possibility of only one car transferring in each race. I think that changes how everyone else races, but it also has changed how the guys in the top-35 view that, too. You're looking at it more as a test session than a race to determine your starting spot more now than before."
How important is the champion's provisional? "It hasn't been anything that we've discussed. All of our talks have been about getting our cars prepared and getting to the point that we either qualify our car in, or race our way in on Thursday. I won't be paying any attention to Kurt (Busch) or anyone else. We have a job to do and we are going to be focused."
Does the smaller entry field for this year's Daytona 500 make it easier to make the race? "It's still probably the 49 good cars that you had to race last year. There's not a lot of difference. The numbers do make a difference when you get into that situation and look at what you're doing. It takes the potential of one or two having a problem that can make a huge difference. Whenever you're having an extra 18 cars there versus just six cars there -- that makes a difference. You'll monitor that side of it a lot more than you have in the past."
How big is this year's Daytona 500? "We've built this race up over the years -- I don't think we could say how important it is to the drivers and the teams. The significance of the 50th Daytona 500 is huge. If everybody around here would be honest, there's a little more incentive around here because of that. It's not because the car on the trophy is gold they're going to talk about who won the 50th running of the Daytona 500. You'd like nothing better than to have your name on this trophy."
What's your favorite Daytona 500 memory? "We can go back to the 1993 Daytona 500. My all-time favorite is Richard Petty and David Pearson wrecking coming to the checkered flag. It doesn't get any better than that. That has to be the all-time finish -- and I know they've finished three-wide here. But, once you've seen those two champions wreck it shows you how important this race was and still is to the drivers. That's my best memory."
What does Daytona mean to the Jarrett family? "It's a family event -- it's one of the few events where my family still comes. We've been doing this for a long time. It's a special event. I know it might sound corny to say it's such a huge event, but it really is. Especially for the Jarrett family -- even though my dad never won it and ran out of gas in 1963. He had himself in position to win I remember seeing that disappointment on his face and just how big this race was at an early age. It continues to only grow in my mind at this time."
How much time is invested in running the Daytona 500? "It's a great event that you have the most time to prepare for. You look forward to it for a couple of months and it's a huge event. Anytime you get in an event like this -- whether it's this race, or the Super Bowl or the World Series -- you're going to have things that change the way you view that event on the good side and on the bad side. We've been fortunate that we've had a lot of great things happen, even a s recent as last year's finish, that people remember and will continue to talk about for a long time. That's what makes this event even more special."
What would you like people to say about your career as you move to the television booth? "I don't know that it's necessarily what I accomplished, but more that people understand that I have a huge passion for this sport, and that when I was a driver I drove to win each and every time I got behind the wheel. That I'm a competitor and decisions that I made as a driver had this sport's best interests -- that's what I was after. I was taught that about my Dad and by my friend Dale Earnhardt -- that that's what is good. I'm not asking everyone to remember stats from my career -- I hope the fans understand I gave a lot of time and effort to make this a better sport."
Will it be hard to walk away after these first five races? "No. Contending for a win would make it easier because I want to leave the race car and the race team in good hands for David Reutimann to come in and continue on. It would be easier for me if we could be competitive."
What is the main thing that Toyota still needs? "It's a combination. We're working with their chassis a lot more so that's making it a lot better. That's also going to make the engines perform a lot better when the cars drive better. They worked extremely hard in listening to the drivers last year as we complained about what we wanted with the power. They've done a good job of that and they'll have to continue to do that because everyone else doesn't sit still. To say there's one particular area -- there's not really one area -- you just have to continue to get better in all areas."
How far has Toyota come in a year? "It's amazing what has happened in a year's time. There was so much happening leading up to the beginning of last year trying to get prepared. It was an impossible task -- impossible for Toyota to think they could be remotely competitive from the beginning because there were too many things involved to make that happen. For us at Michael Waltrip Racing -- to start up three teams and think we could assemble everything that we needed to -- was a huge undertaking. All of the hard work and effort that everyone continued to put forth is paying off now. We're still not where we need to be, but the addition of Joe Gibbs Racing into the Toyota camp has been a huge benefit already and we haven't even run a race. That will just continue -- Toyota's made huge strides and everyone is working hard."
How did Michael Waltrip handle the difficult first season he faced? "How he did it -- I'm not sure I can answer that. It shows what an amazing person he really is. It would have broken most people. He went into something and put his heart and soul into the whole thing. He literally wagered his entire life in starting up this race team, and to have a lot of things not go his way would ha ve broken most people. He has a strong mind and he's a good person -- I think he learned a lot as an owner last year. I have a huge amount of respect for him and what he's been able to accomplish in the sport and the way he went about realizing that he wasn't going to be able to do it completely on his own. He went out and talked to people and got an investor. This is a tough business and a very expensive business -- to get aligned with a good partner is very important. I don't know how he did it mentally and physically but he did. He's a better person because he was able to do all that and will be a better driver and owner as we move forward."
How much has MWR improved? "If we needed to improve 100 percent, then we've probably improved 75 or 80 percent to this point. It's amazing the turnaround because we're looking at things so differently. Instead of just talking about getting particular cars to the race track we're talking about how we can make our cars better before we even get to the race track. We now have the time and the people to make those things happen. We have people in place that are organizing -- we're not just talking about Daytona, California and Vegas -- we're getting ready for the road courses and getting ready for the upcoming races at Charlotte. That's how far ahead we are now in getting ourselves prepared. There's just no comparison as to what took place last year and what we'll show up with here this year."
-credit: toyota motorsports