Daytona 500: Front row team press conference, part 1

Daytona 500 Post-Qualifying Press Conference February 6, 2010 An interview with: DALE EARNHARDT, JR. MARK MARTIN RICK HENDRICK ALAN GUSTAFSON KERRY THARP: We are pleased to be joined in the media center now by our Coors Light pole winner for...

Daytona 500 Post-Qualifying Press Conference
February 6, 2010

An interview with:

KERRY THARP: We are pleased to be joined in the media center now by our Coors Light pole winner for the 2010 Daytona 500, and that is Mark Martin. He drives the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and his crew chief Alan Gustafson.

Mark, this is you're 49th career pole. This ties with you Bobby Isaac for eighth all time. This is your first Daytona 500 pole. Other history made today: You become the oldest driver in NASCAR history to sit on the pole for the Daytona 500 at 51 years of age.

MARK MARTIN: I love getting records. After the ones of the youngest to do that, I'm still after it. Can't get the youngest anymore.

KERRY THARP: Dale Jarrett, the previous oldest, 2005, he was 48 years old.

Also joining us on the podium is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He'll be on the outside pole for the 2010 Daytona 500. He drives the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Let's hear first from Mark Martin. What does it feel like to be the polesitter for the Daytona 500?

MARK MARTIN: It's just incredible to be behind the wheel of that 5 car. This is something that I've stood and watched for, I don't know, 26 years or so, with envy of the guys who sit on the front row. Last year was my first experience to do that with Alan in the 5 car. We were really close last year. The guys, you know, they just stepped up their game some more for this year.

Obviously we're all thrilled to have Dale Jr. on the outside. The 5 and the 88 shop, it's a really special accomplishment. But, you know, Alan I'm sure will tell you, you can't do this without incredible people doing in every area from the engine to the chassis to the body to the fabrication, painters, every piece of it.

But I've been around this business a long time and I've never seen anyone pull that whole group of people together better than Alan does.

KERRY THARP: Speaking of Alan, your crew chief, your thoughts about how that No. 5 car got around there today?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Really proud. Countless amount of hours that go into doing what we do to come down here and run. I think it's a testament to what the 5/88 shop can do. I'm really proud of the shop.

We were hard on them, to say the least, over the winter. Worked a lot of hours. For it to pay off instantly like this, to have the 5 and 88 on the front row is really gratifying for us. I think it will be a big shot in the arm for us for the rest of the year.

For the 5 in particular, we've chased this for a while. We've progressively gotten closer. Really proud of the guys. We finally got an opportunity to get it done today and we did. It was in a lot of adversity, wrecking that Shootout car, that was impressive for those guys to be able to basically build the third car and make sure that the primary 500 car was in great shape.

Super proud of the guys for that. Obviously, Hendrick engines is sensational in what they do, give us the best power to go out there and get the job done.

Just a great day to go around. To have Go Daddy on the car for first time, sit on the pole, it's great. It's a great start to a wonderful relationship, so I'm excited about that, too.

KERRY THARP: And, Dale, this matches your career best Daytona 500 start. You also were on the outside pole in 2003. Talk about your car. It's been pretty fast the last couple days. Talk about your qualifying effort out there today.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, we felt real good about our car yesterday. We would have liked to have had a couple more runs to try to get a little more speed out of it. I felt like it had some more opportunity.

We were able to put down a pretty good lap. I knew Mark was going to be really strong. His team did a great job making the adjustments from yesterday from what they learned in the single run we all had. I'm real proud to be on the front row with my teammate and Hendrick cars. It's a testament to the engine shop and the fabricators. Those guys really make the biggest difference at Daytona. We obviously got great individuals piecing the cars themselves together and making sure they're gonna do all the things they need to do in qualifying.

Just real proud for our sponsors, AMP Energy, and National Guard. They've been real supportive. We've been waiting what teams like a lifetime through the off-season to get to the racetrack to do something good for them, so that felt really good today.

KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Mark, Dale or Alan.

Q: I know Dale mentioned several times that success here is great, but it's really what happens once you get to California for the rest of the season. If you could address how confident you are that you can be up front there in two weeks.

MARK MARTIN: I feel good about it 'cause we did it all last year, so I feel good about it.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, you know, I agree with Dale. I think those tracks are more the standard configuration that we'll run, sort of the bread and butter.

But I think that what will carry over here is the work ethic, excitement, energy, determination of our shop as a whole to succeed is what is going to carry over and make us successful at California, Vegas, Bristol, Sonoma. You can take your pick, wherever you want to choose. That same work and determination that gets you to the top here gets you to the top there. I think it is a good precursor to what we can accomplish together. Hopefully get a championship for that building.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, what we do here at Daytona is incredibly important. There's no other race that we put so much preparation into. But the other tracks, like Fontana and Vegas, they're so similar to everything else we do throughout the year, I'm just anticipating getting to those tracks and seeing what kind of results we can put down.

Q: Mark, does this feel like you haven't skipped a beat from now you ended last year, getting the pole right off the bat? How does this feel for your sponsor, who was already getting so much publicity going into today?

MARK MARTIN: We did a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta January 12th and 13th, I believe it was. When we hit the racetrack, I knew we had picked up where we left off. It was just fun. We were fast. We just had a blast.

So, you know, I knew then that it was just gonna be an extension of last year. Certainly it is. Alan and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports has worked really, really hard. There's no one area that we were going to be able to improve from 2009 significantly because you saw what we did in 2009. So what they've done is they've worked so hard trying to get just a little bit in every area to be even better yet.

You know, the little input that I have on things, I've done the same thing. You know, I've looked deeper and worked harder. That's my commitment to the year, just like our race team, in every area.

You know, we're ready to go. Can't wait to go racing every week so that we get in a routine, a normal routine.

By the way, yeah, it's nice. I'm still under the radar compared to Danica. Even though we got the pole, we're still under the radar. That's cool. That's my style.

KERRY THARP: Let's hear from team owner Rick Hendrick. Rick, congratulations sweeping the front row for the 2010 Daytona 500. All four of your cars today in qualifying were top 10. How does it feel to have 1-2 in the starting lineup next week?

RICK HENDRICK: After watching the Shootout practice, I'm glad that we got two up front, hopefully they'll make it to be there.

This is a race all on its own when you come to Daytona. The engine shop, the chassis shop, everybody works hard. It's a team effort. It's like going to the Super Bowl and qualifying.

You know, I can't tell you how proud I am of Alan Gustafson and Lance McGrew. The challenge was we wanted one team with two cars, then they unloaded two cars that ran almost identical times. I know this is just one race, but no one here and no one outside of our company will know the effort that Alan and Lance put into this team and these two cars, and I'm really proud of 'em.

KERRY THARP: We'll go back for questions.

Q: Mark and Dale, just wanted to ask you, there seems to be an incredible amount of satisfaction about the result here today because it emanates from your shop, the 5 and 88, what that represents. Do you think it's premature to say right now the next challenge to Jimmie's reign will come from this shop in terms of what you accomplished today?

MARK MARTIN: We hope so. That's as far as I'll take that. Obviously, you know, that's our goal. But that also is everyone else's goal in Sprint Cup racing.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, I think we as a company want to put all four cars up front everywhere we go. That's sort of what we try to do. This is just a small step in the right direction for the 88. Hopefully we can be a part of what the other three teams have had success-wise in the past season this coming year.

Q: Dale Jr., you talked on the media tour about the changes that the team had undergone. There was some concern because you hadn't actually been on the track. Will you breathe any easier now that you've been behind the wheel of the car and seen what those changes have done or is there still a lot of questions in your mind?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we've just been a tiny bit on the racetrack. You're still thinking about how the car is going to be completely rebuilt for the race trim. We want to see what we do tonight. We feel like we got a pretty good package going into the Shootout. We can learn a little bit about how that works out for us. We'll have the rest of the week to work on our race trim for the 500.

You know, all this really does today is obviously pleases a ton of people back in Charlotte, gets all these guys on our teams that are traveling out here with us pumped up about this opportunity coming up not tonight but next week. It takes a little bit of pressure off, relieves a little bit of stress to be able to go out there and be able to do something good.

Q: Dale, Rick touched upon this. A casual fan may not appreciate this, but how important is it for you to know that you and your cars had an almost identical time to Mark's?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think I had a little bit more motor than he did, so I was a little disappointed (laughter). I think I had a horsepower on it or something. Rick probably won't want me to say more than that.

You know, it makes me feel good because I know Alan and Lance have really tried to work very, very close together. And when you can go to the racetrack and both cars are really similar like that, it reflects on the sharing of information and sharing of knowledge and ideas, especially when it comes to speedways like Daytona. There's plenty of written data, but there's a lot of ideas floating around, too, that can help you that aren't on paper.

It's really cool when those two guys can sort of mesh as well as they have. I think when they do that, they set a great example for everyone else in the shop to follow suit. It really changes the entire look of the building itself.

Q: Mark, is there a credible reason why we won't be asking you these same questions when you're 55 or 60?

MARK MARTIN: Don't go there (laughter). Don't go there. Let's not even talk about that.

I'm just loving life right now. I'm going to be loving life every time I get a chance to strap in that 5 car.

Q: Rick, you said a few minutes ago, tongue-in-cheek, that you hope both of those cars are still there next Sunday. Tonight how much will that Shootout say how much the 500 is going to be, Dale and Mark?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The Shootout is an entirely different event. Everybody goes into it with a different mind frame. You see a little bit more personality on the racetrack.

But I was glad that me and Mark had qualified on the front row so we don't have to compete against each other on Thursday. We can sort of settle our own little issues in our qualifying races separate from each other. Hopefully both of us can win a trophy.

But tonight's more about going out, we have kind of been limited on track time, especially Mark with the accident, so tonight's just about trying to see what shape the racetrack's in. Over every year it kind of changes a little bit, wears out a little more.

Obviously you're doing maybe something a little something different on the setup. We're out there to see what our cars will do, if they're good enough, obviously slinging up there and see if you can win the race.

Q: Will the 125 be more indicative of how rough the 500 will be?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't think it's going to be as rough as a lot of people might be anticipating because it's starting in the early afternoon, it's going to be run in the daylight hours, and the track itself will be a little slick. Throughout the day, you'll see a lot of close racing in the first 15 laps of tire run, but after that you're going to see a lot of guys sliding around, trying to hang on to their racecars, keeping up with each other. You're going to see a lot of guys from fifth on back, it really gets dirty as far as the air back there, you'll see a lot of guys challenge to try to pass each other, race with each other.

Tonight is probably about as rough as you'll see all week.

MARK MARTIN: Just try to throw it up in there. Just what Dale said. Tonight, that is what tonight is about. If you're 20th, it's going to be a long throw. Hail Mary.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports