Daytona 500: Front row team press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Alan, we're hearing about you and Lance working together. Can you speak to how what you are doing specifically as you can. How is it different from last year? ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, it sounds very simple but it's...

Continued from part 1

Q: Alan, we're hearing about you and Lance working together. Can you speak to how what you are doing specifically as you can. How is it different from last year?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, it sounds very simple but it's very complex to get two racers who typically are very egotistical people to get along real well and cooperate in the direction of the shop. For us, that's the key. When you use 85 people, what we've got to do is get 85 people to produce as much as they possibly can. That's how you're the fastest, that's how you're the best, that's how you win poles, that's how you win races.

If you take 42 of them, 43 of them, whatever, go this way, go that way, it's counterproductive. You'll go over the same things that the other guys went over and you won't get as far.

We've got to between the two of us work out the direction of that shop so when that shop gets the direction, it's sharp as an arrow. That's the key. We have the best people in the sport. If we tell them exactly what we need, I guarantee you they will get you exactly what you want.

That's what we're focused on doing, giving them really good direction, letting these guys that Mr. Hendrick graciously got for us, let them go do their thing. It's a tough thing to do. We have to race each other, as we have here. This is a great example. You have two groups of race teams, two drivers, two crew chiefs who have worked all winter long, they were separated by whatever it is, hundredths of a second.

There's a guy on the pole, there's a guy on the outside. There can be some issues with that, there can be some ramifications. But that's what we've got to understand, it's all for the 5/88 Hendrick Motorsports.

It gets tough. I'm real excited about. The 11 years I've been there, this is the best position we've been in to go win a championship. This is the best position we've been in to have out two teams succeed. I don't see why that won't happen.

Q: Is that what the problem was last year?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I wouldn't go that far, but I would say it definitely was not as good as it needed to be. We needed to improve. We needed to be more efficient. We needed to play off each other more. We needed to make that shop operate as one. We've done that now. It took a lot of work.

This is a big deal. You can say, does this mean anything about Vegas, indicative of performance. Well, maybe not. But it is a big deal to those guys who have worked 24/7 that we went in there and shook up their lives three months ago and said, This is what is happening. Three months ago, you're building this for the 5, now you're building this for the 5/88.

It's a positive thing. There's a lot of labor that goes behind it. This is a big shot in the arm for those guys that have gone through all those changes, all the labor of us switching over components, challenging those guys to make these racecars better.

This is a quick shot in the arm for them to show that, hey, this is the correct path to go on. If we do follow this road, we're going to be successful.

Q: Mark, has anyone counted how many times you've said the word 'fun' in the last 14 or 15 months?

MARK MARTIN: I know people are sick of it, but that's just too bad (laughter).

Q: I don't think they're sick of it. Are you going to have to redefine the word in 2010?

MARK MARTIN: Well, 2010 will be a challenge to have as much fun as we had in 2009 because part of the time, I don't know about Alan, maybe not for Alan but for me, I was surprising myself. It was a surprise. And so we have higher expectations, or at least I do, you know, this year.

But it's still fun. It's awesome. Succeed or fail, we're doing it together. Somehow or another, you know, it's our commitment to he and I, you know, that we're gonna have fun doing it even when it doesn't go well. We're going to do our best to be having fun. Real competitive. Sometimes it's hard to do that when you're as competitive as he and I are.

Q: Mark and Dale, since you're starting up front in the 150s, what's your modus operandi? Go all out? Protect your car?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I like the fact no matter what you do in that race, you're gonna start second, as long as you can bring the car back. So if you're sitting there with a decent shot at trying to make a move to the win, you can do it a lot easier without much risk. If it doesn't work out, you finish fifth or 10th, whatever, you haven't really lost anything as far as your starting position for the 500.

You can might go for a move at the end that may or may not pay off. So that's about it. Other than that, I mean, you know, you might want to try to do a little better job of taking care of your car the first half of that race.

I don't know. You can't really worry too much about that situation that you're in as far as, you know, being on the front row and being guaranteed. You just got to go out there and try to win.

MARK MARTIN: I've been here a lot of times. I've won an IROC race and a Bud Shootout, so that's all. So what do you think I'm going to be trying to do (smiling)? I'm going to be trying to win me a race. And the Thursday comes before Sunday, so I'm going to be trying to get Thursday first (smiling).

Q: Alan, what is your situation on cars? I assume you're using your backup for tonight. Will you be able to get another one down here? And, Rick, Junior said he thought his motor was better. Was that intentional? Did you give him your best one?

RICK HENDRICK: They're all good (smiling). That is true. I think there's six motors within one and a half horsepower of each other. I don't know that you can measure that, so...

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, the car that we wrecked on Thursday night is getting painted right now. So it's fixed and it will be back here Wednesday at our disposal if we so need.

The car that Mark is going to drive tonight is actually a brand-new car. The way it turned out, you know, as you go through this process, you learn things. It very well may be our best car. There's some indications that make us feel that way. We'll see how it goes.

I told Mark today that those guys have worked really hard. We took that car back. They drove all night. They got it in at 4, stripped the motor out of it, they put a clip on it yesterday. The guys hung the body on it from yesterday afternoon till 5 in the morning. They're started working on it and they are going to paint it tonight.

The point to Mark is they're not doing all that work to just kind of save a car. We're going to go out there and race hard tonight and try to go ahead to get a big Budweiser trophy. That's our goal.

Really proud of what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it, have that car fixed, be ready to be back here as a backup on Wednesday in case something goes wrong tonight is a great comfort. There's not a lot of companies that can handle that.

Q: Alan, all but about 15 today broke the pole speed from last year. Is that the bigger plate?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: The wicker is a pretty significant factor. It's an eighth smaller with the plate. The endplates they put on add some drag, so that would be a little bit of a deduction.

I think the big jump in speed we saw was the wind down the back. Over where we ran yesterday, we were running -- Dale ran a 7-0, we ran a 7-1, yesterday we were running in the O's and teens. Half of that is probably tune-up, half of that is wind condition. So that was a big contributor to the jump in the speed.

Q: Mark and Dale, the close proximity of your teammates, is the race too long to count on being able to hook up with teammates for partners or is it hit or miss towards the end? Can you count on it because you're all pretty much up near the front at the start?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The race is really long. You'll see just about everybody at some point in time in the field. If you're in a position to work with your teammates, you obviously do it. If they're in a side-by-side situation, you try to get up there and help 'em out of it. That's just kind of how you do it.

At the end of the race, though, you kind of got to do whatever you think you need to do to put yourself in position to win the race. That's kind of how you have to play it at the end because you definitely don't want to make the wrong move trying to save someone else's tail. That's not what you're in the race for. The last few laps, it upsets your team more than anything.

I've done that myself. I've lost some races, making the wrong move, trying to help somebody when I should have been trying to win the race for myself or win for my sponsors.

Q: Rick, the driver to your immediate right kind of beat himself up toward the end of last season. He seems to be more self-confident going into the season this year. What has helped turn Dale around this year?

RICK HENDRICK: He knows how hard we worked as an organization. We feel like we let him down last year. We tried, but we were just not getting it done. Again, I don't know anybody in that garage that would have taken on the task that Alan did with Lance. And the two of them, I told them today, I was as proud of them as if they had won a championship because they sat down and came up with a game plan and really went to work.

Everybody in the organization has been amazed at the amount of effort. Everybody is smiling in that group. They kind of made a commitment. I think when Junior sees that kind of commitment, he's been working hard. We had good opportunities towards the end of the year, and no matter how good we were running, something was going to happen. We all felt like we were snake bit. So it was really good to wipe the slate clean.

We're committed. I told him when he came over here, I was going to give him the best stuff I could. I think I tried, but I think we could do better, and we have.

And to have Mark, who is an engineer driver extraordinaire, I said this, and I'll say it again, he's helped the whole organization. I've always hated to come to Daytona when I had to race against Dale, he and his daddy, you know, because they're unbelievable at a plate race, anywhere they go.

I'm just really excited. We worked hard. I'm proud of the guys. But Alan and Lance and Mark and Dale deserve all the credit. We got a long road to go. To see Mark as fired up as he is, committed as he is, as good as he is, run second last year to Jimmie when Jimmie had almost a picture perfect year, we're excited about the season.

But, you know, nobody will ever know the amount of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that Alan and Lance have put into getting these cars down here and laying the groundwork for the week to come.

KERRY THARP: We'll take a couple more questions.

Q: Alan and Mark, as guys with Daytona ties, is this something you can kind of cross off your to-do list as far as something you wanted to get done or is it just another pole?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: For me, it's a huge deal. Being a crew chief, this is a situation where you can really shine. You've got opportunity to put a well-engineered, fast car out there, run faster than anybody else for the biggest race of the year. If that wasn't enough, I grew up about five miles, and I could hear these cars in my backyard when I was six years old. So I came here for years and years, this place, the speed, the cars, watched the great crew chiefs do it, you know, from Dale Inman all the way through the list, Gary DeHart, Jack Knaus, Ray Evernham, take your pick. They've all done it. And now fortunately I've been fortunate enough to accomplish that feat.

Then when my hero is driving the car makes it that much sweeter. It's really cool for me. Side note: When you can get a record with Mark, Mark has enough records to have his own record book, but when you can get a new one with him, we've done it a few times since he drove his car, done something he's never done in his career, be on the pole for the Daytona 500, something he's never done, I'm really proud to be able to do something he's never done, because he's done an awful lot. That's really cool for me, too.

Q: Mark, just a couple years ago you were talking about pulling back, slowing down, enjoying other non-race aspects of your life. Now you're back having more fun than ever.

MARK MARTIN: I did that, though. Don't forget, I talked about it and did it.

Q: What did you find out you missed? Talk about the process of jumping back in full force.

MARK MARTIN: I was happy. I had conceded myself and my career to what I was doing. I was very fortunate to drive the 01, nearly win the Daytona 500, and to drive the 8 car, fast racecar, have a lot of fun, do it on my terms. And I wasn't really at the time missing anything.

But when I was presented the opportunity to drive the 5 car, and I had two near misses in the 8 car to winning, I almost won two different races in the 8 car. I had a chance to drive the 5 car, I knew more than anything else, I knew that I would regret for the rest of my life not taking that opportunity.

And, boy, was I right about that. And so, you know, I'm the luckiest guy around because it looks like I've done so many things right, but really I've just been lucky and stumbled around. I've just stumbled around. I have just stumbled around, fell in this 5 car, and it's the best thing that has ever happened to me, you know.

I'm so happy to be at the racetrack. There's no place in the world that I'd rather be. I've said that before. There's no place in the world I'd rather be.

KERRY THARP: Thank you, gentlemen. Good luck the remainder of SpeedWeeks.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ray Evernham
Teams Hendrick Motorsports