Daytona 500 Media Day Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Brian Vickers STERLING MARLIN, NO. 14 WASTE MANAGEMENT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS: ON RUSTY WALLACE: "I've known Rusty for a long time and we've always gotten along great. At...
Daytona 500 Media Day
Sterling Marlin, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Brian Vickers
STERLING MARLIN, NO. 14 WASTE MANAGEMENT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:
ON RUSTY WALLACE: "I've known Rusty for a long time and we've always gotten along great. At the Las Vegas test, I saw the No. 2 car go by and for a minute I thought it was still Rusty. Well no, it's not Rusty. He'll still be around and we'll get to see him at the race track."
HOW WILL HE DO ON TV? "Oh, he'll do good. He's always talked real good. He can b.s. a whole lot, so he's good at it."
ON THE 13 GALLON FUEL CELLS AT TALLADEGA AND DAYTONA, IS THE JURY STILL OUT OR IS IT NOW A GOOD THING? "I don't think it was a good decision. Nobody can get away from anybody. They still bunch up. I wish it was still a 22-gallon cell where you can more 55 laps. They won't separate the cars from these big packs at Daytona and Talladega. We hadn't got a run that long on fuel. The best kind of car comes to the top. To put a 13-gallon cell in it didn't separate them and it costs more money. So I'd go back to 22 if I had a vote in it."
IS THIS MORE OF A HANDLING TRACK THAN A HORSEPOWER TRACK? "Yeah, it can get pretty tricky. It hasn't been paved since 1979, I guess. Your car gets too tight a lot up in traffic off the corners. You've got to get up off the gas. Talladega is just totally different. You're just on the mat all day and handling doesn't really come into play."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT PLATE RACING? "Well, I wish we could run little faster. I think the magic number is somewhere around 198 or 200 mph. That would separate the cars more. I don't know what you do at Talladega to separate them. If you look back to the mid-90's and early 90's we could separate for some reason. I don't know why. I don't know if the competition is closed up. The motors are within five or six horsepower and the bodies, you really can't trick them up like you used to because you've got all them templates and stuff. They've really kind of made them like IROC cars. Maybe that's why we can't separate, I don't know."
WHO WOULD YOU PICK TO RUN WITH AT DAYTONA? "Dale Jr. and Tony. They really run good here. They run good and handle good. If you can stay right with them two, I think you'll be in business."
ARE THESE TRACKS BORING OR EXCITING OR SCARY? WHAT'S IT LIKE WHEN YOU'RE IN ONE OF THOSE PACKS FOR A LONG TIME? "Well, it's just kind of like running three or four wide on the Interstate. If somebody cuts somebody off, then here you go. That's what we want to get away from or try to. At Daytona, when you restart and everybody has new tires on. You've got to watch Daytona for being three deep cause you'll get in trouble pretty quick if you don't watch - like off turn 2 the middle car can really get tight and you can wash up into somebody. You've got to be on your toes when you're in three deep here -- especially if you're in the middle."
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THIS YEAR? "Last year we had a bad year, really. But we ran good at some tracks. And when we did run good, something blew up or something stupid. We had a good shot to win Dover last year and blew up. If I didn't think I could do it, I'd stay back in Tennessee and sit on a bulldozer. But I know we can still win a race. We have a good shot in this car. The car we have here is as good a car as I had back in '94 and '95 when we won and had a good race team. We've got Hendrick motors and we've got a great race team.
ON THE KEY TO WINNING DAYTONA: "You've got to have a good car to go through the traffic. We didn't run good here last July 4th. We had a terrible car. You couldn't go anywhere with it. If it was wide open, it would drive away from you. So you've got to have a good handling car. Tony Stewart's car always seems to drive good here and so does Dale Jr's car. They've got good power. When you've got all that, you can drive to the front. But if the car doesn't drive good or you're off on the motor, you ain't going to take a 15th place car and win the thing."
TERRY LABONTE, NO 44 and NO. 96 CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:
AFTER DALE EARNHARDT'S CRASH HERE, DO YOU THINK EVERYONE TOOK A MUCH QUICKER LOOK AT SAFETY? "I think everybody probably did, I think everybody probably looked at it and said 'Oh Man'. A lot of the technology that we have now wasn't there. They were working with the safer barriers; there were so many crazy ideas out there. People were coming up with and trying all kinds of different things, just trying something just to try it. They had to test all of these ideas out, trying to get the right feel and something that would work. That is what they did and now every track has safer barriers. They implemented it fast and got it working."
DOES THE MEMORY OF DALE EARNHARDT STILL POP UP EVERY ONCE AND A WHILE? "Sure, it is pretty obvious when you drive through any race track and there are #3 flags around everywhere and still fans with hats, shirts and jackets. We are constantly reminded of him."
YOU HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO PROVE IN THIS SPORT, IS IT JUST A CASE OF STILL HAVING THAT ITCH YOU NEED TO SCRATCH? "We are running a limited schedule and we would love to go out and run good in every race we enter. That is definitely what our goal is. Last year we had a few good races, but never really have one good one from start to finish. We have worked on trying to get our team a little bit stronger on pit road. It is really cool driving for Rick (Hendrick). I get to pick the races that I want to run. I am probably the only part time guy going to Pocono twice. I am probably one of the only guys that likes Pocono. I like Pocono. It is a neat deal to pick the tracks you want to go ran at.
WHAT HAVE YOU GOT GOING FOR JUSTIN (LABONTE) THIS YEAR? "We don't have really anything going for him this year. We basically dropped the ball on that deal. It is probably my own fault because I was told we had the sponsor for like three months so we let a couple of other opportunities go that came along I didn't pursue because I took somebody's word on it and it wasn't at all the case. I told Justin that I messed him up a little bit, it was no one's fault but mine and I feel bad."
IF YOU WERE TO WIN THIS DAYTONA RACE, DO YOU HAVE A PLACE IN YOUR HOUSE SOMEWHERE FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY? "Roger (Staubach, team owner) told me he was going to give me his Heisman trophy if I won the Daytona 500. I said 'Cool, I'm going to take it', for at least a couple of weeks. What has really been funny is all my friends have called and offered me their bowling trophies and things like that, so if we win, we are going to have quite a collection of awards around the house.
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO FINISHING UP YOUR CAREER THIS SEASON? "Yes, I am. Someone asked me the other day if it was kind of sad and I guess it could be a little sad if you think about it. It is different knowing that this is my last year, but I am fine with it. So it might be kind of sad for a few minutes but then after that, it isn't. I had actually set this year in my mind a while ago and said to myself that I wasn't going to race beyond this year. And this is this year."
IF YOU THOUGHT IF THIS TEAM COULD BE IN THE CHASE, WOULD THAT CHANGE YOUR MIND? "That is so tough to do. Yes, it would probably change something. But that is hard to get in the top-10, look at the guys that missed it last season. That just shows you how tough it is out there. If I thought I had a 90% chance of being in the top-10, I would run all the races, you know what I mean. The commitment on the drivers is the easy part. It is getting all the right people in place and getting them working well together. I have run a long time, won a couple of championships so this is my final year. My final race will be at Texas Motor Speedway in November and I am not coming back and running trucks or anything like that."
HOW WELL DO YOU THINK THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU AND TONY (RAINES) IS GOING TO WORK? "I think it is a great opportunity for Tony. I met Tony several years ago when I raced against in him the ASA, the only one I ever ran. It was in Topeka, Kansas. I finished second and he won it. I have always thought Tony did an awful lot with some teams that didn't have so much to work with. I think it is a great opportunity for him."
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE WITH ABOUT 10 LAPS TO GO IN THE 500 NEXT WEEK? " You always want to be first or second or third if your car is good enough. You never know how it is going to play out with caution flags, strategy and tires, but if your car handles good and is strong enough, you want to definitely be up in the top-five. This place has a tendency on long runs to spread the cars out more than Talladega."
HOW IS THE CREW WORKING TOGETHER? "I think they did good at the test. They seem to be working together well. That is a big part of it, I think they have a lot of good people. That is the hard part of putting together a new team. Everyone is experienced but they have never worked together as a team. Everybody is really quiet on the team, I mean everybody. I thought I was quiet, I am quiet, but around the team, they are quieter than I. Philippe (Lopez, crew chief) hired everybody; you can really see that in the whole group of people. He has no loudmouths, no one that is not going to fit it. It looks he did a good job of picking people who will fit in together. Not to say they will always be in agreement about everything, but everyone is there for the team and not for themselves."
BILL ELLIOTT, NO. 36 GINN CLUBS AND RESORT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:
DO YOU MISS BEING A FULL TIME DRIVER IN NEXTEL CUP? "I don't miss the feeling you have when you get up feeling so beat up from racing so hard the day before. Regardless of how you feel on Monday, you are off testing on Tuesday and Wednesday then back at another track on Friday. But I do miss the people, the competitiveness of the sport, I like to compete. That is what drew me into this sport I don't know how many ever years ago it was. I guess I didn't realize how much you come to depend on that as time goes on. But I really enjoy where I am at today, being able to pick and choose what races I run. It took a long time for me to get to this point and now that I am here, it is very important to me.
ARE YOU STILL COMPETING IN SNOWBOARDING OR DO YOU FOLLOW SNOWBOARDING? "I have never competed in snowboarding, but my son is in a snowboarding school. Last Saturday they had a little competition and went in the half pipe. He doesn't go very high, he doesn't do a lot of the tricks the other kids do when they do some of the jumps. But to watch some of these kids do the things they do is just amazing. It is just unreal what some of those guys can do. Whether you are driving a sprint car race or in a NASCAR race, when you are on your game and everything is going right, what you can do and how everything can come together. It is the same for those guys on those boards. I went in the half pipe but I didn't go very far. I ended up looking like Superman going down it."
WITH HAVING JUST A PART TIME TEAM, CAN YOU BE A THREAT IN A RACE? "We will see. I would like to think so, at least an opportunity running up front. To me, this race track (Daytona International Speedway) is unlike an Atlanta and some of the other places where you can strategize, the crew can be 80% to 90% rather than 100% sharp and still have a good run Sunday afternoon, still put yourself in a position to win. You can't do that last four tire stop, come in and get a little shot of gas or do whatever else you want to do and still put yourself in a position to win. Here, you have to have good teammates to get you in the right position as well as the crew. With Joe (Nemechek) and Sterling (Marlin) both on this team, they have been here enough and have been good enough; we can put all three cars in the right position at the end of the race. I think Joe finished fifth in the 500 last year and the team qualified this car in the top-10 for the July race and we got some awfully good speeds out of it at testing, so we will see."
YOU HAVE HAD WINNING CARS HERE BEFORE, HOW GOOD IS THE CAR YOU HAVE NOW COMPARED TO THEM? "It is good, it is a really good car. It is a very competitive car, capable of winning. You have to put yourself in the right position. How you come into Daytona, makes a big different. To me, if you unload off the truck, everything goes just right, you get through the 'Room of Doom' (NASCAR Tech) and then you go out and have good runs, that kind of starts the ball rolling. By how all that goes, you can kind of tell if you are going to have a good Daytona week by they way things come together early. For us, we had a good test, so now if we can continue to put it together the next few days, getting ready for qualifying on Sunday and then the 125s on Thursday. "
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO? YOU HAVE ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE A FORD MAN SO DO YOU HAVE ANY FEELINGS ABOUT THE FORD/CHEVROLET THING? "It seems to run well. I have driven Chevrolets in the past and this one is a good car. I drove Dodge the last five years. This is an opportunity for me. When Jay Frye came to me, I wasn't looking a brand as much as I was looking for the right opportunity. If Jack Roush or someone else had come to me and said there was an opportunity for me, it would have been the same thing. I chose it as that, an opportunity and look past everything else. For me it is an opportunity to come run the Daytona 500 and I am just glad to be here."
DO YOU THINK THERE ARE GOOD OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE FOR VETERAN DRIVERS? "I think there are opportunities out there for drivers to be here a longer period of time. Rusty (Wallace) quit cold turkey more than anybody. For me, as hard as I worked and as long as I have been in to it, I wanted to have options and not quit cold turkey. I wanted to be able to do it my way. Whenever you say you aren't driving any more, like Mark (Martin) who was going to quit the end of last year, then things changed. I didn't want to put myself in a box, I wanted to have a few options to take advantage of the opportunities."
IF YOU HAD A BAD CRASH, WOULD THAT CHANGE ANYTHING FOR YOU? "I am sure that would play in to things but if you think about that side of it, you probably wouldn't have gotten into one of these things in the first place. It is like the car I ran 210 here with back in '87, I still have that car back at the shop and every time I walk by it, I cringe. I would have hated to have known what would happen if you wrecked that thing at 210 (mph) around this place. It is part of the sport though."
BRIAN VICKERS, NO. 25 GMAC CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS
COMING INTO THIS SEASON, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE WHERE YOU NEED TO BE BASED ON YOUR RESULTS THE SECOND HALF OF LAST YEAR? "I think we need to continue the momentum we had the last half of last season. I think we can always improve; everybody can, no matter what they do. But if we can continue or slightly improve from where we were, we will be up where we want and need to be. There are races we should have won but we didn't. There was a streak of races, I don't know the exact count, where we were earning the second most points of anyone out there during the time when Tony was clicking off one win after another. That doesn't happen very often, so if you put that aside, we were doing awesome. If we continue that, it would be pretty good. We need to keep that up and still constantly try to improve."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS REALLY ONLY YOUR SECOND SEASON IN CUP? "This really isn't my second, it is my third. But I do try to keep in mind the circumstances that were involved in 2004 and 2005. In 2004, we knew going in that it wasn't going to happen overnight, it was going to be an uphill battle. The 25 car hadn't been, for whatever reasons, where it needed to be in 10 years. That wasn't going to change overnight. Then last year, we were going through a lot of changes, we had good people in place, but just because you put good people together, it doesn't mean that things are going to go together like they should. The chemistry has to be there, they have to learn each other, they have to work together and they have to come together, that held us back at the beginning of last season. The last half of the season we got the team where we needed to be and we were working together the way we needed to do and it showed."
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FOR YOUNG DRIVERS TO REMAIN JUST A RACE CAR DRIVER AND NOT GET OVERWHELMED BY THE ROCK STAR PART OF THIS SPORT? "No doubt there is a challenge there, but I think every person is going to handle it differently. Some people are going to handle it better than others, some are just going to have to be just a race car driver and some are going to be able to do both. Jeff Gordon is a perfect example of how to do both. He is the master at taking those opportunities and making the best of them but still staying focused on his team and what he is doing on the race track and loving what he does. It depends on what your goals and desires are. I think it is possible for us to do both, just like it is for everybody else. There is a lot of it out there and you have to be very very careful especially when you are young. Not only does that make it worse because you aren't experienced in handling those types of situations but you aren't that experienced at life. It is kind of a double whammy. You have more people trying to take advantage of drivers. We have people and companies that are trying to do good things. You know the things that GMAC comes in and does and Chevy comes in and does or Garnier is for the good of the whole program and all sides involved. Then there are things that come along and are presented to new young drivers as this sport grows, and drivers are getting younger and that makes the situation even worse; they are trying to take advantage of us. You have to be very cautious about that. You have to surround yourself with good people. That is the important thing. Nobody can expect an 18 year old or a 20 year old to come into a sport and act like and know as much as a 40 year old. There is more expected of them than maybe some others and they have a lot to live up to and they have to have good people around them because when you are 18, you just don't have the knowledge or experience to handle it."
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU WITH THE SUPERSPEEDWAY RACES NOW THAT YOU HAVE A FEW UNDER YOUR BELT? "It is not easy. I have learned a lot. It is a deal where your learning curve takes off like a rocket the first year at a super speedway race. Then it stops climbing so quickly but still continues to rise more gradually. The guys that have been doing it longer have an advantage, without a doubt. The experience level does change drastically from the first year to the second, but the guys that have been doing it for 12 or 15 years have a huge advantage. You start to close the gap after you get four or five years but they still have you because they have been doing it so long. I love Superspeedway racing. Some guys love it, some hate it, but I absolutely love it. It is a chess match at 200 mph. The adrenaline is running, it is a rush and a lot of fun. "