JOHN ANDRETTI - No. 14 VB/APlus at Sunoco Taurus WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT DAYTONA? "Way back when, we're an open-wheel racing family, but Mario actually won the Daytona 500 in '67 before he won the Indianapolis 500 which is a little bit odd...
JOHN ANDRETTI - No. 14 VB/APlus at Sunoco Taurus
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT DAYTONA? "Way back when, we're an open-wheel racing family, but Mario actually won the Daytona 500 in '67 before he won the Indianapolis 500 which is a little bit odd I guess. But you always look forward to it. It was like the racing fix to get the year started. You tend to see racing a lot on television and now all of a sudden you can turn it on and see the Daytona 500 and see all the great names that you heard about - the Pettys, the Allisons, the Yarboroughs and all them. I think Cale Yarborough kept winning because they were on TV, so that even elevated what was going on so you started learning more and more about what was going on. Even when I made the switch, I think my uncle was probably the only one that could understand what I was doing. My dad was like, 'What are you going racing there for?' I could do sports car racing. I could still do Indy car racing, but when I got to do some racing I thought, 'This is like an all-out war. This is like Saturday night racing that we grew up in when we raced sprints and midgets in USAC.' I really loved it so it all starts up again with the Daytona 500. What made it great is it started NASCAR. It's the pinnacle of all the races. It's the one you feel like that if you come out of here and do well, you carry that for a long time. If you come out of here and do poorly, you carry that on your shoulders for a long time as well."
WHAT ABOUT THE DEI CARS HERE? "I don't know. I think that things change. I think for a while it was Hendrick or Yates and DEI has been very, very tough. DEI is a great organization. There's no doubt about it. I was in a DEI car last year and obviously one won the race, so they're gonna be very, very tough. We saw Hendrick gang up on them in the July race here, I think, so as long as you've got a teammate or a partner - somebody that's gonna push you - I think that's gonna be the key. Michael and Junior work awfully good together. They're both awesome drafters. That's been part of DEI's success, but part of it has also been the work they do behind the scenes. They don't take anything for granted. They work extremely hard and spend an awful lot of money to make this program successful. I got to see all of that and I actually have a couple people from that program working on my program, so we know how intense that is and we know what the battle is. We're not there, but we're gonna take as much of the fight as we can to them and then, who knows? I mean, you can come down pit road with a flat tire. I mean, I've done it before here and lost this race, so it would be OK if somebody else did it other than me if it helps me (laughing)."
AS A NEW TEAM HOW DO YOU COMPETE AGAINST DEI? "You take the people that you have and two people that are quality people - that have been a part of DEI and are part of this program are Dave Charpentier and Vic Radisi. There are a lot more tricks. DEI has got great horsepower. They do a lot of work on their bodies. They did a lot of testing this year that people don't know about, but we know about it. They're focused in on winning the championship, it's not just the Daytona 500. Let's not give up winning these races because we can't give up winning these races either is their attitude. They're a tremendous organization. Just like when Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon got going in this sport they raised the bar. DEI has raised the bar, so it's a good place to go because it just makes you work harder. We're working as hard as we can. Whether you can compete against them or not, you don't know but you know what? Five hundred miles is a long race and some things do have to go your way. You have to come to pit road a few times, too."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR CONFIDENCE LEVEL? "I think that last year we really struggled because we never really race that much, but I think the year before that when everything happened to me it caught me by surprise. It was sort of like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat. It was something I didn't expect and it gave me a lot time to reflect on racing and if I wanted to do it and how much I missed it. I described it a little bit because lent is coming up. You give up something for lent and then you find out how much you miss it and that's like me. I gave up something and I had the ability where I could stand back and see my kids do things and try to become a dad, but still there was a part of me that was crawling away and dying. My wife is happy that I'm doing this again. Even though the fight is tough and we know we're gonna get beat up and our nose is gonna get bloody a lot, I like that kind of fight. I like being in a battle and I love every part of it, so I had to come back. I don't care about the bad days because they just make us work harder for the good days and appreciate them all that much more."
WAS IT A HARD DECISION TO COME BACK? "No. I mean, it's easy to want to do what you've always done when you love what you do. I always said that I was lucky. I went to work and looked forward to going to work. I hated the days off, so now I'm back at it. I guess you can't call it work if you love doing it because work is something you're supposed to hate doing. I guess I was working staying at home and I guess just watching the races on TV was work to me. Now I'm back doing what I love to do."
CAN NASCAR DO ANYTHING TO LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD? "I think they do everyday and I think they work hard at it. Sometimes it's almost like the playing field gets so even that it changes everything. Our times here now at Daytona are more like Bristol was three or four years ago. It's so tight. I think the only thing left to do is just give us a car and tell us to run it. Here's a car. Bring your decals and put it on. They're doing a great job. They actually have a much harder job of making it be a fair playing field, so I commend them for the work that they do because I wouldn't want to be on that side."
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW RULES AS A NEW TEAM? "I think you spend so much time living in your own little world that you only see how it impacts your world. It makes my world cloudy and rainy with some snow and a little bit of hail with the new rules. Two or three years ago it would have been great for me because there was no problem to fit into the new rules, but I look at it and say that I think it was probably something that was overdue. I think it's good that they protect the people that have been a part of this sport and us new guys have to fight our way in. If we fight our way in, then we deserve to be in. We'll come back next year and if we get out of here with our heads chopped off or get out of here looking good - either way - I think NASCAR was taking care of who they need to take care of, so we'll just go with that. Next year we'll come in here and say that we feel sorry for those guys because they've got to do what we did last year."
THOUGHTS ON MARK MARTIN RETIRING. "Mark is a racer. I think what he's gonna do is he's gonna draw back and do other racing. He's gonna do what Bill Elliott is doing - he's gonna do things like that. Mark isn't giving up racing, he's just giving up the pressures and the travel and the schedule and all of that with Nextel Cup, which, I think a guy like Mark, in reality, I can't judge Mark other than I know Mark is as fierce a competitor as they come. I think a competitor like him is like my uncle and my uncle is gonna be over 60 this year. I mean, if you just mention a race car his blood boils and he's ready to get back in. That's Mark Martin too. I think right now it's easy to say. He's getting ready to start a whole new season. But I think it's gonna be much tougher for Mark next year when this time comes and he's not in the fight because Mark's a fighter and a challenger. I'm not saying that he hasn't evaluated it correctly. I hope it all works out for him, but personality is pretty hard to turn off."