Daytona Shootout: J. Gordon, Earnhardt press conference notes

Team Monte Carlo comments in the Media Center following the race: Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo - finished 2nd: DE: "The entire time I was behind Tony (Stewart, winner) I never once had the opportunity to pass him.

Team Monte Carlo comments in the Media Center following the race:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo - finished 2nd:

DE: "The entire time I was behind Tony (Stewart, winner) I never once had the opportunity to pass him. Never. I was trying to help him because we worked together for most of last year's Shootout. We talked about how good our cars were. I was kind of sticking with him, but there's a point in time when you make a decision to try to win the race for yourself. I never had that opportunity so I'm kind of disappointed that the guy up front has such an easy ride. That's the way racing is."

Q: Did Jeff Gordon's moving up throw a wrench in your plan?

DE: "No, I thought the race was over with at about five laps to go. With this aero package, you can actually trail brake - use a little bit of brake to slow your car down so it gets the guy behind you right up behind you and then the leader will lose all his steam without you pushing him. And you can get a run on him and make the pass. But when I would let off, Tony would let off. I knew it was going to be a stroke of genius to get by him. We were trying to slow down and make runs. We were actually going into the corners a god five or six miles an hour slower than we have been. That was kind of unusual. And that's why Jeff was able to make some runs on the outside. I don't think he would have been able to make a pass on Tony either."

Q: After today's race, do you think the Daytona 500 will be just a line of cars?

DE: "I think this is going to be close to the type of race we saw when I was a rookie. If you're in the top three, you have a pretty good chance of sticking there unless you make mistake on pit road. Sterling Marlin could have passed me, maybe. From second on back it's one hell of a race. But you just can't get to the leader for some reason."

Q: If the rolls were reversed, would Tony Stewart have had just as hard a time trying to catch you?

DE: "I think so. It could have been any of our cars. The top five cars that were in that draft were probably the best cars in the race. We were able to break away from everybody, which was really kind of surprising to me. If any of those cars had been leading, it would have been just as hard to pass in my opinion."

Q: What about the Fords?

DE: "They got what they deserved. They laid around all winter."

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Monte Carlo - finished third:

Gordon joined the Q&A session and answered the same question (What about the Fords):

JG:"The No. 2 and the No. 12 weren't too bad. They were right on my bumper throughout the whole race. But look at Bobby Labonte. He had one of the best cars and he got shuffled out and was way in the back."

Q: Did you learn anything about the new rules that will help you with the Daytona 500?

JG: "I think we're going to have five or six or seven guys break away with these rules. That's what we saw a couple of years back. I was one of the guys in that pack and trying to chase the leader down was quite difficult. It won't change much in my opinion."

Q: On a scale of one to five: How much did you learn for Sunday's race?

DE: "Five."

JG: "Definitely a five. Anytime you can get out there in race conditions, you'll learn a lot for the next race."

Q: Is this indicative of who's going to run up front on Sunday?

DE: "I don't think so. It could have been any of those guys. You could have flip-flopped the lead draft and it would have been just as difficult to pass."

JG: "And you didn't have Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson or some of the guys that are going to be out there on Sunday. It just depends on who can get out there and hold onto it. I think the good teams are going to rise to the occasion and get up front. I think the cars you saw up front today will be there on Sunday, but there will be a bigger mix."

Q: Does this look like the 2000 rules package?

JG: "Yes, except that I couldn't pass in 2000. So I was a little bit better than then."

Q: Does that make pit stops more important?

JG: "I think they're always important. Every year, they're getting more important. But I didn't have a great pit stop today and somehow I got lucky and got back into the lead group. Any advantage you can get on pit road is an advantage."

Q: Did you sense that Tony Stewart was backing off when you tried to make a run on him?

JG: "Yes. That played to my advantage. Tony is a smart racer. Jr. knows exactly what he's doing out there. Jr. was trying to figure out his move and Tony was playing chess with him. He tried to block every move. When Jr. would back up to try and get a bigger run, it kept stacking those guys up behind him. I was the last car in line and all I had to do was step out of line one time. If you get to the outside of a guy when the tires start going away, you've got an advantage coming off the corner. And then it was all over the place. When I got to the outside of Sterling, the momentum kind of stopped. And then it was a matter of who was going to push who to get up there. I don't think the race was over, but it was anybody's game at that point."

Q: Was it a safer race?

JG: "Definitely safer. Before, it was a white-knuckle deal. But whatever conditions they put us in, we'll adjust to them. I was in a position to have a great race and got to make passes and came from 22nd to the front. I don't have a lot of complaints. But I wasn't in Jr.'s position of trying to pass the leader and not being able to do it. The more we practice with it, the better we'll get at passing that lead car.

"But the yellow line isn't making things any easier. It worked for the rules we had last year because you were coming to fast you'd go below that yellow line every lap. Now, there are places where we might be able to move that yellow line to get a little bit more room because you don't have the momentum that you used to have."

Q: What difference does the rules change make this year?

DE: "One real good thing that's come out of this is that the good guys are able to work together and get away from the rest of the pack. Not that we don't want to be associated with them guys, but sometimes it's difficult to race when the leader swaps places with the 18th place car on the first lap. It's really difficult for the teams to go home and put forth the same amount of effort for the next time we come back. Now, it's more back in the team's hands and the driver's hands. It's more difficult to pass compared to what we had last year when you could just blow by five or 10 cars in a corner or straightaway if you got a good push. Now, we have more control over what's going on."

Q: How much difference does the driver make?

DE: "Apparently not a whole lot because I didn't win the race. The guy with the better racecar is going to have the better opportunity. Last year, as long as you made the field you had a chance to win the race. There's some things with this package that the driver can do as far as saving the right front tire. We're now more involved in how the car handles and how it feels and how much that matters in the long run. Last year the car was just planted to the ground and you just rode around. I saw Bobby Labonte spin out in front of me today and I thought that was kind of crazy. I almost lost it on the inside of Jeff in turns three and four. So I made a difference there."

JG: "Thank you."

Q: On the driver's passing abilities?

JG: "The difference between now and 2000 when the Ford were dominant - now it seems like the Chevrolets are a little more dominant and the Dodges and Pontiacs are up there too. For whatever reason, the roles are reversed. I don't know if we made that bit of gains in our cars. In 2000, I was ninth or 10th in the July race here and I was the first Chevrolet and I ran wide open the whole time and couldn't make a single pass to get up through there. These rules are a little bit different than 2000 and I think more passing will go on and they are a little bit better. But we are in a safer environment. The cars are more in line and can't break away more than before. That's up to NASCAR how much of a change they want to make. Obviously we didn't like what we had before. I like this a lot better. I hadn't even been a threat with the old rules. Today I felt like I played a role out there. It allows me to be a factor. Before, I didn't feel like I was playing any role out there at all. I felt like I was just something they plugged in the seat and told me to hold on tight and see where you end up."

Q: With your good past performance at Daytona, what's your confidence level?

DE: "In that respect, I'm real happy with how we did today because I was worried about how the rules change was going to affect our performance because we were a real good race car at every restrictor plate race last year. I feel real good and real lucky to be in my third year of competition and have a shot at winning the Daytona 500. That's definitely a race I'd like to win and I look forward to that opportunity every year."

Q: How do you think the public is going to react to this year's race?

JG: "It was a great race, a great finish. There might have been a lull in between. We were shuffling it up and the people were standing and cheering. It's not what we had before but you're not going to make everyone happy. If they're going to make the drivers happy, a rules package similar to this will make more of the guys happy. If they want to make the fans happy, then go back to the old rules. I'd rather be a spectator, actually, with the old rules. There might be some things that they might be able to do to create more passing. But is that going to make the cars spread out more or less? I don't know. I felt more comfortable out there and enjoyed it."

DE: "I feel the same. Side by side racing is fun, and probably a lot of fun to watch. But I was having a good time out there running around with the company I was keeping."

Q: With the rules the way they are, does this concern you that it might come down to a last lap fight to the finish?

DE: "Yes. I feel like there is definitely the opportunity to have those dangers. Before, it was less out of our hands (crashes). With this package here, the dangers are what we create. So I think there will be a better avenue to place the blame on someone. I noticed that you can be real aggressive with this package and the cars don't get that upset when they're beside each other."

-tmc-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Jimmie Johnson