Daytona Twin 125: Jimmy Spencer race report

Don't look now, Spencer is back. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2003) - He turns 46 on Saturday, but age has not hindered Jimmy Spencer's ability to speak. The Berwick, Pa., native is back in the Daytona 500, so naturally, his motor is ...

Don't look now, Spencer is back.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 14, 2003) - He turns 46 on Saturday, but age has not hindered Jimmy Spencer's ability to speak. The Berwick, Pa., native is back in the Daytona 500, so naturally, his motor is running full throttle. The name "Mr. Excitement" is taken to a whole new level as Spencer discusses being back in the Great American Race:

You spent pretty much the entire season last year explaining why you didn't make the Daytona 500. How relieved are you now that you're in?

"After years of making the Daytona 500, you kind of take it for granted on what you've actually accomplished. But miss it one time and you'll realize how special it is. Yes, I had to hear about it all last year, and I had to hear about it all this week. But you know what, we're in. We got ourselves in - no help, no nothing. We knew we had to race our way in, because we didn't have a good qualifying time (49.223, 35th) and we didn't have enough owner's points (38th in owner's point standings.) We had to race our way in, and we did it."

What was your feeling as soon as you crossed the finish line?

"Well, I had been shuffled back the last five laps of the (Gatorade) 125, and I wasn't completely sure where I finished. But Tommy and Red Dog (spotter Carl Barnes) were congratulating me and saying, 'good job.' I didn't think they'd be saying that if we'd not made it. So I was happy. It felt like the entire weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders."

Now that you're back in, maybe it's easier to explain why it's so important to be a part of this race now that you've come full circle.

"It's a lot worse not to make this race than it is good to make it, you know what I'm saying? You can make this race and say, 'Great, I'm glad we made it.' But if you don't make it, it's devastating. You're left to start your season at Rockingham, and nobody wants to start their season a week after everyone else has. It hurts you in the points, it hurts you mentally, it hurts your team's attitude. It's just tough to rebound after something like that. I hope I never experience that again."

Not only are you in, but you're starting ahead of some guys that qualified a lot better than you. What are your thoughts on that?

"Only in Daytona! This is the kind of race that gives you every opportunity to get in and start well, but it can also really bite you if you slip up. It looks like we're going to line up one spot in front of Bobby Labonte, who qualified almost a whole second faster than us on Monday. It's almost hard to believe. But let me say this: We didn't get in on a fluke. You look at the practice times, and you'll see that we got faster, and faster, and faster. By the time we hit yesterday's practice, we were as fast as anyone. That's just a credit to Tommy Baldwin and the guys on this team. They continued to get this car better, and here we are now in the Daytona 500."

You qualified the other day with a time of 49.22 seconds. Now looking at the set field, the slowest time that made the race was a 49.01. How worried were you after Bud Pole Qualifying on Monday?

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't concerned. Worried is the wrong term. I was concerned because our car wasn't very fast. I came here to Daytona with the mindset that we'd have to race our way into the 500. Yes, it would've been nice to have something to fall back on, but hey, it didn't play out that way. We weren't fast after qualifying, so my concern was getting the car up to speed for the 125s. Of course, that was over the day after when we started practicing. Tommy continued making gains on the car. We kept getting faster, and the handle started coming around. Just like that, I was completely optimistic that we had a car that could run with the best of them. I knew that with a little bit of luck, we could race our way in. I just thank the good Lord that everyone used their heads and there wasn't an accident. That's what happened to me last year, and it would've been very disappointing if that would've happened again."

A lot of people thought you were mad at Greg Biffle when you jumped out of the car yesterday and screamed, "Where's that Greg Biffle?" and then went running after him. Why so dramatic?

"I don't know, I just figured I'd be overdramatic I guess, making people think I was mad about something. It seems like all anybody wants to talk about is dirt anyway, so I knew that would get their attention. I just wanted to thank Biffle for pushing me and drafting with me. He really helped me out a lot in that race."

What are your goals for this Daytona 500, now that you're in?

"I think we need to be realistic. We're looking for a strong top-10 finish. We're not as fast as some of these other cars, like the DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) cars or the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) cars. But Tommy has continually gotten this car faster, and I think with a little more work, we can be really competitive. We're not going into this race to log laps. We're going to do two things - take this car as high up as we can get it, and give SIRIUS some big-time publicity. We're excited about having SIRIUS on board with us. I don't think they saw the results that this team is capable of giving them last year. So we're going to make up for it. We want to let the world know that they can listen to commercial-free music for only $12.95 a month - that's less than a CD. That's pretty cool. I love my SIRIUS radio."

Any final thoughts now that you're in the Daytona 500 once again?

"Just that we're back, baby. I know there are a lot of fans who've put up with a lot the last year. But they continue to support me and my career, and it means a lot. I think we're going to give them a lot more to cheer for this year. This team has a lot to prove. I say that, and it sounds like the regular old 'I've got a lot to prove because we don't get respect' line. Well, it's the truth. I know I can still drive these race cars, Tommy knows he can build them, and the guys on this team know they can still put a solid race car on the track each week. Does anyone else think we can? I think they will once we get rolling. It may take a little bit of time, but it's going to happen. I told some of the guys on the team that to get respect, you've got to earn it. So far, we've gotten everything by earning it. We're in Sunday's Daytona 500 now, and I don't think anyone is willing to settle with just that. We're going as hard as we can all year, and we'll let the chips fall as they may."

-um-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Greg Biffle
Teams Richard Childress Racing