A statue of Dale Earnhardt was unveiled in front of Daytona USA last week to honor the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion. Ford drivers Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Rusty Wallace spoke about their feelings for Earnhardt and what he still...
A statue of Dale Earnhardt was unveiled in front of Daytona USA last week to honor the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion. Ford drivers Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Rusty Wallace spoke about their feelings for Earnhardt and what he still means to the sport.
DALE JARRETT --88-- UPS Taurus
WHAT KIND OF FEELING DID YOU GET AT THE EARNHARDT STATUE UNVEILING THE OTHER DAY?
"Once again it shows who the true leader was of our sport and who brought recognition to our sport and to the Daytona Speedway for everything he did here. He was the absolute master here. I know people say, 'Well, he only won one Daytona 500,' but how many was he a part of at the end and how many other races did he win here? That was a very nice tribute to Dale and what he really stood for and what he really meant. So many people didn't see the whole side of Dale Earnhardt and what he was really about. Most people, obviously, knew the hard-charger or the Intimidator -- what he was on the race track -- but too many times we didn't know that other side of Dale, which was a perfect gentleman, a good father, and a guy that people would really liked to have gotten to know."
DO YOU THINK THERE COULD BE ANOTHER RULES CHANGE BEFORE THE RACE?
"I wouldn't be surprised if something came along because we want to insure the fans and the people out there watching that this is a good race. We need to make sure that when we start the Daytona 500 and everybody climbs in their car, that they feel like they had an equal shot to win the Daytona 500. I know that NASCAR is gonna work extremely hard in making that happen with what they see and the things that they can do, and, hopefully, that'll be the case."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE KNOWN AS A DAYTONA 500 CHAMP?
"It's huge. Like I said after I won the first one, I was amazed as the year went on that the way I was introduced wherever I went was as the Daytona 500 champion. It's a tremendous race and there's nothing like it. I don't care what you compare it to, whether it's other sporting events -- the Super Bowl, the World Series, whatever it may be -- this, to me, is bigger than any of that because not only does the Daytona 500 happen and you have the champion, but we have to continue on and our sport doesn't slow down from there. That tells you just how big this is and how big our sport has gotten, but to win the Daytona 500 is a huge thrill and it does more for your career than anything you could possibly do. That's why everybody puts so much emphasis on coming here and doing well and trying to give themselves a chance to win this race."
IS IT GOOD TO HAVE SUCH A BIG RACE FIRST RATHER THAN AT THE END?
"I think it definitely makes more sense for us because everybody is fresh. We've had the most time to prepare for our biggest race and our biggest event, and that's the way it should be. You should have the most time to get ready for that. We have the very best drivers here. No one is injured and everybody has had the entire off season to get ready for this. Everybody has new equipment, so you can't say, 'Well, my equipment was worn out or we didn't have our best stuff here.' Everybody has their best stuff and the drivers are in their best shape, so you know when you win this race you've beaten the best at their very best."
WHAT ABOUT THE WAY YOUR SEASON ENDED LAST YEAR?
"We just didn't do our job the last part of it. It was great battling back and forth and having Ricky right there too. We thought it was gonna be a great battle to the end, but, unfortunately, Ricky and I kind of fell off. We did a little more than Ricky did, so that's what we have to look at this year. We have to be able to maintain that consistency and, again, that's what this series is about. Certainly you want to win races and you want to have top fives, but, really, what it comes down to when you look at it at the end of the year, you look back and say, 'Okay, the champion has the fewest amount of problems as anybody else out there.' That's really what it comes down to. You can't put yourself in that position of having problems and taking chances because that's when you start making mistakes."
THE KEY IS REALLY FOLLOWING UP A BAD RUN WITH A GOOD RUN, RIGHT?
"Yeah, you've got to buckle down and really, as much as anything, make sure that doesn't happen again. We put together back to back bad races a couple of times in the second half of the season and that's just a killer for you. You can't really recover from that. When you've got somebody like Jeff (Gordon) finishing in the top 10 every week, and a lot of times the top five, if you find yourself outside the top 30, it's just hard to make up those points because you realize they're not gonna make many mistakes up there and that makes it difficult to catch back up."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SPONSORSHIP PROBLEMS RIGHT NOW?
"Hopefully they're not gonna get worse. Hopefully, people are gonna still realize the value of a sponsorship here is still one of the best values that they have in spending their advertising dollars. Our economy is gonna get better. It's gonna be difficult and it's a difficult time for a lot of companies right now, but business is gonna continue and, hopefully, we can a part of that resurgence of these businesses and give them the opportunity to help their businesses grow. I hate it for Travis Carter and his people. He's got a lot of good people there and two very good race drivers and, hopefully, things will work out for them, but I think the sport is gonna continue to grow."
WHAT MAKES THE 24 TEAM SO TOUGH?
"It's a good organization. You have a talented race driver like Jeff Gordon and if you give him any kind of support at all, that's gonna be a very powerful team and that's what they have. Jeff has surrounded himself with good people. They have the sponsorship to go with everything to make everything happen, so you put someone of his talents in that type of situation and he's gonna be a contender, if not a leader, for a lot of years to come. We have to find a way to do things as good, if not better. You have to realize, I don't care who you are, there is a lot of talent that's gonna be in this 43-car field, but I'll sit and tell you right now that there's no race driver out there that's more talented than Jeff Gordon. So when you have that type of scenario, knowing that he has the equipment that he has, then you're gonna have to do everything a little bit better some how, some way to beat him."
DO YOU ENJOY THAT CHALLENGE?
"That's the challenge that you have. That's what you always want to do is to look at what your challenge is to be the best. What is it gonna take? Is it equipment? Is it driver ability? Is it the whole combination of making it all work? That's what we have to sit down and realize and understand exactly what it's gonna take for us to beat them."