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.
RUSTY WALLACE --2-- Miller Lite Taurus
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE EARNHARDT STATUE UNVEILING?
"I thought the statue was fabulous, I really did. His grin and his old mustache and his hand signal, it was always him. I knew the way he acted and looked and talked, and I'm just real happy that they've honored him in that way so everybody can have a chance to come and look at it. I'm really impressed that it was the original penny that the little girl gave him that's imbedded in the wall. The trophy and all the different things they did was very impressive. I'm real proud for their family."
DO YOU FEEL IF YOU GET THROUGH THIS RACE THAT THE EARNHARDT TRIBUTES WILL SLOW DOWN?
"I don't know. I don't think this guy is like a normal guy. I mean, this is like Elvis. It really was, I think. They never forget him. They still commemorate him. We're going to Las Vegas this year commemorating Elvis Pressley's 25th anniversary with a silver and blue car. We've got guitars and piano keys and Elvis all over it, and here it is 25 years later and we're still commemorating Elvis Pressley and I think Dale is gonna be no different. I don't think he's just like a normal driver. I think he stands above and I still think you're gonna go all year long and this is gonna go on and on and on, I really do, and there's nothing wrong with that. But as far as getting through this race and having it over and done with, I don't agree with that. I think you're gonna see it for a long time."
IS THIS RULES PACKAGE SAFER?
"Yes. There might be crashes, I hope not, but I know the cars won't draft as tight even though they should still maneuver good. I think where you just used to run up and were all over somebody's rear bumper, I think those days are gone and I think that's a good thing because none of the drivers really like it. I think the current rules are good enough that the people will really enjoy the drafting. I still think the cars are gonna run close. I don't think it's gonna be a runaway or any of that stuff."
IS THERE A HAPPY MEDIUM BETWEEN THE 2000 DAYTONA 500 AND LAST YEAR'S 500?
"The 2000 500, that was with the old rules and that's where the Fords all finished first through fifth and I finished fifth in that race, but that was also the first race where NASCAR implemented a brand new shock absorber rule and that rule really hurt a lot of people as far as handling. The Fords that year seemed like they had more downforce and we were able to get the cars turning better, but the following race we went to Talladega and they gave us the shocks back which equalized everything again."
SO YOU EXPECT A DECENT RACE?
"I do expect a good race. From the way we drafted down here I thought we all drafted real good. I didn't see anybody just drive away. Yeah, it's harder to just slingshot a guy. With the old rules you could do that. The fans loved that, but the drivers and teams hated it, so it's a happy medium I think."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DAYTONA?
"I love Daytona. I used to come to this track and hate Daytona. I wrecked a lot and tore up a lot of stuff, but the last three or four years I've been in contention to win every race. In '98, the year that Dale won, we led the most laps and led all day long and finished fifth in the race. Then the following year I led almost every single lap and Jeff Gordon got past me at the very end of the race and I went from first to eighth I think. Then all of the 400's have been really good -- all top-five finishes -- so Daytona has been kind to me the last three or four years and I hope it is this year."
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THIS TRACK THE FIRST TIME YOU RACED?
"The first time I came to race here I was just blown away because I watched it on television. I used to sit in the grandstands with my pop and watch it. I used to get on the fence and watch them come blowing by and they would blow your hair straight up in the air from all of the breeze. I never thought I'd be racing here and now this will be my 18th Daytona 500, I think. I had a legitimate shot to win the thing three or four times, but the later part of my career has been the very, very best. So I'm turned on every time I get to come here."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE FIRST COUPLE OF TIMES AROUND THE TRACK?
"It's breathtaking. The track is incredibly big from the outside looking in, but when you're in the race car going into the corners, you can't believe how narrow the track looks from the car. It's a real narrow-looking straightaway. When you go to Talladega, it feels gigantic, but when you go to Daytona, it feels real narrow and tight."