An interview with: MICHAEL WALTRIP J.J. YELEY THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's second place finisher, driver of the No. 55 NAPA Toyota, Michael Waltrip. Michael, tell us about your run. MICHAEL...
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's second place finisher, driver of the No. 55 NAPA Toyota, Michael Waltrip.
Michael, tell us about your run.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We had to start last because of an engine change on Friday. Felt like we had a really competitive car yesterday in practice. We haven't been able to find speed with our cars in any practice sessions leading into races. We've been in the 30s or even worse than that on the sheet in practice. But yesterday we were in the 20s, teens and 20s, both practices, so I knew I had a competitive car.
Then we were able to hold off Harvick early when he caught me and out ran him for eight or 10 laps, stayed on the lead lap, then just got a break there at the end with my strategy pitting and getting enough gas we felt like to get to the end, then having a really strong car. I passed a bunch of guys to get into position to get to Kurt and race him.
I really wished there were a few more laps, wished we could have went back to green. As bad as I need those 170 points, very cognizant of the difference between first and second. It's huge. To get a win for our team would have been very, very rewarding.
I heard a gentleman walk in here and say a second ago to J.J., Zero to hero. I like to look at things, they're not ever as bad as they seem or as good as they seem. While I don't think J.J. was ever a zero, does today make him a hero? It feels good that we can change our fortune a little bit on a Sunday afternoon like we did today.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by today's third place finisher, driver of the No. 96 DLP® HDTV Toyota. J.J., tell us about your run.
J.J. YELEY: Much the same as Michael's. We struggled for the most part this year, especially on the mile halves. Our short track program has been pretty decent. We've made some big changes. We were the best we'd been through both practices yesterday. Felt really happy with the car. Started out a lot tighter than we really anticipated. But it's funny, I spent pretty much the majority of the race with Mikey here all day long. I ran into him. He ran into me. We had a lot of fun.
I, too, wish we might have been able to go to green just for the fact those guys racing for the lead might have opened the door for me to come back to third. We needed this finish really, really badly. I'm glad it's in the books and we'll look forward to Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to members of the media.
Q: Does this all seem a little bit unreal, surreal, kind of bizarre? Given the kind of struggles you have had this year, that here you are sitting in the media center, it seems a little surreal.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: To me, I had a vision that this could happen. You look at the way racing goes these days, it's just different than it used to be. You get track position and you can look like a hero. Getting track position is very difficult.
So I felt confident when three or four of 'em stayed out behind me under the caution that I would have a chance to win the race. So if it were surreal, that went away as soon as I looked up and said, I could win this thing. That's a great feeling.
I'm real proud of my team. I'm not emotional about this, other than the fact to say it's amazing that NAPA Auto Parts is still on my car after what we went through the last couple years. Just to do anything good for them, outside front row at Daytona, to have a finish like we did today, I just want to say thank you to them by doing well. That's my goal, is to do good for them.
J.J. YELEY: This is a place you want to be every week. This particular week I found the way to the back door so I could sneak in and sit in this seat. We had the same mindset. We just struggled a little bit. We got to where we had a really fast racecar, just didn't have the track position. There's a lot of times we ran as fast as the leader for 20 or 30 laps under any kind of run. Be on the wrong side of the racetrack, that's part of it. You go and take two tires, you're going to gain some positions, but you're going to fall like a rock at the end of a run.
We had enough fuel to make it to the end. Raced Truex really hard a couple times. Gave me the bottom. Had to run the bottom. Still was able to hold him off. I know if we went green I was confident we could have held on to third. There were so many guys that just went and got fuel that weren't worried about someone sneaking in on tires. I really feel that between myself, Mikey, we deserved these finishes. It's not like we were given it because of the rain.
Q: Mike, you said before we went red that if you had a shot at the 2, you thought you could beat him. How disappointing is it not to get that chance?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, the rain, I will correct anyone, the rain isn't why I'm sitting here. The reason why I'm sitting here is because we got an opportune caution late in the race and took advantage of race position, the same thing we were unable to do all day long last Sunday in California. I would pit, everybody would pit, the caution would come out, then I'd have to pit. So I'm here not because of the thunder you hear outside. I'm here because of strategy and opportune caution that gave me track position.
If the rain doesn't come and we're able to restart, I was faster than Kurt. I feel like I could have beat him. But he probably thinks he could have held me off. And J.J. was kind of hoping we'd wreck, so...
Q: How disappointing is it not to have had that opportunity?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I'm going to slip out here with my 170 points, 150 grand, start putting some patches on a sinking ship, what has felt like a sinking ship, for a year or so. I mean, if you want to know disappointment, I was coming to the white at Talladega with Jimmie Johnson glued to me running 20 miles an hour faster than the field driving by him. We were going to win that race, no doubt, and it blew up coming to get the white. Nobody ever knew about that. That was a game changer for our team. Hopefully today can be a game changer for it as well.
Q: Can you both empathize with a guy like Tony Stewart? If it hadn't been for the rain or gas situation, he probably would have won.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: It wasn't the rain.
Q: What was it then?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: It was gas. It was strategy, you know. Do you agree, J.J.?
J.J. YELEY: Yeah, it was. If it wouldn't have rained, we would have finished. You have to look pretty much at all season long. A majority of these guys have been fast the entire race and still haven't won the race. It's happened to Tony Stewart. It's happened to a fair amount of other guys. The fastest guy doesn't always win the race. That's part of the sport. That's why the fans fill the grandstands and come watch because anything can happen, and it happened again today.
Q: Mike, you opened the door. How bad is the sinking ship?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, it's tighter than it was this morning. We are met with challenges. We don't have a full time sponsor for our third car. We haven't performed like we hoped we would. To see David out there running in the top 15 most all day and us being very competitive today, those are the types of things we need in order to keep pace and to try to hang in there and get a foothold inside this garage area so in '09 and beyond, MWR can become more of a force to be reckoned with.
Q: The whole idea that luck evens out, the story this year has been for a lot of guys good luck, bad luck, good fortune, bad fortunate. You guys played the strategy right. Luck was a factor in it, too. Isn't it just a part of racing one way or the other?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I think it is. Look at J.J. He's missed races this year. I haven't done that.
J.J. YELEY: Thanks for bringing that out. Appreciate that (laughter).
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I say that because I did last year. One of the first races I made was Michigan and we got a top 10. I know this has got to feel good for you and your team because we all need somebody to smile upon us every now and again.
You know, you're gonna have stories to write. You can write it a hundred different ways. I just would insist or insinuate that it wasn't a rain race. It was a track position, strategy play out at the end. When you come to a place like Loudon, you know strategy's going to be huge because of track position.
J.J. YELEY: Certainly. It's the same thing. You have to create your own luck. We put ourselves in position to finish in the top three like we did. Obviously we did that.
But, you know, a finish like today is gonna help my team. It's gonna help me from a confidence standpoint. We still have a long way to go as a team to grow. It's something that's going to make the guys proud, get them back to the shop on Monday. Once Monday hits around, it's a whole new week. We have to get ready for Daytona. This race is in the past. We made up some points today. The most important thing is, another week we have to qualify our way in and struggle through and hope that qualifying goes well.
Q: J.J., Michael mentioned how much this means to his team. Talk about what this finish means as far as momentum for you guys, being a smaller team.
J.J. YELEY: It's tremendous. Last week was a big blow because I didn't feel that I was going to miss the race at Sonoma. They had good finishes with the road course cars they had when they had Ron Fellows in the car. To go out there and miss the race by 5/100ths, get ourselves further behind was devastating. It makes it even worse because I have to stay there Sunday, and I have to do hospitality and I have to go see fans. You try to explain to people why you missed the race. It is the toughest thing in the world. It's very surreal.
Sitting in the grandstands or sitting in the suite having to watch the entire race makes you want it even worse than you could have ever possibly imagined. It was an extra fire for me coming into here at Loudon. This is a racetrack I've had the best average finish of any of the racetracks I've been to. It's going to give the guys hope. And that's the most important thing. It is easy to say from Kasey Kahne, you run off of confidence in this sport. If everyone is happy, everyone is going to work harder, you're going to go out and run better. Hopefully this is just a sign of things to come.
Q: You have to be optimistic going to Daytona next week. Talk about how your organization is prepared for that.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: The story I told you about Talladega was all the inspiration I needed to go to Daytona and think we could win. We always figured out how to run up front down there. We're very confident.
Wanted to have a solid run today. Wanted to have a top 20 run. I felt like after practice yesterday we could be in the top 10. That was our goal, so we could legitimize who we were somewhat with a solid performance today. I kidded my team. I said we'll get us a top 10 here and then we'll go down to Daytona and show 'em something. Hopefully we can do just that.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. Thank you.