NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Scott Eggleston. Note: Michael Waltrip joined the conference from Lakeland, Florida during a shakedown session with the...
NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference with Michael Waltrip, driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Scott Eggleston.
Note: Michael Waltrip joined the conference from Lakeland, Florida during a shakedown session with the Monte Carlo he will use in three weeks at Richmond, VA.
Has winning the Daytona 500 changed your life and/or made it more hectic?
MW: "No, not overly (hectic) I don't think. Everything's pretty much normal. The season has a way of making things get back to normal. You have to show up at the race, prepare for it, and then of course test - and that's what we're doing at Lakeland today and tomorrow. Our team is here along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Rusty Wallace as well. There's nothing really new or different in my world as far as everyday life. It's just an honor to walk around and know that you and your team are the Daytona 500 champions. It's a great feeling."
As the only restrictor-plate winner of this season, what are your thoughts going into this weekend's race at Talladega?
MW: "I'm excited about Talladega. Our particular car that we won Daytona with is (on display) at Daytona USA. So, Scott (Eggleston, crew chief) and the guys had to build a new car for Talladega. That was probably a little bit of bad new for them because it was a lot of extra work. But for me, it's good news because I understand and know that these guys just built the car I won Daytona with and they've had a little time to look at it and figure on it and I know the car they build after that is going to be better. We tested with it and the test went really well. I'm happy my car's in Daytona USA because I know the one I'm going to be racing with (at Talladega) is going to be even better."
If your most favorite moment in racing is split between winning the Winston in '96 and winning the Busch Series race in '93 where you proposed to your wife, Buffy, has winning the Daytona made it a three-way split?
MW: "No, I think Daytona has probably taken over. The Winston was great. I loved it. And winning at Bristol that day and getting Buffy to agree to marry me was something I never thought I'd be able to pull off either. So all that was cool, but Daytona is just what I've done my whole life. We used to load up in the back of a Chevy in Owensboro, Kentucky in the middle of February and drive 15 hours to Daytona Beach to be down there for Speedweeks. I've watched my brother, Darryl, do that since I was 10 or 12 years old. So I have a real understanding of the significance of that race and what it means to our sport. I'm just real proud that my name is now on that trophy as well."
In the Busch Series, you've given over your seat to Shawna Robinson. Is Kerry Earnhardt going to get some time more in the car as well?
MW: "Well, we're certainly excited about Kerry driving it. He's going to run three or four races. We're certainly open to expanding the schedule if it works out well for Kerry when he drives our car and if he's happy with the guys and if they can work well together and run well. Then there's a chance, indeed, that his races will be expanded. Shawna has driven at Texas and at Nashville, and her results haven't been what either she or I were hoping for, so we're going to load up and go to Talladega this weekend with her. She's done really well at Daytona and Talladega over the years, and I'm looking forward to giving her an opportunity as well. After that, I'm going to run the car at Charlotte myself, and then Kerry takes over for a while. I'm just really happy that Kerry is going to be driving my car. He's such a neat guy. He's fun to talk to. He's enthusiastic about our sport. He just wants to race and we're going to give him that opportunity."
Given the way Daytona ended, is there a little more tension going into Talladega, which is another restrictor plate race?
MW: "When we left Talladega last fall, I think everyone pretty much would agree that it was the best race in the history of NASCAR. I mean Dale Earnhardt came from 18th to win in the last four laps. It was just a really entertaining race. It was fun for me as a driver, and fun for the fans to watch. When we head back to Talladega this week, the rules are exactly the same. I mean they've been adjusted, but we have the same plates and the same aero packages as we did then. So Talladega lends itself to great racing, there's no doubt about it. There's a lot of room to race there. I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that if we have one of those wrecks, generally it's because somebody caused it. Somebody caused that huge wreck on the backstretch at Daytona and made a mess back there. The deal on the last lap with Dale, I think no matter whether you're at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, or Martinsville - that looked like just a racing incident. Those guys were just all heading for the checkered and that didn't look like just a classic restrictor plate wreck to me. So I don't have any apprehensions about heading to Talladega. I'm excited about the opportunity it'll give me to get our second win and our second wind."
NASCAR has come under intense scrutiny since February. Relative to safety, are they doing everything possible for the drivers?
MW: "It is my belief that they are and they're not doing it alone. I wouldn't be comfortable if we just left it up to NASCAR and said, 'What are you all going to do?' I think it's all our responsibility. We're the ones that willfully strap ourselves into the racecars and go out there and run 200mph. So we have a lot of responsibility ourselves. We put a lot of trust in our teams that build our cars to make sure we do everything possible in the construction of them to make them safe. For me as a driver, I'm responsible for my area: my seat, my head restraint, the HANS device, and the helmet. All that is stuff that I feel like I have to research and find out what is the safest equipment to add to the party. And then, the manufacturers - Ford and Chevrolet, GM and Chrysler - they all test-crash cars all the time. We need those guys to be doing that with the cars. So it's a little unfair, I believe, just to put the ball in NASCAR's court. We all should be, and are, involved in researching this situation to try to figure out if there's anything at all we can do in addition to what we're doing now."
What was your reluctance with the HANS device before you started using it, and what is your opinion of it now?
MW: "Well, I'm using it now and I've worn it ever since Vegas. I had planned all along to test it at Atlanta - prior to the race in Vegas and prior to the race in Atlanta - I wanted to test it to see if it was something ergonomically would work for me and if it was something that I could still feel like I could drive the car as hard as I wanted to and not be limited by having it on. The reluctance was not having enough information about what it would do in a crash. I know they've crash-tested it and they say it limits the range of motion on your head snapping forward. My problem was when you do go forward, what happens when you come back? I didn't want to try to solve a problem and create another one. I really wanted to know more about it. And then during off-season testing, the manufacturers set us down (all the drivers & teams) and explained to us the benefits of it. I had planned all along testing it prior to the Atlanta race. I didn't test it during the off-season at Daytona. It just took me that long to get to the point where I was comfortable with saying yes, this is something I want to try."
What's your opinion on the rumors that some of the teams are going to show up at Talladega with a so-called 'soft chassis' that won't conform to NASCAR rules?
MW: "I've heard nothing about that. That's something that somebody dreamed up somewhere. There's no validity to any rumor that would have anything at all to do with that."
How has Dale Earnhardt held up under all the stress this year?
MW: "Professionally, I think he's held up admirably. He shows up every week and is into his car and totally focuses on what he's doing. He's here today testing and is totally into the car and what it's going to take to handle better on this track we're trying out today. And that's about as far as I can go with information on that subject. He and I have never been close to where we'd sit around and talk about personal feelings or thoughts. And while we have been spending more time together lately, we still don't get really deep with our conversations. All I can tell you is that when it comes to the job, he's right there. What he does and how he deals with the loss of his father when he's on his own or by himself, I don't know."
How much information can you transfer from the Daytona car to the Talladega car?
MW: "You can take exactly every bit of the information from Daytona to Talladega and it'll apply. If you've got a fast car at Daytona, it'll be fast at Talladega. The only difference between the two is if perhaps you left Talladega and went to Daytona, your spring set-up or some of your chassis issues might not work as well because even though the tracks look similar, they're not. The Talladega track is bigger and it has larger turns and more room to get through there. It's wider. It's like a freeway. Daytona is somewhat of a - it's not a country road but it's like a two-lane road in a straight shot. Talladega's a freeway. They're different in that sort. But if something works at one, it'll pretty much work at the other."
What do you think of your brother, Darryl's work on TV?
MW: "I think he's doing a great job. I love his enthusiasm. I love the information that he throws out there. I'm proud of him. I'm happy that he's in that position. I told him he didn't retire, he just changed jobs. He's as passionate in the broadcast room as he was on the track. It's just really cool to have him up there and I think everyone's benefiting from it."
Note: Scott Eggleston has been a crew chief for four years and 2001 is his first season with DEI. Prior to working with Michael Waltrip, he worked with Joe Nemechek and Sterling Marlin.
Can you comment on how it was to make the transition from Sterling Marlin to Michael Waltrip?
SE: "It's a little bit different. Michael likes a lot of information and Sterling, he didn't want any information. So during a race, Michael just likes to have more information. The description of how the cars handle is a little different, but it's basically the same."
Were you able to spend a lot of time together during the off-season to try to make that transition a little easier?
SE: "We tested at Daytona and we tested at the first four races we went to. It seemed like that helped a lot, yeah."
When you go to Talladega, is there any fear factor for you and the guys in the crew on pit road?
SE: "Every lap. It seems like there's always a big wreck. It depends on where you're at on the track. If you're leading the race, you don't worry about that wreck. But when you're back in the pack, you kind of worry about that big wreck. It's not something you dwell on because we go there to win and don't look at it as there's going to be a big wreck. We just try to put ourselves in a position to be up front."
Relative to the rules, have you discussed with your colleagues some things that might be changed to separate the pack a little bit and relieve some of the tension?
SE: "I talked to NASCAR yesterday and they're doing some testing after Talladega on Monday, I believe. And I believe they're going to have another test in May. They're inviting people to come down with ideas to try to come up with a different way to do it without having them bunched-up the whole time."
What are some of the things that have tackled you and the team a little bit since you left Daytona?
SE: "The best thing we did was to win the Daytona 500, and the worst thing we did was to win the Daytona 500. We're a brand new team. We're building brand new cars. We went down and won Daytona, so people were expecting us to really do well and we kind of showed our youth as it were, and our inexperience together. We struggled through the last few races here, but we've got a break (week off) and let everything get kind of situated and I think we'll be a lot better off now."
Is this almost like an expansion team, like in football?
SE: "Yeah. They're experienced people -- some with more and some with less - that just put it together from November (basically) of last year. Everything came together at Daytona, but then it just kind of fell apart a little bit. But we've kind of grabbed it back up and put it back together here."
Does that mean you have to put more hours in to get everybody on the same page?
SE: "Not terrible. We hired some more people. We got a little behind on building cars and we hired some more people to take a little pressure off. We moved some people around to take pressure off of me. We put them into places we thought would be better for them. It seems to be a little bit better. We had Easter off and everybody's ready to go."
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as racing like a regular veteran team?
SE: "Yes. I think that starting with Talladega, you'll probably see it turn right around. We've been kind of struggling in the races. We've qualified really well. At a couple places - the short tracks - we didn't do as well as we should have. The racing part is just inexperience with Michael and getting it right for him. But I feel like that's why we're down here testing today. We're testing for Richmond and just trying to work it all out."
Why is there such a performance difference among the DEI teams?
SE: "If you go back and look at the last year, Steve Park really came on as a driver and a team, and that team was like three years in the making. Dale Jr's team was a rookie team last year and he's kind of been up and down. He's run good, he's just not finished good. And we're just a young team. We've started out winning the first race of the year and have struggled since then. It's just mainly due to the youth of the team."
Is the aerodynamic package for Talladega the same as it was for last year's race?
What do you think of the recent rule alterations that NASCAR made for Talladega?
SE: "I believe they helped the Ford a little bit and took a little bit away from the Dodge if I read it correctly. The Chevrolet and the Pontiac did not change as far as I know. I really don't see it making a whole lot of difference."
-Team Monte Carlo