Michael Waltrip , Two-Time Daytona 500 Winner and Driver of The No. 15 Napa Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Q&A's With Media: PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR IMPRESSION OF DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY "The place is beautiful. I enjoy the new facilities. I've...
Michael Waltrip , Two-Time Daytona 500 Winner and Driver of The No. 15 Napa Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Q&A's With Media:
PLEASE PROVIDE YOUR IMPRESSION OF DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
"The place is beautiful. I enjoy the new facilities. I've been coming here a long time and I know built a bunch of grandstands but we've been in the same place since the day I came here. It's pretty neat to see that modernized.My test isn't going as well as I'd like it to be going. We're not near the top of the speed charts, but we've got a day to go tomorrow. The thing I've said about driving for DEI is that we're just here collecting information. We'll get it all together and sorted out and probably head to Talladega before we head back here. This is just part of the process. We generally wind up close to where we need to be when it counts."
HOW IS IT GOING WITH YOUR NEW CREW CHIEF?
"It's been a lot of fun working with the Eury's and Tony, Jr., especially. It's a pretty special feeling to team up with a bunch of guys who just chased for a championship and won five or six races. I've never showed up to a job where the guys had much success the year before. When I showed up to drive for Dale in '01 it was a brand new team. The credentials weren't there for the 15 car. When you look at the credentials of the car for 2005, there are a bunch of guys who expect to go to victory lane. For me, that's the best part. When you're not successful, people look at the driver and say, 'what's wrong with him?' and sometimes the drivers look back and wonder 'what makes you think you're not the problem?' Sometimes you get a situation where you try to understand what's going wrong. As I go into 2005, it's the most optimistic I could be, considering that I'm teaming with guys who just raced for a championship. I'm thankful I have that opportunity."
HOW IS YOUR PROGRESS COMING ON YOUR MARATHON PREPARATION?
"It's going pretty well. I ran nine miles last night and I run 7 miles every time I run. I have to run 16 on Sunday. I've been pretty loyal. I ran nine all miles last night in under 8:30 minutes, so I was pretty proud of that. I'm running as fast as I can for these training marathons, knowing I probably won't be able to run that long for the whole marathon. At least I'm working hard right now.
"I hope everyone will write about an unbelievable event last Sunday in Portland, Maine. I told people that when we did fundraisers for this marathon, I wanted to have a dinner in Maine in January when it was snowy and cold because absolutely the most fanatical race fans in the whole world are in that part of the country. Last Saturday night we had a dinner and raised over $240,000 for operation marathon that will benefit the Victory Junction Gang Camp. There are a lot of good folks up in that part of the country that work for NAPA, including Mike Roy who pulled it all together. There are several individuals up there. Peter Prescott who owns EJP Racing that has run some truck races. Mr. Crooker was a big contributor.
"I was right. It was amazing. My brother went, Kenny Wallace went, Sterling went, and Chad Little went. We had a nice group of drivers up in Maine and we got to watch it snow and it was winter for a day like it's supposed to be in North Carolina. We have another one in Hickory on Saturday night. As of yesterday sometime including the Maine event, we've raised over $650,000 through Operation Marathon. When we were here in July we committed to raise a million dollars and we're going to do that and I think we'll be close to having it done in February. $650,000 is in my fund - it's there, money in the bank. It's not promised and it's not what we think we have. We're going to get more, too. Right now we're talking with Speed Channel about a Texas Hold 'Em tournament that Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon want to play in. We'll hopefully have a $200,000 purse and it all goes to charity. Half of it will go to my charity and half of it will go to the charity of the winner's choice. So I'm trying to get all my buddies to play who will give it all to my charity. The thing that's the coolest about this camp is that the whole NASCAR community has put their arms around it. Dale Jarrett and Kyle are both coming to our dinner on Sunday."
YOUR REACTION TO THE CHANGE OF THE TEAMS?
"My initial reaction was wondering how it all went down. There were several different scenarios that went down as we headed toward the off-season about 2005. When the switch happened, I thought, 'that's strange.' It seemed what Dale Jr. wanted to do and it worked out that it was what I wanted to do, too. I can't get too in depth about it because it's about all I know, too.
"They didn't ask me too much about it but it was clear I needed something different for 2005. It was pretty easy to figure out. When you see me, know this: I'm thankful I have this opportunity. When you've been ridiculed and talked about as much as I have over the course of my career, pressure doesn't exist. I know me and what I'm capable of. I made an analogy earlier. You may look at me like Rich Gannon: put the right people around me and I can take you to the promised land. Nobody thought much about Rich but he was able to deliver when he got the right guys around him and I think that will be the case for me. I'm being prophetic...prolific...pathetic. I don't know what the word is but I'm being a prophet."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TONY EURY, JR. NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW A LOT ABOUT HIM?
"It's been great. I love him. I really love talking to him and working with him. It's a total team effort. It's been refreshing. I guess I didn't pay much attention but I always thought Tony Jr was the crew chief anyway but I suppose Tony did that. But they worked together. I've sensed that Tony Jr. has pulled from all his resources. I've always said that you've got a car, crew and driver. If you don't use all of those to come up with a decision, you're going to get beat by someone else that is doing that. I know this communication is way good."
WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS OF YOU THIS YEAR?
"My expectations for 2004 were that I'd easily been in the Chase. I spent most of 2003 in the top 5 in points and I was in the Top 10 when the Chase would have gone down in 2003. But, in '04 didn't work right. I eventually ended up with a different crew chief by the time the year was over and still looking for answers even at that point. When '04 was getting ready to start I thought we would be way, way inside the window and contenders. That would be my expectation for 2005 because of the new situation. We see what those expectations brought this far. So, I don't know how to answer it other than I would expect to be there. If I'm not there, I would almost bet or guess that if I'm not in the Top 10 or showing signs of being a winning driver by April or May, I probably won't be at DEI in 2006. Everyone makes a big deal of that, but I don't. If it's not working I need to go somewhere else."
EXPLAIN YOUR BUSCH PLANS FOR 2005 AND YOUR CUP TEAM?
"We're going to run four Cup races, beginning at Daytona, with Kenny Wallace and the guys were testing here today. They were 13th or 14th fastest overall. I'm running 24 races in the Busch Series this year. Jimmy Spencer will run a few races and I might get someone else to run a couple, depending. I'm really enjoying the partnership with the sponsors I have and the ability to have something to do Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday when I'm at home to make a bit of a difference. We're making sponsors happy with our team and gainfully employing guys who love to work on race cars and we've been successful. It's more than a hobby, but if I ranked it, it would take a backseat to being a full-time driver for DEI. My main focus is driving for Tony Jr. and winning in the NAPA Chevy."
CAN YOU TELL US WHICH EVENT YOU'VE HAD FOR THE MARATHON HAS BEEN THE MOST SUCCESSFUL?
"The single biggest event will be the dinner we had in Maine. The dinner in Texas next March will probably rival the one we had in Maine. The giving from our sponsors has been big. It's come from so many different places. I wanted to have it all collected and raised by the marathon itself, but I don't think that's going to happen, but it's funny because when we started off we thought that 'build it and they will come', but it didn't. The more we kept making appearances and talking about it and folks like Aaron's and NAPA gave and talked about it on SPEED Channel. It was like a big snowball gaining momentum. By the end of the year people told us how happy they were with what we were doing. Quite honestly, I didn't think about people saying they appreciated. I just thought it would be a challenge and fun and rewarding. The way fans have been reacted has been a bonus. Brooke is in charge of that these days and I told her we'd be at $860,000 when we get to Daytona in February and I think that will happen. Whatever we have in February in the bank, we'll give it to them. Then we have to decide if we're going to give a million dollars a year and do it again. It might not be a bad idea or a stretch. We've got all the PR done and we've got everything in place. We've got the momentum and have learned from our mistakes. I'm not going to state what our goal for the next year is going to be, but we're definitely going to keep going."
WHAT IS YOUR GOAL FOR THE MARATHON?
"My time goal for the marathon is going to be 3:59:59. I always thought if you run a Marathon in less than 4 hours, there is a tick of athletic accomplishment in that. Anything over that is just an old guy with a hard head who isn't going to stop until he's done. The first three I fall into that category. I'm nervous about what the last 6 miles will be like. I haven't gone that far and don't know what to expect. I'll expect the best and prepare for the worst."
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST MARATHON TIME?
"4:13 was my best time in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. When we were in Boston and they said 'Go!', the jets flew over, they sang the national anthem and then I stood there for 10 minutes while all 18,000 people that were ahead of me took off! That was a neat experience and I'm really glad I did that, but they told me that when you saw the Citgo sign at Fenway you're almost there, but who ever said that's full of crap. I labored over that sign for a long time!"
WHAT ARE YOUR OTHER ATHLETIC GOALS?
"What I want to do an Olympic triathlon, which might be better for my body to work both my arms and legs. If I'm not mistaken Olympic triathlon is a six-mile run, 24-mile bike ride and mile swim. I'm going to do that next because I could do that right now. I'm in good enough shape to do that. Then I can work on my body and my form. Marathons just seem to take forever to get ready. I got a new Garman GPS. My GPS is the coolest thing I've ever had. You take off running and it tells you how far you've gone. It's amazing. That way, you don't have to run on a measured course. It's really helped my training."
HOW MUCH WORK IS DONE TO SWAP CARS FROM THE 15 TEAM TO THE 8 TEAM?
"None. No extra work. The guys change bodies on those cars equally as often as women change clothes. The 15 shop and the 8 shop are next to each other. They brought the 15 hauler with my helmet in it, up to the 8 shop. Then they sent the 8 hauler and helmet up to the 15 shop. Everything else basically stayed the same. All his cars, including the car he won Phoenix with, are now my cars, and vice versa. It was a pretty simple switch."
DO YOU GET HIS DAYTONA-WINNING CAR FROM LAST YEAR?
"That's his. I've got two of those."
WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR JUNIOR TO WIN WITH HIS NEW TEAM?
"Junior's a great race car driver and he's very smart. He will elevate the team. Those guys need to feel like winners. When they walk out to the starting line, he's going to walk out there with them and the guys will feel like winners. Pete's very knowledgeable. What he lacks, which is just the experience of being successful, Dale Jr. will feed to him."
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? WHAT EMPATHY DO YOU HAVE FOR DRIVERS WHO HAVEN'T WON?
"I always feel my chances here and at Talladega are outstanding. While my speed hasn't been headline-making over the past couple of days, what we've learned makes me very optimistic about my chances. As far as the other drivers, it was a long time between my first start and first win and I got a little calloused. If someone else doesn't win it doesn't bother me any much. If I can't win, if they cancelled it, it would make me happy."