MICHAEL WALTRIP , NO. 15 NAPA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: NOTE: Waltrip earned his fourth career victory today, leading six times for 16 laps. It is the ninth victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the last 12 restrictor-plate races. YOUR IMPRESSIONS...
MICHAEL WALTRIP , NO. 15 NAPA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
NOTE: Waltrip earned his fourth career victory today, leading six times for 16 laps. It is the ninth victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the last 12 restrictor-plate races.
YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE DAY? "Today was so much fun to be a part of, because we qualified 18th and we were right in the middle of the pack. Our car, in the middle of the pack, just didn't run like we needed it to. We dropped to the back a couple times because moves I made didn't work out, and then we had a pit penalty that got us in the back, but every time I got to the back I learned so much as I shot back up toward the front about what I needed to do to pass guys and make moves. In doing so, when it came down to the end of the race when I needed to get from the back to the front, I knew exactly how to pull it off. It's just a testament to Slugger. This is a brand-new car we built to race here.I think we built it for the Daytona 500 but we tested it at Daytona in the NASCAR tire test and I liked it so much they said we could bring it here. It's just a testament to them for building me such a good race car and to Richie Gilmore and all the people that build our engines. It 's just so cool to get in a car like this and try to figure out how to beat the best in the world when you start the race. Today it was a team effort. I think I did a decent job on the track and the crew did a super job with our strategy and so forth in the pits. I'm just grateful that we figured out how to win this race today."
CREW CHIEF RICHARD "SLUGGER LABBE:
COMMENT ON FUEL MILEAGE AND HOW THAT PLAYED OUT: "Fuel mileage is always big, and we knew that once we got to lap 150, we could make it to the end of the race. We topped off, with the NASCAR penalty that we had, on lap 147, and we stretched it. It worked out OK. I figured we wouldn't make it. I figured we would run out. We had two-tenths of a gallon left at the pumps after the race. It was definitely close, for sure."
CLARIFY WHAT HAPPENED ON THE PENALTY. "The rule is, if the gas man is putting gas in the car, the catch can has to be plugged into the car. What happened was, they filled it up with gas and the guy with the catch can had pulled out and as the car was pulling off, the gas man had plugged in to top it off and the catch-can man did not have his receptacle plugged in and that was the penalty."
30 LAPS INTO THE RACE, SLUGGER WAS APOLOGIZING TO MICHAEL ABOUT THE GEARS IN THE CAR. DID YOU THINK THE RACE WAS OVER AT THAT POINT? "No, but I learned a lot from that point to the end of the race. That changed the way I drove the car and the way I raced the car. The drivers are a little bit nervous or on edge when you race at Talladega. When things don't go right, you get all mad. You don't have anyone, your wife isn't beside you to yell at, you're all by yourself, and you don't have anybody to talk to. You come up with crazy ideas and things that you say that you don't mean. I was venting about the fact I couldn't get my car to run right. Through that, and the way the race unfolded, I figured out how to make it run better than it probably would have had we had the other gear in the car. I learned a lot. I'm too stupid to quit. There's no way I'm going to quit, ever, and they know that. So we just keep on trying and trying to figure out what it's going to take to be successful."
THE POST-RACE CELEBRATION, COMING THROUGH THE ROOF HATCH, WAS THAT PREMEDITATED? "Yeah! I told them when we tested it at Daytona, 'I hope I can win so I can get out my roof hatch and wave at everybody.' Whoever would have thought? I was the only guy to have one today. I thought that was cool. I'm a redneck, you know, get out the sunroof every now and then."
TALK ABOUT THE MOVE YOU MADE IN TURN 4 QUITE OFTEN, SWEEPING OUT WIDE AND CHANGING LANES. "That was the result of a lot of horsepower that we have at DEI, with Richie Gilmore and his guys, and the gear choice that we made. If I kept the car wound up I could really make some progress. What was difficult about it was, when I'd make one of those runs, I could pass three or four cars, but I needed to get back in line and regroup and go at it again. Sometimes you'd make that big move and pass three or four cars, but there would be no way to get back in line. So I'd lose those spots. As a whole, our team just gave me a car that was really fast and that allowed me to make some crazy moves and get it to the front. I really feel like this is a great win for our team, because it came on a day when we were all working so hard to get everything we could out of our race car, and then to have a restart with three or four to go and hold off Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon and come home victorious, I know it was a real pleasure for Slugger and the boys on the team to sit there and watch. As a driver, you do all that work and when you take the checkered flag, it's almost anti-climactic. You're so into what you're doing that when you go under the checkered, everybody else is celebrating and you're like, 'man, I'm glad that's over.' When it was over, I had a great feeling inside because as a team, we dug down inside and figured out how to win."
YOU AND DALE ARE TEAMMATES. HOW NERVOUS WERE YOU ON THE LAST LAP WITH HIM ON YOUR BUMPER? "You ought to see my bumper. He tore it off. Dale Jr. is the perfect teammate. I think we have a great relationship. I do know that he's not going to do anything to jeopardize us both, but I also know he's going to beat me if he can. Therefore, in my mind, I know what I got. I don't have any doubt about the fact that he's back there to win the race and that he's not going to screw us both in order for him to win the race or me and him both not to win it. That's enough information. That's all I need. When we stack it up late in the going, it's so cool that both of us wind up there. We have great cars, but golly, to continue to get them both to the front at the right part of the day is great."
HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN DEI'S DOMINANCE AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS? "The car is a big piece of it, and Dale Jr. and I do our jobs."
"You look back to last July at Daytona. We weren't the dominant cars there, and we got beat on fuel mileage, so we decided to go ahead and build a new car to come here with the best car and best fuel mileage we could have. As it ended up, fuel mileage won the race today. We take plate racing very seriously. We have five speedway cars, and that's an awful lot, but when you take something as serious as the whole company does, it's a good team effort for sure. We're so competitive, myself and Tony [Eury] Jr., that we're always working real hard on our speedway stuff."
"Remember this: Dale Earnhardt was the best at Daytona and Talladega, and he knew that to be the best, you had to have the best cars. When he started DEI, he made sure that everyone understood that he would have the best restrictor-plate cars. He was going to have cars that were faster than everyone else's, to give the drivers a chance to win. That was his signature at DEI. We're going to do whatever it takes to have the best program. He left his fingerprints all over DEI when he left us, and we just understand that it is our job to continue to execute and perform and build the type of equipment that he would be proud of. Dale is gone, but he is such a presence at our shop, and a presence when it comes to plate racing."
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT AS FAR AS THE TURN 4 SITUATION GOES? "I firmly believe that if I just stayed on the bottom of the track and tried to ride to the checkered flag, Gordon would pass me. He got a run on the outside, and he was coming up strong. Dale Jr. was on the inside and I was on the inside, and as I exited Turn 4, I felt like I had to drive up to the top of the track and stop Gordon's momentum, then cut back to the bottom to keep Junior behind me. In doing that, the simplest thing to do would have been to just hold on the bottom and hope Gordon couldn't get there. But in order to win, I felt like I had to go up there and block him off, and the risk of that move was that when I came back to the bottom, Dale Jr. would already be in the hole that I left open. Fortunately, the way I had it figured out worked and we were able to win. It's important that you put your car in position to block off the other guys during a plate race. It not only blocks them, it shoots you out and gives you momentum too. I didn't think I could sit still and hope I could beat Jeff back, because he had a good run on the outside. The guy on the outside, as you come to the start/finish line here at this unique speedway, it seems like he has a little advantage because it seems like he swings a little bit ahead right at the line."
TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THE BUMP WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON? "After I see it on TV, I could analyze it for you, but I don't have any idea what the hell happened. We were swerving at each other a little bit. If I had to just recollect as to what I think happened, I think Dale Jr. and he might have got together, and then he hit me, or else Dale Jr. hit me. Somebody hit me and then Jimmie hit me. I don't think I ever changed direction, I think I was going straight when it all happened. I know we kind of came together leaving the tri-oval a little, and then I got my car straight and then for some reason we came back together. Hell, I don't even remember how we got the lead. I don't remember passing Mark [Martin] and the 97 [Kurt Busch]. They were ahead of me, and then I was leading. It's just very tense and it all happens very fast, and you're in a zone, and you're just really into what you're doing."
JUNIOR SAID THAT YOU KNEW ALL HIS TRICKS. ANYTHING TO THAT? "I felt pretty confident about my situation. The main thing, as a driver, I was thinking sitting over on the backstretch is, to win this race, it's not going to take an action from me, it's going to take a reaction, just to react to what they were doing. I didn't really have a plan, because my whole plan hinged on what Junior and Gordon or those guys behind us did. I know everything there is to know about this gig, I believe, so I wasn't scared, I wasn't intimidated, I wasn't worried. I was just thinking, whatever they do, I'll deal with it then."
HOW DO YOU AS A DRIVER HAVE AN ACCIDENT LIKE ELLIOTT SADLER DID AND THEN CONTINUE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? "Fortunately, I didn't see Elliott's accident and I didn't know he turned over. You just know that obviously we are risk-takers as a group and we feel like we do everything we can to be safe inside our cars before the race ever starts. I tell everyone all the time that one of the things that drives me craziest in this world is if someone says, 'it's going to rain next Thursday.' Well, OK, great, if it does, we'll get our umbrella out. I don't worry about stuff I can't do anything about. When I start at race here at Daytona or Talladega, I figure that the chances are better than 50-50 or maybe even 75-25 that I ain't gonna wreck. I'm going to be able to miss all the wrecks and finish, so I'm not going to worry about a 25-percent chance of rain or a 25-percent chance of wreckin'. I just don't live my life that way. You just work and put so much trust in Slugger and your team and then you trust that whatever God's will is, that's how it'll turn out."
WITH ALL OF YOUR VICTORIES COMING AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE TRACKS, IS THERE A THOUGHT THAT YOU'D LIKE TO WIN ON ANOTHER TRACK? "I want to win everywhere. If I get hung up on Daytona and Talladega for the next four or five years, you're not going to see me be too worried about it. I think Slugger knows that I can win anywhere, and the drivers in the garage area know that I can win anywhere and I know that I can win anywhere. It's people's job to try and say, 'hey, look, he hasn't won anywhere but a plate race, he must not know how to do that other stuff.' I went 0-for-462 and didn't win anywhere, and I got told for a long time I didn't know how to do anything right. So now, at least I can do restrictor-plates right. I've got that going for me."
"Michael had the race in New Hampshire pretty much won, and we let him down as a team in the pits by leaving the gas can in there. Michael can drive; he had that race almost won. We just didn't finish our job to seal the deal. We just have to keep working with him and give him good stuff."