CHEVROLET SS WINS IN ITS NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES DEBUT
Jimmie Johnson Wins Season-Opening Daytona 500 for 2nd Time
DAYTONA, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2013) – Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, won the 55th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. It also marked the first victory for the recently introduced Chevrolet SS, which was making its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut.
“I’m very happy to win the first race in the Gen-6 car for Chevrolet in their SS,” said Johnson, who led 16 laps and took the lead for good shortly after the final restart. “Awesome day.”
Johnson, who also won Daytona 500 in 2006, now has 61 victories in 400 career starts.
“Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick on their victory in The Great American Race,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “And for the Chevrolet SS to win its first points race is incredible. This is a culmination of a tremendous effort by our engineers, owners, drivers, crew chiefs and teams who worked together to develop the Chevrolet SS race car. So much hard work went into preparing the Chevrolet SS for competition in the Sprint Cup series. We waited a long time for this race, and the performance of the No. 48 team made that wait worthwhile.”
Johnson finished 0.129 seconds ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS). It’s the third time in the last four years that Earnhardt Jr. has been the Daytona 500 runner-up. Ryan Newman (fifth, No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS), Regan Smith (seventh, No. 51 Phoenix Construction Chevrolet), pole-sitter Danica Patrick (eighth, No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS) and J.J. Yeley (10th, No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet SS) also finished in the top 10 for Team Chevy.
It was the seventh Daytona 500 victory for owner Rick Hendrick.
Chevrolet now has 22 Daytona 500 victories, more than any other manufacturer. A Team Chevy driver has won seven of the last 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series openers at the 2.5-mile track.
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JIMMIE JOHNSON AND CREW CHIEF, CHAD KNAUS, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS – WINNERS
RICK HENDRICK, WINNING TEAM OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS
KERRY THARP: Let’s go ahead and start with our post race for the 55th annual Daytona 500 championship team. Our winning crew chief is here, Chad Knaus.
Chad, congratulations. I know this has got to be one of the biggest wins of your career.
CHAD KNAUS: Most definitely. Again, we can’t be blinded by the effects of what we had yesterday during the Nationwide race. I hope those fans are okay. I know many of them were planning to be here today and rooted the 48 car onto Victory Lane.
An awful lot of effort, from everybody’s part, from NASCAR, to all the teams, to get prepared for the Daytona 500 this year with the Gen‑6 car, a lot of work and huge, huge effort by the racing community as a whole. I think it was a great race, a lot of fun. Man, it’s pretty awesome to have been able to won it.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions for Chad.
Q. Jimmie has mentioned how one of the few things that the team would like to accomplish is to win a Daytona 500 with you here.
CHAD KNAUS: I knew that was coming out of you. Just knew it (smiling).
Q. Was that something that meant as much to you as it did to Jimmie and the other guys?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it really is. As you guys know, I eat, sleep and breathe 48. Anytime that I’m taken away from that racecar, I’m pretty sad. But when those guys were able to come down here and win the Daytona 500 in 2006 in my absence, I think that really solidified the strength of the 48 car.
Was I here? No. Was I here in spirit? Most definitely. I couldn’t have been prouder of the group of guys we had there. To finally be able to come down here and win and be a part of this is definitely a huge dream come true, mostly so David Newton doesn’t keep asking me about it.
It’s great. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great experience. I just couldn’t be prouder of everybody involved.
KERRY THARP: We are now joined by team owner Rick Hendrick and our championship driver Jimmie Johnson. He becomes the 10th driver to win multiple Daytona 500s. He wins his second Daytona 500 in his 400th career start. 61st victory in the Sprint Cup Series.
How does it feel, Jimmie, to win the 55th annual Daytona 500.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is just awesome. There’s no other way to describe it. 400 starts, every one of those starts with Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports. To be the first to win in a Gen‑6 car, and that car is a Chevy SS, just a very proud moment.
Plate racing has been tough on the 48 as we all know for the last few years. Happy to get through it all. Just a strong racecar. I feel like the speed our car had in it allowed me to really have control of the race there late. I felt like I was sitting on something all day and was just ready to have some fun when it counted, and it did.
KERRY THARP: Rick Hendrick, congratulations on this win. As a team owner, your entire organization, talk about what it means to win a race of this significance.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, this is the Super Bowl of all of racing. I remember the first one. Every one of them has been special. But we had a dry spell down here. I think it was it ’06, and this is our seventh one now. You can be in front going into three and you never make it back to the line.
I was really happy today to see our cars be able to run 1‑2. It’s a great feeling. It gives you a lot of momentum to start the year.
KERRY THARP: We’ll continue with questions.
Q. Chad, when we talked on the media tour, you very clearly hinted that you felt you had something that was going to give you the best opportunity to be in Victory Lane at the end of that race. Back then you didn’t want to talk about exactly what it was. What do you think you had today that really gave you all this victory?
CHAD KNAUS: I think it was Jimmie Johnson, quite honestly. Jimmie did a great job today.
You know, we work really hard at Hendrick Motorsports to prepare for the Superspeedway races. We put a great product out there. I’m telling you, I know we worked at least 35 days straight on the car that we raced in the Daytona 500. I know I put in personally one day of 38 hours straight. I actually sent Jimmie a text, saying I’ve seen 6:48 three times today and haven’t been to bed yet.
I think what we have above everybody else is the desire to go out and win races. We’ve got 500‑plus employees at Hendrick Motorsports. When they all want to go out and win races, you put guys like this behind the seat, you’re going to see magic happen.
Q. Jimmie, were you surprised at the end as you started taking that inside line up through there, I kept waiting for somebody, Biffle, Danica, people running second, third or fourth, to drop down in front and let you push them along, were you surprised nobody jumped down in front of you and made you push?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last restart?
Q. Towards the end, second to the last.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, when I was stuck on the inside lane down there?
Yeah, everybody was just playing the odds. The majority of the competitors wanted to run the top. The draft really works in numbers. There’s more there than the bottom. With the side drafting being as effective right now, you could really choke down the bottom lane and pin a guy against the line and slow him down and then get away and have that long line of cars to surge you past.
The game’s changed a little bit. It used to be defend the bottom, now it’s defend the top.
In the closing laps, we were all single file, I was leading, I wanted to see what would go on with the middle or bottom and not allow guys to set me up based on my lines. I ran the bottom
and no one had a run or did anything. It was an interesting race.
Learned a lot through the course of the race with the new Gen‑6 car. At the end when it was time to go, I knew we had a straight racecar with no scratches on it. We worked real hard, we had a game plan down here every time. Even though we were in single‑car drafts, we had an agenda and things we worked on and made the car a little bit better each day, kept perfecting it. I had one heck of a racecar today.
Q. Jimmie, I want to ask you about a side‑bar story that comes out of this race. Danica Patrick made history today being the first woman to ever lead a lap in the Daytona 500. What impressed you most about the way she ran this race and what do you think this does for the sport?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, she’s really comfortable in the car. Being close to other competitors, door‑to‑door, whatever environment takes place on the racetrack, at these speeds, she was very comfortable. Held a great wheel. Was smooth and predictable. Took advantage of runs when she had them. She did a really good job.
It was just another car on the track. I didn’t think about it being Danica in the car. It was just another car on the track that was fast. That’s a credit to her and the job she’s doing.
I think the style of racetrack really suits her. When we get to the other tracks, she has a tall learning curve ahead of her. She continues to show her ability to drive racecars. She made history today, and in fine fashion, too.
Q. Jimmie, with Danica and with Harvick dominating early, do you feel maybe you flew under the radar well into it than you have in some years? If so, did you like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t really think too much about it. In other years I’ve been down here so focused on the pole, caught up in the media, the buzz that surrounds that, being in the top five. As time goes on, it’s a nice week to enjoy after you win the pole, but it just doesn’t mean much for the race.
In my mind, I didn’t feel like I was under the radar. I felt like we were working hard to put the best product on the track. I had a good run in the Unlimited until we crashed. The Duel, I thought we were very competitive there. It was a sign of things to come.
I guess I was quiet in the overall spectrum of things from the media side. I think people in the garage, people knew we were sitting on a lot of speed and had a very good racecar.
Q. Motorsports has been known for streaks, dominance. I know you’re hoping to repeating the five years of championships. After two years of struggling here, I was wondering, any little bit of a doubt saying, Can we regain that? Aiming at a championship, any doubts creep in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Doubts on the championship or plate racing?
Q. The championship.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Plate racing, no. Man, it’s like playing the lottery. Everybody’s got a ticket. When the 83 car is up there running fifth or sixth in the closing laps, it just shows you how equal the cars are and what the draft does. I’ve struck out a lot at these tracks, left with torn‑up racecars. Today we had a clean day.
I didn’t doubt our ability to win; I was just frustrated with circumstances and plate racing. This will buy me a smile for I’m sure the rest of the year on the plate tracks.
Q. Thirty-five more races to go. Good start. How do you look at this now looking ahead to the rest of the season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely a great start for the team. When we were sitting discussing things before the season started, we felt good about the 500, but we’re really excited for everything after the 500.
So very hopeful and excited that our 48 car will be really fast in Phoenix, Vegas, moving forward. I think it’s going to be a very strong year for us.
Q. Jimmie, can you try to explain, you said on the last lap you backed up to the people behind you, Junior said he backed up, Greg said he backed up. I thought the whole idea was to try to go forward.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, the way our cars work, there’s more help from someone pushing you than somebody towing you along. Been mentioned and talked a little bit about this week, the spring, some guys call it the beach ball effect. When the front bumper gets close to the rear bumper, there’s bubble effect that shoots the car ahead. We learned over the years, if you ride the brake and help the car catching you break through that little bubble and make contact with you, there’s more energy in that than the bubble effect.
Usually why we wreck is drag the brake, wait for contact, sometimes it’s not in the right spot, maybe it’s too hard, starts a wreck. But that’s the game everybody plays.
I didn’t pull back on the 16 at all. It seemed to me that everybody that’s won down here, the leader was in pretty good shape. I was looking closely at the 16, waiting for him to come with a run. Then Earl said the 88 had the run. Last I looked, he was fourth or fifth. I thought that was great because he’s probably going to stall out next to the 16, I was going to be up there all by myself in the lead and make it back.
He did have a big enough run to get by the 16, but I knew he didn’t have enough closing rate to get by my side and do anything. I felt kind of good about things coming off of four.
Q. Jimmie, about being under the radar. Usually in the old style of restrictor plate racing, there would be a harrowing moment or defining moment when you knew a guy was going to win or somebody had a dominant car leading into the weekend. It seemed like this weekend with the eradication of tandem drafting, everything in practice was limited. Today the racing seemed so different. Did you have a defining moment over the last week, or a time when you knew you could win this race, from 10 days ago to now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The rules package has the cars so close that it is tough to tell, even inside the racecars on the track. It was the Duel, I climbed out of the car, Chad and I debriefed afterward. I told him we didn’t have much speed. He said, Man, from what I saw, you looked as good as anyone if not better. Chad and I in our relationship, I couldn’t tell.
The same for yourself, you’ve been watching the sport a long time. The rules have the cars very close on speed. Throughout the week what I looked for was cars that could hang on to the draft. If they’re the last car in line, didn’t lose the draft, that was a fast car. That was one of the only indications I could consistently say was key. We found ourselves in that position a lot and never lost the draft.
For me the defining moment in the race was the caution coming out and the 48 being ahead of the 2. That gave me lane choice and really control of the race in the closing laps.
Q. Jimmie, maybe I’m reaching on this, but there at the end of the race you’re lining up against Brad. You lose the championship to him last year. Any extra motivation to go and get the 500 and beat him? Also, after going two years without winning a championship, to start a year with a Daytona 500 victory, are you able to take any ability to stick it to everybody and say, Hey, I’m back, I’m here, I’m coming back?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don’t think we went anywhere anybody in the garage area, they’re wise to all that. We had great pace last year, championship form, had two bad races at the end.
You know, I’m just enjoying this moment. This is a one of a kind race. In the rush that follows, the notoriety that follows, it’s great for all of us. Chad, Rick, the company, Lowe’s, Chevrolet. It’s just time to sit back and enjoy.
When we pull into the gates at Phoenix next weekend, it’s a totally different game as we all know. We’ll enjoy this rush. If there’s some down points through the year, we’ll look back on this race and smile again.
As far as racing with Brad out there, you really lose sight of who is in what car. It’s just somebody between you and the trophy. It could have been anybody. I knew the 2 had damage and wasn’t going to b
e really fast. That’s the only thing I thought about regarding the 2, was he had some damage and hopefully I could get by him with the clean racecar I had.
Q. Jimmie, you just said you were aware the 2 had front end damage. It seemed like it took you a long time to get by him. Were you just sort of biding your time or were you surprised he was as fast as he was with that nose so torn up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I was desperately wanting to get by him or in the inside lane. There were far more cars lined up on the outside lane than the inside. Who was behind us?
CHAD KNAUS: Denny.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the 9 was there at one point.
It was just so hard to make up time on the bottom because there were fewer cars. I was hanging on side drafting, doing all I could to hang onto the 2 when I was close to him and the 16. The caution truthfully fell at a good time for us. Right when we surged ahead, that allowed me to get ahead for the driver’s choice for which lane he wanted.
Q. Seemed like you were laying low for half the race. Was that the way things went?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I ran second to fifth all day really. But you had such a small opportunity of time to get something done, you had a restart, and that would shuffle around for three laps, then we’re all in line. Coming to pit road, Chad’s strategy on when we pitted, the guys, what they did on pit road, was great. We always got the lead as the result of one.
Once that single file, it would be foolish to pull out. You get back in line in 35th or something, so you just kind of hold your spot.
Q. Jimmie, I know it’s awfully early, but the last time a new racecar was introduced in ’07, Hendrick and you were strong right away. I look at this and I wonder are you maybe a little bit ahead of the rest? Is this a sign or is it too early to say that maybe you have something?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a little early yet. Once we get a downforce race or two behind us, we’ll have a better understanding. I have confidence because I know how hard Chad works, I know the tools and commitment that Rick has and gives us, how hard everybody works at our shop. We’ve had great test sessions.
Again, we felt like we had a shot at this race, but we’re really excited for the races to come.
But it is a little early. Maybe after Vegas, Bristol, we can see which team has the upper hand.
Q. Obviously it feels fantastic to do this. What does it mean to you that so many of your competitors come into Victory Lane to congratulate you in a moment like that? What does it mean to you to spend those types of moments with your family?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It means a lot. I mean, that hits me deep. We race against one another, do some awful things to each other out on the track as competitors. But it’s the ultimate nod for another guy to come in, if he’s a Hendrick driver or not.
Brad came by, Ryan came by, Mears came by, Gordon, Junior, Kahne. It’s really cool. It means a lot to me. I’m one of the few racers out there that’s concerned about friendships and relationships. I have a lot of friends out there on that track and I’m proud of that.
I’m also proud to have my family here. Chani and Evie mean the world to me. Chani has been by my side and supporting me and letting me focus on my job and do all that I need to to be a part of this race team.
I win, our family wins. To have that moment in Victory Lane is very special, too.
Q. You’re about to go through an entire gauntlet of publicity that will have nothing to do with racing. How much room are you going to give Jimmie to enjoy this before you haul back in to get ready for Phoenix?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, I already know he has appearances tomorrow morning, then he’s got to go to New York and do stuff there, stopping in Charlotte on the way. Tuesday, we’ll have a debrief. Thursday, we’re on track with the Nationwide car. He’s going to be pretty busy.
That’s the thing that’s difficult about our sport. You’ve got to move on relatively quickly and put the good things and the bad things behind you. So that goes both ways. Jimmie does a very good job of balancing that out. He’s going to have some serious obligations with all of you from a media standpoint. But he’ll be on point when it comes time for Phoenix.
Q. I’m not sure what we thought we were going to see down here, but after hearing all about the Gen‑6 car, how it was going to do this, that and the other thing, for much of the day it was just single file, parade style until the very end. Is this race so different that this car eventually will be very good at other places and may not be good here or are we expecting too much?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I think the cars are sensitive to side drafting, and that is some of what we saw. When we’re running single file, we’re just trying to get to the finish. We’ve all crashed so many times and have torn up so much stuff that a lot of that falls on the driver’s shoulders.
I feel for NASCAR, they’re trying to create a very competitive car. They want a side‑by‑side. The fans want a side‑by‑side. There’s a few guys willing to race. The spotters were all talking. I’d get word that three or four guys wanted to jump out of line, they were tired of riding. I thought they better get some friends.
I just believe a lot of the competitors just wanted to get to that last pit stop and race for it.
CHAD KNAUS: On that point, I’d like to add, there were a lot of stories going on other than the racing on the track. Racing is more than side‑by‑side and crashing. If you go back and look, there were different pit strategies, ways guys took the lead on pit road, two tire or four tire strategy. The racing was pretty good if you go back and look at the nuts and bolts of it. Just because you’re not running side‑by‑side doesn’t mean it’s a bad race.
Q. Jimmie, in the best laymen’s terms, because maybe the casual fans don’t understand how difficult it is to do what you guys do out there, is it particularly hard to win here at Daytona? If so, why?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s about as tough as it gets here. The draft and the way you race here and at Talladega is much different than anywhere else. It takes vehicles around you to create opportunities to pass. You can’t do it alone. So it’s far different than any other racing we do.
When you put us here at the biggest race, the Daytona 500, everybody brings their A game. It’s the most difficult race to win.
Q. Jimmie, put this in some kind of historical perspective. I don’t know if you’re able to do this at this moment. Winning in your 400th career start, you joined a great list of people that have done that, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Richard Pearson, Dale Earnhardt. What does that mean to you having accomplished that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I had no clue about that. Just to hear those names and my name in that sentence is pretty awesome. The history side is hard for me because, one, I don’t know these stats. Happy to hear about them, though. I’m still in the sport competing, not in that mental space to reflect back all that much.
I am so proud to be in that same category with those guys, feel I have a lot of years left. I certainly hope to make more history and do other cool things within the sport.
It’s a huge honor. There’s no other way to put it. Any time you’re mentioned with those greats, it’s a huge honor.
Q. Switching to a new car, how long does it take you to discover the setups that you think are going to work? Some people mentioned it’s a lot like it was eight to 10 years ago. Are you finding any numbers that you have useful to this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We never stop learning. Something’s always evolving and changing. Just when you think whatever mindset has become extinct, whatever setup is never going to be in a racecar again, a guy finds a way to make it work once again. We see this happen all the time.
This car is introducing some very old school th
ought, tools to be used on the racecar. So nothing’s really ever gone. It always seems to find its way back into the sport. We’ll learn all year and even past that.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick, Chad Knaus, congratulations on putting on a great show here during Speedweeks, culminating with today’s victory in the 55th winning of the Daytona 500. Certainly a championship effort. We wish you the best of luck the rest of the accept. Thank you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS FINISHED SECOND
DANICA PATRICK, NO. 10 GODADDY CHEVROLET SS FINISHED EIGHTH AND WAS THE TOP FINISHING ROOKIE-OF-THE-YEAR CONTENDER
KERRY THARP: Let’s roll right into our post race for today’s 55th annual Daytona 500. What a great event it was out there today.
Our race runner‑up is Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Dale, really made a good move on that last white flag lap, coming on strong. Talk about the performance today of the 88 team.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I couldn’t have done much without Mark (Martin) helping me here at the end. I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking as we come off of turn two on that last lap. I felt like we needed to make the move a little earlier than off of four.
I kept backing up, backing up, trying not to let guys get racing behind us too much. If somebody ducked out of line a couple rows behind Mark. I was going to have a gap, me and Mark could take off, not get hung up with those guys. Once we come off of two, mashed the gas, got a run on Danica, side‑drafted her a little bit. I don’t know why them guys didn’t pull down in front of me besides Jimmie, but we got through three and four with a pretty good run.
Once we come to turn four, we kind of run out of steam, didn’t have enough to get a run on Jimmie.
But real happy with the way the car run all day. You couldn’t pass much. But when I was able to really see what my car could do, it was plenty capable of winning the race. The guys did a good job all winter trying to prepare for running well. We got 1‑2 out of our shop. Really happy with Hendrick and all our effort.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions now.
Q. Dale, you touched upon the fact it was hard to pass. Reflect on the performance of the new Gen‑6 models and was it frustrating as it seemed for us looking that you weren’t able to pass that much?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I got to agree with Mark. I thought the car put on a really good show all week. We had a really exciting Shootout, the 125’s were pretty racy. The car proved at the end of this Daytona 500 that it will race well and put on a good show.
That first 150 miles, everybody commits to the top, there’s not enough guys to organize on the bottom, you get freight‑trained. There’s too much risk. You work all day on track position because you got to be toward the front to have a shot at it. You hate to give up any track position.
I saw guys like Gordon pull out, go to the back. Too much of a risk. If I could find a car with a gap in front of it, I had a run, I might have been able to side draft. But you have to be patient with that.
It was a great show. A couple adjustments with this car, the track is going to age a little bit more, the tire will change as the track ages. It’s going to turn into an even better race. I think no adjustments needed.
KERRY THARP: We’re also joined now by Danica Patrick. She is the highest finishing Sonoco Rookie of the Year. She came in eighth today.
Danica, talk about your run out there today. You were always running up front. Congratulations.
DANICA PATRICK: Thanks. You know, it was a solid day, steady day. Got off to a nice start. Wish I would have led at the very beginning. I thought I was going to. So it was nice to lead later on in the race, just to have done that, to lead laps.
But it was steady. I mean, I spent most of the day half throttle running behind people. So, you know, when you get in that line, that nice outside line where it’s just single file, I didn’t feel like it was a wise idea to drop low and try to figure out how to pass. You were going to probably find yourself much further back.
I suppose that’s the only downside to running in that front group all day is that I never got any practice passing, I never tried really anything. The only thing we really did was on those starts, the inside line had a lot of momentum for the first couple of laps. That was the most action that happened until the very end there.
Once that inside line at the end of the race had dedicated followers, it was strong. But once Jimmie got in the outside line, I think it showed that he was fast.
So congrats to Jimmie. It was nice to get a Chevy to win the race.
But, you know, overall steady day, steady day for me, nice day for Go Daddy, and the crew did a nice job in the pits. So really nothing super‑duper eventful.
KERRY THARP: We’ll continue with questions.
Q. Danica made more history today by becoming the first woman to lead a Daytona 500. Want to get your thoughts on that. What impressed you with the way she ran today and what this means for the sport.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: She’s going to make a lot of history all year long. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch her progress. I think she’s done her best work in the Cup car myself. I think for whatever reason she seems to get a lot more out of that car.
Every time I’ve seen her in a pretty hectic situation, she always really remained calm. She’s got a great level head. She’s a racer. She knows what’s coming. She’s smart about her decisions. She knew what to do today as far as track position and not taking risks, like she said.
I enjoy racing with her. Look forward to more all year long. It’s just going to be a lot of fun having her in the series.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you. Those are all really nice things and I appreciate that.
Q. Danica, will you ultimately view this day as a success or will you be kicking yourself over would have, could have because you were third with a lap to go?
DANICA PATRICK: I would imagine that pretty much anyone would kick themselves and say what could I have, should I have done to give myself that opportunity to win.
I think that’s what I was feeling today, was uncertainty as to how I was going to accomplish that. There was plenty of time while you were cruising along. I was talking to Tony and my spotter on the radio, What do you see people doing, what’s working, what is not. I was thinking in the car, How am I going to do this? I didn’t know what to do exactly.
So I feel like maybe that’s just my inexperience. Maybe that’s me not thinking hard enough. I don’t know. Getting creative enough. I’m not sure. I definitely was a little uncertain how I was going to be able to do it. I think Dale did a nice job and shows what happens when you plan it out, you drop back, get that momentum and you’re able to go to the front.
You know, I think he taught me something and I’m sure I’ll watch the race and there will be other scenarios out there that I’ll see that can teach me, too.
Q. Dale, late in the race, I think Danica had gotten by herself a little bit. You were one of the first guys that went up and worked with her a little bit. No hesitation on your part? When you ditched her there at the end, did you have any regret or remorse?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I was just trying to get the best finish I could. I wanted to get in the media center to thank my crew and everything. Was just trying to get on the podium.
Danica has done so good all week and her car has been great and she’s pretty tenacious out there, so I didn’t have any problem getting up there and drafting with her.
I went where I thought I needed to go to move forward. I’m sure on some occasions she was in that situation, involved in that situation, sometimes not.
I just went to where I needed to go all day long. You had to really pick and choose your battles and really be decisive on whether to go or not go on certain runs.
I really don’t remember much, except for the last lap, of the rest of the race, anything we did, who we
raced with even. It was a lot of fun. I had a good time.
Q. Did you like the rules package today? This looked like old school, like ’90s plate racing. How does this one compare?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I liked it. I think that the package is really good. The surface is still relatively new, which provides tons of grip. If we had the old surface with this car, it would have been an incredible race, people sliding around, wearing tires out, just trying to dig as hard as they could. We’ll get to that as the track ages. I’d hate to see them messing with the car to get a better package, because the track is in good shape. It’s down here next to the beach. It will wear out and age quite rapidly compared to Charlotte or some other tracks that have been repaved.
As the track changes, the tire will ultimately change and be able to wear and you’ll see guys moving around, different things happening.
I think it’s a great way to start the season. The car is doing everything we hoped it would do. I think it will just get better. It’s still a brand‑new car. We have a whole season and the future to improve it and learn how to make it tick. Looking forward to that.
Q. Dale, after finishing second, you had one of the best years ever in your career last year. How does this portend for the future?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think it’s important to get a good start points‑wise. It’s important to put a good foundation of points together. If you get behind early, it seems like you’re still chasing that Chase spot at Richmond. It’s good to get a good start, get a couple points on some guys.
We’re a good team. Hopefully we can keep the pressure on them and stay up in the top five in the points and win some races. I want to really try to win some more races this year. That’s our focus.
Q. Danica, you had a great run going at Phoenix right to the very end. After such a great run here, you have to be excited going to Phoenix.
DANICA PATRICK: Yeah. It was nice to run like we did at the end of the year last year with Texas and especially with Phoenix.
I feel like it will give us a good baseline idea of how we need to set the car up. But it also is a new car, so we’ll have to adapt to that.
Tony and I are still figuring out how we get the most out of me with new tires in a qualifying situation, things like that. We still have a lot of stuff to work on.
But it was nice to have that race in Phoenix at the end of last year. While it might not be so much about Phoenix, I think it’s about Tony Gibson and everybody that works around him.
Q. Dale, following up on what Mark said about the sick feeling. You were on track when that horrible wreck happened. How did you feel to be able to race today versus how you felt 24 hours ago after the Nationwide race? How was the vibe different in the garage versus what it might have been last night?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Me personally, I was just really waiting to get the news on how everybody was, how all the fans were overnight, just hoping that things were going to improve, especially for the two critically injured. Just waiting for word on how everybody was, not really ready to proceed until you had some confirmation that things were looking more positive.
There’s so much going on at the prerace, so many distractions, once you got in the car and the race started, felt like business as usual. But like Mark said, I know there’s a lot of people still recovering, may have a lot of recovery in the future. Hopefully they’re doing well today and we welcome them back as soon as they get well, hope that they will come back.
Q. Dale, you didn’t have radio communication like you used to in the past. Wondering how you hooked up. Why couldn’t you catch Jimmie if you were hooked up?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, I mean, I got the same equipment Jimmie does, so we were up against a pretty steep climb trying to get by him, getting a run on him. Mark and I did a good job as doing all we could from as far back as we were. I was surprised that the guys up front didn’t put up a better plan or laid back, or put themselves in a better position. Everybody is out there trying to do what they need to do. We just happened to make a choice. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
Q. Danica, when you look at what you accomplished here and what you did do at Phoenix and Texas, do you now reset your expectations for what you might be able to accomplish as a rookie this year?
DANICA PATRICK: No. I mean, I think that would be unwise to sort of start telling myself that top ten is where we need to be every week. I think that’s setting up if failure. The list of drivers in the Cup Series is deep. This is a unique track. These tracks are different and unique. A lot about the car. I mean, you have to be smart enough to do the right thing at the right time. But it’s very much about the car.
I feel like I’m still sticking to let’s see how these first five races go where we go to a bunch of different kinds of tracks, see where we settle in, start to establish goals from there on out.
The only thing we can go off of is at the end of last year and running solid inside that top 20, hopefully get inside that top 15. That’s really all I can think right now. That’s all I can think. It might change after five races. It might be better. Who knows. It might be worse. We’re going to kind of pick up where we left off.
Q. Danica, by the time you got to your car before the race, seemed like the national anthem was starting and you had to hop in right away. I could be wrong. Was that at all difficult, the lack of time you had to unwind from everything?
DANICA PATRICK: You know, I feel like when there are pressure situations, tensions are high, I don’t get too flustered and I seem to be okay with them. So, you know, I was walking while the invocation was going on. By the time I got to the car, we did the anthem. There were a list of photos with people that we were meant to get and I didn’t do any.
I just got in the car. As soon as the anthem is done, I get in the car. Everything else has to take a backseat, because that’s what I’m there to do, is drive.
Q. Dale, you said on pit road you feel like with a few changes to the package, it could be great racing. What sort of changes do you recommend?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Seeing how the track changes. I had a really bad push in the Duel, just terrible, and I couldn’t believe the right front tire lived as well as it did. I was able to maintain with the pack. When the racetrack was a lot more worn out, I would have probably blown the tire out if I hadn’t come in the pits and fixed it.
Just the tire is very good. I don’t want to give people the wrong impression. As this track ages, they’ll be able to tune the tire, much like they are coming up with Phoenix. I think it will challenge the cars and challenge the drivers a little bit. It’s just a little easy to stay in the pack. I think it will get harder as the surface gets slicker.
Q. Danica, what was it like leading the field to the pole? Was there any time to look around or absorb the moment?
DANICA PATRICK: There were quite a few people out there when we walked out there for intros. I thought that was a hefty amount of people. That was pretty cool. You definitely got the feeling you were in a sea of people. Hopefully the fans enjoyed that.
That’s access to us that no other sport really gets that. I mean, the fans can really get to us. I hope they appreciate that.
And to be ‘on the field,’ that’s a cool thing for the fans to be able to do. But I got a feeling there, once you’re out in the car, I’ve been in these situations before, I felt really calm leading the field to the green. The front was the calmest place to be, so I thought as anything would go, I’m sure there were people behind me that were more nervous because up front is nice on these speedways.
Q. Danica, the owner of Red Bull has offered you, if you finish in the top 10 at the Daytona 500, the opportunity to test a Formula One car. Is that something you would be interested in, as a demonstration, not anything
DANICA PATRICK: I didn’t hear about that. That’s nice. I have been in that situation before, where someone has offered for me to test the car. It was a long time ago, quite a few years ago. Where do they test, in South Africa or something in the winter.
Anyway, for me, if I’m not serious about driving a Formula One car, I’m not a car geek. I don’t feel like I have to drive a Formula One car to make my life complete. Unless it was something I was serious about doing, my schedule is rather full anyway. Then it just opens you up for criticism. If it doesn’t go well, what are people going to say? That’s something that I don’t like to put myself in.
But it’s a very kind offer.
Q. Danica, as you became the first female to lead laps at Indy, you did here. I know you don’t like to think of your career in gender terms, but I was hoping you could describe what that means to you.
DANICA PATRICK: You know, honestly when I say that I wanted to lead at some point, it was just because I was disappointed I didn’t do it off the bat like I thought I should have. So it didn’t really have to do with being a girl and leading.
I think a stat that I found more interesting is only 13 people, including me now, have led Indy and Daytona. I thought that was a much cooler stat for me.
I’m honored. But, again, these are things that just happen along the way. I’m on the quest to be the best driver, run up front, get to Victory Lane. These things happen and I’m proud, but they’re not the ultimate goal.
Q. Danica, before the start of the race, making your way through the crowd, I think Tony found you and drew you close to say something. What words did he impart? What kind of calming effect did that have for you?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, he grabbed me first and I was about ready to unleash on someone (laughter). That happened first.
He just said, Block all this out. You go do it. It’s your time now. Focus. You’ll do a great job.
I’d love to be able to talk to somebody like Tony Stewart and just get the rundown on how it’s going to go, but you have to experience it for yourself. For me I also have to have experience to ask and figure out how to do them better next time. It’s not so easy as to talk to Tony and get the scope of it.
What he said was simple, but calming, and it probably was what also drove me to just, as soon as the anthem was over with, to get in the car. People are trying to make decisions around me. Are you going to do it? Are you not going to do it? I’m putting my ear piece in, if you want a picture with my back to you, that’s fine, but I’m getting in the car because it’s time to work.
Q. Danica, I think when you won the pole, there was a little bit of, She won the pole, she has a fast car, but how is she going to race when it comes down to it. Do you feel like in the bigger picture what you were able to do today perhaps showed and won some respect from the Sprint Cup guys?
DANICA PATRICK: Again, I think that’s a question better to those guys, better to guys like Dale and everyone else that I was around all day. I feel like they would be able to answer that question for you.
But I think it was better to have run up in the top 10 all day today. The pole was wonderful. Tony Gibson and those guys are the ones that should be really proud of that one, and I know they are. But today being able to stay up front, get to the lead at one point, just run up in the top 10, for me that was more of an accomplishment.
Guy on my team, Jay, was joking around before qualifying. He said, These two days are about us, next week is about you. He’s joking around, but he’s right. It’s about the potential of the car, Hendrick engines and chassis, and having that pub for Go Daddy, because there’s a whole week of media. That was for them, and today is the day that I can look at and be happy for certain things and learn from others.
Q. Danica, a couple times on pit road with that first pit stall, it was tough getting out of the pits. Wheel spinning, a couple times getting passed. Can you talk about the idiosyncrasies of pit road.
DANICA PATRICK: First pit box is the one you take when you qualify on pole. That’s just what you do. It was definitely different pulling out because everyone has momentum next to you. I mean, I think it’s a benefit under yellow because you’re just crossing the line, but after that, the momentum takes over.
It was different. I mean, I definitely felt like I had a lot of wheel spin. I don’t know if that’s the fact that there’s no rubber in front of me really, being in that first pit stall or not. I’m sure there’s great reason why you pull into that first pit stall.
It was nice to be there all day. It wasn’t until the end with the 9 that I had to worry about anyone pulling into the pit box behind me. We were in that and it was nice to have it. And I can’t miss my pit box either. Can’t miss it.
Q. Dale, you came really close to a second victory in the Daytona 500. How would you feel if you managed to get that second one, given how long it took your dad to get one?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: Yeah, it’s like a drug, I assume. It’s such a high. You just don’t know when you’ll ever get that opportunity again, or if you’ll ever get that opportunity again. I knew before I won in 2004, I was reserved to the idea I may be trying to win this race my entire career, because I knew all too well how that was for my father.
I felt so much relief when I did win it. I’m ready to do it again. It’s been too long. Running second over and over is great and all for our team, a good start to the season, but I would love, even having to go through all the hassle that Jimmie is about to go through this week, it’s worth it.
Just before I take off, I just wanted to say that I noticed something last night coming out of the track for dinner, just seemed to be a different vibe inside the infield. People seemed more excited about what was getting ready to happen today. Even today, there seemed to be a whole lot more people here. Seemed to be a lot more excitement about the race.
That really was the biggest motivator for me today. I think we’re headed in the right direction. We may not be consistently each week. But I thought today for some reason it just felt like we’re on the right track as a sport. That’s got me really excited. So I’ll take off and see you guys next week.
DANICA PATRICK: I agree (laughter).