Danica Patrick Makes History at Daytona as the First Female Driver to Win A NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pole; Jeff Gordon Makes it an All Chevrolet SS Front Row for the 55th Running of Daytona 500
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla (February 17, 2013) – Danica Patrick made history today behind the wheel of the No. 10 GODADDY Chevrolet SS by winning the pole for the 55th running of the Daytona 500. Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Jeff Gordon powered the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS to second in the final order giving the all-new Chevrolet SS the front row for the Great American Race set for Sunday, February 24, 2013.
“We are so proud of Danica Patrick, Tony Gibson and the entire Stewart-Haas team on putting the No. 10 Chevrolet SS on the pole for the 2013 Daytona
500,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “Danica was focused and drove a great line to secure the pole. She gave tremendous credit to her entire #10 team for this accomplishment. She is a determined racer, a team player and we’re proud to have her on Team Chevy.
“It is also great that three-time Daytona 500 champion, Jeff Gordon, will be on the outside front row with his No. 24 Chevrolet SS. It was a proud moment for us yesterday when Jeff drove the all new Chevrolet SS production car into the Daytona Fan Zone for its first public reveal. And, today he qualified on the front row of the Daytona 500 for the fourth time in his career.
“In addition, we are honored to that the new Chevrolet SS production car will pace the Daytona 500, and that it will lead an all Chevrolet front row to the green flag.”
Patrick’s accomplishment marks the first time in the 64 year-history of the NSCS that a woman will lead the field to the start of the Great American Race. Patrick, who led the first two practice sessions leading up to today’s all-important qualifying, was eighth in the order of the 45 cars making qualifying attempts today. Her lap of 45.817 seconds – 196.434 m.p.h. proved to have staying power as one-by-one the remainder of the cars made their runs.
Team Chevy drivers captured five of the top-six qualifying positions giving Ryan Newman, No. 39 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS (fourth), Tony Stewart, No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS (fifth) and Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS (sixth) excellent starting positions for Thursday’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona Qualifying Races.
Other Chevrolet SS drivers in the top-20 qualifiers were: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS – 11th; Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS – 13th; Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/Peak Chevrolet SS – 14th; Austin Dillon, No. 33 Honey Nut Cheerios Chevrolet SS – 16th and Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS – 20th.
The first of the two ‘Budweiser Duel at Daytona Qualifying Races’, which will determine order for the Daytona 500, is scheduled to start on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. ET. Live coverage will be provided SPEED TV, MRN Radio and NASCAR Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 90.
POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: We have our Coors Light pole winner for the 55th running of the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick. She’s joined by her crew chief Tony Gibson. Danica, congratulations on just a superior effort out there today. I know the team worked extremely hard. Certainly history in the making. You’ve also qualified for the 2014 Sprint Unlimited.
DANICA PATRICK: That’s right.
TONY GIBSON: One more car I have to build (laughter).
KERRY THARP: What does it mean to be the polesitter, know that you’re going to be leading the pack a week from today for the most famous race in stockcar?
DANICA PATRICK: Thanks a lot. You just made me feel nervous right there. I’m supposed to be excited and relieved today. I feel like a broken record. I probably will feel even more so by the end of the day after all my interviews.
But I appreciate the recognition, but it really falls, as I think I said before I went out on the track, 90% on Tony and his guys, everybody that gives me the car to go out there and be fast, and maybe 10% on me.
All I have to do is think about going out there, being smooth, not letting the car bind up, running on that yellow line. Outside of that, I think it shows how well‑prepared Tony and everybody was, how strong the Hendrick engines are, how good the new Chevy SS is. We’ve been fast since practice in January.
Last year I was pretty decent in practice and came for the race and it wasn’t the same situation. This year it continued. I think that just shows how well‑prepared they all have been, how hard they’ve worked over the winter.
It’s really amazing how much effort is put into a qualifying car for Daytona, for the 500, and really only the front row is what sticks for Sunday. It’s nice that all that hard work can pay off and that we can give ourselves that opportunity to lead the pack down into the tri‑oval for the green flag of the Daytona 500.
KERRY THARP: Tony Gibson, congratulations. Certainly a big day for this race team and the entire Stewart‑Haasorganization. Just talk a little bit about the performance of the No. 10 team, the significance of getting this pole here today.
TONY GIBSON: It’s a team effort. Like I told Danica, it’s more than 10% driver. I was talking to David Green on the line, about five cars away. He’s just like, Remind her hit her shifter. I’ve messed up and overshifted and messed the lap up. It’s more than 10% because you can put a good product out there, but if you don’t have the person to drive it, put everything else together, it canreally damage your day.
We just gave her a product that was really good and she took it the rest of the way. It’s more than 10%, I promise you. It’s 50/50.
I’m proud of her. I know there was a lot of pressure on her to come here and qualify well, in the top six, to lock us in. I’m proud of her to carry that weight on her shoulders. She didn’t falter. She did everything right. She hit her marks, hit her marks on theshifts, and here we are.
It’s a big deal for me, for sure, personally. I’ve been knocked off these front rows several times by just a little bit. It’s really nice to come here and get it done, especially for the Daytona 500, my hometown. It’s a big deal.
DANICA PATRICK: This is your hometown?
TONY GIBSON: I was born in the hospital right across the street.
DANICA PATRICK: Your mom making us dinner tonight?
nbsp; TONY GIBSON: Mom and dad went to the tractor show (laughter). My wife took my grandmother shopping, so she’s worn out.
DANICA PATRICK: I’ll make dinner if she’ll make the monkey bread. Deal?
TONY GIBSON: Deal (laughter).
Q. Danica, Jeff Gordon was just in here saying that even for a guy that’s been in the sport for 20 years, it’s hard sometimes not to go into protect mode when you’re on the front row. How do you maintain the aggressive attitude that you need to get through the Duels and practice and get to the 500?
DANICA PATRICK: I have no idea. Tony, what am I supposed to do?
TONY GIBSON: Don’t put yourself in any bad positions.
For her, it is new. You don’t want to take the chance of wrecking the car, nobody does. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.
She’s going to have to put herself three‑wide, four‑wide, there’s no way around it. If we tear it up, we tear it up. We have another one on the truck.
You can’t run scared all the time. She’s going to have to get out there and race. Definitely we’re not going to put ourselves in very bad positions. If it looks like it’s getting hairy, she can get out, go to the back and ride. We’re in a position to do that.
She needs to get out there just like every driver here. The Gen‑6 car is new. The Chevy SS is really fast, won last night. Even the guys that ran last night still don’t have the answers. There’s still a lot of things that are not answered. She’s going to have to get out there and let us know what we got to do to make the car comfortable for her, two‑wide, three‑wide, whatever it takes.
Q. Danica, another of your moments at the brink of history, May of 2005, quickest at practice, everybody is anticipating you win the pole. You catch a gust of wind at one, end up qualifying fourth. People were talking about gusts of wind today. Were you okay with that or did you have to battle some puffs out there?
DANICA PATRICK: Everything seemed pretty smooth. I didn’t notice anything that threw me offline or made me move. The car moves around through the corner a little bit. It’s hard to keep a perfect arc so you don’t hit the apron.
Coming off of two, I felt like the car felt bound up. I let it out a little bit more than I would have. If that was wind, I don’t know. But that was something that felt a little bit different compared to yesterday.
But I think ultimately at the end of the day, too, everything happens for a reason. In fact, I thought about Indy ’05, thought about how I was the favorite to win the pole going in. I thought, you know what, maybe I wasn’t ready. Maybe my life would have changed and been different because of that happening or whatever. I just feel like I’m comfortable, I’m cool. I’ve been around for a long time now. Maybe now was the time.
Q. Launched off of that Indy of ’05, with the Ricky stuff this past week, and this.
DANICA PATRICK: There’s a lot going on.
Q. Because of all you’ve been through, the stage you’ve had, is the limelight really your comfort zone? Are you maybe at your greatest comfort zone when there’s a whole bunch of stuff like this going on around you?
DANICA PATRICK: You’ve been writing about me for a long time. I think that’s a perceptive observation. I think when pressure’s on, when the spotlight is on, I do feel like it ultimately ends up becoming some of my better moments, better races, better results.
I don’t know why that is. I’m grateful for it because the opposite of that would be I’m guessing I probably wouldn’t be here today, and I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in.
I guess thanks Mom and Dad for the genetics, thank you for all that. I just understand if you put the hard work in before you go out there that you can have a little bit of peace of mind knowing you’ve done everything you can, and just let it happen.
Q. You’ve had so many significant historical things. You’ve come through every time.
DANICA PATRICK: Makes me sound kind of old.
Q. In your short career, how about that, you’ve had all these different things. You’re about to embark on a week where you’re going to get a ton of attention.
DANICA PATRICK: What am I going to have to do? Go places? I told them, I get Monday and Tuesday off. I need to recoup.
Q. Do you really think you’re going to get Monday and Tuesday off now?
DANICA PATRICK: I better (laughter). Don’t be scheming over there. I feel a scheme coming on over there. I’ll be the young rookie, it’s okay.
Q. Can you speak about all these various things you’ve been able to accomplish.
DANICA PATRICK: Thank you and I’m grateful for all those things. I feel like, first and foremost, I grew up with good values and good goals. I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl. That was instilled in me from very young, from the beginning.
Then I feel like thriving in those moments where the pressure’s on has also been a help for me. I also feel like I’ve been lucky in my career to be with good teams and have good people around me. I don’t think any of it would have been possible without that.
For those reasons, I’ve been lucky enough to make history, be the first woman to do many things. I really just hope that I don’t stop doing that. We have a lot more history to make. We are excited to do it.
Q. You talked a little bit about fate earlier, what’s meant to be. A lot of times you’re
not in control of what happens, particularly at Daytona. What is your game plan?
DANICA PATRICK: Jesus, take the wheel. Serious. Go ahead, sorry. It is Sunday and I didn’t go to church today, so…
Q. What is the game plan then since sometimes you really don’t control your destiny here?
DANICA PATRICK: And I think that’s part of the lure of the Daytona 500 and races like this. There’s a lot of people that get a little taste of success or potentially getting to Victory Lane. That’s what keeps us coming back for more. I always feel that was what was special about Indy. There’s so many pit stops, so much that could happen, so many ways that it could play out, there’s a lot of drivers that taste victory but don’t get there. You just have a love for it. Not to mention that it’s the biggest race of the year.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANICA PATRICK: It got a little crazy. I mean, I think I expected it to be even more crazy. Didn’t seem like the cars got unhooked easy. That was a good save by Tony. That’s what I remember about last night. Unfortunately there was a little accordion effect.
We’re going to do everything we can. I understand my position. I have a good car. Tony has given me a good car. I’m going to do my best to keep it clean, keep it out of trouble, get a feel for the traffic throughout the day, and hopefully put myself in a position, position‑wise and knowledge‑wise, to do a good job and bring it home where it started at the end of Sunday.
But I have a lot to learn, too. I understand that. I mean, I have Jeff Gordon starting next to me. I have, oh, my God, a herd of them behind me. I’m a rookie and I am going to be learning as much as I can for 499 or maybe till the last 10 laps. When you implement your plan, it depends where you are. Hopefully at the end of 500 we’re rolling and we have a chance.
Q. Has the significance of what you did, which is make history, has that really sunk in yet? What kind of message would you like that to be to young racers, female racers, coming up? As a follow‑up, what are you fixing for dinner?
DANICA PATRICK: I’m not fixing anything tonight. In fact, I’m probably going to have some beers. I think somebody is making me a sandwich. I went to Cracker Barrel and I’m glad I ate the bacon because it’s probably what is keeping me alive right now. And the pole position, too. I need a sandwich really bad. I’m getting close to dinner anyway. Pole position was like a free diet.
What was the first part of your question? That one was much more fun to answer.
Q. Has the significance of what you’ve done sunk in?
DANICA PATRICK: I mean, I’ve had the experience with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, listening to them say the reason why they’re here as a family today is because of me out there, whether it brings the girls out, the guys out, whatever it is, I don’t care. That’s nice to hear.
It’s also nice to hear families talk about the fact that a little girl might say, But, mommy, daddy, that’s a girl out there. Then they can have the conversation with their kid about you can do anything you want and being different doesn’t by any means not allow you to follow your dreams. I love to think that conversation happens in households because of something I’m doing.
Q. Where does this rank among your career accomplishments?
TONY GIBSON: Pretty high up. My wife asked me that same question. I’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of races, the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, some championships and stuff. But this is really, really high for mebecause I feel for some reason we’re the underdogs. When we won a championship with Kulwicki, we went into that race with nobody giving us a shot.
When we left testing down here, I knew we had a shot. You still never know. I told Danica, bring back the same car. I could tell she was a little nervous when I told her that. I was nervous, too. But to come back here and pick up where we left off testing, to run good yesterday, you still have that little bit of nervousness of can you repeat what you ran yesterday in practice after you go through the room of doom and all that.
DANICA PATRICK: I love that, room and doom.
TONY GIBSON: To get all that accomplished, come down here, it means a lot to me. It’s a tremendous feeling right now. I’m just happy for my team. I’m happy for Danica. Like we talked after all this, I told her, we know there’s going to be low points, but the key to success for us is to enjoy the highs and pat each other on the back and enjoy it. When we hit our lows, pick each other up and get to the next one.
Right now we’re enjoying this and it’s real big for me. I’ve accomplished a lot of things, but this ranks up there in the top two or three.
DANICA PATRICK: Big accomplishment to be a part of for me. So much that goes into it than just the driver.
As I told Tony, I said, I’m going to keep pounding this one home, I said, You built a fast car and I’m just lucky I got to drive it. So we’re going to enjoy this pole and we’re going to get to enjoy it for a week. But it definitely ranks very high.
Q. You’re such a cool customer under pressure, yet you admittedly had some nerves. Where did they stem from today? You blazed so many trails in motorsports, how does this compare to your other accomplishments?
DANICA PATRICK: I was literally listening to you going, Nerves, nerves.
You know, nerves today were really just about I feel more nervous when I know that there’s more on the line, and I knew that we had a good enough car to qualify very well around the pole today. So for me it was just don’t make a stupid little mistake, don’t hit the apron, don’t use too much road, all the way up against the wall around the outside. Little things like that.
If we weren’t in contention, you do
n’t think about it that much. Knowing it can come down to a hundredth, a driver can make that difference. That’s where you hope you’ve done everything right. That was my nerves.
Q. Comparison to leading a lap at Indy and winning Motegi?
DANICA PATRICK: This is a pretty big stage. There’s a lot of people that benefit from this and a lot of people see it. I feel like there’s a lot of people win more so than ever with this one as far as the team, Tony, Go Daddy, Hendrick, Chevy. There’s a lot of people that benefit from this because of the big platform that it is. It’s not just like the high point of my name or what I’ve done. There’s going to be a whole story here.
It’s a cool day. I’ve been lucky enough and very blessed in my career to have had a lot of really, really cool days, a lot of things that in 20 years ‑ got to be careful here ‑ in a really long time I can reflect on and be very grateful. I was going to say when I’m old and decrepit.
My dad said he was going to show up with a lot more gray hairs when qualifying is over with. My hairstylist the other day said he saw one. I cried a little (laughter).
Q. You’ve seen a lot in your career, so this might be hard to answer. This was obviously a big deal with the way it was received after you were on the pole. You had Mike Helton come up and congratulate you. You tend to downplay the significance, racer first, woman second. Was there a moment that felt surreal to you, Wow, this is happening?
DANICA PATRICK: I think some of the coolest feeling was just being able to go into qualifying.
I love it when people put me on the radar, I do. I think it’s good. It’s a confidence boost when people are saying, I heard Mr. Childress say he thought I was the one to lose the pole. When people put you on the radar, that feels good to me.
I like that after practice in January and yesterday after practice that people were saying I was the one that could go out there and get the pole. That to me was some of the coolest feelings.
Today was about executing and doing everything right, just having a clean run. So, I don’t know, that’s kind of what feels best to me. It was a little too nervous to sit on the pole throughout the whole thing. Watching all those cars, that’s nerve‑wracking, especially on an empty stomach. What did I decide to do? I decided to go workout. I mean, really? I’m old enough to know better (smiling).
Q. After three days of the romance, romance talk, is it refreshing or does it matter at all to you now the reset button gets hit and everybody is now going to be talking about you, the racer, the driver?
DANICA PATRICK: I definitely think it’s good for the team and it’s good for Go Daddy, it’s good for NASCAR. It’s good for the race itself. When they mention who is on the pole, they’re going to mention when the race is. That’s good for the whole sport.
I don’t mind answering questions about the other stuff. But I get that it’s not about racing. It’s nice to change the tone of the questions because of what’s going on on the track. That is a really good sign and I like that.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, Danica Patrick and Tony Gibson. Thank you.
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: Tony Stewart, whose teams performed exceptionally well during qualifying. Stewart‑Haas Racing qualifying first, will be on the pole for the Daytona 500, with Danica Patrick. The fourth fastest time today was turned in by Ryan Newman. The fifth fastest time was turned in by team owner Tony Stewart.
All three of your cars in the top five as far as speed, Tony. Got to be just a testament to the hard work, the commitment to excellence put in by this race team.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it really is. Just really proud today more than anything. Very appreciative of everybody at Stewart‑Haas Racing, the Hendrick engine and chassis department for all the work that they have put forth to get ready for Daytona.
This was, not only for our organization, but for all the organizations and teams, this was probably one of the most difficult winters that I can remember from my 15 years of going through off‑seasons here for teams to actually get prepared to come down here to Daytona.
And to have three cars in the top five like that, just really, really appreciative and excited that we were able to bring three consistent cars down like this.
So appreciative to the people at Mobil 1. I honestly believe that’s what made the difference today. We’ve been working with those guys for two years now. To come down here to Daytona, they work just as hard to help us on the lubricant side as we do on building the cars. I think we make a great team. I think today showed that. It’s their commitment, too, that has helped us get here.
Like I say, I’m proud of my teams, my drivers, all of our crews. Greg Zipadelli has worked his guts out all winter with the crew chiefs, Matt Borland, Tony Gibson, Steve (Addington), have had a rough winter trying to get everything ready.
Real appreciative and excited of their hard work.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions from Tony.
Q. With these three immaculately prepared cars, you’re accustomed to winning poles; Ryan is as well. Can you talk about the fact you had three great cars out there, but Danica is still the one that had to drive it to the pole.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it’s been fun to watch the telecast today because they’re showing the Dartfish. We can watch each other’s laps. Her car, she just did a really good job of carrying speed off of turn two, where she made all of her time up was down the backstretch. Carrying that speed off of two is a big key to that.
I think all three of us ran great laps. But I don’t know if she did something a little different or if it was Tony Gibson and her guys, but as a package they did a great job.
It’s easy to come down here in your first or second year as a driver and clip the apron trying to run too tight a line or do something and scrub speed off. That’s something she did an awesome job. Watching her lap, she runs so smooth.
We talked about it two years ago when we ran the Nationwide race together, I said she was probably one of the easiest people to push around the racetrack, she runs such a smooth line. That’s what you have to do here.
She did her job behind the wheel, for sure. She did a good job.
Q. Tony, no secret you get your engines from Hendrick. They build your chassis. You guys were all faster than the Hendrick cars. What was the difference?
TONY STEWART: Like I mentioned a minute ago, I honestly believe it was the preparation at our shop. I don’t think we’re doing a bunch of stuff different than the Hendrick guys are. But our guys did as good a job obviously, if not better.
But I really truly believe it’s the Mobil 1 products. We’ve been working really hard the last year trying to find stuff specifically for restrictor plate tracks. The technology that we get from those guys, it is so cool to have a partner that not only is painted on the hood of the car but can actually help our racecars go faster. That’s what we’ve got with those guys.
The Mobil 1 people have done an awesome job. I told them last night they should be proud, the way we drove from the back to the front. Everybody can have the same car. Nobody drove from the back to the front last night like we did. I think that’s what made the difference.
Q. Tony, with no disrespect to the intensity you said has occurred throughout the off‑season, was today’s effort the easiest part of Speedweeks from a driver standpoint? Is Thursday’s Duels maybe the most stressful of what we see from a driver?
TONY STEWART: I think it progresses. Today definitely is the easiest day, no doubt. Thursday is intense just because you’re trying to win the race, you’re trying to get the best finish you can, but at the same time you’re trying to make sure you take care of your racecar.
The 500 is still the most stress that the driver goes through. It’s definitely no secret.
The thing is, we say we don’t make a difference today, but we all do as drivers. The stuff we have to do compared to what we have to do any other week is fractional as drivers. We have to hit three shifts and be smooth for two laps. It’s stuff that we’re used to having to do for 500 laps at racetracks.
It really is more about what the teams and their preparation does, that is what shows up today. Thursday and Sunday, it’s their preparation, but it’s us making sure we’re doing the right things. That brings more of us back into the equation Thursday and Sunday.
Q. Can you balance the pride in ownership of pole winning, three out of the top five cars, against your own envy and desire to win the pole and the race?
TONY STEWART: I’ll be honest. The pole didn’t matter to me personally. It was more as an owner, wanting Danica to be in the top two today. That way she’s locked in, we don’t have to worry about what happens on Thursday.
To me, my eye is still on next Sunday. Ownership side this Sunday, next Sunday I want it from the driver’s side.
Q. Tony, this is going to be a very big story nationally for the next week because of the historical significance and allthat. This is good for your team as well. Can you talk about the attention and how big this is really going to be here for the next few days.
TONY STEWART: You guys know the significance more than we do. But just the history books in itself, you know, it’s something also as an owner that we’re proud to be a part of.
We’re proud for her, too. That’s a huge accomplishment. It’s not like it’s been 15 or 20 years she’s been trying to do this. It’s her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She’s made history in the sport. That’s stuff that we’re proud of being a part of with her. It’s something she should have a huge amount of pride in.
It’s never been done. There’s only one person that can be the first to do anything. Doesn’t matter how many do it after you do, accomplish that same goal. The first one that does always has that little bit more significance to it because you were the first.
Q. From your experience here, when you have a car good enough to win the Daytona 500, when do you know it? Do you know it already? Does it take Thursday?
TONY STEWART: I think it’s more next Thursday. It gives you an idea. But even at that, you still only see half of the equation. You have the second qualifying race. I think the bigger the packs are, the more things change. Like I say, we’ll see half the field on each race Thursday, then Sunday you’re going to see 43 cars. I think you learn early in the 500 what you got, then it’s a matter of positioning yourself at the end of the race, middle parts of the race to be in the right spot at the end. I think you do find out, but as much as we’d like to think it’s Thursday with these cars, I don’t think it’s going to be Thursday like it has been the last couple years. I think it’s going to betransferred to Sunday before you really know.
Q. You hear on great teams about the chemistry you have. A lot of people in your organization talk about the chemistry you have. How would you describe it? Almost fraternity like, you’re so close. Talk about that, how that’s been able to develop so quickly.
TONY STEWART: This will probably be a sound byte for you guys. I think Danica has two boyfriends, she has Ricky and she has Tony Gibson. They are all but holding hands in the shop when they’re there every day together.
It’s good for me to see as an owner. I like to see that chemistry that you’re talking about.
Ryan is happy being back with Matt. Tony and Danica are happy. I’m happy with Ste
ve. That’s something that having three teams that the drivers and crew chiefs are getting along, happy to be paired up where they’re at, that’s something that goes a long way.
It’s not this early that we’ll really see that, but you’ll see that in the first 8, 10, 12 weeks of the season, of how powerful those pairings really are.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: My personality, whether it’s good or bad, transfers everywhere we go (laughter).
But I think we’ve always had the mindset. I learned a lot from Joe Gibbs. I said that every year I’ve been a car owner. I learned a lot from him. We said it as a two‑car team, we said it as a three‑car team. We’re three separate racecar teams, but we’re all working together for a common cause and goal.
That’s what makes days like today so special, when you have all three teams that run that well together. We’re all sharing in the success. Our team is sharing with Danica. Ryan’s team is sharing with Danica. She’s sharing our success. We’ve got a lot to be proud of, and those pairings are a part of that.
Q. One of your fellow team owners this morning said the media and the general public underestimate how good she’s going to be this year. She may not be top five every weekend, but she’ll be a solid top 15 runner everywhere. Is that how you have it figured? Do you know more about it than we do?
TONY STEWART: Oh, no, I’ve listened to you guys. You guys definitely know more than we do (smiling).
Honestly, I honestly don’t look at it as a number. I’m not going to say top 15 or top 12. That to me is a number.
More so than the finishing position I think is looking through the course of the race. There’s so many things that can happen. Something happens at the end of the race that can throw that number off. I think it’s just watching the course of the race.
I think she’s got potential. I think she’s got a lot to look forward to. I think she’s going to turn some heads this summer. Whether it’s consistent or whether it’s one or two races at a time, none of us really know.
It’s as much my guess as your guess at this point. But I believe in her. The team believes in her. Our organization believes in her. We’re going to do everything we can to make her as consistent and fast every week. The thing that I caution everybody is, everybody puts high expectations. Since she’s got here, everybody has put her under such a strong microscope.
Nobody said, Tony Stewart is going to be a top-15 car every week the first or second year. Nobody cared. But everybody is so focused on what she’s going to do. You just strictly have to wait and see. It’s still a rookie year for her. That makes it hard to predict where she’s going to be.
We feel like she’s got the tools and mindset to go out and do a good job each week.
Q. Tony, given how she performed yesterday in the practices, limited time, when you walked out of here did you get an inkling that this was possible?
TONY STEWART: All you had to do was look at the time. She ran the fastest lap of the day.
We knew it was possible. The thing that we didn’t know is was anybody not showing their hand until today. After watching everybody’s runs today, I think everybody pretty muchshowed their hand yesterday either in the first session or somewhere in thesecond session, showed what they had, knew what they could run.
If I’d have known today was going to be like it shook out, I would have rested a lot easier last night. We felt confident that even if she didn’t get the pole, she was going to be able to stay in the top six I thought at that point.
Q. She said she was nervous. Did you detect any nervousness from her today when you saw her?
TONY STEWART: No. Like I said, the talent that she has, she had to use a fraction of it to run her two laps. If she was nervous, it was more for the guys than her ability what she had to go out and do.
I didn’t really detect it. She texted me after the Unlimited last night, talking about the race. Seemed like her normal joking, having fun self.
Q. Undoubtedly there will be naysayers who point to the fact that the car at Daytona is more important than the driver. Why is that not totally accurate? Does it matter on a day like this?
TONY STEWART: I think I touched on that earlier. All of us can pretty much do the same thing here. We’re using a fraction of the talent we all have at this level to go out and do two laps of qualifying. That percentage changes later in the week.
You can have the fastest car, but if you don’t know where to be and when to be there, you can be at the back, or you can have a car that may not be the fastest and running up front because youknow where to be to win.
Naysayers are naysayers. They’re people that are unhappy with their life and are trying to bring somebody else’s life down to their level.
Q. As far as your team goes with all the changes and everything, with the testing as it went along, did you get a feeling that your team was maybe a little bit ahead of everybody else?
TONY STEWART: No. You just honestly don’t know who is showing their hand. We used to come down here to testing, when we just had a minimum spoiler angle, guys would run two or three degrees extraspoiler angle, it made it look like they didn’t have speed. When we would come back, they would lay it down for qualifying where it was legal, at the best.
You just never know what people are doing. You never know what they’re doing at test sessions. A lot of testing is A, B things, not trying to run the fastest lap, just trying to see what works,what doesn’t work. When you go back home, you look through all that data and put the package together for w
hat you’re going to bring down for the race.
You can look at what the testing results are, but they’re never 100% of what could happen when you come down for a race weekend.
Q. Tony, Kevin Harvick was asked about Danica’s run today. He said he was able to talk about the racing, that was great. Is it nice for you to know for the majority of the next week the headlines are going to say Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick or does that not matter?
TONY STEWART: You guys are in charge of what are going to be the headlines each day.
I’m excited about this week. I thought last night was a fun race to run. I’m glad we’re not actually pushing each other. The cars still get a little nervous when guys are pushing. It doesn’t seem as effective. It actually seemed to be the opposite of what you would think, versus when we used to push, we gained speed. It seems when we physically are pushing each other, the cars slow down.
You’d have to get Newman in here for that. It’s way over myhead. I don’t understand why they slow down when we push, but they do. We had two cases last night when we had somebody pushing us, it actually slowed the speed of the car down. It was pretty consistent across the board from manufacturer to manufacturer.
I saw Jim Campbell (U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports) sneak in over there. He should be proud over there. Chevy has done an awesome job. It’s easy today to talk about the engine builder, talk about the chassis builders, the people at the shop. Today we actually get to thank ourmanufacturers again for building us a car that is a fast racecar again, it’s not just a car with stickers on it. We actually have an SS, a production car, that’s fast. That was proven today, too.
KERRY THARP: Tony Stewart, congratulations. Strong effort today from Stewart‑Haas. Thank you.
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: Starting second, the outside pole position, will be Jeff Gordon. This is the fourth time that Jeff will be starting on the front row for the Daytona 500. He won the pole in 1999 and started second in 2006 and 2011.
Jeff, congratulations. Got to feel really good about the performance coming out of the gates that quick and being up front for next Sunday’s race.
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. This is big, to be on the front row at Daytona. It’s an accomplishment in itself just because of how many people put so much hard work into it, not just from our team but all the teams that are out here.
When you have all winter long to prepare, you have the biggest race of the year as your first race, there’s a lot of effort that goes into those two laps.
I’m very proud of my team. Very proud of Hendrick engines, to see how well the new Chevy SS and Hendrick engines performed today was fantastic.
We’re here to win the Daytona 500. Sitting on the front row is a great step towards accomplishing that goal.
It’s great to be a part of history with Danica being on the pole. I think we all know how popular she is, what this will do for our sport. Congratulations to her. Proud to be on there with her.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions.
Q. Jeff, do you come away feeling a bit surprised with that lap, thinking, I could have gotten the pole, or do you come away pleasantly surprised?
JEFF GORDON: When it’s Daytona qualifying, I should never question Alan Gustafson and this team. With the way testing went, we were so‑so. The way yesterday went, I didn’t feel like we had a shot at the pole. So my expectations were kind of low.
When I started the lap, the car definitely carried good momentum and rpms. I thought this is going to be certainly better than where we were yesterday. I thought the wind was in our favor. The gusts were huge today. If you got a big gust, it could really affect your lap. I really think that’s what happened to Tony. When he came around to the back straightaway, he had a pretty big headwind.
So, yeah, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect to be that close. I told Alan, if I had known we might havebeen that close, I might have driven across the apron to win the pole (laughter).
Listen, I’m thrilled. This team is thrilled. It’s a great accomplishment just being on the front row.
Q. Some of the TV commentators indicated they thought that you might have caught some kind of a puff or gust of headwind yourself somewhere that maybe left you alittle bit short. You’re saying the wind was totally in your favor.
JEFF GORDON: Until we go back and look at all the stats, we can look at what I call Dartfish, the TV calls it ghost imaging, we’ll be able to run our lap and see exactly what the wind did during that lap, see if it did affect us. But, yeah, then you’d be a little disappointed.
But, hey, that’s the luck of the draw. That’s just kind of the way it goes qualifying here at Daytona and Talladega, that you always understand.
Like I said, I didn’t have high expectations going into it ’cause I just didn’t think, based on practice times, we had a shot at the front row. I’m sitting here happy regardless of what any of those stats may show.
Q. You’ve been around the sport a while. Danica is a rookie. Can you rank what this means to our sport to see the first female ever in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series score a pole, especially at the Daytona 500?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, as popular as she is, too. She comes into this with racing background, with a tremendous amount of exposure, momentum, just popularity that we’ve never seen before, especially from a female driver.
For her to then follow that up or start the season off with a pole, it’s huge. It’s big. Surprised you’re even talking to me right now, right (laughter)? I’m glad I didn’t win the pole, we would have messed that story all up (smilin
I’ve always been a big believer in what’s good for the sport is good for all of us. So this is great for the sport. The rest of us will benefit from that, as well. I’m proud to be on the front row this year side‑by‑side with Danica.
Q. Jeff, you jokingly referred to yourself as the fastest guy today. Do you allow yourself to step back and savor the moment, the historic magnitude of this feat, allow her to have her moment in the spotlight? When you came away yesterday, having seen the way she performed, did you get a sense she was going to be a strong contender for the pole?
JEFF GORDON: I didn’t think anybody else had a shot. I was surprised we got as close as we did. They were fast yesterday, put down a very good lap today. When she made her lap, I was pretty sure that no one was going to beat that.
Yeah, you know, I always think that you never really quite grasp history in the making at the moment. Everybody maybe understands it and captures it in different ways. For me, it’s easy to recognize looking at the media surrounding her, the hype that’s been built into the Daytona 500 as well as the last day of her being so fast in practice, then all day today.
To back that up and for her to pull it off, I think we won’t really know until you guys write all your stories and we see what’s on the front page, the headlines in the news, on the Internet, everything else. But I think it’s obviously a big moment in history and, like I said, a great boost for the sport. It’s awesome.
Q. You mentioned drama earlier this morning. Talking about going through inspection.
JEFF GORDON: Our car fell off the jack onto the jack stand and completely tore our rocker panel off as we were getting ready to pull the car out of the garage. I came in with my kids this morning just keeping them busy. My car was the only one in the garage area of all the other cars that were going through inspection. I went over and Alan was covered in dust. He was like, You don’t want to come over here right now. We had that to start our day.
Then they got all that fixed, then we had to go through inspection. I don’t even know, I didn’t even talk to him, but I don’t know what kind of issues we had, but I knew the car was late getting out to pit road.
Q. As the years wind down, what is going to be a good year for Jeff Gordon with everything you’ve accomplished in this sport? What do you still have left to accomplish?
JEFF GORDON: I’ve never won a Sprint Cup ever since they’ve gone to this format. I’ve come close in ’07, but we got beat. Obviously to me there’s only one thing left, and that’s to win the Sprint Cup championship.
What I’ve realized as I get older, the things that matter to me, I like to make other people proud, people that put a lot of effort into our race team, my parents along the way, crew chiefs like Ray Evernham, my wife, my kids. Those are the things that motivate me, drive me to work harder and accomplish goals that I haven’t been able to accomplish.
So I think Alan is one of the best if not the best crew chiefs out there right now. I think he deserves to be a championship‑caliber crew chief or recognized crew chief. I love taking my kids and family to Victory Lane and experience the spoils ofgreat accomplishments like that.
Q. Jeff, it’s probably likely that Danica is going to be a little nervous come next Sunday at the green flag. As someone who has started up front, when you were really young, will you say anything to her about it? I know there’s no gamesmanship, but are you okay with how that could go?
JEFF GORDON: There’s a lot of things that are going to happen prior to next Sunday. We’ve already seen what can happen in 15 laps of the race last night, testing.
First you have to get through the Duels. For me, we’re locked in the front row. I’m not going to be able to breathe until we’re looking at the green flag waving, sitting on the front row.
The good thing about being on the front row is that you’re locked into the Daytona 500. The downside is you don’t want to put your mind into protection mode that I don’t want to mess this car up because I want this car to be our car for the Daytona 500. If you want to win the Daytona 500, you have to practice like you’regoing to win the Daytona 500, race in the Duels like you’re going to win the Daytona 500, do everything to prepare yourself and your team to win the Daytona 500. Sometimes being in the front row can be a hindrance to that mindset.
We’re going to put a lot of effort in, Alan, me, the team, Rick, myself, are going to put a lot of effort into how we approach the Duels. Once you get through that, we’ll start thinking about how we’re going to approach the Daytona 500.
If I were going to talk to Danica about anything, I’d say what I just said. A lot left to do and how you want to approach the Duels.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the man of the hour, which would be Tony Stewart. He drove well last night in the race.
JEFF GORDON: I don’t even get to be the man of the hour. Shoot. I thought I at least had that part accomplished (smiling).
Q. We’ll give you the fastest guy.
JEFF GORDON: I’ll take that, but that’s not always a good thing (laughter). I couldn’t resist. What were you saying (smiling)?
Q. Tony Stewart, man of the hour. Three of the top five cars in qualifying. Showed again last night how good he can be in the draft. Seems like there’s an Earnhardt quality here. He’s never won the race. Do you look at him and wonder how he hasn’t won it?
JEFF GORDON: Just like Earnhardt, give him time. The greats of motorsports, of this sport, find a way to win the big races. He’s so good on the restrictor plates.
To me, I thought they were shining last night, the 14 team. I thought he looked to me like he had the car to beat. Yeah, you know, he went to the inside lane and pr
obably should have stayed on the outside lane. But odds are more in favor that he’s going to make the right moves and be in position to win the Daytona 500 before his career is over if not this coming up week. I look for him to be very, very strong.
Q. If this wasn’t a brand‑new car, if you could just park on Thursday, would it even be considered to make sure you made it to Sunday? Also, how important is the next practice going to be in everything you do?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, every moment you can get on the track and learn something is important. I don’t think you’re going to see us getting ourselves into a large pack of cars on Wednesday practice.
But Thursday, you know, it’s a race. When you go into a race, you’re racing to win. I think on Thursday ‑ and this is what we have to talk about ‑ it is a very good opportunity to learn what we need to do to win the Daytona 500. But it’s also very risky to put yourself in some of those positions.
You have to go in approaching it to learn all that you can, build momentum and confidence. You do that by winning that race. You’re not just sitting on the front row, but you go and win that race. That’s the best thing you can do.
But you got to be smart about it, too. You get shuffled back, find yourself in a bad situation, you try to fight through it, stick your nose somewhere it probably doesn’t belong, tear the racecar up, that just wasn’t very smart. It’s a fine line between those.
Honestly, if we didn’t have to go out onto the racetrack other than practice, go out there and sit on the front row on Sunday, I’d be fine with that. Like any other race, I would be totally fine with that. But that’s not the way Daytona works.
Q. You mentioned about the uncertainty of the Daytona 500. Does starting up front take away any of the worries at all?
JEFF GORDON: Starting up front in the Duels as well as the Daytona 500 is a great thing. When you look at how the race unfolded last night, I think the way that the drafting and races are going to unfold on restrictor plates just in general this year, Ithink being up front is a premium. I think it always is, but I think possibly even more so this year with this aero package.
Q. Janet Guthrie wrote about the icy reception she received from drivers when she tried to break in in the ’70s. What do you think has led to some of the changes in attitude toward having a female driver, minority drivers? What’s led to this change over the last 20 years?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I think that question can be answered throughout sports and throughout history, our culture, what’s accepted, unexpected over the years. Not just unexpected, but accepted.
I think for me it’s not about the color of your skin or your gender, it’s about your abilities. You have to prove that. I think Danica’s a talented racecar driver. She proved that by getting herself into IndyCar, doing what she did in IndyCar. She has taken on quite a task to take on stockcars that are completely foreign to her. I kind of admire somebody that’s willing to take that leap.
No different than the way I look at Sam Hornish, Juan Pablo Montoya, any of the guys that have been driving open‑wheel cars most of their career and then get in a stockcar. It’s completely different. But I love people that are willing to take chances and challenge themselves.
That’s more of the way that I look at Danica, not just accepting a female.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jeff Gordon. Congratulations on a great showing today. Look forward to seeing you the remainder of Speedweeks.