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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Gatordate Duel 1

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Gatordate Duel

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Gatordate Duel 1

Reed Sorenson
Brian Vickers
Kenny Wallace
February 14, 2008


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our post Gatorade Duel press conferences. We're pleased to be joined up on the podium by Reed Sorenson, driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge. He came in second in today's first Gatorade Duel.
Congratulations on a good run. Tell us about it and your thoughts as you run into the Daytona 500?
REED SORENSON: The track was quite a bit slicker today than it was on Saturday for the Shootout. I think it's going to be hotter on Sunday, so that means it will even be worse.
Tire management I think is going to be the biggest thing for the 500. The car is pretty good. It seems to be balanced well. It just gets really slick after about 20 laps.
Just really happy with the way the car was today, and I feel like we got a good race car for the 500.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for Reed Sorenson.

Q. You've been up front the whole time you've been here. It' two different cars. Do you think the team has good-driving race cars, or do you sort of take to this style of racing?
REED SORENSON: I haven't had that much luck with this type of racing. I've had a lot more fun this past week, restrictor plate, than I think I ever have.
Both the cars have the same setup. They seem to handle really well on old tires. I would say that we have a little bit of advantage on car setup right now compared to what we've had in the past.
Just real happy with the way the car is on old tires. Everybody is slipping and sliding. It's just who can keep it wide open after it starts sliding around.
I think our cars just seem to be pretty consistent from one car to the other. When the car ran good in the Shootout, we put the same setup in it and it ran good today.

Q. Seems like out there today, maybe the 500, too, that strategy is just kind of out the window. You have to go with who is going with you or not go with who is not going with you. Can you talk about that a little bit, explain how you race basically with no real strategy involved.
REED SORENSON: I think just because the track is the way it is, how slick it is, it puts a lot of those strategies out the window. There were a couple times there where I had to stay to the high side because my car was a lot better there.
It's real hard trying to pick who you're going to go with, who is going to push you. Right there at the end I pushed the 88 as hard as I could to try to get going as fast as I could. I knew the 12 was behind me. Didn't really know what he was going to do, who was behind him.
A lot of the strategies do go out the window. You just got to go where your car is best when the track is as slick as it is and when the tires wear as bad as they do. You just got to go where your car is best. After about 20 laps, that's the key to staying up front.

Q. Do you have any idea what happened to Ryan Newman? The front two cars got out so much faster than Ryan seemed to be able to keep up.
REED SORENSON: Yeah, I pushed the 88 car all the way through one and two. When you get two of these cars stuck together, they really move fast.
Right after we crossed the start/finish line, when I was still in second gear, I was on the bumper of the 88. All the way through fourth gear, through one and two there, just really gave him a good push. Spotter said clear about six or seven, and we stayed like that pretty much all the way to the end.
These cars are really weird. When you get two of them stuck together they really gain a lot of speed. That's what did that right there.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your emotions when you have a good day, bad day on a very big track, how you share that with your team.
REED SORENSON: I mean, obviously this isn't the big race. This is a qualifying race. But it's still good to learn a lot and run good in this race.
We had a good run in the Shootout. We had another good run today. It makes everybody on the team excited about going into the 500. We're optimistic about it. It gets everybody in a good mood. Everybody is energized, ready to go.
It's always good to have a good finish here in the 500 to get some momentum gained for the rest of the season. It's always good to run good here. We've done well so far. Just need to do good in the 500 and we'll be good to go.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, Reed. Keep running up front.
REED SORENSON: Thank you.
KENNY WALLACE: I can't believe they already have my name printed up.
KERRY THARP: Had it out here yesterday (laughter). We're pleased to be joined by the two drivers that have raced their way into the 50th running of the Daytona 500. We're excited to hear from them.
First up we have Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. He's joined by Kenny Wallace, driver of the No. 87 Furniture Row racing Chevrolet. Congratulations to both of y'all for getting into the big race on Sunday.
Brian, tell us about your run out there this afternoon.
BRIAN VICKERS: Oh, wow. Where do I start? It was definitely exciting and plenty of adversity. But, you know, the Red Bull team overcame it. Obviously you're all aware already the ignition problems we had in qualifying that set us back. But we got it solved. Toyota did a good job, and Red Bull.
We start the race, and there at the beginning of the race, trying to just run our race. We were already up front, wanted to stay there. A couple guys behind us, I think the 15, started making passes three-wide on the outside. It was either get stuck in the middle or go up top and block him and get in that line.
When I did, I got around the 60. I'm not sure if he was trying to get in a hole and misjudged or just pushed up and got into us. Nonetheless, the 60 got into us and spun us down the backstretch, which was more than enough excitement trying to make the race, more than what we needed.
But we overcame that, kept it off the wall, came in, got four tires, started in the back, got back up to the front. At that point, had a right rear start vibrating pretty bad coming apart. Had to pit early, kind of out of sequence, which was a little bit nerve-wracking. Then luckily the caution didn't come out and the cycles went back through and we came out up front. It worked out fine.
Then we had to pit there at the end, and ended up making the race. It felt like a win. I'll tell you what, Kenny knows exactly what I mean. It's tough. You want to get the year started off right with good momentum, and being in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 is definitely the way to do it.
KERRY THARP: Kenny, your thoughts about racing your way into the Daytona 500 this afternoon.
KENNY WALLACE: First of all, I want to thank my brother, Mike Wallace. I want to thank Mike. He inspired me. He finished fourth in the Daytona 500 last year, Mike did, ran in the top 10. Couple days ago, he said, Will you let me spot for you? I looked at him kind of stunned and said, Hell, yeah. Mike is one of the best drafters there are in all of NASCAR.
My story, the way I feel, just incredible. Last year Furniture Row, they didn't know where to turn, what to do to make their team better. I don't know what it was. I don't know if they fired me or what, because they kept paying me and kept all my stuff.
And then they called me up in the wintertime and says, We realize it wasn't you. We want you to run the 500. I'm like, What the hell? They're like, We realize how bad our motors were. This is our chance to pay you back.
So this is more -- if you just let me have this, all of you, this is a moral victory for me. This is all about me right now. For them to say, Hey, here is a car with a Hendrick motor in it. We want you to go ahead and prove it. Holy crap, I proved it. I'm just shocked right now.
I told Brian, I was so focussed in the car, come across that start/finish line, my brother, Mike, is talking to me every lap and the crew is going nuts. I'm like, Oh, my Lord, I made it. I made the Daytona 500.
It's like Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s story but on a real small level. He wanted to change teams to prove how good he was. It's a Cinderella story. Looks like he's going to sweep Speedweeks if he don't break. My team gives me one chance, one opportunity to prove my ability. So Furniture Row did that. It makes it really extra special.
It's a very, very big moral victory for me. Now I can go on and run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and feel real good about myself.

Q. Do you feel like this year, Brian, you're playing with a full deck? You have competitive equipment, equal equipment, compared to last year where you guys really were behind the eight ball? Is it a good feeling knowing it looks like this year you have a car that can be competitive?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah. I mean, that's the great question. The deck was definitely stacked against us. We were kind of joking through the off-season and going over how last season went. We talked about it. If Red Bull tried to pick a harder way to start a race team, I don't know if they could have (smiling).
You know, starting from scratch, not buying the team, you know, starting late in the season, into '06. They didn't really start hiring employees until almost '07 for their first season, and then building cars and going with a brand-new manufacturer.
But their vision was long-term. I knew that when I came on to Red Bull, that it wasn't about '07, it was about what the future holds. That's the reason they partnered with Toyota and they invested in their own team, so they could do it their own way.
We paid the price last year. It was painful. It was dreadfully painful to miss the races we did, not going to the 500, going through all the adversity we did. It built a really strong team. We learned a lot from it. We've gained some strong people in the company along the way.
Going into this season we have a lot more confidence. Obviously we still got a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning to do. It's still only our second year, but the tests went good. Being in the first 500, the first race, is awesome.
As you see, our cars are much better. We've come a long ways. Toyota has come a long ways when it comes to power and reliability and everything.
All those factors go into it and give you a lot more confidence going into the weekends. But we're still not in that top 35 yet. We've got to get there. But that's not our goal this year. Our goal needs to be top 20, top 15 at the end of the season. But obviously until we get into that top 35 there's going to be a lot of stressful Fridays.

Q. Kenny, what's the situation with Furniture Row and you regarding any potential further Cup ride beyond the 500?
KENNY WALLACE: This is a one-time opportunity. Furniture Row is like every other team: they've made it clear, they put a press release out, that they would like a second team. They would like for me to drive the car.
Joe Nemechek is a hell of a driver. He's in there. It's his ride. But unless Furniture Row gets a sponsor, then, you know, I'm not going to run any Cup races. It takes a lot of effort to put just one race together.
But I'm at peace with myself because I got a full NASCAR Nationwide Series ride with the No. 2 energy drink in the world, Shark. It's big in Europe and Asia. Just made its debut here in the United States. I'm sure Brian and his competitors -- but anyway, I got Shark Energy helping me run for the NASCAR Nationwide championship, so that's my story (smiling).

Q. Brian, the final lap, passing Joe Nemechek pretty much got you in the race, is that right?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, it did. Passing Joe got us in the race, but Joe not passing us back is really what got us in the race, to be honest with you. I have to thank Joe Nemechek, go on the record for that, because he was locked in. I'm sure he was concerned about his teammate who was already locked in as well.
KENNY WALLACE: Joe's job was to hold you off for me (laughter).
BRIAN VICKERS: I think for Joe, the next car that was in contention for him and I not getting in the race, mainly him, I'm sure Joe was worried about, it was 20 car lengths back. It was a white flag lap. I had to check up because a bunch of guys checked up going into three there.
I would be utterly surprised if Joe didn't have an opportunity to stay on the throttle and go around me on the outside. But I think knowing that he was already locked in, his teammate was in the race. Joe and I have always got along really good. Maybe he didn't do it intentionally, maybe he did. Either way I want to thank him (smiling).

Q. Both you guys faced decisions there on that last caution: To pit or not pit. With all that's hanging in the balance, that must have been agonizing. Can you talk about your decisions.
KENNY WALLACE: Our decision was pretty easy. You know, as a race car driver, you know -- we pretty much formulated, okay, there's only going to be two laps to go. With two laps to go and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leading, you know the tires cooled down a little bit, it's going to be real easy to run wide open.
That was what made our decision for us. We knew there would be two to go when the caution came out. Hell, I was running fifth. There's no way I could pit.
BRIAN VICKERS: For us, it was a little bit different. We obviously thought -- considered exactly what he talked about. But we'd already, you know, almost had a right rear come apart and we had to pit early, you know, the prior pit stop. We couldn't make it as long as everyone else.
So that was obviously a big factor in our mind. We had a car capable of getting in last year. We blew a right rear tire and that's why we didn't make it.
We opted to come in and get two right sides. Looks like everybody behind us was coming in and getting right sides. That's kind of the reason we went with that decision. That was Kevin's call. I had faith in him. I almost didn't come. But I came, and I'm glad I did.
Because, like I said, we were already to the amount of laps that we were the first run where the tire started coming apart. Who knows, you know, we could have been out there and had the same problem again.

Q. Kenny, did you say they fired you but kept paying you?
KENNY WALLACE: Yeah, that's why I said I don't think I was fired. What they did is the phone call went like this: Hey, we want to try other drivers, but, look, we're going to keep paying you. Seriously now, Brian knows this, this is what happens with all start-up teams in Cup.
They'll put a team together, and then when stuff don't go right they'll fire some people. You know, the driver is usually the first one to go. When Craniff (ph) Racing started, all teams that kind of stand alone and start on their own, I mean, look at Brian's team.
If Brian would not have proved his ability and been so young, and when he made races last year he hauled ass; he was in the top 10. So all start-up teams usually go through a transition that are brutal to everybody involved. So they called me up, said, We just got to really see what's wrong with our team.
So when they said, We don't want you to drive for a little bit, it made me look good because everybody that got in the car missed races. Sterling missed it at Bristol; Scott Wimmer missed it at Michigan, and then my good friend Joe Nemechek missed three more races.
When it was all said and done they said, Okay. We made a mistake. We apologize. I said, Really? Just like on Saturday Night Live, when the girl goes, Really? I said, Really?
It's the first time in my racing career that somebody apologized and offered me the ride back. Of course, I don't have the full-time ride, but it was good for the ego to know that. So, yeah, that's the way the story went.
They continued to pay me. It's an incredible story. It really is. It wouldn't have played out if they wouldn't have given me this opportunity. It was pretty wild.

Q. Certainly you're hearing things in the garage, the tire issue was certainly an issue, with the handling, everybody is running up high. What does this mean for Sunday? Are you going to still see this type of thing, or is it going to be better with more tire wear on the track with all the racing? If everybody is running up high? What's the challenge to a driver in trying to move up? How much more of a strategic race does it become?
BRIAN VICKERS: Those are all great questions. Obviously I think everybody is pretty concerned about it. We've got smaller fuel cells this year and we still can't even make it to a full fuel run. It's going to be a big factor.
I think, like we always see, more rubber on the racetrack is going to help. Obviously we had a lot of rain the past couple days. That did not help Goodyear's case whatsoever. The reason cars go up top like that is because the tires and they're sliding around, they're loose, moving around so much, they can use that wall to kind of help with the air.
It's a little bit easier on the tires, and that does change the strategy of a race. You're going to have to do most of your passing on new tires. What's going to happen, you're going to see guys go crazy when they get stickers on trying to make as many moves as they possibly can because they know they only have a very short period of time to do it in.
As soon as that time is up, it's going to be single file up around the top. You're just going to be conserving your tires, not wanting to be the first guy to lose one, so you can pit and get tires when the caution comes out.

Q. Is that worse than it's been in past years?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, this track is worn out. I mean, it's great. It's a lot of fun to drive on. But I think people forget that, Hey, it's Daytona. Hold it wide open. Listen, this place feels like Darlington sometimes, or Atlanta. It is wore out. I feel bad for Goodyear having to make a tire come in here doing 200 miles an hour. This place is like Darlington.
So the track's getting worse. Goodyear is doing the best job they can, doing a great job keeping up with it. This year, I don't know if it's the cars. Maybe it's the rain we've had. It does seem to be a little bit worse. Typically we've been able to make a fuel run. It's kind of been borderline. But with smaller cells this year, we still can't, it makes you wonder.
I'm sure that Goodyear and NASCAR are well aware of it. They're going to do whatever they can to help. Getting rubber on the racetrack is going to help more than anything. From what I've been told, doesn't look like there's any more weather coming through. We have a bunch of practices, truck race, Nationwide race, that's going to help a lot.

Q. Kenny, Mike had only spotted a little bit for his daughter. Did he tell you some things today that kind of surprised you that really helped?
KENNY WALLACE: I think -- you know, I knew all the moves that I needed to make. What Mike was really good at was two things: letting me know what lane was trying and what was going on. Because there were a couple times I went to the bottom early with new tires and couldn't get the job done. That was number one. He was real good at letting me know what lane was working.
The other thing he did was just emotional, you know, hey, this is the fifth Daytona 500, you know, Man, get in there. Stay in it.
I think it was just more having somebody on the radio that you really know who has done it and has felt what you felt. You know, I mean, I didn't make the race because Mike was spotting, but I think it inspired me to drive a little -- you know, search around.
A couple times in the race he said, Try the bottom. I said, Hell, okay. I tried it.
BRIAN VICKERS: It worked the time you went by me (laughter).
KENNY WALLACE: That's the thing. I'll say that. I don't want to expand too much. I know you guys don't like long sound bites. The way I got into fifth was that everybody's car went away. My car was handling good. I seen a little bit of a gap between fourth and fifth.
When I seen that gap - and that's just experience - I looked up there and I seen that gap between fourth and fifth, and he was running fifth. I thought, I bet I can get up there and slide in behind. SO Mike inspired me to try that bottom early on and test it out. When he helped me test it out it kind of logged it in my brain.

Q. Brian, compare making the 500 today to jumping out of the airplane the other day.
BRIAN VICKERS: I'll be honest with you, I think that my heart rate was higher. My stress level was definitely higher today from the time I woke up until the end of that race, until the very last lap, than at any point in time prior to me jumping out of an airplane at 13,000 feet. Solo on top of that; it wasn't tandem.
But jumping out of the airplane was obviously awesome. Red Bull has been such a great supporting. I get to do so many great things. Jumping with the Red Bull Air Force guys. The guys I've jumped with have 25,000 jumps. I felt like I was in good hands.
But I'm not going to lie to you. You jump out and you see the ground coming at 100, 200 miles an hour at 13,000 feet, it's definitely an eye opener. But to elaborate more on your question there, it didn't hold a candle to trying to make the Daytona 500 in one of these races, not even comparable.

Q. Kenny, had you guys, as a team, sat down and discussed what would have happened if you made the show and Joe didn't?
KENNY WALLACE: Absolutely. When they called me up, when Joe Garone, the team manager, called me up a month ago, he offered me the ride. I was in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for Len Sam's (ph) Indoor Midget Race signing autographs. My phone rang. I saw Joe Garone. I wonder what he wants? So I picked it up.
He said, Do you want to drive in the 500? Got a Hendrick motor, brand-new car. I said, Hell, yeah, man. He said at the very end of the phone call, he says, "There's one stipulation. I said, What's that? He said, If you make the race and Joe doesn't, you got to give the ride up.
I said, Okay. I was sitting there without a ride, so it was all cool. Because I felt at that point right away, I thought in my mind, if I make the 500 I will personally get all the credit for it anyway, and that's the reason me and Brian race, is to compete.
So if that's the choice they're going to give you, you know, sometimes -- if I was running for the championship it would have sucked. I wouldn't have took the deal. But because I was on the outside looking in, it was a great deal.
And now they pulled off a Cinderella story by qualifying third with a car that just -- they built five cars and that car just hauled ass with Jeff Fuller in it down here. They said, Give us that car. Here he qualified third and then I raced my way into it.
It's a feel-good deal.

Q. Brian, you made a hell of a save there keeping the car off the wall. Kenny, you haven't been in the 500 since 2005. Talk about some of the pitfalls you've gone through now that you're back.
BRIAN VICKERS: Coming off of turn two there we were very lucky. Fortunately I had some practice this morning in the Nationwide practice. Somebody spun up ahead of us. I went low in the apron; missed it. The 38 was going to be my teammate, so I turned left again. I just had to spin the car out to keep it off of him, give him some room to miss the wreck.
Anyway, three or four 360s down the frontstretch here and straightened it out and kept going. I had a good warm-up practice. Things are meant to be. I guess that was meant to happen, huh?
But coming off of two here in the middle of a pack like that, obviously I had to do what it took to keep the car off the wall: gas it up at the right time, push the clutch in, hold the brakes at the right time, do all that great stuff, but a lot of it's just luck.
I was on the outside lane and got turned across a pack at Daytona and nobody hit me and nobody else spun to hit me. You know, so, I can't take credit for all of it. It definitely made for a long day.
But, you know, that's what this team is used to and that's what Red Bull is built on, is that adversity.

Q. Kenny, you mentioned the Hendrick motor. Did you have any problems that the other Hendrick motors did?
KENNY WALLACE: You know what, I was very concerned. We had a really weird deal happen. I think my team thinks I was. I was practicing yesterday. I come through the front straightaway wide open in a big draft, and all of a sudden I started smelling wires burning. I looked over and there was black smoke rolling off the ignition boxes.
I built race cars all my life. I helped them get out the ignition boxes out. I'm looking. I could smell a little bit, and so we put all new ignition in it. So today we start the race -- I about spin out on the second lap. I could smell it again. The first ignition box went bad.
They said, Flip the B. Flip the B. I said, We're out of the race. We're lost the motor. I flipped the B and it took off. It was pretty drama filled.
I haven't had any motor issues. I can't elaborate on what kind of motor they gave me, but me and Joe Nemechek have a motor. Our motors are different. You know, now the decision will lay with Hendrick. What are they going to do with me and my motor? Am I going to run 500 miles or are they going to get us a new one down here? My biggest issue was my ignition.
He asked me, he said -- I haven't been in the Daytona 500 since '05. I'll tell you real quick. Besides my wife and my children, this moment right now is the greatest time in my life. It beats any Nationwide championship, any three-time most popular driver. I got all them stats. This right here, this is the 50th annual Daytona 500, the biggest sporting event in the United States right now, and I raced my way into it. Besides my wife and children, this is the number one thing. It's unbelievable.

Q. Brian, expound a little bit on those emotions you were talking about this morning, the nerves, how your morning unfolded, what time you got up, are you able to eat?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, you know, obviously a little bit more stressful morning and day than most. But after going through what we went through last year, I was pretty used to it unfortunately (laughter).
You know, I've never been one, for better or worse, it is what it is, to get really upset or emotional or stressed to the point that, you know, anyone outside of maybe my very close circle there, anyone at all would be able to tell.
I got up, did my typical morning stuff, meditated, ate breakfast, did all the things I normally did in the morning. Did my Nationwide practice. Practiced my 360 down the frontstretch (laughter). Went to the drivers meeting, did all things normal.
But inside I could tell it was a long day. You know, I probably felt -- I realized more how stressed I was and how tense I was probably this morning after we made the race than I did this morning, because once all that is gone, once that weight is lifted off your shoulders, you realize how heavy a load you were really carrying. It feels good. It feels great to be in the race.
You know, I would never have thought the day after my skydiving adventure that this day would have been more stressful than jumping out of an airplane, but it definitely was.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, guys, and congratulations. We'll see you Sunday.

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