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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Gatorade Duel

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel

Joe Nemechek
Mike Wallace
February 15, 2007


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined in our media center right now by Joe Nemechek, driver of the No. 13 Certainteed Chevrolet. Joe will be competing in his 13th Daytona 500, and he got in there today based on his performance in the duel.
JOE NEMECHEK: That's Lucky 13.
THE MODERATOR: And we're also joined by Mike Wallace. Mike Wallace got his way in through the duel today, and Mike drives the No. 09 Miccosukee Gaming Resorts Chevrolet. He'll be in his 10th Daytona 500. Joe, talk about how you got into the 500 through your duel run today.
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, our Certainteed Chevy was actually pretty good most of the race, and when that last caution come out, I knew the guys behind me were going to come and get tires, and at that point in time, my car was starting to get just a little bit tight. The 14 was staying out, and believe me, we were in constant communication with the 14 and the 01, and he was going to stay out, so Peter Sospenzo, my crew chief, just told me, "Make the decision." I made the decision to come and get two tires. Got off of Pit Road first and lined up right there behind him.
The last couple laps got pretty intense because the group behind us, Mike Wallace, was coming, and I had to make some pretty bold moves there.
The one good thing about it is the guys in front were coming back; they didn't stop and get tires. Kyle Busch was coming back, Sterling was coming back, there was a bunch of them coming back, and just right circumstances, right moves, and it just shot me up through there.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Mike, on getting into the 500. Tell us about how you did it out there today.
MIKE WALLACE: I kind of echo what Joe said. My car was horrible after ten laps, sliding the front end, and with 13 to go, they said it's 13 to go and I said I hope somebody runs into somebody and we don't have tires. Vickers fortunately had a problem between 1 and 2, they told me after 2 our track position. Sounds like Joe's story. As we got restarted we got kind of behind, the shuffle up front with no tires and they ended up getting three and four wide which helped me gain momentum and speed coming forward. I seen the 14 and I seen the 13, and I knew 13 wasn't going to -- the 14 wasn't going to wreck the 13. I started to make a move on Joe going down to the bottom into 3 and seen he was heading towards the center, and I just thought I'm going to head with him. Sterling was incredibly graceful the way I raced with him. He fortunately got behind but we didn't force the issue to work me back down, but it all turned out great, we're in the Daytona 500.

Q. This is for both of you. How important was today to try to get all of this stuff from this week back to racing, and how much longer is it going to take -- how many more miles is it going to take where the focus is back on the 500 and racing and not all this talk of cheating and everything else that's happened?
MIKE WALLACE: Was there something else going on other than this race today?
JOE NEMECHEK: It's very unfortunate that the rules got broke this week.
MIKE WALLACE: Don't sugar coat it, tell the truth.
JOE NEMECHEK: To tell you the truth, I think he got off easy. It's just tough. I think it gave the sport a black eye. We've got to recover from that. Having great races like we did today I think definitely helps. I know this is the most stressful Daytona 500 I've ever been in. Mike gets to deal with it every year doing this because he only does it part-time, but man, this is tough. A new team, with Ginn Racing really broadening its path this year with Bobby Ginn getting on board, another Cup team, another Busch team, R & D team, I mean, there are just so many things going on, the company has doubled its size in the last three months.
With all those growing pains, we're still able to come down here and be competitive, so that makes me feel really great.
MIKE WALLACE: I've just got to sort of echo Joe's sentiments there. I wasn't really involved in all the illegal or cheating stuff or however you want to phrase it going on. They got caught, they got fined. I kind of agree with Joe, they got off easy for as blatant as it was supposed to be. That's their concern, not mine, and I am just incredibly happy that we had a great race and going to have a great 500. Now that I feel like I'm one of the 43 luckiest guys in the world come Sunday.

Q. Can you just talk me what was going through your mind in the closing laps when Scott Riggs got kind of loose and started heading up towards you? Were you thinking, man, I came all this way and here we go?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, I didn't know he actually got that loose. I knew he was beside me and then he disappeared quick, and usually that's a bad sign. Nothing ever hit my car. Believe me, there was a couple times I was waiting for somebody to hit my back bumper and send me spinning around. I never really saw it happen, so I didn't know how close I was.
What's very interesting is Jeff Gordon was the car in front of me on that restart, and I really don't know how he won that race. I mean, we were right there, too, but that's pretty incredible he went back and won that race.

Q. This is for both of you guys. When the race starts, you pretty much know who you have to finish ahead of to make it to the 500. Are you guys kept apprised of that throughout the race, or do they pretty much let you guys do what you need to do and sort of tell you only on a need-to-know basis?
MIKE WALLACE: In my situation, I raced probably the first 35 laps just knowing -- I knew the cars I had to compete against, but I was fortunate at the very start of the race I went straight up the middle with Kenseth and we got to Top 10 in like three laps or something like that, then the car faded. With 20 to go, 15 to go and then five to go, three to go, there's Nemechek, get him, get him, got to get him, so they kept me totally abreast who I needed to get to.
JOE NEMECHEK: It's kind of the same way for me. Up until that last restart there with seven to go or whatever, then they told me who I was racing. I was just trying to go as hard as I could. I know the guys that were going to be good, and if the thing would have kept going green, I think we were in good shape, too, because I was starting to get a little bit tight but the guys in front of me were getting a lot tighter. Just at the end on the need-to-know basis they tell you.

Q. Mike, how nerve-wracking is it for you leading up to today to -- you've got to race your way into this thing?
MIKE WALLACE: To be honest with you, I thought I had myself all calmed down. I'm going to run the Truck race, and that Truck is in the race, 46 DirecTV Hot Pass Chevrolet, my Busch car is in the race, and I had resolved myself to saying if I didn't make the Daytona 500 I was going to do DirecTV broadcasting until the race started. And it's the Daytona 500. The pressure is on. We all compete for the Daytona 500. Our teams and our organizations have worked for months getting prepared for this, and when it finally falls down to it's the driver that's the ultimate person that gets the ultimate touchdown, if you want to say it that way, and it is my job -- I made a large organization and a lot of fans and a lot of people incredibly happy today, and I'll be thrilled for a long time. The pressure is on. I don't like it. As Joe mentioned I do this part-time in the Cup deal, and I've got used to it, but I'll tell you, I don't like it.

Q. This is for Mike. Was there any talk between your team and Sterling Marlin's team? How did that play up?
MIKE WALLACE: No talk whatsoever. We just raced really hard. I mean, honestly I had talked to Jay Frye, one of the team owners from the 13, 14 this morning. I says, boy, you guys better race smart. You've got one car in, you've got another one you're trying to get in. We had no communication between them. Sterling is a class guy. He raced hard. He gave Joe and I room to race. He knew he was in the Daytona 500 already, and it was fortunate enough for me, especially for me, that he allowed it to finish that way. I don't think he gave me anything, but he could have forced the issue, he could have door rubbed me or something pretty easy and prevented me from being in the 500.

Q. Do you mind giving us your best sense or guess of how common or uncommon fuel additives are kind of in lower forms of racing, short-track racing, developmental things, and then I guess by contrast how relatively uncommon they are at the Cup level or how seriously it's viewed at the Cup level?
JOE NEMECHEK: Well, just from my experience racing late models around the state of Florida and then the touring series like the -- I don't even know what it's called this year, but their late model series, that was always a big no-no. You had to be careful with the fuel. It didn't make so much of a difference on especially those cars with that type of engine; when they run a 9-to-1 compression ratio it didn't seem to help as much.
In this level you don't hear about it very often. The last one was Jeremy Mayfield at Talladega got caught with fuel, and NASCAR has got -- I don't know if they have an asterisk by that one in the rule book, but that's normally a big no-no.
Anybody that's doing something that blatant, that's pretty bad. You know, there's gray areas and then there is not a gray area. So again, I think Michael Waltrip is very fortunate to be in this race.
As far as the other guys, I don't know what all the penalties were for, but NASCAR has definitely over the last four or five years, they've really tightened the box up that we race in. You used to be able to really think of ways, engineering ways, to get the advantage. And anymore that box is so tight that it's hard to engineer stuff to get an advantage. So what do you do, you hire more engineers to think of more ways to try and get that advantage. And it's a never-ending circle but it keeps getting tougher and tougher.
Five years ago we didn't have 100 NASCAR officials going through templates over here and inspecting the cars. Maybe you had 20 of them here. So that just shows you how our sport has grown.

Q. First of all, congratulations on making the 500, that's great. I hate to keep harping on the same topic, but NASCAR has come out with very detailed Pit Road cards going over specific infractions and specific penalties to take out the ambiguity and the ambivalence, so you know if you're caught on Pit Road doing something specific, you know what the specific fine is. Do they need to do the same thing with rules breaking because there's frankly a lot of people who think -- you guys sound like you're echoing it, too, that if somebody gets caught with fuel in the tank they shouldn't be in the Daytona 500?
JOE NEMECHEK: As big as this race is and as many competitors that we have trying to make this race, Mike Wallace, myself, I mean, you look at the new brands coming in, there was, what, 23 guys going for basically four spots today. If someone gets caught that blatant, no, they probably shouldn't be in the Daytona 500. I mean, that's a blatant deal. Now, if it's a gray area it's a different deal. Half the rules they have in the Busch garage I helped them write, but it was always a gray area.
It wasn't a blatant deal. Being a Cup driver, you listen to what I have to say. I'm a Cup driver driving in that series, and if I get caught doing something blatant, wrong, and I'm tossed out, I don't get to race over here. That's why we're always very fortunate in the Busch Series to work and try and -- really work in the gray areas where it wasn't. Figuring out how to run on three springs, all this crazy stuff, we were the first ones to do it, and the next race they'd have a rule you can't do that. They'd say, okay, you have to have different tire weights, this and that, and you'd have to have another way around it. If I ever got caught with fuel, man, I was gone and I wouldn't be racing over here. So there's a difference between right and wrong and gray areas.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations and good luck the rest of the weekend.



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