NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500
Topics: Daytona 500
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
February 24, 2013
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
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. Mark Martin came in third.
Mark, I know you had a great effort out there today, certainly had a big‑time. Talk about your run out there today and Daytona.
MARK MARTIN: We told 50 Cent if we won the race, he would have to change his game to 55 Cent for one day. I was trying really hard to get that name change for one day.
Can't believe these guys let me drive their car. It was such a fast car. You know, and the guys, they worked so hard on it. I tore so much up earlier in the week. They just keep digging.
Rodney Childers called a great race, a smart race. What we really wanted to do was be in the middle of it with two laps to go and there we were.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Mark.
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 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?
MARK MARTIN: You know, one of the things that made it hard to pass was nobody, they wouldn't get organized on the bottom. I think you could because there at the end when they got a good line organized, it got to be pretty dangerous.
The problem was that the car on the inside of the frontline wasn't the fastest car. If you would have had the fastest car in the field on the inside, you would have had a whale of a race there at the end.
But the top groove was the preferred groove. And I don't think that had a lot to do with the Gen‑6 as much as everybody was flying, the cars were fast, and the cars seemed to like the momentum you'd get off the corner.
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 125s 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.
MARK MARTIN: It's great for the sport. I agree with everything that Dale said. She did an incredible job today, as well as an incredible job a number of times last year. There will be more of that to come. And it will be good for the sport.
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.
MARK MARTIN: I agree with Dale. I'm very pleased. I had a sick feeling all day, all morning, since I got up this morning, and last night, about what happened yesterday at the end of the race with the fans, which is something that we cannot have happen.
I was happy to see the drivers okay. It was sad to see some of our fans get injured. I was happy today that we were able to race and not have a huge accident.
That's how it plays out. Sometimes you have 'em and sometimes you don't. There was plenty of recipe to have a big one there at the end, we just didn't. Probably next time, they probably will be in July, and I'll be on the couch (laughter). That will be good.
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. Mark and 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?
MARK MARTIN: Well, we did exactly what Dale said, did what we thought would be right. The spotters did have a discussion before the restart. Obviously I knew Junior had a fast car and is one of the masters here, certainly would trust his judgment.
I was in a position where I needed to pass a bunch of cars in order to get in contention to win. So we did that. If things would have got crazy enough, maybe we could have got the big trophy.
That's how it went.
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. Mark, I know you're feeling really happy about today's finish. Is there another side to that, being this late in your career and coming so close to something that you've wanted for so long? I also wondered, you've talked about not having this ride for 2014, doing something different. Do you feel like you've run your last Daytona 500?
MARK MARTIN: First of all, I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity. There are a number of drivers that didn't get to have a shot at the Daytona 500, and I was at least close enough to have an outside shot. So I feel extremely lucky for that opportunity.
I've told you guys over and over again. I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished. I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have. That's how I feel about it.
I'm definitely not going to talk about 2014 yet (laughter).
KERRY THARP: We'll release Mark. Thank you, Mark.
We'll continue with questions.
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 serious?
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).
KERRY THARP: Thank you.
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