NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500
Topics: Daytona 500
February 15, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP: We'll go ahead and get started here with our post-race interviews for the 51st running of the Daytona 500. Up on the podium we have our runner-up in today's race. That is Kevin Harvick. We have our third-place finisher, AJ Allmendinger. We have our fifth-place finisher, who led a lot of laps out there today, Elliott Sadler.
I'm going to ask them each to make some opening comments and then we'll open it up for questions.
Kevin, your thoughts about today's race?
KEVIN HARVICK: Seems to be typical of how we race. To be honest with you, we were off a little bit. Started in the back. Were off a little bit. Made some huge adjustments the second or third pit stop and got ourselves in the back again. Were able to make the car where it drove really good.
Once I got myself in the middle of the pack the car was easy to drive. Didn't have the speed like it needed to. Once we were in the middle of it we were able to maneuver ourselves really good. In the end, it was a good day. Worked out okay.
KERRY THARP: AJ, you raced your way into this Daytona 500. You come away with a third-place finish. Your thoughts?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: The Valvoline Dodge, the car was really fast today. Could run up front all day. Was really consistent. Felt really good to be there and be able to run consistent up front with everybody. Everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports building great cars.
I was hoping it was going to rain when Elliott was leading and Reed was second and I was fourth. That would have been a really great result for the team. I was trying to push Reed and Elliott as much as I could. They are the ones that got me into the race. It was my turn to return the favor and try to get them the win.
Kevin had a great run and got under me. That kind of shuffled Reed out. I had to kind of dive down with him because I was going to get really shuffled out if I didn't get back in line.
It's a great result. I kind of wish we could have been able to finish. I think the car was fast. Would have loved to have had a chance to win the race. To be top three with everything we went through in the off-season, hopefully get some more sponsors on the racecar, keep this thing going after race eight.
KERRY THARP: Elliott, you led some laps out there at the end. Tough luck there at the conclusion of the race before the rain came. Your thoughts?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, if you'd have told me at the beginning of the day if I would take a fifth-place finish and lead some laps for the Daytona 500, I probably would have took it. It's a great way to get a good start to the season.
But to be a half a lap short from being the champion of the Daytona 500 is very emotional to me. Had a chance to win it. Just made one mistake off of turn four. I didn't drag the brake enough.
Kevin and Matt had a really good run. I thought maybe if I blocked to the outside somebody might come with me. But they had such a good head of steam.
Really wanted to go to Victory Lane with my guys. I needed this after the off-season that I've had. Really would have been cool. Didn't work out, but happy for my guys. Great mentality all night long. Had ourselves in position to win.
We'll go to California and try to ride some of this momentum.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Kevin, Elliott or AJ.
Q. Kevin, emotionally how do you go away from this? Are you thankful it ended where you were? Disappointed in the way you ran? Did you wish it would have gone back to green?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I wasn't happy with the way we started the day, but I was proud of the way that we came back and made the car handle really good. We knew where we were speed-wise. We said, All right, let's make the thing handle. That really paid off for us in the end.
I'm kind of like Elliott. Another lap, you never know what would have happened if that doesn't shake out like it did. I mean, you always want to win the race. Knowing what it's like to win the Daytona 500, it's a lot of fun to win and neat to be in Victory Lane.
But, you know, it's also kind of bittersweet, I guess you could say, for the fact that Matt is the one that pushed me to my Daytona 500 win. In the end, it's kind of weird how that stuff works out.
Q. Elliott, I don't want to rub salt in the wound, but they said on the radio you said this is your luck. It's raining on the radar and not raining on the racetrack. What do you do?
ELLIOTT SADLER: It's funny. My crew chief told me for the last 45 minutes of the race that it's raining on the radar. You know, this is his first race with me as a crew chief. I said, Welcome to Elliott Sadler's world. It's probably raining all around the racetrack. When I need it, in the lap where I get passed, it starts raining in turn three.
It's the way it is. If I would have made a better and smarter move, I'd be in Victory Lane right now. Really wanted it. I put my heart and soul to come in here to Daytona, Speedweeks, try to compete at the top of my game, 'cause I knew I had a lot of eyes on me to run good.
It was cool running up front. It was great having Reed and AJ behind me pushing. It would have been cool to finish like that, but just wasn't meant to be. Very hard to swallow. Very emotional. We'll try to get 'em next week.
Q. Kevin, I know a lot of split-second decisions made there. You have to do what you have to do. Describe what you did when you did and what you thought the result was. I mean, to help Matt. And then did you think you were going to be able to get around?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, when we went up, I was thinking, Man, we got a good push here. I had the 44 behind me. I don't really know -- I had the 33 behind me at that time on the restart. They were still in front of us. We had a good head of steam going down the back. My car wasn't very good on the bottom, so we went to the top.
Clint said he was committed to go wherever we went. We got a good run there. Things started to shake up. I got into the back of the 43 a little bit down the backstretch. He kind of got shot up high there. We wound up behind Matt going into three and coming off of four.
Everybody was racing hard, knowing that the rain was really close. It's time to go when they think it's going to rain a lot and you know you need to make something happen. Luckily, you know, it all worked out okay.
Q. Elliott, when the 17 gets under you there, what is going through your head? Do you feel like it's lost at that moment? Did you feel sick to your stomach?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I was a little sick to my stomach. I choose to go high because my car wasn't really good on the bottom the whole day. When my spotter told me the 29 was pushing the 17, I could see him coming. Had a really good run. I had to either make a choice, let him go to the outside of me or under me. I decided to let him go under me and hopefully try to side draft a little bit. They had such a good head-of-steam.
You know, I can play that pass back in my head a million times between now and when I leave to go to California, but it's not really going to change the outcome. I needed to do a better job leading the race and put my car in a position to make it wider for them to pass. I can sit here and try to be a Monday morning quarterback, but it's not going to work.
We'll take it as a loss and need to do a better job next time, worry about when we come back here in July.
Q. Elliott, for this to be a Cinderella story you would have had to have won. It's still quite a story when not too long ago you lose your ride, then you go into court, and then you're restored to the ride. First time out you have a better finish than you had all last year. The old term, The Lord works in mysterious ways. You've had quite a mystery over the last few months.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I'm going to be honest with you. I'm not going to lie to you. I was getting pretty emotional under the caution when it was raining a little bit in turn one and two. I thought it was going to be called a little bit earlier than it was. I was getting emotional in the car thinking, Wouldn't this be the coolest story? I came down here as a fan the first time in 1979 and finished second to Ward Burton, and now to have a chance to win the race.
Seen guys like Harvick and Newman and them celebrate the last couple years on last-lap passes, and how fun it looks like to me in Victory Lane. I had a lot of that cool stuff going through my head. But, you know, just wasn't meant to be.
You know, it's tough. It's hard to swallow. But I'm proud of my guys. New team. New pit stops. They all worked out great tonight. To look in their faces when the rain was coming down when I got out of the car, man, that was hard, because I felt like I let them down.
Q. Kevin, you touched on that you were happy for Matt because he helped you two years ago. Matt is not usually the guy that grabs for the spotlight or glamour. I think there's a sense he's well-respected. Do you think this will be a popular victory, Matt Kenseth, a guy who shuns the spotlight?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think in the garage it will definitely be a popular win. I think Matt's obviously a pretty stand-up person and a great racecar driver, accomplished a lot in this sport. I think a lot of us can relate to Matt for kind of going out of the spotlight.
I think he's one of those guys that he can win seven or eight races in a year and never receive any credit. He's a really good racecar driver. He's a champion, Daytona 500 champion. I think a lot of times some of those things are overlooked.
Q. AJ and Elliott, last year GEM and Petty Enterprises are struggling teams. The first race out, three guys in the top nine. How much do you think this means to this new team?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I think it's a big deal. It was a tough off-season for everybody. It was a long off-season. There's a lot of stuff that went on throughout the team with the merger. We came here, and I think it shows how strong the team is now. Elliott and Reed were a big factor of why I got into this race. That was a lot of teamwork that was involved to get that to happen.
Like I said, I wish it would have rained a little bit earlier so we could have had a Cinderella story, had Elliott and all of us in the top five.
But overall the team's done a lot of work in the off-season. Brand-new racecars. Everybody's putting a hundred percent effort into it. You can see when you go to the shop and at the racetrack just everybody's attitude - even from the five races that I was there last year - everybody's pumped up to be here and excited.
You got the King walking around saying hi to everybody, making sure everybody's good. It's a lot of fun at the racetrack right now.
I look forward to going to California and just carrying this on.
Q. Kevin, to make sure, the decision to call the race as quickly as they made it, are you okay with that? Do you think we should still be waiting?
KEVIN HARVICK: I've learned a long time ago that I just kind of do my own thing and the rest of it is all up to them.
You know, fortunately we've sat on the other side of the fence. Knowing how our day started, what we accomplished today, I'm happy with where we are. Obviously, I know how exciting it is to be in Victory Lane.
But it's easy to second guess something until you have to sit up there and make those decisions.
Q. AJ, you had a tough year last year. You were in kind of a spot. You showed good at the end of the year. You had some strength at the end of the year. You still lost a ride. Do you feel any kind of vindication now? Would you credit your results to car or personal improvement or both?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, I think you quickly learn in this sport that it doesn't owe you anything. I mean, you got to earn everything that you get. You can sit back and feel bad about yourself or whine about everything that's going on. But there's a lot of people in this world that are a lot less fortunate than I am right now, even everything I went through.
For me, it ultimately comes down to two decisions. You can quit or work harder and make something happen. I'm never going to quit. I'm going to keep working harder. That's my attitude.
I know if I can go out there and do everything that I can on and off the racetrack, I can go home, and whether I have a ride, run well, don't run well, and just go home and feel good about myself and not second guess anything. That's all you can control.
As for results, I mean, I credit most of the team. I don't have a lot of restrictor plate racing and had to learn a lot and have great teammates that are great on these racetracks to help me learn. I had to learn quick. But overall, you know, they brought great racecars. There were times we struggled in these two weeks. There were times we were great.
Today I just got to give a lot of credit, you know, all the credit, to Sammy Johns and Mike Wolf, my crew chief, my engineer, the whole race team. The pit stops were great. My pit crew has only had two or three weeks to work together. They had tryouts to put together for this team, and they had great stops all day. I give all the credit in the world to them.
KEVIN HARVICK: How many years have you driven a stock car?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I don't know, two and a half now. Take all the races I missed, I'm still half a year (laughter).
KEVIN HARVICK: I think everybody forgets how many people have been run out of this sport from the open-wheel side that hadn't had any success whatsoever. He's been pretty successful in a short amount of time.
Q. I'm not sure where each of you were at the time, but what was your view of the big wreck with Earnhardt and Vickers? What did you see of that? What did you make of all that?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I didn't see any of it.
KEVIN HARVICK: I saw a lot of smoke, stuff flying. That was about it.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: For me, I don't know exactly where everybody was running, but I was pretty far up. I saw Vickers get dropped to the bottom. Earnhardt was down there. From there, after that, it was pretty much a big commotion.
My spotter did a good job to get me through. At that point it's not a lot of driving skill; you pray you pick the right line and go through it.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I was in front of it so I didn't see it.
Q. It seemed during the Bud Shootout, during the Gatorade Duels, that the cars were pretty much on the edge. They were about to spin out. During this race, that happened a little bit, but not as much. Does it seem the COT, the teams have made enough improvements on it, or... ?
KEVIN HARVICK: I thought the race was pretty tame, from the Bud Shootout, everything that happened. It seemed like with the heat not being on the racetrack, it seems like the cars were a lot more manageable. My car drove as good as it did all weekend.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Good answer, Kevin.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'll stick with that.
KERRY THARP: Guys, thank you very much. We'll see you at California. Thanks for your time and putting on a good show today.
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