NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Gatorade Duel 1
Topics: Gatorade Duel
February 17, 2011
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP: We'll roll into post race for the first Gatorade Duel here at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for Sunday's running of the 53rd Daytona 500. Getting into the race based on his performance here today is certainly no stranger to this racetrack, that's Bill Elliott.
Bill, talk about your run out there today and what it means to get into the lineup on Sunday for the most famous race in all of NASCAR.
BILL ELLIOTT: Coming in today we had a little bit of a cushion by qualifying well this past Sunday.
I still was pleased by the way we ran. We went at it pretty blindsided. Most of the guys that run extremely well when we're testing here a month or so ago was able to do the swap fast and work very well together. That's the key to breaking away and doing what you need to do on that side.
To learn it, get around different guys, figure it out, see whose car pushes better, whose car pulls better, whatever the situation is. I still feel we have a little bit we need to do to the car. All in all, we got our car for the 500. Hopefully we get through the next couple of practices, whatever it is. We got a good baseline to go. That's important.
Where this team has been the last few years, it's a great race team. I think they got great equipment. We need to get our execution down a little bit better.
All in all, I think things went well. The racetrack is great. I'll telling you guys, it's unbelievable. It's so smooth. You can go high, low, middle, side, backwards, it doesn't matter. The guys can get you pushing, jacked up, you can hang onto the thing for the most part. Sometimes the guy behind you, he's driving you instead of you driving it. It's fun. If it's as wild looking at it from where we see it versus where you see it, it's a heck of a race.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Bill.
Q. You've raced under so many different rules packages at this track. Now you have this different form of two-car tandems. How does this compare to any other types of racing you've ever done here?
BILL ELLIOTT: Yeah, they don't compare to anything. I've never experienced anything like what these guys, what you have to do today to make this work.
You know, when I was here testing, I tried to do this with Jeff Gordon, and it was at the very end of the last day. I couldn't figure it out. We only did it for just a short number of laps. I couldn't help him and he couldn't help me. We sat down understand a talked about it. I came back.
The bad thing about it is for the guys, you know, like J.J. and the rest of us that have to qualify in, you're so focused on laying down a lap that you don't have time to do anything else or you don't have any real teammates to fall back on. That being said, everything you do, you're behind that eight ball every step you make. So now instead of two runs behind, you're 15 runs behind because you have the multiple-car teams going out and doing it, learning, knowing what they do. With NASCAR changing the square inches of tape opening that you have on the front of the grill, that has mandated a little bit of that. So now the swap has to be quicker. There again, the guys that are good at it, they're the ones that drove away.
That's the key things. When you get two really good cars that can work well together, they're going to be hard to beat. This is the same thing you're going to see all day Sunday, two guys working together to make it work.
KERRY THARP: We're joined at the podium by another driver who raced his way into Sunday's 53rd running of the Daytona 500, that's J.J. Yeley. Congratulations. How does it feel to be lining up Sunday in the Daytona 500?
J.J. YELEY: It's awesome. This is the first time I've ever had to make the race on my own without being already locked in. The stress that comes along with being a go or go homer, not knowing exactly what's going to happen till you get to the racetrack is tough. We had a lot of help out there. Obviously I wouldn't have made it up here without Marcos Ambrose. It took us a while till we got everything figured out for the swap. But once we got that done, we didn't lose nearly as much time. We got where we needed to be.
KERRY THARP: We'll open it up again to questions for Bill or J.J.
Q. Bill, you wondered aloud if the racing looked as exciting to the fans as it seems to you guys on the track. Did you watch the Shootout Saturday night?
BILL ELLIOTT: Yes.
Q. You viewed the racing. What is your opinion watching it as opposed to being in it?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, it's wild watching it. But the problem is, it's wild on the racetrack. Man, you get two guys hooked up, you get your timing wrong, then you get a guy swapping, I mean, you're catching them at light-speed. I couldn't imagine the other night the speeds they were running. The closure is the same. All you've done is slowed the pairs down or the guys swapping down. So the total time comes down, but your closure rate is the same. That's what is hard to guess.
One time there was a swap on a tri-oval, Brian was on my tail, I went to turn under him, I couldn't go high, I got all crossed up there. That's the problem. You get to that deal, you catch them really fast, you don't know if you're going to go high or low, a guy is trying to help you from behind. It makes it tough.
I tell you what, it's a heck of a lot of fun.
Q. If you were watching it as a fan, what do you think?
BILL ELLIOTT: It's the craziest thing I've ever seen watching it Saturday night. I've never seen anything like this before. Just like a bunch of kids playing leapfrog, the groups, but they were doing it in pairs.
Q. Is a big key on Sunday, the next practice sessions are going to be devoted to how fast you can make the switches, how fast you can do the leapfrog?
J.J. YELEY: I think it really comes down to finding a partner that's going to stay with you the entire race. You can't afford to get caught out. There's not going to be a lot of cautions, a lot of green-flag stops. Trying to find that partner that wants to stay with you as well as the timing of making your pit stop to where you don't end a straightaway separated because you lose so much time running by yourself or trying to get back to your partner.
At the end of the day, it's going to be a matter of, like you said, guys working on the switch because you can't afford to lose a half a straightaway of trying to get locked back in because it's another 10 miles an hour and that time you're losing as the next group is catching you.
It's going to be interesting to see. You double the field, put 43 cars out there, at that rate, there's going to be one left out by himself.
BILL ELLIOTT: One odd man out. The problem is, you already got the teams that work so much during the test a month ago, that's all they did. Probably a day and a half, that's all they did. They've done got a leg up on you. So now they've done got the timing down, what they're doing, how they're doing it, so on and so forth.
You get two really, really good racecars that work well together, you get the drivers where they have their timing right, if nothing foreseen happens during the day, they're going to take off and see you.
The rest of us, like that pack I was running around with, it was like Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, all that group, it was like, hey, we were a bunch of cats and mouses scratching and digging for whatever we could get depending on who made the swap at what time.
Q. For J.J., seven laps to go, you were dead. I mean, you were a lap down, you got the blown engine. All of a sudden you found something on that last lap. Can you talk about how you came from a lap down and into the Daytona 500 in just a matter of minutes?
J.J. YELEY: Before the caution came off, I made my switch with Marcos. I was really hoping once the pack caught the 87, the 97, it was going to break them up. There were five groups going substantially faster than what we were. The caution was a huge benefit. I learned from the start of the race that just you and your usual drafting was a lot faster than trying to get partnered up with someone. It took almost a lap and a half, especially from caution speed, to get your speed to where you were going to get going. If it would have been more than two laps on the restart, both those guys could have blown back by me. I wouldn't have had a shot. I was trying to keep them separated for as long as we could.
Nemechek and I beat up on each other down the back straightaway. That was enough to get me out in front and enough cushion that they couldn't catch me before the checkered.
Q. What is the mental distraction at the end of the race on the restart? What can be a mental distraction in making the pass?
BILL ELLIOTT: I mean, the problem is, you're so in a mode of racing. Then you have your pack that's kind of broken away. You're racing your own little group. Then the caution comes out and it's a whole different game. It's just like you're playing poker and the cards have been reshuffled and you're starting with a fresh deck but you only have a short time to put it together. That's what it comes down to.
You don't really have time to pick a dancing partner, you don't have time to set a strategy up. You have to wait till that flag falls. When you roll off into turn one, you make your best guess and hope it's the right one.
J.J. YELEY: The key is going to get good restarts. You have to be able to push the guy in front of you. The problem you run into, doing the train racing like we're doing, is the pusher. You can't really see what's going on. You're relying so much more on your spotter than you ever had to in years past. Sometimes you're pushing the guy a lot faster than the group you're catching. A lot of times you're trying to be as smooth as you can at the wheel so that guy behind you can stay directly behind you. When you have cars passing on the outside, he can't see behind you. Hopefully that spotter is letting you know the group behind you at the closing rate, there's enough cushion there the two of you can get up before a wreck happened.
I think that's what happened to Dale Jr. in practice. They didn't get the timing down. It's so hard to do because the closing rate is so much more than we've seen in a lot of years here.
Q. Bill, it looked like from up here when you made the swap that the field got really strung out. It didn't look like the race was nearly as close or competitive as it was Saturday night. Does NASCAR need to adjust something else or what should they do to even things up a little bit more?
BILL ELLIOTT: Well, I don't know what you're going to do because you're going to come up with that same situation. There's going to be a combination of cars that run better together than others. Once those teams and those drivers during the race figure out who that is, they're going to work together the rest of the day, whatever it takes.
You get in those situations like we did today where they got their timing down of changing. These guys will get better. For me, this is only my second stab at it. We got very limited practice the other day. That's really the first time I had at it doing this kind of deal. Here we got thrown in this mess today. You try to make all this work, you try to do it all in one afternoon, but now we have 150-mile race under our belt, now we got a couple more practices to think about it. When everybody gets to understand what they need to do Sunday, I still say you're going to see several groups of cars kind of run away from everybody else. That's the MO. Everybody else is going to have a harder time swapping.
The problem I see, if when you get farther back in the field, it's harder to make a clean swap with more cars around you, make it work, because then you've got a couple more groups or two around you. You might not have to swap at the right time. You might have to breathe your motor a little bit and stay behind the guy, then it just costs you more time.
Q. J.J. can you talk about the emotions of the last couple months coming into Daytona not knowing whether you're going to be racing and now finally last lap you're in the field.
J.J. YELEY: It's definitely tough. I was starting to get worried if we were going to get our car ready to come down here. We got our engine very, very late. The guys worked over the weekend to get the car ready. They spent most of the day Tuesday at the pulldown rig and doing chassis dynos and the car left at 7 p.m. in order to get here for practice and tech and everything. Just to know we made it was a stretch.
We were really optimistic how our qualifying was going to go. This particular car was really fast at Talladega last year to be as slow as it was through qualifying.
It was a rollercoaster of emotions not knowing what was going to go on, knowing we had to race our way in. Once I took the checkered flag in, and rolled across there and realized that we just put this thing in the show, I was beyond myself with excitement. Like I said, I couldn't thank Marcos Ambrose enough, because he shoved me for a really long time and I'm sure cost himself a really good finish by doing it.
Q. Bill, what was the breaking point as far as the water temperature goes? Did you get to a certain point and go, I got to get out of this?
BILL ELLIOTT: Absolutely. That's what everybody was trying to do. You just get to a point, you're going to try to push a little bit more towards the end of the race. We had a game plan of what we were going to have to do. Then the caution comes out, it's a whole different plan.
You know, the bad thing about it is you don't know what the limit is. The guys tell you you're kind of shooting for this range but give or take 10 degrees or so one way or the other. We just try to monitor it and say, Look, I say to the spotter, we got a quarter of a lap to go, I got to make it work. It's been the most communication between so many different spotters than I've ever seen in any previous Daytona 500 or any Daytona event.
Q. Can you talk to me a little bit about last year at Lakeside Speedway on the dirt? Did you think you would be in the Daytona 500 six or eight months later?
J.J. YELEY: It's been a long road back. 2009, I took that nasty flip there in a Sprint car, pinched two vertebrae in my neck that I had to have fused in September. It took about eight months to where they were going to clear me and do the rehabilitation to where I was safe getting behind the wheel.
Obviously in this sport, if you're not in clear view, you can easily get forgotten. That's what I started to feel like. You roll through the garage, people would look at you with a second glance. It was that quick you that could be forgotten.
Getting the opportunity isn't where I want to be back in the NASCAR scene. Doing the start and park program with the guys last year, really taking a brand-new team with new equipment, less horsepower, going out there and running well I hope is opening eyes and showing that I still have the ability as well as the guys working on the team. To start as late as we did for this year, make the Daytona 500 based on racing our way in is a big accomplishment for myself and all the guys.
Q. On Sunday, if we get into a situation two teammates find they're working together perfectly, swap back and forth, how do you imagine that's going to work if we go green till the end without cautions? How are these two teams going to determine when the last swap happens and who has the advantage?
BILL ELLIOTT: I don't think I want to be the guy in the front 'cause he's going to be the sitting duck. But it just depends on the cars. It's hard to make that pass, but you got to time it just right.
We saw Denny in the Bud Shootout make a very good pass at a crucial time. He timed it perfectly. Unfortunately there's this little yellow line down there that was an obstacle.
I don't see it any different than any other. It's going to come down to those two guys. Either one of them, whether one is going to choose to run second, the other one do what he does to win the race, that's the way it's going to go up, especially if things go like they did in this 150.
Q. Kevin Conway thought maybe you started in the wrong spot on that restart because he thought you should have been down some lap-down cars. Did they wave you around? Did you have any idea? Was there any confusion on your part where you should start?
J.J. YELEY: No. Obviously when you get the free pass, you follow the back. As I rolled off of turn four, I was, I don't know, four or five car lengths behind the back of the pack. When you're going green, if somebody is hanging back, want to pass, they'll fall back with you. There was a huge gap between everybody. Obviously I'm not going to cost myself time by hanging back behind those guys.
I didn't do anything different than I did every time I did last year. I really don't think it changed the outcome. I think they were planning the 9 car, because he hung back with me, we were going to lock up and push through. Obviously that wasn't the case.
I didn't feel like I did everything different. Obviously I knew I had to be the last car in the line.
Q. Bill, are you in favor of NASCAR maybe coming up with different rules throughout Speedweeks or do you want to see NASCAR kind of let the story play itself out?
BILL ELLIOTT: I really don't have an opinion one way or the other. Sometimes a change is good. Sometimes it helps you; sometimes it hurts you. You don't know till they decide what they're going to do.
Over the years, you realize they're going to do pretty much what they feel like they need to do, if they need to do it for the drivers' safety or fans' safety, that's their prerogative. Like seeing what they've done for the Nationwide cars. We've had, what, three plate changes in the last couple of days, yeah. So they feel like they need to adjust.
That's what it is. You go to any racetrack, over the years, whether I agree with it or disagree with it, it's something you got to look at and say you need to adjust this or that, whether I'm winning or the next guy is winning. Seems like eventually it will work out.
Q. Bill, I covered you since you started about '83 or so. But you were driving for the Ford team. Your family, George, your brothers, had that Ford dealership. You're driving a Chevy. How does it feel to be in the seat of a Chevrolet?
BILL ELLIOTT: It's just the way life sometimes goes. I've poured my heart out for Ford, and I think we've done a good job. But we've moved to another chapter. It's another chapter in my career.
Unfortunately things didn't go the direction that they were going to go. It just wasn't in the cards or whatever. The page is turned and here I am in a new deal. I just look at it, I'm going to try to work on new relationships and try to work hard.
Right now I'm in a Chevrolet. That's what I want to support. I feel like whatever we need to do we need to do. James is a great supporter in this series, the owner of the car. He's put a lot of money into it. I try to go about and do things on my own. I financially can't afford to do it. Here I am.
So sometimes opportunities lead you in different directions. But sometimes that's not all bad.
Q. How do you get your partner for the two-car deal? Do you wait till the race gets started? How much would you promise to a good partner, give him half the winner's purse? How far would you go?
BILL ELLIOTT: Bobby Labonte and I tried talking about working together and we never did, up to the last lap of the race. The way things got shuffled out, Brian Vickers was the odd man out. Here I came long. He and I worked decently together. We had our times. We missed the deal coming to pit road. We were still able to catch back up to that group that we were running with because it seemed like everybody -- that's where that little bit of communication makes all the difference in the world and gets that timing down right. Okay, this is what I'm going to do. This is what I'm going to commit to. This is how we're going to do it. By gosh, just go do it.
For those guys, like I said, that were here a month ago, they're light-years ahead of you in that respect. That's the things you got to work through, whether you come down Saturday night and say I'm going to work with J.J., the race starts, you never see the guy the rest of the day, that's the way it is. You can't go find a guy. Like he said, there's 43 cars. Who is going to be the odd man out?
Q. Given the nature of these two-car hook ups, is there any concern we might have blown engines, guys overheating?
J.J. YELEY: Absolutely. Right now you're seeing a lot more sustained RPM at a restrictor plate race than we usually do. Obviously, the temperature adds to the problem. When you go to restrictor plate engines, they're so much more finicky than your open-comp engine. That's what is hurting our team the most, there's big teams with the budget with the chassis dynos to figure out these problems. When something comes up and NASCAR needs to make a change because the cars are going too fast, those teams go back and spend a lot of time at the wind tunnel to figure that out. That splits up the racing groups. There are teams that can go out and figure that out in a day and the rest of us have to figure it out from looking, seeing.
I definitely think you're going to see a lot of engine problems on Sunday.
Q. Bill, your son Chase has had a lot of success on the short tracks around the southeast at the age of 15. How much of an inspiration has that been for you at the age of 55? And your thoughts on Chase signing with Hendrick Motorsports this week?
BILL ELLIOTT: You know, I've kind of looked at it, when I felt like I was going to get out of racing, I was going to totally get out of it. He comes along, he wants to race. Here I am right back in the middle of it. I feel, if I'm going to get back in the middle of it, I'm going to get back in the middle of it. That's kind of the way I feel about it.
The situation that come with Rick, there again, it was an opportunity, the door opened. He's going to try to help us bits and pieces along the way. I'm going to race my deal out at Dawsonville, and see how things go.
I tell you what, that kid has done a fantastic job. I've watched him race in the last two years in the late-model stuff. We went from Pensacola, Mobile, Winchester, Michigan, wherever. Man, he rolls on. I don't know what goes on in that little head of his, but he figures it out.
KERRY THARP: Bill and J.J., congratulations for getting into the Daytona 500 on Sunday.
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