An Interview With MIKE HELTON, JOHN DARBY, ROBIN PEMBERTON
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome here to the media center at Daytona International Speedway. We're excited about the 53th running of the Daytona 500, and joining us here today we have NASCAR President Mike Helton, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Managing Director of Competition John Darby, and NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton.
I appreciate your attendance today. At this time I'll call on Mike, he has a few comments, and then we'll open it up for questions.
MIKE HELTON: Just very quickly, welcome to 2011 and welcome to Daytona. After our 2010 season and the conclusion and the competition that took place on the racetrack, we've got a lot of hope and excitement going into 2011, and we're very excited about the confidence level and the enthusiasm that I think the drivers have got right now about being eager and anxious to get back to what they were doing.
And you couple that with what we saw on the racetracks last year and the conclusion of the season, and we feel very good about the start of 2011 here at Daytona for the Daytona 500 and all of Speedweeks with all of our national series.
So we're eager to get going, I guess I could say in just a few words.
You know, there's headlines and topics and things that I suspect we'll go over as many of them as we can today. We'll answer them as precisely as we can and be open and candid about ones that we may not have final answers on.
Obviously we're in the middle of a lot of stakeholder meetings, the most obvious ones are the ones with the team owners and the drivers, and during the off-season and as the season progresses and we make a list of things and have conversations about topics that we may look at making changes to, the off-season gives us an opportunity to focus specifically on those, and after the holidays we can get busy talking to the proper stakeholders and go over in some cases our conclusion, our decision, and in some cases it's a function of a collaborative effort with the racetracks and particularly with the drivers and the owners and coming up with some finality to our process.
So we're in the middle of that, and it should be wrapped up by next week, and we'll be eager to get the season going.
Having said that, the one topic I think that has enough finality to it to go ahead and put it out on the table, and I'm sure there will be questions about it, but it is the fact is -- the fact is the 2011 driver applications went out in the mail to the drivers. It had in it a paragraph and a point where you would declare which national series you would collect points -- championship points in as a driver, and you could only pick one of those.
And so we can get into more answers around the questions you may have about that, but that is one topic I think that's out there that'll probably be safe to say will be talked about a little bit today.
But having said that, again, I want to thank you and welcome you to Daytona. This is the 53rd annual Daytona 500, but after 30-some years in this business, I still get excited to pull inside this tunnel, and walking through the garage area and even talking to the guys in the meetings, the owners and the drivers in particular and, quite frankly, a group of drivers that represent NASCAR's future, there's still a high level of energy and enthusiasm to get the season started but more importantly to do it in Daytona in the Speedweeks environment.
The surface this year I think adds some mystique to that in some ways, but adds a lot of other levels of energy to it, as well.
With that, are we ready?
Q. Whoever it's most appropriate for, John, could you address the transition process, the next step in your career and where that whole new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Director position is at, please?
JOHN DARBY: Yeah, I think so. Our plans haven't changed, although we've been so busy, especially in working on last season, the development of the car, the change-over from wings to spoilers, the new nose, everything that's new, and you see for this year as well as working real hard on just our base competition not only in the Cup Series but all three national series, it was more of a priority shift, I guess.
The plan for movement is still alive and well. I think we're still actively seeking a replacement as a Cup director to which will ultimately allow me to move to my new position.
But for the meantime right now we've just kind of folded that all into one. Racing is what we do, and the priority became to manage the Cup Series and do what we could for the '10 season, and we did that and will continue to do that until the timing is right.
I think even last January on the initial announcement of the promotion we were quick and repeatedly said that the timeline wasn't as important as finding the right person and making that transition smoothly. I'm still happy doing what I'm doing, and I'll be happy to do the next step.
MIKE HELTON: The only thing I'd add to that quickly is John was spot on on everything he said, and fortunately for NASCAR, there's not a hole or a void, so there's not an emergency-type situation. It was our desire this time last year to be much further along than we were in that process of succession, but we do enjoy the benefit of a lot of great talent in our sport that can move around and do things.
And John, we've probably -- as John said, we focused more on the urgent issues than maybe we should have focused on searching for the Cup Series director. But that is ongoing. It is high on our list to accomplish sooner than later.
Q. My question involves selecting which series you're going to compete for the championship in. Nationwide, the title sponsor of that series, expressed a preference for some sort of sunset provision that would have allowed perhaps Carl and Brad to compete for the title this year. Was that considered, and why ultimately was that not incorporated in the change?
MIKE HELTON: It was considered, and Nationwide had expressed that to us as well as some of the drivers, that particularly Carl and Brad had expressed, okay, can you just give me one more year. We stuck to the decision once we made it that there -- and felt like it was better for everybody concerned, the whole industry, to go ahead and draw the line and not have any lingering effects to it. And we've done that with other decisions we've made. We've also made advanced decisions and put a timeline out there to reach.
But on this particular one, and we've been talking about this topic for a few seasons, that we decided that it's in the best interest for the industry, even though there were some that get caught up in it, but it's the best overall decision to go ahead and make that call and go ahead and draw the line and say, no, it starts and stops right here.
Q. Can you give us an update on where you stand with Rookies of the Year? Yesterday the Wood Brothers announced that Trevor Bayne would be running somewhere 17 races or so. Will that make him eligible for that program this season?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You know, as we continue our talks with all the teams and the stakeholders, picking a series has been one of the topics, we know that we'll have to make some adjustments to the Rookie of the Year and their eligibility. We're talking to some of the parties that that directly affects, and I believe that we'll make some adjustments to that that won't hurt a rookie coming forward that wants to move up into the Cup Series and run for Rookie of the Year.
But we're in the middle of the talks for that.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about a potential change for the points system, and even if you are not at the stage of announcing that today, the 1 to 43 points have been discussed a lot. And I wonder if you can talk about, even if you can't announce it today, what merit something like that would have, put some perspective on that thought, perhaps, and change or no change; how much really changing things big-time would shake the fans up or not?
MIKE HELTON: In regards to the points, I think where we're at today is, again, we're in the middle of the conversations, actually telling the competitors where our mind is. And the goal was and has been for several years, but the goal is to have a more simple points system. If you look at all of motorsports and even or sports, as well, it sometimes is complicated. Even for us we have to occasionally go to the rule book and look at what position got what points.
So the goal for some time has been to create a points system that is easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to be talked about, but also be credible at the end of the season. And so it's a function of taking the current one that establishes the criteria for the credibility because of its length of time we've used it more than anything and come up with one that you can set and have a conversation with someone and say, well, what do you think about this, and they sit there and say, well, that's pretty simple.
The main goal is to get one that's just easier to understand and simpler, but you have to do that with credibility around the championship.
And we're close to -- and we're getting a lot of great input from the drivers about the tweaks that would go along with something like that, so it's actually been fun to work on.
Q. Obviously for years there's been talk about Cup drivers and the Nationwide series. Why did you choose this rule over others, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
MIKE HELTON: Well, the most important element was for NASCAR to maintain its open policy for anybody that wants to compete and has the credentials to compete can compete in any series that they want to compete in. We don't restrict a Cup driver from participating in another form of racing, including other forms of NASCAR racing. And so we -- the desire was to protect that. But at the same time there's also a desire for the Truck Series, the Nationwide Series to have a more specific identity of its own and not be confused with the Cup Series or vice versa.
But the strength of all three national series now at different levels gives us the option to look at new programs, and this is the one that we landed on. And the hope for this is that in the Truck Series when you have Cup drivers participating in it, which we still will, and the Nationwide Series when you have Cup drivers participating in it, which we hope and we think still will, there is a level of focus and a level of exposure offered to younger drivers who have personalities that deserve to get attention and be developed along the way, as well.
Q. Mike, at the end of last season Brian was talking about how he wanted to put more emphasis on winning than ever. It seems like with this proposed point change it goes back to putting it more on consistency. Can you explain what led you to the system you're looking at right now and what are going to be the advantages of this beyond being simple?
MIKE HELTON: Well, our goal was to make it simple, so we start there. We feel like we have a model or actually several that accomplish that. But we get to the one that makes it simple.
We can continue enhancing the attention to and the appetite to win with bonus points and how we apply those to a basic simple structure to start with. You can also do things with the events themselves, the field that goes into the Chase, the Chase events to continue to encourage and put a high appetite on winning races. But the points models start off with a simple system, but we can accomplish the attention to winning with bonus points and other pieces.
Q. I understand that NASCAR has a very short off-season to make these decisions, and I don't know if this analogy really fits here, but baseball, for example, you don't go to preseason and not know if you're going to use the DH this year. Is there any risk of NASCAR's credibility being compromised or questioned because you're so close to the start of the season and the teams and the drivers don't know yet what the rules are going to be?
MIKE HELTON: Well, I think we have a better understanding than what the rules are going to be than maybe the general public does to start with because we've been having conversations with drivers and car owners since last summer about some of the changes that we're getting very close to and that you're hearing about in our conversations.
And I think the credibility of our final decision is actually better because of the collaborative effort that we put into it today as opposed to what might have happened in the past to get to the final decision so that when the final decision is confirmed and NASCAR, who's the governing body and responsible for making the final decisions, right, wrong or indifferent, our appetite and our desire is to do it correctly and have one that makes sense and not one just for the sake of changing things.
So we've spent a good deal of time having conversations, and I actually think that helps our credibility particularly in the garage area. And if you have it there, then that transfers out a lot quicker, a lot better.
And so the -- but the other piece of the -- the start off of your question that I would remind everybody is that one of the things unique to NASCAR is that we've got 45 or 46 independent teams out here. We've got a host of independent track operators. Where the other leagues have -- they can get everybody together because the league owns the sport, and they all make decisions collectively together.
We're a little more unique. We've got independent stakeholders, and I think in us wanting to do our job right and be good stewards of the sport and make good decisions for the entire industry, it takes us longer to go through the system and weigh out the balances between a conversation with it might be a series sponsor or it might be a group -- it might be the racetracks, the promoters, or it might be the broadcast partners, and certainly it's important to be hooked closely with the owners and the drivers because they're the ones that -- the other part of the delivery of our races on racetracks. So it takes us more time.
Our system is just different, I think. The most important part is that it ultimately works and has credibility. And I believe the way we do it now, the last two or three seasons, is more credible than us making a decision telling the drivers before we walk in here and announce it and say here's what we're going to do, and they have no opportunity to ask us why we did it or any input in it.
I think today's system works much better for everybody.
Q. Is there enough time for the fans to digest it?
MIKE HELTON: Well, as an older guy in this business, things move a whole lot quicker than they used to, and I think everybody's habits are a lot different than they might have been ten years ago. So I think people digest things quicker, they get through the process of debate off things quicker and they absorb them quicker and they go on. The biggest thing is for us to make the correct decision that everybody in the garage area and everybody in the grandstand understands that everybody has the same opportunity and are operating under the same rules, and that's I think the biggest step that we must take.
And if it's a -- I guess if the more time we leave a topic out there to be debated and discussed, the longer it takes to have a final answer. So there's a balance of getting the right answer as quickly as possible and going ahead and putting it out there other than putting it out there for debate for six or seven months, I guess.
But I think that our fans, as long as we maintain the core elements of the sport, tweaking the points, tweaking the Chase, tweaking different components in the sport, they're quick studies. And by the time we announce our final decisions and the time Speed Week opens up, in today's world with all the opportunity to debate it and discuss it and to wash it out between all of our stakeholders, I think the season will start off with, okay, let's go.
Q. Two tracks, Martinsville and Pocono, both announced they're switching qualifying to Saturdays, and it sounds like other tracks are considering that. Are you considering qualifying being on Saturdays for the majority of 2011? What's the impetus for that, and will those become now impound races the way they were when qualifying was Saturday?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You know, the effort is put forth to actually get a better show, better ticket for the fans that are there at the racetracks on Saturday. I don't think we are anticipating all the tracks moving to that.
As far as the impound goes, more than likely it will be a qualifying session and it won't be an impound. The guys will get the cars back and will be able to work on them and put race setups under them like we do many times this year or last year.
It's something that we're working with the tracks and really just trying to get a little bit better show for everybody on Saturday afternoon, a little more content.
Q. Mike, can you reflect a little bit, a more bigger-picture question on where you were with safety ten years ago versus where you are now, and do you think the needle would have moved as quickly as it did if not for the unfortunate events that happened with the death of Dale Earnhardt?
MIKE HELTON: Well, it's -- I will remind everybody that one of the key legs of the stool that encouraged Bill Sr. to create NASCAR and found NASCAR was driver and spectator safety. He felt very compelled to be sure that something he loved doing was better off for the competitors and the stakeholders, so every day since 1947 we've worked on safety.
But certainly as time goes on and you have the opportunity to capitalize on technology and synergy, then you can advance. And there has been a lot of advancements that I think have happened over -- actually, the way I look at it, it's actually since 2000 when we had the unfortunate string between Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper, and, oh, by the way, led a lot of businesses, a lot of people, a lot of individuals, a lot of companies to want to do better.
And with the development of the R & D Center and with the different levels of opportunities that we have able to be the nucleus of a lot of energy, then all motorsports I think has improved vastly over the last ten years.
Q. I realize some of this is still in flux, but can you talk about possible changes to the Chase, and might one of those be some drivers qualifying based strictly on wins versus points?
MIKE HELTON: We do have models around the Chase that -- and I would say models, I'd say a couple, that we're tweaking through these conversations that again goes back to the earlier question about focusing on wins and how do you enhance the importance of winning that would be reflective in setting the Chase field.
Q. You've talked a lot about credibility with the points changes and what you guys are looking at doing. Was there any concern if -- like Carl Edwards said yesterday his current plan is to run the whole series anyway. What if he goes out and wins ten races, if he does win the whole -- if he does run the whole season, wins ten races hypothetically? Is there any concern about credibility there if the champion were to, say, win one?
MIKE HELTON: No, because, A, whoever's car he's driving is going to be in good shape. But it also goes back, I think, to the driving force behind this is to force more exposure and attention to drivers that are developing in that series. Same thing could happen in either trucks or in the Nationwide, Camping World or Nationwide Series.
So the effort is worth it to get more attention paid and exposure to the developing personalities that are coming into the sport, oh, by the way, while they're competing against the legendary names of the sport.
And you can debate and argue that, okay, if I win 10 or 12 races and don't win the championship, what's the championship worth? Well, it's still the championship. It's still a big old trophy, still a nice check, still a guy who went out there and competed against 43 teams and became the champion of that series.
So I think it's still a NASCAR national series championship which I think is valuable and credible.
Q. Robin, you guys went to a smaller plate after the Goodyear test. Are you satisfied with the speeds after yesterday, and do you think they'll get right back up there again? I guess, is there a number you don't want these guys to cross in terms of speed?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: Well, we're pretty satisfied. Only four cars drafted yesterday, and they were very close to where we were on the Goodyear tire test. I think the speeds will even be higher this afternoon if we get to run or tomorrow. You know, there's still some margin in there, and I think taking the drivers' input there's still a lot of -- there's a lot of grip. Track is smooth, and, you know, we're happy with where we're at right now and maybe even a little bit quicker, so we've got some margins built in there.
Q. Robin, earlier I asked Jeff Gordon a question about his fans kind of challenged me to go on about change. I was kind of surprised, there are a lot of fans out there that I found were content with what NASCAR does. I thought I was going to get a lot of flak specifically from Jeff Gordon's fans. Do you find that when you go out and try to find -- get fan input that you have to work a little bit at it?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: You get fan input whether you want it or not. You know, and everybody is particular to fans that -- first off, what's good for their driver, and that type of driver may attract a certain type of fan. You know, you may have a fan of a driver that's very aggressive, and all they want to do is base things on wins and throw out DNFs and set the Chase in a different way versus a driver like a Jeff Gordon. With all the experience he's got, he's a champion, and he may attract a fan that is more about consistency week in and week out and you can still win a championship and win one or two races.
You know, if you look for it, you can find the answer that you want if you look hard enough, and everybody has got different opinions out there. And, quite frankly, it's what makes it a lot of fun, especially riding to work in the morning and listening to the fandom on SIRIUS Radio and hearing all of that. You can get what you need out there.
MIKE HELTON: One of the things we might have overlooked for a while is that we're all fans. Everybody in this room in some form or fashion is a fan of NASCAR, and not NASCAR as a company but NASCAR as a lifestyle or a sport. The guys in the garage area are fans. They got in it because they like to be competitive, whether it's a driver or a crew member or a guy on Pit Road that's changing tires. They're energized to get into it from being a fan.
Now, everybody in this room and everybody on the garage area makes a living in this sport, and so that sometimes maybe distracts us from the facts that we're fans.
But the origination of the Fan Council nearly three years ago helps us to communicate directly with fans that don't have the opportunity to make a living at it, but, oh, by the way, provides us the opportunity to make a living in it. But it also reminds us that it's a fun business.
It catches your moment to drive through the tunnel of the Daytona International Speedway because you know you're pulling into a place that your heroes, past, present and future, it could be Richard Petty and David Pearson, or it could be Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it could be Joey Logano or some kid we haven't heard about yet. Their ambition to win the Daytona 500 is what inspires the start of the season. And we sometimes forget we're all fans.
So when you talk to fans, and most of our conversations face-to-face are at the racetrack, so those are real fans. But even through the Fan Council, those that get to participate at the racetrack but also follow it on television and have opinions of it, it helps us be reminded of the fact of our responsibility.
But the fun part about it, it also reminds us why we're fans and why we're in this business, and that's fun.
Q. Is there a timeline for fuel injection yet? Do you expect to see it this year? And starting times for races, are they going to remain 1:00, 3:00, 7:30 this year?
ROBIN PEMBERTON: We're working through our fuel injection program right now. We've made some great strides in the last 60 days or so. We don't anticipate any points races this year or races with fuel injection. It'll be a year dedicated to fine-tuning and getting the process down, whether it be inspection or the team side of it with building engines.
That's going along quite well.
MIKE HELTON: The start times last year we adjusted to earlier start times and tried to format them to where it was consistent. One of the things that we have learned or reminded us, we knew it for some time, that we have a very long season, and so what we're looking at for 2011 is trying to be consistent with start times but also the fact that we have a very long season, is there a little bit of tweaking along the way that fits better into that long season. So we're still working on that.
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our sport in 2011? And maybe it's something that we are not aware of or something that was left over from last year, say TV ratings or whatever. And how have you addressed that and how do you plan to address what you feel is the biggest challenge going forward?
MIKE HELTON: Well, we address things on a routine basis. And I think by doing that, we can't always look around corners or we can't always see what the next step holds. But we certainly all have a huge appetite to try to figure those things out as they come.
Obviously the whole world, and particularly the United States and some marketplaces that we go race in or more so than others are still burdened with the economy, and that's something I think that not just our sport but all sports, all forms of entertainment, a lot of businesses, different categories of businesses have had to struggle with creating new models of how they do their business and how you adapt to the current times.
And in our industry in particular, in NASCAR, we've got so many layers of different categories of businesses, from the sponsorship level or the businesses inside the sport that make the sport work, like racetracks and team owners and NASCAR itself that has stepped up to the table and has looked at its business models to keep the sport going and then help it get back on a growth pattern.
That's what I started out with in part is the confidence that we've got that our race cars and our race car drivers on racetracks are exciting. They're doing their job. Our drivers and our team owners and their crew members are doing their job for us, and now the rest of us can take that with hope and energy and apply it to all the new models that exist out there from a business level and make NASCAR work pretty well.
Q. Mike, just to get into the sort of technical apparatus of the points, if a driver is racing for the Cup championship but runs in Nationwide or Truck, does he get points? Is he going to show in the weekly roundup of the point standings in the other two series? And the other thing is, if there is an NFL lockout this year, do you see that as a benefit for NASCAR?
MIKE HELTON: Well, first of all, on the points piece, the race results would show the finishing position and the points for that finishing position would go to the car owner and not the driver. So a series of driver points wouldn't show up for a Cup driver that was running another national series.
You know, I think there's a lot of headlines out there in all other sports, and they look at us, we look at them, we look at other entertainment businesses, whether it's concerts or movies or whatever, and we all kind of look at each other. None of them want any other one to have a bad run.
And in our case, I think our best effort is spent on delivering the absolute best races at the best facilities that we can. So if someone doesn't have an opportunity to participate in some other form of entertainment and they choose us to participate for that moment, that we capture them and they say, I enjoyed that, I liked that, I may go back, I think that's where our effort is every day for any reason.
Q. Mike, analysts are saying that gas prices are going to reach $4 a gallon by this summer, could rise to $5 a gallon by next year. What steps are NASCAR taking to counteract that rising fuel cost both for the fan and for the sport itself?
MIKE HELTON: Well, I wish we had enough influence to influence fuel prices, but we don't. But on a serious note, I think the things we look at and the steps we take, we announced last year the move to ethanol as part of our international series. We're looking at other forms of alternative energy that can be used in our different forms of racing from GRAND-AM to the regional programs and even in the national series in the future.
So we're addressing the topics to be, A, a good partner in our country and in our environment, and we're also working hard to be sure that we deliver correctly for the NASCAR community, the fans and the truck operators, the automobile manufacturers, the sponsors, and that's not a single answer. There's no one replacement for what we've grown accustomed to using when it comes to driving our car down an interstate. It's a lot of different pieces.
But we're committed to be relevant in that environment and be relevant to that topic and be the good players in all that and be conscientious, and in doing so, part of that is the messaging to the fans of the sport to be of that same mindset.
And then just do the best we can when the -- if the prices of fuel have impacts, we have to be mindful of that. But I think the bigger topic in the meantime is for us to be working object our own efforts to be relevant to the whole scheme of things.
Q. Assuming if you do change the point system, would that be for all three series?
MIKE HELTON: Yes.
Q. Can you talk about where we stand with the 2013 model, and, also, how has the response been from going E15 this week, what changes have we made, what changes will we see going forward with the setup in the garage?
JOHN DARBY: The 2013 model stock car I think is just beginning. We've had some preliminary meetings that have had a tremendous amount of input from the four participating manufacturers, and their eagerness to get the project going. Through the years we've kind of come full circle in understanding how to blend the aerodynamic matching of the vehicles and what parts really matter and where we've got the luxury to move and bend as it relates to the design of race cars.
And if you would look at the car we left before our current race car, that was that everybody had the same templates and walked through that process of the new Cup car that's currently on the racetrack and then the transition to the new Nationwide car where we started to apply some of the techniques in letting the manufacturers have some real estate back, if you will, and the appearance of the new Nationwide cars that jumps out at you, and with the 13 Car for Cup we're working very hard on even giving more of that real estate back to the manufacturers.
And I think that's a lot of where the new excitement and energy comes in helping develop a new body. Be mindful of the fact we're talking about a body change, we're not talking about a whole new race car here. But the end product I think will be pleasing to not only the competitors that are driving them but to the fans that are watching them on the racetrack, and most importantly the manufacturers that are helping support and promote those models of vehicles in our sport.
The second part with the fueling, the biggest change I think is the physical components that you see, the addition of the components on the fueling cans that the teams use in the garage and will use up and down Pit Road that is more of a closed-loop system. Sunoco has done a really nice job on developing a vapor recovery system, much like if you have filled your cars in California you understand the nozzle and the pump panel are just not the same.
So it's a lot of those changes that are not only helping us with the fuel problems that exist in America but they've brought us into the ethanol world, which is helpful. Engines love it. The transition from leaded fuel to unleaded fuel was a much larger project than this transition because once the fuel was dry, became dry, the lack of lead, as the new fuel is, it's just a blending difference with the addition of the ethanol.
But ethanol is good for horsepower, so the engine builders' transition was small. The bigger one is what's going on in the physical areas of putting the fuel in the car, the environmental benefits of capturing those vapors and creating a safer environment at the fuel pumps.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, we appreciate your time and interest in NASCAR. Thank you.
An Interview With KEVIN HARVICK
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, Kevin. Let’s hear your take on the new surface and all that you discovered.
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously the surface is going to be pretty exciting for everybody just for the fact that it's really smooth, it's got a lot of grip. They did a great job paving the racetrack. So it's basically everything in the car will be what we have at Talladega, and you come here with the most speed that you think you have and everything that you need to do to do that.
So it's going to be a little bit narrower than Talladega, so the chess match will still be the same. And should be the same exciting racing. So you just don't have to worry about the handling aspect of it for a while. Just put the speed in your car and play the game.
Q. Some teams have talked about the fact that they don't plan to draft at all here this week. How do you guys stand on that? And I guess they're concerned about getting in a wreck, losing a car, or whatever. Is that -- would you not learn enough from being in a big pack on the new surface with a lot of cars to equal that out?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think for us we came with a checklist, don't care what the score board says, don't care if you hit on something, you're going to run down the checklist, you're going to run through the things that you want to run through, and that's it.
I mean, that's what we're going to do. We're not going to draft. We felt like they did what they needed -- they learned what they needed to learn at the tire test down here with Paul and Jeff, so it's -- you're going to get plenty of time when you come back for Speedweeks to kind of do whatever you want, but practice is just not going to be at a premium like it used to be here because of the fact you don't have to worry about the tires, you don't have to worry about handling of the car, you just have to play the game and try to get yourself in position and get the most speed out of your car that you can.
This is -- what's the date today? It's late. It's almost February. So that's -- these cars, it's unbelievable the amount of time and preparation that go into these particular cars. You know, a normal race car you can put a body on in four days, and these particular race cars will probably take twice that long just in the fab shop, and these cars all run through the wind tunnel once or twice at a minimum and then you take them and usually run them somewhere in the desert.
So there's just hours upon hours put into these race cars, and they're not like a normal downforce car. So when you tear one up, you're looking at putting yourself behind a month on one car to properly do it.
Sure, you can build the car and you can paint it and you can put it all in there, but the final details of the car take months and hours and hours. It's just not in the rotation at this point in the season to tear your car up.
Q. This 500 will mark the ten-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's passing. As his successor, can you talk about that legacy?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, I think it's been -- you guys all know, I was very uncomfortable with it in the beginning, didn't like it, didn't want to be a part of it, and you know, as the last three or four years have come, I've learned to become more comfortable. And I think the biggest reason is we've been able to accomplish a lot of things on our own. So that for me is something that makes me a little bit more comfortable with it.
And the hardest part for me to learn was just the fact that a lot of times it wasn't somebody trying to make you do something like he did, it was just somebody complimenting on things that he did and things that we've been able to do.
So it's just -- you know, the day was tough for everybody at RCR and everybody involved in it and for the whole sport in general, but as we look back ten years, I think when you look at the safety of the tracks and the safety of the cars and the attention that NASCAR has paid to those things that have changed really the racing world, not just NASCAR in general, it's changed the world of racing from top to bottom. And those are the things that you can draw so many positives now out of something that was so devastating for the whole sport.
A lot of things changed on that day.
Q. Turn 2 and Turn 4, the transition, Tony Stewart and I think Martin Truex were both saying that it's even more abrupt than what it was before. It's real smooth and you guys would like to run three wide through there, but can you talk about Turn 2 and the way it drops off under you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the higher you get the more abrupt it is off of 2, but that's basically how it used to be. It's just -- the hardest thing for me is the lines are -- the yellow line like at Talladega is actually painted I believe on the racetrack and the one here is off the racetrack on the apron.
So yesterday I touched the apron and about wrecked, so I think that that's going to be the biggest deal is just keeping your car off the apron because it seems like as you go into the corners there used to be a little bit more transition as far as the banking, leading up to the actual banking itself. That, or it was just so wore out that you couldn't really tell.
But it seems like the apron is going to be a big deal if you touch it.
Q. I have two questions, two totally different topics. The first one is what you were saying when you were uncomfortable those first few years, why? What about that was difficult for you? And the second question, much lighter, how has the adjustment been working with Budweiser? How have you enjoyed that, settling into such a different realm of sponsorship?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, I think the transition has been easy. We'll answer that one first. Obviously our sponsor Budweiser has been in the sport for a very long time and has just a -- it's an iconic brand worldwide. Everything that's happened has been a lot of fun to say the least, and it's fun representing a brand that's -- you enjoy representing, so that makes life a lot easier. It's one of those things that when you look at the back at the drivers and the people that have been in the Budweiser car, it's just part of NASCAR, and to be in that car and have the car black and RCR is pretty cool. We've definitely had a lot of fun, and we will continue to have a lot of fun.
But as far as being uncomfortable with the Earnhardt stuff, I think everything we did was backwards. I went into 2000, and we never had anything. We had always -- beat my own path as we went along.
Same thing happened in 2000 with starting the Nationwide program, get to 2001 and you're planning on racing for a championship in the Nationwide Series and then coming out and running a few Cup races, just signed a new sponsor for Cup the year after that, and then it all changed. Instantly it's like everybody knows your name, everybody knows what you're doing, so you start from the wrong end of the spectrum and you don't have time -- a lot of times when you come into something new you have time to learn. You have time to learn what you're supposed to say, when you're supposed to do things, how you're supposed to do it.
I think as we went into that situation you start off with the biggest press conference that you'll ever have in your whole career and you have more fans than you'll ever have and you don't know how to manage your time, you don't know how to manage your money, you don't know what to say, and all of a sudden you have all that stuff at once. So instantly I just put up my defense and it was easier just not to talk about it.
So I was 25 and didn't really know exactly what direction that life was going to go, and instantly you had everything that you wanted but you didn't have to do anything for it. So it just didn't all make sense to me.
And I think as I went through the years and we were able to kind of do the same thing as we had done in the previous parts of my career, I think I became more comfortable with that just because it wasn't anybody just trying to tell you how to do something, it was everybody trying to compliment you on doing a good job.
You just happened to be in that car and that car is important to the sport, and the history that Richard and Dale made will always about at RCR, so it's not something you need to try to get away from, it's something that you need to understand and respect, and I think as you look at the sport, it's the same way. There's always going to be a part of the history of the sport and a big reason for the sport is at the level that it is today.
So I think it's important to kind of continue that legacy at RCR, and so far it's going okay.
Q. Coming off a season with momentum, this season what would be a dream season for you and, conversely, what would be a nightmare season for you?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, you can look back two years and see the nightmare. You can still remember that, and I still think that's a lot of what drives the whole company, including myself. Those are the things that you don't want to experience is 2009 all over again.
But the biggest thing is it's all about winning a championship at this point, nothing else. Nothing else is good enough at this particular point in time. So it's great to have a good year, and we had a good year last year, but in the end it's all about taking home the one trophy that we don't have, and that's the championship trophy. It's been a long time for Richard and it's been a long time since we've been able to experience that as a company, and we've experienced that a lot together as far as Nationwide championships and things like that, truck championships as owners. But those aren't good enough, either.
So I think it's just one of those things where I felt like the last ten weeks last year taught us a lot about who we were and who we need to be and what we need to do to race for those championships, because it's just different.
And to keep that level for ten weeks is something that we'd never done before, and we did that last year, and I felt like we learned from those experiences. And whether we win or lose again, you still know in your mind how it needs to go and how the preparation needs to be from a team standpoint and from a mental standpoint, from a driver's standpoint. It's a different level.
Q. What does Daytona mean to you? You seem to be one of these guys that really loves this place rather than it's just another racetrack. You seem to have a real connection here.
KEVIN HARVICK: This is not just another racetrack. This is our biggest race. This is what the backbone of our sport is on a week-to-week basis as far as racetracks go. To win a Daytona 500, we've been fortunate to experience that.
There's no comparing it to any other race. A lot of people talk about the Brickyard, and you look at the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard, and there's no comparison to those two, either.
It's just our biggest race and it leads off the year and the anticipation coming into the Daytona 500 every year is bigger than any other race times ten. So from a driver's standpoint, there's nothing like rolling to the green flag at the Daytona 500 because you have a whole winter of anticipation, you have your shiniest, best new car, everybody has got everything brand new and it's the best that anybody will be prepared for the whole season.
There's no better feeling than getting through Speedweeks and rolling to that green flag for the first time.
Q. You had sort of an emotional attachment to this place?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, when you look at RCR in general, this place has been good to us from start to finish, from the first days of Earnhardt coming here and winning races, and they won a lot here, and we've been able to win some races here and always run well here. So it's just -- Richard puts a lot of effort into these types of races, and with effort comes success.
Q. How much do things change or not change between the end of last season and now, and how much do you know like you had the year that was bad, you did so well last year, other teams may have caught up, you may be making changes during the off-season yourself, changes at Richard Childress Racing, you have a fourth team. How much can you really expect to worry about or think about how things have changed since we left Homestead Miami, including being in a new car that may change your perspective on how you feel about everything?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think when you go through those types of things and you're as hungry as our team is to try to accomplish what we didn't accomplish last year, we didn't change anything. I tried not to get out of my routines. I work out on the same days, I went and had my physical on the same day I did last year, and we're doing the same things that we did last year. The only thing I did was change my phone code to 4848 so I don't remember who I have to beat.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the biggest thing for us is everybody is just excited. Everybody has enjoyed the way that Budweiser came in from a team standpoint and had the announcement at the shop and involved everybody in everything that we've done. Even in our commercial that we shot last week, the team is involved, it was shot at the building.
So everybody feels like they're a part of it, and that's just something that sometimes sponsors forget that it's not just about the driver, it's about the team. Those are the guys that make the thing happen. And they feel like they're a part of the program, so that's something that's pretty cool.
Q. You guys have been pretty successful in getting sponsorship at a time when sponsorship isn't exactly that easy to get, and there are some teams, let's face it, that have pretty much a lot of the same performance you guys do on the track who are struggling to find sponsorships. What do you think the key is? What are you guys doing differently, without revealing maybe any secrets, but what do you think is different that's making you guys -- helping you guys be so successful in that area?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we're very aggressive as far as if somebody has got -- every company in the world has a different budget, and some people have small budgets and some people have big budgets, but I think we're good at adapting to whatever your budget is to make it work and make you get something out of it. Because the bottom line is, if it doesn't work for both sides, they're not coming back.
So you've got to stake a chance every once in a while on somebody saying that they're going to come in small, and a perfect example for us is -- I guess Rheem would be a good example. They started at the quarter panel on my Cup car and now they're 35 races on the Nationwide car, half of that being with Menards this year.
You just -- truck racing in general is a gamble on a week-to-week basis. You're not going to settle for a full season. If you do, you've hit the jackpot and it's probably not going to happen again. I think truck racing has been a very good training ground for us because you have to put week-to-week sponsorships together, you have to go in market and put small packages together so that you can sell your primaries for less.
So it's just being creative and being aggressive, and I'm on them every day as far as somebody is going to have to tell me what they did today, and we only have one guy, so it's not real time-consuming.
Q. Everybody is talking about how crazy the 500 is going to be and how it's going to be big packs all day and hard to get away. Is this going to be a race that's going to be determined by who doesn't make mistakes more than what you do positively to win the race?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it's definitely going to be one big pack, and you're going to have -- it's going to be -- it's Talladega but narrower. That's really what it is. It's going to be the big pack and you're going to have the guys that don't want to race hanging out in the back and then trying to make time at the end.
But the thing that doesn't work quite as well here is the two-car breakaway. It seems to not be as effective as it is at the Talladega.
So it's going to be exciting. You have all that. On top of it you have just the first-race anticipation and everybody is jacked up. And everybody brings their fastest cars, and this year everybody is going to bring their best stuff and their shiniest stuff and you're going to come to a new racetrack, and everybody is aggressive.
And it's going to be -- could be one of the best races you've ever seen here in a long time, just the fact that nobody is going to get away unless they intentionally want to get behind, and that's the only way you're going to get away from the pack. So it'll be fun.
Q. NASCAR is supposedly going to change the points schedule next week and announce that. First of all, do you think there needed to be a change in the points system? And do you like what you're hearing about what they're going to do?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I have not -- I only read and hear what I see from you guys on the points thing.
For me, and this is just putting it into perspective, as you look at I got done with the season last year, and I got a text from Joe Girardi, he says, Hey, man, great year, good job; I don't understand how you can have the best year and not win. I don't understand your points system.
And for me, I think if you look at the new point system, I think it's easy to understand. And those are the people that need to understand it are the people who aren't here every week, live it, breathe it, and really understand how the sport works. It's the casual fan that we need to recapture and make it exciting and easily understandable.
So however that point system works out, I want it to be easy to understand for those types of people.
That just caught my attention as the season ended there.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: Losing is never good, but, you know, I think as you look at what I think is proposed, I think it's easily understandable. But you don't ever want to lose.
Q. What was your reply to Joe Girardi?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, at that particular time, it was the same day that the season ended, so I didn't really -- honestly, I couldn't even tell you what I replied.
Q. What do you expect out of KHI this year, and are you comfortable that you're at the level you want to be at with the organization?
KEVIN HARVICK: I feel really good about our Nationwide cars. Bringing Elliott in is going to give us our first good shot to race for a driver's championship. We've been competitive for the last couple years and racing for wins and building it to that point, but we've never had that experience behind the wheel. We took Ernie Cope and the old 33 team and put them with Elliott, so you have a really experienced team to race for a championship, and that's really what it's all about.
You know, as far as the 33 team we brought David Hyder in with a lot of experience, and then you have myself and Clint and Paul and Austin behind the wheel at a lot of the races. So you still have that same experience on that team. So as far as the Nationwide program, I feel very good about where it's at.
Short program was a total disaster. I know we won seven races between the teams last year, but, in my opinion, that's just not good enough. And it was just a wreck.
Ron struggled, not because Ron struggled, Ron struggled because the trucks just got into total disarray as the year progressed at the end of the year. I feel good about the direction that it's gone over the winter bringing in Jeff Hensley and Chris Carrier, promoting a car chief from the 33 car to the 2 truck, is -- it feels good in the shop. You never know until you get to the racetrack, and right now we're just trying to get everything back organized and correct, and I think when they unload at Daytona they'll be ready to go, when they unload at Phoenix they'll be ready to go.
It's just they're a little bit further behind because we just had to revamp the program. There was just too many people, too much change inside the organization last year as far as people go to get Ron where he needed to be, and I feel like he and Jeff are comfortable with each other. They've had a good test last week at Orlando.
And I feel like that's where it needs to be. As far as the winter goes, we added Nelson Piquet to come in. He was up to speed last week right off the bat last week.
So everything has been good. The truck program is a lot of work over the winter. It's always a lot of work on the sponsorship side just to keep them on the track. But it just feels a lot better than it did halfway through the season, and looking at the wind tunnel numbers and all the things that go with that, it's just -- there was nothing there to support what Ron needed to race for a championship.
And I feel like over the winter we've put all those things back into place and should be good. There's a lot of experience down there, and that's what you need in truck racing.
Q. Just personal dealings, is there a favorite memory that comes to the surface when it comes to dealing with Dale Earnhardt on or off the track as far as that goes?
KEVIN HARVICK: Probably one of my favorites was just the first time that we went and tested his car in Homestead. It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time we got in trouble for testing his car. But we went to Homestead in -- I guess it was 2000, right at the end of the year, and we went down and tested and we ran really fast. And we got to Phoenix the next week and he was irate because we had gone and tested his car and nobody told him, so he had -- he drug myself and Kevin Hamlin and Richard, and I don't know why Dale Jr. just happened to be in the trailer that day, but he was really pissed that nobody asked him to go. And Hamlin, I'm sure -- you guys all have talked to him, you know how he talks, in this kind of smart aleck way -- he says, Well, every time I ask you, you just don't want to go.
So we went anyway and ran faster than anybody else, and he was mad because everybody was asking him when he was going to retire and why people were testing his car and why he wasn't putting an effort in. So he was mad that day.
Q. Helton and Pemberton are coming in in about a half hour. We assume they're going to talk to us about the points as far as drivers declaring which points they're going to go for.
KEVIN HARVICK: Oh, okay, those points.
Q. Yes, those points. (Laughter.) Obviously you've seen your license application, you know the rule what do you think of it and what does it do as far as the chances of Sadler winning the title?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think as far as Elliott running for a championship, I think that's why we're so excited about what Elliott brings to the table. I feel like he could race for a championship either way just with the experience that he has and the experience of the team. You just don't go win races in the Cup Series, whether it was six, seven years ago, last week. You don't win those races and not know how to win at that level.
So he knows how to win. He's won -- he won a truck race last year. He ran well in the one Nationwide race that he ran, and we expect to go out and be competitive. I think anything less than him being competitive for the Nationwide championship will be a disappointment.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't know what rule you're talking about. I didn't read my form. I just signed it. Every time I'd look at it, it's already all filled out. If it was on there, I'm assuming somebody must have done that. Am I supposed to read that stuff? I just sign it and figure I'm going to have to sign it anyway if I want to race.
An interview with: STEVE WALLACE
THE MODERATOR: Steve Wallace joins us. He will try to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500, and as an interesting aside, he just finished breakfast, and he didn't bring any of us breakfast. How about that.
STEVE WALLACE: I should have, I'm sorry.
THE MODERATOR: There you go, ready for the big track, huh?
STEVE WALLACE: Yeah, we're ready. We came down here yesterday and unloaded. We, obviously, weren't as quick as we wanted to be. This was kind of a last-minute deal put together.
We bought a car from Richard Childress that was a Chevrolet, a 2008 car that they ran. It hasn't been run since. So put a Toyota nose and tail on it, put motor rounds in it, and came down here within about a week. So we have a lot of fine tuning to do on the car to find some speed.
But we're coming back with a different car that should be a little faster, and we're excited about that, so.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. Review, if you would, if you've had any previous testing history in Cup cars? If you did, what was the initial on-track impression of this car at this racetrack?
STEVE WALLACE: Well, no real Cup car experience. Ran some ARCA cars back in the day when there was no COT stuff. But this track's really a cool track. It's really, really smooth out there. It's just like Talladega minus just a couple little bumps down there in three and four, but nothing to worry about.
Excited about it, man. Just real, real fortunate to have points and really excited about 5-Hour Energy and Aspen Dental coming on. Couldn't do it with without those guys.
It will be really cool to come down here in February with a real car. We'll take both these cars and find out which car is fastest and what not. We're excited about it. We're going to put a real big effort into this deal, so we've got to get better for sure.
Q. From a performance and feel aspect?
STEVE WALLACE: Well, it's kind of hard to say. Nationwide car -- well, I think the Cup car this year is more comparative to the Nationwide Series car in the past, because it's kind of got some of the same nose and same tail. I think the Nationwide car makes a lot more drag, lot more rear downforce and whatnot.
So I've never driven a Cup car, but from the feel that I got, they're pretty similar this year compared to in the past.
Q. You've got the points from last year's 77. Is there a possibility that you might do more of the first five races or any more of those? Tell me about how this whole thing came together and how long you guys have been trying to put it together?
STEVE WALLACE: Not right now yet. We've only got this race here scheduled. This was just kind of a last-minute deal. Penske went from three cars to two cars. So the points were out there. My dad's got a really good relationship with Roger, of course, and it just kind of made sense for that to happen.
The points were just sitting there not getting used, and Roger gave us the points to run in, and that's how it all started. I wouldn't mind racing my way in, but why should you when you've already got the points?
With that being said, right now we're going to run the Daytona 500, and that's all we've really got on our plate right now. We'll see how this goes. We'll have two speedway cars. And if these things are fast, you never know, we might come here in July or Talladega or something. But that's really all that's in the plans right now.
Q. As far as the new track goes and the younger guys, of course you're a young guy, but you've got a little more experience on Daytona than a lot of the other guys do. Is that going to be to your advantage the new track or do you think it will be an advantage to guys that haven't got the experience?
STEVE WALLACE: I definitely think the new track will be to an advantage for guys like myself that don't have a lot of Cup experience and whatnot. This track before was really, really rough, really slippery. Your car had to handle really, really well.
I think with a rookie guy like me in the Cup Series, and a few other guys, this will benefit us because you don't have to worry about handling and a lot of stuff. You've just got to have a really fast car, don't make stupid decisions. If you can do all of that, you'll be there at the end. I feel like we can do that.
We've got to find a lot more speed out of this car though right now though. But, like I said, we've got a better car and we're bringing it back.
Q. Talk about the family legacy so to speak. Your dad never won here, and obviously I don't think the expectation -- obviously you'd want to win, but the expectation wouldn't be to win your first time out. Talk about that goal. Is it motivation for you to come here and win unlike your dad was able to do, or is it more of a shadow so to speak?
STEVE WALLACE: Well, I think that's a really big step for me. This is the Daytona 500. I'm a rookie at this. This is my first race. I'm not coming down here to win the race. I'm coming down here to have a strong finish, run good, get some respect, don't crash the car, finish the race. If we can do that, I feel like we'll have a shot at it.
I've seen a lot wilder stuff happen down here. There's been a couple of guys that have won this race that's kind of been a little weird.
But my dad's never won here. He won the Bud Shootout. I've never won here. We've always run well here. We've had a couple Top 10s and good strong runs. But most importantly, this Daytona 500 is a really big deal for me and my family. Of course, this is I believe of the four Wallaces, I think it's the longest or most Daytona 500's out of any family or something like that. I'm just down here to get some respect and run good.
Q. I assume you're still planning to run full Nationwide this year. With that said, how do you like the chances that the Cup guys have to determine to run for that championship? Has that kind of opened it up for something you want to do?
STEVE WALLACE: I'm really excited about it, man. I'm really big deal for us. We've got 5-Hour Energy full-time back this year. We've built a lot of new cars, based on some different team stuff. We've got a lot of new people. We've got Doug Randolph, my crew chief, hired some engineers, and stuff like that.
But I think it's going to be you a breakout year for all the Nationwide guys. I think back in the Busch Series seven, eight years ago when they ran in South Boston all those guys, and there weren't any Cup drivers in it. All the Cup drivers made it into Cup and now they're coming back and running the Nationwide.
I think it's a really good deal all of us. I think I've got a big shot as at it as anybody has. The last couple of years it's been me and Justin Allgaier and Trevor Bayne were the only guys to really run with those guys. I'm excited about it, and you I think it will be cool.
Q. You have the full backing and support of Toyota on this effort for the Daytona 500?
STEVE WALLACE: Oh, yeah, for sure, 100%. Toyota's helped us out a lot. We bought those Chevrolet cars, but we've turned them into Toyotas. So we'll get some wind sheer there in Concord at that wind tunnel. Spent a lot of time with these cars. Toyota's really helped us out a lot with the Nationwide side of stuff, at the race shop, and this effort too. It's going to be cool.
Q. I don't know if you know the answer, but in the past when they've done these owner points swaps, the team that gives the points, the other team has to be involved in some sort of transaction ownership-wise. Has Roger bought a stake in RWI?
STEVE WALLACE: I don't know a lot about it. But I do know there was an ownership agreement type deal. Like Wallace-Penske Racing for the Daytona 500 effort and that's it. So there's nothing big behind it. I don't know a lot, so it's kind of over my head a little bit.
An Interview With TONY STEWART
THE MODERATOR: We're going to start off with Tony Stewart. He drives the No. 14 Office Depot for Stewart-Haas Racing. If I'm not mistaken, you were one of the first drivers that got to lay their eyes on this new track back in October. Talk about the evolution since that time and now you've taken laps, et cetera. Talk about how this racetrack is shaping up for you.
TONY STEWART: It's actually impressive what they've been able to do with it. The only spot that really has seemed to be really any significant bumps in it is just where they had a problem, I guess, when they were paving turns 3 and 4 and the paver slipped a little bit, and it lost some of the gauge of the asphalt thickness. But it looks like they ground the front side and backside of it, and it's really -- it seems a lot smoother than when we were here with the pace car riding around.
It's almost identical feeling to what we had at Talladega. Obviously the transitions off of 2 and 4 are a little more abrupt than what we have at Talladega, but as far as the ride, you literally could hold a cup of coffee with the lid off full and not spill a drop riding around there.
Q. Australian newspapers reported that at the end of your trip down there that there was sort some of altercation or something. Can you give us some facts or shed some light on what happened?
TONY STEWART: There was an altercation at the racetrack. It was a dispute between myself and one of the owners of the facility. But as it also reported, we went down to the police station, we gave them a statement. They told us after the statement that we were free to go back to the hotel room and free to get on the plane the next day. But definitely wasn't the way I wanted to end my trip.
We had a fun trip over there. Obviously there was a lot of flooding and raining while we were there, but at the same time we still -- we had a good race trip over there and didn't end that last night the way we wanted to by any means. But it's not uncommon to see drivers and track owners have disputes over what's going on, but this one went a little bit further than a normal dispute.
Q. It appears if this is going to be like Talladega but it's Daytona, it calls into question drivers' respect for each other and trust for each other. Can you talk a little bit about how that's developed and what you'll see on the racetrack in competition here?
TONY STEWART: The thing that we heard from the tire test is they did some -- they did obviously draft testing because they need to run the speeds that we run here during the race pace. But it sounds like the difference between what we see at Talladega with the bump drafting and what we might see here is that with the way -- the only turn that I heard them really talk about was turn 2 and how the transition falls off a little harder and is that if guys were pushing through that area that it had a tendency to push the lead car out further on the exit than they wanted to be and toward the wall, and if that lead car goes in the wall, most likely the guy that's pushing him is going to follow him right in it.
It sounds like that might be the only difference. You may not be able to push all the way around the track, but I'm sure in the next definitely 24 hours we're for sure going to find that out.
Q. If NASCAR does change the point system on a 1 to 43 based on race to race to race, would you like that system? Can you talk about how that might affect your efforts?
TONY STEWART: Honestly I've kind of been one of those guys it didn't really bother me when they changed it the first time, and if they change it again, it really won't matter to me. As long as we all start the year and we understand what the point structure is and how you get the points, then you race accordingly. But it's still going to be on a situation where if you win races the points take care of itself, and as long as it's not a deal where you ever get in a situation where running 30th pays more points than winning then it shouldn't really change how you race, it's just you know if it's a 36-week deal that leads into a championship or a ten-week deal, you know how to prepare for it. So it's just -- and knowing what the system is so you know how to prepare for those events.
Q. Can you tell us what you told the police in Australia?
TONY STEWART: I can't tell you that, but that's why they take you there is to talk to you behind closed doors. But the police department was very cordial over there. They were very professional, and we did exactly what they asked us to do and went through that process, and they let us go.
Q. A lot of success here in July, not so much in February. Is that just a coincidence? Is there anything to that, and this will be your 13th try at it. Do you believe in lucky numbers or anything like that?
TONY STEWART: I do believe in lucky numbers, and I've never believed that 13 was one of them. We're fighting an uphill battle on that.
I wish I could say that there was a difference. I mean, obviously we've won qualifying races here, we've won the Shootout here in February, so we have won February races, too, but just haven't won them on the right day. You know, it's kind of new for everybody.
I mean, this kind of reracks the whole system, and I think it makes it to where anybody can win the Daytona 500 now because handling has always been a huge issue here, and 43 cars didn't always handle here. I think handling is going to be a lot easier to accomplish here with the new surface. But it's definitely going to be a lot more in the crew's hands as far as getting us out in track position, getting cars that are just fast to begin with, but then it's a chess match of being in the right place at the right time and trying to make sure that you're positioning yourself to be where you want to be on those last couple laps.
Q. Given how much fun you've had in Australia in the past, do you think you'll go back?
TONY STEWART: Love to. Like I said, except for the last night we had an excellent trip again. I mean, that's the most time that I've ever been able to spend at one time, and even though the weather wasn't very nice it was still a good vacation. I woke up every day not to a ringing telephone, so it was nice to get away on a good vacation, and I still want to go back and still want to go back and race. I'm glad this will be over with soon hopefully.
Q. Do you anticipate that the matter is settled, or is there any concern you might have to go back to answer any further questions?
TONY STEWART: I'm not concerned about it. If there is and we have to go back, we'll deal with it. But it's nothing that we're concerned with at this point. I mean, like I said, when they were done with us, they said we were able to go back to the hotel and were able get on our flight and come back. I made sure that they knew exactly where we were staying, when our flight was, what the flight number was and how to get a hold of us the whole time. We'll deal with it if anything else comes about.
Q. Heading into your third season as a team owner now, can you talk a little bit maybe about how much smarter you are about different things and how you're going to be doing things differently based on what you've experienced and what you've learned?
TONY STEWART: Who said I was smart to begin with? I don't think anybody has ever accused me of being smart. But obviously it's like anything in general; you know, it's a constant learning process and a constant growing process. The hard thing is sitting down at the end of the year and evaluating things that you think you did right, trying to isolate the things that you think you needed to gain on. But even just trying to get caught up on the things that you missed, at the same time those things that you did right probably aren't right now, so you have to constantly grow.
Race teams are in a constant state of change. You're never content and happy with where they're at. It's just trying to figure out -- everybody tries to figure out how they can get every department to be 1 percent better, and now it's a situation where you wonder if that 1 percent is going to be good enough, so you try to figure out if you've learned more and gained more over the winter than the rest of the teams have.
Q. If I remember right in the past, you've sent stand-ins down here to run this January test in your cars. How much do you think you can learn as a driver from this week here?
TONY STEWART: Probably just the drafting practice side of it, especially with the fact of hearing that it may be a little tricky off of turn 2 with the pushing side of it. So I think that we definitely want to have an understanding of before we come back here. Obviously when we come back, we have one practice day before the Shootout, so you definitely want to have that information for that, and you'll learn a ton more obviously in the Shootout than we will at the test here.
But the sport is so competitive that it's not just about seeing how fast your car is now, it's trying to figure out the strategies and techniques we have to use as drivers with the bump drafting and playing the chess game to figure out where you've got to be at the right time.
Q. You seem remarkably calm and at peace, and you look good and fit, and yet you had an altercation. What could have possibly led to such a dispute, and talk about your mood and how you're feeling.
TONY STEWART: Well, I'm definitely not proud of what happened, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have dealt with it much different. But we had been over there for almost five weeks, and we had been dealing with the same problem with the racetrack, so it wasn't something that was just one incident that led up to it. It was a combination of the whole trip. But there was such a dispute on how they were doing a couple different aspects of preparing the racetrack and what it was putting the drivers in the situations that we were put in.
You know, I've always been one to speak up for what I think is right, especially when it comes to the safety side of it, and I didn't think it was -- the conditions were safe to run on, and they felt differently.
I'm home, and I'm back doing things that are getting my mind off of it, obviously. Like I said, this isn't something that I've blown off. I mean, I've lost a lot of sleep over it because I'm very embarrassed that I made it through a whole trip and the night before I come home I get in an altercation with somebody, and that really hasn't happened for a while. I'm not at all the least bit proud of it. I'm ashamed about it, but at the same time it's been nice to get back with the team and it's nice to come down here and worry about driving the race car again. And it's not that it's making me forget about it, but it's at least getting my mind off of it enough to relax.
And I had a good vacation. That's the thing. It's a very relaxing vacation. I felt like I alleviated a lot of stress over there, and like I said, we just had one bad night out of a 30-day trip. I think for the most part the trip was a success.
Q. Quite simply, does the point system need to be changed?
TONY STEWART: I didn't think it needed change the first time. I think the fans kind of helped dictate what they want. I think we're kind of in a unique sport where we don't have a set scoring system, and the fans can kind of help -- I think if the fans are aware of the options, I think the fans will tell us what they want. And I think as long as we all know what it is at the beginning, I don't think the competitors really care. We just want to know what it is before we start the season so we know what we have to do, if the first race is going to mean as much as the last race.
I really don't think it matters. I really don't have a feeling one way or the other whether it needs to be changed. As long as it's the same for everybody, it's fair.
Q. You mentioned it was an issue of safety on the track. Did you refuse to get on because of the safety issue? I mean, what was the concern as far as the safety issue?
TONY STEWART: If it would have been just hot laps then we would have had that option. With the heat race, you get points for your heat race, so if we didn't go out then we were really digging ourself a hole for the whole night. But the hard thing is it's not like looking at a pavement track and knowing if it's dry or if it's wet. When you're dealing with dirt tracks and how much moisture is in a racetrack -- you know, there were cars on it previously before we were on it, but we were in a hot lap group that was four sets before our heat race went out, so it was hard for us to know exactly what the conditions were until we got out there. But it was pretty obvious we thought before we even went out there that it wasn't going to be good.
It was disappointing because it was the best weather conditions they had had leading up to that race, and they found a way to kind of get themselves backed in a corner again.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much. We appreciate it. Good luck with this test and all the best for Speedweeks and the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
An Interview With: MARTIN TRUEX, JR.
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by Martin Truex Jr., who drives the No. 56 NAPA Toyota. We appreciate you coming in. You've had some good success here at Daytona, you've run well at these superspeedways. What's it going to take to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Well, that's what we're here to find out. We're just excited to be down here driving the NAPA Toyota again this year. A lot of things have changed obviously, the nose and tail on the cars and the track being paved. So hopefully this afternoon in drafting we'll figure out what it takes to get there, and hopefully we'll be able to do that.
Q. Tony Stewart was talking about turn 2. I know the transition there used to be very abrupt. How has that transition changed and how are you going to go through turn 2?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: It definitely feels different. You know, it feels like the transition is a little bit more extreme than it used to be, to be honest with you. It feels like the track falls out from under you faster, so that's going to make changes interesting in the draft.
Like I said, again, we're going to find out more this afternoon I would say, but it's definitely a little bit different, but very, very smooth, obviously a big change from what it was last year and the last few years. I think it's going to be good.
Q. You mentioned the changes with the car, with the nose of the car. Can you feel anything different in single car runs?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: No, not really, not here, and we've actually done a little bit of downforce testing and short track testing with it, and I don't think it's a huge difference from what we had. I think the playing field will be a little bit more level, the way the noses are mounted, the structure behind it that holds the nose on the car at the height it's supposed to be. I think it'll be a little bit more even across the board. Other than that I think it's fairly similar, it just looks a whole lot better, which is good.
Q. I want to ask you about some of the drivers who were here in December talked about three wide, four wide, even five wide racing maybe with the new surface. I know you haven't really drafted yet, but can you see that happening? Are we going to have four wide racing more often than not?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I'm sure somebody will try it at some point, and if we get to the corner and we're five wide I can promise you there will be a wreck. Honestly, you look back at the last few Talladega races with the new asphalt being smooth, everybody can run wide all day, everybody handles good. It comes down to how many cars can you fit in that space. That's how many we're going to try to get in there.
There's going to be times when a guy goes to make it four wide and he doesn't know it's already four wide, but I think three wide around here is even pretty tight. It'll be three wide all day, like Talladega is four wide all day, and that's just how it's going to be.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us also at the podium is Carl Edwards. He drives the No. 99 AFLAC Ford for Roush-Fenway. I'll let you get to that question and then I'm going to ask you a question, but if you want to address the three, four, five wide possibilities here at Daytona.
CARL EDWARDS: I think Martin said it best. It's just going to be wild. The track is so smooth and has so much grip that there's no telling what people will try. You know, the last lap is going to be insane.
Q. Both Carl and Martin, if you can address this on the proposed changes in the point system, assuming it comes to fruition, what's your take on it? It seems to be kind of a moving target every year. I know it's the same for everybody, but there's tweaks along the way. Can you address the proposed changes?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Well, I think no matter what they decide to do, they're going to do what's best for the sport. And I think all of us in here, in the garage, drivers, crew chiefs, owners, everybody understands that. When we come to Daytona, it doesn't matter what we're racing for, we're all out there to win. It doesn't matter how many points we get or anything. We just come here each week to do the best we can for our sponsors, for ourselves and try to win races.
Whether it's worth 180 points or whether it's worth eight points, it doesn't really matter.
CARL EDWARDS: I'm not sure what the final decision is yet, but if it makes it simpler to determine -- for instance, if I'm running 12th or something, I don't know exactly how many points that's worth. I've been doing this long enough, I should know that. If it makes it simpler to understand for the competitors and the fans, who gets how many points, I think that's great. I think it's a good move. And like Martin said, we all race so hard for the wins, whatever the point system is, we're going to race hard.
Q. Carl, I know this is a foregone conclusion. I assume with this new rule you have elected to earn points in the Cup series versus Nationwide. My question following up on that, are you still planning to run the entire Nationwide Series, and would you have preferred maybe to see like maybe a grandfather clause for guys who were already in doing both series like you and Brad Keselowski?
CARL EDWARDS: Yes, that would have been great for me and Brad, and I don't know who else is maybe planning on running. But we're going to run for the Cup championship. I mean, that's the check mark I put in there. But I'm still going to start -- we're going to start on our 60 team running for the championship, and I'm going to run every race. We're going to start that way, see how it goes, and we still have the owner's championship to go for, we still have all those wins to race for, and that's fun. That's what makes the Nationwide Series fun. I would really love to be able to have another championship battle with Brad, especially him because of how well he ran last year. It would be great to go out and try to race him again for it.
My plan is to run every race. If we get eight or ten races in and it's not looking good, then I don't know what we'd do. Whatever looks best for our Cup program.
Q. You guys were laughing sort of when you talked about how wild it's going to be here at Daytona, and I saw Martin just break out in a big grin. Good wild, crazy wild, out of control wild, we're going to love to do it wild? Can you put that in perspective?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: It's going to be wild. It's going to be fun. I love racing here. Here and Talladega are some of the funnest races for us as drivers until you get in a wreck, and then you're just pissed off, and you're pissed off until you come back and hoping to finish the next one.
It's a helpless feeling to get crashed out on one of these races, especially when you have a good car, you're running up front. Everybody has a chance to win these things. It's like gambling, really. It's just a lot of fun to do it until you lose.
CARL EDWARDS: Exactly like gambling. Yeah, I think a lot of guys will be thinking about those 43rd, 42nd, 41st positions, one, two, three points the first half of the race. I think you'll see -- I don't know, I think you're going to see a race like I've never been a part of here at Daytona. It's a different racetrack. It's going to be wild.
Q. I'll try this question again. It didn't go over so well the last time. Talking about the racing you're talking about, racing so closely with your competitors, how do you develop the trust and respect for each other that has to be done, and could you recall a story from the past maybe with someone? How does that develop and how do you see that playing out?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, it's just such a dynamic race. You know, if you're in the middle of the pack, everybody is trying to get a little advantage or sometimes guys are trying to pull out and cool their engines off or whatever, and there are times where you get put in a position and you realize, man, if this guy behind me doesn't lift a little bit or if this guy doesn't give me a little space, it's over.
It's pretty amazing how well everyone works together. There have been a few times racing at these restrictor plate tracks where I could not thank the guy enough running next to me for realize what's going on and moving over or giving me a break. I've only been doing this for five or six years now, but it seems like everyone is just getting better and better at giving and taking at these races. That can all change in an instant. A guy will leave you out or bump into you or move you, but for the most part that doesn't happen until the very end.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I think the biggest thing about it is nobody wants to crash, so everybody tries to do the right thing most of the time, 99 percent of the time. White flag comes out, that's when nobody lifts and that's when you see things happen in my opinion.
Q. Carl, at the end of last season understandably you talked a whole lot about momentum and the way you finished and carrying that over into this year. Can you describe how that might work into something tangible as opposed to just a feeling? How can you carry that momentum over and translate it into something on the track?
CARL EDWARDS: First of all, I had to come up here and tell Martin I really appreciate him getting that flat tire because I think I would have finished 2nd at Homestead. But the way we finished the 2010 season is the way we'd like to run all the time, and I feel the way our team is structured right now, we're set to have one of our best seasons for Roush -- for all of the Roush teams, including ours. I'm excited about it.
I don't believe much in momentum. I used to not, but now I understand how it works, and I'm hoping to capitalize on that for this season.
Q. Carl and Martin, have you noticed any difference with the new splitter so far, and what kind of difference do you expect as the season goes on?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I haven't seen a big difference in it yet. Again, we've only done a little bit of testing with it. We haven't obviously raced it yet. I think we'll learn a lot about it this afternoon if we get in the draft. I think a lot of things will be different about the way the cars pull up and are able to push cars in traffic, things like that. We'll have to just see what happens. In the testing we've done it hasn't been -- like I said, it hasn't been a big difference. It's a little bit more solid when it hits the ground I feel like, but very, very similar.
And I believe the stuff that we've seen from the wind tunnel is very close aero-wise, too.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I haven't done enough testing with it. I just think it looks great. It looks a lot more like the cars we drive on the street, and I think that's good.
Q. Either one of you, you're talking about it being wild and other people have said that the racing is just going to be crazy and all. You could make an argument that it's already been like that at Daytona. Is it possible for there to be an appreciable more amount of wildness here? Is it going to seem that much different or that much more than what we already have in restrictor plate races?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Well, it's going to be more along the lines of a Talladega race. There's going to be no stringing out, there's going to be no handling where guys have to start lifting and it gets double file and then it gets single file, the long runs. The pack is never going to get spread out. Green flag pit stops may obviously come into play a little bit because that tends to make two or three different packs, but if everybody decides that they're going to race and try to stay up front and not lay back and try to save their stuff, it's going to be a big huge pack, and everybody is going to be in it all day long, and it's never going to -- it's just never going to separate. So it'll be constant three wide, four wide. There will be no chance to catch your breath and relax at all.
Q. Sort of a two-parter. Bristol will be the first short track on the circuit. How do you prepare to race at Bristol say versus training at the other tracks? And then the second part of that is try to describe what it's like to be in the middle of the action at a Bristol race.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, it's always strange to go from running the superspeedways to your first short track race of the season. Things happen a lot quicker, it's a lot different style of racing, and Bristol is just fun in general. It's one of the most exciting racetracks we go to. The fans love it, the drivers love it. It's really neat to be in a good race at Bristol because there's just a lot going on. It's really fun as a driver.
Q. How about from Martin's perspective?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Yeah, Carl kind of hit it. It's just a really exciting place to race. The pre-race is just incredible. You really feel the energy of the crowd. The stadium kind of feel around you. Obviously a great place to race, especially since they redid the racetrack. You can run the top, you can run the bottom, you can run the middle. It's a really, really fun place to race for guys that came from short track, which we all really did. We all enjoy that kind of thing. It's awesome.
Q. I know just looking out on the track it's so smooth just looking at it. When you guys get out there do you miss the bumpiness, the integrity of that old track?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: A little bit, yeah. I liked the old Daytona but obviously there was holes in it, so it wasn't good enough to race on. This is going to get bumps in it, too, it's just going to take a little bit of time. The track hadn't been paved since it was like '78 '79, something like that, so it's going to wear out. We're in Florida; it's going to turn gray, it's going to wear out, it's going to lose grip and it's going to get bumpy as it sits. It's cool that racetracks range as you come back to them each time. It's a constant moving target for us, and it's a challenging thing. So it's fun.
CARL EDWARDS: I thought the neatest part was they sent us a piece of the old racetrack. That's pretty cool to get in the mail. To think of everything that happened on that old pavement and to have a piece of that at home was really special. It's definitely a new day, and the track is -- the paving job is as beautiful and perfect as it could be. I mean, I know we've answered a number of questions about the racing, but I just think we all agree it's going to be one of the most spectacular Daytona 500s that I'm sure we've been a part of.
THE MODERATOR: Martin, Carl, we thank you for your time. We wish you all the best during the test and good luck during Speedweeks and during the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
An Interview With: KURT BUSCH DENNY HAMLIN
THE MODERATOR: We continue with our driver press conferences here at the test session. We're pleased to be joined by Kurt Busch. He's driving the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Dodge for Penske, and Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kurt, I'll start with you. I saw that outfit on you in December, but how is the 22 team shaping up and how has the test session gone for you so far?
KURT BUSCH: It's just good to be back behind the wheel, and I've got a great crew and a great team with a new look. But we've definitely got a charged up attitude this year going out there to do the best we can and to be the best we can. Steve Addington is leading a great group of guys. We didn't have hardly any turnover. We actually added a new engineer position to our position, so we're a stronger team with more people coming to the track each week, and with the new look with Shell-Pennzoil, a great group of people, great sponsor. I'm very excited about the motor racing program and actually have a trip set up to go to Houston to the headquarters here shortly. It's just exciting to have a new look on the car and to have the new number, No. 22, that will take a little while for all of our fans and everybody to get adjusted to. And then when everybody stops calling me Kevin we'll be settled in.
It's just fun. It's a great group of people, and Roger Penske himself put together this program last year, and now it's come to reality, and it's just great to be at the track and underway.
THE MODERATOR: Denny Hamlin came ever so close to winning the coveted NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship last year. You're here at Daytona and I know you're excited and ready to roll. Talk about your mindset as you head into the 2011 season.
DENNY HAMLIN: I look forward to it obviously. This is the first time I've been in a car since Homestead, and obviously it feels pretty good. It's just everyone -- this is an exciting time for everyone from the media to the drivers to the teams, so we're looking forward to it, for a clean slate, and obviously getting some personal goals done this year.
Q. Kurt, the 500 this year will mark the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's passing. You've been in the sport now since 2000. Can you talk a little bit about that legacy and what it's meant and how you've seen things develop over the last ten years?
KURT BUSCH: Just his name and just the Earnhardt legacy and the Daytona mixed into the same sentence is so powerful. For him to have gone 20 years before he won his first time here in 1998, it was amazing to watch, the outpouring of support from all the teams, of course the fans, the other drivers.
He's always been the intimidator, and he's always been one that was an innovator out on the track with the draft, and when he passed away, we lost so much as far as our leadership in the garage area and how he could communicate with NASCAR and to develop rules or to explain to them how the cars needed to be changed or adjusted.
The one thing that came from his passing was the safety innovations in our sport, and that is what has continued on as his legacy, how we've kept so many drivers safe since that point.
It was a tough race. That was my first-ever Daytona 500, and to have that type of news and to have those feelings, like man, what am I getting into, we just lost the most iconic individual of our time, obviously other than Richard Petty, in this race, and here I am starting out my first race. It's been an amazing ten years since it's happened.
Q. Denny, in Vegas I think you'd probably agree you seemed a little frustrated by what had happened at Homestead. In the last month or so, what's kind of been percolating in your head? Has it been more frustration or you're just kind of trying to move on and focus on the season, or is there still a frustration factor that's kind of carried over from last season?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, to be honest with you, I haven't even thought about racing in the last month. I really haven't, not one bit. You've just got to move past it. There's nothing we can do about it. There was obviously several one laps in certain races that changed a lot of things that happened during the course of the year, but that's racing. Racing is about strategy, racing is about having the best team, best car, best driver and putting it all together.
So for me starting this year, obviously there's things that I've decided that I want to work on in the off-season to try to get better at the racetrack, and now is the time to try to work on those things.
Q. With the repave, it's going to be a new race. I know Kurt, you've kind of said that in December, but what can you guys take from past 500s that maybe you can still use going forward?
KURT BUSCH: It's somewhat of a learn as you go with restrictor plate size. It's just been adjusted with the way that we're not seeing much for tire wear. You want to try to improve on your fuel mileage because I think you're going to see a lot of fuel-only type pit stops. So you just have to try to bank as many thoughts as you can in your mind about how you're going to react and apply those.
Being in the Shootout Saturday night to start things off, that's going to be a wild start to things, then we'll see how -- shoot, we'll learn a lot in these three days on how drafting is going to settle in.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it's just a really a whole new game. My mentality is almost like when they paved Talladega except subtract four lanes of traffic. It's just going to be that much more exciting.
Q. This is for both of you. You've heard, I guess, the proposed changes in the points from 43 to 1. What do you think of that? Does that reward consistency more than wins? Would you like to see something different?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought it was good. I do think it's simpler for people to figure out. Obviously when you know you're 18 points behind someone, that's 18 spots without the bonus points and everything. From what I saw that they proposed, the one thing that they were open to is possibly giving a few more bonus points for the wins in the regular season to count towards the Chase, and I think because just maybe giving one point to someone who wins a race, putting that to your Chase points, that's only one spot, that's not equal to what we had before.
I definitely think that they're open to that change, but I'm definitely in favor of the 1 to 43. I think it's going to be easier for us to figure out to be honest with you.
KURT BUSCH: I'd like to go back for myself and just do research and plug those numbers in to past years and to see who comes out on top or to see how things change around and to help fine-tune it a little bit more, because in the end you still want it to be about consistency, but you have to be consistent during those ten weeks. When you sit there and change around points 100 different ways, we still end up with the same champion nine times out of ten it seems like.
Q. Denny, during the off-season there were some columns and whatnot, it's almost as if Denny has given his all and it was so frustrating last year and then Mike Ford got stressed and then what is left. Can you sort of define what is left inside? We all know you have a lot more to give to get the championship. What are you thinking about what is left in you and your team?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, I've said it a thousand times, and every time that I come to the microphone and people ask me what's it going to take for this, what's it going to take for that, there's a lot of areas that I've got to improve on, that I know I can improve on. Qualifying is one. I can't start dead last every single week like we did last season. Those are things that are going to help us finish better and obviously give us better chances to win more races.
And so those are the things I need to work on. There's things that as a team we need to work on, and that's what's so encouraging for myself is being relatively new to the Cup Series and this being a relatively new race team, we've taken a lot of strides and really given it a heck of a shot last year.
But every year since my rookie season when we took a step back and finished 12th in the points in 2007, we've continually progressed and gotten higher and higher and higher every single year in the points standings.
Obviously there's only one more spot to go, but I feel like we've done a really, really good job over the last three or four years learning from the mistakes that we've made and not repeating them over again. Obviously there's some mistakes we made in the last Chase, and obviously we don't need to repeat that. We've got to get in the Chase first obviously, but I feel like everyone has done a good job of learning, and this team has obviously shown that it can be contenders week in and week out.
Q. For Kurt and for Denny, you guys get to do cool things off the track, on the track, off-season and even during the season. What's the most fun for you?
KURT BUSCH: The most fun on track is going to victory lane and celebrating with the team on the success we had in one afternoon. Doing things off the racetrack, you know, there's different sponsor events that are always fun, and you try to go out and meet different people, celebrities or get to a pro-am to play golf. For me doing some NHRA drag racing is probably my most unique challenge that's been the most fun for me, and I have a press announcement next week with some of my ambitions for next year with NHRA this year.
DENNY HAMLIN: For me I think it's just being in the position that we are, it opens up a lot of doors to meeting a lot of people that -- and a lot of opportunities for us to do things that we obviously wouldn't be able to do if we weren't in the position that we're in. That's what I love about my job the most is obviously being able to do some of the fun things, playing in pro-ams and playing -- doing whatever you want to do basically. You know, you want to go play around with a PGA pro, just call him up and do it. That's fun for us, and obviously got to meet a lot of cool people along the way these five years.
Q. Denny, can you talk about -- can we get your thoughts on the changes to the racetrack and the race cars and maybe how that changes your strategy and your approach to the race here from what it used to be?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it changes a lot. I mean, this is a much more laid-back test session than what it would be with the old surface for the drivers. It's probably going to be a little bit easier for the crew chiefs, as well, because they don't have to deal with the balance of handling versus speed. I think they're going to just put the most optimal speed in the race car that they can possibly get. So really it's very laid back from my standpoint. There's not a whole lot -- you can turn this car around backwards and I'm going to say it drove the same as it did the last run. I don't know what to tell you.
There's very few things that we really can work on as far as drivability is concerned. I think everyone's car is going to drive good. But when it comes to speed weeks it's going to be very interesting because I think it's going to be survival.
Q. Now that you've been on the track a little bit, is it going to be more like Talladega or more like old Daytona? What sort of mix in terms of the characteristics?
KURT BUSCH: One thing that is of note that's fairly significant for us is we've got three restrictor plate cars built for the 22 Shell-Pennzoil team, and this is our B car. This isn't even our A car. We wanted to do that just in case there is trouble in some of these drafting sessions down here. There's five drafting sessions. There's ample opportunities for things to happen. We've still got to protect our best piece, and that is the utmost important thing throughout Speed Weeks is making sure we put the best possible product on the starting grid for the Daytona 500.
Like Denny said, it's going to be more about survival, which in a sense is going to make it more like Talladega instead of like the old Daytona.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm looking forward to it to see how the draft works. I haven't been here until now obviously. I haven't been in a pack. I don't think we're going to today, either. But it's going to be interesting. Obviously the two-car draft is really big at Talladega. I'm not sure you can do that with how tight the radius of the corner is here, but we'll see how all that works out.
But I think it's definitely going to be very, very tight packed, and that's what's going to make it so intense for the drivers and spotters for 500 miles.
Q. Denny, your fans wanted to know, you took a break from Twitter, and when you came back you came back with a vengeance and gave away a vacation. What led you to do that, and were you prepared to send them wherever they picked?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, well, I prepared myself for it because you never know what they're going to say. But the winner was a true race fan. That was very cool. So she decided she wanted to go to the Brickyard, which is great that she could go anywhere and she decided she wanted to go to a NASCAR race.
For me that is very rewarding to see that happen. For me, I don't know, I just have moments where it's just like, you know, I look around and think about how fortunate I am and want to give back to the people that help in these stands and watch these races and buy our souvenirs.
THE MODERATOR: Kurt, Denny, thank you so much and good luck the rest of the test session and good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON
THE MODERATOR: We've got our five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie, obvious question is you're five-time champion, and what's it going to take to win the sixth?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, it's obviously a new year and new set of challenges. It's awfully early to even understand what the challenges are going to be. We hope that we're smarter through all the hard work that we've been going through in the off-season, but we just won't know until we get -- actually really leave Daytona and get to Phoenix and on and on from there.
We're working hard on all fronts to be a better race team. I think that last year we learned a lot more about ourselves and kind of validated our core beliefs and stuck to what the 48 team is known for and what we believe in and was still able to overcome a lot of adversity and win a championship. I feel like we'll be stronger and better, but we just don't know until we get into the meat of the season and the first goal is obviously to make the Chase and from there figure out how to win again.
Q. The buzz at the beginning of this week was points, change in the points. You're the five-time champion. The last time we had the buzz about points there was a guy that won the race and it wasn't that exciting of a season. Do you think maybe this could be pointed at you somehow?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, I guess if we don't have an idea what it's really going to look like, there's a lot of speculation at this point, but in theory if it is 43 points for the winner on down to 1 for the last-place car, in concept, in theory, it's still very similar to what we have now. So I think the premise, the concept is still very similar. Take a while to get used to it.
I think it's more of an attempt to make our points system easier to understand. I don't think that it would be a huge change from the thought that I've put into it so far. I don't see it being a big thing. I know people expect me to react and think, oh, they've got to leave it alone, don't change it. I don't care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship; I could care less because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances. We'll wait until the announcement when and if it comes and kind of take it from there.
I don't believe it's a huge strategy to engage the fans more from an attendance standpoint for a viewership standpoint. I mean, you always hope for that. I think in my opinion there are other areas to focus on for that. This would give us something to talk about and hopefully simplify the system and make it easier to follow.
Q. Jimmie, Denny Hamlin talked about the track being so smooth that there was almost nothing that you can do to the cars to really make a difference and that they're likely to be bigger packs, drafting packs and so on because it will bring everybody together. If there's not that much you can work on and not much you can change, what will you guys be doing here for three days?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we kind of speak to that point, we didn't participate in the Goodyear tire test for that reason alone. We felt like three days here would be enough time on track to sort out what we had.
The rules are such where there are very few areas to work in. We have a lot of freedom at the front of the car to work on it, but with the bumps gone there's very little driver comfort issues or drivability issues and you're basically trying to get the car as low as you can to the track and don't let the splitter drag. After a handful of runs of doing that, you're kind of out of moves. We can't mess with the back of the car. We don't have body changes that we can make to the templates and the way they are with the cars. So it really shortens up the list of things to try.
Our teammates are doing great. We were on the bottom of the board for a while so I'm not sure we've got everything sorted out on the 48 car just yet. To have our teammates as fast as they are, we'll just go home and get all the adjusting things around and get it right. I think it kind of comes down to drive line, some different angles and drive shafts and rolling resistance and issues like that where the speed is, so we'll just have to do a bit of work there.
Q. Denny Hamlin was in here and said he didn't think about racing during the whole off season and he promised us that, and Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr., talked about how crazy the racing is going to be here. Can you sort of talk to both of those entities? Did you think about racing during the off-season, and how crazy will racing be here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it was in my mind at times. There was no doubt that once things slowed down for me, which was around Christmastime, from I'd say Christmas to maybe January 3rd or 4th, I did a very good job of not being connected and got away and spent time with the family.
But we had a lot of changes going on with pit crew stuff, the changes with the crew chiefs and drivers moving around. There's been plenty going on.
January has been extremely busy. I've missed being in the car. I think all drivers would say wanting to go to the track and drive the car and compete, you can do that year-round. It's the other stuff that makes it a long year.
I'm excited to be in the car here, although it's not all that challenging, but I was here for the Rolex test and had a great time in that car and will be back next weekend for that race, and really excited for that race. Enjoy running that event.
And then the 500 I believe is going to be everything everyone would hope for. The track will have plenty of grip, multiple lanes. In my opinion, yeah, I believe some guys will probably ride and try to play it smart. But for the Daytona 500, at least in my mind, and I think most drivers look at it the same way; you're willing to make a lot of risky moves and willing to wreck your car. Points don't seem to be a premium yet. We're going to see a very, very action-packed Daytona 500.
Q. Just want to know how the first stages of your relationship with having Dale Jr. in your shop has worked? Have you got him running ten miles a day with you, your karma rub off or anything?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Fortunately all the teammates, all the drivers and crew chiefs, over the years the way Rick has had a vision for Hendrick Motorsports and the way we all communicate. I can't say it's been much different from that standpoint. I mean, we still -- when we weren't in the same shot there's just a lot of communication taking place. In the shop I guess the biggest thing we've been working on is just the driver's compartment trying to make sure with both cars being built in that same shop that we can use the same dash, seats, things like that, and with us, we both seem to like a similar seat angle and placement, which will then allow us to have the dashboards in the same spot, and it's going to simplify the shop, and we're just kind of working through the final stages of that now.
With Jeff being shorter and the seat angle he had, our cars were pretty different, and right now we're trying to make it kind of a common cockpit through the shop and working through that.
Q. You said that the 1 through 43 thing would maybe be a way too make the system simpler, but does the system need simplification? Carl was in here earlier and said he doesn't know how many points he has when he's running 12th but aren't you all cognizant of the fact that when you make a pass it's going to be worth three points, four points or five points, depending on where you are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I can't say I knew where that cutoff was in the past, especially from four to three. I knew first to second and that kind of thing. But in the car I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the points values, you just know that there's more points in front of you type thing. Maybe other guys think a lot more in depth about the exact numbers, but you just go forward and pass those guys and be ahead of them.
I know that we were trying to -- potentially -- this is my opinion. I haven't had anyone at NASCAR tell me this, but it seems like we're trying to make this just a little bit easier to understand. At the same time we have a complicated system. We don't have two teams on the track. There's 43 obviously.
So there's a point there where now we've got to reeducate our fan base and any new fans coming in. Are we going to confuse everyone even more and shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit? I don't know. Time will tell. But one thing that's obvious to me is that NASCAR is continuing to try to make it better, and they're looking anywhere and everywhere they can, and I think we have a very refined product in the garage area from a competition standpoint, and last year's championship battle spoke to that.
Some more tweaks here and there, I'm willing to try it, but I think there are some other issues that would help with attendance and viewership that kind of leave the garage area and what happens on the track. You look at length of races, frequency of races. In my opinion I think a lot of our fans are just overexposed from race lengths and then so many events.
Q. This 500 will mark the 10th year of Dale Earnhardt's passing. As a five-time champion yourself, can you talk about that legacy, what he's left, and what it means to you as a champion and him being a seven-time champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my standpoint, I never was able to race against him. My standpoint is watching him on television and being a fan of the sport. My brother picked Senior as his driver when we were young as kids, and I certainly couldn't align with my brother in his thoughts. It was my job to beat him up and often as possible. So I had my driver, my brother had Senior, and I remember a lot of times, my guy was getting waxed by Senior year after year.
I didn't know him as a competitor. I met him a few times in passing. That's one thing that I really wish I could have experienced was the intimidation factor that he had on and off the track and being around him and watching him work through the garage area and to help advance the series and to work with NASCAR, his interaction with the fans, and you just hear some stories -- I hear so many stories today about him but I never had a chance to see him firsthand. I have a great deal of respect for who and what he was and what he did for our sport, and I regret that I didn't have a chance to know him.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you so much, and good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
An Interview With DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
THE MODERATOR: Pleased to be joined, finishing up here in the media center today is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He drives the No. 88 Amp National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Talk about the test so far. I know you tire tested back here in December. You've been on the track a little bit this morning. Talk about the No. 88 car, how you're doing.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's going good, I guess. We just made about four or five runs, nothing real serious yet, I guess, just getting a little bit of data and making a couple little changes here and there.
But the track is in pretty good shape, and looks like the 24-hour test and just a bit of time that it's been since the tire test we had in December, the track is starting to change a little bit. It was smooth as glass when we first tried it in December, and it's starting to become a little more rigid in places and change color in places.
You know, it's not much else to report to be honest with you in the first half of this day, just went out and cleared -- took the clearances and got the ground clearances and everything good. They changed a couple things, see what it did, made some notes and sit down and eat some lunch. That's about it.
Q. Two years ago in the media center here I asked you when you roll into this place how much do you think of your dad, and do you think about him every day, and you answered me yes, I think about him every day. Is that still the case right now, and what would your dad have thought of the new paved speedway?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think he would think they did a good job. He would think the obvious things, they did a good job, and it looks -- it was probably time for it to happen. I was surprised they didn't pave the infield. I didn't know that until I talked to somebody that tested here for the 24 hours. But I'm sure they threw away more asphalt than it would have took to put some asphalt down in there.
You know, you think about your parents all the time. I think about him and my mother all the time, especially getting back to racing. I guess you think about them just as much in the off-season, too.
But I think -- I don't know, I think that he would appreciate what they did with the paving and the job they did. Hopefully the track puts on a good race and it holds up well. I mean, it's going to get the bumps back and it'll get -- over the next several years it'll age a little bit, especially being down here next to the beach and the sand. It'll get slick and become the old Daytona that a lot of people appreciated. It'll get some of the bumps back that make the racing dicey in spots around the corners.
Q. The Redskins have had a lot of coaches the last few years and a lot of changes and you probably get optimistic every time a new coach comes in. Similarly you've had a few new crew chiefs here. For your fans that are skeptics or doubting things, what have you seen so far that you could tell them, give them hope that it's going to be different this time or that there's something that's changed or something along those lines?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think that's a good analogy to be honest. Every year as a Redskins fan you sort of go through this. I've got an app on my phone that pretty much pushes anything that if they're mentioned on the internet I get the news. You're just waiting on one of those articles to tell you about some big free agency pickup or what their plans are in the draft. You know, and you piece everything together before the season starts and start to form your idea whether you think they're a better team or not. And whether I -- sometimes you think, yeah, this is a better team, sometimes you think this isn't the right way to go, but you're still a fan. You still decide regardless of whether you like their quarterback or you think they've got a good receiving corps or not, you still as a fan decide to go into the season just as devoted and ready for success or the same failure.
But with our team, it's a new deal, and I was joking with somebody in the truck earlier, I was sitting in a seat up in the lounge, and they asked me if that was going to be my seat, and I told them I'm not exactly sure where my seat is yet, it's sort of floating around. That's the way I feel about my team. Everybody is still learning, the guys are still learning who does what, what their personalities are.
It's been fun getting to know Steve more. He's got a great personality, a lot of energy, and hopefully I can depend on that energy in certain times throughout certain races, when you need somebody to gear you up and let you see it -- see things a little differently than you see at the time. Maybe he can keep me on my toes, be a cheerleader or whatever you want to call it.
They seem focused and they seem ready to go. I'm really sick of how we've ran over the last several years and ready to see something different, ready to get to the track and see different results. We'll just have to see how it goes.
The toughest part about all that being a race fan or a Redskins fan is the waiting. Fortunately for NASCAR you don't have to wait very long.
Q. To help with the football analogy, I'm from Green Bay and they sucked for 20 years and now they're back in the playoffs, so hopefully they'll progress on from there. I want to ask you if you know what it is that you need yet, and do you need a crew chief to drive you? Do you need improvement here or there? Denny Hamlin was saying he didn't think about NASCAR during the off-season. Did you think about it a lot during the off-season, were you able to cut yourself from it, and do you know exactly what you need?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know, I don't know exactly what the perfect match is, but I'm game for trying anything out and moving around and shaking it up a little bit and changing the scope of the team however they want to change it. I'm pretty much up for any of that.
You know, I don't know how much -- I don't really break it down that much, you know, whether I think about -- I assume I think about racing in the off-season because it's what I do for a living, and everywhere you turn it's what you're looking at.
Yeah, I don't know. I don't know how you could call the last 20 years of being a Green Bay fan too rough. You haven't been a Redskins fan. It's quite difficult. I'd give anything to have a quarterback like you've got.
Q. I was listening to a tape of an interview I did with your dad in January of 2001. He said after he and Billy, Jr., were gone that he didn't think that the sport would change, would just go on without him. What dramatic changes have you seen since your dad passed?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I think the sport has gone on just fine, been very successful, more successful than I think any of us ever imagined. There's been a lot of good changes. There were a lot of changes in the sport prior -- during his reign as champion and through the years that he raced here. There were a lot of changes related to him, unrelated to him. And the same thing after his death.
You know, I'm real proud to be a part of what the sport represents, and I'm proud to be associated and connected to everyone involved in the garage, in the media center. This has been a hell of a trip, and hopefully it keeps going. Hopefully we stay successful.
The environment changes all the time financially, and we just weather the storm however we have to. But I think we're in good shape to be honest with you. It's been kind of tough the last couple years with the economy, but for the most part, this sport is pretty resourceful or whatever. I feel pretty good, pretty comfortable where I'm at and how I'm involved in it.
Q. Earlier obviously you mentioned about thinking about your dad every day. We're all shaped by our parents. What take-away influences do you have growing up and what your dad meant to you and how he shaped who you are now?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you know, I don't really -- he was a lot of things to a lot of different people. You know, I just wanted to be -- he was intimidating, like they say. He was like that as a father when he was at home. You wanted to please him all the time, make him happy, and you wanted to -- whatever you did, you wanted it to -- you wanted it to somehow get a response from him.
I think as I was growing up, you know, you tried to get away and do your own thing as have fun as a kid but at the same time you wanted to make your parents proud, and you sort of found your direction by listening to them inadvertently, whether you wanted to or not. They sort of helped you find whatever it is you wanted to achieve in life. My dad was there to guide me in a lot of good directions that helped me out a lot. I think that I tried to -- I tried to have some of the same good qualities that he had. The qualities that I enjoyed about him, I tried to emulate those as best I could and keep those qualities, as well, because I felt like it made him a good person.
Q. Dale, last season Rick had sort of -- he said that last year it wouldn't fail, it couldn't fail, and ultimately it didn't work. Does that in a way relieve the pressure or the expectations of this year?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I don't know, I guess. I'm sure a lot of people expect nothing more than we did last year. And last year we were kind of out of the radar, which was kind of fun. A lot less garbage to deal with when you're not in the radar.
But you know, I don't know, I just feel like that -- I don't know what the reasons were for me and Lance and that group as a whole not working out. I really enjoyed Lance, and I think we're still great friends today, and I think he has a lot of talent. But it just didn't work for whatever reason.
I feel good about the position I'm in now, and I feel pretty confident about it, and I'm looking forward to going into the season and working hard for it. We'll just see how it goes.
When you're running good you can put up with about anything. It's not fun being on the radar when you're running like crap. But last year we sort of fell off the radar altogether.
I don't know, you know, I want to be in racing for a very long time, and I know that I can drive good enough to run well. You know, I'll stick around until I get it right. It's just eventually going to have to happen.
THE MODERATOR: Dale, thank you so much. Good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
An Interview With: BRIAN VICKERS
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by Brian Vickers. He drives the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota. Brian, I've got to believe you're ecstatic about getting behind the wheel again of that race car.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah. I don't know how else to put it. Everyone keeps asking me how does it feel to be back. I guess it feels damn good.
You know, you look for all these words and ways to describe your emotions, your feelings, and sometimes there's just nothing to say. You know, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be back up here talking to you guys about being in the car again, and here I sit.
So really happy about it, and it's been a long year. Last year was a very long year. I'm very excited for 2011. I'm probably in the best place I've ever been personally, professionally, emotionally, and I'm ready to go kick butt.
Q. I hate to visit this subject, but I've been hearing a lot of optimism for a lot of months, but at any point personally was there any depth of despair about anything that was going on and maybe not being able to come back?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, no, it's a fair question. It would be silly if I came here and didn't think I would get it.
Yeah, I mean, there was a lot of emotional states that I went through, pretty much the full range, everything you can imagine. When everything first happened, and we've talked about this some over the past eight months, but when everything first took place, I kind of attacked the situation head on, which is my personality. When things are their worst, right in the midst of the battle is typically where I guess you learn a lot about yourself going through these situations, things that I've always felt, but I guess when you really put it on the line and when something really bad happens you really learn a lot about yourself right in the middle of the battle if you want to call it that.
When the doctor told me, I told him I need to be at practice, this was Wednesday, and I said, whatever we do, I just need to be at practice by Friday at 10:00, and he tried not to laugh, and he was like, I don't know how to tell you this, but it's going to be a long time before you're ever in a car, if ever. That's when I was probably my strongest at that moment, trying to figure out and evaluate, okay, you didn't say that I couldn't race, kind of like yes, you're telling me there's a chance, like in the movie "Dumb and Dumber," one in a million, right, so that was kind of my attitude to begin with and my emotional state I guess you could say and just focused on how can I get back in a race car. First focus was on my staying alive and then obviously next was getting in a race car.
And it really makes you -- you learn a lot about what you really love, you know? The first thing I asked him was when am I going to be back in a race car, not how long do I have to live, which don't get me wrong, it wasn't like it was that bad, but my lungs were shutting down. That should have been my first question, not I need to be in the car Friday at 10:00 was I think kind of the way the doctor looked at it.
Anyway, that was my strongest through the hospital coming back trying to evaluate the situation, what's next, what can I do, how can I possibly beat this, and then as some time went on, a couple weeks went by, I went to the racetrack, and my first time back at the track, maybe the second time back at the track was probably my lowest.
The first time back, I think it was still kind of -- I was still dealing with a lot of things, and everyone was so supportive, the fans, the media, the team, everybody top to bottom, NASCAR, so it was kind of out of sight, out of mind. And then the next time back just sitting there on the box trying to be supportive for the team, but it was just tearing me apart inside. I was just a wreck, a complete wreck. I couldn't -- my stress was out of the roof, my medicines weren't working, they were all over the place, and that was probably when it hit me.
And I've definitely always kind of known about myself, but I learned a lot. Usually in the middle of the battle is when I'm the strongest and then when everything quiets down is when it hits me. It's the same thing when I've lost friends and family or any kind of tragedy I've gone through.
There was a point in time there where I didn't know if I was ever coming back, not just because of the doctors, but I questioned if I wanted to come back. Maybe it was time to just start a new chapter in my life. Is it worth going back and trying again, what would happen to me emotionally. Trust me, it was -- once the doctors said, okay, we feel pretty good about this, we're good with you going back racing if you want -- it's tough talking to a doctor about risk levels and going back racing and all this stuff because most doctors will tell you really not to race cars to begin with. They're like, okay, let's really think about this. You skydive and you race cars at 200 miles an hour and you're asking me about this? Let's address the first problem is kind of their mentality.
Once they told me I could go back racing, it wasn't -- it was funny, like for the strongest time I just kind of went down this path and I assumed it was a clear-cut decision for me when I had approval, but as some time went on I started thinking to myself, maybe it is time to start a new chapter. You go through a lot of emotional states I guess to answer your question. I went through everything you could imagine, but in the end, through some -- a lot of traveling, chasing some dreams outside of racing that I always wanted to do and some soul searching and spending time with friends and family, you know, I realized that I couldn't not give it another shot.
I felt like I had unfinished business. You know, there was something that I left on the table that I always wanted to do which is to win a championship, and at first that was kind of my drive to come back, and in a lot of ways it still is. But in the end what brought me back was just my love for racing, just being in a car at going 200 miles an hour. Whether I win or lose, I'm happy to be back.
Q. You talked about your personality, are anxious to get back obviously. How do you keep yourself from trying too hard, trying to prove immediately that you're all the way back, that sort of thing? Do you have to sort of stop yourself from going overboard?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I think you can definitely get caught up in a lot of things with the comeback story and wanting to come out of the gate swinging. Obviously let's face it, my goal is to win the Daytona 500, and that's not going to change. But I would say day-to-day my focus has been probably more so than ever in my life, I've always been a planner and very detail oriented, most would say OCD kind of guy, and everything was always planned out. I was always planning things so far in advance that sometimes you lose the moment.
So more than anything, just in life personally and professionally, you know, I feel like I truly appreciate and live in the moment more than I ever have. I always tried to do that but probably more so now than ever. And I think the key to being successful for me moving forward is just to do that, just to appreciate being in a test at Daytona, enjoying drafting with my friends and having fun, knowing that something could happen, and I may not be in the car tomorrow.
I think if I just do that every single day, I go on the racetrack, I have fun and I go out there with one intention and that's to win and nothing else matters, you know, as far as from a competition standpoint and just treat every day as if it's the last, I think that'll solve the problem you're referring to, which is getting caught up in everything else.
Q. Are you under any sort of restriction at this point? Did the doctors say don't do this certain thing or don't do that certain thing?
BRIAN VICKERS: No, I'm under no restrictions. Now, the doctors would say that they don't find it wise to jump out of airplanes or to race cars at 200, but that was their choice. They became doctors for that reason, not race car drivers. But I'm under no medical restrictions whatsoever. I can do whatever I choose.
Q. You look incredible. You've never looked better. Have you been working out, eating different? What have you been doing? And then we had a fan in Pennsylvania who said how has having Kasey Kahne with Team Red Bull changed the dynamics of the team that you seem to trust each other based on the drafting practice?
BRIAN VICKERS: I feel great, I feel amazing. You know, I've been able to, like I said earlier, in a lot of ways I'm in a great place right now from a lot of different angles. One, I'm as physical -- I've been training a lot lately. I've pretty much been on a bike or swimming laps or swimming in the ocean. Just this past weekend I was swimming a couple miles a day spear fishing 18, 20 feet down. I got a lobster actually that I couldn't even fit two hands around. I was pretty excited about that. It tasted good, too.
But no, I'm in great shape, probably the best shape I've ever been, and my goal is just to continue down that path and just keep going.
As far as Kasey is concerned, I've enjoyed working with Kasey. Kasey and I came in the sport about the same time, and we've always had a mutual respect, and over ten years you've always going to have your run-ins here and there but we've sorted it out quick and painless and have always had a good working relationship even as competitors, so I can't imagine that our partnership as teammates is not going to go well.
If you can get along as enemies, you ought to be able to get along as brothers, right?
So the drafting went really well. Kasey is a talented driver, and we worked on some stuff. The drafting today went really well, and hopefully that'll show in the Daytona 500 when it really matters.
Q. Since your last kind of big briefing in August, did you have any sort of major surgery since then and can you tell us when you got off the Coumadin and then also from here are you on any medication or how often do you have to visit and be checked by the doctors?
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, I think the last time we were together we talked about the heart surgery. Yeah, that was the last surgery I had, and it went really well. It's amazing, it wasn't -- any time you're having heart surgery it's not a small thing, but the technology and how the procedures go today is just unbelievable. I was on a bike, on a bicycle climbing a mountain at 10,000 feet with some friends out west two weeks -- right at, a little over two weeks after that surgery. So it's phenomenal. Probably the biggest thing they were worried about was more where the incision point was than the actual heart surgery itself.
I don't remember the exact date when I got off Coumadin. It was right at the end of the year right at Homestead or Phoenix, something like that. I don't remember the exact date. Basically six months from when I went on. And Plavix was right after that, all about the same time. So it was good.
Theoretically I could have been here for the Daytona tire test, but the way the Red Bull, all the marketing stuff worked out, they kept moving the tire test on us, and we had a photo shoot, we had our team photo shoot the same day as the tire test, so that was actually why I wasn't here, not because of medical reasons.
Going forward, no, I'm not on any blood thinners moving forward or anything, no.
Q. Just curious what it was like for you to get back into the race car the very first time, considering that's probably the longest time you'd been out of a car since you were a kid.
BRIAN VICKERS: Yeah, it was by far the longest time I've been out of the car. Actually it was eight months to the day that I was out of the race car, almost to the day. I think it was like one day give or take.
You know, deep down my gut told me that I was going to get back in and not even notice that I'd been gone, but you spend eight months and every day someone asked you what do you think it's going to be like when you go back, are you going to remember how to -- you start kind of asking yourself these questions. Someone asks you a question enough, you start asking it to yourself even if you don't really in your gut believe it.
But when I got back in a car in Orlando, it felt so good. I mean, even before I pulled into the racetrack, just to sit in the car. All the belts still fit exactly the same, and helmet, it was like -- it was weird. I don't know what I really expected by getting in the car. I remembered how to hook everything up in the same order and it all still fit.
I pulled out on the racetrack, and to be honest with you, probably the hardest part was being at a track I'd never been to before. I'd never even seen Disney. I didn't even know what shape it was. It's not a normal shape, by the way. It's kind of a weird little racetrack. But it was fun.
But it took me a couple laps to get used to the track and then was right back on times, quick time by like the second or third run out. It felt fantastic. It was like an old shoe, just fit right back on.
Q. How about a racing question? There didn't seem to be -- I was expecting a big pile of cars drafting today, and nobody seemed to want to do that. Do you know why that was today?
BRIAN VICKERS: I don't. We went out and drafted some, and we were hoping that more guys would go. Yeah, I don't know. It's just sometimes people are into it, sometimes they're not. I think most of the drivers find it obviously significantly more entertaining to us to be in a draft than single file, but it's really up to the crew chiefs. If they have stuff they want to work on, there's very little you can work on in drafting sessions. Like speed-wise on the car, you really have to be single file, and a lot of guys were just working on a lot of stuff today, so maybe they're going to be focused on drafting tomorrow. I'm sure before we leave you'll see a pretty big pack. I can't imagine you wouldn't, because I know pretty much everybody wants to see how the cars react in that situation, the track and all that stuff.
Q. You mentioned to us last summer all the non-racing kind of special things you wanted to do while you were away. What on that list stood out for you?
BRIAN VICKERS: Hmm. That's a tough question. A lot of things stood out. You know, funny, of all the things, at least I kind of wanted to say I kind of wanted to try to pick a trip. Like Rome, I had an amazing time in Rome and met some great friends. I've been to Europe a lot and even to Italy actually, but I hadn't been to Rome. That was my first trip to Rome. And I fell in love of the city. It became my favorite city in Europe, hands down. I had a lot of fun there.
But upon further evaluation I would say that probably being at home was the best. I've never -- it's been a long time, if ever, that I've been able to sit at home and do nothing for an extended period of time. You know, there's always something going on, sometimes self-induced through the off-season, kind of like I try to jam all that traveling in that I want to do and I still barely have time with testing and media and all this other stuff, and I'm always jumping around and bouncing around, bouncing back and forth out of Florida, going to the shop, seeing family, going traveling, spend some time in New York, so I'm kind of always all over the place, and it doesn't bother me that much. But I enjoy it; I enjoy being on the move; I enjoy traveling.
But there was a couple times over the summer that I was just at home and had nothing to do, not a single thing on the agenda, not a phone interview, not a race, not a test, nothing, zero obligation for weeks at a time, and it was amazing. It felt fantastic.
And that was something I was kind of working on personally anyway. I have a hard time sitting still. I've always got to be active, always got to be doing something. If I wake up late, if I sleep in I get mad at myself because I feel like I've wasted a day. Some of that has always been my personality, some of it more so lately, and I kind of set out on a mission from a friend of mine, some of his wisdom and his guidance. He said, you know, see if you can do nothing and try to accomplish that, and it wasn't easy. I actually had a really hard time doing it. But once I did it, I felt -- I really enjoyed it, probably more than anything else I did.
Q. Is it still your understanding that the May-Thurner syndrome is what caused the clots and are you doing anything at all differently with how you approach or what your racing or anything that you're doing?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, we don't really -- in the medical field you never know anything for sure. At the time we felt like the May-Thurner could have been a contributing factor, being in the car seated for an extended period of time, dehydration, maybe belts, depending on which doctor you talk to. I had one doctor tell me that he thought -- he kind of leaned more towards the belts. I had one say he leaned more towards the seating position. One leaned more towards the dehydration. They all looked at the May-Thurner as, okay, hmm, by itself would that have caused it? Probably not, but it's definitely not helping the issue.
So unfortunately one thing I have learned in the medical field is that no one ever says anything 100 percent I guess until they declare you dead. I guess that say that one 100 percent. But up until that point, usually there's always this vague, gray area.
And I went to some great doctors, and I'll tell you, I've worked with some of the best doctors and I couldn't say enough positive things about them and how they handled the situation, and I genuinely believe they gave me the absolute best advice to the best of their ability they could, leaving everything else aside.
But, you know, medicine is more of an art than a science. You know, there's a lot of questions that are always going to go unanswered, and that goes with anything. My situation is not unique to that, and in a lot of ways, there will always remain to be unanswered questions.
But moving forward, they feel good with me going back racing. I feel good with me going back racing, and I'm pretty excited about it.
Q. You could have died from this if things happened differently. When you think about that, or I don't know if you do think about that or let that sink in, but when you think about that, is it hard to -- does that make you appreciate things more? Does it make you focus on life more? Or do you try to push it aside in your head and say, because that's such a big thing, you can't really focus on that and let your life be driven that way? You know what I mean? How do you look at that and how do you -- have you changed because of that fact, or how do you deal with that in your head?
BRIAN VICKERS: You know, true statement, and good question. I think it's something that -- you can allow it in your mind every day, and you can use it for empowerment or you can use it for the opposite. It can hold you back or it can push you forward. And that's -- I believe that's a choice.
You wake up every morning and you have a choice to either be happy or be sad. You know, we're getting into some philosophical stuff that's difficult to answer in one question in a 30-second soundbyte. But I truly believe that in a lot of ways it's a choice; just because you think about it every day it doesn't mean it has to be a bad thought.
In a lot of ways as a race car driver I think you kind of build this natural ability if you want to call it or this natural sense where you just kind of don't think about a lot of those things, you just go do. And that's what makes us good at what we do is not to be able to -- it's funny, every driver, I think, and every daredevil if you want to call Travis Pastrana to Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon, they all do crazy, dangerous things, and maybe they overcome that in their own way. Some of them like to ignore it, some of them embrace it, I don't know. I've had some talks with those guys, and I'm not going to answer the question for them, but I do believe everybody approaches it differently.
In the past I've always been pretty much at peace with the idea, and if it happens it happens, but until then I'm going to live life to the fullest, but in a lot of ways I just always kind of didn't think about it.
Now I find myself thinking about it more but in a positive way, not in a bad way, thinking about more from the standpoint of just making the most of every day and just trying to enjoy life. I don't think it's -- to date it hasn't slowed me down at all. That was the question I asked myself, when I get back in that car am I going to be thinking about this all the time or not, and once I got back in the car I didn't think about it one bit. It never even crossed my mind. I just focused on how much fun I was having and how happy I was to be back. And now I've been in the car for a total of three days, and that hasn't changed, and I don't see that changing going forward.
In some ways I just kind of -- it hasn't -- I'm trying to think of the best way to answer it. It hasn't held me back at all. I do think about it, but I use it more for empowerment to motivate myself in the current situation than I feel like it's holding me back.