Media Tour Notes and Quotes - Wednesday, Jan. 21
The final stop on Tuesday’s portion of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway was at Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, N.C., where the media met with team officials and NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
During dinner, JGR President J.D. Gibbs announced that Farm Bureau Insurance will serve as primary sponsor for six NASCAR Sprint Cup races this year. The six races will be split between the No. 11 with Denny Hamlin, the No. 20 with Joey Logano and the No. 02 with a driver to be announced at a later date.
Following opening comments by team owner Joe Gibbs and his son J.D., members of the team shared their thoughts on the new season in an open-interview session.
Joe Gibbs, team owner (ON THE FIRST RACE WITHOUT TONY STEWART): “Obviously, it's something that is kind of a process the way it happened and everything and we kind of went all the way through that. I'm excited. I've been pretty much focused on our guys. If you stop and think about it we're pretty young, so this is going to be a different kind of trip for us. I haven't had a chance to think as much about Tony as I'm focused now on all of our guys. We've had a huge effort here, we’ve got five different initiatives that we've embarked on to try and help ourselves. We don't want to wind up where we did last year at the end of the year. I think our guys have worked extremely hard. We've all been on board with it and we'll see how it pans out for us.”
(WHAT WENT WRONG AT THE END OF LAST YEAR?):”I think it was part of the process we went through. And because of that there were five different things we felt like we needed to go to work on. We have kind of been working real hard in five different areas and so that was kind of the result of what we thought happened. I'm sure every other race team out there has got their agenda and that's what makes it exciting I think. You're never sure who's going to wind up winning it this year.”
(WHAT ARE THE FIVE AREAS?): “I'm not telling you what the five areas are. I'm afraid someone else might be working on it.”
(WHERE DID YOU MISS IT IN THE CHASE?): “I think there were five things that we felt like hurt us and some of them were pretty obvious to you all probably. We went to work on five different areas and we felt like it all impacted us down the stretch.”
(WHO TAKES THE LEADERSHIP ROLE NOW THAT YOU HAVE THREE YOUNG DRIVERS?): “I think certainly that Denny and Kyle are both guys that now have, even though they are young, have some real good experience winning races. They know what it takes. Some of the things we talked about today with them, you could kind of tell they were talking to Joey and telling him some of the things they learned that first year. I think we’ve got three guys there that they know that you’re not going to win a championship unless all three teams are contributing heavily. I’ve been impressed with Denny at times trying to help Joey. Kyle, some of the suggestions he has for Joey. So that’s where you kind of see it showing up in the teamwork. A lot of it wasn’t focused on them. They were saying you need to do this, this, and this, so it was interesting.”
J.D. Gibbs, team president (OVERVIEW FOR 2009): “For 2009 we have the three Cup cars. We have the M&M’s family along with Interstate [Batteries] coming back next year with Kyle. We have the Home Depot team with Joey Logano. Being new this year, we’re excited about that. FedEx is rounding the curb again with Denny. We’re looking forward to a great year with Denny as well.
“We have Kyle Busch running the full Nationwide [schedule]. Then we’ll have a mixture of Denny, Joey and Brad Coleman coming back this year, so we’re excited about that.”
(WHAT CHANGED IN THE NO. 18 TEAM FROM THE BEGINNING OF LAST YEAR TOWARDS THE END?): “We went back and looked at it. Carl [Edwards] was pretty hot all year long. Jimmie [Johnson] took a while to warm up, but come mid-year they were all clicking. I think with us, you start that Chase and we had three things go wrong right off the bat. It was our fault in preparation. One motor and two mechanical issues, you’re done. You can’t have three things go wrong like that. We learned to prepare a little better. The reality of it was, those other guys were good. So it wasn’t like [Kyle] was light years ahead of them. They were all pretty close once they got going.”
(DO YOU FEEL THE TEAM CAME OUT FROM UNDER KYLE?): “Kyle didn’t change anything. He didn’t make mistakes. We, as a team, had three issues that were our fault. For us, we just missed it there at the end. It was frustrating. It was nice to finish with three good cars at Homestead.”
(HOW DO YOU HELP GUYS LIKE STEVE ADDINGTON WHO MAY GET DOWN ON PERFORMANCE A BIT?): “The issues were: one of them was a motor. One was a mistake by one of our guys who is a phenomenal mechanic. Now if it was a guy who consistently made mistakes, you’d say ‘we have to make a change.’ It wasn’t. It was one of our best guys. You move on.
“Steve’s good about keeping the team together. He’s a great fit for keeping Kyle encouraged. I thought Kyle did a good job. He could have just folded the tent and said, ‘I’m done.’ But they kept digging and they wound up having some good races towards the end.”
(IS THE NO. 18 TEAM CAPABLE OF ANOTHER RUN LIKE THIS?): “Obviously they’re capable of it, but the reality is that was a pretty good year as far as wins. I’ll take the wins, but I’m more interested in a championship.”
Greg Zippadelli, crew chief No. 20 Home Depot Toyota (WITH ONE OF THE YOUNGEST TEAMS IN THE SERIES, HOW MUCH WILL JOEY HAVE TO DEPEND ON YOU THROUGHOUT THE YEAR?): “The good news is that they’re all young. They have different driving styles, between Kyle and Denny. For us, we’re not sure where we fit in. We’re somewhere in the middle. From that aspect he’ll be able to go and speak to two different drivers who do different things. To me, that’s the greatest. I’ll probably have to spend more time with him on all the stuff we don’t want to deal with.
“[Joey] wants to do this. I don’t see a lot of the bull stuff. We’re all going to have bad days, but his biggest struggle is going to be figuring out why he didn’t run good. Is it him not being able to tell us, or is it me not figuring out what he was saying? That’s where our bad days are going to come from. Part of that is time. He just doesn’t have a lot of time in these cars. We don’t have any time working together. We haven’t been able to go to race tracks with the right tire at the tracks we’re going to run at.”
Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M’s/Interstate Batteries Toyota (DID YOU ASK TO RUN ALL THE RACES IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES?): “I asked for that. I told J.D. that I’d like to do it. He made it happen. Last year, I missed five races and still finished sixth or seventh in the championship. I felt like we could have won if we had kept going with it. We decided to step back a little bit. Nationwide is fun series to run. I’d rather be racing in it than sitting on the couch in the motor home watching it.”
(WHAT’S IT GOING TO TAKE TO BEAT JIMMIE JOHNSON THIS YEAR?): “Wreck him. I don’t know. Jimmie and those guys are awfully strong. They already have this car figured out. Every year they tend to have their bad luck in the beginning or the middle of the year and by the end it’s all gone. It just seems like in the Chase they haven’t had much bad luck. They’ve been able to always capitalize on the final 10.”
(IS A REDHOT SEASON FOR THE NO. 18 TEAM DOABLE AGAIN THIS YEAR?): “I think it’s going to be less likely that we repeat that first half with the way the competition has picked up and the way everybody has learned this car. I think it’s capable to run strong and to run up front and finish top five every week. To have that, you’ve got to have some sort of luck on your side. If you have a lot you can win races. There is just a lot of luck in this game.
“For me, I made one mistake in the Chase. That was my speeding on pit road at Lowe’s. We still finished fourth that night; I was able to bounce back from it. Anywhere else, mechanical issues took us out.”
(HOW DID YOU FEEL DURING ALL THE BAD LUCK TOWARDS THE END OF THE SEASON LAST YEAR?): “You thought, ‘why us?’ It’s things beyond your control. It’s both of those. The things you do to try and change that is nothing. You could look at trying to change your luck as much as you want, but that’s the way it rolls sometimes. You can’t change it. It gets tiring when you have as many mechanical issues as we do.”
(HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO VOICE YOUR OPINION ON WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE AT GIBBS?): “I was at the meeting. I came in and voiced my opinion to what we need to work on, what people we need to hire, what areas we need to improve on with our cars. Not necessarily just mechanical issues, but the speed aspect of them. [I] just tried to help out as much as I can. [I] gave some insight to what Hendrick Motorsports was like.”
Joey Logano, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota (HOW DO YOU LIKE WORKING WITH ZIPPY?): “I think he’s a really smart guy and a really good guy. I think he’s perfect for me, coming into the series as the young kid and having that coach figure at the same time. That helps me out a lot.
“He’s pretty patient. He lets you go do your own deal when we test. That’s how it’s been working right now. In the few tests we’ve done, so far so good.”
(WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF YOURSELF THIS YEAR?): “I think rookie of the year is a realistic goal for us going into this season. From there, I don’t know what everyone expects out of me. I just want to do the best I can. I’m with a great team, but where I lack is having that seat time. We’ll figure it out one way or another.”
(WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS THE FIRST TIME YOU RACED A CUP CAR?): “It didn’t hit me. I went out there and I didn’t get nervous before the race. I just thought of it as another race. I think that’s the right way to think of it. If you get yourself all worked up, it’s just not worth it. It was a very big deal being the youngest to ever start a Cup race, but I tried not to think about it. I didn’t even know I was until the end of the race.”
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Toyota (ON COMPETITION IN THE CUP SERIES): “No there’s more competition now. There are more teams that have gotten better. The Red Bull team is one that had jumped to where they were in Chase contention throughout the year. David Ragan’s team stepped up. Wherever you see one team maybe fade a little bit you see another one step up. There’s always going to be 15 guys or so that are going to be in contention to make the Chase and the only difference is that they expanded the field from 10 to 12. To me the less cars that they allow in it, the more prestigious it is. I think it adds a little bit more to it and there’s always going to be about 15 cars, I believe, that should be allowed to race for the championship. You need someone left out every now and then because it makes it more prestigious. For the drivers it makes you hungrier to have to know that if you don’t step up you are not going to make the Chase.”
(WOULD YOU BE OK BEING OUT ONE YEAR TO SPICE THINGS UP?): “I don’t want to be out. I want to be one of those top-10 guys in there, or top-12 guys or whatever it is. I’ll tell you, you see it year-in and year-out that somebody misses the Chase, I think Carl [Edwards] missed it two years ago, it just fires you up a little bit more. That’s what I think it needs. I think this sport needs to make it harder to get into the Chase. The harder it is, the more us drivers can feed off it.”
(DO YOU AGREE THAT THIS SEASON WILL BE MORE EXCITING?): “Absolutely. Without a doubt, every year this sport is more competitive than what it was the year before simply because of all the resources everyone is throwing into it.”
(YOU’RE THE LEADER ON THIS TEAM THIS YEAR?): “The old man, that’s for sure. You just look around and you see, at a team meeting or a test or something like that, 450 employees all basically relying on teenagers and 20 year olds to try to lead this team to a championship. It shows a lot of faith that they have in us. Hopefully this is the Joe Gibbs Racing you are going to see 10 years down the road. All the drivers are going to remain the same and hopefully the crew chiefs will stick around if they can put up with us long enough. I think that once we establish this right here, this group that we have, every year it should get better. Especially my communication with Kyle, Kyle’s communication with Joey, all that, it’s going to get better and better.”
(ON HOW TO GIVE MORE TO THE FANS): “I definitely like the type of thing that we did at Daytona this past week. It was a good thing I thought. You know, reaching out to the fans. Maybe if you have an autograph session at the race track on a race weekend, something small, just 15 minutes, something that you can do for the fans. Our fans already have a lot more access than a lot of other sports but that doesn’t mean we should just let that rest. We still should do more, and anything that we can do for them, I feel like it’s our job. I mentioned earlier to the TV guys, we talked about buying tickets to every race this year and giving them away to fans that want to go register on our Web site – anything that we can do to try to give back. I think right now, the sport needs it and the fans need it more than anything.”
(IS THAT SOMETHING YOU’RE GOING TO DO OR JUST THINKING ABOUT?): “We’re brainstorming on it, but I think [giving tickets away is] pretty much something we are going to do. With the economy, and things the way they are, ultimately you want to be positive and there’s a lot of race fans that would love to come to these races but don’t have the means to do it. We have more means than we know what to do with right now so we need to give back to them.”
Media members then returned to the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center where the evening concluded with a hospitality function hosted by NASCAR Media Group.
The third day of the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway started at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Concord Convention Center with a breakfast hosted by NASCAR.com.
During the meal, officials from Turner Sports announced they have redesigned the site in preparation for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a number of new features including an enhanced video channel. The new homepage design on the site will debut on Thursday, Jan. 29.
Media members then headed to another portion of the Concord Convention Center for an announcement regarding the newly-formed Trail Motorsport team. Owned by Arthur Shelton and led by team President Armando Fitz, the organization plans to field entries in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Camping World East Series in 2009.
Fitz and Shelton also announced that Jarit Johnson, brother of defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, will drive the No. 58 Chevrolet in the Camping World East Series, and Chase Austin will pilot the No. 32 Chevrolet in the Camping World Truck Series.
Arthur Shelton, team owner (WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACCOMPLISH?): “I’m hopeful to compete at a high level. I think we will. With Armando, Jarit and Chase, they’re competitors. I want to win every race, but I know we won’t. That’s the competiveness in me. When we unload we’re going to be prepared to compete with the idea that we have a good chance of winning. That’s my desire. I’m not a racing expert.”
Jarit Johnson, No. 58 Chevrolet (ON WHY HE ENJOYS RACING): “Either way I’m going to be racing something. It comes down to my late model. I always made the time for it. My wife and kids enjoy it too. I’ll be driving something.”
(WHAT DO YOU WANT TO FOCUS ON IN THIS SERIES?): “The main thing is to go out there and produce solid finishes, stay in the top five in points. If you can stay inside the top five you have a better chance toward the championship. I just want to go out there and have success right off the bat.”
Chase Austin, No. 32 Chevrolet (ARE YOU READY FOR DAYTONA?): “I’m approved to practice. That’s what is going to prove us. We’re really edgy about that. We’ve got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time just to get to Daytona. After this, I think we’re going to keep working on stuff and try to get ready.”
For Wednesday’s third function, the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour headed to Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, N.C. There team owner and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart was joined on stage by teammate Ryan Newman, Director of Competition Bobby Hutchens, and crew chiefs Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson. In addition to talking about the team’s goals for 2009, team officials announced that Burger King has signed on to sponsor Stewart in the No. 14 Chevrolet in two races for 2009.
Tony Stewart, owner and driver No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet (ON THE COSTS OF FIELDING THE TEAM): “I'll be honest, I haven't even looked at what it's going to cost yet. And the reason for that is because it's Bobby's [Hutchens] area. I trust him with the budget. It's stuff I will learn because I'm obviously curious about it. My focus has been more on the people and making sure that everybody is happy and everybody is working well together – that Ryan is comfortable that the crew chiefs are comfortable, just making sure that our personnel is happy right now.”
(WILL THERE COME A POINT WHERE YOU, AS A DRIVER, WILL HAVE TO BE SELFISH AND SAY I WANT MY CAR BETTER AND NOT WORRY ABOUT THE TEAM?): “I think the great thing that I'm comfortable with already is the fact that when I get in the airplane on Thursday or when I drive to the track on Thursday, I'm able to switch gears and take that hat off and put the driver's hat on and not think about the owner's stuff for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That's why we've got Bobby there and that's the good combination of the two of us is allowing him to do what he needs to do. I told both him and Darian [Grubb], ‘when Friday comes I work for you guys. You guys don't work for me, I work for you.’ I'm really comfortable knowing that when I get in the car I'm strictly in driver mode again.”
(SHOULD PEOPLE EXPECT YOU TO BE A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER THIS YEAR?): “I think it's realistic. We wouldn't have taken this opportunity if we didn't think it was realistic to be in the Chase and have a shot at winning races and winning the championship. Now whether that happens or not obviously will wait to be seen. We feel like we have the tools in place to do that. Having Ryan's confidence in that and Bobby's and Tony and Darian – I don't think that all these guys would have come together if we didn't feel like we have the opportunity and the resources to go out and do that.”
(HAVE YOU HAD ANY OF THOSE MIDDLE-OF-THE-NIGHT ‘OH MY GOD, WHAT DID I GET MYSELF INTO MOMENTS?’): “Absolutely. About every other night there’s a moment where I wake up, but I say that with Eldora Speedway still. I say that with my World of Outlaw teams, my USAC teams. But as scary as it probably should be, it hasn’t been. I’ve been really comfortable with everything that we’ve done so far and I think a lot of that is the fact that I feel like I have good people around me. I have people that I can trust, I have people that everything that they do, they do in our best interest as an organization and they know how I feel about how important family is and how much emphasis I’ve put on that with this race team. When you have guys around you that understand your philosophy and understand your mindset going into it and adopt that and go out and make it happen, that takes a lot of that fear away I guess. So when you do go to bed at night, you can relax a little bit. Those guys are all comfortable with where we’re at getting ready for Daytona. I look out there and go ‘there’s not enough cars ready yet.’ That’s what having those guys there saying ‘we’re alright. Everything’s fine. It’s coming along. Don’t worry; we’re going to be fine. That’s the stuff that makes it easier each day.”
Ryan Newman, No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet (ON PLANS IN OTHER FORMS OF RACING): “I had planned to run some modifieds. We’ll run a couple dirt late model races, the Prelude and a couple other races outside of that on dirt. Hopefully do some truck racing. We’re going to do some Nationwide races for DeLana Harvick and KHI. I’m running a Silver Crown car four or five times next year as well in the USAC Series. I definitely enjoy those types of cars [and] that type of racing. Loudon was a lot of fun last year. That was a lot of fun racing a modified up there! So I look forward to doing that some more.”
(HOW MANY OTHER OPPORTUNTITIES DID YOU HAVE TO GO TO ANOTHER TEAM?): “I’d say easily three to four other offers to go to teams. Not all of them made it to paper, but I had more than one of them on paper. I felt very blessed to be in that position. Tony and I grew up very similar, in essence of the USAC racing days and the open wheel racing. I think secondly, we enjoy the outdoors. We enjoy fishing and hunting, and we can both be totally satisfied on our tractors moving dirt from nine in the morning until five at night. We both do it at different times in different states. Those are things we enjoy.
“Going back to our past, we’ve had our moments on the race track. I feel we’ve only had those moments because we’re hard nosed racers both going for the same piece of real estate. We’ve resurrected all of that, but in the end we’re both hard racers. From now on we may beat up each others door, but we’re doing it because we’re trying to represent our team and our sponsors.”
Members of the media then headed to Hendrick Motorsports in Concord, N.C. At the start of the event’s program, racing legend Mario Andretti presented Jimmie Johnson with the SPEED Driver of the Year Award. Johnson has won the award each of the three years it has been presented.
Johnson, who was fighting off a cold, was then joined on stage by teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon for a question-and-answer session with the media.
Rick Hendrick, team owner (HOW DO YOU BALANCE THESE FOUR GUYS?): “Absolutely, these guys really enjoy each other, and we try to do things to try and promote that. Anybody can get along with Mark Martin. If you can’t get along with Mark Martin, you can’t get along with anybody. He is such a neat person, and gracious and respectful of all these other guys. He fits like a glove. He came into our trailer in Phoenix and has been sharing stuff with our guys. He is going to make us all better. I’m really excited about that. I don’t think we have any problem. There is a tremendous amount of respect among these guys. You’re going to have problems and you’re going to have run-ins at the track. I’m going to do my best to settle them down and talk about the big picture when we have those sorts of problems. It’s all about respect and I see us having a great year. From that standpoint, I have no worries at all.”
(WHAT SHOULD NASCAR DO TO HELP THE SPORT FROM DECREASING DURING THIS ECONOMY?) “I think they’ve done everything they can do to manage costs. They built the box pretty tight. You can’t do too much with the cars. They eliminated testing and people are going to go to the other end of the world to test. We’ve had more time off in January. I think they’re very conscious of what is going on in the economy and they’re doing everything they can.
“I’ve been real impressed with our sponsors. We had a sponsor summit here last night. I expected it to be a small turn out, but it was about the same as last year. We’re dedicated to try and make it work for them. I’ve bumped into a lot of fans at Barrett Jackson in Las Vegas and they were all talking about going to Daytona. The tracks are trying to make packages attractive for the fans. Hotels are going to have to have attractive rates. Everything in this economy has been affected. I think NASCAR has done a pretty good job trying to manage costs. There’s no piece of the economy that hasn’t felt it. We’re just going to have to see how it unfolds going through the year.”
(IS THERE ANY SILVER LINING IN THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN?) “I think it brings us all back to earth. People don’t take the vacations they used to take. You’re more conscious of things. When the economy is real good, you spend money, you feel good and you think it’s always going to be that way. When you go through one of these recessions you tighten up. There are so many people that haven’t been through anything like this, so I think it’s going to teach us all a lesson.”
(HAS LABOR BEEN THE HARDEST HIT IN THE NASCAR INDUSTRY?) “Nobody wants to work for less, so we’re not going through an adjustment of people’s salaries. You don’t have people that are out there baiting the best people with more money. I think that’s what it eliminated. All of a sudden at the end of the year you were worried about keeping your good people. Now they’re thankful they have a job. That’s the difference you see. You’re not seeing all the exorbitant prices.”
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet (THOUGHTS ON THE POSSIBILITY OF WINNING FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW): “I know it’s crazy and in theory I thought about it. It would be great to win four in row, but there’s so much racing between now and then. When we started the season last year we struggled. [We] really had to fight through some things to get our car sorted out. Today I’m sitting here, I have great feelings. I know this team is capable of winning races and a fourth championship. We have to get to the track and get to work and see where we fit. I’m extremely optimistic, but the Chase is so far away.”
(ON THE ROLEX 24): “The Rolex 24 is coming up. Hopefully I can get all my energy back for that. It’s going to be an awesome event. Last year we finished second down there. I’m hopeful we can be on pace and keep that car on the road all night long and have a shot at it at sunrise.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet (ON HAVING MARK MARTIN AS A TEAMMATE): “The amount of respect that everybody in the series has for him is really the one thing that sticks out about Mark. Everybody likes Mark and everybody thinks a lot of him. To me he is a role model in that aspect. In that respect he is a role model in that guys should try to achieve and gain that kind of respect from their peers like he has. I am glad he is here. He is an awesome race car driver. He’s going to be fast and he’s going to be hard to beat, but he’s going to bring a lot to the table too. Just like being able to work closely with Jeff [Gordon] and Jimmie [Johnson] last year was exciting, it’s going to be exciting to work with Mark on a teammate basis. I am looking forward to that.”
(WERE YOU READY FOR LAST YEAR TO END?): “Not really. I don’t ever like it to end. When the season is coming to an end it’s like a double-edged sword. It’s just like it is when the season is getting ready to start: part of you wants to keep going and part of you is ready for some time off. At the end of last year you don’t want to end the season on a bad note like we did with a part failure. We certainly would have liked to have gotten a top 10. I would have been able to settle with that a lot more easier than I did with how we finished. It’s very bittersweet to make the Chase and to have run well the first half of the season and to have such a struggle especially with the Chase there at the end.”
(ON WHAT HE’S LEARNED FROM JIMMIE JOHNSON): “Being around Jimmie and watching him do his job and watching the team work, certainly you can learn a lot from them and they are winning championships. They have a great equation going right now. They are good guys to study and try to improve on what you are doing with some of their techniques. I have always tried to minimize mistakes, but that’s really hard to remember when you are in the heat of the battle or the heat of the moment going for position.”
(ON THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT): “Being in the Shootout is important because we get to work on our cars a little bit. That was always the case whether we had testing or not. Even in the test you weren’t able to get a good gauge of what your car’s doing in race trim with a lot of rubber on the track and a lot of cars out there. You weren’t able to find that out in a test. Being in the Shootout is always a big bonus for those guys. They are going to be able to learn something for the [Daytona] 500. I miss the old format: guys winning poles to get into the race seems to be the reason they started the whole deal in the first place, it’s just unrecognizable right now.”
(ABOUT SNOWMOBILING IN ASPEN DURING THE OFF SEASON): “It was pretty fun going up the mountain. I had never really gone snowmobiling before, so that was pretty fun. It was a good experience. We got to see some pretty interesting things, some great views and stuff that you really don’t appreciate until you get up there and see them. There was just one trail and we were lucky to get down that trail in one piece, it was pretty crazy, it was fun.”
Mark Martin, No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet (WHEN DID RACING STOP BECOMING FUN FOR YOU?): “Around 2001, it started to gradually taper off. You have to be happy. I wasn’t that. I wasn’t as happy as I should have been given all the circumstances. I had a great job, a great career. I loved Jack Roush like a brother. I just needed a break to catch my breath, and figure out what was important to me. I got that for two years and I had the time of my life. It was the best year of my life.”
(WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO COME BACK TO CUP FULL TIME?): “I could sit on the couch or I could drive this No. 5 car. There’s nothing else in the world I’d rather do than to be behind the wheel of this No. 5 car and doing this. I know that there is nothing else out there that will take the place of racing a great race car and working with a great race team. That time for me is limited and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to do this at this stage. It’s just unbelievable for me to get this chance. I know what I want to do. I was a little apprehensive about driving the full schedule, but I darn sure knew I wanted to drive that No. 5 car. This was what it took to make it work and I’m thrilled. This is what I want to be doing.”
(DID MATT MARTIN HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE DECISION TO COME BACK?) “If Matt would have continued what he was doing and wanted to make a career out of being a NASCAR driver, I don’t think I’d be doing this right now. I think I would be consumed with trying to help him do that. There have been twists and turns in my life. Everybody looked at me as a straight and narrow guy -19 years with Jack Roush. Since then there’s been a lot of twists and turns. A lot of it I didn’t know. It’s been a journey that I had to discover about myself and all. Some of it, I couldn’t predict. I didn’t know that Bobby Ginn was going to step out of it. Then it was great to be involved in DEI. I had a blast there, but after a while opportunity really got to me. The experience that Rick [Hendrick] and I had working together on the Nationwide car really helped that. I can’t tell you how extraordinary a person Rick Hendrick is, and how much I want to be near him. He is so much fun. I didn’t put any emphasis on having fun back in the day, but it’s very important to me now.”
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet (ON COMPETITION AND THE NO. 24 TEAM): “One thing I learned a long time ago, it doesn’t matter if you have the best people, the best equipment, everything on paper or from a distance looks like it’s just perfect. That doesn’t make it automatically happen. Competition is going to be extremely tough. Like you mentioned, we’re the bull’s eye, the target that they’re shooting for and that puts added pressure on us. I think we’re capable of living up to that but it’s not going to happen without a lot of hard work. Obviously the No. 24 team had a little bit of work to do last year, but I feel really, really good about what we’ve done over the off season and the things that Steve Letarte and our engineers and the whole team have been working on. It’s been nice to have time over the off season to really think and focus about the future for this season, instead of just having to think about rebuilding cars right away to get ready for Daytona test, to get ready for Vegas test and then kind of see what we have with that. They’ve really been able to pay attention to the details and that’s what really matters with the Car of Tomorrow is finding all those little details, that’s what separates you from the competition.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t doing that last year. It’s that those things weren’t working last year. And you’ve got to grow with the times, with the competition, and everybody gets smarter and better and makes the cars go faster all the time. Plus, tires change. Even though the cars didn’t change that much we were still going to new tracks with it. So it was a huge learning process for us last year and I feel like while we can always learn on what we’ve accomplished in the past that doesn’t mean we can ever go back to that. You’ve just got to take the philosophy of it and the basics of it, but then use what you know now, today, the technology, the experience and benefit from those things as you go forward.
“I’m more confident in what I’m capable of doing and what our team is capable of doing than I’ve ever been. Those first couple of years, especially 1995, I didn’t go into that season thinking we were going to win a championship. I had no idea we were going to be that strong and have that kind of a year. The performances pretty much set the tone of what we were capable of that year. And I’ve always kind of done it that way. I know what we have here at Hendrick. I know how special of a place this is. I know how hard our people work and how good everything is. I have confidence in what I can do, but until you go out there and start going through the motions and getting into the races and see what you really have and what you come out of the races with. Until those are positives, I’m always pretty much neutral with what to expect going into the season.”
(ON MARK MARTIN): “Mark is one hot commodity, even at 50 years old. He’s extremely talented, very committed, and very capable of winning races and a championship. When you look at a guy like that as somebody who is available and that is interested, you are going to go after them very hard. It’s going to take a good negotiator and there’s nobody better at that than Rick [Hendrick].”
(ON THE ECONOMY): “I think we all have to be very conscious of the economy. It’s affected all of us. We’ve had the new additions of some sponsors, which we’re very excited about, but we’ve also had some that have gone away. For me personally, some endorsements have changed. We’re very aware of what’s happening in the economy with marketing and with big corporations and I would say that I’m just thinking a lot more about my spending and cutting costs. There’s some extravagance of some things that all of us have become accustomed to.”
NEWS AND QUOTES FROM WEDNESDAY NIGHT’S FUNCTION WILL BE INCLUDED IN THURSDAY’S NOTES.