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News - Transcript: Daytona 500 Post-Qualifying Press Conference



An interview with:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
MARK MARTIN
RICK HENDRICK
ALAN GUSTAFSON

KERRY THARP: We are pleased to be joined in the media center now by our Coors Light pole winner for the 2010 Daytona 500, and that is Mark Martin. He drivers the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and his crew chief Alan Gustafson.

Mark, this is you're 49th career pole. This ties with you Bobby Isaac for eighth all time. This is your first Daytona 500 pole. Other history made today: You become the oldest driver in NASCAR history to sit on the pole for the Daytona 500 at 51 years of age.

MARK MARTIN: I love getting records. After the ones of the youngest to do that, I'm still after it. Can't get the youngest anymore.

KERRY THARP: Dale Jarrett, the previous oldest, 2005, he was 48 years old.

Also joining us on the podium is DALE EARNHARDT, JR. He'll be on the outside pole for the 2010 Daytona 500. He drives the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Let's hear first from MARK MARTIN. What does it feel like to be the polesitter for the Daytona 500?

MARK MARTIN: It's just incredible to be behind the wheel of that 5 car. This is something that I've stood and watched for, I don't know, 26 years or so, with envy of the guys who sit on the front row. Last year was my first experience to do that with Alan in the 5 car. We were really close last year. The guys, you know, they just stepped up their game some more for this year.

Obviously we're all thrilled to have Dale Jr. on the outside. The 5 and the 88 shop, it's a really special accomplishment. But, you know, Alan I'm sure will tell you, you can't do this without incredible people doing in every area from the engine to the chassis to the body to the fabrication, painters, every piece of it.

But I've been around this business a long time and I've never seen anyone pull that whole group of people together better than Alan does.

KERRY THARP: Speaking of Alan, your crew chief, your thoughts about how that No. 5 car got around there today?

ALAN GUSTAFSON Really proud. Countless amount of hours that go into doing what we do to come down here and run. I think it's a testament to what the 5/88 shop can do. I'm really proud of the shop.

We were hard on them, to say the least, over the winter. Worked a lot of hours. For it to pay off instantly like this, to have the 5 and 88 on the front row is really gratifying for us. I think it will be a big shot in the arm for us for the rest of the year. For the 5 in particular, we've chased this for a while. We've progressively gotten closer. Really proud of the guys. We finally got an opportunity to get it done today and we did. It was in a lot of adversity, wrecking that Shootout car, that was impressive for those guys to be able to basically build the third car and make sure that the primary 500 car was in great shape.

Super proud of the guys for that. Obviously, Hendrick engines is sensational in what they do, give us the best power to go out there and get the job done.

Just a great day to go around. To have Go Daddy on the car for first time, sit on the pole, it's great. It's a great start to a wonderful relationship, so I'm excited about that, too.

KERRY THARP: And, Dale, this matches your career best Daytona 500 start. You also were on the outside pole in 2003. Talk about your car. It's been pretty fast the last couple days. Talk about your qualifying effort out there today.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, we felt real good about our car yesterday. We would have liked to have had a couple more runs to try to get a little more speed out of it. I felt like it had some more opportunity.

We were able to put down a pretty good lap. I knew Mark was going to be really strong. His team did a great job making the adjustments from yesterday from what they learned in the single run we all had. I'm real proud to be on the front row with my teammate and Hendrick cars. It's a testament to the engine shop and the fabricators. Those guys really make the biggest difference at Daytona. We obviously got great individuals piecing the cars themselves together and making sure they're gonna do all the things they need to do in qualifying.

Just real proud for our sponsors, AMP Energy, and National Guard. They've been real supportive. We've been waiting what teams like a lifetime through the off-season to get to the racetrack to do something good for them, so that felt really good today.

KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Mark, Dale or Alan.

Q. I know Dale mentioned several times that success here is great, but it's really what happens once you get to California for the rest of the season. If you could address how confident you are that you can be up front there in two weeks.

MARK MARTIN: I feel good about it 'cause we did it all last year, so I feel good about it.

ALAN GUSTAFSON Well, you know, I agree with Dale. I think those tracks are more the standard configuration that we'll run, sort of the bread and butter.

But I think that what will carry over here is the work ethic, excitement, energy, determination of our shop as a whole to succeed is what is going to carry over and make us successful at California, Vegas, Bristol, Sonoma. You can take your pick, wherever you want to choose. That same work and determination that gets you to the top here gets you to the top there. I think it is a good precursor to what we can accomplish together. Hopefully get a championship for that building.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, what we do here at Daytona is incredibly important. There's no other race that we put so much preparation into. But the other tracks, like Fontana and Vegas, they're so similar to everything else we do throughout the year, I'm just anticipating getting to those tracks and seeing what kind of results we can put down.

Q. Mark, does this feel like you haven't skipped a beat from now you ended last year, getting the pole right off the bat? How does this feel for your sponsor, who was already getting so much publicity going into today?

MARK MARTIN: We did a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta January 12th and 13th, I believe it was. When we hit the racetrack, I knew we had picked up where we left off. It was just fun. We were fast. We just had a blast.

So, you know, I knew then that it was just gonna be an extension of last year. Certainly it is. Alan and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports has worked really, really hard. There's no one area that we were going to be able to improve from 2009 significantly because you saw what we did in 2009. So what they've done is they've worked so hard trying to get just a little bit in every area to be even better yet.

You know, the little input that I have on things, I've done the same thing. You know, I've looked deeper and worked harder. That's my commitment to the year, just like our race team, in every area.

You know, we're ready to go. Can't wait to go racing every week so that we get in a routine, a normal routine.

By the way, yeah, it's nice. I'm still under the radar compared to Danica. Even though we got the pole, we're still under the radar. That's cool. That's my style.

KERRY THARP: Let's hear from team owner RICK HENDRICK. Rick, congratulations sweeping the front row for the 2010 Daytona 500. All four of your cars today in qualifying were top 10. How does it feel to have 1-2 in the starting lineup next week?

RICK HENDRICK: After watching the Shootout practice, I'm glad that we got two up front, hopefully they'll make it to be there.

This is a race all on its own when you come to Daytona. The engine shop, the chassis shop, everybody works hard. It's a team effort. It's like going to the Super Bowl and qualifying.

You know, I can't tell you how proud I am of Alan Gustafson and Lance McGrew. The challenge was we wanted one team with two cars, then they unloaded two cars that ran almost identical times. I know this is just one race, but no one here and no one outside of our company will know the effort that Alan and Lance put into this team and these two cars, and I'm really proud of 'em.

KERRY THARP: We'll go back for questions.

Q. Mark and Dale, just wanted to ask you, there seems to be an incredible amount of satisfaction about the result here today because it emanates from your shop, the 5 and 88, what that represents. Do you think it's premature to say right now the next challenge to Jimmie's reign will come from this shop in terms of what you accomplished today?

MARK MARTIN: We hope so. That's as far as I'll take that. Obviously, you know, that's our goal. But that also is everyone else's goal in Sprint Cup racing.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, I think we as a company want to put all four cars up front everywhere we go. That's sort of what we try to do. This is just a small step in the right direction for the 88. Hopefully we can be a part of what the other three teams have had success-wise in the past season this coming year.

Q. Dale Jr., you talked on the media tour about the changes that the team had undergone. There was some concern because you hadn't actually been on the track. Will you breathe any easier now that you've been behind the wheel of the car and seen what those changes have done or is there still a lot of questions in your mind?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we've just been a tiny bit on the racetrack. You're still thinking about how the car is going to be completely rebuilt for the race trim. We want to see what we do tonight. We feel like we got a pretty good package going into the Shootout. We can learn a little bit about how that works out for us. We'll have the rest of the week to work on our race trim for the 500.

You know, all this really does today is obviously pleases a ton of people back in Charlotte, gets all these guys on our teams that are traveling out here with us pumped up about this opportunity coming up not tonight but next week. It takes a little bit of pressure off, relieves a little bit of stress to be able to go out there and be able to do something good.

Q. Dale, Rick touched upon this. A casual fan may not appreciate this, but how important is it for you to know that you and your cars had an almost identical time to Mark's?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think I had a little bit more motor than he did, so I was a little disappointed (laughter). I think I had a horsepower on it or something. Rick probably won't want me to say more than that.

You know, it makes me feel good because I know Alan and Lance have really tried to work very, very close together. And when you can go to the racetrack and both cars are really similar like that, it reflects on the sharing of information and sharing of knowledge and ideas, especially when it comes to speedways like Daytona. There's plenty of written data, but there's a lot of ideas floating around, too, that can help you that aren't on paper.

It's really cool when those two guys can sort of mesh as well as they have. I think when they do that, they set a great example for everyone else in the shop to follow suit. It really changes the entire look of the building itself.

Q. Mark, is there a credible reason why we won't be asking you these same questions when you're 55 or 60?

MARK MARTIN: Don't go there (laughter). Don't go there. Let's not even talk about that. I'm just loving life right now. I'm going to be loving life every time I get a chance to strap in that 5 car.

Q. Rick, you said a few minutes ago, tongue-in-cheek, that you hope both of those cars are still there next Sunday. Tonight how much will that Shootout say how much the 500 is going to be, Dale and Mark?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The Shootout is an entirely different event. Everybody goes into it with a different mind frame. You see a little bit more personality on the racetrack.

But I was glad that me and Mark had qualified on the front row so we don't have to compete against each other on Thursday. We can sort of settle our own little issues in our qualifying races separate from each other. Hopefully both of us can win a trophy.

But tonight's more about going out, we have kind of been limited on track time, especially Mark with the accident, so tonight's just about trying to see what shape the racetrack's in. Over every year it kind of changes a little bit, wears out a little more.

Obviously you're doing maybe something a little something different on the setup. We're out there to see what our cars will do, if they're good enough, obviously slinging up there and see if you can win the race.

Q. Will the 125 be more indicative of how rough the 500 will be?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't think it's going to be as rough as a lot of people might be anticipating because it's starting in the early afternoon, it's going to be run in the daylight hours, and the track itself will be a little slick. Throughout the day, you'll see a lot of close racing in the first 15 laps of tire run, but after that you're going to see a lot of guys sliding around, trying to hang on to their racecars, keeping up with each other. You're going to see a lot of guys from fifth on back, it really gets dirty as far as the air back there, you'll see a lot of guys challenge to try to pass each other, race with each other.

Tonight is probably about as rough as you'll see all week.

MARK MARTIN: Just try to throw it up in there. Just what Dale said. Tonight, that is what tonight is about. If you're 20th, it's going to be a long throw. Hail Mary.

Q. Alan, we're hearing about you and Lance working together. Can you speak to how what you are doing specifically as you can. How is it different from last year?

ALAN GUSTAFSON Well, it sounds very simple but it's very complex to get two racers who typically are very egotistical people to get along real well and cooperate in the direction of the shop. For us, that's the key. When you use 85 people, what we've got to do is get 85 people to produce as much as they possibly can. That's how you're the fastest, that's how you're the best, that's how you win poles, that's how you win races.

If you take 42 of them, 43 of them, whatever, go this way, go that way, it's counterproductive. You'll go over the same things that the other guys went over and you won't get as far.

We've got to between the two of us work out the direction of that shop so when that shop gets the direction, it's sharp as an arrow. That's the key. We have the best people in the sport. If we tell them exactly what we need, I guarantee you they will get you exactly what you want.

That's what we're focused on doing, giving them really good direction, letting these guys that Mr. Hendrick graciously got for us, let them go do their thing. It's a tough thing to do. We have to race each other, as we have here. This is a great example. You have two groups of race teams, two drivers, two crew chiefs who have worked all winter long, they were separated by whatever it is, hundredths of a second.

There's a guy on the pole, there's a guy on the outside. There can be some issues with that, there can be some ramifications. But that's what we've got to understand, it's all for the 5/88 Hendrick Motorsports.

It gets tough. I'm real excited about. The 11 years I've been there, this is the best position we've been in to go win a championship. This is the best position we've been in to have out two teams succeed. I don't see why that won't happen.

Q. Is that what the problem was last year?

ALAN GUSTAFSON I wouldn't go that far, but I would say it definitely was not as good as it needed to be. We needed to improve. We needed to be more efficient. We needed to play off each other more. We needed to make that shop operate as one. We've done that now. It took a lot of work.

This is a big deal. You can say, does this mean anything about Vegas, indicative of performance. Well, maybe not. But it is a big deal to those guys who have worked 24/7 that we went in there and shook up their lives three months ago and said, This is what is happening. Three months ago, you're building this for the 5, now you're building this for the 5/88.

It's a positive thing. There's a lot of labor that goes behind it. This is a big shot in the arm for those guys that have gone through all those changes, all the labor of us switching over components, challenging those guys to make these racecars better.

This is a quick shot in the arm for them to show that, hey, this is the correct path to go on. If we do follow this road, we're going to be successful.

Q. Mark, has anyone counted how many times you've said the word 'fun' in the last 14 or 15 months? MARK MARTIN: I know people are sick of it, but that's just too bad (laughter).

Q. I don't think they're sick of it. Are you going to have to redefine the word in 2010?

MARK MARTIN: Well, 2010 will be a challenge to have as much fun as we had in 2009 because part of the time, I don't know about Alan, maybe not for Alan but for me, I was surprising myself. It was a surprise. And so we have higher expectations, or at least I do, you know, this year.

But it's still fun. It's awesome. Succeed or fail, we're doing it together. Somehow or another, you know, it's our commitment to he and I, you know, that we're gonna have fun doing it even when it doesn't go well. We're going to do our best to be having fun. Real competitive. Sometimes it's hard to do that when you're as competitive as he and I are.

Q. Mark and Dale, since you're starting up front in the 150s, what's your modus operandi? Go all out? Protect your car?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I like the fact no matter what you do in that race, you're gonna start second, as long as you can bring the car back. So if you're sitting there with a decent shot at trying to make a move to the win, you can do it a lot easier without much risk. If it doesn't work out, you finish fifth or 10th, whatever, you haven't really lost anything as far as your starting position for the 500.

You can might go for a move at the end that may or may not pay off. So that's about it. Other than that, I mean, you know, you might want to try to do a little better job of taking care of your car the first half of that race.

I don't know. You can't really worry too much about that situation that you're in as far as, you know, being on the front row and being guaranteed. You just got to go out there and try to win.

MARK MARTIN: I've been here a lot of times. I've won an IROC race and a Bud Shootout, so that's all. So what do you think I'm going to be trying to do (smiling)? I'm going to be trying to win me a race. And the Thursday comes before Sunday, so I'm going to be trying to get Thursday first (smiling).

Q. Alan, what is your situation on cars? I assume you're using your backup for tonight. Will you be able to get another one down here? And, Rick, Junior said he thought his motor was better. Was that intentional? Did you give him your best one?

RICK HENDRICK: They're all good (smiling). That is true. I think there's six motors within one and a half horsepower of each other. I don't know that you can measure that, so...

ALAN GUSTAFSON Yeah, the car that we wrecked on Thursday night is getting painted right now. So it's fixed and it will be back here Wednesday at our disposal if we so need.

The car that Mark is going to drive tonight is actually a brand-new car. The way it turned out, you know, as you go through this process, you learn things. It very well may be our best car. There's some indications that make us feel that way. We'll see how it goes.

I told Mark today that those guys have worked really hard. We took that car back. They drove all night. They got it in at 4, stripped the motor out of it, they put a clip on it yesterday. The guys hung the body on it from yesterday afternoon till 5 in the morning. They're started working on it and they are going to paint it tonight. The point to Mark is they're not doing all that work to just kind of save a car. We're going to go out there and race hard tonight and try to go ahead to get a big Budweiser trophy. That's our goal.

Really proud of what we can accomplish when we put our minds to it, have that car fixed, be ready to be back here as a backup on Wednesday in case something goes wrong tonight is a great comfort. There's not a lot of companies that can handle that.

Q. Alan, all but about 15 today broke the pole speed from last year. Is that the bigger plate? ALAN GUSTAFSON The wicker is a pretty significant factor. It's an eighth smaller with the plate. The endplates they put on add some drag, so that would be a little bit of a deduction.

I think the big jump in speed we saw was the wind down the back. Over where we ran yesterday, we were running -- Dale ran a 7-0, we ran a 7-1, yesterday we were running in the O's and teens. Half of that is probably tune-up, half of that is wind condition. So that was a big contributor to the jump in the speed.

Q. Mark and Dale, the close proximity of your teammates, is the race too long to count on being able to hook up with teammates for partners or is it hit or miss towards the end? Can you count on it because you're all pretty much up near the front at the start?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The race is really long. You'll see just about everybody at some point in time in the field. If you're in a position to work with your teammates, you obviously do it. If they're in a side-by-side situation, you try to get up there and help 'em out of it. That's just kind of how you do it.

At the end of the race, though, you kind of got to do whatever you think you need to do to put yourself in position to win the race. That's kind of how you have to play it at the end because you definitely don't want to make the wrong move trying to save someone else's tail. That's not what you're in the race for. The last few laps, it upsets your team more than anything.

I've done that myself. I've lost some races, making the wrong move, trying to help somebody when I should have been trying to win the race for myself or win for my sponsors.

Q. Rick, the driver to your immediate right kind of beat himself up toward the end of last season. He seems to be more self-confident going into the season this year. What has helped turn Dale around this year?

RICK HENDRICK: He knows how hard we worked as an organization. We feel like we let him down last year. We tried, but we were just not getting it done. Again, I don't know anybody in that garage that would have taken on the task that Alan did with Lance. And the two of them, I told them today, I was as proud of them as if they had won a championship because they sat down and came up with a game plan and really went to work.

Everybody in the organization has been amazed at the amount of effort. Everybody is smiling in that group. They kind of made a commitment. I think when Junior sees that kind of commitment, he's been working hard. We had good opportunities towards the end of the year, and no matter how good we were running, something was going to happen. We all felt like we were snake bit. So it was really good to wipe the slate clean.

We're committed. I told him when he came over here, I was going to give him the best stuff I could. I think I tried, but I think we could do better, and we have.

And to have Mark, who is an engineer driver extraordinaire, I said this, and I'll say it again, he's helped the whole organization. I've always hated to come to Daytona when I had to race against Dale, he and his daddy, you know, because they're unbelievable at a plate race, anywhere they go.

I'm just really excited. We worked hard. I'm proud of the guys. But Alan and Lance and Mark and Dale deserve all the credit. We got a long road to go. To see Mark as fired up as he is, committed as he is, as good as he is, run second last year to Jimmie when Jimmie had almost a picture perfect year, we're excited about the season.

But, you know, nobody will ever know the amount of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that Alan and Lance have put into getting these cars down here and laying the groundwork for the week to come.

KERRY THARP: We'll take a couple more questions.

Q. Alan and Mark, as guys with Daytona ties, is this something you can kind of cross off your to-do list as far as something you wanted to get done or is it just another pole?

ALAN GUSTAFSON For me, it's a huge deal. Being a crew chief, this is a situation where you can really shine. You've got opportunity to put a well-engineered, fast car out there, run faster than anybody else for the biggest race of the year. If that wasn't enough, I grew up about five miles, and I could hear these cars in my backyard when I was six years old. So I came here for years and years, this place, the speed, the cars, watched the great crew chiefs do it, you know, from Dale Inman all the way through the list, Gary DeHart, Jack Knaus, Ray Evernham, take your pick. They've all done it. And now fortunately I've been fortunate enough to accomplish that feat.

Then when my hero is driving the car makes it that much sweeter. It's really cool for me. Side note: When you can get a record with Mark, Mark has enough records to have his own record book, but when you can get a new one with him, we've done it a few times since he drove his car, done something he's never done in his career, be on the pole for the Daytona 500, something he's never done, I'm really proud to be able to do something he's never done, because he's done an awful lot. That's really cool for me, too.

Q. Mark, just a couple years ago you were talking about pulling back, slowing down, enjoying other non-race aspects of your life. Now you're back having more fun than ever.

MARK MARTIN: I did that, though. Don't forget, I talked about it and did it.

Q. What did you find out you missed? Talk about the process of jumping back in full force.

MARK MARTIN: I was happy. I had conceded myself and my career to what I was doing. I was very fortunate to drive the 01, nearly win the Daytona 500, and to drive the 8 car, fast racecar, have a lot of fun, do it on my terms. And I wasn't really at the time missing anything.

But when I was presented the opportunity to drive the 5 car, and I had two near misses in the 8 car to winning, I almost won two different races in the 8 car. I had a chance to drive the 5 car, I knew more than anything else, I knew that I would regret for the rest of my life not taking that opportunity.

And, boy, was I right about that. And so, you know, I'm the luckiest guy around because it looks like I've done so many things right, but really I've just been lucky and stumbled around. I've just stumbled around. I have just stumbled around, fell in this 5 car, and it's the best thing that has ever happened to me, you know.

I'm so happy to be at the racetrack. There's no place in the world that I'd rather be. I've said that before. There's no place in the world I'd rather be.

KERRY THARP: Thank you, gentlemen. Good luck the remainder of SpeedWeeks.

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