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They’re Talking Racin’ At Speedweeks Media Day

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 10 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. faced the media at Daytona on Thursdady. He says not winning is not fun and he talked about plans to put Danica Patrick in a Cup car. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Today, Thursday, Feb. 10, is media day for Speedweeks. All of the top drivers in NASCAR are being paraded into a big tent at Daytona International Speedway to stand before microphones and notebooks.

Some of the words coming out of their mouths are witty, pithy, informative and entertaining. Some words, well, not so much.

Here are some that we feel fall into the former category. The interviews started at 8 a.m. Eastern and will continue until early evening. This story will be updated with driver quotes throughout the day.

Any news that breaks today will also be included.

Currently, this story includes – Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks about his mood and Danica Patrick’s future; Jimmie Johnson on more crew changes on team; Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks about frustration: Greg Biffle on sustaining momentum and catching the 48; Jamie McMurray talks Ganassi vs. Roush; Brad Keselowski on last year and NASCAR rules change; Trevor Bayne’s thoughts on his year; Robby Gordon’s plans for 2011; Robby Gordon to used Dodges in 2011.

Questions for Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: Are you at the point that enough is enough; you need to run better? You said your mood correlates with your performance. Have you been in a three-year bad mood?

Earnhardt Jr.: Well, yeah, I guess so. I mean, you could say that. That’s a good way to put it. I mean,

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and former crew chief Lance McGrew. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

I’ve tried to be as nice as I can to everybody, but it’s not been at all pleasant.

“I take full responsibility for how I’ve ran. I don’t put that on anyone else. One of the worst parts about it is, running bad, it affects not only you, it affects your crew chief, your relationship with your team. I had an awesome relationship with the guys that I worked with last year. I have a good friendship with Lance. But you hate that those people are directly affected by how your performance is, especially mine. The fans take a lot of wear and tear going through stuff like that.

“You wish that it was just all on you and that you were the only one affected by it, but you’re not. So starting with a new team, I just want to be able to run well, not have those guys go through that same experience that Lance and the team that I was working with the past couple years went through.

“But, yeah, I mean, running bad puts anyone in a bad mood. I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else. Of course, you want to turn it around as soon as you can. I think it’s just the same for me as it is for all drivers. ‘Enough is enough’ was last year. I mean, I’m ready to get going and get to the racetrack and see if we can turn things around.”

Question: Have you doubted yourself?

Earnhardt Jr.: I don’t really doubt myself. I never, ever put the responsibility on anybody else. I never doubted Lance or my team ’cause I think Lance and Mark are going to run great. I think that Mark is going to give that team what they need to get to where they want to be and be competitive like they want to be. I don’t doubt that at all.

But I don’t know. I never doubted myself. I know what I’ve accomplished in the past. I know what I’ve been able to do. I know what I can do. Things changed. Something about how I’m working with the COT and how I’m working as a driver hasn’t been productive, and we got to figure out what that means, why that’s the case.”

Question: Danica talks about she likes her association with Hendrick and all that. Next year she has to make a decision what happens with her. Are you in a position, you want to make a decision here soon whether to keep association with her and move on up to Cup?

Earnhardt Jr: “I feel like we’re in a position to make that decision at all times. We know, OK, this is our best position. As a company, we were hustling last year at this point, just like everybody else, trying to work with the environment economically. This year we’re in a much better situation, just like everybody else seems to be. It’s resetting itself.

But, you know, that’s definitely something that, if we’re given that opportunity to consider it, we’ll definitely consider that. I mean, it’s way too soon and I don’t really want to be hypothetical about it. But we always look at all our options. That’s how we started this JR Motorsports in the first place. But sort of going into a situation like that, we’ll just have to see how it works out.

I mean, she’s a lot of fun to be around. She brings a new energy to our company. I enjoyed last year a lot and enjoy and look forward to working with her this year, see how much she learns. I think she came a really long way for the races she ran and how spotty the season was. She did pretty good. Especially near the end, she really picked it up in a lot of places, became competitive in a few races.

That’s all we want to see, is her to keep getting better. If we can keep working with her, it would be great. But our company right now as we sit, Joey is giving the opportunity to people like her, Brad Keselowski and Eric, seeing what they do with it. They eventually move on to do bigger things on the Cup side. That’s where we are as a company right now. If we give them the opportunity with the right deal, we’d have to consider.”

Questions for Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: Talk about changes to your team:

Johnson: “Our over-the-wall crew is going to be much different. We’re still trying to sort everything

Jimmie Johnson, seen here accepting his fifth Sprint Cup championship trophy in Homestead last November, was the first to stop up to the microphone on Wednesday at Media Day. (File photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

out on that side. We’re in a very fortunate situation where we are making big changes. A very young crop of guys coming along and a situation where guys are earning their way on to the team and competing for. We’ve had a series of competitions and tests to see who is the fastest. That’s one aspect. Who can withstand the pressure. We had all four cars at Charlotte doing live pit stops to see. We put a lot of pressure on them to see if somebody was better. So we’re still in the process, Chad may have made some decisions. I was there at that test with those guys last week and I haven’t heard the final roster. From that what I saw a very, very strong first and second string of guys. That’s our plan, to make sure we have depth and if someone is hurt or having a bad day we can make changes and not lose anything on pit road.”

Question: Do the pit crew changes concern you given what happened at Texas the end of the year, or was this something you think needed to happen?

Johnson: “At the end of the year we were in a position we didn’t want to be in. It certainly wasn’t typical for the No. 48 team or Hendrick teams to swap crews around. We knew before that that we needed to make some changes during the off-season and truthfully every off-season we go through and try to make sure we have the best people on the roster. This year was different, we changed more positions. Now we’re down to six guys over the wall with the rule on the catch can side of things, so I would say five of the six guys over the wall this coming year are new to us. They have the potential to have that on pit road. So it is a variable. We may have some bumps in the road early but I think you will see, it will be a much different look with our guys. You’re gonna see some real athletes. These guys are the real deal – young, athletic, all have sports backgrounds and we feel that will help from a physical standpoint – quickness, hand-eye coordination standpoint and also from a pressure standpoint where they played important games in the past and they know how deal with those pressures.”

Question: Would you say that drivers this year are gunning for you more than in the past?

Johnson:  “Especially being in the morning group I haven’t heard all the stuff yet, so in a few more hours I’ll know what everybody has said. Without a doubt to help answer your question, everybody is tired of us winning. That’s just how it is. I had a lot of fun at the end of the year with Harvick being as vocal as he was. I also had some fun messing with Denny (Hamlin). There was a lot of good things taking place and I think you will see that again this year. I can say that we saw a very good points battle last year and that didn’t include the Roush guys and the way they ran at the end of the season, the Childress, Hendrick, Gibbs group separated itself, you’re gonna have Roush back now. So we’re going to have one more quality group of drivers in there mixing it up. I think it’s going to be a very good year. We can all sit here and get fired up and get quotes to start the season but I’d say come Vegas or maybe after Vegas, I think before five races in whatever that 1.5-mile track is, we can start passing out report cards to see who did what over the off-season.”

Questions for Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet: Just for clarification, I asked Ryan (Newman) about his contract, if he was a free agent at the end of this year. He said, Ask Tony.

Stewart: “I don’t know, ask Ryan. We both have copies of his contract. We’re both happy doing what

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

we’re doing. That’s part of being a car owner that I haven’t had to worry about yet. Apparently now you guys are going to force me into thinking about it.”

Question: I’m curious about after this year.

Stewart: “I’d have to get the contract out and look at it.”

Question: He said when you take him to Burger King, he knows it will be time to talk about it.

Stewart: “We go to Burger King all the time and don’t talk about it. We go do things a lot of times and don’t talk about anything till you guys bring it up.”

Question: He said next time when it’s a Burger King meal, he’ll know.

Stewart: “If I make him buy when it’s Burger King, he’ll know something is up. I don’t let him buy when we go there. I mean, that’s why I always buy. Burger King buy. You don’t get a King Card and don’t use it. That’s the best thing about having it. But I’m not giving him my King Card. I’m not negotiating that. That’s mine. My name stamped in it.”

Questions for Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: How confident are you that your organization can start 2011 the way you finished 2010?

Biffle: “I’m real confident. For some reason, we do very well at the beginning of the year. Last year, we

Crew chief Greg Erwin, left, and his driver, Greg Biffle will be hunting down Jimmie this year. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

had six or seven top 10s in a row and our cars were terrible. To be perfectly honest with you. Our simulation wasn’t good, Jack has talked about that. In the middle of the year we finally flipped over a new leaf and from Chicago on it was a different season. If you look at our season pre-Chicago and post-Chicago, it’s remarkable. That’s the way we finished the season. We went home, did some homework, made our cars better and lighter and we’re coming back to the game. I think we’re gonna be pretty damn good, considering we’re pretty good the first half of the year anyway. I think it’s gonna be good. I don’t see why our team won’t win four races this season – the 16 team. We won two last year, had Texas won and the shifter broke, and we were right there on a handful of other, so it wouldn’t be out of the question for us to win two to four races, I don’t think.”

Question: Do you feel you are putting pressue on Hendrick and this will be a more competitive year overall?

Biffle: “Yeah, and basically what we’re doing is we’re putting pressure on Hendrick because they’ve been the leader. What Childress did last year and us coming up with four wins, I’m thinking we’re gonna start even better this season, and Gibbs is always right there. Yeah, it’s four tough teams and there are other two-car teams – Stewart Haas – that we’re not talking about. Ryan and Tony, just because they’re not a four-car team, we kind of left them out of the mix. They’re right there.”

Question: Hendrick still seems to hoist the trophy at the end of the year.

Biffle: “Last year it didn’t look easy for them. It was a little touch-and-go there, and as we continue to close in on that, I really think that it’s gonna get tougher.”

Question: Did they show signs of vulnerability?

Biffle:  “They showed signs, but they were able to pull it together, that’s obvious, but in my opinion they showed signs. They can’t get their car to go very good. They didn’t qualify well. Look at all those races, they were qualifying not where they normally qualify. It wasn’t all rosy. They were able to work through them because that’s a four-time, five-time championship-caliber team, but there were signs of the wheels coming off that thing.”

Questions for Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: Do you feel forgotten sometimes?

Bowyer: “There’s a reason for it. I don’t win enough races. And I know that.”

Clint Bowyer says he just needs to win more races. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Question: You won two last year.

Bowyer: “It ain’t enough, obviously. You forgot about it. I know that. That’s what I’m focused on. I got to win more races to be a bigger part of this sport, be a factor when the time is right. I think there’s a lot of things that are getting better: our communication, our team being together for three years in a row. That’s something that we can benefit from and use to our advantage.

That penalty, being without Shane for four weeks, having Scott Miller, opened my eyes to things that Shane and I needed to get better at. We need to listen, pay attention to what’s going on here. I’ve already opened my eyes. I want you to experience the same thing.

We kind of turned a negative into a positive there, put together three or four races there at the end that were pretty style. If we can compete all year long like we do in that Chase, you know, that’s what we got to do, what we got to focus on. If we do that, people don’t forget about you.”

Q. How about the (short track race this week) at Volusia?

Bowyer: “Yeah, I won. I love racing over there. It’s always hard because, again, it’s a distraction. But it will wear you out. It’s seven nights in a row. Something I always look forward to. Grandkids are racing there. Austin won the first night. We won the second night. Just enjoy it. Enjoy the time together. Schrader and Wallace come over afterwards to remind you of the old days.

They were making fun of me because I had my fire suit on. I don’t know, that’s one thing, it’s a habit. I’m most comfortable in my fire suit. If you ever see me after the race, even around here, I’ve been that way since I started racing. I’ll hang around, have a beer afterwards, I’m still in my fire suit. Everybody is like, Going racing again? What are you doing? I don’t know, I didn’t realize I still had it on. They were all making fun of me about that.”

Question. How do you feel about going into this year with the addition of the fourth team?

Bowyer: “We’re ready this time. Without a shadow of a doubt, I can tell you that is not a distraction. I think that’s going to be a definite asset, positive for us. It’s something that we can all benefit from. I think we all can benefit from having three solid teams. We can benefit from him.

Paul really came into his own last year. I feel like this is going to be his breakout season. I know the equipment he’s going to be in. He has a great team underneath of him. They’re going to be an asset for us and help us out every bit as much as we’re going to help them.”

Question to Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevorlet: Looking at the season as a whole with the success you had, the lackluster problems you had with Roush, did last year vindicate you in your own mind that you still could win?

McMurray: “Well, I think that any driver would be lying if they told you that they had not ever doubted

Jamie McMurray found happiness and success with Chip Ganassi in 2010. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

their ability. I think that’s true for any athlete. If you go through unsuccessful years, you begin to wonder, you know, Has it changed so much now that this just isn’t for me?

But I think really for me, last year, I don’t know that it validated that I can do it as much as I think it shows that when you get in the right situation, when you make it to this level, that there are 35 guys that, if given the right situation and the right car on the right day, they can win. I mean, in order to make it to the level, you’ve got to be really good. I won’t say everyone, but the majority that are in Sprint Cup are really talented drivers.

It’s about getting with the right crew chief, the right owner, the right cars, the setups. The setups we run now are so much different than what we ran four or five years ago, you have to hope that that suits what you like.

I think what they did for me last year, and what wasn’t done at Roush, is that they built the cars around the driver. You know, Juan, if I had to run the cars that Juan is running, not the cars, but the setups, I would have ran very similar to how I did at Roush. But they didn’t make me do that. It was about, We’re going to develop what’s good for you, and it made a big difference.”

Question:  A lot of cookie cutter setups they had at Roush when you were there?

McMurray: “No. The thing at Roush is that you’d get crucified if you got too far out of the box, the setup, you know. And it just doesn’t work for everybody. I remember in ’08 when Carl had won like nine races or eight races, it was whatever they run is what you need to make work. If he can make it work, then everybody needs to make it work.

It just wasn’t the case. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Questions to Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge: Your teammate, Kurt Busch, had competitive cars last year. Where did your cars sturggle?

Keselowski: “There were just a lot of different things going on. A lot of differences in approach. A lot

Brad Keselowski talked about faster cars. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

of differences in the way that the cars were put together. We’ve got to get that figured out. Basically, Kurt’s team is a really good team that’s well established and done a lot of good things. Obviously, he’s a good driver and deserves some of the credit as well, whether that’s from his feedback or just pure skill. I always try to keep that in mind. I thought that there were times where we were better than he was. When we were better than he was, he was a 30th-place car and we were a 20th-place car. When he was better than we were, he was a top-five car and we were a 20th-place car. The highs and lows were pretty drastic on both sides, his especially. You try and keep that in perspective and think about what we can do to be better. I think that Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and his approach to making the cars better will pay off and, in the end, help Kurt as long as Paul can do so.”

Question: Do you agree with NASCAR’s decision to not allow drivers to run for more than one championship?

Keselowski:  “I think that it’s the right decision for the sport. At some point, we all have a role in looking out for the sport. At what level is debatable. That was the right role for the sport, in particular the series, to do what it needs. It needs more young drivers. Quite honestly, it’s to my benefit. The way that I’m going to get better in this sport is for other young driver to come up and for me to be more of a senior person who has the experience. You can look at it positively, or negatively. In the long term, I think it’s good.”

Questions to Trevor Bayne, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford: How good can you guys be on the Cup side?

Bayne:  “I want to be realistic, but I’m also an optimist, so I’m gonna say that we’re gonna be really

Trevor Bayne says he's ready for Cup. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

competitive. I think setting those high expectations will make us perform better. I think we have all the equipment. We have the support from Ford Racing. They’ve really stepped up their game this year. They sat us all down and said, ‘Hey, what is it gonna take to win races and championships?’ Just to see that kind of support from a manufacturer is huge. To know Roush Fenway is behind me as a driver on the Nationwide side and anything I need is gonna really help me to move forward. The Wood Brothers, they’ve poured their heart and soul into this. You can see a lot of excitement going on and they said they haven’t felt this excited going to Daytona in a long time, so to hear that it gives me a little boost to see the confidence they already have in me after one race. Hopefully, we can just build on that, but I think we can be competitively a top 15 team. I don’t know that because we haven’t been on the track yet, but given our run last year, if it’s anything like Texas, then there’s no doubt in my mind that we can be a top 15 team every week.”

Question: Jeff Gordon said racing took him away from a lot. Do you miss anything during your teen days that you regret?

Bayne: “My birthday is on the 19th and is on the day of the Nationwide race and I’ll be 20, so my teen years are kind of over now and I definitely see what Jeff is saying. It takes a lot of sacrifice, but that’s why only a few get to do this every weekend. It’s missing birthday parties when you’re five years old to go to the go kart track, but looking at it now, there’s nothing I would rather do than be sitting here ready to run the 500. I don’t count it as a loss for having to do those kind of things. At the time, it may seem like the end of the world when I hang out with friends, but this has been my dream, so to stay focused and stay driven, I think it’s good for kids to have these kind of goals. Some of the activities they do participate in they shouldn’t be, so I think it’s good to have these kind of goals and get there.”

Question to Robby Gordon, driver of the No. 7 Robby Gordon Racing Dodge: What are your Sprint Cup plans for 2011?

Gordon: “It’s an interesting question. Last year Jamie McMurray started off a little uncertain on how

Robby Gordon gets a Dodge. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

their program was going to be. It’s just amazing how a good result at Daytona can change your season one way of another. Right now, I’m gonna say that we’re good for 18 NASCAR events. There are other things that I want to do. It’s not that I don’t want to race. There’s other event that I’d like to do. With my specialized situation that happened with SPEED, that put us back about 60 days. That probably jacked our Indy 500 program. We’re really starting to gain some momentum. We’re (SPEED Energy) selling product and that’s a good thing. We’re gaining more distribution on a daily basis and we’re kind of controlling our own destiny. Our program is different with sponsors than it was before. We’re really not selling sponsors, we’re selling, ‘Hey, the spots next to Red Bull and Monster. Those are the spots that I want on your shelf and I’ll give you Daytona.’ So we’ve been able to do deals with GNC. We’ve done deals with Basha’s. We’ve signed up multiple, multiple Budweiser distribution deals. Our product is just starting to roll again. We control our own destiny. I am the driver. I am the owner, kind of the sponsor, except for our sponsorship with Dodge. We can be as creative as we want to do.”

Robby Gordon announced today that he will be driving a Dodge Charger during the 2011 season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In response to the partnership with Robby Gordon Motorsports, Dodge President & CEO Ralph Gilles issued the following statement:

“We’re excited Robby will be joining the Dodge Motorsports program in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2011. We like the competitive flair and skill he brings to the track. Robby’s driving style mirrors the performance attitude of the rejuvenated Dodge brand, so he’s a welcome addition to our team.

“We believe you don’t need a certain number of cars to be successful in racing. The key is having the right combination of teams, drivers and technology. We already have a strong foundation with Penske Racing and the Dodge engineering team can easily support another Sprint Cup Series team. Our technical support will be a valuable asset for Robby Gordon Motorsports.”

Gordon said,  “I’m excited to be associated with a manufacturer again. I like the things that Dodge has been doing to build brand awareness. They have an impressive factory and facility, and their product line is top notch. I’ve really enjoyed putting this deal together with Ralph Gilles and Bryan Viger; they are a fun, youthful, forward-thinking group. I’ve worked with Dodge in the past and have always had a great relationship with Dodge corporate.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 10 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Thank you for Woods Bros -Bayne up date…….sometimes it is hard to get news on them. I know how hard you try to do that and it is appreciated….and yes I AM EXCITED for rhe #21….