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TALK ABOUT HOW YOU’RE FEELING HEADING INTO THE DAYTONA 500?
“We’re just trying to stick with our game plan. We still want to push forward; this Daytona 500 is what we came here for. The tokens that we have with the Shootout and the Gatorade are nice, but we’re here after the big ultimate prize. We’re just sticking with our game plan of going out there today and shake down the car to get the (Daytona) 500 motor up to temperature…transmission, gears, rear axle…just to make sure things were singing smoothly. And then we found that the brakes were rubbing a bit, so we had to take the brakes apart and just re-evaluate that tomorrow when we get back out on track and just take advantage of the time that we have. Today, if we hadn’t gone out, we would have found that problem tomorrow. We would have been in a big panic and Sunday morning would have been real iffy if we would have gotten the problem fixed. I’m glad things happen today and we got the bugs worked out. The week just seemed to be going too smooth. You know that something was going to jump up and bit us. So we got that scienced out. Teammates like (Brad) Keselowski out there… a guy like Ryan Newman and I have a great rapport. Right now there’s just communication going on between all the spotters, crew chiefs and all the drivers with how you can hook-up and stay hooked-up.”
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE DREADED “FAVORITE” ROLE FOR SUNDAY?
“I’m not worried about it. It’s just nice to get back out and practice today, get back into the swing of things and try to keep it as normal as possible. The normal part will be exciting when we fire up the engines and see Dale Jr. drop to the back and we’ll be leading the field to start the 53rd running of the ‘Great American Race’. I’ve got to put all those emotions aside and get into the groove of the 500-mile race. We’ll do that during Lap 1. I hope that Regan Smith and are tied-up together like we need to be and we lead Lap 1. We’ll just settle in after that.”
IF YOU’RE SECOND GOING INTO THE LAST LAP THIS TIME, DO YOU STAY THERE?
“Absolutely not. I think that everybody knows that if you’re the guy that’s pushing, you’re in the catbird seat. If you’re separated from the guys behind you, that’s the position to be in. You really want to be pushing. I really expect a green-white-checkered to happen and we’ll see how it all plays out. You’ve got your buddy that you’ve been with all day long. When you get to the end of the race, you never know who’s going to tie up, but everybody wants their best shot at victory and there’s no guarantee of anybody staying behind you. If Newman’s pushing me and I’m leading and he’s second coming off of Turn 4, I’ve got to expect that’s he’s going to pass me and win his second-career Daytona 500. It’s just the product of how this two-car draft is.”
ARE ALL THE CARS IN 500 TRIM OR ARE YOU AWARE THAT NASCAR MAY BE LOOKING AT SPEEDS AND MORE CHANGES MAY COME, SO NOBODY IS SHOWING WHAT THEY HAVE FOR THE 500?
“Everybody is set for 500 miles. It’s not sprint racing any more. On the other token, it’s just that you haven’t seen the two-car drafts in quantity. Nobody is really teamed-up, had the lead group ahead and chased them down; that’s when you see the big numbers. Just the lack of quantity of cars is going to keep the speed down.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE GOODYEAR HAS MADE THE PERFECT TIRE FOR YOU GUYS?
“They have to be commended for the job that they’ve done finding a tire that allows the cars to have the grip as well as maintain that free wheel-type movement. We tried a set of tires during a tire test that actually just locked down the inside lane. It was like it didn’t let the cars free-wheel enough, so you saw everybody in the high lane drafting like we see at Talladega. All of us in the garage area were like, ‘No, no, no. We can’t have that.’ So Rick Campbell, the guys at Goodyear, Stu (Grant) and the gang, yes, they deserve all the accolades for bringing such a great tire. It’s just unique that we really don’t have to change it all that often. It’s so good; we don’t have to change it. It’s a weird feeling to have. Once we settle into next week’s race in Phoenix, that track is really old, it chews up tires. You change tires quite often. Then you’ll settle into the regular season…Vegas, Bristol, Martinsville and so on.”
DID YOU WATCH YESTERDAY’S SECOND DUEL RACE? WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS?
“You always see one Duel more exciting than another. It’s tough to duplicate even though you’re calling it a “duel”. You’re splitting up all the top teams in points from the order they finish in the previous year. I watched the race and definitely was very tuned into who was drafting with who; how they were doing it; who was switching more often than actually trying to breath the radiator. There’s all types of scenarios. I just can’t wait for the race to start, to get settled in and make it the best run of our life on Sunday with our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge.”
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