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July 6, 2014
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP:Â We're going to go ahead and hear from our race winner of today's 56th annual Coke Zero 400, and getting his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and getting a victory sticker on his name tag there on his car, getting ready for now for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Aric Almirola joins us.Â He drives the No.43 United States Air Force Ford for Petty Motorsports.Â Congratulations to you, Aric, crew chief Trent Owens, competition director Sammy Johns, and I believe we have The King on the line.Â What a day, 30th anniversary of The King's 200th historic win here at Daytona, and believe it or not, you're the 43rd driver to drive the No.43 car.
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â No way.
KERRY THARP:Â Yes, you are.Â And certainly the 43 car is, if not the most famous, one of the most famous cars in NASCAR.Â Let's hear from our race winner Aric Almirola.Â Got to victory lane, you're going to be in that Chase, and just your thoughts about everything right now.
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Yeah, it's obviously really special.Â I've told everybody outside and I'll say it again, but I couldn't have dreamed of a better place to get my first win.Â I said it last week, I went to Tampa to do a lot of pre‑event media for Daytona, and I said, man, of all the places I could pick to win, I would pick Daytona because I grew up two hours away.Â I've sat in these grandstands and watched the Daytona 500.Â I've watched the Firecracker 400s.Â Me and my family have loaded up every Christmas night after we'd eat Christmas dinner and we'd drive over here and get ready for Kart Week from the time I was eight years old until I was probably 16 years old.Â I'd race right outside this racetrack at the municipal stadium go‑kart racing and would always come over here and check out the big racetrack.Â That's what everybody always talked about, and as a young kid, coming over here and watching, just dreamed about what it would be like to have a chance to race at the highest level at this racetrack.
Not only have I done that, I've went to victory lane, and all the history behind the car and the race car and stuff, you know, I'm very appreciative of that and very cool‑‑ I think it's very cool that we won on this weekend.Â It's 30 years to the weekend that The King won his 200th race with the President here.Â That's really special.
But I'm a little bit selfish and I'm more worried about the fact that I've won my first Cup race.Â It's just so cool, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity that Richard and our owners have given us at Richard Petty Motorsports to go out and to try and be successful, and our sponsors have really stepped up in a big way, and it's just really gratifying to be able to give back to U.S. Air Force and Smithfield Foods and all the sponsors that took a chance on us and on our race team, on me as the driver, and to now be able to get them to victory lane, to be in the Chase and to be able to go race for a championship, it is really special, and our race team deserves that.
We've got a lot of guys that show up to work every morning at 6:00 and give their heart and soul to build the best race cars they can.Â I'm so excited for those guys just as much as I am excited for myself.
KERRY THARP:Â King, are you on the line?
RICHARD PETTY:Â Here, baby.
KERRY THARP:Â Congratulations.Â What a day.Â Just your thoughts now, obviously 30 years ago it was a big day, too, but fast forward to the present and just talk about this win here today for the 43 car, Aric Almirola and the whole Petty organization.
RICHARD PETTY:Â Well, 30 years ago is history, okay, and today is future.Â Today is today.Â So to be able to win the race down there, win it for the Air Force, 4th of July, you know, the whole thing is just great.
I just feel so good for the crew.Â They've been working‑‑ they're like everybody else, they work hard.Â They've done this deal.Â We've had so many disappointments, and finally it rained on us, but it rained on us at the right time, okay.Â Overall it was just a great day for us.
And then we had Marcos get two or three wrecks, and he got in a wreck or two and still wound up 10th.Â Richard Petty Motorsports had a pretty good day.
KERRY THARP:Â Let's hear from crew chief Trent Owens.Â Certainly Trent, your stomach must have been in knots out there most of the afternoon.Â Just talk about all the emotion that goes through on a day like today when you kind of throw caution to the wind I guess at some points in time during the race, and obviously now you've qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.Â Has it all sunk in yet?
TRENT OWENS:Â Not really.Â No, it was a pretty fortunate race for us.Â We got shuffled back at the start of the race and was at the tail end of the large wreck there, and we were leading when the other wreck happened, I think.
Put us in position.Â The pit crew did a really good job on pit road.Â They really kept us in the track position that we needed, and Aric did a did job keeping those guys behind him because I'm sure with the rain looking over the turns that people were trying to make their moves, so he did a really good job blocking those guys.
Yeah, it hasn't sunk in, but it's just cool to be working at this level as a crew chief.Â There's not a lot of people that get to say that, and to be on the 43 car, to be in victory lane here in Daytona in July, it's really special, and I enjoy working with Aric.Â It's going good, and we're going to try to build some momentum for this Chase thing.
KERRY THARP:Â Sammy Johns, congratulations to you.Â I see you week in and week out at the racetrack.Â I know how hard y'all work, and it's just got to be something that you look back and say, wow, did this really happen.Â Congratulations.Â Talk about it.
SAMMY JOHNS:Â Appreciate it.Â I have to pinch myself, but happy birthday, Richard.
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Oh, yeah, happy birthday.
SAMMY JOHNS:Â Working hard.Â Everybody back at the shop, I can't say enough for everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports.Â They've worked so hard to get here to this point.Â Worked really hard to get Trent Owens to come over to this race team over the winter and I told him that I thought Aric Almirola could win races, and they've been running so good and haven't had a lot to show for it.Â We've had a lot of bad luck.Â Kentucky we were running really well and we got in a crash there of somebody else's making and just haven't had luck go our way, but it shined on us today, and just really proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports that have been working extremely hard.
Q.Â Aric, you alluded to this, but this is big for you on so many different levels but also getting that win and into the Chase.Â Could you talk about how huge this is in terms of the Chase, as well?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Yeah, it is, and I've been asked a lot through a lot of different media and stuff throughout the year, everybody asks, well, what's your thoughts on the new Chase format, and I've said from the very beginning that I thought that it's a really good thing because it gives four more teams an opportunity to go race for a championship.Â It gives four more teams' sponsors more exposure, and now we're going to be a part of that.Â Our sponsors, U.S. Air Force and Smithfield Foods and all the brands that they have and STP and GoBowling.com, all those people put in a lot of money to sponsor our race car, and so now to have the opportunity not only to take them to victory lane but to be able to go and race for a championship and get that added exposure because everybody knows that sits in here, if you're not in the Chase during those 10 weeks, you don't even get talked about unless you're winning a race.
It is really cool to be able to give back to those people because they were the ones that took a chance on me, took a chance on our race team, and put up a lot of money to take a chance on us being successful.
I'll let Trent talk about what he's going to do to gear up for the Chase.Â I just get in and drive, and I've been really fortunate to be able to drive his race cars.Â Like Sammy said, we did a lot of persuading to get him to come over to our race team, and it's really been a lot of fun.Â We've had really good cars.Â We've had our weeks where we've not been that great, but for the majority of it, I feel like we have done the best job that we can do, and we've made the most of what we have to work with.Â And that's what I'm most proud of.
We were just talking in victory lane, we've been fretting over the fact that, man, if we wouldn't have wrecked here and if we wouldn't have wrecked here and if we wouldn't have wrecked here and we wouldn't have had this happen, we'd probably be like 11th or 12th in points.Â Well, you can't go back and you can't fix that, but this fixes everything.
Q.Â Where specifically were you when you found out you won and can you take us through the last 15 or 20 minutes before they called it?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Yeah, I was doing a lot of hard‑core praying, hoping that the good Lord would just open the skies up and let it rain because if we would have went back racing, I still think that we had a good enough car to have a shot to go up there.Â I don't think this was handed to us by any means, so let me be very clear on that.Â I felt like we had a good car.Â We had a really good car down here in February and didn't make the most of it.Â We got caught up in a big wreck.Â We came back down here and had another good car, and those last two restarts, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon and Brian Vickers and all those guys, they didn't just let me go.Â They saw the rain coming, too, and we were all racing for it, and we just had a really fast car.
Our Ford Fusion was fast.Â Doug Yates, everybody at Roush Yates does a really good job of giving us awesome horsepower, and we were able to stay up front.Â And Trent did a great job with his strategy.Â We took fuel only and two tires, and I think our left side tires had close to 100 laps on them.
That was a really good job on his part to keep us up front and keep us with that track position to stay away from the big wreck and then not only that but to have a good enough car to stay up front when it counted.
Q.Â Where were you, on pit road?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â I was on the pit box because at first I sat down by my car, and I was kind of lonely down there to be honest with you because it was just me and my PR person Heather, not that Heather is not good company, but I wanted to be next to my guys just in case it did get called.Â I wanted to be near them to celebrate with them, and then I wanted to be over at our pit box so I could watch the weather radar.Â I wanted to see what was going on, if there were storms building behind it or not.Â So I walked down pit road which we were down towards stall 43 or whatever, and we were parked down near stall 1, so I had a long walk down pit road and I sat up there on the pit box and just waited like everybody else, like all the fans, like all you guys, just waited to see if it was going to clear out and we were going to go back racing or if it was going to rain and they were going to call it.Â I just sat there with a lot of anticipation and me and Trent were really hoping that it would rain so we could just hurry up and go to victory lane.
Q.Â Aric, you were like four months old when that 1984 race happened.Â I was curious, do you have any idea like when you first learned about kind of the history of that 200th win of Richard's?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Well, you know, as I got more involved in the sport and then obviously once I got the opportunity to come drive the 43, you know, obviously you learn a lot more.Â You get to listen to RP and Dale Inman and those guys tell stories, so the learning curve is very steep when you sit around those guys because they have lots of stories, let me tell you.
So you learn about all that history.
But I knew obviously growing up as a kid, everybody knows who Richard Petty is.Â Everybody knows who The King is.Â I was eight years old when he ran his last rate in Atlanta in 1992, and I vividly remember sitting on the couch watching that race at Atlanta and watching him run his last race and watching the reception that he got from the fans and the crowd and thinking how cool that was and how much he was going to be missed by the sport.
But he didn't give it up.Â From 1992 until today, he still comes to the racetrack pretty much every weekend.Â He was here this weekend and decided to go home, so I hate it that you're not here, Boss, but it's really cool to know all that history and to realize that the 43 car is without a doubt the most famous car in our sport's history.Â And to have that opportunity to drive that race car has been really special from the day that I stepped foot in it.
All I wanted to do from the very first time I drove it was get it to victory lane.Â It took two and a half years, I guess, but I finally did it.
Q.Â Were you born at MacDill?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â No, Eglin Air Force Base up near Panama City.
Q.Â You said you grew up in these grandstands watching the 400 and 500.Â What was the first race you remember coming to here?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â The first race that I vividly remember coming to, I sat in the grandstands and watched the yellow Kodak No.4 car.Â I don't even know who was driving it at the time, but I watched him go around the racetrack 20 car lengths in front of everybody else, and I remember his car sounded different than everybody else.Â It was Sterling?Â And I think it was the Firecracker 400 I came that year.Â I have no idea what year it was.Â But I remember watching that race, and I sat in the grandstands off of Turn 4 with my family, and I remember thinking to myself, not only was this cool, but how could that car be so much faster than all those other cars, so that was my first trip here to watch a stock car race.
And then we came several other times after that for the Daytona 500 and for the Firecracker 400.Â But that was the first race I ever came to and sat in the grandstands, and I do remember it very well.
But more importantly, or more that sticks out in my mind is all the times that I came down here the night after Christmas or the night of Christmas and we would drive our truck and trailer over to the LPGA municipal stadium to go‑kart race at the go‑kart track there, and we would come over here because the go‑karts were racing the road courses and stuff here, and we would come over here and check out the go‑karts that were racing the road course races during the day, and I would just look around and look at how big and massive this place is and just could envision the excitement and the hype and stuff of what it would be like to be a driver with all hundreds of thousands of fans sitting in the grandstands and stuff.
So I would always kind of dream about that and think about what it would be like to have that opportunity, and then not only do I have that opportunity now, but I've gotten to go to victory lane in front of all those people.Â It's been a really, really cool path that I've taken to get to here, and to get my first win at Daytona is unbelievably special.Â You guys, words don't even describe it.Â You guys don't even know.
Q.Â Trent, can you elaborate what this win means to you and your connection with the Petty family and coming over to the team during the off‑season?
TRENT OWENS:Â Yeah, any Sprint Cup win is huge.Â Like I talked about before, just to be in this garage working is an accomplishment and something you work very hard to try to get an opportunity at.Â I'm very thankful for the opportunity I've been given on the 43 car.Â Obviously being a family member, it's a number that I grew up with.Â I grew up watching.Â The King provided me work during the summers when I was in high school to learn the ins and outs of racing.Â Me and Dale followed it quite a bit, so that was good.
It feels like home to come back.Â It was a very comforting transition from Nationwide to Sprint Cup with the 43 car, and these guys did a really good job of through the interview process and making sure I made the right decision, and I feel like I have, and I'm enjoying it, and this win will be hard to top probably ever to be honest with you.
Q.Â This is for Richard Petty.Â Richard, you just said a while ago that today is future, and the future probably looks brighter for the 43 than in a long time.Â My question is were there times that you wondered if the 43 would ever be in victory lane again, and if so, then when did your hope start to come back that you could win again?
RICHARD PETTY:Â Well, you know, you've been around me long enough to know that I don't never give up on anything, and like I said, might have been 30 years.Â It was what, '99?Â If you look back at the history and Petty Enterprises, all the turmoil we've been through in the last seven, eight years and all that stuff, I never give up on the thing.Â So it was one of those deals that I said, okay, if I keep working at it long enough, we're going to be able to overcome all this.
Just winning one race doesn't overcome it.Â Don't get me wrong.Â But it puts you in a higher speed track, and you know you can do it.Â It proves that we can do it, the drivers know we can do it, and I think it's just going to make it that much easier to go from here‑‑ everybody has got to have a start, and I think this will get us started pretty good.
Q.Â Aric, could you just talk about your personal feelings with this victory as a driver in this series because a lot of people that follow this series may really only remember you as being the guy who got a win in the Nationwide but you got pulled out for Denny Hamlin.
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Yep, I didn't get pulled out today.
RICHARD PETTY:Â I wasn't there.
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Yeah.Â It really is‑‑ now I want to go‑‑ can I run some Nationwide races so I can try and win a Nationwide race?Â I'd love to be able to have that opportunity to say that I've won in all three of NASCAR's three top series because I've won a few truck races.Â It's just really surreal to be able to not only make it to this level.Â I think about this often, actually.Â There's one of 43 guys that get to do what I do on Sundays and race at this level, and I feel very, very blessed and lucky to have this opportunity to race at this level, and not only race at this level but really compete.
We have our off weekends, don't get me wrong, but for the large majority of the races, we run in the top 15 on a regular basis, and I think that that is a very respectable feat.Â Obviously we're not Jimmie Johnson; we don't win every week and run up front every week.Â But I think that what we are accomplishing and what we are doing is extremely respectable, and so I feel really good about myself as a driver.Â I feel like I'm the best race car driver I've ever been today, and I feel like I continue to get better every week, and having Trent Owens work on these race cars and the group of guys that we have, they bring me the best race car they can bring me to the racetrack every single weekend.
Sammy touched on it, but like last weekend we went to Kentucky and we weren't that happy with our car in practice, and we weren't that happy with our car after qualifying, and Trent made some changes for the race, and we went up and ran in the top 10, and we were running seventh when we wrecked.Â Michigan we had a good car and we got involved in a wreck.Â One that sticks out in my mind is Dover.Â We were really miserable, like we were absolutely miserable through practice and through qualifying, and Trent made a lot of adjustments to the car for the race, and we went up and ran inside the top 10 most of the day.
So I've just been extremely proud of this race team and really‑‑ I realize how fortunate I am to do what I do at this level and to realize that not only am I one of 43, but I kind of feel like I'm one of 15 or 20 every weekend, so that's a good feeling.
Q.Â Richard, what were you doing during the race?Â Did you just watch it on your couch with some potato chips, and what did you do when you won?Â Did you do any cartwheels or anything like that?
RICHARD PETTY:Â No, not really.Â I'm sitting here reading the paper, reading the funny papers, and watching the race, and then they'd stop a while, then they'd run a while, and I said, I guess I'm glad I'm not there.Â But I get so aggravated with the way the restrictor plate race is run, and then it rained, and then I was hoping it rained some more, and sure enough, it did.Â We're getting ready to go out and celebrate.Â I've got all the family here, so that's a big part of it all.Â We just left down there this morning.Â Sun was shining, everything was pretty, we sent the rain down there.
Q.Â Aric, the lap that you passed Kurt, can you describe that lap?Â Just take us through that lap, and was there a lot of chatter between you and Trent on the radio?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Not really.Â I could see it for myself.Â He didn't have to tell me what the radar said.Â I could see how dark it was getting on the back stretch and in Turn 3.Â So I knew that the rain was close, and I knew we were past halfway, and I knew that it was time to go.Â Trent had got me in position to be up front.Â Our pit crew did a great job on our green flag pit stop to get us out in second behind Kurt, and so when we took off on that restart that we had for debris or whatever, I just made sure that I side drafted the heck out of him and stayed right on his door so he couldn't get away from me because I knew if I could just run side by side with him for a while, the outside lane kept prevailing it seemed like.
I was actually shocked when he took the bottom.Â I thought for sure he was going to take the top.Â So when he took the bottom, I was actually excited to have the opportunity to start on the outside of him because I felt leak that's where I wanted to be, and then the couple restarts that I had the opportunity to choose where I wanted to start, I took the outside, and we just had a good enough car.Â I could side draft him and then get away, and I had the 55 pushing me, which gave me a good shove to get out in front, and then once I got out in front, I just tried to work both lanes, and I've watched a lot of guys like Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson and those guys on tape, re‑watching races and stuff, watching them lead the race and watching them maneuver the lanes and try and keep both lanes side by side, so that way they don't gang up on you and get a run.
I just did that.Â It's kind of like Cole Trickle where he says I've watched on ESPN.Â That's kind of what I've done.Â I've studied old footage, and I've never really been in that position.Â I've led some races, but when we were down here for the Daytona 500 we led just a couple laps before we had to pit.Â But I've never really led a Cup race like that, especially when it was getting down to the wire, and so I guess looking back at all that stuff kind of helped.
Q.Â Trent and Sammy, both of you guys, now that you've close to locked yourselves in the Chase, is there a time to kind of put the testing approach towards the Chase now, or what is y'all's approach for the rest of the season?
TRENT OWENS:Â Well, I think we've got to continue to gain our points each and every week because if there's more than 16 winners another phase comes in.Â But as Chase time gets near, if we're a lock‑in at that point and there hasn't been as many winners as needed with so many races out, then we'll definitely start to focus on maybe a track we need to test at during the Chase rather than doing one to try to get into the Chase.Â Our mindset when the season started was it was all about wins, right, and then we started to gain some points and then we had to start paying attention to points because it didn't look like that many different winners, and I'm sure we're not of the figured ones that's going to win a race, so we kind of extended that a bit.
I think if we continue to focus on just gaining as much points as we can, our best thing to do is try to build momentum going into the Chase and try to have a hot hand going in because that's really what it's about, no different than your basketball tournaments and stuff.Â Whoever gets the hot hand going in gets it all the way to the end, and that's what we've got to do.Â We've still got our 9 team‑‑
SAMMY JOHNS:Â Yeah, we've got a test scheduled for Watkins Glen right now with both Aric and Marcos, so obviously Marcos will be one of the favorites there, so we're looking forward to getting there and testing and seeing if we can have both the 9 and the 43 in the Chase.Â That would be so awesome.Â I want to also thank Richard and Doug Bergeron and Andy Murstein.Â They upped our testing budget this year.Â They came to me and said what do we need to do to be better.Â We've tested more this year than we've ever tested as an organization, and Richard, I'm going to be hitting you up for some more.
RICHARD PETTY:Â If you keep doing this, you'll get it, okay?
Q.Â Trent, this is actually for you.Â You get to celebrate a little bit right now.Â What happens tomorrow morning?Â Does it all turn direction, and does this put even more pressure on you as a crew chief?
TRENT OWENS:Â I hope not.Â No, it's definitely a day of celebration, but this sport, you have to have a passion for it.Â It's a seven‑day‑a‑week job. Â If there was eight days a week, it would be an eight‑day.Â But you have to have a passion for it.Â Tomorrow it's back in the game trying to get the cars prepared for New Hampshire, and we're going to participate in a tire test at Richmond on Tuesday and Wednesday, so we still have work to do.Â But at least right now we're stopping the clock and going to celebrate tonight, and then I'm sure we'll have some nice lunches and stuff.
No, it doesn't really add any more pressure.Â It really probably hasn't sunk in for me that I actually got a win as a crew chief in the Cup Series.Â But I think now we just try to get some more.
Q.Â Aric, I know this is big for you, but from talking to you in the past I get the impression you've been very aware of the number 43 car's skid going back to '99, how you kind of wanted to be the guy to end that, and of course you've almost accepted that burden on yourself.Â Can you talk about how you've handled that and how much you wanted to be the guy to do this?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â Well, in 2012 when I came here, Richard Petty Motorsports was on the rebound, if you will, and had been through some turmoil and came out of that, and like Richard just said, he wasn't going to give up on it.Â He was going to see it through and get the race team back to where it needed to be to be competitive.
I was so grateful that they thought that I could be the guy that could contribute to that and could help get the 43 car back to where it needed to be and to get the 43 car back to victory lane more importantly.
Sammy believed in me, and Richard and the owners, Andy Murstein and Doug and everybody just rallied behind me, and I did, I took that burden on myself.Â Everybody always asks me, oh, how much pressure is it to drive The King's car and all that stuff, and to be honest with you, there's nobody that can put any more pressure on me than me because I want to win for myself.Â I don't want to‑‑ I know this sounds terrible, but it's more about winning so that I can feel a sense of accomplishment more than just winning to give Richard Petty another win.Â He's won enough races.
So just to get to victory lane and to get this race team to victory lane after all that they've been through and to get this 43 car back to victory lane, that was a challenge that I kind of put out in front of myself and said, okay, if I'm going to go drive that 43 car, I don't want to hear about the last win being John Andretti at Martinsville in 1999.Â I want people to remember the last time the 43 car won was whenever we win, and so now going to New Hampshire next week, everybody is going to talk about the last time the 43 car won was Sunday in Daytona.
Q.Â Just to put the 43 back in victory lane at Daytona, do you think that you have the‑‑ that is so special in itself, but do you think you had something special to get there?Â Was it Richard's attitude?Â What is it?
ARIC ALMIROLA:Â It's his long finger.Â (Laughter.)
No, I don't know.Â You can think of it however you want.Â You people call it the racing gods or what have you, but everything just looked out for us.Â The good Lord was looking out for us, and Trent and the guys gave me a good car.Â You can't do it all on luck.Â Obviously we won today and it was a rain‑shortened race, but we had a good enough car to be up there to outrun and to pass Kurt and to stay in front of the 55, and there was some really good cars behind us.
You know, I think that when you look back on the race, it's cool to come in here and talk about, yep, 30 years to the date, 1999 was the last win. Â I was four months old when Richard won his 200th race.Â Like all that stuff is cool to talk about.Â But like Richard says, it's about now.Â We don't sit in a hauler and think about, oh, man, how cool would it be to win this weekend because it's been 30 years to the date.Â Every weekend we show up to the racetrack, we think, what are we going to do to win the race, and that's our mindset.
I don't know if that's the answer you were looking for or not, but that's kind of how we go about it, so today it just worked out.Â Whether it worked this weekend or next weekend at New Hampshire or whenever, I'm just glad we got this 43 car back to victory lane.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports