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February 16, 2006
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
THE MODERATOR: Joining us, third place finisher in the duel today, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver. No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet.
Dale, talk about your run out there today.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We started off the race real, real tight. We've been fighting tight in the practices we've had. Car got real, real tight. Just, you know, got -- we didn't really fall to the back on purpose. We just couldn't get the car turned (inaudible) around a lot. I was having to lift a lot to keep from hitting the wall.
We made the change on that first opportunity to get tires. That helped the car quite a bit. Obviously, we was able to get back to the top five or up in the top five. We still got some work to do. Still I'm not real happy with the way the car handles. But Tony, Jr. and them guys understand what we need to do. We'll talk and practice a little bit more.
I know we can get it worked out. So I'm pretty excited about, you know, coming up. I think the car runs great. We just weren't able -- you know, you guys want us to get out there and run up front, show whether we're dominant or not. But we got a great car. We get our turn we'll be able to do that.
Q. Did you have enough to get up to the front?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we had enough race car, just not enough time. We got a couple good shoves there at the end. I was able to get side by side with Carl coming to the line. I feel like Jimmie would have helped me in the case if he had to choose between the two.
We might have been able to make a stab at the 38 there. We just didn't have enough laps. We had a pretty good car. We still were pretty tight there at the end to make the kind of runs we're accustom to making on people, having the kind of car we're accustom to having.
CARL EDWARDS: Nice suit (smiling).
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you.
Q. Dale, was there as much bumping going on and did you guys take to heart what Mike Helton said before the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know what, it goes back to what type of race the shootout is, what type of race you got to expect when you're running the sprint for 200 grand, whatever it pays.
It's just like the All-Star race and the 600, big difference there between the mentality and attitudes out on the racetrack. I don't know what the big surprise is. So, you know, when we got to these 125s or 150 qualifiers, you're going to take care of your car. Your car is going to push, handle bad. You ain't going to be able to get up on people like you can in the shootout. The 500 will be the same way. We'll make pit stops and stuff like that under green. Just the different race, and it was.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us we have Carl Edwards, second place finisher in today's first duel, driver of the No. 99 Office Depot Ford. Talk about your run.
CARL EDWARDS: It was a lot of fun. Like he says, it's a lot different than the shootout. You know, got long enough into the tire run, everybody got strung out. I started having to lift. Actually made adjustments to the car to free it up and stuff.
It's pretty fun racing. I was excited to finish second. Was neat to see a Ford Fusion get to victory Lane this early. Just in general, fun.
Q. Can you just talk about what you think the usefulness of this race is now that they've changed the format.
CARL EDWARDS: Go ahead, buddy (smiling).
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I think that they need to go back to the way they used to do it as far as letting the first race be the inside line, the second race be the outside line. This will be the only race we run qualifying races, this should be the only race that would be different in how they line up the field.
It's very confusing for the drivers.
CARL EDWARDS: How does it work? Where do we start?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think we're all right. I think we're going to start third and fifth. I don't know, the 38's on the pole, right?
CARL EDWARDS: Are we fifth and seventh?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, it ain't (smiling).
CARL EDWARDS: It's confusing. But we're on the inside. That's good.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah. It gets confusing when who is locked in the field, who is not locked in the field, who is racing in. Last year, the most ridiculous thing I ever saw when they sent Robby home after he finished in the top 10. Got to get rid of stuff like that.
Q. With all the "to do" about these orange lines on the track, bump-drafting, seems like kind of a non-story. Do you think everybody was on their best behavior?
CARL EDWARDS: I was trying my hardest, you know, just to follow all the rules. You know, I feel like they made it pretty clear. It was made clear to me that, you know -- not to go under that line.
I don't know, it seemed like it was pretty calm, everybody did a good job.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah. I mean, I knew the mentality was different. The shootout is a night race. Hell, we all came from night racing, banging Saturday night, a lot of money, a little bit of time to get it, a lot of hungry drivers ain't been on the racetrack all winter.
CARL EDWARDS: That sounds like a country song right there (smiling). That's good.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Never know.
Q. Dale, do you wish that maybe nothing had been said at all about this bump-drafting stuff? They're just going to create a problem that wasn't intended to be?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, it creates, you know -- you know, it comes down to, you know, knowing what you're doing out there. There's guys where, you know, not naming any names obviously, but there's guys out there you don't want to get bump-drafts from, and there's guys you're glad to see in your mirror and know they know how to bump-draft. I like getting bump-drafts when it's done for the purpose of improving both our positions.
A lot of guys rear back, just slam you. They don't go anywhere. Hell, if you can hang on, you might get a little bit out of it. For the most part it don't do anybody any good when you do that.
You know, I think the veterans need to stand up a little bit and talk to some of the rookies coming into the sport. Obviously, they'll talk about it in the rookie meetings and stuff. Obviously, maybe they don't talk enough about it. Rookie meetings used to handle that kind of stuff. Get some of these guys walking around in the garage, talk to some of these drivers, if they'll listen. That usually fixes the problem in NASCAR. Normally you don't have to step in.
Q. Dale, a week ago before you even got on the track media day, you said you had the car to beat. Are you tempering that at all after what happened out there today?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I feel pretty good about my car. If we can get it to rotate in a corner, get around a corner, we got a fast race car, good enough car to win. I was really, really tight out there. I was having to run lines I don't want to run, don't normally like to run to get the car to go around the corner. A lot of times, you know, like that first run, we were second to last there for a long time, all the way to the end of it.
We got a better car than that. We just got to work on it, needs a little bit of practice we have left.
Q. Can both you talk about what you saw as far as the debris at the start/finish line with a couple of laps remaining.
CARL EDWARDS: You mean under green or the yellow?
Q. Under yellow.
CARL EDWARDS: Elliott Sadler was slowing down to go through it, I just followed him. I didn't really see it that well.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I was going to follow him. Right out of the corner of my eye I saw I had a car beside me, which was not -- I wasn't expecting it to be there because we were under caution. I had to go somewhere else. I don't know how the banging got going on.
We run the caution. Like I say, I mean, a lot of guys are rusty. Everybody is on top of each other, trying to get the best position they can. Maybe just a little too anxious there in the back.
Q. Dale, Jimmie Johnson said the other day that every crew chief out there bends the rules a little bit. Do you agree with that? Do you think that's why there was no outcry when Jimmie got caught?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think the outcry, there was no outcry because, you know, there was more stories that kind of overshadowed that, the bump-drafting, there was something else. Obviously, the tribute, the three tributes that have been on TV and all that stuff.
I think, you know, a lot of things have overshadowed what Chad did. Guys get cheating all the time. I think what Chad did is nothing new in the garage. That's all I really got to say about it.
Q. You guys are guaranteed in the show already. Therefore, is there any luster lost at all with the duel, maybe the way it used to be with the top 35 rule? Still looks like you're racing pretty hard.
CARL EDWARDS: Any time you get out, open the racetrack, they throw that white flag, I mean, it's fun to race.
I was thinking about it when we were sitting on pit road. Just to be able to race for a qualifying spot, starting spot, is kind of neat. You have the ability to set up the beginning of your Daytona 500 the way you want it. To me, I thought it was a pretty useful race. We wouldn't have started that far up front.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's kind of heat racing. Heat races are a blast, always enjoy running in a heat race. Gives you an idea about your competition going into the 500. You get to learn a little bit about your car obviously.
I think any time you line us up, we're going to go for it. I think the qualifying deal, the rules they have now, it takes a little bit away from what it means, other than win it.
CARL EDWARDS: They used to just start 'em?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: -- basically last. Provisionals, 36 on back, you got provisionals. From the first 36, third to 36, inside was the first race, outside was the second.
Q. NASCAR is already working on revisions at the R&D center to the bumper. By the time we get to Talladega, may not have to worry about spotters and the no zones. Do you think that should happen?
CARL EDWARDS: All I know about those zones, I wasn't exactly sure where they were. I slid up in front of you off of two that one time, I was like, "He's coming, I think we're in one of those zones."
Bam, "No, we must be out of it (laughter)."
That orange thing went, wham.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He wasn't paying attention. I just passed (smiling).
CARL EDWARDS: Very astute observation.
I don't know what the question was.
Q. NASCAR is talking about revisions at Talladega so it won't be in the driver's hands about the bump-drafting.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: They can change the bumpers and stuff. We'll still run into each other with them 'cause that's what we do. You know, it will change how the cars overheat and all that stuff.
I think it's best left in the driver's hands and the crew's hands on how they handle this issue.
I don't think that NASCAR can step in and make any improvements. They'll probably make the situation a whole lot worse for all of us anyways.
If you can't -- if you can't get up against somebody and push 'em a little bit down the back straightaway, it's going to be real hard to pass. Guys just get stuck side by side. If you watch any of these races out here, you see these guys when they're side by side, it takes somebody to push them back. If you take that away, I don't know what we'll be doing.
Q. Are there times out there when you're in this race, you look around and say, "I just passed four guys"? Do you feel you're in control or do you do the best you can, look around, say, "How did that work?"
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm glad you're answering this one.
CARL EDWARDS: Every once in a while, it just depends on the situation. There's always guys who run well at these places. There has to be some amount of driver input there. There's guys who historically run great. But sometimes, yeah, you can do everything in the world, and it doesn't work. Sometimes, you know, like today one lap I thought I was going to wreck, two laps later I passed a few people. It's like, "How did that happen?"
Just kind of depends. But on average, I think the driver has a great deal of input here.
Q. Carl, Tony Stewart and a couple other guys were talking earlier today before the race about how it's really a matter of respect on the racetrack, giving the other guy a little room when you can. The biggest problem Tony said was that guys aren't giving the other drivers respect. As one of the young guys coming into the sport, how do you feel about that?
CARL EDWARDS: That's a good question. It's really a hard thing to balance. For me coming in the sport, I don't really have much to rest on. I have to go out and do the job. So you're caught there. You got a guy like, for instance, Denny Hamlin did such a great job the other night, he's got to go out there and make something happen. He's the only guy who can drive that car.
It's really tough in a competition to make something happen and do your job for your team, and at the same time give something to somebody else trying to beat. It's a real fine line to walk.
I know for me personally, I just try to be -- I've been trying a lot more lately to try to be a lot more respectful for the first 90% of the race and then just racing real hard at the end. It's a tough place to be in for a rookie.
Q. Can you size up the field? You were talking about you kind of had an idea of who was where, what they had. Obviously, all the sandbagging has been put aside. Who is going to be your competition on Sunday?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Typical people. Roush, Hendrick, Yates, Gibbs. Pretty much all those guys.
Q. Any dark horses?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, dark horses? I don't really see any.
Q. Is it possible for a crew chief to make a change to a car, like Chad did, and then not tell you that they're going to make that change to the car?
CARL EDWARDS: Happens to me all the time (smiling). Not changes like that particularly.
Crew chief going to make a change, usually they share it. I don't know. What do you think?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't think so. I mean, in a situation like that, your crew chief, no matter how great a relationship he has with the driver, the less people that know about it the better. If you're cheating, the less people know about it, the better. You're not going to tell your driver. At least I wouldn't. I wouldn't tell anybody.
Q. Did Tony, Jr. Ever tell you to cheat?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, he doesn't. He knows I got a big mouth. If he's cheating, he ain't telling me.
THE MODERATOR: Dale Jr., Carl, thanks a lot.
Joining us now is the winner of this first duel today. Congratulations to Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M Ford. Elliott, talk about your victory.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Man, it's a great victory. Sit here before you guys, I remember coming in here, interviewing, sitting in this same chair when we came in here and tested, told everybody about the different atmosphere in our race shop, the different attitude. To be able to come back here and qualify fourth, then win the first race is a great feeling.
We got a lot of enthusiasm with our team right now. We got a great leader who's got everybody fired up. To come down here and to win Ford Fusions' first race in NASCAR, that's something that will be in the record book a long time. Pretty neat to be able to come in here and do that.
Q. Last year, D.J. sat on the pole, once the flag fell he went to the back. What is the biggest difference we're looking at between the Taurus and Fusion?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I just think we as a team came in here this time for winter testing, and Tommy is like, "I don't care how fast we run, I don't care if we set a record or not, we're going to get this thing where you're comfortable, where you can drive it. Even if we look like we're struggling on the sheets, if I'm happy as a driver, he's happy with all the things he sees, with temperature, buildups, things like, that then we're going to be happy as a team.
We came in here for three days and worked only handling, worked on not wearing the tires out, worked on getting the balance we needed to have. The Fusion has helped us with that. I just think the way Tommy looks at a race car, the way he looks at a race, is different than anything I've ever been used to. We got it driving good. That's all we worried about yesterday, not whether it would draft good, push good. If I could get through the corners wide open, I got a great chance of running up front. I just think when we got out front today because of the pit stop, I didn't have to lift, the car kept tight, kept enough momentum to stay in front of them.
I think a lot of it has to do with the new Fusion nose, it's got a little bit more grip to it than what the Taurus had. A lot of it has to do with the new outlook we have as a race team, too.
Q. Take us through that fiasco at the end with the piece of debris on the track. How did you handle that?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, my spotter just told me it was debris everywhere. It was metal, rubber chunks everywhere. I just took my time and went through that slow and tried to pick my spot. Then I looked up, everybody was wrecking. I'm not really sure what they were doing as far as trying to catch the pace car, what have you.
Me personally as a driver, I didn't want to punch a hole. I got a flat during the Bud Shootout, I got a flat in Busch practice. I didn't want any more flat tires this week. I took my time to go through, just make sure I didn't see the metal and things like that. I'm not really sure what happened behind us.
Q. Can you talk about the drivers' meeting, your reaction to the no zone rule, how it worked.
ELLIOTT SADLER: To the drivers' meeting, I'm sure everybody knows, they set down new guidelines for bump-drafting, aggressive driving, stuff like that. At the start of the race, we were running third, fourth and fifth. I noticed a lot of guys were not slamming into each other, as far as me being hit from behind, the way, Clint was pushing Dale, I was pushing Jeff. Everybody was just nudging a little bit until we got to those no zones, nobody wanted to take a chance.
In the position I was running, second or third or leading most of the day, I didn't see a lot of it. I look at a film of it tonight, I'm going to watch the second race now as a fan and as a student to see are the guys bump-drafting, what is NASCAR letting them get away with, what are they not letting them get away with, what's going on, so Sunday I'll know where to draw the line at.
I didn't have to do much of that today. I did learn a lot today about my race car, about the 20 car, what he's so good at. We still got a little bit of work to do before Sunday's race. But as a driver and as the rules, I'm going to go back and watch this and see kind of what NASCAR let go and what they didn't let go.
Q. What is different about this Fusion nose that makes you be able to turn the car better?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I just think they did a better job with it, with the lines, the headlights, stuff like that. I just think it's made it more sporty, made it where it's got a little more downforce than what we've had.
Ford did a tremendous job of putting this car in the wind tunnel, taking it through its paces before they gave it to the team so when they gave it to us at Robert Yates Racing, we didn't have to do anything else to it, pretty much taking care of itself. It makes it better for me to drive as a driver. We finished first and second today. That's a great start for the Ford Fusion. I think it's going to be good on regular tracks, too. It's not a night and day difference, but it's just a little bit.
In NASCAR racing, the competition is so close, if you can get your car a little bit better, that's the difference in winning a race and running 20th.
Q. How safe or secure do you feel when you're out front? How much concern is there about guys ganging up behind you?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I was really concerned when the 48 was behind the 2 because Jimmie has always got good pushing going on. Their cars suck up really well. When he got to pushing the 2, I was really, really concerned, when those guys get lined up like that.
The 20 car was very fast coming up through the beginning of the race. There's certain cars that you know no matter who they get behind, they're going to get a really good push. Seemed like all the pushes today were coming between the tri oval and turn one. I was trying to gear my car up and get as much momentum as I could between those two spaces so they couldn't get so much of a run on us. It seemed to pay off.
Tommy kept feeding it to me every two laps, stay on the bottom. I blocked as much as I could, but took away the bottom as much as I could, make the guys pass us on the outside. It seemed to work out pretty good for us.
Q. Not to be a buzz kill or anything, but you were sitting in that seat a year ago today, you were obviously optimistic about how things were going to go last year. I know you've been through a lot. It's a long off-season. With what happened last year, will that remind you, like you said, you got work left to do before you race Sunday and on down the road?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I mean, we definitely got some work left to do. We had a great test at Vegas. We know we got a little left to do at California to be strong. We know the same cars are going to be strong that were strong last year. They beat us on the mile and a half's, things like that. From a mental standpoint, from not a nut-and-bolts thing with the race car, but from a mental standpoint, I think this team is more focused and more ready to go week-to-week racing.
I think we just got a new attitude. We feel like we're all going into war together. I feel like I'm the quarterback of this race team. It's time for me to act like it. It's not time for me to just sit back and let everything else happen. It's time for me to step in and make sure I'm ready to go. When I'm ready to go, those guys can follow me to the racetrack each and every week ready to fight a war, ready to do whatever we got to do.
From an attitude standpoint, I think we're light-years ahead with from where we've ever been, me as a driver, us as a team. Nut and bolt-wise, race car-wise, we still got work to do . We know that. We understand that. I think as far as a nucleus as a race team, we're better prepared this year than we've been in a long time. I didn't really know Tommy was that organized and that much of a motivator and things like that until he came on board. He's just got everybody rallied around him and just ready to go to war each and every week. That's why I think we're going to be okay this year - not from a nuts and bolt side, but from a mental side.
Q. Driving appeared to be much more conservative today than it was in the shootout. How much of that was guys trying to protect their 500 cars and how much of it was guys concerned about NASCAR?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think a lot of that, 80% of it is protecting your 500 car. I think it doesn't really matter where you start at, other than pit selection. You got a good top run going here, you don't want to feel like you guys have got to start all over with a new 500 car with only maybe a day and a half of practice left, when you've got three days of winter testing, wind tunnel time on your primary car.
I was going to stay up front, stay in the top two or three as best as I could, be as aggressive as I could. If I'd have got shuffled back, I was going to be, okay, I'm going to ride right here, save my stuff for Sunday. I think a lot of that is just because you got a great 500 car and a lot of these guys feel that. They just kind of want to save it for Sunday when you race for the points.
Q. With 20 laps to go in the 500, do you think the no bump caution policy is going to hold up as well as it did today?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I don't know. We'll see. Ask Mike Helton that. You know, as that being a rule, I don't want to be in their shoes. That is a very tough call sitting way above the racetrack, and we're in the cars running 190. That's going to be a ball-strike call like an umpire. Kind of tough. We kind of put ourselves in this position with all the teams being so close, drivers getting smarter, every time we come back to restrictor plate racing, how to side draft, how to bump-draft, things like that. I think it was getting out of hand.
Until we can do something to the cars, implement something on the cars with the bumpers or something to weaken the noses up a little bit, this is what we have to live with through Daytona.
I think it's up to the drivers. We don't know where the line is until somebody crosses it. That's why I'm going to go back and watch both races to see if somebody does bump-draft too hard, where they did it, what it looked like, NASCAR made the call, then I know what I need to do to get to that point. Until somebody gets called in for a pass-through penalty or what have you, nobody really knows where the line is. I'm sure we're going to push the line and push the envelope a lot come Sunday.
Q. Did Mike have a point earlier today when he thought some of the younger drivers had pretty much abused the bump-drafting thing, that they weren't really doing it properly? Do you feel that was kind of a case today that you guys showed some of these younger drivers how it can be done?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think so. I honestly can sit here and say that some of the young guys that come in just saw it on TV last year or two years ago, thought it looked cool, so they just slammed you wherever they wanted to. It makes it tough, makes it hard on us, makes it hard on them. You want to give them extra room anyway. You're giving them extra room, they are taking it, they might not know they're doing anything wrong with it anyway.
But I think Mike hit it right on the head, that you don't see the veterans that have won a bunch of these races and stuff slamming you that much. Three-time Daytona winner Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon don't come in and just slam you in the middle of a corner, taking a chance on taking their car out and yours. I think the big difference is the veterans that have won this race so many times and the guys that haven't. Mike was just making it all out to the guys, We've seen, y'all are bumping pretty crazy, we're watching you. Maybe it will calm us all down a little bit for Sunday. We'll see.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Elliott. Thank you. Good luck on Sunday.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Thank you.
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