Dale Earnhardt Jr only narrowly missed out on claiming a guaranteed front row starting spot for this weekend's season-opening Daytona 500, and the Budweiser Chevrolet driver had a lot to say as practice for the Twin 125s and the big race itself began.

Dale Earnhardt Jr:

on tyres:
"The tyres are wearing out pretty fast. Everybody has the same tyres so everybody is dealing with the same problem."

on handling the pressure of being the favourite:
"I just hang out. There's not much to it. But I don't know if I'm the favourite. I think [DEI team-mate] Michael [Waltrip] is the favourite. He's won two out of the last three years."

on working with John Andretti:
"We were just out there drafting together. He's a good team-mate. Some guys have their own agenda but, when you put him in the car, he knows how good a race car driver he is. He doesn't have anything to prove. If you give him a good car, he's going to run good. He's out there to help us and we're going to help him."

on strategy for the Twin 125s:
"You don't know that until the last lap. You just try not to crash and try to be toward the front. There are a hundred different ways. You don't know what the plan is until it's all laid out in front of you. If the cautions come out, you're going to come down and get tires more often. So we'll be pitting more often. Other than that, I don't know what else we have to worry about."

on the chance of teamwork between Earnhardt and Waltrip:
"I don't know. I haven't really worked with Michael in the draft since we've been down here. If we end up toward the front, we'll definitely be helping each other. You've got to help your team-mate before you help anybody else. So, if he's up there and I'm up there, there is a good possibility we'll be drafting."

on concerns over the Roush/Yates ford engine partnership:
"I don't think either one knew more than the other. You definitely like putting all your eggs in one basket and that's going to be more organisation and a smoother organisation. Their programme will be more powerful company-wise, but I don't know if they can actually build motors better than anybody else. Everybody knows about the same stuff."

on whether the union was the result of DEI/Chevy domination:
"I don't think so. I think they did it because Roush motors don't really run good anywhere. Maybe he just wanted somebody to build his motors for him."

on the new Chase for the Championship:
"I like it, I guess. I don't have a choice whether I like it or don't like it. I didn't think it was something that was necessary to change, but it's pretty exciting how it sounds. It'll be neat to see how the season plays out.

"It's uncharted territory. I don't know what we can expect. It's a tough sport for a driver going week in and week out and having to continue to mould himself and adjust himself to the pace of it. And now we've got to really realign everything with this new system. How do we race? What's the plan? What's the mentality going in now? We don't know."

on giving president Bush political advice during the Daytona 500:
"Well, I like being around him. He's a cool guy. He's pretty fun to hang out with. I don't know if he's going to indulge me with any kind of one-on-one time. But it would be great to sit down with him and talk."

"We've been around each other before. We really haven't had a bull***t session, if you will. But, he's the kind of guy you could have one with, I'm sure."

on the biggest changes to get used to going into 2004:
"All the Nextel signs around here. It's really cool and it's real classy looking with that black, yellow, and white on all the trailers and all. When the officials walk by, it's hard to point them out nowadays because they're not in their usual attire. So you've got to watch what you do and say because you're not necessarily looking for a yellow and black uniform standing around."

on the relationship with his spotter:
"It's really important that you're on the same page. It's like any other relationship - like a driver and a crew chief or one mechanic to another - you have to have a good working relationship. I've worked with Stevie [Reeves] in the past. I really enjoyed when he had to fill in for us in the past. It was awesome and he did a good job. We used to pick on Ty [Norris] a little bit about who was better. But Ty was a great spotter, too. He didn't even really like doing it. He just did it because I asked him to."

"I'm real happy that Stevie is doing it. Having a background where you've been behind the wheel and you know what's going on out there and know what the driver is thinking makes a big difference. And just because he has that [experience], I trust him already without even working with him that much. So I trust him and believe what he says. There are things that I like that he doesn't know yet, but I'm not going to sit there and scream at him about every little thing that I want different. It'll just evolve and we'll get to know each other more and more. You've just got to have patience just like you do anything else."

on the point he was trying to make with Jamie McMurray after practice:
"Larry Foyt was just pulling out on the track. I went to the inside of [Jeff] Gordon going into [turns] three and four and Gordon came back under me. So we were three wide at that point. With all this shuffling around and carrying on, Jamie had a heck of a run and went to the outside of me going into the tri-oval. So it was four cars, four-wide, in the tri-oval with Larry Foyt controlling the inside lane. And Larry probably had no idea what was going on around him because it all happened so fast. I don't even think Jeff knew what Larry was doing. And McMurray didn't know Larry was down there. So I think I might have been the only one that knew everything. Three out of the four wasn't quite sure about the whole package that was going on there. I just lifted and it was just in time because I was running out of room there.

"I just told Jamie - just like his crew chief or spotter would have told him or might have already told him - that you can expect that on any lap during a race. Racing is a different story. You can run me all over the race track in the race and that's okay. But in practice - especially when you don't know how good your [back-up car] is off the trailer - you don't want to pull it out if you don't have to and we don't have to. I was kind of upset because it was so foolish. I'm sure I've made a few people scream around here too in the past."

on how the Bud car is right now:
"I've got a car that can win the race. I'm in a group of about ten guys right now that I feel have race-winning race cars. I think over the next couple of days, that's definitely going to grow to 20-25 cars. We're real good. This car has always run good. It's the one we've run so many times and won with. It's good everywhere we run."

on all three DEI cars being in the same qualifying race:
"That's awesome. Normally, you'd rather be in the easy one - just because it's easy. I like being around a good group of guys. I like racing [Dale] Jarrett and Bobby Labonte and my team-mates. I can't complain about the company."

on the chance to learn more from a competitive field:
"I don't think I'd run away from an easy field. You want to race around people you know and trust - especially here and at Talladega. That's the difference."

on finding someone to run with at Daytona:
"We've been having some trouble. There have been a couple of guys here with good race cars and they're out there trying to get to the front. We haven't made a whole lot of friends at [restrictor] plate tracks over the last couple of years. There comes a time when everybody's got to pay for that and maybe we're paying for it a little bit by having won so many races at Talladega and being so strong down here. When you target a guy, that's the guy everybody wants to beat. If you tell me that Jeff Gordon is going to win the Daytona 500, then that's the guy I want to beat."