NASCAR » 12 February 2004
Chevy Chat: Michael Waltrip (Daytona 500).
During a press conference to announce a new association between the driver of the #15 DEI Chevrolet and Domino's Pizza, Michael Waltrip spoke on various subjects surrounding this weekend's Daytona 500.
on being ready for the Twin 125 qualifying races:
"Ever since we rolled the car out on the track during the test session in January, we've been following a plan. That is to make our car handle as well as it can and run as fast as it can with tape and race configuration on the race car. That's all been going very well and we've learned a lot. We feel from the practice that just finished that we've got the car exactly the way I want it. Tomorrow's races are so much fun. They are entertaining for the fans to watch. But, to the drivers, you present your car to pit-road for the 125s set up the way you think it needs to be to win the Daytona 500. You're say 'here it is - this is what we'll race in the Daytona 500'. You go out and race 125 miles. If you win, or things go the way you want them to, you're ready. If it doesn't go the way you want it to, you've got another couple of practices to work on it and get it better for Sunday. Tomorrow is a big test for us. The car is running great and we're ready to go."
on the chances of a big wreck in the 500:
"Fifty-fifty. We've seen some crazy crashes and wild races here, and we've seen ones that have been relatively calm comparatively speaking. It won't have anything to do with the spoilers or the tyres. It all comes down to the competitors and what choices they make throughout the 500-mile race. It's easy to be very critical and negative toward anything before it happens. And, when it's over, maybe you realise it didn't turn out that way and you've spent a lot of time worrying about something that didn't matter. I think it's going to be a great race. It's just amazing to be here as the defending champion that's had success here recently and to have a car that I think I can win again with."
on how winning the 500 has changed his life:
"It didn't change the way I looked at myself so much, but it sure changed the way a lot of other people looked at me. That's had some affect on me. I felt I was capable of winning and able to win at any time, anywhere, on this circuit. And, when I won Daytona the first time, people thought it was pretty cool. But to come back and win in July has gained us a lot of respect - not only from the media, but from the fans as well. But what means more to me is that the competitors know we're going to be one of the teams you're going to have to beat. We're going to be there."
on going so long without that first Cup win:
"One thing I always worried about, and a lot was made about how long I went without winning, but I always told [wife] Buffy that I was more worried that I'd never get the chance to win. [Not] getting the opportunity to be in a car that's capable of winning is what puts pressure on me. Throughout my career, there have been times when I've been close. I won The Winston with the Wood Bros. We had some good races. I've come close to winning races throughout my entire career.
"But the clock was starting to click - loudly - when Dale [Earnhardt] hired me to drive his car. And the day he hired me, the pressure was off. There is no pressure to drive Dale Earnhardt's car. I know I'm going to win in his car. The pressure was whether I'd ever get the chance at that stage in the game. Dale was probably the only guy big enough in this sport to say 'NAPA, I've got a great idea, come check this out'.
"We had a solid year last year for three-quarters of the year. We stayed right up in front in the points. We faded in the end because of wrecks and things that went down. But, at the end of the year, our performance was right on. At Phoenix, we finished top five. That was a flat track. At Rockingham, we had one of the fastest cars there, but had an engine problem. At Homestead, we were in the top five again all day long but blew a tire and crashed. We were on top of it. We just didn't get the results we were looking for."
on why people aren't talking about him heading into the 500:
"You have to earn your respect from the media and the competitors and the media. We haven't shown from race one to race 36 that we are deserving of being characterised as championship contenders. But I've proven to myself we can do it. So, I like it that way. It's kind of like being down here and hearing all the talk about Yates and Dale Jr and I'm over in the corner saying 'hey, they're not thinking about old Mike'."
"I tried to get up and be as positive as I could every Sunday and give it all I had. The only thing I kept going back to is that I would always think I was just not in the right situation. The thing that disappointed me about my career for a long time was that I wasn't good enough. I wasn't a strong enough person to change the situation I was in and make it the right situation for me. That's probably a lot of load to bear and a lot of blame to shoulder because of the complex individuals that come together to make up the team. That was hard on me for a long time. But, now, I'm happy. I've got a great crew chief, a fast car, and I have all kinds of sponsors. I'm doing TV shows. That's pretty cool."
on the need to win a non-plate race:
Click on relevant pic to enlarge
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