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NASCAR Winston Cup Series: Daytona 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Winston Cup Series: Daytona 500

Kurt Busch
Jimmie Johnson
February 16, 2003


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

MODERATOR: Kurt, you started 36th, climbed up through the field. Kind of came out of nowhere at the end. What goes through your mind when you see Michael Waltrip ahead of you and then the rain starts to fall?

KURT BUSCH: It's a bittersweet finish for us obviously. We do most of our work under the radar, quietly. The way we have to negotiate around these plate tracks, it's difficult in many aspects. The DEI cars have some sort of rap that nobody else has. RCR seems to have sniffed some stuff out where it's competitive. Then the Hendricks stable seems to be catching on. Seems like more and more Chevys are catching on. We're elated to bring a Ford on in second place.

MODERATOR: We'll get some quick questions for Kurt Busch. We've been joined by Jack Sprague, top finishing rookie, finished 14th today in his first Daytona 500.

Q. Kurt, you finished so strong at the end of last year, then today, this has got to give you some good momentum.

KURT BUSCH: Everybody shows up at Daytona on a clean slate. But, yeah, we did have some momentum from last year. The guys were really pumped up about getting started. We put as much work as we possibly could in our Ford Taurus to make it go fast. We finished fourth last spring, wonderful finish. This one's a little bit better. I guess if the race continued forward, the 8 car would have worked its way back on the lead lap and we would have had to dealt with two DEI cars. It was amazing. I can give you some insight from the driver's seat. When the 8 car dropped out, everybody's eyes lit up, everyone's foot got heavy. It was a whole new race. Whether we finished out or continued forward, we're happy with our finish.

MODERATOR: Questions for Jack Sprague.

Q. What do you think about the Daytona 500 finishing under caution?

JACK SPRAGUE: Both ways, I guess. It's a shame that the Daytona 500 had to finish a little over halfway. This is the big race that everybody comes to see. They saw half of it. On the other side of that coin, we stayed out there all day, stayed out of trouble, rode around, stayed on the high side. Just kind of out of sight, out of mind. Came home 14th. That's a great accomplishment for this team. This is a brand-new team, NetZero Pontiac Grand Prix. That's definitely a good finish for us. You don't get a lot of help with that yellow stripe on your bumper anyway. I guess bittersweet, like Kurt said. We would have liked to see the race go the rest of the way. Maybe something would have happened to one, both of us, neither of us, who knows at this point. We know he ran 2nd, I ran 14th. He's pretty happy, I'm pretty happy.

Q. Talk about finishing the Daytona 500 under caution today, Kurt.

KURT BUSCH: It's difficult to accept and to swallow. It's the greatest race we go to every year. It's the beginning of the season for us. You know, whether or not we continued forward, it was the weather's decision. With the whole eastern seaboard right now being snowed in, rained in, there was a lot of weather that made the final outcome what it is. We had a great TV audience, a lot of people were probably at home snowed in. It would have been great to finish it, great to put on a show for people that normally don't get a chance to see NASCAR racing because they would have been out. Somewhat upsetting to see the race come to an end so soon.

Q. You had some bad luck this week. Had to bring out a backup car. Talk about your team and the process of getting your car up through today?

KURT BUSCH: No backup car for us, no. We ran the primary car all week. With all the practices they gave us, it for sure looked like a backup car by Saturday afternoon. They had to pull a lot of Bondo, put sheet metal on the rear fenders, straighten out the rear bumper - seemed like I was holding a lot of people up through the whole week. The guys built the best car they could possibly give me to come for the Bud Shootout, to come to qualify, to race that 125. We had an altercation with Harvick on pit road where I decided to pit with the group, and I committed too late. Spun us on pit road. We did run across his own. Jackman got some bumps and bruises. We had an up-and-down week. Every time we come to Daytona, it's eventful. We're happy to come out of here with a Top 5, the same as we did last year.

Q. Jack, after Friday, do you think today's race went well for you? Talk about your rookie stripe maybe have hurting you last week, then carrying over to today.

JACK SPRAGUE: It wasn't Friday. I don't know what day we qualified. It was Monday. It's one of those deals. Like I said, I'm not going to talk about it anymore, I've talked about it enough. I could have stopped the situation from happening, but I didn't start it. But I learned a lot through that whole ordeal, how some of these guys race. Therefore today I kept my nose clean, stayed out of trouble, rode around, didn't push any issues, stayed up by the wall. My car was a little tight, but it run faster on the top. It cycled around. I was last three or four times, I was in the Top 15 three or four times. It just so happened when the rain decided to sock us in, I was 14th. I'm tickled to death with that. Like I said, nobody wants to help the dude with the yellow stripe. These guys have been through it before. I'm going to go through it. That's cool because I'm going to put somebody else through it later.

MODERATOR: Jimmie Johnson has joined us. You decided to only take gas on that last restart, the last pit stop. Talk about the restart when Waltrip passed you.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We knew that we were probably going to be racing to halfway or somewhere thereafter. Chad's idea was to keep putting tires on the car, take the penalty early with the track position. When it came down to the end, we could be in a position to do two tires or no tires, depending on what was going on and how much fuel we needed. Chad called an awesome race. I played into our hands. It worked out. We were in the lead. Then the restart with the 8 starting next to us, the 33. I had a couple options, either jump the start and get ahead of Junior, but I wasn't sure how that was going to work out. My best option was to try to box Michael in so Junior and the 15 couldn't get hooked up. The 33 had a terrible start. Allowed Michael to drop down. When that happened, everything I could do at that point was over and done with. Happy to fall back in line where we did and was able to hang on from there.

Q. Are you upset that it ended this way, with the rain?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I'm not upset. You know, of course, I would have loved to race till the end. I felt we had a shot to win the race. We've been here for two weeks. This pays the same amount of points was Rockingham does next week. We need to get home and get ready for that. I wish we could have finished under green and been out there. That's kind of a double-edged sword. I told Kurt I was going to try to push him for the lead, and we would have been first and second, or maybe 21st and 22nd. To come out of a restrictor plate race with a race car, Top 5 finish, I'm happy with that.

Q. Did it look like the 15 and the 8 were hooking up or was Junior on his own out there?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: When we got the one to go, I looked in the mirror and I saw the 15 and 8, hands out the window, hand signals, pointing, thumbs up. I knew I was in trouble then.

Q. Jack, you're the highest finishing rookie of the day. How do you feel about being the highest finishing rookie for the first race, how that might affect the overall goal for you to win the Rookie-of-the-Year title?

JACK SPRAGUE: Probably not much. This is the first race, man. There's a hundred to go or whatever we run in this deal. You know, like I said, there were rookies in front of me throughout the day, they would cycle around back and forth. There was probably only three or four cars or five that you saw that stayed in the front, four or five all day. At one point I saw Jimmie three cars ahead of me back around 15th or so. I mean, to come out of here with a straight race car, something we can take to Talladega, at least test against a new one to see if we can build something better, that's a plus. Not to be wrecked 43rd in points, that's a plus. These first races are tough on a new team without points to fall back on to get in the race. That fifth race logging points will help me. We certainly don't want to go home from a race. That's the big thing right now. We want to keep the NetZero Pontiac in every race and learn. This is a little different than a Busch car, probably back closer to the truck I'm used to. I'm relating on things with these cars that we've been testing over the winter, more back to a couple years ago. I'm getting older so my mind's not as good as it was trying to remember all that truck stuff. That stuff seems to relate more than the Busch stuff does to these cars. We had a great test at Rockingham. We're looking forward to going there in a few days, then on to Vegas. The rookie deal is a long, drawn out deal. Jimmie has been through it. I don't know how they decided that one. That's a tough deal. I know it's a strange point system. I'm not going to worry about that part of it.

Q. The last pass, Jimmie, the way the 15 car ducked behind the 8 car, teamwork made a big difference in that pass. Is that fair? Is that the way racing ought to be?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The older I get and the more experiences I go through, nothing's fair. It's just how it is. It's how restrictor plate racing is. You cannot do anything on your own out there. You need someone, teammate or not, to work with you, to help you get a run, to help you finish passes. You need someone. You know, I wish that I had the 24 or the zero or the 25 or the 5 behind me there at the end. Possibly would have been a different situation getting started on that restart. That's how it is. Those guys have done a very good job to find a way to work together all the time. We've been trying very hard at Hendrick with all of our cars to try to find a way to make it work. It usually benefits one person, the lead car, and everyone else pays the consequences. Somehow, the 8 and 15 can both pull through situations which is really hard to do. I think it shows how strong their cars are. Hopefully we can find out wherever they're hiding that speed at, and we can do it ourselves at Hendrick.

Q. Follow-up to that question is to have a car that was two laps down and play a role in that finish. Does that make it even more not fair?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, fair or not fair, I knew what the situation was going to be. You know, I would wish and hope -- you know, what Junior got the jump, Junior wasn't back there pushing the 15 past me or anything. I would assume he would. His name is on that race team, as well, let alone being a teammate and partner in it. I really don't have any feelings on it one way or not, if it's fair or not. It's just racing, what you have to deal with on a restrictor plate race.

Q. One pass under green. Could you comment on that? I was done on pit road.

KURT BUSCH: Pass for the lead, I wasn't obviously in on easily. I would have gained more points. Those pay dividends at the end of the year. With the way the DEI has a threshold on the front of the competition, they're able to do things to help one another maintain the lead, the other to maintain second. We're all racing for third. Today I ended up second place just due to the fact there was a mechanical issue on that 8 car. We're happy with our finish. It was by no means a mistake or a surprise. We worked just as hard as any other team did over the off-season. This is a good way to pick up where we left off last year, with a second place finish.

Q. Jimmie, late in the race Jeff was up there with you. I believe it was over in turn one, you kind of consciously moved high to work with him, let him catch up with the draft, but he lost it. Were you trying to do that? Would it have helped if Jeff would have been able to stay up there? Would that have made a difference for you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Absolutely. It's lonely up there when you look in front of you, there's two DEI cars, I see Kurt and Mark and the 17. It's how the game is played. I wish that Jeff was able to be up there with me. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for him. I guess he had a scary moment with the 20, had to get out of the gas, lost a bunch of spots. I knew that if it came to the white flag or racing back to the checkered, Jeff would hang me out just like anyone else because he's trying to win the race. You want that teammate around you, someone you know who is good to work with you, so you can stay up in the front.

Q. The race is official. Kurt, Jimmie, do you think NASCAR could make an exception to the rule because this is the Daytona 500?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it shouldn't matter which race it is, it just needs to be consistent throughout all 35 or 36 so we know what we're dealing with every time.

KURT BUSCH: I agree with him. Then there's the fact that this is the Daytona 500 and you have to respect how long this race has been continuing on over the years, the prestige that it has, and of course the history behind it. I think Dale Jarrett led us all in the right way saying we should try to complete this race. Mother Nature had other ideas today. There's nothing you can do when there's rain on the racetrack. There's no special rules you should develop because this is the Daytona 500. We have to go by the same rules that every other racetrack has.

MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thank you.

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