The cars have finally taken to the track and Daytona is alive with activity. The ARCA Re/Max Series has qualified for their Saturday race, and the Sprint Cup drivers are knocking off the rust as they prepare for the Budweiser Shootout.
In part three of my countdown, ESPN’s pit road reporter Jamie Little chats about the offseason and her perspective on the coming year.
Adam Amick: Jamie, thank you for being with us today. How are you?
Jamie Little: Thanks for having me, I’m doing wonderful.
AA: What’s been going on with you during the off-season? Have you been enjoying yourself? Getting some down time? Relaxing?
JL: I’ve had some down time and been on some vacation, but I’ve been working lately. ESPN’s keeping me busy. I don’t know if some saw the New Year’s Eve jump from Las Vegas with Robbie Madison – I get to do that with him each year now and that’s pretty exciting.
And then I just came off of Winter X Games. I just got back in town two days ago from that and that, as always, is exciting. So I worked a little bit and had a little fun this off-season.
AA: So you’re just thawing out from leaving Aspen there?
JL: Exactly, yes, thawing out. It’s always freezing cold up there but we had a ball. You know so many NASCAR drivers love all those X Games athletes. Denny Hamlin came up with a bunch of his buddies and they had a great time. They were just in awe of what happened up there.
So it’s good to see the cross-promotion of athletes.
AA: That’s neat. I caught a little bit of it – I particularly like to keep up with Shaun White because he is just so much fun to watch while he’s on that board in the Super Pipe.
JL: He is just unbelievable – one of those super athletes.
AA: Well, are you ready for 2009 to kick off?
JL: I am. I was a little hesitant; if you would have asked me last week I’m like, oh I haven’t had enough time off yet because I’ve been working lately. But now that the press releases are coming out and everybody is just in full swing talking about Daytona I’m really excited.
I’m excited to get down there. It’s a beautiful place, and you know it’s just fun because we have so much extra time there you get reacquainted with everybody. You adapt to all the changes that have taken place during the off-season.
AA: You’re going to really have to re-learn a lot of things with the number of driver, team, and sponsor changes this season.
JL: That’s right. I mean that keeps us on out toes. NASCAR’s just one of those sports that you just can’t get away from no matter what. I mean it’s everyday we’re just inundated with updates, press releases, and changes. As a reporter that’s our job – we have to know what’s going on everyday in the sport.
It’s no different in the off-season. You’re keeping up to speed with everything that’s taking place. There’s a lot of changes just last-minute in the last couple of weeks so…
AA: When will you actually head down there?
JL: I’ll be there February ninth. You know we’re only covering the Nationwide race down there – Nationwide practice and qualifying. But we still have to be there on Monday.
We have a talent dinner, we see all the announcers and producers, and we all just get back on the same page. We all get pretty much fired up for the idea of the full season ahead.
AA: Speaking of the full season, what are you watching for coming up this season?
JL: Oh there going to be so much to watch for. I’m excited to watch Kyle Busch go for the Nationwide championship. I mean last year if he would have gone for it he would have been the champion I have no doubt of that.
So it’s going to be exciting to watch him contest for that and of course his crazy schedule with the Cup series and some truck races. That’s going to be fun and then Carl Edwards of course is going for the championship against him again too.
Then on the Cup side Mark Martin is going to be at Hendrick Motorsports and that’s going to be awesome to watch. Of course Joey Logano in the 20…there’s so many changes and a lot of excitement and so many good things to look forward to.
AA: ESPN’s Jamie Little joining us.
You mentioned Mark Martin and a number of people complain about Hendrick Motorsports. How many more top-notch drivers are going to wind up in Hendrick cars? You’ve got Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin, and then Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman are going to be driving Hendrick cars with Stewart-Haas Racing this season. I mean, how many more guys can they put in those Hendrick machines?
JL: (Laughs) Well I know if any driver out there had the opportunity in a Hendrick car they would jump on it. Hendrick – they just have everything firing. I mean they have everything lined up, and they’re one of those teams that are managing to get major sponsors and they’re able to keep putting drivers in their cars and forming alliances like with Stewart-Haas Racing.
You know, God Bless them. If the sport became one team and a bunch of affiliates of that team…so be it. As long as it’s still competitive and there’s sponsorship on those cars and the fans have something to watch – that’s what it’s all about.
AA: Now the big question: Who’s going to win the Daytona 500?
JL: I’m going to say Kyle Busch.
AA: Really? Just throw Kyle out there?
JL: Why not… Crazy things happen at the first race of the year. Kyle, I mean, he won there in July, he knows how to get it done. He’s unstoppable. I think he’s going to pick up where he left off. So I think he’d be a good bet.
AA: You know the one thing that’s interesting about the Daytona 500 is how you finish there is not indicative of how your season is going to go, as we learned with Tony Stewart…
JL: Oh jeez that’s Ryan Newman…(laughs)
AA: Tony Stewart could finish last, Jimmie Johnson finished last they both go on the win the championship. Ryan Newman finished first and didn’t even make the Chase, right?
JL: Exactly. I know, it’s one of those crazy races that – you know you can’t measure what a man does there to how he’s going to do the rest of the season. But that’s what’s so exciting about it. There’s so many nerves, there’s so many one-off rides that there could be an upset anywhere.
It’s exciting it reminds me a lot of the Indy 500. You know that’s it’s own race and who wins there doesn’t always go on the win the championship although it’s happened a couple of times in the last few years. But you know it’s just a race of its own. It’s exciting.
AA: Well Jamie thank you very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule and joining us. We appreciate it and we look forward to seeing you down here in Texas in April.
JL: Great. Thank you very much for having me.
In the next chapter of my Daytona 500 Countdown, I’ll give my two cents on the changes to the Budweiser Shootout and what to watch for Saturday night.