NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers participated in their first press conference in 2011 this morning. The drivers are excited to be back in their cars, but first they were grilled by the NASCAR reporters.
Tony Stewart faced several questions regarding his incident in Australia with a race promoter in Sydney and Martin Truex Jr. may have had the line of the day when asked his opinion of restrictor plate racing. The following are the best quotes from all drivers at their morning press conference.
Stewart looked relaxed and prepared for the inevitable questions of his winter racing trip to Australia. Stewart was involved in a physical confrontation with Sydney Speedway co-owner Brett Morris over track conditions. The incident escalated to the point Stewart had to answer questions at the Sydney police station but was released and allowed to return to the United States.
Stewart was solemn when the incident was brought up by numerous reporters during his portion of the press conference.
Stewart said he would love to return to Australia and added that he does not feel there will be further action taken. " I'm not concerned about it. If there is and we have to go back, then we'll deal with it."
Stewart also discussed the new track surface. "The sport is so competitive that it's not just about seeing how fast your car is now, it's trying to figure out the strategies and techniques we have to use as drivers with the bump drafting and playing the chess game to figure out where you've got to be at the right time"
Martin Turex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. may have had the best quote of the day when asked what he likes about Daytona.
"It's going to be wild. It's going to be fun. I love racing here. Here and Talladega are some of the funnest races for us as drivers until you get in a wreck, and then you're just pissed off, and you're pissed off until you come back and hoping to finish the next one."
"It's a helpless feeling to get crashed out on one of these races, especially when you have a good car, you're running up front. Everybody has a chance to win these things. It's like gambling, really. It's just a lot of fun to do it until you lose"
Carl Edwards was optimistic and ready to get the 2011 season underway.
"The way we finished the 2010 season is the way we'd like to run all the time, and I feel the way our team is structured right now, we're set to have one of our best seasons for Roush -- for all of the Roush teams, including ours. I'm excited about it."
"I don't believe much in momentum. I used to not, but now I understand how it works, and I'm hoping to capitalize on that for this season"
Edwards also was happy to receive a piece of the old Daytona International Speedway in the mail last year.
"I thought the neatest part was they sent us a piece of the old racetrack. That's pretty cool to get in the mail. To think of everything that happened on that old pavement and to have a piece of that at home was really special."
Denny Hamlin said it was good to get away from racing after the disappointment of falling short in his bid for his first title. "I haven't thought about racing all offseason. This is my first time getting in a car since Homestead last season."
Hamlin brightened up when his Twitter contest for a free trip to anywhere in the world was brought up. "The winner wanted to go the Brickyard 400. She could have went anywhere and she picked a NASCAR race. That was very cool."
Kurt Busch made a quick reference to his new sponsor and colors. He is now driving the No. 22 Pennzoil car for Penske and made reference to wearing Kevin Harvick's former colors.
"When everybody stops calling me Kevin we'll be settled in."
He also discussed testing strategy. "One thing that is of note that's fairly significant for us is we've got three restrictor plate cars built for the 22 Shell-Pennzoil team, and this is our B car. This isn't even our A car."
"We wanted to do that just in case there is trouble in some of these drafting sessions down here. There's five drafting sessions. There's ample opportunities for things to happen. We've still got to protect our best piece, and that is the utmost important thing throughout Speed Weeks is making sure we put the best possible product on the starting grid for the Daytona 500"
He also weighed in on the two car draft strategy. "I don't think a two car draft will happen on the new pavement here as it did in Talladega. The corners are too tight."
The five-time champ discussed why his team passed on the tire test in December.
"The rules are such where there are very few areas to work in. We have a lot of freedom at the front of the car to work on it, but with the bumps gone there's very little driver comfort issues or drivability issues and you're basically trying to get the car as low as you can to the track and don't let the splitter drag."
"After a handful of runs of doing that, you're kind of out of moves. We can't mess with the back of the car. We don't have body changes that we can make to the templates and the way they are with the cars. So it really shortens up the list of things to try."
When asked his opinion of what type of Daytona 500 he expected Johnson responded,
"The 500 I believe is going to be everything everyone would hope for. The track will have plenty of grip, multiple lanes. In my opinion, yeah, I believe some guys will probably ride and try to play it smart."
"But for the Daytona 500, at least in my mind, and I think most drivers look at it the same way; you're willing to make a lot of risky moves and willing to wreck your car. Points don't seem to be a premium yet. We're going to see a very, very action-packed Daytona 500"
Dale Earnhardt Jr. discussed the changes of the track from the tire test in December to today. "The track was smooth as glass in December and now it has become more rigid in places. I was surprised that they didn't pave the infield."
Earnhardt Jr. was reflective when he was asked what his father would think of the new pavement. "I think he would have liked it." Earnhardt Jr. then went deeper. "I think about him all the time. I think he would appreciate the job they did."
Earnhardt Jr. then compared his drought to his favorite team the Washington Redskins.
"Every year as a Redskins fan you sort of go through this. I've got an app on my phone that pretty much pushes anything that if they're mentioned on the Internet I get the news. You're just waiting on one of those articles to tell you about some big free agency pickup or what their plans are in the draft."
"You know, and you piece everything together before the season starts and start to form your idea whether you think they're a better team or not. And whether I -- sometimes you think, yeah, this is a better team, sometimes you think this isn't the right way to go, but you're still a fan."
"You still decide regardless of whether you like their quarterback or you think they've got a good receiving corps or not, you still as a fan decide to go into the season just as devoted and ready for success or the same failure."
He discussed a telling incident in his first days in the shop of the No.48 and No.88 teams.
"I was joking with somebody in the truck earlier, I was sitting in a seat up in the lounge, and they asked me if that was going to be my seat, and I told them I'm not exactly sure where my seat is yet, it's sort of floating around. That's the way I feel about my team. Everybody is still learning, the guys are still learning who does what, what their personalities are."
When asked about his relationship with his new crew chief Steve Latarte, Dale Jr. responded,
"It's been fun getting to know Steve more. He's got a great personality, a lot of energy, and hopefully I can depend on that energy in certain times throughout certain races, when you need somebody to gear you up and let you see it -- see things a little differently than you see at the time. Maybe he can keep me on my toes, be a cheerleader or whatever you want to call it."
"They seem focused and they seem ready to go. I'm really sick of how we've ran over the last several years and ready to see something different, ready to get to the track and see different results. We'll just have to see how it goes"
When discussing his recent decline he expressed relief of not being in the spotlight,
"I'm sure a lot of people expect nothing more than we did last year. And last year we were kind of out of the radar, which was kind of fun. A lot less garbage to deal with when you're not in the radar"
"But you know, I don't know, I just feel like that -- I don't know what the reasons were for me and Lance and that group as a whole not working out. I really enjoyed Lance, and I think we're still great friends today, and I think he has a lot of talent. But it just didn't work for whatever reason."
"I feel good about the position I'm in now, and I feel pretty confident about it, and I'm looking forward to going into the season and working hard for it. We'll just see how it goes"