MICHAEL WALTRIP, No. 83 Maxwell House Toyota Camry, BK Racing
How important is track position now to win at Daytona?
“It’s a different game – you’re right – it changed. I think it changed in the last two or three years to where people have figured out that you have to be in front, which when I won the two Daytona 500s I was in front, so that’s nothing new or different. But you just have to block quite often. You have to – if someone gets up beside you, that’s not the end of the world and you use a push to get back out in front. Denny Hamlin, I said, ‘How’s your car in traffic?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I was last and then I was first,’ and that’s how he raced Saturday night, you know? And, he won the race and that’s a picture – that’s the same way Joey (Logano) won this race last year. The key to that is the fast car. You’ve got to have a car that’s right up there with the speed that those guys have. There was a time when if you had a slow car you could sort of wedge yourself in the middle of it and wind up part of the story. That’s really difficult to do now, so you can pick favorites. You can pick Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. because of his experience. You know Hamlin is going to have a fast car. Matt Kenseth always seems to figure out how to be there. It just seems to be more predictable now that a handful of guys are going to win this race than ever before.”
Do you think you can win another Daytona 500?
“Well, if I hadn’t qualified 29th, I’d feel better about it. You can’t be the hero the better part of a second off the pole – that’d be a hard day’s work, but we’ll go out there Thursday and maybe in the draft the car does things that I recognize, that I need to have to be able to win, then my optimism will go up a notch or two. But after qualifying, I feel like we can be in the top-five because we squeezed our way in there, but our car is a little bit off of the pace.”
When will you stop racing restrictor plate races?
“When I quit racing full-time in ’09, I had a team in MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and we had sponsors that wanted me to run races. They wanted to complement their schedule with the other drivers with me running a couple, so I said, ‘Heck yeah, I love it,’ and since then I almost won like three of these things – that’s what kept me going is being competitive. Last year, we were able to run up front a little bit at Talladega and finished 13th I think, so got the chance to do it again this year with Maxwell House and Aaron’s and Toyota and until I just can’t get in there or don’t want to get in there and mix it up, I’m going to keep doing it if I get the opportunity. Fortunately for many of our employees and much of our equipment, Ron Devine (team owner) with BK Racing hired them and bought some equipment trying to upgrade his fleet and make his team more competitive and it was only natural with his investment in our team and some of the people that I work with, that I go over there and drive the car. Pretty happy it worked out. We were able to help Matt DiBenedetto get in the race as well. That’s rewarding – he’s driving a MWR car – and our former driver, (David) Ragan, is over there. They jokingly call it MWR South at BK Racing and I’m thankful that we’ve been able to help those guys out.”
DAVID RAGAN, No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota Camry, BK Racing
How do you feel about the overtime rule change in NASCAR?
“I think it’s a collaboration between the drivers and the owners and NASCAR. I think we all talked about the overtime rules. It kind of stems back to that Talladega incident when there was some uncertainty to how NASCAR viewed the final restart, what fans wanted, what the drivers would like to see and I think I wasn’t part of the conversations on the driver counsel. I think some of the members that represent us were – they all talked about the pros and cons for the overtime rules that would ultimately benefit the fans and watch a good ending to a race and we give them the right to have that. We also have to keep safety in mind and we can’t do anything foolish when a guy has wrecked and may need medical assistance and we’re trying to race to the start-finish (line). I think that’s a meet in the middle ground, something that will continue to evolve over time once we have better ideas and see how this plays out. I think it’s going to be okay. I think it’s better than the old system, but maybe not perfect. We’ll have to see how it plays out.”
What has it been like so far with BK Racing?
“It’s funny that a lot of people ask. We’re so early into this. I spent some time at the race shop just getting to know the people – the names and the faces and kind of their procedure and understanding how they go through preparation for a race weekend. Now we’re here at Daytona and had limited amount of track time. It’s gone very, very well. I think any transition to a new team, and certainly a smaller team, there’s some obstacles to overcome than maybe jumping into one of the larger teams with a bigger foundation or more in depth of employees and positions. I’m a real hands-on kind of guy. I’ve come in and tried to understand what their challenges are, where they want to improve on and off the race track. Just working hard, not only driving the race car, but off the track raising some more sponsorship dollars and connecting some of the people in our industry that can help us out. I think it’s gone well. We have three cars that are locked into the Daytona 500 – that is a great thing. We have one more for this race that if we could get locked in, that would be an outstanding accomplishment. So far, so good.”
Do you feel like you can have an impact at your race team?
“I think in the situation I’m in, that’s very much what is needed. If I were going to go to Hendrick Motorsports and drive the you name the car, I would worry about one job and one job only and that’s driving the race car as fast as and consistent as I can. But when you go to a smaller team that isn’t as established as a Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing, you have to play a larger role. You have to be a mentor for the rookie driver, you have to be a good representation for the team on and off the race track to build some credibility in the garage. I work very hard to try to attract some partners and sponsorship to our team. Work with manufacturer to try to grow that relationship. There’s a lot of things that I try to do to evolve from mashing the gas and turning left. That is fun at times, certainly busy, but at the end of the day when they drop the green flag, that’s my job. When you’re with a smaller team and you want to make things work and better, you have to be all in and hold a lot of hats.”
MATT DiBENEDETTO, No. 93 Dustless Blasting Toyota Camry, BK Racing
Were you nervous about qualifying for the 500?
“Yeah, absolutely. I was really nervous about that amongst other things, but since I am running a full season in the 83 car moving forward after Daytona, I really didn’t want to have that much of setback starting the year in points by missing the 500. I hated having that in the back of my mind, but really relieved that we did make it so hopefully we can have a good run, we can have a good start in the points. But, yeah, it all ended up benefitting us in the long run with Michael (Waltrip) coming and driving my 83 car. It helped our partnership with Toyota and a lot of things on the back end, behind the scenes some folks may not have known. It wasn’t like he was coming in and stealing my ride or anything. I was very supportive of it, although I knew it was going to be a tough situation, but it was going to benefit our team in the long run, so I was excited about it.”
What is your plan for your Duel race?
“Funny story – you guys will be the first ones to know this one because we kind of discussed this after qualifying – at first, we were all just so pumped up, excited that we made the race and then after a little bit we were like, ‘Okay, now we need to move forward and think of a game plan for the Duels.’ I talked to my crew chief (Gene Nead) and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ll do whatever you want to do. I’m not very good at racing conservatively, but whatever you want, I know we want to race our primary car.’ He was like, ‘No, you either go out there and try and win the Duels or bring it back in a box,’ which obviously I want to race smart and not cause anything crazy, but my crew chief Gene Nead is a really, really competitive guy and he didn’t want to take the Teddy Bear approach, that’s for sure. He wanted to go out there and we’re going to have a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engine under the hood for the Duels, so he said, ‘Take advantage of it, man, go for it’.”
Would falling to the back of the field be a safe option to start your Duel?
“Yeah, I guess we could and I’ll talk and confirm with my team owner (Ron Devine) because ultimately he owns the team and the cars and foots the bill, so I will talk with him. It’s Daytona – I would have trouble knowing that we have a good car, we have a TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engine, we have good stuff capable of running up front and then falling to the back. As a racer and as overly-competitive as I am, I would just have a lot of trouble doing that and, man, what I’ve found here, too – I’m not the most experienced at superspeedways – but what I’ve found is my strategy, my plan is to almost have no plan because you can wreck in the front, in the back, the middle. I feel like I just have to hope that luck is on my side that day and that’s the approach that I go with.”