DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 17, 2009) – The stars of NASCAR visited historic Daytona International Speedway for the past two days chatting with race fans, signing autographs and participating in media availability during the NASCAR Preseason Thunder Fan Fests.
The following is a collection of quotes from NASCAR drivers talking about DIRECTV Speedweeks 2009 and the 51st annual Daytona 500:
2008 DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION RYAN NEWMAN: “Obviously it was an extreme honor in 2008 to win that 50th running of the Daytona 500. To do it in the fashion that we did, a one-two finish with Kurt Busch as my teammate, obviously, it was a great honor and privilege. Really look forward to defending the title with a different team and being a teammate to Tony Stewart this year.”
“We were joking in the car earlier when we were doing some other stuff, we’ve kind of lost the thunder in Preseason Thunder because we’re not testing, but at the same time we still have a responsibility to the fans to be able to come here and say thanks and say, hey, we’ll be back in a few weeks, so check us out. It’s still a good thing for the sport ultimately because of the fans, and if the fans show up, we’ll be here.”
TONY STEWART: “I remember the race that Dale Earnhardt lost on the last corner of the last lap with a flat tire and I remember Darrell Waltrip winning his first race and watching Dale Earnhardt Sr. get his win. There are so many huge memories of this event that it’s really hard to pick one. I mean, they’re all special in their own way, and we’re obviously in different times. They’re all pretty cool.
“Obviously with preseason testing being canceled, this event is really important to get us connected with our fans again after a long off-season, or short off-season I should say, but that’s what makes tonight so important, to have that opportunity to be with our fans again before we get here in three weeks to start racing. Tonight it’s about being here with our fans, and that’s something that I think we’ve all been looking forward to -- getting back to our core group.”
ARIC ALMIROLA: “It’s always good to come to Daytona, especially for me growing up in Tampa. Daytona holds a special place in my heart for sure. I’ve been here many a times and watched many a Daytona 500s, watched many Firecracker 400s. So it’s always fun to come back.”
DAVID RAGAN: “I’ve told a lot of people that we can win some races next year, and the Daytona 500 is the first one that we’ve got a great shot to win. Out of the last four restrictor plate races we had four of the top five, and if it wasn’t for a mistake on my behalf at last year’s Daytona 500, we would have had a chance to win.”
THREE-TIME DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION JEFF GORDON: My very first memories of Daytona, I used to race sprint cars out at Volusia County back in the mid 80s, so we'd drive by the speedway on our way out there. I was just in awe of it. It never was even a reality that I'd be driving laps around that track or competing there or especially winning there. I was happy to be going to the dirt track, but I was like, ‘Wow, what an amazing facility.’ And going to Indianapolis and going by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was kind of that same kind of feeling that you have when you just see a place sprawling out of the ground that has all these grandstands, this incredible speedway with all the history.”
MARK MARTIN: “Well, everybody wants to win (the Daytona 500), and everybody thinks they're going to win it. Every one of them thinks they're going to win it. It would certainly be the crown jewel of my career. Rick Hendrick loves winning Daytona 500s. I think it would be real special for him and for the 5 car to win it on their 25th anniversary of being in NASCAR and it all started with the 5 car. I think it would mean a lot.”
TWO-TIME DAYTONA 500 WINNER MICHAEL WALTRIP: “It means the world to me, you know, career-wise. I’m proud that I was able to accomplish winning the greatest race there is in my opinion, and winning it twice is something that I’m thankful for. I feel like I could have won it a couple more times, and I feel like I can still win it a couple more times, and that’s a great feeling, too, to come down here in a couple weeks with a car that I believe will be able to contend for the win here. That’s awesome.”
2004 DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION DALE EARNHARDT JR: “I've got to be fast. That was pretty apparent. When the 18 and the 11 and those guys were leading last year, man, you couldn't even get to them. You've got to handle good. They were handling good and had some good power. We've just got to get our car to handle a little bit better. I think I've wrecked out of the last two Daytona 500s or maybe I finished ninth or something last year, but I've not finished well, done well near the end of the races, made the wrong choices, picking the wrong line and finishing bad or crashing out. You've just got to make the right choices near the end of the Daytona 500. The night falls and the grip comes, the track gets a lot more grip, and the two wide racing becomes more common. If you're not in the front of one of them lines, you're kind of stuck where you are. So you've got to make sure you're near the front of that thing just about all day.”
Tickets for DIRECTV Speedweeks 2009 and the 51st annual Daytona 500 are available at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.