Saturday, May 19, 2012

Media notes and quotes-Inside the Media Center for the 2012 All-Star Race

Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Friday was media day at the track and for fans who are unaware of the process, drivers come into the media center one at a time to answers questions ranging from "How's the car?" to "When are you gonna win again?" It's a room full of media, all clamoring for stories, and the drivers all play along well.

Starting the rounds during my first-ever stint in the media center, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Answering the usual questions, Junior was asked about his young nieces Kennedy and Karsyn Elledge.

Wednesday night at Millsbright Speedway Kennedy won her very first mini box stock race, Karsyn has been doing that for a couple of years, when the time comes that they are old enough if the opportunity presents itself, would you be willing to put them in a car? 

"Absolutely, Karsyn, she's really taking to it pretty heavily. She really enjoys it. Kennedy, like you said, just ran her first race, but she's not really old enough to know what's going on. She just wants to do whatever her sister is doing. So, we'll see how that works. Karsyn is dead serious about it and quite productive. She is really kind of smart about it. I'm really enjoying seeing her do that. If that's what she wants to do, I have been smart with my money and would love to help her as long as she wants to do it."

Making his All-Star debut, Paul Menard was asked how he felt about being qualified by virtue of his win last season at the Brickyard.

"Good. I've been watching it for a lot of years. It's something we've tried to transfer into the last couple of years and that open race is always such a crapshoot. We kind of go for broke. The top two transfer and I think we've wrecked out the last three years just going for it. So this year we're in it. It's going to be nice to race at night and understand what the track conditions will be like for next weekend and basically we're going to get aggressive with the set-up and try some things that we haven't tried before and try to learn stuff for next week."

Trevor Bayne is already locked into his very first All-Star Race and was simply asked his feelings about that.

"That's the plan is to go do that (win $1 million). I think it makes it much sweeter this year going into it knowing that we were trying to run it last year and Good Sam was on board and we were gonna make our debut, and then, unfortunately, I wasn't able to be in the race. To have Good Sam and Camping World back on board for round two after what happened last year means a lot to me. It means that they're behind us and want to be a part of Wood Brothers Racing team and that excites me. Most of all, I'm just excited to be in this All-Star Race. The new format, I think, is gonna be a lot of fun. The short runs, that seems to kind of be our forte this year anyways is going on the short runs. Last time here at Charlotte, in the fall race, which is my only Sprint Cup race here, we ran out of fuel running in the top five, so, fortunately there's no fuel mileage issues with 20-lap segments and then a 10-lap segment, and hopefully we can keep it dialed in."

Matt Kenseth shared his favorite All-Star race memory, which happens to be his 2004 win.

"Yeah, that's easy - when we won it in 2004," Kenseth said when asked his favorite memory of the race. "That would have to be my favorite memory. I think that was the year that Newman won a whole bunch of those races on their pit strategy and different things, and when they got in front they were just always so fast. I remember he didn't get tires in that last segment and we did and I was amazed at how hard it was to get around him when we had new tires on and he never even stopped. We raced extremely hard that last segment for the win and it was pretty cool that we were able to beat him and come out of here with a victory."

Asked how far he'd be willing to go for the win, Marcos Ambrose is ready to rumble.

"I went three-wide on the bottom at Darlington on the green-white-checker, which, if you look back, you probably wouldn't want to do again, but that was just instinct taking over, and I'm just gonna let that happen again. I don't mind mixing it up with the best of them. I've been very respectful in this sport to get here and I've always known my place, but I've got a chance to win $1 million. I've spent the last six years trying to build friends in the garage and I'm probably gonna lose them all in one night. We'll see what happens."

Racing at home means that many drivers bring out their wives and children for pre-race. Greg Biffle was asked 'what it is like during pre-race here at Charlotte?'

"It's certainly exciting now because I've got a 10-month old daughter. With her being out on pit road, not every race but a lot of them, it's kind of a little inspiration when I get ready to buckle in that car. It's neat to be home in front of what we call our hometown track and all of our friends and family. All of our team guys' families get to participate, so that's exciting to spend a couple weeks at home and see all the people that are able to come out for this event. It's nice to be in this situation."

Five-time champion and proud driver for the 2012 Pit Crew Championship winning team, Jimmie Johnson, was next into the media center.

How far are you willing to push it to win the money tomorrow night?

"A million dollars there are a lot of reasons to ruffle some feathers. Or to steal Earnhardt's phrase "to rattle his cage." You need to be in position to do that. I think winning last night in the pit crew competition puts us in a good position for pit road. Hopefully, we have a night on track that gives us an opportunity to take advantage on that pit road spot that we will have. There are a few pieces to the puzzle. Really it's going to boil down to track position for that last segment. In a 10-lap shootout you've got to be in those first couple of rows. I would assume there is a good chance we will all crash and maybe the guy fifth or sixth will slide on through. I think your best chance to win is starting on the front row. That is really our goal to put ourselves in position to be on the front row for that final segment."

Carl Edwards had perhaps one of the most interesting questions of the media sessions on Friday.

If you win the All-Star and were given the choice of the $1 million or an automatic spot in the Chase, what would you choose?

"I'd take the $1 million bucks. It's like a choose your own adventure book. If you presented drivers with choices like that throughout the year, it would make for some entertaining, I guess it would be fodder for you guys to write about. I think at the end of the day the drivers who earn the most points throughout the year should be the ones racing for the championship, whether it's Chase format or not a Chase format. One race probably shouldn't knock another guy out. I don't know it that's right, but it would be a tough decision."

Ending the media sessions, Jeff Gordon, who was asked how far he is willing to go for that million dollars.

"You've got to push hard. You look at the highlights of the race and I'm glad that we're back to this 10-lap shootout at the end because the highlights of this race will always show you two cars running side-by-side trying to get the edge through (Turns) 1 and 2, or (Turns) 3 and 4; one slides up and boom, hits the other one. There's a lot of contact because people are putting everything out there on the line because they want to win this race. And that was back before it paid a million dollars.  Now, it pays a lot more. There's more on the line. There's more prestige. The sport has grown. So yeah, you'll do pretty much anything.

Media sessions wrapped with Gordon as we prepared for the night's race. Hope this gave you a little insight into the pace of a media session on a race weekend.

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