Saturday, March 11, 2000 Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday's Cracker Barrel Old Store 500 Chevrolet notes and quotes DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) "I think from what we saw yesterday in practice, it (rule change) ...
Saturday, March 11, 2000
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday's Cracker Barrel Old Store 500
Chevrolet notes and quotes
DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I think from what we saw yesterday in practice, it (rule change) definitely helped the car turn down in the corner, mainly just on entrance. The car feels a lot better in the center of the corner than it has the past three or four weeks. We went to Darlington and tested well, and I could tell a pretty big difference in how the Busch car reacted compared to this car. It was quite an improvement. The past three weeks, we've had a problem getting the car to turn on entry into the corner. When we tested at Vegas, you could just about turn the wheel a whole half a round and nothing would happen going down the straightaway because there was that much air on the back of the car making the car kind of float down the straightaway. It's helped a lot. It was almost more than we needed (at Atlanta), so we kind of knocked some of it out. It was so free getting into the corner. I don't know if that was because of the air dam change, but it was nice to have that flexibility knowing you've got that extra little bit of downforce and that little bit of help to balance the car out. We have a bigger area where we can move the car around a little bit within the restrictions of the rules and get the car to handle a lot better. I think it's helped tremendously. I think we're going to see over the next five races how much it's helped. I don't think it's over with by any means as far as this is the final answer. This is what we have to work for for the rest of the year. You may see in the next three weeks a change to take a little back. It may be too much. It may make all the Chevrolets run up front, and we don't want that. Just because they're Chevrolets doesn't mean I don't want to out run them. We've been one of the better Chevrolets over the past couple of weeks. As long as the playing field is level for everybody, that's what everybody wants as far as the drivers and teams go. I think we're getting closer to that, and this is a big help for Chevrolet teams.
"I feel pressure because of the work the guys put into the car, obviously. The status of our sponsor in everyday society, being one of the biggest sponsors in the sport. Obvious reasons are there for wanting to run up front for myself, for everything I put into it. Not to add interest to the series. I think the series does pretty good at that on its own. Things that happen every week, there's always interesting things going on. I think the past couple of weeks have been pretty good as far as racing goes. I can't speak for any other drivers, but I've had a pretty good time.
"It's gotten a lot easier. It was difficult last year because we were running both series. I know a lot of drivers have done that. Mark Martin does it every year, but it was just something I felt at that time that our organization at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., wasn't quite organized enough to be able to handle it in a professional way. I didn't feel like we could do it as the group we were and have good results. I didn't want to be involved with anything that didn't have good results, so I feel like there was a lot of complaining. I did it for one reason only and that was so the people I was trying to talk to would hear it. If I talked to them face to face, they wouldn't hear it. If they read it in a magazine, they would hear it, and they took noticed. It straightened a lot of things out and got things headed in the right direction. My calendar was a lot easier to read, and that was a big help. The last part of the year, aside from the stretch of trying to win the championship was relatively calm and this year has been really great knowing
DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) what you're going to be doing from week to week instead of trying to juggle your time.
"I felt like we had a car at times last week that was capable of winning the race. Whether I as a driver was capable of winning the race, I don't know, but we'll find that equation of putting together a 500-mile race and being in position to win is something I haven't done yet. It ain't just riding around up front and staying in the top 10 until the end. There's a lot more things that go into it. I think we've got awhile before we get to that point. As a race team to be able to put a car on the race track that runs good every tire run and every gas run, is more difficult than I expected. We practiced last year in the Busch car and when the race started that's the way the car handled. In the Winston Cup Series you've got a lot more variables there. I haven't had it yet, and it's only been three races, I've been surprised at how the car is different on Sunday from the way we left it in Happy Hour on Saturday. We'll figure out what changes are being made, what changes the track is making and learn that and know that so we can be a more competitive car when the race starts.
"I wish we could have run better at Rockingham, but I was pretty much expecting a difficult race there. There's always I wish I could have done better, I wish I could have finished better. I'm pretty happy with the way things went.
"I told him (Dale Earnhardt after Daytona) that it was just a situation where the people I was around at the time I had been working with the entire race. I feel like I have to race him just like I race the next guy. I couldn't say, 'OK fellows, I've been working with you all day long and it's 20 to go so I'm going to help my dad.' I couldn't expect people to understand that, so I had to continue to help them and they helped me back. I hadn't been working with my dad in the race at all, and we hadn't built that trust in the race like I had with the other guys. I just did what I thought was right for my team to better my position. I think he understood that.
"He's pretty happy (after Friday's qualifying). He joked with me about getting beat by Jarrett. I'm pretty happy about our run. We were about 15th in practice and couldn't figure out where we were going to find some speed in the car. We changed motors and that was it.
"We've been qualifying really good, but we haven't had the kind of car (in the race) that we showed in qualifying. At Vegas, things were looking good at the start of the race and then the car got tight after 20 laps. We just can't have that. The car has got to stay the way it's running at the start to stay competitive. It's just going to take some time. That nose piece is going to help us a lot.
"He (father) has been running really good. It's been hard for me to keep up with him in the races. We had a car last week that would have been able to run with him. We made some changes on one pit stop that hurt the car real bad. We knew exactly what to do. We needed another shot at getting some laps in, getting some tires on the car and changing some air pressure around to where the car was as fast. We should have run sixth or seventh last week. I was kind of ready to go home because it was so far away from home. I knew what we were capable of doing. I was happy with a 10th-place finish, but I knew we were capable of doing better."
DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I'm having a good time. I'm having a good time racing. I know there's a lot of expectations for me to win, for Matt (rookie Kenseth) to win for other drivers to win. That's OK. We feel like it, too. We want to win, too. I want to win bad, just as bad as the No. 1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan wants me to win. I kind of understand their expectations. I'm looking forward to the day we do win. He (Tony Stewart) raised the bar of performance by a rookie. Everybody knows how good some of these rookie teams are this year. There's a lot of expectations on everybody here.
"We'll get in the car and make sure it feels comfortable from the start. I can tell right away if it's going to get looser or tighter on long runs. We'll work with that and try to maintain good speed. It's so easy to get the car handling good and lose straightaway speed here. You almost treat it like a superspeedway where you're pulling the fenders in and stuff like that. You've got to be careful. If you get your car handling good, you can slow it down by sticking the blade up in the air and the spoiler in the air and stuff on the straightaways. We'll continue to work with that and get some speed out of the car so we can run down the straightaways and get through the corner.
"I haven't felt that way on the race track where if we massage the car enough it can win the race. You look at 'em, and the potential is definitely there. It's just a matter of time until we start running in convincing style to where we're considered a favorite. They're doing a great job on the cars. I haven't had any trouble with the cars or guys. I'm really happy with the guys and the job they're doing.
"I'd like to think we could run up front Sunday. Last year here we had a 10th-place car and finished 14th with it. I think we've got a lot better race car this year with basically the same competition, so we should be a lot better."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
"There's always pressure to run good and run up front. We know we need to have a good run and we'd like to have a good run and we hope it happens this weekend. We've had the package every week. We just haven't hit the right setup. It's just learning how to communicate with each other. Things are going real well this weekend.
"I think it (rule change) is an improvement. I don't think it's 100 percent of what we need, but anything is an improvement and we'll take it. We'll just have to run this race and see how it goes. You can't really base anything off of qualifying. More was based off this morning's practice, and I thought it was pretty decent.
"He (Ray Evernham) told me he thought it would be good to have a veteran and an up and coming driver. When he asked me about Bill, I told him I didn't think he could pick a better veteran out there. Between him and Ricky Rudd, those are probably the two guys that have been consistent and I think he can do a lot with his program. It's an excellent match. Ray is going to put good equipment out there, and Bill has shown this year what he can do with good equipment.
"We're close. We're going to make a few adjustments. We're not far off, if any at all. We ran good laps at times, but this tire has really got a lot of people with their hands full. It's going to be a good tire for the race as far as a safe tire, but trying to get a handle on it is pretty tricky.
"It's not like we're at Talladega where we're running 190 and we're four wide. It's one of those tracks where when you get side by side until that groove pushes up, it's a pretty safe place to run. I think you worry more about whether something breaks on your car at these speeds. No matter where we go, there's not much room for error.
"I think it's more competitive than it's ever been this year. I'm living proof of that. The racing I've been doing has been pretty exciting from where I've been sitting, but I haven't been in the battles for the lead and I haven't been that good of a judge on how the battles have been up there. I think it's going to get better and better. We've only had three races, and it's pretty early to tell so far. One has been shortened by rain, and we didn't get to finish it. Rockingham was a pretty decent race. At Daytona, Dale Jarrett pretty much stunk up the show.
"I made a 20-lap run in practice. I thought we were pretty decent. We're still a little bit too tight, but that might just be the characteristic of the track. I still can't get right up behind somebody and turn and go underneath them, but I thought the balance of the car was better.
"Darlington is one of those tracks where we can go there with just about anything and I feel good about it. I think the changes that have been made should help us at Darlington. We've been beat pretty bad the last couple of times we've been there, so I'm hoping this will get us back on track where we need to be.
"It depends on what part of the race it is. I don't like to talk a whole lot. I just like to give important information on what the car is doing and what's happening around me. I've got a crew chief who kind of does the same thing. He wants the information from me and he gives me the information I need. I wouldn't say we're big talkers (on radio during race). I like to be quiet and drive. Usually if I'm quiet, that's a good thing.
"The rain is going to change the track early in the race. It'd be nice to get some rubber on the track so the track starts out consistent, but we've been here before when it rained and we've had to start the race with a green race track. You just know it's going to change before long.
"I've had a car that's just awesome in practice and they dropped the green flag and I went backwards. I've had a horrible car in practice and we had a rocket ship in the race, so I've learned not to have any feeling at all. We just do everything we can to get the car as good as possible and just wait and see what it offers me when the race starts.
"I think we're going to be decent (in Sunday's race), but I don't know how good we're going to be or how bad we're going to be. I think we're certainly not going to be as bad as we were last week when we started."
RICHARD CHILDRESS (Car owner RCR Chevrolet Monte Carlos)
"Really, you've got to wait until you get in competition against the other cars before you can tell what the rule change is going to do. It helped a couple of the Chevrolets turn yesterday in qualifying. Our cars seem to be decent, but they still fall off from 20 laps on and that's the problem we had before. You've got to make longer runs and see how the rest of the cars fall off. We feel decent about it. We've just got to see because I haven't seen anybody else make long runs."