Atlanta: Pole winner interview

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, POLE WINNER: YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE LAP AND STARTING ON THE POLE FOR SUNDAY'S RACE: "Well, a lot of credit goes to Lance (McGrew) and Chris and the whole team. They worked...

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, POLE WINNER:

YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE LAP AND STARTING ON THE POLE FOR SUNDAY'S RACE:

"Well, a lot of credit goes to Lance (McGrew) and Chris and the whole team. They worked really hard over the off-season to make us a better race team. Obviously this track is a place where power is really going to show up. We had a great engine and was able to get us a good lap. The car drove good. It was there for us. We were pretty happy with how the car was in practice, but we tried to go back out and run a little bit faster and just couldn't find that extra little bit of speed with the adjustments we made, so we went in a little bit different direction and it seemed to be the right call for tonight. But there's about five or 10 cars out there that are capable of putting themselves on the pole and you've just got to hope that you do everything you can correctly on putting the car down in the corner and getting back to the gas and knowing when to do all those things. We just got fortunate and had the right arc down into (Turn) 3 coming to the checkered and everything. It all just worked out. The car did everything I asked it to do and when you go from running a half a second faster, it's quite a bit different in how the car drives. So you've just got to get lucky and hope you hit your marks right when you're going that much faster for the first time in the day and we were able to do it. I want to thank Lance and the guys for their work. We've qualified well this year so far and hopefully we'll start seeing those same improvements in our race team on Sunday. But it's definitely a step in the right direction, so we feel pretty good."

HOW IS THE GUY WHO QUALIFIED HERE 20TH AND 31ST LAST YEAR NOW ON THE POLE?

"Well, a lot of things can change over a period of time and we've seen race teams completely change their identity almost in off-seasons before. I hope that's what we've been able to do. Hopefully that off-season and the changes we made are definitely what we needed. I'm real happy with this performance and how we qualified in Daytona and in Vegas was really good for us and it builds a lot of confidence and I'm just hoping to see this type of difference over on the car on Sunday. I think we will. It's just a matter of time. If we keep performing like this, it should start leaking over on our performance on Sunday and we can get to where we want to be as a race team. We've made a lot of changes. We tried to make the right ones in the off-season. We tried to sort of forget about what happened last year and try to come into this season with a renewed sense of confidence and you try to get rid of the bugs from the year before and it really has a lot to do with how confident you are in what you're getting ready to do. Everything that you get ready to do, whether it's get ready to get in the car and practice in it or race or whatever, you've to got to try to be confident. We just got beat down last year and we figured we would have a chance to start new this year. It's just a better race team and their working really good together and they are a really good group of guys and I just hope that we can have some success because they deserve it."

HAVE YOU SAT DOWN AND ANALYZED AT WHAT POINT DURING A RACE THAT THINGS BREAK DOWN OR CHANGE?

"Well, we go by case by case. For each race, we sort of break it down. We have conversations on Tuesday about it every week. Every race is sort of different in how it goes. Over the end of the course of the last season and even into this year as we ran the last three races, we don't really see a pattern to where it's all right, this is the part or the piece or this is the thing that needs to be different. Or, we need to go this direction instead of that direction. When people say there are teams or players that are the total package or whatever, that's just really where we've got to go as a team. We're not the total package. We'll either hit on it; we'll try our tail's off to make it happen. And we'll either do it or we won't. But some people do and some people don't. We made a lot of change to see if that would make a difference and we'll go into this year and it seems to be helping in some areas and we haven't cured everything, obviously. But we've learned a lot from last week's race where we ran the entire event and we had some opportunities to sort of seize a good finish and we missed on those opportunities. It was still a 16th place but we saw the opportunities more clearly I guess for the first time in a while of how we can be better. I definitely don't like pointing fingers, but we know we missed some good opportunities on pit road and lost some spots but I didn't have the car or wasn't the driver to be able to make them up on the race track either. So we talked about that and how some guys sort of get stuck wherever they are in traffic and some guys can drive right through it and we've got to figure out what the difference is in making the car be able to do that on the race track. Losing two or three spots on pit road, even if it happens repeatedly, that's not really an excuse; but it wasn't helping our battle any. But we didn't have the race car to make it up anyway, so it wasn't worth complaining about. We had an okay car. We ran basically wherever we were all day. If we were in eighth, we ran in 8th until the next pit stop. If we ran 13th, we ran in 13th until the next pit stop. We're at least seeing the opportunities even though we're missing them still, we're seeing them for the first time. We didn't make the car better all day long and these were some things we've done in the past that made the car better and we should have probably tried this or this or that. It's just a process of elimination right now for us before we start hitting on a few more cylinders and starting getting us some better finishes."

YOU'VE HAD FOUR TOP-TEN STARTING SPOTS. ARE YOU PUTTING MORE EMPHASIS ON QUALIFYING?

"I don't know. I don't know. We're not. Most of the cars start in qualifying trim and do the whole session in qualifying trim. Actually today we only did two runs in qualifying trim in practice. And we did a couple of runs in race trim, two or three runs in race trim, and came in and it was about an hour to go and we set up the ca to go qualifying and did a run and it was pretty good. It was pretty tight. Came in. Did another change and with like 20 minutes to do, I went out and did that run. It was still a little bit tight but it was better. I just came in and said hey, see you for qualifying. Twenty minutes before practice was over I was already sitting in my motor home."

FAST LAP, HOW EDGY WAS IT?

"It really felt pretty free through the center of both corners. But, I don't think it was as edgy as some of the runs that Mark (Martin) has had. He gets out and tells us some pretty good stories about how his car gets on edge for qualifying at some of these tracks. It is pretty incredible what he is able to do with his car. My car was real comfortable all day long. The new tire has a lot of grip in it, at least the left side I think is the change they made. It has a lot of grip. I was thinking all day long as we were running in the 29s, the 29.40s. I knew when I ran the 29.40 and was first on the board, I was like there is a lot more out there. And Mark ran a .27 and a couple of other guys started going faster. The track cooled down quite a bit and the temperature cooled down quite a bit for qualifying, there is just a lot of grip in that tire. I think it is a good change. Hopefully it will open the race track up a little bit for Sunday and allow us to run a little bit harder around each other. The last few times we have been racing here, the track and tire was so slick, we couldn't get near each other because we would lose so much aero, it would just compound the problem. Hopefully with a little more mechanical grip that the tire is going to give us, we will have a little bit better race here. The car was pretty comfortable and I think it has a lot to do with the tire being as grippy as it was and the temperature. It was on edge but not quite as on edge that you'll probably have at some of these other tracks like the pole winner at Bristol or something like that."

WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE CAR, YOUR EXCITEMENT AND ENTHUSIASM WAS EVIDENT, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ARE A LITTLE MORE SUBDUED NOW, IS THAT INTENTIONAL, ARE YOU PLAYING IT COOL A LITTLE BIT?

"Yes, that is it. It's good to be on the pole and I am real proud of it. I'm proud of this race track and its history. Just getting a pole anywhere for our team is good. But we are just hungry, so hungry to do much better on Sunday. We qualified well at Vegas and we were pretty happy to be able to put ourselves in the middle of the company we were around up there in the top-10. To be able to do what we did tonight means a lot to us, but we are starving for a good finish and something like this to happen on Sunday for us. That is really all we can think about."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT HERE AT ATLANTA TO HAVE THAT NUMBER ONE PIT STALL? "Well, hopefully Lance (McGrew, crew chief) will pick it. He has been known to pick some pretty strange pit stalls. (LAUGHS) We have a lot of fun with that. Jimmy Elledge picks right beside us every week and I thought it was because we are friends, but I think it is actually because I have the easiest pit board sign to see. I know what Jimmy is going to do this weekend if we pick number one, he is going to have to pit down there in turn one somewhere. The pit stalls are really tight and I remember a lot of times having trouble getting in and out of your stall here so hopefully we do pick a good stall that gives us a lot of room and gives us an added advantage because it does become very challenging to get in and out of your stall at this race track. It is such a big race track and rarely do we really get a whole lot of cars a lap down. We have enough cautions to really keep a lot of the field on the lead lap so pit road is pretty busy when the cautions come out. So hopefully we get a good stall that gives us a little bit more breathing room."

-source: gm racing

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup