DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVY MONTE CARLO (second): TELL US ABOUT THAT RUN: "It was a good run. We're real happy. We were about 30th in practice and we hadn't really had a great track record for qualifying here and the car hasn't...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVY MONTE CARLO (second):
TELL US ABOUT THAT RUN:
"It was a good run. We're real happy. We were about 30th in practice and we hadn't really had a great track record for qualifying here and the car hasn't really been that comfortable before. We relied on some stuff from Michael Waltrip's team and Steve's (Park) team and kind of put together a setup about middle way through practice that made the car a lot faster. It just drove better. When you can get your car to drive good you can do a better job."
HOW CONFIDENT WERE YOU GOING INTO QUALIFYING?
"I thought that I didn't know because the temperature went down in practice when we ran our fast lap and I felt like that it wasn't a legitimate kind of benchmark, so to speak, because of the cloud cover and whatnot that we got in practice when we ran that fast lap; I felt like that helped us a little bit. I didn't know if we had a good enough car for the pole. I was really surprised to beat Bill's time and I just wanted to get in the top 10 or top 15, actually, (that) was my goal, to just shoot inside the top 10 there."
ARE SHORT TRACKS BECOMING WHAT YOU AND THE TEAM WANT TO FOCUS ON AFTER YOUR SUCCESS AT RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES?
"I don't think it's really a result of shifting focus. We just haven't been good at getting our cars to handle good anywhere else. What it comes down to is just when you get into these places, you've got to come out of the trailer fast. And we did that last week for qualifying at Michigan. That only happens to us maybe five times out of the year, tops. And, with the way my and Tony Jr.'s relationship has worked over the past couple of years and the way they changed a lot of things, such as the tire and whatnot, the aero, this, that and the other, some of the things we banked on, the notes don't really help us out. We're really understanding now that the communication is probably the most valuable thing that we have; that overrides having great notes and a great setup from last year and all that good stuff. We just really worked hard the last two weeks to talk to each other about how the car's driving. It's really a lot harder I think than I ever imagined as far as getting the cars to handle good and drive good. It might look like we've put a lot of emphasis on the plate races and we overlooked these other tracks as unimportant or lesser of importance to us, that's not the case. We're just so damned pissed off about how we run at some of these places, we take it home with us and it wears us out.
"We're just trying to kind of fabricate a system this year that will work for us next year and we won't be so inconsistent."
HAS THIS SEASON REACHED A POINT OF AGGRAVATION?
"Sure it has. Every driver in the garage gets to that point some time in the season. But we just got into a slump. We were fifth in the points, won Talladega, looked like we were going to have a shot at putting ourselves up there all year, been in the top five, top 10, and had that real bad crash, real hard hit in California, and it took me as a driver about two or three weeks to get out from under that. And the team never kind of recovered. It's kind of similar to what Steve (Park) was going through this year as he's had kind of a crash that took him out as a driver and he wasn't 100 percent. Now that he's better and can do the job, the team isn't where it needs to be. And I'm not pointing fingers. That doesn't do us any favors. Didn't last year; didn't the year before. You get to a point where you run seven, eight races with not a good finish, not a good thing happening to you, you get to a point where you either get up and work harder or you give up. I ain't giving up."
WHAT HAS MADE THE COMMUNICATION SO DIFFICULT?
"I think the pressure that is on us. If you walk up and down this garage and look behind everybody's pit you won't see too many people standing anywhere but behind our pit. There's 30, 40 people always around our garage stall. There's reporters, there's press, there's fans. We're just really kind of under a lot of pressure to perform. I feel kind of so undeserving sometimes because we run like crap on the race track and we still get all this attention; being the focal point of the sport and we're going to lead the sport into the new millennium, whatever. We can't do any of that if we can't run good on the race track. You just get so frustrated sometimes because you don't do what you want to do and what you think you can do. I feel like I can win five championships in a row if my car drives great every week; I think anybody can. You get to where you feel like you're wasting time sometimes. I just want to win, I want to win championships, and nothing else really matters."
YOU'VE ALWAYS HAD THAT MEDIA ATTENTION:
"Yeah, we have. It has grown a lot. In sheer numbers of people in the garage area, that's probably doubled or tripled as far as over the past two, three years. It really puts a bind on your relationship with your team when you've got to kind of hide underneath something all day long just to be able to concentrate on the car. That's true, we have worked together for a long time. When you're winning nobody's got any problems. All the problems are small and not even worth bothering (about). And that's what we were doing in the Busch Series. We came out of there best friends, great pals, been family all our life. Then we went into the Cup Series, won a couple of races and had our rookie season to blame (or have) as an excuse why we didn't do well.
"Then to finally feel like we had ourselves in position this year and come out -- and it all looked that way up until California -- it really was a letdown. It's nobody's fault. This year has just been one problem after another as far as the kind of things that have been out of our hands, so to speak. Not like it has in the past. In the past we beat ourselves. This year we just can't seem to hit a stride like we did in the beginning of the season and you get to a point to where you're not going to end the season on that note. I'm bound and determined myself and I think that's kind of starting to rub off on a lot of the guys on the team -- that we get this turned around and we get something out of the season."
IS THE PRESSURE OF ALL THE PEOPLE BEING AROUND PART OF THE PROBLEM?
"There's a place and a time for everything. I'm definitely not the best person to try to shut things out and being able to focus on one thing. We go to all these appearances and all these people show up and I never get used to it. It's never like something you expect. You come into Food City and places like it; I never get used to it. It's good, it's fun, the excitement is great, but sometimes it kind of makes you nervous. It makes me a little nervous sometimes. Because I never get used to it; I wonder whether I ever will. My Dad used to be able to walk through here. A lot of drivers can do that; walk through here and blurt everything out and shut it all down and not be bothered by it. Their focus seems to be able to stay 100 percent on the car and stuff. If I walk from the car to the bus and back I've done forgot everything I just did. Because there are so many people hollering your name."
IS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF CONFUSION THAT KEEPS YOU FROM BEING AS FOCUSED IN QUALIFYING?
"Sometimes your brain gets a little frayed out a little bit. What I didn't do personally and what I was talking about last week, taking myself out of the equation, what I didn't do was buckle down harder. When things got tougher I didn't try harder. And I felt like ---all right, I'm going to pace myself and I'm going to keep this pace as far as my workload (is concerned), my work ethic all year long,' and you can't. And this stretch of 20 races, when a lot of people get burned out and the relentless activities at the track and whatnot that you've got to deal with, they don't change. You've just got to work harder. And I didn't try to work harder. I thought (that) how I was and how I felt about my job and I was doing my part was the right attitude, when apparently it wasn't. These guys, they step up. I feel like I didn't step up until about last week."