Dale Earnhardt reflects on first half of season

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) Earnhardt, a 49-year-old seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Kannapolis, N.C., trails points leader Bobby Labonte by 52 points after 17 of 34 events on the 2000 NASCAR...

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) Earnhardt, a 49-year-old seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion from Kannapolis, N.C., trails points leader Bobby Labonte by 52 points after 17 of 34 events on the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule. Earnhardt gained 15 points on Labonte last Saturday night with an eighth-place finish in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Labonte finished 12th. Meanwhile, defending NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Jarrett finished second in the Pepsi 400 and gained 38 points on Earnhardt and 53 points on Labonte. Jarrett is in third place at the midpoint of the season, 76 points behind the leader. Earnhardt talks about Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, NASCAR’s proposed common templates, running for a record eighth title, his team and why he has seven straight top-10 finishes and leads the circuit with 14 top 10s in 17 starts this season.

“I think our whole program has come together from last year to this year,” Earnhardt said. “The new Monte Carlo has helped us on downforce, the drivability of the race car. Kevin (crew chief Hamlin) and I have got more time under our belts together. Our crew has been fine tuned and moved around and everybody really wants to be there. You’re getting paid to be there, but they want to be there. I want to be there. Over the years, I’ve driven for Childress. I’ve been offered bigger deals, but I’m with Richard because I want to race, I want to win, I want to be with somebody who wants to win as badly as I want to. I feel like that is the package we have this year. We want to overcome. Our pit stops were not that good the first of the season, but we worked on that and our pit stops are right there with everybody else’s. We came out of the pits first at Pocono and that enabled us to race for the win. If we hadn’t come out of the pits first, we probably wouldn’t have been able to race for the win. “I’ve got four years of racing left, at least. Who knows, I might even drive another car with my own team. I’m not ruling anything out. I’ve got a job and an opportunity to win that eighth championship. That’s what we’re focusing on. That’s what we’re driving for. That’s what we’re working for. We’re doing it with a more solid team than I’ve had in past years. I may have been hurt for the last two years and working with pain and stuff and didn’t realize it until it got worse and worse. I had to have something to do about it. That’s all in the past. It’s over. We’re healthy. The team is healthy. Everything is there. Now it’s ours to capitalize on it and move forward and get those top fives. If we can keep doing what we’re doing and get a little closer to Bobby and put some pressure on them guys... It puts pressure on them guys leading and pressure on them guys trying to catch ‘em. “I think I’ve been a good driver the whole time. I enjoy the pressure. I thrive on it. I’m not one to go out and overdrive the corner because someone is pressuring me into the corner. I try not to do that. His team, Makar and Bobby, they’re putting pressure on themselves, but I don’t think the racing pressure gets to ‘em. “I think the way we travel, and I do feel like the motorhomes and the families being more involved and NASCAR has turned more family than it used to be as far as the all-around family sport with the drivers and families being involved and being here, more so than they used to be. We’re right out here in the motorhomes together now and a lot of times we used to not travel together. We hitched a ride with each other or whatever. “It’s like when I raced Mark Martin for the championship until the end. It seemed like every week we were racing for 12th or first. If I qualified bad, he qualified bad. It’s really not that way this year. I’m looking around and I’m (starting) 29th at Sears Point and those guys are up front. Jarrett was in the middle, but again, I think the guys you’ve got to be concerned with are Jarrett and Labonte. Sure, all of them can be a threat. All of them that are in the top 10 can be a threat for the championship. It took half a season to get where you’re at now. It’ll take another half of a season to get somewhere else. I do think the 88 and 18 are the guys we’re going to be racing for that championship. “I don’t think you’ll see one, you may not, you may, I’m not saying you won’t, see one team excel and win several races. You’ve got to be there every week to be a contender. Give me Bristol back. Everybody says Daytona (500) really hurt you. No, Bristol really hurt me (39th-place finish). If you have a bad day and finish in the top 15, OK, you’ve had a bad day. We had a terrible night at Bristol. “We’re going there (Indianapolis) two days after Loudon. We’re working on testing at Watkins Glen on the 10th and testing at Indianapolis on the 11th and 12th. That’s how serious we are about trying to make everything count. All of them are important. The very next race is the most important. Indy is on the list of tests. Surely you want to go there and win and the points are important, but you want to win that race. If you can win that race, it’s a big feather in your cap like the Daytona 500. “I’m on an even plain when it comes to excitement, except on race day. Like Pocono, when you’re able to race for the win and you have a legitimate shot at ‘hey, I had that race won’ or ‘I could have won that race with a different turn of the wheel or a different situation and it would have come out better.’ Given that, you’re excited about it. I’m just going through the motions of practice and getting ready. When we’re ready to race, that’s when you get excited. “If you’re counting points at that point (October) in the races, you might be counting down. At this point, I’m not counting them off. I’m just waiting until it’s closer to the end and then I’ll add ‘em up. “All of them have been hard. Winning your first championship is hard. Winning the one after that is hard. Ask anybody. Jarrett, Elliott, Wallace, you don’t go out and just do it again. Terry Labonte and Rusty Wallace have never won the Daytona 500. Have you asked them about that? Winning (No. 8 championship) is the next one. It’s our next goal. That’s our next focus. Yeah, it’s important. We’re competitive, and we have the team to race for it. It’s like having the privilege to race to win. Guys play in the minor leagues and never get to go to the majors. Guys get to race in Busch or the truck series and never get an opportunity to drive a Cup car. I’m there. I have the opportunity. I’m excited about what I do. I’m not content with not winning. If somebody tells you I’m riding my years out, they’re not paying attention. “We put a great opportunity in front of him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). Tony (crew chief Eury) and the guys at DEI have built a great program for the Busch team right into the Cup team. The kid has done well. He’s has taken the resources and applied his ability and came out of it. I had expectations of him going out and winning the first race he drove. That’s dad looking at it. It took Kerry (Earnhardt) a little longer. Winning at Pocono (ARCA race) was really big for him. Again, it took us putting the program together. That’s our cars and team. He’s going to go up to Michigan and test Dave Marcis’ car for him, and we’ll see what happens for Kerry down the road. “You’re so proud of your kid. That’s a given. You’re proud of your kid. You see that (win) happen, and you’re proud of your kid, but when you win a race as a driver, that’s pretty damn exciting. That’s what I’m driven to do. That’s what I get up in the morning to go do -- race. Yeah, I’m proud of him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) winning. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about it for our team. I’ll probably get more excited as I become a full-time owner. I reckon I’ve got the best of two worlds. I’m a winning driver, a winning car owner. Look around. There’s not many people that’s done that and done it the way I have. I don’t know that I could drive for myself. I’m pretty set in my ways, and I’m set to drive that 3 car as long as Richard (Childress) is there and the team that we have is there. We’ve got a great opportunity and a great organization. I’ve got to stick with these guys. That’s why they’re in it, and that’s why I’m in it. “I’m proud of Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr. coming from Busch together and racing like they do. I was glad to see Matt win at Charlotte. He deserved to win as much as Dale Jr. did because of the time he put in. Robbie Reiser (Kenseth’s crew chief) and the time they put in. Tony Eury and those guys are pretty much on the same scale when it comes to hard work. To see Robbie and Matt and Tony and Dale Jr. winning races is a pretty neat deal. Those kids are having a good time racing. It’s pretty awesome. “Look at all my kids. I’m pretty proud of all of them. All of them did the right thing in life. Kerry (30-year-old son) raised his two kids and got married again and is doing well. Dale Jr. (25-year-old son) is doing well with keeping his head on straight and going forward. Kelly (27-year-old daughter) is getting ready to give me a granddaughter in another month. She’s got a great job. She’s making more money than I would pay her. Then Taylor Nicole (11-year-old daughter) is growing into running the show back home. “The key to it is the team. It’s got to be an effort from everybody, a team. You look at that 18 bunch, and they’re all excited about being there. They all work together. You look at the 3 team. They’re together now. It’s like the Tony Eury and Tony Eury Jr. and Dale Jr. combination. You put that combination together and they win. That’s how you win races or championships or anything. That group of guys that want to do it and want to do it for the reason of winning, not because I’m getting paid a lot of money, because I want to do it. I want to be good. You never give up. You never quit. “I don’t weigh if I want to win this race, or put this race against that race or this championship against that championship. I’ve really enjoyed them all. Again, I’m so damn fortunate to grow up in a family that raced. To get into it and accomplish what I have in my life, it’s pretty damn awesome. To have your kids come along with you. I didn’t make Dale Jr. go be a racer. The kid wanted to be a racer. I’d just as soon him be a doctor, a preacher or whatever. I’m not sure I’d want him to be a lawyer. Again, that’s another subject. I’ve got the first car he ever won a race in. I’m restoring it. “If physically and mentally I can’t do this. If I can’t go down in the corner and drive competitively with the next guy and beat him or win a race, that’s going to (determine when I stop). Your reflexes and health or whatever is going to tell on you. I don’t see it happening in the next three years. “I feel like Darrell Waltrip in his heart right here wants to drive and still can drive. Circumstances have to be more right to him than they used to be. The will and want and drive to do it... I just hope he comes through until the end of this year and has some success and can go out happy. I don’t want to see him just get by until the end of the year and go on out. I’d like to see him be competitive. I was really proud of what he and the 1 car guys did when he drove our car. He showed that ability and has that ability. He didn’t lose it when he got out of the 1 car. “After the crash in Talladega, I was bruised up a year with my sternum and my collarbone. I probably hurt my neck then. Maybe another crash at Talladega in ‘97 aggravated it more or whatever happened since then. It finally started putting pressure on a nerve and started causing a problem. Surely ‘99 was a terrible time, a terrible aggravation for me, but I got through it and got fixed. Now in 2000 I’m perfect, other than I need to tighten up the gut a little bit. That’s just age. They kept me from doing situps. I couldn’t do none of that stuff when my neck was out. I got a little flabby. Forty-nine years old, it don’t come off as easy as it went on. You’ve got to take care of yourself. “It took us a very short time to see we both understood we had the same mental focus on what we wanted to accomplish with the race car and setup or whatever. Kevin (crew chief Hamlin) is more my type and style of crew chief. He’s constantly thinking. He never quits on making it better. He’s not the kind of guy who blows it off and kicks and screams. He’s the kind of guy who sits down in here and listens to what I say and talks about what we’re doing and tries to make improvements. He’s so much like Kirk Shelmerdine. When I say something, he’s already thinking it, and that’s the way Kirk was. We’re thinking a lot to the same note. It’s been that way. I’m so happy Richard made that change. I haven’t regretted it one bit. I love Larry McReynolds to death as a person. We won the Daytona 500 together, but day in and day out, I work well with Kevin. “I like ‘em all (NASCAR tracks). You’ve got to get the car turned (on the flat tracks), and you can’t drive a tight race car. I’ve never liked tight race cars. You’ve got to keep the car free and turning and going all the time. “If I had known what was going to happen up there at Pocono, I would have let Jeremy (Mayfield) up under me going into the corner instead of behind me. I would have let him have the inside going in. I survived until then, didn’t I. That deal was a racing deal. I don’t know why he made such a big deal out of it. It was like he was guilty and he had to come up with an excuse or something. The fans have all said stuff about it, but heck, it’s over. It happened, but I wasn’t jumping up and down screaming and hollering after the race. It happened. OK. I’m a big boy. I can take it. I had in my mind to get in the corner as best I could and get back in the throttle and get off the corner. He got to me, got into me and got me loose. It was just a situation of controlling the car. It wasn’t a thing of ‘this has happened to me or I’ve done this.’ I was thinking about getting back to the flag. I will be bold and say this. There ain’t many (SOBs) sitting in a seat that would have not wrecked that car. “I think it (points race) is going to come down to the team and driver. It (manufacturer’s influence) is important because of the support we have from Chevrolet. It helps us be competitive. As far as the teams and drivers, I think it will come down to that. There may have been a (Ford) advantage at Daytona with Jarrett and maybe Talladega. If NASCAR goes with the common templates, which I think is wrong, because if they have a NASCAR template, are they going to pay NASCAR contingency money like they do with Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge? Are they going to give me factory support like Chevrolet does? “Chevrolet, from what I understand, will not permit their bowtie to go on a NASCAR car or the engine in a NASCAR car. So where does that leave me? I don’t know how Ford or Dodge or Pontiac feels about it, but that’s not why they’re here. They’re here to race with their product and sell their product. They’re not here to sell a NASCAR car, which is not even a car. Why is NASCAR pushing so hard for it? “You go back to the start of time. One cave guy was fighting another cave guy because his club was bigger than his or his woman had longer hair. That’s competition. It’s been that way from the start of time. Or those apples are redder on that tree over there. Let’s go over there. We’re racing and it’s competition. “We spend a lot of money and a lot of effort to sell Chevrolets and to make their product the best on the race track. I sell them at my dealership (Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet in Newton, N.C.). NASCAR has got to recognize that. They can’t just go out here and say, ‘well, here is a NASCAR template. You can run it or don’t.’ If it’s a faster template for a car, then what are you supposed to do? OK, I’m going to run one. What if your support is cut out? Well, what engine do I run in it? Chevrolet says I can’t run their engine in it. I wish we could just race.”

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Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Dave Marcis , Kirk Shelmerdine , Tony Eury Jr. , Mark Martin