DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (IS THERE ANY PRESSURE LIFTED AFTER WINNING THE 500 LAST YEAR?) "We won the race last year so we could come in here this year and enjoy it. You don't have to really worry about ...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
(IS THERE ANY PRESSURE LIFTED AFTER WINNING THE 500 LAST YEAR?)
"We won the race last year so we could come in here this year and enjoy it. You don't have to really worry about something going wrong. When we came here before, we hadn't won the race and worried about practice and qualifying and not blowing the motor and getting all the way to the end of the race. Now you get to enjoy it."
(WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN THE RACE?)
"It takes a fast car that doesn't fall apart. So you don't have to be racing people and getting in wrecks and all that. That's what happened last year and we won the race."
(IS IT A RISK TO CHANGE CREW CHIEFS AFTER A SUCCESSFUL SEASON LAST YEAR?)
"I don't think it's a risk. We just had to change. Things change in the world. It doesn't stay the same forever. I don't understand what the big deal is. If it doesn't work, we'll change again. That's what you do, right? Right now it's going great. I enjoy Pete's demeanor and he seems to have a lot of respect for me. Everything is working really well. We tested and California and Vegas. I'm not too worried about it. I enjoy the change. It's a breath of fresh air with me. Tony, Jr. and everyone is enjoying the challenges that they've been presented with now."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE CHANGES TO THE SHOOTOUT FORMAT?
"What did they do to change it? Did they add laps or something? Aww, man."
WOULD YOU RATHER IT BE SHORTER?
"Yeah, that's why they call it a Shootout! It's fun though. You're drafting down in each straightaway. You can't help but laugh at some of the stuff going on."
(WHAT ABOUT THE NEW 150s FORMAT?)
"I kind of liked it the way it was. They wanted us to pit. What's the big deal?"
(DOES THE SHOOTOUT GIVE YOU A GOOD IDEA FOR HOW THE RACE WILL GO IN THE 500?)
"No, in the big race, you're running fifth and you're cool. But in the Shootout, you have to be in the lead the whole time. Everyone wants to be in the front."
(HOW WAS THE SHOOTOUT FOR YOU LAST YEAR?)
"Last year I had a pretty good car but you got to keep shuffling around to be where you need to be on the last lap. Last year we were shuffling around and I go the bad end of the stick and ended up being in the position to push somebody else to win, but didn't get the chance for me to win. So, I said, here are the options I've got 'push this guy in front of me'. So, I pushed Dale Jarrett to the lead and he won the race. If we had more laps I might have made a run to win or pass him."
(IS THERE PRESSURE TO WIN THE 500 AGAIN?)
"I don't know. I just go out there and do the best I can. It would be awesome to win again. But like I said, when I won the 500, the first feeling I got was relief. It wasn't jubilation, screaming or excitement. It was relief. It was like escaping something. Like being let out of prison after 13 years or something. Maybe it's because we get so much attention. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win, but everyone always says, 'I picked you to win it." So, when I won it, it was relief. And I watched my Dad run it and lose it a lot and finally win it. So I didn't want to be one of the guys who are retired and hadn't won that race."
(PRESSURE TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIP?)
"I still think I've not quite peaked as far as talent goes. I'm not yet in my prime. I feel like I'm not to the point where I need to get too worried about it."
(DO YOU LIKE THE POINTS SYSTEM)
"I like the points system and wouldn't change anything except that I'd give the guy who wins the pole some points. How we do differently in qualifying should be reflected in the point system. Even if it's just one point, it should be more to it that just where you start.
"There's a lot to it. It's a hairy lap and in some places it's a pretty scary run and when you get the pole you should be deserving of something more than just a plaque."
(ON THE RETIREMENT OF OLDER DRIVERS)
"I'm old school. Some guys come in the sport and are a little more polished and will probably opt out sooner. That's their deal, you know. I bet there are guys this year who will retire that haven't told us they are retiring."
(JEFF GORDON SAID HE HAS THE AGE OF 40 IN MIND FOR RETIRING. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME WAY?)
"I do that too but it's different every day. One day you wake up and say, '40, that's it.' Then you wake up and think, 'I'll go to 50.' Then you think, 'Naw, I think 45.' It changes every day. If a guy doesn't have a good income, he's going to have to race. But I think (Gordon) is in a situation where he can opt out if he's got his money well. Some people put themselves in a position where they don't have a choice."
(HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE 40 WEEK GRIND OF NASCAR?)
"The first year in the Cup Series was tough. With seven to go I wanted it to be over with. I just dreaded going to the race track. This is what I like to do and what I enjoy doing, but that doesn't mean it's roses every day. The Shootout adds a little more excitement. I don't take everything so seriously, so maybe that makes it easier to cope with the stress and the pressure. You have to brainwash yourself into accepting that it's what's involved. Eventually you get used to it, or you don't."
(HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT NOT HAVING THE FAMILY CONNECTION WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF THIS YEAR?)
"I think it's good. Its unchartered territory for me. I'm working with someone that I can't walk up to and holler at and walk away without a worry. I like it, though. That's what I want. I want a situation like everyone else has. Family deals are tough."