Daytona Preseason Thunder - Earnhardt Jr press conference, part 1

CHEVY NSCS AT DAYTONA PRESEASON THUNDER TESTING DAY TWO, SESSION TWO JANUARY 15, 2008 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Impala SS, met with members of the media in the Daytona International Speedway Media Center during...

CHEVY NSCS AT DAYTONA
PRESEASON THUNDER TESTING
DAY TWO, SESSION TWO
JANUARY 15, 2008

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Impala SS, met with members of the media in the Daytona International Speedway Media Center during day two of the second session of Preseason Thunder Testing and discussed how it would be to win the 50th anniversary of the Daytona 500, on the affect to a team and driver on winning the Daytona 500, testing success with new Hendrick Motorsports team, expectations of running the Impala SS full-time in '08, expectations for Daytona in the Impala SS and other topics.

JOSH HAMILTON: Dale, if you can just start off and tell us how your first day and a half and gone testing with your new team.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's been great. We've had great speed in the car. We've had Casey's car from last year and a car that we built this year, and we're real happy with both of them, happy with the guys and their work ethic and their attitude, and it's went great, it really has. We've been pretty happy with the speeds and the things we've seen the car do and how it's reacted to the changes we've been trying, so it's been really fun.

JOSH HAMILTON: You have one Daytona 500 victory. This year is the 50th running of the great American race. Talk about what it would mean to win on the 50th anniversary.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, just to get a win here any time, no matter what it is, whether it's a Shootout or 125s at the Daytona 500, it's a great feeling to go to victory lane at Daytona, and I really appreciate it every time it happens to me. It's going to be - you know, it's going to be quite a spectacle with it being the 50th, so it'll be a pretty big deal. Whoever wins it will get a lot of fanfare and whatnot. I think it'll be great for our team, great for our season to start off like that, and I'm sure we want to win as bad as anybody right now.

Hopefully we're preparing well, and I think we are. I think the cars are - I haven't drafted yet, so I can't really comment. I don't really know how it's going to be, but I assume it'll be all right, probably about like it used to be.

If my car drives around the track and handles the same, characteristics are the same as far as how the car goes around the racetrack it feels like to me, but I heard some things from last week's test that I should be aware of and whatnot, so I don't know, might be a little bit more of a handful than we're used to. But the characteristics of the cars - the problems and issues the guys were having last week were sort of the same old problems, just a little worse, so we'll just have to see over the next day and a half.

Q: Can you talk about your frame of mind and the only contract you're worried about now is when Whiskey River is going to be done as opposed to what you faced coming into last year?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, it's been pretty nice to be able to concentrate on the things that are important right now and testing and working and getting to know the guys. It's definitely - there's a little bit less pressure in certain areas and more pressure in other areas. I didn't have to worry about job security when I was over at my other job, but I've got to worry about that now.

I think if I do what I've been doing, I should be fine. But with being the son of the guy who built the place, you can get away with a few more things than most guys could.

You know, I've got a really good owner that makes me feel comfortable, and so that eases a lot of other pressures, talking to him and hearing from him and listening to his thoughts on what we're doing. It takes away some pressure from that side of it.

But I don't know the guys that well, so I'm just nervous in getting to know them and hoping that they like me and like the kind of driver I am and they're happy that they have me as their driver. That's what you want from the guys working on your cars is for them to be glad you're there and that you're the one that's driving it.

So it's kind of neat. It's really fun to be going through this for me, and I'm enjoying those parts, and even the difficult things or the challenging parts are fun because of the atmosphere and because of the attitude that everybody there has. Everybody at Hendrick is really pumped up and giving me a good vote of confidence going into the test and going into the season, so it really makes it exciting to face all the challenges we're going to face.

Q: The TV ratings have gone down the last couple seasons, and at the same time, maybe not coincidentally, you haven't had a lot of success on the track. Now that it looks like you might be getting into top form again and have a chance to win races again, do you think that will bring some fans back in and that maybe your fans are more traditional fans that maybe have been tuning out?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know. We should probably have some on-line polls or something to figure that out. Those seem to work pretty good.

I can't tell you whether that's why the television ratings are down. It would be nice to think you had that kind of influence, but at the same time, I don't want to be the downfall or the reason for it. If I can get back into victory lane I know my fans will be excited about that, and if they're not tuning in they'll be turning up personally to see it.

Any time I run a Busch race I know my fans get excited about it and they might buy a ticket to see it on Saturday or they might set up a camper outside the racetrack regardless, whereas if we had been in the field - it's just hard to say. I know those comments were made by Brian and taken out of context a little bit, but he referred to it - them two things happening at the same time maybe did have something to do with each other. But it's not - I don't feel comfortable really taking any credit one way or the other.

Q: You used to be the restrictor plate king, now it seems it's shifted over to Hendrick. Do you think this Daytona 500 is the best chance of your career to capture this second victory?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's hard to say. I haven't drafted with my car yet, but I know it's going to be pretty good, I'm pretty sure. I'll have a great shot. You know, I think I had some pretty good cars down here in the past, and it's hard to say - hard to really rank them as to which was better than the other. We had some pretty good cars.

The Daytona 500 is - that race, so many things happen in that race. It's like a little mini-series. It reminds me a lot of a season in itself because of the - there's so many ups and downs and you still can find yourself with a shot to win, and if you look back at several things that happened to you during the event, you can't imagine that all that would happen in one race. But it does.

It's a special race, and it carries a lot of weight with me and how I feel about the event. I feel very strong about it and very dedicated to it and very dedicated to winning it every time I show up. I think I've got a great shot and I think I know what I need to do to get the job done.

If I have a car that's merely capable, I think I should have a shot to win every time I show up.

Q: I know you've been in Cup obviously a long time and racing at Daytona a long time, but I'm wondering if it has you feeling any more jitters than normal, or you sort of alluded to a little pressure in some new ways. And if so, is it like any kind of feeling you can compare to any big steps or big leaps that you've taken in your life, whether that has to do with late models or Busch?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The worst I ever was was trying to qualify for my first race in Charlotte. I was so scared and I wanted to get out of the car but it was too late. I already told them I'd drive it.

We were sitting right there at the - we were like two minutes away from going out to qualify, and I just couldn't - I was so nervous it was painful. It was painful to be that nervous. We ended up qualifying Top 10, and there were other times where I was as nervous or close to that.

Nowadays - I've been doing this for a while, like you said, and I sort of understand what's around the next corner. When we made this decision I knew what to expect and what it would be like coming back to Daytona and what it would be like coming back to - facing the fans, the press and the NASCAR community, and I knew what the expectations would be.

So I guess that sort of prepares you mentally to be able to deal with it one way or another because you've got to focus on driving and trying to do right by your team, and if they see that people's expectations are affecting your ability to make decisions on the racetrack, then you're not a good race car driver.

When I was a rookie and I was scared to go out and qualify for my first race, my fear and my nervousness was affecting my ability to go out there and run good, and somehow or another, we still did okay. But as you get -- as things happen to you in life that prioritize everything for you, you know, you go through - you have like some real bad things happen to you and some really, really good things happen to you over the course of seven or eight years and that prioritizes everything in your life.

Right now I'm pretty much set on what I know I need to do. Although this is a high-profile race team and I'm a high-profile driver, I can handle it. With how I've grown up in the sport, I think I'm as prepared as anybody could be for this certain situation.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Teams Hendrick Motorsports