DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed helping his teammates make the Chase and other topics.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING INTO ATLANTA: “It’s a fun track. I’ve enjoyed coming here for a really long time, kind of looking forward to a little bit different surface. Like Jimmie (Johnson) was talking about how wore out this place is and how the tires go away real fast, it’s definitely a different style of racing something we do less and less of. It’s definitely welcome by most of the drivers out there. It’s a lot of fun. Just looking forward to that and hopefully get in the car today and the car is comfortable and got good speed and we will see how it goes.”
IS THIS A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN PUT TOGETHER A COMBINATION LIKE YOU DID IN 2004? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN COME IN HERE AND GET A HANDLE ON THIS PLACE AGAIN LIKE YOU DID THAT TIME? “I always enjoy coming here because I feel like I can run really good. My results are up and down. I’ve never really come here and just been frustrated. I’ve always seemed like I’ve had pretty good cars and had good speed pretty much every time.”
CAN YOU SYMPATHIZE WITH THE POSITION THAT KYLE BUSCH IS IN TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE? “I definitely know what it’s like to be close, be just inside the bubble with a couple of strong guys behind you trying to get in or trying to get yourself in having to outrun some fast guys. That’s a tough situation, but you just have to show up and run your best. I know that everybody that is right around that bubble they know that if they put their best up there they are going to make it. That’s all you can do is try to show up and do that. It is a lot nicer to be locked in and just kind of run these next two races and have fun doing it. Try to learn some things while you can as opposed to sweating it all the way out to the end of the race at Richmond, that’s tough.”
WHEN STUFF LIKE WHAT HAPPENED LAST WEEK WITH TONY (STEWART) AND MATT (KENSETH) WITH THE HELMET THROW DO YOU GET ENTERTAINED AS A DRIVER AS FANS WOULD OR SINCE YOU ARE NOT INVOLVED WITH THE SITUATION OR IS THAT SOMETHING YOU SEE AND YOU SAY NO I DON’T WANT TO ENJOY THAT INCASE IT’S EVER ME IN THAT SITUATION? “I think you do get entertained. What’s funny to the majority is going to be funny to a race car driver. Especially if you had a history with either one of the guys involved in the deal it definitely makes it a little more personal. It could be even, it doesn’t have to be anything as extreme as that. We don’t seek out but we run across each other’s quotes and you see things that happen in the Nationwide Series or the Truck Series and yeah it’s just as entertaining to me as it is to you or anybody else.”
TWO RACE LEFT UNTIL THE CHASE, SIZE UP CHANCES FOR YOUR OWN TEAM AND HOW DO YOU THINK THE TOUGHEST GUYS ARE GOING TO BE ONCE THE CHASE STARTS? “Well these are two good tracks coming up for me. We have been working and putting ourselves through so much trying to get to this place we are in that I think we are just going to enjoy these next two weeks and just run hard. They are almost like non-point’s races for us. We really get to kind of immerse our self in the competition of the race itself and just have some fun with no true repercussions. I think the guys that are favorites in the Chase are the guys that have won championships. The guys that know how to do it, when you win a championship it puts so much more confidence in yourself that you know how to do it, you know what it takes, you know the pace, you know what you are going through and I think it gives you an edge. I think like Tony Stewart and Jimmie (Johnson) and those guys I think that gives them an edge having done it and knowing they can do it. They are with a team that is capable of doing it. I mean you’ve got to put those guys at the top of the list I’m sure.”
ARE YOU CONVINCED THAT IT WAS A CUT THAT CAUSED YOU TO CRASH ON WEDNESDAY (AT THE KANSAS TIRE TEST)? HOW HARD WAS IT? DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERN? “I don’t have any concerns. It was really, really hard not a lot of fun. I don’t really know what happened to the tire. We looked at the tire the best we could and there tire wasn’t worn into the fabric so it wasn’t a wear issue with the tire. The way the tire came a part was really odd and from what I was told at the race track looking at the tire with the guys it seemed from what I could tell a real odd occurrence. Not something that was easy to explain. I feel confidence Goodyear is going to bring a good tire there and I don’t have any worries about that tire that particular race at Kansas or have any tire troubles or anything like that. It was just a tough little deal. If they ask me to go tire testing tomorrow at any track I would go right away.”
1979 CALE (YARBOROUGH) AND DONNIE (ALLISON) GOT INTO A FIGHT. BLEW NASCAR UP; SENT IT RIGHT INTO MAINSTREAM. THAT HASN’T CHANGED. THE FANS STILL LOVE IT. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT RAW EMOTION RESONATES SO MUCH WITH THE FAN BASE? “I’m sure everybody watching the race has somebody’s neck they would like to ring. Maybe they live vicariously through that emotion in some way. There is probably a co-worker or two they wouldn’t mind running their fist into his face (laughs). It’s probably more likely than you imagine. I assume they live vicariously through. I do when I watch football I see what the players do on the field I kind of get into the emotional side of it when somebody is upset or a player gets real physical and plays really hard. That is what you like to see and I think the fans really like seeing that out of the drivers. Especially, we are inside the cars and we are limited to our physical emotions and physical body language driving the car. But when we get out and do things such as Tony (Stewart) did the fans really connect to that. They really connect to that emotion and driving down the road somebody cuts you off on the highway you would love to shoot them a bird or something. Maybe you do.”
WHAT LENGTHS WILL YOU GO TO IN ORDER TO HELP YOUR TWO OTHER TEAMMATES GET INTO THE CHASE? “I would do whatever I can to help them. I don’t really how what examples I can give you but whatever I can do to help them in good taste to help them make the Chase. I believe in being for the company first. I learned working at DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) for the company to succeed everybody had to be company first and worry about individualism and one team versus another team inside the company that all came secondary to the company itself. Whatever can help the company I’m all for that and all four cars being in the Chase would definitely be a great thing.”
HOW MUCH OF A WILD CARD RACE IS TALLADEGA? “That is all it is really. It’s a lottery. Everybody’s cars are the same. There is no way to really set yourself apart from anybody else mechanically and it just comes down to the driver’s making the right moves at the right time. You don’t know what you’re doing but you kind of end up at the right place at the right time, but it’s tough. It’s not quite the way it used to be where you had guys that had faster cars and those guys were the ones to beat. It’s really a bit of a chess match really just kind of out smarting the next guy or partnering up with the right person at the right time. We learned a lot this year watching Matt (Kenseth) and (Greg) Biffle and I think everybody is kind of learning more and more with this package that we have and the races are a little bit different every time.”
APPARENTLY THERE IS A LARGE AMOUNT OF COMPELLING DATA OVER AT JR MOTORSPORTS THAT MIKE DAVIS HAD COMPILED ABOUT YOU AND WEATHER YOU PERFORM BETTER WITH OR WITHOUT A BEARD, WITH A HAIR CUT, WHEN MR. HENDRICK IS AT THE TRACK, WHEN THE REDSKINS ARE PLAY, ETC. HAVE YOU SEEN THAT DATA? “I watched the 360 because Mike (Davis) sent me an email because he wanted me to see it so I didn’t get bombarded. They come up with a lot of good ideas and I think they do a really good job with what they are given to work with (laughs).”
DO YOU BELIEVE IT? “No, not really I don’t believe in that kind of stuff.”
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO TONY (STEWART) SAID HE THOUGHT THE MEDIA SHOULD BACK OFF DANICA (PATRICK) GIVE HER SOME ROOM THAT IT WAS TOO MUCH PRESSURE, BUT NASCAR KEEPS BRINGING HER IN EVERY WEEKEND. HAVE YOU EVER GONE TO NASCAR OR HAS SHE EVER ASKED YOU TO ASK THEM TO GIVE HER A WEEKEND OR TWO OFF? “I didn’t know that she was brought in here every week. I had no idea that was going on. She has never mentioned it to me, never complained about it. She has been, from what I have seen, she has been a complete professional about it. She understands the situation she’s in. She understands that it’s unique and I think she has no problem making herself available. I think you guys have for the most part handled her with kid gloves. I didn’t think that the media has been that tough. It’s an interesting compelling story especially the closer she gets to going into the Cup series and everybody anticipating that entire process. I’m not at all surprised by any of it and I don’t think she is either. I don’t think she’s bothered by it either. I think that she understands the situation and she is a real professional about it.”
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU RECALL FROM THE 2003 AND 2004 SEASONS, WHICH WERE THE CLOSEST SEASONS YOU CAME TO CLAIMING A CHAMPIONSHIP, ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE GOT OUT OF THE CARS OR WHAT YOU FELT WITH THE ORGANIZATION THAT COMPARES AT ALL TO HOW YOU FEEL TODAY WITH YOUR TEAM AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IS IT DIFFERENT IS IT SIMILAR IN SOME FASHIONS? “Yeah, it’s different. I think our cars are more competitive and I think this is a better opportunity for me to win the championship this year over those two years. I recall in ’04, I didn’t realize that I had a shot at winning the title until I had lost it. I didn’t realize just how good an opportunity I had until it was too late. And, we wrecked here and then we broke a rear-end gear at Martinsville and once we go to probably about a week from Homestead, I was thinking wow; I really let that opportunity slip right through my hands. I don’t know what we could have done about the rear-end gear but I definitely second-guess what happened here and what I could have done differently to finish the race and not lost all them points.
"I don’t think I was as smart and understanding of what my situation and opportunities were at that point in my career. And like I said, I don’t think I realized what opportunity I had at winning the championship until it was too late. And now I think I’m better suited, mentally to put together 10 good races behind the wheel and not make any mistakes and maximize our chances to get the most points we can every week.”
NASCAR IS A PERSONALITY-DRIVEN SPORT. HOW DOES THAT WEIGH ON YOU AS A COMPETITOR THAT THE FANS ARE ENGAGING YOU AS A PERSONALITY FIRST AND FOREMOST? “Yeah, I don’t think we even think about that or consider that, you know? I know that what made the sport popular when I was young were the colorful drivers and you know; and how Bobby Allison was different from Darrell (Waltrip) or how Darrell was different from Dad (Dale Earnhardt Sr.). That’s what was interesting to me was knowing them people driving the cars and knowing how one guy was more brash or more boastful and then you had one guy who was quiet and humble and knowing those kinds of dynamics before they get in there and race really made it interesting more so than just seeing cars go and looking at numbers and sponsors. I think we all realize that’s kind of our bread and butter when it comes to the fan base.
“When we make ourselves available and put ourselves out there in commercials and whatever they want us to do and trying to be as open as we can be and let the fans decide who they like the best. But I don’t think we really think about it that much. We don’t really get that deep in discussion about it. You just go about your business. I try to just be myself and let the chips fall where they may.”
Source: Team Chevy Racing