DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with media and discussed how the season is going, upcoming races at Martinsville and Talladega, his relationship with his crew chief, and more.
LOOKING BACK TO BRISTOL WHEN YOU STRUGGLED EARLY AND GOT A LAP DOWN AND THEN GOT THE LUCKY DOG AND PICKED THINGS BACK UP, WHY DID YOU NOT UNLEASH ON THE RADIO? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT NOW WITH STEVE LETARTE AS YOUR CREW CHIEF?
“I really don’t know why if my actions seemed different than they were in the past to you guys (media). I think I was just doing what I do. I want to finish good and tried to do whatever I could to finish good. And I gave Steve the benefit of the doubt that we would improve the car and we did. And it was a pretty decent day. We should have finished higher. I screwed up speeding on pit road and that cost us a lot of spots there. But I’m just trying to do the best you can each week.”
YOU HAVE THREE STRAIGHT TOP 11 FINISHES. AT WHAT POINT DO YOU NOT BE AS HAPPY WITH A TOP 10 NOW?
“I was last week. I was a little disappointed with myself and a little disappointed at how we began the race. I was just frustrated that we weren’t closer. We felt like we were a little bit better than that at the end of practice, so it was frustrating that the car showed a lack of grip it has at the start. It was just tougher for all of us on the team; and in the end I was frustrated with myself but we just gotta go to the next race and try to not make those mistakes and try to get the finish the car is capable of getting and you can’t give away too many spots in this series with mistakes. So I was a little frustrated last week.”
BUT YOU HAVE GOTTEN BETTER IN RACES AS THE RACES PROGRESS, AND BETTER IN PHOENIX WHEN ALL THE CARS STRUGGLED. DO YOU NEED TO GET BETTER WHEN YOU UNLOAD?
“Well, I don’t think that it means that we need to get better when we unload. Even the race cars that are really going fast aren’t desirable to drive. The guys that are up there leading the race, they have things they’d like to fix about their cars. So I mean, we’ve done a pretty good job of working well in practice and starting to race with some decent cars. And I’m really happy with the way that things have went during the races and how the car has gotten better during the races. That’s a really good thing.”
WITH THE SHORTENED RACE AT FONTANA FROM 500 MILES TO 400 MILES, WILL THAT CHANGE THE NATURE OF THE RACE AT ALL?
“No, to shorten the race up 100 miles will not change the way the race looks.”
ON BRISTOL AND MARTINSVILLE, WHICH TRACK DO YOU PREFER AND WHY?
“Well, I don’t know; I kind of like Martinsville a lot. I like Bristol, but I think Martinsville is probably my favorite. There’s something about trying to get around the corner of that place that’s a lot of fun. And it’s just an interesting race track. It’s so unlike anything else we do but Bristol is too. Martinsville is pretty interesting. It’s a lot of fun.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE A TOP 10 TEAM WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT RIGHT NOW?
“Yeah, I do. We’re capable of that. We’re good enough for that. You should come to the race track and expect to run around the guys that are in that position. I feel like we’re legitimate, yes sir.”
HOW IS (CREW CHIEF) STEVE LETARTE CHALLENGING YOU?
“We just have a lot in common and our personalities make it where it seems like it’s easy for us to have a conversation. I’ve been spending a ton of time around the hauler all day long during each day on Friday and Saturday and when you’re sitting there you just never know when that idea or that thought is going to come into your head or come into his head about what might really be able to help the car. And if you just sit around long enough, eventually it’s going to pop up and I want to be there for that conversation; I don’t want him texting me on the phone while I’m in the bus going hey, I think I know what we can do. I want to be there so that I can understand and talk about it. I think that’s helping us too.”
WHY AREN’T YOU ON TWITTER?
“I used to have a myspace.com page and I used to have a facebook.com page; I don’t anymore because it was just too much responsibility. I felt like you had to plug in and be involved with it so much and I just thought that personally, I don’t need to do it. I understand and we utilize the business side of it and how it works for JRM and all and how it helps us there, but I personally you know, it would be fun for about a month and then I would start to feel like it was a job, where people expected me to do it. And I’ve had some other drivers tell me that some of the people aren’t too nice about it. So that part of it, why do I need to put up with that anyway? (laughs). But if I don’t have to put up with it, why do I want to bring that into my life? But you know, I think that never say never, but with my experience with myspace and facebook, which worked great, I ended up in the end going this isn’t necessary for me. It was fun trying to be cool, and creating your page and being the hipster that you thought you were, but in the end, I was just, I needed to get outside and I just needed to get rid of it. It just wasn’t for me, I guess.”
YOUR FANS ARE REALLY CHARGED UP RIGHT NOW. ARE YOU HEARING FROM THEM?
“That’s good. I just hope we can run a little bit better and get a top five and challenge for some wins to really give them something to cheer for. I’m glad we’re running better, but in the grand scheme of things we were unable to run 10th or 11th last year. I think we can do better. We’re showing good signs of improvement and hopefully we continue to get better and we can challenge for some wins.”
ARE YOUR CARS FASTER THAN THEY WERE LAST YEAR OR ARE YOU JUST DOING MORE WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT?
“I don’t really know. I really don’t know about that. I think we had some good cars last year. We’ve ran competitive in a couple races last year and showed some speed. For some reason this year, we’ve been able to improve a little bit better throughout the race and have been able to race in traffic a little bit better. And that might be a company-wide deal where we’ve got the new nose and we’ve learned a lot about that and how to travel the car and I feel like it’s definitely different where I can definitely see a difference is how I can be more aggressive in the race with the car. Everything in practice and everything about the team, I don’t feel like we’re a ton different than last year. But when I get in the car in the race, I just feel like I’ve got a little bit more grip and a little bit more ability to be aggressive and challenge people. And at least that’s how it’s been for three weeks. Something may be different with the overall company that we’re doing as a group to be better. Maybe it has something to do with the nose, but I would highly doubt that. There’s just something about the car to be able to race a little bit more and race around guys. Normally man, you’re just hanging on to your car and just trying to keep your car underneath you and you’re not really able to race other guys. You can’t really even consider racing another competitor (because) you’re so consumed with trying to control your own car. But this year that seems to be a little bit different where we’ve been able to go, all right, the car is kind of under us. Let’s just race this guy real hard and take some risks and makes some passes and see what we can do. Before, that’s been a little bit different.”
WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF NASCAR, THE VIDEO GAME 2011? WHAT CHARACTERISTICS DID THEY USE FOR YOUR PARTICULAR CAR?
“I don’t know. I haven’t tried it. I don’t have my copy yet. I’m waiting on those guys to tell me where I can go buy it.”
I DON’T THINK YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO BUY IT
“Well, I was not going to assume that I was going to get a free one but if they wish to send me one, I’ll be glad to try it. I enjoy those kinds of things and I’ve got some friends that work at the company in Europe that made it and I was pretty excited to see, and I’m a big longtime EA sportsfan, but I was excited to see a new developer get an opportunity to try the game and try their hand at NASCAR and see what kind of product we could get out there. Hopefully the fans really enjoy it. I’m excited to be a part of it in any way possible. It’s one of my favorite hobbies and I look forward to seeing the job they did.”
DO YOU CONSIDER MARTINSVILLE AS MUCH OF A WILD CARD AS TALLADEGA?
“No. Martinsville is a good short track and there is a little bit of roughness to it. But you don’t see groups of guys taken out of the event in a big swoop like you do at Talladega. You’re in control of your own destiny much more at Martinsville where you know what your car is doing and it’s got a handle and you’re driving it and the driver’s involved and in control of whether you’re going forward or backwards.”
HAS STEVE LETARTE TOLD YOU YET THAT YOU HAVE A SMALLER PLATE FOR TALLADEGA?
“Really? Maybe we’ll be able to get three or four of us pushing each other around there one time. They keep slowing it down and that’s what’s going to happen.”
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE AT TALLADEGA COMPARED TO DAYTONA BECAUSE DAYTONA HAD THE REPAVE. OR HAS EVERYBODY GOTTEN SO MUCH BETTER WITH THE CAR AND THAT 2-CAR DRAFT, ARE WE GOING TO BE AMAZED AGAIN AT TALLADEGA AT THE PROGRESS YOU ALL HAVE MADE?
“I really don’t know what Talladega is going to be like because the asphalt is worn just a little bit and it’s not quite as grippy as the new asphalt at Daytona after a year or two. But I want to be in control of my own destiny and I don’t want to have to worry about wrecking another driver while I’m pushing him around the race track. So I hope that’s not the kind of racing we have. But whatever you’ve got to do to win, is what you’ve got to do.”
DENNY HAMLIN AND JIMMY JOHNSON HAVE WON THE LAST 9 RACES AT MARTINSVILLE. HOW CLOSE DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE GETTING TO CHALLENGE THEM OR BEAT THEM AT THAT TRACK?
“Well, I feel pretty close to be honest with you. We’ve ran good there a lot over the last 10 years. And at times in the last several races we’ve been more competitive than them. Going there with Steve is going to be interesting to see what he does differently with the car to maybe improve it or what might be different about the car during the race that I might enjoy. They ran well there with Jeff (Gordon). So I’m excited about going there and trying to see if there is a difference in how I can compete versus what I’ve done over the last 10 years just due to having Steve.”