DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with media and discussed last week’s race at Martinsville, the upcoming race at Talladega, his crew chief and their relationship, and more.
ON PRACTICE YESTERDAY:
“It was all right. It went pretty good.”
DID YOU WORK ON QUALIFYING STUFF A LOT?
“We ran some race trim for about three runs and then switched over to qualifying for the rest of the practice. And today we’ll just run race trim practice. We used all our stickers (tires) up yesterday trying to make qualifying runs, so today we’ll just practice on race trim.”
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT GETTING YOUR CAR DIALED IN FOR A NIGHT RACE?
“Well, you really don’t have any idea, I guess. You just have to rely on the crew chief a lot to understand how the track is going to change throughout; from today to tomorrow night it’s going to be quite a bit different race track. It’s going to be hard to guess on what it’s going to do. Sometimes it grips up and you get a little bit better front end grip and the car turns better, we’ll see.”
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH (CREW CHIEF) STEVE LETARTE, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE RELYING ON HIM SO MUCH AT A RACE LIKE THIS?
“I have full confidence that he knows what’s going on, so we’ve already made some common discussions about that particular situation and what he thinks will happen and hopefully we’re right.”
YOU WERE SO CLOSE TO A WIN LAST WEEK, AND YOU’VE HAD 5 WINS GOING INTO TALLADEGA NEXT WEEK. HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO GETTING THAT FIRST WIN?
“I really don’t know how close we are to getting our first win. In that race last week, we were about a 5th to 7th place car and we made some good pit calls near the last half of the race to get ourselves in position if we could battle for the win or run second. We still have a step or two to go, but we’re getting better and we feel pretty competitive every week. I feel like we should finish in the top five; should have finished in the top five every week this year so far. And if I look back at my cars, we’ve taken 7th and 8th place cars and finished 12th with them and it was good to take an 7th or 8th place car and finish second.”
A LOT OF GOOD MEDIA STORIES ARE COMING OUT ABOUT YOU NOW. WHEN YOU COME INTO A MARKET OR READ ON THE INTERNET ABOUT THAT, DOES THAT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE TO YOU?
“I don’t really read all the stories. But I know that the fans don’t really like having a lot of Dale Junior stories out there. But after this past week, there is probably far too much discussion and commenting from the media about the finish. But I feel like we’ve got more to do and we need to do better. I can’t really control what happens other than that, other than what I’m doing in the race car. The media attention and focus that we had this week was great for our sponsors and Hendrick Motorsports and our relationships; and it’s god for me too but I’m a little bit unassuming I guess, I don’t know. There’s a lot of exposure just to run second somewhere. And hopefully we can validate all that with a win soon.”
IN THE POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE AFTER MARTINSVILLE, YOU SAID YOU MIGHT BEAT YOURSELF UP THINKING ABOUT THINGS YOU COULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY. DID YOU DO THAT? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
“I didn’t do everything I could because I didn’t win the race. So I know that there is probably something I could have done differently if I hadn’t of overdrove the corner and gotten loose and tried to run a tighter radius in that corner; I don’t know whether (Kevin) Harvick would have run me over or not. I would have been in a little bit of a better position off of that corner maybe to keep the lead maybe for at least the next lap maybe. But you think about all those things. And you learn a lesson. Hopefully I’m in that situation I’ll do a better job of it.”
"I really don’t know how close we are to getting our first win.
SOME FANS WERE SAYING THEY JUST WANTED YOU TO TAKE HIM (HARVICK) OUT. WAS THAT AN OPTION IN YOUR MIND?
“Well, I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do. And I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me just to take me completely out of the race, under any circumstances. And I don’t have a history of doing that. And it’s real easy to say that on the internet. I mean really, on the internet it’s easy to say a love of things. But everybody knows how I race and I try to race respectful and I want the same in return. And if it’s near the end of the race, I except to run hard and be aggressive; I expect the guys to race me hard and be aggressive and I think that’s kinda what went down this past weekend.”
COULD YOU HAVE TAKEN HIM OUT AND WON THAT RACE? OR, WOULD THAT HAVE SLOWED YOUR MOMENTUM THROUGH THE CORNER ENOUGH THAT KYLE BUSCH WOULD HAVE PASSED BOTH OF YOU?
“Well, I didn’t want to take him out under any circumstances. I don’t take out drivers or wreck people on purpose. I wanted to race him hard and I tried to get into him but he didn’t even have much of a bumper to get in to, you know? So when I ran into him, it was like a pillow fight. There wasn’t much to it. He just drove off the nose of my car and went about his way.”
NEXT WEEK AT TALLADEGA, WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE LUCK OR HORSEPOWER THERE?
“Well, you’ve got to have luck. There is no such thing as horsepower at Talladega.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON GOT CAUGHT SPEEDING AT MARTINSVILLE AND HE WAS CONFUSED ABOUT WHERE HE WAS CAUGHT AND ALL THAT JAZZ. HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO LEARN HOW TO NEGOTIATE PIT ROAD AND WHERE TO GO FAST AND WHERE TO SLOW UP?
“Every time I come down pit road obviously it feels like it’s a learning process still today. I think that pit road is a real strategical area to gain some time if you do it right; if you go over the limit, you go over the limit and get popped.”
HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR PROGRAM GOING BACK TO TALLADEGA NEXT WEEK AND HOW SIMILAR DO YOU THINK THAT RACE WILL BE TO DAYTONA? "Well, I don't know really. The track surface is a little bit more worn out than Daytona so I'm not sure exactly how similar it will be to the Daytona 500. I feel pretty good about Hendrick cars, Hendrick motors anytime you go to a track like that, I mean, you have to feel real confident."
IN THIS NEW ERA OF THE TWO-CAR DRAFT, WOULD YOU RATHER BE OUT FRONT OR BE THE PUSHER? "I don't know man. I don't particularly like that style of racing. I'd rather have control of just what I've got to do and having to have responsibility for someone else is a little bit more than I care to deal with. But, that is the way the racing is. But, I don't know if it will be like that at Talladega."
WHEN YOU THINK OF TALLADEGA, WHAT DO YOU THINK IN A SHORT THOUGHT? "I think about Bill Elliott running 212-214 miles-an-hour there and I think about Buddy Baker and those guys breaking the 200 mile-an-hour barrier back in the '70s. I don't have just one word for it. It is a real neat track."
OBVIOUSLY STEVE (LETARTE CREW CHIEF NO. 88) HAS PLAYED A ROLE IN HELPING WITH YOU GUYS BE WHERE YOU ARE TODAY, BUT, WHAT ABOUT BEING HOUSED WITH THE NO. 48 AND THAT SCENARIO? CAN YOU TELL IF THAT IS HELPING? "I obviously think that Chad (Knaus, crew chief No. 48) and Steve compliment the hell out of each other and both teams are competitive and they work together and complement each other. So, obviously, that's a good part of it too."
WITH THE SUCCESS YOU'VE ALWAYS HAD NOT ONLY AT MARTINSVILLE, BUT TEXAS THEN TALLADEGA, DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE PLACES YOU ARE GOING? "Well, we haven't run that great here at Texas in the last couple of years. We've ran inside of the top-10 in those races and we did take the lead and lead a little bit here last year. Talladega is just a lottery, especially with the smaller (restrictor) plate now, it will be anybody's game. That was really disappointing to hear that the plate is going to be smaller, but that is just how it is going to be so hopefully we will do what we need to do in that race to try to be toward the front near the end. Definitely don't want to have the same issues we had at Daytona where we had a really good car and didn't take advantage of that and get the finish that we deserved. Just hoping we can have the same success we've been having on the mile-and-a-halves here this weekend. Then when we go to Talladega, I haven't really finished well there in the last several trips. I'll probably try to take care of my car a little better during the race. It is a very long race. Try to make better decisions; better judgment calls to have my car there at the end when I need to be able to be around to get a good finish. I haven't been able to do that in the last several trips there."
We have a couple more steps to go; couple more things to do but we are learning as a team and it is good that it is happening early.
IS THAT KIND OF A GAME PLAN THAT YOU HAVE ESTABLISHED BETWEEN THE GROUP OF PEOPLE YOU HAVE WORKING WITH YOU NOW? YOUR ENGINEERS, STEVE, EVEN T.J. (MAJORS, SPOTTER) TO SOME EXTENT, JUST KIND OF MAKING YOU THINK THAT WAY, THINK METHODICALLY THROUGH THE COURSE OF A RACE? "Well I hope so. Steve does a great job of calling the races. When you say calling the races, that means handling the driver and handling all the adjustments with the crew and handling the stops and the mentality of the team to make good stops. Him and T.J. communicate throughout the race on the digital and he does a great job of sort of managing the entire event for us. I just know what we are capable of doing and I want to try to do the best I can to get that opportunity to get that finish. Definitely need to look at what I have done over the last couple of trips to Talladega and make a change. We'll talk about that and see what we think the best approach is and see if that works out."
WHEN YOU GO TO TALLADEGA AND SEE THE FANS ALL PUMPED UP FOR YOU AND SEE YOU RUN AND WANT YOU TO LEAD AND WIN, DOES THAT PLAY INTO YOUR MIND? "Yes, there is definitely an obligation, I guess, that I feel to try to do the best I can to put the car out front all the time at that place for obvious reasons. But, you try to let the reality of the situation and the job you are doing to do override that, but sometimes, you just go all out and want to be in the lead all the time, which is not a bad way to go. It has won races for me there in the past. And, I don't know if that's exactly what's gotten me in trouble in the last couple of events, but, we just haven't made good choices toward the end of those races. Hopefully I can go back with a better sense of what I need to do and make better judgment calls when it comes down to it."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT COMING BACK TO TEXAS? "The track is really fun. It is a great crowd. These people...it is a pretty good distance out west and we still draw a good crowd. Draw a lot of interest in our sport. It is a good deal. It gets tougher and tougher the farther west you go to really have the interest there. We do that at Texas pretty good."
DO YOU FEEL AS A TEAM AND DRIVER YOU ARE CLOSE? "We're getting there, I guess. We're running pretty good. Been running good every week. We have a couple more steps to go; couple more things to do but we are learning as a team and it is good that it is happening early. We can try to build a good foundation for the rest of the season."
DO YOU FEEL THE SPEED HERE AFTER COMING FROM MARTINSVILLE? "Not really. Yesterday during the first practice, the track was really, really slow and slick feeling. When we went to qualifying trim, turns one and two was really, really fast but three and four was still very slick. There was a little bit of a tail wind getting into that corner and making the car real tight getting into the corner. The track's lost a lot of grip; the track is really slick but, that is good. It is going to provide good side-by-side and multiple groove racing so the track ain't quite as quick as it used to be. But, if you get the right temperature and the right overcast, or track temp, you could see some great laps in qualifying."