Earnhardt Jr looking forward to 2006

Earnhardt Jr looking forward to 2006

After a season of disappointments in 2005, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. entered Daytona testing with a renewed sense of optimism. Earnhardt and Team 8 suffered a season of inconsistency, missing the Chase and performing poorly at some of their best ...

After a season of disappointments in 2005, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. entered Daytona testing with a renewed sense of optimism. Earnhardt and Team 8 suffered a season of inconsistency, missing the Chase and performing poorly at some of their best racetracks.

Earnhardt hopes the bad mojo is behind him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr..
Photo by John Dunagan - Fastlines.
"It's real easy to sit here now and think, man what a mistake and what were you thinking?" said Earnhardt of the switch the 8 and 15 teams made in 2004. "It's bigger than anything that you guys know about. It's bigger than the sport and my success as a driver. It was about me and my cousin not getting along. That was more important to me. It wasn't about trying to be more successful or winning more races or being a champion. I didn't want to get to the point to where I couldn't stand my cousin anymore. That would be hard core. The company wasn't gaining anything by the situation as it imploded, so we needed to make a change.

"We didn't have any success. We could have maybe done it differently to have better success on the race track, but I'm glad to be where I am now. If me and Jr. wouldn't have stepped back from each other -- regardless of whether we thought it was right or not at the time -- it put us in a great position now."

Unlike some drivers, Earnhardt isn't egocentric enough to believe that the team was the only ones responsible for a less than fruitful season in 2005. He has taken it on the chin and spent a lot of the off season analyzing what he could have done better as a racer and where he can continue to improve this year.

"You can always improve as a driver," Earnhardt commented. "I make mistakes all the time in the car. You try to minimize a mistake and the ones where you taken too much risk and it bites you. I have a huge commitment and I think my determination and drive is solid. I think what I have to look forward to this next season I won't have a problem getting up in the morning and getting in the race car. I never did in the past. It was just hard sometimes.

"Some tracks you didn't like and I would have skipped New Hampshire there for a couple of years if Daddy would have let me. We figured it out and got it to where I like to go around that place. I know that personally I've got a lot to learn and I've always got some areas to grow and improve.

"The sport changes so you never can tell what curve ball you are going to have to figure out over the next season. We have a new body, nose and tail piece and hopefully that won't give us and change-ups to have to adjust too. Just trying to be a better racecar driver and be better at communicating and try to communicate on my crew chiefs level is one of the things that I continue to work on.

"You can get real good at it but you can always be better. With the limited time we'll have with testing and practices, even though we're cutting back with the impound stuff, you have to be quick to be able to get what you want and debate with your crew and your crew chief. He has to be able to understand it and decipher it quickly enough to get it back on the racetrack. Those are the things I would like to work on."

One thing that is on the agenda this year for the No. 8 Chevrolet team is getting out of the box quick, making the Chase, and being a threat for the 2006 Nextel Cup championship.

"You can have a bad Daytona 500," said Earnhardt. "That doesn't put a huge damper on your opportunity to be in the Chase. A string of 15th or worse for about four or five weeks will definitely put you in a hole. The only thing about it is that there is so much change in the sport that a lot of the guys will struggle and you won't be facing a steep incline and you'll find yourself back in the Chase or back in the opportunity to be in the Chase.

"Luckily, some of the tracks that we run good at are spread over the first 10 races and if we do struggle again at Vegas or California we still feel about 10 races in we should be battling or beating on that door to get in the top 10. I'm fortunate that we run good like we do at Atlanta and places like that to be able to cover our tail until we get Vegas and California figured out."

Earnhardt started third and finished fifth in last year's Daytona 500 before a string of 24th or worse finishes dampened his spirits.

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr.