DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed racing at Richmond, his and the team’s mindset heading into the Chase and Jeff Gordon’s status going into Saturday night’s race.
TALK ABOUT BEING A RICHMOND, AND HOW BIG THIS RACE IS: “It is big for some people. We’re locked in, and feel like we can just enjoy the race and have fun. We ran pretty good here last time. Hopefully we can have a good night. It is kind of hot or cold every time I come here. I’ve had some really good cars, and won some races here. Then I’ve had some unexplainable poor runs; just had cars where I couldn’t get around the track. I’m excited to get in the car for practice. See where we are at. See what kind of drivability we’ve got. How much comfort we’ve got. Just have some fun. It’s the last week until we have to get back at it and focus on points, and focus on trying to win the championship, which we feel pretty confident about. It’s a fun track, and it should be a good time.”
CAN YOU COMPARE HOW YOU FEEL TODAY IN RELATION TO HOW YOU FELT A YEAR AGO WHEN YOU WEREN’T LOCKED IN? “There is a lot of nerves. Nervous energy, and just worry and concern that I don’t have this weekend at all. You start the season with the goal to make the Chase. You want to be in the Chase. Being in the Chase signifies that you are one of the upper tier teams. It’s a big disappointment when you aren’t in that group. The best case scenario is to be locked in a week or two early, and be able to take a little bit of a breather from the pressure you put on yourself to get as many points every week. So, we can just race and not worry about points, which is really fun. It definitely is a lot less…a ton less stressful.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO NEXT WEEK AND KNOW IT’S GOING CHANGE TO GAME OUT? HOW DO YOU GET IN THE CORRECT MINDSET? “We’re going over the Steve’s (Letarte, crew chief) house on Sunday, and the team is going to get around each other and we’ll talk about the season we’ve had, what our expectations had. And, I mean, you’ll think about that all week while we’re doing…we are going to do ESPN Car Wash on Tuesday, and we’re doing all that media in Chicago on Wednesday. We’ll be thinking about that all week. The season we’ve had. The opportunity we have; that I feel like I have as a driver to win the championship. That I feel like our team has to compete every week. I’m pretty sure by the time the race is about to start in Chicago, the energy level is going to be about as high as it needs to be. Probably higher than it should be. You’ll probably have to call yourself down a little bit just to realize that it is 10 individual races. And, you have to do your best in every single one.”
AT ATLANTA YOU HAD TO RALLY BACK STRONG TO FINISH SEVENTH. HOW MUCH OF A CONFIDENCE BUILDER IS THAT FOR THE TEAM? HOW IMPORTANT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE RUNS LIKE THAT? “That is just a product of Letarte and the team. You have to throw a lot of luck in there too. Steve made the call on when to get the wave-around. When to pit. What to do. How to try to figure out a better way to finish. He’s done a really good job of that over his career. When he’s got a fast car, they finish where they should. And, when he doesn’t have a good car, he’s squeezes a few more positions out of that potentially bad finish. That’s kind of been his thing. His MO. So I am reaping the benefits of being with him, and the decisions he made the other night to get us a good finish. All that stuff that happened, and the result of that finish was due to him. I just had to hold as many positions as could, and do the best I could on the restarts. The pit crew got us a couple of spots there at the end. We gained a few spots from some guys wrecking out late. That was about five positions right there. I think the one thing that I took away from that was for whatever reason, whether it was my responsibility, or someone else’s, five years ago I would have ran 20th all night and finished 20th. At this point with the way my team is and the chemistry we have got going on, we’re able to turn things around in some races and finish better for at least better points; more points and better season.”
YESTERDAY JEFF GORDON SAID THAT HE’S GOT TO TREAT EVERYBODY AHEAD OF HIM AS THE ENEMY, EVEN IF IT’S A TEAMMATE. KNOWING THAT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CROWD REACTION AND YOUR REACTION WOULD BE IF SAY JEFF WOULD HAVE TO KNOCK YOU OUT OF THE WAY ON THE LAST LAP FOR THE WIN? “Well, I think the crowd reaction would be quite big (laughter). I wouldn’t expect anything else, to be honest with you. And if I was in the same situation, I would have a hard time not doing the same thing. Everybody wants to win races regardless of the situation going into the Chase and all those perimeters; you’re not thinking about that stuff when you’re in the car and you’ve been racing for 400 miles. You’re not thinking about all these situations that other drivers are in; you’re just wanting to win for yourself. You’ve been running all night. Your team has worked all night. You’ve done everything you can to put yourself in position and you’ve got to make a split decision in that corner, if you can reach the guy, to move him or not move him. You make that decision, you know? You might regret it somewhat if you don’t do it or do it or whatever. I don’t know. It depends on what kind of person you are. You come here to win and your team builds a car and sets a car up and works on it all week to win the race, not to roll over for anybody, no matter what. So, I would think that regardless of the individuals involved, if there are two guys within reach of each other on the last lap, something’s going to happen. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
REGARDING THE ENERGY-LEVEL BEING ELEVATED AS FAR AS THE CHASE, ARE YOU ANTICIPATING HAVING TO CALM YOURSELF DOWN? ARE YOU DOING TO HAVE TO DO THINGS TO GET YOURSELF DOWN TO WHAT THE NORMAL SEASON LEVEL WOULD BE? “Yeah, I think so. A good example would be that we went to Martinsville and for whatever reason that day, I was super ramped-up and I had done 500 miles worth of damage to the car in 100 laps. So, I told Steve (Letarte, crew chief) man, I need to calm down or we’re not going to have a car to finish because it was just destroyed down both sides of it. You get excited over certain things and you can get over-zealous in driving the car and making mistakes. And so, I think that a calm-thinking approach and using your head and being smart is what’s best. If you’ve got a fast car, you’ve got to know how to use it and use it to your advantage. But, the Chase isn’t won at Chicago but it can be lost there if you screw-up. If you wreck your car and finish in the back-half of the field, you’re digging yourself a hole that’s hard to get out of really quick. We’ll all be excited going into Chicago. You just have to make sure you use your head and think smart.”
Source: Team Chevy Racing