DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the track surface at Dover, the pressure of making the Chase, the public being able to hear radio talk, and more.
DO YOU HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS TRACK? IT SEEMS LIKE ITS FEAST OR FAMINE HERE FOR YOU “Yeah, this track has been good at times and bad at times for me. I like asphalt better than I like concrete. Concrete is just not as good a surface in my opinion. As high-banking and as fast as this place is, it was the only way they could really put something down that would survive. Once the concrete ages a couple of years, it’s got joints in it. It’s kind of like a wooden deck. It starts to sort of get bumps in it because of that. If you ever drove down I-77 towards Statesville, you will remember how that patch of road used to be. And that’s about exactly how it feels. It gets them little joints in it and you just hop around the race track all the way around there and that’s the way it goes.”
THAT ADDS CHARACTER, THOUGH, RIGHT? “Not in my opinion (laughter). I mean it is character, but not all character is good character.”
IS ANYBODY REALLY OUT OF THE CHASE YET? IS IT TOO EARLY? ‘Yeah, it’s too early. There is a lot of racing left to do and guys are definitely in some good positions; but every team is good and just as quickly as we got 20-some points behind, these guys in front of us could do the same thing.”
IS IT KIND OF WEIRD TO SEE PEOPLE RULING A FIVE-TIME CHAMPION (JIMMIE JOHNSON) OUT THIS EARLY IN THE GAME? “Well, it just makes for good gossip and good conversation that Jimmie has had kind of a rough go of it early. But he’s done that before and been able to come back. It gives all of us confidence. We all feel like we’ve still got a shot. Nobody’s really has given up yet.”
COMPARED TO THE REGULAR SEASON, HOW MUCH MORE MENTAL ENERGY SO YOU HAVE TO SPEND ON THE CHASE VERSUS THE REGULAR SEASON, OR IS IT THE SAME? “It’s about the same because you’re trying to make the Chase during the regular season, and then it’s a different kind of situation but it’s still the same amount of pressure. I think that the Chase is a better environment I believe. I feel more comfortable now that I got making the Chase behind me, and I can just concentrate on hey, how good can I do in the Chase?
“So I feel a little bit less pressure, I guess. I’m sure it would be quite different if I was leading the points right now; the pressure would be pretty high. But at the time, I feel pretty good and pretty comfortable and a lot less pressure now than I did the last five or six races leading up to the Chase. There was a lot of pressure there.”
FROM THE OUTSIDE, IT SEEMS LIKE TONY STEWART CAME OUT OF NOWHERE. HE WASN’T THAT COMPETITIVE EARLIER, BUT NOW HE’S WON 2 WEEKS IN A ROW. FROM INSIDE THE COMPETITION, DO YOU FEEL LIKE HE CAME OUT OF NOWHERE? “Not at all. Tony Stewart’s been around and won championships and he’s a threat to win any race he shows up to; and it seems momentum and good fortune and being able to hit on something at the right time sort of cycles in this sport. You saw Carl (Edwards) start off real strong and then he kind of struggled a little bit. You see guys come in and out of competition and it sort of goes through slumps. I don’t think you can ever count Tony Stewart out. If he hasn’t proved that in this Chase, I don’t know if he ever will.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF TONY STEWART’S REMARK LAST WEEK ABOUT ‘GETTING RID OF DEAD WEIGHT’? “What was it?”
HE SAID HE GOT RID OF SOME DEAD WEIGHT “I wonder what he did.”
HE WOULDN’T TELL US. “Maybe I should go ask him (laughs).”
IT JUST SEEMED KIND OF FUNNY TO THROUGH THAT OUT THERE “Yeah, I don’t know what he did; whether he broke up with his girlfriend or he fired somebody, or who knows (laughter).”
WHEN YOU CALLED BRAD KESELOWSKI IN 2007, WHAT WERE YOU HOPING FOR HIM THEN AND ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE HIS SUCCESS NOW? “I was hoping for exactly what he’s done. I wanted him to come in and help turn our program into a good program; and then use it as a springboard into where he is today. So it’s worked out as good as I could have hoped.”
ON THE DOVER TRACK, DO YOU MEAN IF YOU’RE GOOD IT’S FINE, BUT IF YOU’RE BAD IT’S HARD TO MAKE YOURSELF GOOD HERE? “No, I mean you definitely improve on your car during the race. It’s just that those bumps make it chatter; and the way the car kind of skips across the race track like a stone across a pond, that’s always there. And you just have to sort of find a way to get your car to get around the best and to be the quickest. We’ve kind of done that sometimes and sometimes we haven’t. I don’t have an explanation for what really makes a good race car here.”
THEY SAY THAT TALLADEGA IS THE WILD CARD RACE. BUT THINGS HAPPEN HERE SO FAST, DO YOU WORRY ABOUT BEING CAUGHT UP IN SOMETHING WITHOUT EVEN BEING INVOLVED? “That could happen at any race track. I think Talladega absolutely is the wild card. I know we’re making real changes nobody knows what they’ll do to the racing; so we’re all kind of going in there with not a lot of experience with the package we’re going to run.”
YOU’VE HAD YOUR MOMENTS ON THE RADIO. IS TOO MUCH MADE OUT OF THAT SINCE IT’S ALL IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT? “That’s sort of the nature of the way the networks want to provide the sport to the fans and that’s something that the media wants to cover. So I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But I remember when you used to have a hard time getting a scanner or being able to listen to the teams or even when I was going to the races with Daddy, it was like pulling teeth trying to get a radio so I could listen to what they were doing. And nowadays it’s all sort of out there and in front of everybody. Every driver and crew chief have their times where they are going to say and do something things that they would rather not be public, but under the circumstances you really could care less at the moment. But yeah, I would rather the public and the media not know what we were talking about on our radios but that’s not the way the world works today. And so you have to understand and accept that. And I think it’s good because it makes you be a better person. It makes you control yourself better. Had we not have such freedom as we do today, who knows what kind of asses we’d be? I get a little bit more coverage that most guys, from what I’ve listened to. I’ve never crossed some of the lines these other guys cross, but that’s just the way it goes.”