DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW PAINT THE 88/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed Martinsville, the World Series, changing the drafting at restrictor plate tracks and other topics.
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND; THIS IS A VERY GOOD TRACK FOR YOU: “Looking forward to racing, should have good weather for race day, this is a fun race track and I enjoy coming here, look forward to the race and trying to run as good, run as good as we did last time maybe improve a little bit, hopefully get an opportunity to work on the car a little bit in practice and get a chance to see if we can come up with some new things, a little bit better set-up, cause when it rains and you do not get a lot of practice you tend to fall back on past set-ups and stuff that were successful. You like the opportunity to get on the track and see if you can find some new ideas.”
YOU MENTIONED LAST WEEK THAT YOU WISHED YOU COULD HAVE DONE SOMETHING DIFFERENT HERE WITH (KEVIN) HARVICK IN THE SPRING, CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THAT? “I think I could have done a better job putting laps together when I got the lead, as the car started getting freer and freer into the corner, I probably could have tried to run a little bit more front brake, do some things like that to try to balance my car out a little bit better. He would have eventually caught us, but he would have caught us with fewer laps to go and we might have been able to compete with him a little bit more. You don’t really know what you could have done. He won the race and we ran second and that is just the way it is, but when you come close from my experience and what I have always done, when you do come close to winning one, you think about what you could have done differently, it doesn’t matter how long ago the race was or where it was at or whatever or how much it meant, how big a deal it was, how small a race it was, you always want to come out on top and when you come really close, you don’t forget about it and when you are reminded about the race you think about it, you go back in your head about what happened and what things you might do differently if you had the opportunity. (Kevin) Harvick had a really, really good race car and was just really fast that last run but you would like to think you could have always done something different.”
JEFF BURTON SAID THIS WAS THE MOST FRUSTRATING RACE TRACK FROM THE COCK-PIT, YOU ARE SLOW TO ANGER IN THE CAR, DO YOU ALSO FEEL THAT IN THE CAR HERE AT MARTINSVILLE? “I think what happens is, I get as angry on any Sunday, no matter what race track it is, but at Martinsville, whoever you are angry at is likely within reach, so it is hard to contain yourself, to do the right thing, do the professional thing, to act accordingly whatever you want to call it, that is where you get in the grey area and struggle within yourself about what to do. Most of the time you do not have the opportunity to so readily retaliate on somebody at the bigger tracks or wherever else, but here you know if a guy gets into you, more than likely you have the next corner to give it back to him, sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t and it just depends on who it is and how badly you think they used you up and weather you like them to begin with. It is really hard to contain yourself and you have to think down the next straightaway weather you want to do something, what do you want to do and are you going to look like a jerk doing it, you just have to make that call.”
YOU DID THE TIRE TEST HERE, HOW DIFFERENT IS IT FROM WHAT WAS HERE IN THE SPRING AND IF THERE IS NO PRACTICE TODAY, HOW DRAMATIC ARE THE CHANGES GOING TO BE FOR EVERYONE ELSE? “Well, I thought the test went really well, and I was totally in-tuned with everything that was going on and what they had chosen up to about three weeks after that test and I have completely forgotten everything about it since then, but as far as I can recall, the tire that they decided to go with and I could be wrong is the Watkins Glen tire and I thought the tire was great at Watkins Glen, which I hope we can take it to Sonoma next year and I thought at the test it was remarkable here. I don’t think we are going to have any wear issues, if we don’t get the track rubbered in, I think that the truck race will go off tomorrow and likely get the track in better shape. When there is not a lot of rubber on this track, you do have wear but, it is just really slick, rubber gets laid down pretty quickly and we should not have any problems. I am sure though that NASCAR will probably do a competition yellow if we do not get any laps on the race track today and tomorrow, just airing on the side of safety but I don’t even think it is necessary. I think it is a great tire; I am one of the first ones to be critical when it is not and I really like this one. I think this might be the best tire that they have ever made. Hopefully, we can have a good race on Sunday and keep progressing and take whatever is working with this tire and get it spread throughout the rest of the series.
INAUDIBLE: “When we were all at the test, some guys, not everybody ran on all the tires, some guys, say there were five sets of tires, hypothetical, some guys only ran three sets, everybody didn’t see everything, but for what I could tell, this was a great combination what we had brought back and it was just miles better than anything else we have ran here, as far as I could tell. I take full credit for whatever happens Sunday, good or bad.”
DID YOU WATCH THE WORLD SERIES, IF YOU DID WHAT ARE YOU THOUGHTS AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PREDICTIONS FOR TONIGHT? “Naw, I didn’t watch it. Yea, I like the Braves, and if the Braves are in the World Series I would watch it, but otherwise, I guess I’m pulling for Texas, I don’t know why, I like the Braves.”
WHAT IS YOUR SUGGESTION FOR NASCAR TO CHANGE THE TANDEM DRAFTING? “Well, we need to go test, we need to take a lot of race cars out there and test a lot of things and get creative and unique in the ideas and get everybody on the same packaging and go thoroughly through it. We have three days of testing in Daytona and to be honest, you don’t really do a lot while you are testing in Daytona. You have three days, so you fill it up with ideas and gimmicks and carry on, but you don’t really find things that bring a lot of speed. You have a rule package in the back of the car as far as shocks and springs and you have such a stringent guidelines on the bodies, but there are not a lot of things to do in three days, so really it is just your burning fuel and wasting a lot of time. When we go to Talladega, we put the car together, you unload it, you make a couple of laps, make sure nothing falls off and you are ready to race. There is not much to it. We could take those three days or invent another test sooner, and take fifteen cars or whatever, go down there and go to Daytona or Talladega and try smaller spoilers, I think the spoilers are way too big, when I look at that spoiler, I can’t imagine there was a lot of study that went behind how effective it would be and what it would do, it is just a big square piece of steel, as wide as it could possibly be, and pretty tall. Make the spoiler more narrow, or smaller, run some softer springs in the back to get the cars a little lower. They have to make the whole that we punch in the air a little smaller. Right now it is so giant it is very easy for another guy to fit up in that void and draft and push all the way around the race track. They need to bring the ceiling down that the car creates by the whole it pushes in the air, the car just punches a hole in the air and they need to bring that hole closer to the ground. Get a little bit more air on the second car’s windshield cause a little more drag on that car. I think the spoiler is just way too big. The corners on the ends, they could cut those off and round that spoiler off, going back to anywhere from 1998 to 2004, that type of spoiler was a little bit better, even smaller than that. We have de-tuned the cars so that they go very slow and we have also resurfaced the race tracks to where they have a lot of grip so you could really take quite a bit away from the spoiler on the back of the car before I believe you would start to feel the handling effects of that. Otherwise, that entire thing does is really try and drag it down. Hopefully, we will get fortunate and the fuel injection will throw a few curve balls in the positive aspect that will change the drafting and change the ways the cars work in the draft. You never know and it might not change anything but maybe those going to fuel injection might have some positive effects. I think the biggest thing is definitely the spoiler being as big as it is, it is really just creating such a big hole in the air, the greenhouse was enlarged when we went to the COT and that has an effect on it as well but we are not going to change that and make that smaller, making the spoiler smaller, especially the width of it would help a lot and if you go in reverse and look at how things have happened it makes a lot of sense. They have de-tuned the cars so much that they qualify at 181 mph, they still draft around 200, 195-200, well even when we were qualifying above 190, we only still drafted around the same speeds that we draft at now. That is really, not making things different or helping the situation. I think we can take the spoiler away, get the back down with softer spring or whatever and different shock package in the back of whatever, and make the cars a little tougher to connect to, when you do those two things it will create a little bit of a beach ball effect in between the cars, like it is an imaginary beach ball in front of you. When you drive up to a guy, you kind of push him away. We will be able to open up the motors a little bit, get the qualifying faster, have a little more response in the cars when we are racing and driving them, but yet, we probably will not draft faster than we do now.”
FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD, YOU WERE SORT OF A VICTIM OF A TEAM DECISION AT TALLADEGA TO RIDE AROUND IN THE BACK, AND WHEN THE TIME CAME TO RUN YOU REALLY DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO GET TO THE FRONT. WHAT WOULD YOUR DAD HAVE THOUGHT IF SOMEBODY TOLD HIM TO RIDE AROUND IN THE BACK UNTIL THE END OF THE RACE? “Well, I don’t really want to answer that because I think you know the answer. So, I was part of that team decision. I wasn’t a victim of it. I bought into the same idea that the two crew chiefs and the Jimmie (Johnson) had and we all did that together; and we all made the choices that got us our poor finish together. And no one person out-ruled or over-ruled the other. Everybody sort of collectively sunk the ship as the race went on (laughs). And it was disappointing. And at the end of the race we collectively decided that we learned our lesson and that we won’t do that again. Given the opportunity to run that race over, we would have just thrown ourselves into the fight and tried to run as hard as we could and taken whatever risks needed to be taken to stay toward the front. Hind-sight is 20/20, but when we get that opportunity again, I don’t think that’s a strategy we’ll ever use again. But I’m certain that a lot of things would be different if the old man was still around. We might not even be having to ask that question of guys riding around in the back.”
IF THERE WAS A NASCAR-THEMED HALLOWEEN PARTY AND YOU WERE INVITED AND YOU COULD DRESS UP AS A CURRENT OR FORMER CUP DRIVER OR NASCAR OFFICIAL, WHO WOULD YOU BE AND WHY? “Oh, man (laughter). I’d probably be Cale Yarborough when he drove one of the three championship years in the mid-70’s or late ‘70’s there when he was driving. I forget who the sponsor was on that car but it was orange and blue and white. It might have been Holly Farms, yeah. Yeah, it was Holly Farms. But he used to walk around with this suit with these stripes and a big cowboy hat. And I thought that was pretty tough (laughter). I thought he looked like a bad-ass (more laughter). But I was young then and I didn’t realize he was shorter than everybody else (everybody laughs). You know, when you’re a kid, you don’t know those things, but he still was a pretty bad-ass dude and I’ve always been a big fan of Cale’s. I thought he was really tough on the race track and that’s who I probably would dress-up as.”
WITH YOUR SENSE OF HISTORY IN THE SPORT, A LOT OF TOPICS HAVE COME UP THIS WEEK ABOUT MANUFACTURERS WORKING TOGETHER OR NOT WORKING WITH OTHER PEOPLE; AND THE CHAD KNAUS/JIMMIE JOHNSON CONVERSATION, AND THE WINDSHIELDS ETC. IT HAS CREATED AN OUTRAGE ABOUT WHY THE SPORT COULD BE LIKE THIS. COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED 25 YEARS AGO OR IS THIS JUST THE WAY IT IS? OR SHOULD NASCAR BE LOOKING AT TAKING A DIFFERENT ETHICAL DIRECTION? “You have to, I think it’s wise to always get a reality check and ask yourself those questions and make sure that you are ethical and going down the right path and that everything is righteous. For the most part, I think that everything that goes down in the sport is no different than what you’ve had in the past. I think we do have a better governing body; a smarter governing body, we have a better inspection and technical process; everything is much more orderly from one end of this track to the other including this room (media center) and how everything is handled. I mean everything is different. Everything is done better and smarter and each year we learn how to make things more fluid and whatever. So, yeah it was kind of a crazy weekend. I think the worst part about it is for the lack of a better way to explain how I feel, my impression is that the race was a bit of a disappointment and that people are more fond of, now that the new has worn off from the two-car draft, that people are recalling the pack racing and how much fun it was it and this, that, and the other. So, you know, that frustration there, from whether it be fans or drivers, is just sort of makes other things a little bit bigger of a deal than they are like what Chad said or what happened with Tricks and his gang. All that stuff, what Chad did and the rule violations and things like that are consistent in this sport, will always happen. As long as humans are involved in things, there will be a certain level of corruption and people trying to bend the rules and do things differently or better or smarter. Everybody’s got their own ideas on what works and what doesn’t work. We’re working with race cars with thousands of variables and we’ll always try to make those variables better than the next guy, even if it doesn’t clearly state in the rule book that this is the way you need to do it. We’ll try to do it however we want to interpret that. And that’s always been the case in this sport. I think that’s good. Creativity brings on technology, better technology, smarter technology, safer cars, and you need to have some parameters free to allow engineers and ingenuity and creative people in this sport. You know, there’s a lot of rules that sort of shut out guys that made this sport; like when the bodies got the way they are where they’re real stringent now. Some of the guys that used to could make some pretty creative things on these cars as far as bodies goes; you know how they used to move the tails over and move the nose over to the right and make the left front fender bigger. Those things don’t happen anymore. And those creative guys and guys that ate, slept, and thought nothing but how to improve the body of the race car, those guys don’t have as much freedom anymore. So, you’ve got to have some parameters open and allow some things to be able to be open to interpretation just so there’s a little bit of leveling of the playing field because things are pretty damn level with all the rules and restrictions as we get further and further down the road. But I think it’s good. I think it adds some color to the sport.”
INAUDIBLE “Yeah, its super-duper damn level. It’s way too level. Like the body analogy, like, years ago; I remember coming here a long, long time ago, well, not too long ago, but I was behind Ricky Craven and I was like man, I was telling Tony Junior it looks like he’s backed his car into the wall because they had the tail piece on that car moved all the way over to the right so the right-rear quarter panel was straight. So I basically could read the sponsor on the left-rear quarter panel, standing behind the car. And I said that’s crazy as hell looking. Me and Tony Jr. went back to the shop the next week and he explained to me that all these guys in bodies were moving the tail pieces over and getting the side force on the right-rear quarter panel. And then I was looking at a picture of Bobby Labonte’s car back when he run the Interstate car and I was like you know, the Pontiac logo on the hood or on the nose of the car doesn’t line up with the center of the hood. Why is that, Tony Jr.? And he is like well; they moved the nose over to the right to get the left-front fender bigger so it gets more downforce on the front. And then they started sliding the roof over and doing things to get the spoiler in the air. Can’t do those things anymore with the bodies and the big cage they’ve got and all of that, which is fine. But you know that sort of shuts out that creative mind and a lot of those guys that were geniuses are sort of working now with an arm tied behind their back, the guys that were really, really good at finding those things. And so the playing field is super-duper level in a lot of ways; more than it ever has been. And guys are going to get desperate to find whatever piece of advantage they can find. I don’t think it’s worth it, especially at the plate tracks with the two-cars pushing, you see the No. 36 and those guys. They obviously, probably don’t have the power, are running with much less funding, up there running as well as anybody. So, I don’t know why you would want to take the chance and do things like they did at Michael’s (Waltrip) shop, but that’s what you do when you’re in such a small box. When everybody’s got everything the same, you’ve got to find those one or two or three little things that add-up that sets you apart. That puts you in the top one percent. Everybody is getting desperate because you know, you want to run good. Everybody wants to run good. So, it’s a very, very level playing field; extremely with the CoT.”