DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW PAINT THE 88/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed racing at Talladega, tandem drafting, and putting lubricant on the cars, along with other topics.
TALK ABOUT RACING AT TALLADEGA: “I like coming here, it is pretty laid back weekend. The guys really don’t make too many adjustments or do too much work on the car; you don’t really have to practice a whole lot. There are a lot of rules and restrictions when you go to plate races, so there are not a lot of adjustments you can make to the car. The cars really do not go fast enough to have any handling issues. You get them close to the ground and that is pretty much it. It makes for a pretty laid back weekend for the teams. It gives you a chance to re-group a little bit. This track has a lot of history and I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish here. I like the mystique the place has, a lot of great and interesting things that happen here. It is always fun to come to this place; it is just such a different track than we what we normally race on. It is really big and a lot different style of racing; it is a nice change of pace from all the mile and a half stuff we do.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE RULE CHANGES ARE GOING TO DO TO AFFECT THE TWO-BY-TWO DRAFTS OR IS ANYTHING GOING TO CHANGE UNTIL THE TRACK AGES? “I think that there are a lot of different variables that created the tandem racing, it was kind of the perfect storm, if you will. We had the cars, the new COT and how the bumpers line up perfectly. How flat both end of the car are, so you are able to push people without picking them up off the ground or doing anything too crazy. Then you have the latest technology when it comes to asphalt and paving, which you are seeing tracks like Charlotte, that place should have aged quite a bit by now, since it was repaved and it is as if the place has not aged at all. There is tons of grip there and you saw that in the type of race we had there last week. It was kind of the perfect storm, a lot of different variables they did kind of choke down the plates on the cars a little bit before this most recent change, what they have been doing is slowing the cars down a little bit. That is just going to increase our ability I think to have the tandem racing. I really don’t know if it will change much, we will just have to get out there and see. I don’t expect it to change really at all. The one thing, and I hate to quote Jeff Gordon, I hate to speak for anybody but he brought up a good point, we were talking about this style of racing and I was thinking you know it is good that we are going to get a bigger plate, cause I think going faster is a way to sort of break up the tandem drafting. I had seen that in some test that we did at Daytona, where the plate change mid-test and it changed the way the draft worked and it changed how we did tandem draft with just a small adjustment in the plate. But the one thing that they changed in the radiator with the release value, we will probably have to swap sooner, if we are going to push each other around the race track we are going to have to swap more often and when we do make position changes. Say you are working with your partner out there and you got to change more often, that is when it is going to get crazy because you lose a lot of speed and the guys that are not changing that are behind you come flying up on you really quick and if they do not have a lot of room and everybody doesn’t know what is going on, bad things can happen. The change in the radiator to make us change more often, I don’t really see what we are trying to accomplish there and how that can bring about any good. I think that will just put us all in difficult situations, more often cause when you make a swap it is a difficult situation for the other drivers that aren’t swapping that have to dodge you and hope they know where you are going and what you and your teammate are trying to do, because you lose so much speed in the process of making that swap. Everyone is sort of making a lot of calculated guess out there if that is happening more often that is a little bit troublesome but, I don’t think it will be that big of a deal, but I just don’t know what that change was really for other than to make us swap more. I don’t like the tandem drafting, but hopefully some of these changes will make us do that less but I don’t know. So much grip out there, the main factor I think is the grip of the track. There are some other things that plan in the role too.”
WHEN YOU PUSHED JIMMIE JOHNSON TO THE WIN HERE IN THE SPRING, AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALIZE, YOU WERE NOT GOING TO FINISH ANY BETTER THAN SECOND AND DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR THINKING GOING BACK THIS TIME? “I worked with Jimmie (Johnson) all day long and there comes a point in the race, it might be early or it might be late. There comes a certain point in the race and this has happened at Daytona and Talladega, both times, where you get an idea of how things are more affective by whoever is pushing or leading. For whatever reason, we are faster and do better and we are more successful in passing cars, staying in the pack, staying in the heat, doing what we need to do with me pushing and him leading. I am not sure if this is a true story but I found out, I hear that there was a rag stuck in the water pump of the No. 48 car from Talladega and that would make it difficult for him to push anybody, so I told Chad (Knaus, No. 48 Crew Chief) to quit sticking that rag in there because I would not mind getting pushed ever once in a while ( Laughs) but I had heard that when you take a waterline off the top of the radiator, you stick a rag in the radiator to keep debris from getting in there until you reconnect the hose and somehow the rag got knocked down in the radiator, ended up in the water pump. For whatever reason, during the race you just figure that out, you say alright man, we seem to struggle with being on the same page in this position and when we stop we seem to be on the same page and make great decisions so, one guy is better at leading, one guy is better at pushing, it just so happens that this year, Jimmie has been better leading, I have been better pushing.”
WHAT ARE YOU THOUGHTS ON THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR PIT CREW? OF THE FIVE RACES REMAINING, IS THIS YOU’RE BEST CHANCE AT A WIN? “I don’t discuss the particulars and the personal on my team with my crew chief, I don’t have those discussions, if he needs to tell me something or wants to tell me something and he feels like I need to know he will tell me but as far as I know everything is going to stay the way it has been and I am real happy with the way things are. I never insinuated that we need to make any changes. We had a lose wheel, we have had two this year, and it has not been the same guy. I have had lose wheels before and that is just part of racing. You hope it doesn’t happen, but we are humans out there trying to do this and you are going to make mistakes. So I think everything is fine there. Those guys, you learn from those mistakes and you move forward and I think you become better at it. I expect those guys to rebound pretty quickly. I come to Talladega feeling confident that I am good at plate racing and know the draft really well and know how to find speed and work the draft really well, but it is pretty much a crap-shoot especially with the tandem racing and if we have a lot of that going on, it is really, your odds of winning go way down, because you are not in control of your own destiny and that is what racing should be about. You should be worried about what you need to do to get up there and leading the race and tandem racing you really don’t have that type of freedom, your hands are kind of tied behind your back, what you have to focus on is not your own goal, it is the goal of the two of you. It changes things quite a bit. I like coming here and I like racing here, I think that lends to having success, when you have a good attitude and a good outlook on the race track itself.” Really, I hope we can run well and win any of these races and I think we are good enough to do that. I am looking forward to all of them.”
YOU ARE POPULAR EVERYWHERE BUT WHEN YOU COME HERE IT IS LIKE YOU GREW UP HERE, CAN YOU PUT YOUR FINGER ON WHY YOU ARE SO EMBRACED IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD? “I just think because of the success my father had here. He did a lot of things in the sport that paved the road for me. When I was able to come in here and win some races that just solidified my position and the Earnhardt family’s legacy at this race track. I have said it throughout my career. I know deep down inside I owe a great debit and a lot of credit to him for where I am and who I am in the sport and how I am perceived, the path that I have been given and what I have done with it and what I have accomplished with it. I think he was a legend here and won a lot of races and was very good at plate racing. He was real easy to cheer for when you came here. No matter who you were a fan of, it was fun to watch him race, he always done a lot of great things a lot of fun things for a fan as far as watching a race here. When I was able to come here and have some success, I think it sealed the deal for all them Earnhardt fan out there.”
WHY IS IT AN ADVANTAGE TO SMEAR LUBRICANT ALL OVER THE BACK BUMPER OF A CAR HERE? “That is a really good question. You’ll put that helicopter tape on the front of the same from being sand blasted during practice, just keeps the nose looking clean, but if you have every handled helicopter tape it is sort of a rubbery type of substance. What a lot of drivers and teams ended up doing was putting it on the back of the car as well at Talladega and Daytona just to keep the back of the car from being torn up during practice, it was easier on the teams to tear that helicopter tape off and replace it and if you didn’t have it on there you could get your car scratched up pretty bad before the race, it was a pride or character thing if you liked to keep your car looking good. When you put those two surfaces together especially with that kind of force we have to our drafting, it is really, really easy to spin someone out, with just the smallest move of the steering wheel, the cars are kind of velcroed together with those two materials and what people started to find out was that over the last several trips to Daytona and Talladega, we started taking the helicopter tape off the front and the back of the cars and just saying the hell with it and let them get beat up during practice and not worrying about it too much and that was ok for a while, and then we started using baby powder and lubricants and all kinds of stuff to make that surface less grippe car to car, nose to nose, allow the cars to slide across the back of each other so that when you went off into turn one at Daytona you did not turn someone sideways accidentally. As a driver when you are drafting at Daytona and Talladega and you are pushing somebody, you do not have a real good idea of what happens and what it takes to turn somebody sideways but you see it all. You have seen us spin each other out, out of nowhere you know, you will push for ten laps and then go in the corner the same as you had the last ten laps and you will spin the leader out somehow, it tended mostly because of that helicopter tape, that wrap that they put on the front of the car that clear wrap, to protect it from being sand blasted and beat up that would actually grip the bumper of the car ahead of it and spin it out, so we just started slicking up, doing whatever we could, putting hand spray or anything else we could get to make that surface slicker and it was a whole lot safer. I don’t know why they took that away, they put that on there for safety; there was no speed that was just merely because it make it a lot more comfortable for the driver to be able to push each other around the track.”