DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Kansas Speedway and discussed being back at Kansas, the Phoenix test, points position, pressure and other topics.
DO YOU FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT COMING BACK TO A TRACK WHERE YOU HAVE HAD SOME SUCCESS? “Yes, just looking forward to getting on the race track and getting back to racing. Had a couple long, boring days of testing at Phoenix that they don’t hand out any prizes for so I’m glad to get here and try to see how good we can do. Get back to the grind, you know.”
Man, I would like to win a race before the year is out and I think we can do that as a team.
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF PHOENIX? “I thought it was good. The last several times these tracks have paved, they have done such a great job. The track is really smooth. It will be a one-groove track for a year or so, but out there in the heat of the desert and the sand and all that and the wind, it will age much faster than most tracks do and be a really good track really quickly.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS RIGHT NOW? “I’m not real happy with it. I would like to be first. That would be the preferred position.”
ARE YOU UPSET WITH THE POINTS SYSTEM? DO YOU LIKE THE OLD WAY BETTER? THE NEW WAY? “I’ve never been critical of the new points system. That’s fine with me however they want to do it.”
IS 34 (POINTS) TOO MUCH TO MAKE UP? “You don’t really know I guess. I mean, 34 positions, you can do that in a race, there’s only 43 of us in a race. With the right luck, you can make it happen. We’re going to have to run good to do that. We’ll see how that goes. We’ve had some pretty fast cars, some quick enough cars to have some good finishes. Man, I would like to win a race before the year is out and I think we can do that as a team. I feel confident that we can do that. I don’t think it’s over by no means.”
WHAT WOULD BE A SUCCESSFUL WEEKEND HERE FOR YOU? I KNOW YOU WANT TO WIN THE RACE, BUT, AS JIMMIE (JOHNSON) SAID LAST WEEKEND, HE HAD TO FINISH TOP-THREE: “Being in the media center at the end of the deal is really good. Being in the top-three.”
CHARLOTTE NEXT WEEK WITH COOL TEMPERATURES EXPECTED, HOW DO YOU THINK THE RACE IS GOING TO PLAY OUT? “Cool temperatures mean you have a little more grip; a little more speed. I don’t know what else it will do. It’s not that exciting, it’s just a little cooler. About the same race you saw there the last time I suppose.”
DO YOU KNOW WHY THE SWAY BAR BROKE LAST WEEK? “My crew chief, Steve Letarte, told me that when they were making the weld, it broke where it was welded together. There was not enough penetration on that weld; not enough heat. That’s what he told me so that’s what I will go with. I haven’t seen the piece that broke. It’s unfortunate but I’m sure it won’t happen again. Chad Knaus promised me it wouldn’t. I’ll take his word. Pretty strong word.”
THEY ARE DOING SOMETHING TO MAKE SURE IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AGAIN? “I’m certain they are, yes. We don’t need to improve the piece, we just might want to do a little better maintenance work, just kind of making sure we don’t have cracks in them and stuff. Things like that.”
WE JOKED WITH YOUR CREW GUYS AFTERWARD THAT YOU WERE GLAD IT WASN’T JUST LEFT LOOSE BECAUSE YOU LIKE THEM ALL. IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT THEY DON’T MAKE MISTAKES? “I was just glad it wasn’t a loose part that fell off because somebody forgot to tighten it up before the race. They go through inspection sometimes and sometimes the sway bars can be forgotten and they have been forgotten in races to get tightened up. I don’t like to see any of my guys getting in any kind of trouble. They are a good group and I know that if somebody had left that sway bar arm off, Steve would have probably had to really come down on them and I hate to see that.”
HAVE YOU BEEN IN A HIGH PRESSURE SITUATION AND YOU FELT YOU DIDN’T PERFORM TO YOUR BEST? “Yes, there are probably several races I can think of. Maybe Martinsville trying to hold off to win that race. I wish I could try that again. I don’t know, (Kevin) Harvick was pretty fast but I sure wish it had ended differently. There are a lot of things you definitely would like another shot at in life. But we don’t get that. You have to look forward. You have to look in the direction you are going.”
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO TO TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF YOURSELF SO YOU DON’T REALLY WORRY ABOUT THE PRESSURE? “I don’t really let the pressure bother me too much. Attention bothers me, not pressure; you know, just feeling like you’re in the fish tank. The pressure is not a big deal. I’ve been around this sport a long, long time and I feel like I’ve got a good idea on what I’m doing. I feel comfortable doing what I’m doing and I haven’t had many opportunities to race for championships. I’m sure that’s a different situation that I’m not quite aware of. We were kind of close in 2004 and I didn’t even realize it until it was over with, how kind of close we came. So, I’m sure if I can get that opportunity again, then maybe I can revisit the pressure question.”
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN A FISH TANK. HOW HAS IT CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? HAS IT BEEN MORE OR LESS IN YOUR CAREER? “I don’t really know. I can’t really put my finger on a measurement, but it definitely was a lot more when I came into the sport the first time because we had come off the two championship years in the Nationwide Series and people just wondered what we were capable of doing. And that was pretty hard. And then not even a year later, my dad died and we just had a lot of people watching us and seeing what we would do there and how we would react. Ever since then it’s eased up quite a bit. Ever since I’ve been running with Rick (Hendrick) it’s been a more comfortable thing to deal with. And this year may be even the best when it comes to that.
IS IT LIKE BOTH MEDIA AND FANS OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE EVERYBODY IS JUST CONSTANTLY LOOKING AT EVERY LITTLE THING YOU DO AND MAKING SOMETHING OF IT? OR, WHAT DO YOU MEAN? “I probably make it a lot bigger than it is, you know; in my head, I think. It’s not really the media. I don’t think that you guys really step over any lines or anything. And I keep a good idea of that throughout the year and what you all are doing and what you’re writing about and what everybody is thinking because I’m interested in the sport so I’ve got to read about it and I’ll cross over the articles about myself from time to time. But my own expectations and my own ambition and what I want to achieve for myself sort of correlates with what my fans want out of me and what the media wants me to do. So that gets you a lot of attention when you don’t do it or you get close to doing it. But this year has been good. We’ve been productive and showing some signs of life in my career a little bit. That’s been a good feeling. And everything that’s went along with it this year has been really good.”
WHEN YOU SEE ARTICLES ABOUT YOURSELF, HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU SAY WHY DID HE WRITE THAT OR WHY DIDN’T HE WRITE THAT? “Not really often. I mean not really often. My dad used to say it all the time. I used to hear him say it all the time (laughs). He had some pretty good relationships and interesting relationships with several individuals. But you know, I think that I’m pretty uh, I don’t know what the word is for it, but when I see somebody say you know ‘Dale Junior’s not hot right now; not doing good’, there’s a point to everybody’s opinion and everybody’s argument. So I kind of see both sides of it. Somebody writes something good about you and writes something that you like; a lot of times I’ll reach out to the guy and tell him that I appreciated that or that I thought he was right; not just for praising me of whatever but if I think he was really telling the truth you know, I really enjoy reading stuff like that even if it’s not about me.”
RON HORNADAY GOT HIS 50TH CAREER WIN IN THE NCWTS LAST WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? “Yeah, Ron’s been a big part of the Truck Series; maybe one of the more important drivers that the series has ever had. He was a great friend of my family and to me and having grown up and having the opportunity and the fortune to spend time around him and his son when I was younger was a lot of fun for me. Those were great years and fond memories and I like to see Ron do well. Maybe the guy can still be winning races when he’s 60 or 70 years old!”
YOU STOOD IN LINE FOR BARBEQUE IN THE SPRING HERE AT KANSAS LAST YEAR. DO YOU LIKE THE BBQ HERE? “Yes, I saw that on the ‘Man Versus Foods’ and I wanted to go check that out. It was awesome. I’d like to go there this weekend if I have an opportunity.”
WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR HIS BIRTHDAY? “I’m going to go down to my old western town with my family; about 20 or 30 of us down there and just kind of hang out in the saloon for a night. It’ll be good.”