DALE EARNHARDT JR. / DRIVER, ...
DALE EARNHARDT JR. / DRIVER, #8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET:
Junior, in each of the last three or four weeks you've made forward progress in the point standings, and now you find yourself just 70 points out of the top-10. Have you been stepping up your game this last month?
"Yeah, I believe so. We've all been working hard, because nobody likes to finish mid-pack, and the goal is obviously to make the top-10 when the Chase begins. We're still not where we want to be ... still got to find a way to make our cars go faster, and find the grip we lost with the new spoiler. We're working hard. I've stepped up my commitment as a driver. I started out the year trying to be cool and let everyone on the team get acclimated to me and me to them. But Pete (Rondeau) and myself are starting to work harder and demand a little more from each other. I'm driving real, real hard to get good finishes for this team, to keep them motivated. And slowly but surely, we're gaining a position or two each week, and there is still a lot of racing left."
Since you are a two-time winner at Phoenix, you must know a thing or two about getting around that one-mile track. What's the secret?
"No secret. It's all about getting your car to handle through the middle of the corners, and since the corners are so different, you almost need a balance between the two. That's where we were able to put a lot of distance on cars last year. When I first started going out there I had a hard time being competitive, but the last two times we were out there we were absolutely hooked up! It's one of my favorite tracks, because it's got short-track tendencies, yet there's a lot of room to race. You can pass and be passed without too much trouble.
SEASON OVERVIEW: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team head to the Saturday-night race at Phoenix International Raceway on the heels of a ninth-place finish at Texas, their third top-10 of the season and second in the last three races. Since the Atlanta event on March 20, Dale Jr. has climbed from 27th to 15th in the Nextel Cup point standings and is now only 70 points out of the top-10 (and 110 points behind the fourth-place position). In eight races this season, the Brew Crew has recorded two top-fives and three top-10s.
FUN IN THE SUN: Dale Jr. has won the last two races at Phoenix, scoring victories from the 11th and 14th starting positions, respectively. He joins Davey Allison and Jeff Burton as the only drivers to post multiple victories at PIR. All three managed to do it in consecutive races. Junior has finished in the top-five in each of the last three races at PIR, leading a total of 310 laps. He is currently sixth on the all-time lap leaders chart at Phoenix, just 27 laps behind his legendary father, Dale Earnhardt.
MILE-MARKERS: Dale Jr. has scored top-10 finishes in five of his last six races at tracks one mile in length. Three of his 15 wins have come on mile tracks -- two at Phoenix (2003 and 2004) and one at Dover (2001).
UNDER THE LIGHTS: Saturday's race at Phoenix will mark the first night race of the 2005 season. The #8 Budweiser team has finished sixth or better in six of its last seven night races, most recently finishing third at Charlotte last October. Dale Jr. has scored two victories while on night watch, both coming last year (Richmond on May 15 and Bristol on Aug. 28).