Phoenix II: Earnhardt Jr - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT HIGHLIGHTS WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS: HOW'S YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND? "It's pretty good. We've got a little work still to do. We're right there in the middle of it right now as far as time wise.

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT HIGHLIGHTS WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:

HOW'S YOUR CAR THIS WEEKEND? "It's pretty good. We've got a little work still to do. We're right there in the middle of it right now as far as time wise. We'd like to be a little quicker."

ON STICKING WITH THE RACE LAST WEEKEND AT TEXAS WHEN HE WAS NOT FEELING WELL: "Yeah, we normally don't get lucky like that in the car driving still competitively. I think every race car driver has a race like that where it looks like things are going really wrong but you still kind of come out on the good end. We can't expect to hit the wall like that every time and have a car that's competitive. As much as we were good, we were lucky too."

IN THE BIG PICTURE, IS TOMORROW THE BIGGEST RACE OF THE SEASON FOR YOU? IS IT A MAKE OR BREAK RACE? "It could be. It just depends on how we do."

DO YOU APPROACH IT ANY DIFFERENTLY? "No, not really. Just get in there and go as fast as the car will go."

DO YOU JUST FEEL LIKE RACING AND NOT TALKING MUCH THIS WEEKEND? "There's not much explanation to it. You just get here and practice and work on the car. My mind's really working on the car right now. You just get in there and see what happens."

HOW TOUGH DO YOU THINK IT'S GOING TO BE TO CATCH JIMMIE JOHNSON? "I don't really know. I haven't paid that much attention to how good his car is this weekend. They're a great team; pretty tough to beat."

YOUR TEAM SAYS THEY ARE MORE LIKE JIMMIE JOHNSON'S TEAM NOW - MORE OF A FAMILY AND MORE TOGETHER. WHAT WAS THE BIG TURNAROUND? "Well, we were together before. In '04 we were pretty tight and all those guys were my friends. This year we saw an opportunity to win a championship and we've really put a lot of effort into it."

ON HIS QUALIFYING EFFORT: "I was happy with the way we qualified. We weren't that good in practice and Tony (Eury) Junior made a lot of changes on the car and we were able to get a good lap. I was pretty surprised."

ON RACING AT PHOENIX "I like the track. It's fun to race on. There aren't many short tracks left on the circuit. You drive it like one. So you slide around and it's slick and you get a little wore out so it's really fun to race on."

IN LOOKING AT THE RACES IN YOUR CAREER, CAN YOU SUM UP THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS RACE AND THE NEXT ONE AT HOMESTEAD? "If we really do good and we're close to the championship, it's important. If we don't do good, it's not that important. There are other ones that are important. Like the Winston is really important. The Daytona 500 ranks right up there. I don't know. We're 80 points out and we've got a shot. I'm hoping we can find a little more magic there. The No. 29 (Harvick) is really fast and he might be the car to beat. As much as we like to look at Jimmie and them guys and try to catch them, there are still some guys who are really close behind us that still have a shot too. So we're not just racing the No. 48. The No. 11 (Hamlin) looks pretty good out there."

DOES THE FOCUS BECOME THE NO. 48 (JOHNSON) ON SUNDAY? "No. We'll do what we do. If something were to happen to him, obviously Tony Junior would tell me the situation and what the points look like, so I might take a different approach and be more apprehensive and whatnot. We've just got to race hard and worry about trying to get our car to turn in the middle and get up off the corner good and things like that."

WOULD YOU PREFER TO KNOW OR NOT TO KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING WITH THE OTHER CHASE DRIVERS? "Yeah, I'd rather know as much information as he (Tony Eury Jr.) can give me about where I'm running and who's in front and who's fast and where the fast guys are running and what line their running and all that information is huge. At Martinsville, we obviously didn't think big picture enough. We probably could have used a little more preaching."

YOU DON'T SEEM TO HAVE A LOT TO SAY THIS WEEKEND "Yeah, I don't really have a lot to say. It is what it is and we're here to try to do the best we can. Our car is a top 10 car right now, but it's not good enough to satisfy me. So we're going to work on that a little bit more. Other than that, it's a pretty easy weekend."

HOW DOES THIS CHASE COMPARE TO 2004? "In '04 I didn't feel like I had a shot. Homestead was a bad track for us. We knew going in there that we weren't going to run good. Now, I feel like I can run good at Homestead. I've got that car that we've run 14 times this year and run in the top 10 with it at 12 (races), so I feel like I can go there and put up a fight."

IS GETTING YOUR INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM WHERE IT NEEDED TO BE ONE OF THE KEYS TO YOUR SUCCESS THIS YEAR? "Yeah. The only thing about that is it seems like for our team, every time we pick up something we drop something else. It seems like our flat track program has struggled really bad - our New Hampshires and here - we're a little tight in the center; more than I want to be. We were really good here two years ago. The thing about it is, the way you set up a car for a 1.5-mile track is totally different than the way you set it up for the flat tracks. The mentality is different. The set-ups are vastly different. The real good crew chiefs are the ones who almost have that bipolar mentality or that bipolar approach to each track; do you know what I mean? You can't go in with that narrow mindset. Not that Tony Eury does, he's great. But from what I've seen, you have to have three different personalities when it comes to setting the cars up."

HOW WILL YOU TACKLE THE TRACK THIS WEEKEND? "Normally, at most tracks you can't get that aggressive, but here you can. This place is slick. And you slide around. You can be aggressive in sliding and driving hard, but yet you're not taking risks. If you drove like that at Atlanta, or someplace like that, you'd take a pretty big risk of getting into the fence. Here, it's fun. You can really drive the car hard and work on the tires hard and overdrive it."

HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE POINTS? "I'd have to see how it would work out. But I always thought if we put a lot of effort into qualifying there should be some sort of benefit to that - maybe something really small but nonetheless, they guy who is really putting that effort forward and getting those poles could benefit from it. That would make qualifying more prestigious aside from just trying to pick pits. I honestly could care less whether I get any poles or not. I just try to do as good as I can for the pit picking process. Obviously, the other thing would be to give more points to the guy who wins the race. I think that's a decent idea.

"When we were racing in the Busch Series, bonus points were huge. We'd end up with somewhere between 60 to 100 points more than the next guy in bonus points and that was huge going into the championship. Obviously when you've got a great car and you feel like you can lead laps you want to try to get the most laps led bonus. That's really important."

WHAT WAS YOUR WEEK LIKE? "We shot a commercial for Budweiser Thursday. That was fun. We did that in California. I had a lot of stuff to do around the house. I felt really good by Tuesday. I had Monday off."

DO YOU THINK IT'S OKAY FOR CUP GUYS TO RUN FULL TIME IN THE BUSCH SERIES? "I don't think you can say hey, this is the deal. You can't run this. You can't do this. I don't really think there is anything that can be done about it, but it's terrible for the series."

AS A CAR OWNER, IS IT FRUSTRATING WHEN YOU WANT TO GROOM SOMEONE IN THE BUSCH SERIES? "I can still accomplish my goals. I think Shane (Huffman) is a good little driver and I think if you can find a guy that can run good and be smart and not tear up a lot of equipment, you can sort of get by. I've got a little bit of an advantage because of the name recognition in the sport helps us get a lot more sponsor money. With the purses the way they are and with sponsors sort of thin, (lesser teams) are going to have a hard time staying in the sport. Maybe in five or 10 years the entire series is full of Cup regulars and it ends up just becoming a novelty race and people just come to see us goof off a little bit before the big deal on Sunday."

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS HOW TO FIX IT? "The only real way to fix it is to tell Kevin (Harvick) and those Nextel regulars in the top 30 in points that they can only run 15 races. That way the team owners like Childress and those guys get back to bringing in the Clint Bowyers and those guys into their cars in 15 races or whatever the rest of the season is; and the see some young guys come into the sport with some potential. That was okay to have ten run half the season and then you have Clint running a couple races trying to get into the deal. Those kinds of programs I think are acceptable. On the other side of the coin, it's amazing to have a guy dedicating his entire year to running both series. It's really, really hard to run those races. Kevin (Harvick) did it the entire year. That's amazing."

DO YOU THINK ONE OF THE REASONS YOUR DAD BACKED OUT OF BUSCH IN '94 WAS TO MAKE WAY FOR GUYS LIKE YOU AND MATT KENSETH TO USE IT AS A DEVELOPMENTAL SERIES? "Yeah. He brought in Jeff Green. That was sort of the beginning of DEI as a company. Before then, it was a toy of his and that's just something he fiddled around with and had fun with his buddies. It became an industry after only a few years because of that."

WHEN YOU AND JEFF GORDON DIDN'T MAKE THE CHASE LAST YEAR, A LOT OF PEOPLE THOUGHT THE TV RATINGS SUFFERED. BUT THIS YEAR, THEY ACTUALLY DROPPED WITH YOU AND GORDON IN THE CHASE. ANY THOUGHTS? "Well, I don't know. I told everybody I knew to tune in (laughter). But I'm only one guy. The racing is really the same. The drivers are the same. Obviously it has to do with the newness wearing off the Nextel deal. That big splash is gone. Maybe the Cup isn't what we all think it is. Maybe it's not quite as exciting and dramatic as we believe it to be. When you're sitting home watching it from your couch throughout the span of the season, maybe it's not that exciting. Maybe it's not that big of a deal. But it seems really great from this standpoint. I think it's done a lot. It's been exciting for me. I don't really know."

DO YOU THINK IT HURTS TO GO AGAINST THE NFL? "Yeah, I think a lot of it is the late starts. You know the tradition of us racing at lunch was pretty big and to be going away from that has hurt the sport a little bit. I think the new fans find the races quite a bit too long. I think they'd be more interested in seeing 300-mile races than 500-mile races. There is that point in the middle of the race where it's sort of pointless (laughter). We're just kind of cutting laps is basically what we are doing to get to the end. We have our core fans, but a big percentage of the sport now is the new guys coming in watching the sport. Maybe the sport needs to be polished a little bit for that. Maybe we need to clean up some of the lengths on some of the races (like) the Poconos. Those things are way too long, man. Seriously. Everybody knows that."

IF YOUR FAVORITE DRIVER IS NOT IN THE CHASE, DO YOU THINK THE FANS DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THEIR GUYS DURING THE RACE COULD BE A FACTOR? "No, not really. Normally when you give too little, you leave people wanting more. And when you give too much, you leave people overly satisfied and they tend to lose interest."

ON SATURDAY NIGHT RACES "I think Saturday night races are great for the time slot on TV. It's actually kind of good. Either that, or the traditional lunch on Sunday is good. I think the length of the races themselves and the length of the season wears on the average fan. It don't really wear on them, but it's sort of like baseball. To play all them games, you can tune in and out. It's there, but I don't really have to watch. Like NFL football, you've got 16 games. Every game is really, really crucial. You're tuning in like hell to see what happens. With baseball and this sport, you can not watch for a couple of weeks and read the newspaper and see what's been going on and you're fine, you know? It doesn't really hold and grasp your interest and keep your interest."

DOES THE CHASE DO THAT? "The Chase helps. I think the Chase made it way more exciting than the other system. The Chase is great, but I've always felt like the season was too long. But I've had different reasons for that and now I've got even more."

WHAT ARE THEY? "At first, I though it was too long because I didn't like it being that long. Now I could care less. I could race year 'round if you want to. When I see these guys on my team that are newlyweds or losing marriages or having newborns that they can't be around because with seven days a week jobs, I see how tough it is on them and their families when they come to Christmas parties, it's pretty hard core. But I've seen more people lose their marriage over the number of people that became married since they've gotten in the sport. I've seen more people in the sport get divorced than I've seen people out of the sport get married. But it has a lot to do with the season being so long and we're gone so much. And also, I believe it's too long for the fans."

DO YOU LIKE THE POINT SYSTEM WE HAVE NOW? "With this system we have now I'll have a lot of opportunities to win championships. I'll have more opportunities with this system than the old system. With the old system, you had the guy who got out in front and got away and it was hard to catch at the end. I can't imagine how many championships Dad might have won with this system. He might have been a 10-time champion or something like that. The system offers opportunity to win more. That kind of relaxes me a little bit by not getting it this year. We're obviously doing everything we can do. But I'm a lot more excited about my team now - going into next season and all and how we've run this year. I didn't anticipate running that good every single Chase race. We've been in the top five pretty much every race at one point in the event. The first two races we struggled and didn't finish well. But from there on out, we've ran up front. I didn't anticipate that. So I'm excited about next year and being more mentally prepared and more consistent as a driver I think will help this team a lot next year. We won't have to get in by the skin of our teeth. So, I feel like if not this year, then next year. Each year is more fruitful for us as a team."

ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF MORE THIS YEAR? "Oh yeah, I'm having a blast. Normally by this time I'm ready for it to be over with. It just doesn't feel like the end of the season to me."

IF YOU SHORTENED THE SEASON, ARE YOU AND THE OTHER DRIVERS WILLING TO GIVE UP MONEY BECAUSE YOU WOULDN'T RACE AS MUCH? "Yeah. Absolutely. That wouldn't be a problem at all."

DO ENVY MATT KENSETH AND HIS LIFESTYLE? "No, not really. I kind of like me. Perception and reality are two different things. I think if you spend some time around me, you would have a different opinion of me and my life. Me and Matt probably have a lot more in common than you'd imagine, but I find myself in situations that are different - if only because of the name recognition and whatnot. I'm able to go and do things and be asked to do things and stuff. And Matt could probably care less. That's probably part of the respect between me and him. It's that sort of odd couple there were we're sort of two different people. We came up together and raced hard together and we'll always, when this racing stuff is over with, we'll always be able to have a conversation and be friends. We sort of share values and whatnot. He genuinely shares advice in a manner like he really cares you know. It's like here's what I think you should do. I think that kind of relationship lasts forever."

WOULD YOUR DAD LIKE THE CHASE FORMAT? "I don't know. He didn't like change a lot."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Green , Clint Bowyer , Tony Eury Jr.