BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:
ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH YOUR DROP IN THE POINTS? HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR STRATEGY? "Ain't much I can do about that. Blown motor. It's just real disappointing. We'll just have to hope and pray that we don't have another blown motor in between now and the Chase. And as a team, I think we'll be all right. We tightened it up a little bit with a blown motor and lost a lot of points. Looking at the competition, I think we're good enough to be in the top 10."
WITH AN INCIDENT LIKE THAT, IS IT JUST A LITTLE BIT OUT OF YOUR HANDS? COULD IT JUST BE FATE? "No, not really. I don't really get too worried about it. Things like that are going to happen in your career. I try not to really worry about it too much. I've got a whole lot of things I've got to do during the week and worrying about that motor; I've got to leave that at the race track and try to concentrate on this race here and the next one and so on. We've got to work with what you've got - work with the hand you've been dealt."
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH WHERE YOU ARE AT THIS POINT THIS YEAR COMPARED TO WHERE YOU WERE LAST YEAR? "Yeah, absolutely. I think we're way more excited about what's been going on this year as a company, aside from that engine failure. That motor was a really old motor and I really don't even know why we would be running that motor. Aside from that we've made some gains in the engine department here and that's something I think we'll see a lot more of that DEI needs. As a company man, they need some more power. Once they get that, Martin (Truex Jr) and I will be able to run a lot better. We're gaining there and we've had some good finishes. And my cars are driving good. That motor was really frustrating. It's wore on the team pretty hard. It was very disappointing. It's brought a bunch of the guys' morale and excitement about what we've been able to accomplish so far, down. It really hit us pretty hard so hopefully we'll be able to regroup and bounce back and try to finish out the rest of this deal pretty strong."
HOW WAS PRACTICE? "It started off real bad. This is the Chicago car. We ran it at Charlotte. We've got top five's with it pretty much every time we've run it. We didn't run it here last time, so I'm really excited that it's here and that we're using it. It's a good car. My confidence is obviously pretty high with the equipment there, so that's good. We started out struggling but we made some big gains. I think I'll be able to qualify okay. Top 10 would be fine with me. Pit road is long and it has plenty of room, so that's no real big issue. Lap times weren't too bad so I think we'll be okay."
TONY STEWART IS ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN RIGHT NOW. HOW MUCH OF AN ADVANTAGE IS THAT FOR YOU AND THE REST OF THE GUYS IF IT STAYED THAT WAY? "Tony is a super competitor. But whoever is in that top 10 is going to be hard to beat, no matter how it stacks up and who is in it. It's a tough championship to win. You've got to look at everybody as a legitimate contender."
SO IT WOULDN'T BE NICE TO HAVE A PARTICULAR GUY OUT AND NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT HIM? "It would be nice to not have to worry about a few of them. There's some guys who are doing it this year. Jimmie (Johnson) is always strong. You've got to really race Jimmie really hard. Tony (Stewart) knows the equation. He knows what it takes. He knows exactly what he needs to do week in and week out. He's really methodical on how he wins his championships. There are a lot of guys who are going to be tough to beat."
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF AGGRESSIVE RACING RECENTLY. IS THAT A BY-PRODUCT OF THE CHASE HEATING UP, OR IS THAT JUST RACING? "It's how the series has gotten more exciting and competitive. The season does grind down. I find myself more aggressive and more on the tach more and sort of not giving as much room and not quite as kind as maybe I would be the first 10 races of the season. So it does get very aggressive out there."
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF THE CHASE AND KEEP IT FROM GETTING TO YOU? "I just don't think about it. There are a lot worse things you could be going through than trying to make the Chase for a championship. Just imagine somebody dealing with something worse than you are and to be thankful for the opportunity to even have the chance to race for the Chase. It's an honor to be part of this sport and part of this series. I'm grateful to have the chance, so I don't feel a lot of pressure. I know my fans and a lot of people want to see me succeed and we try really hard, but I see people who really make themselves miserable and it's a shame."
COMPARE HOW YOU FEEL AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON COMPARED TO A YEAR AGO? "Really good. They give me a good race car and it I feel like if you give me a good opportunity that I'll make you proud that you put me in that position. I'm still trying to figure out why, with the team I had last year, we weren't in that position that we are in today. But at the same time, I'm thankful that I'm running as well as I am this year and I'm with the people I'm with. The guys who work on this car are a great group of guys and they all are genuine with their concerns with me and my well-being out on the race track. That's really important to me. You don't always have that with each and every individual. So, it's definitely a different position that I'm in now than I was in last year. But I was learning a lot more last year about myself and about those types of deals. I'd like to still be learning as much, personally. I'm learning a lot on the race track all the time, but I'd still like to be learning as much as I did last year about myself as an individual and how I pair up with my team.
WHAT HURDLES HAVE YOU HAD TO OVERCOME? "There haven't been any big real hurdles. Everything is better for the most part. The relationship with the crew is on a better, more personal level. I worked with those guys last year and I was really proud to be with them, but it was all new. I felt like the new kid in school, you know, and I didn't know those guys really well and it was difficult for me to get to know them. But it's good to be back on sort of a personal with each individual that works on the car and that's around the car all weekend. You're a family, you know. So it's important that you know them closely. It's just (about) making sure everybody's feelings are cool after everything that went down and wanting everybody to know how much I appreciate them from last year like Steve (Hmiel). I try to make sure he knows that and that everybody knows how thankful I am to have an opportunity to run well again after last year."
ARE YOU SURPRISED WITH HOW CLOSE THE POINTS ARE RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, I would rather have not had the problem we had last week. I think it's good for the sport to have those question marks coming in during those last few races leading up to the Chase. It's definitely why we have the Chase - to bring a little more drama into the sport. This is where you would usually have a little bit of a lull in the points battle and not a whole lot going on to write about or talk about. This definitely makes it a lot more interesting. I'm concerned and interested to see what their ideas are about changing it next year and I'm sure it'll be exciting."
WHAT PLANS DO YOU HAVE FOR THE WEEK OFF? "I've got a couple of appearances to make and I think they've got that premier in L.A. and I'm going out for that. That'll be neat. But on the off-weekend, I've got about 15 of my buddies coming into town and we're going to hang out."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MARTIN TRUEX JR.? "When you work with Martin like I do, you don't see the development because he's already the package; do you know what I mean? He sort of came into the sport with all the specifics. He don't really come to you with issues or problems. It's almost like you've got a teammate who has been in the sport for five or six years. That's impressive. I mean that. He doesn't show a learning curve. He doesn't really run across any obstacles. He seems to handle everything each week. Whatever the car is doing, he seems to be able to handle it.
"I can't really take credit for bringing him on board. Richie Gilmore deserves 95% of the credit. I just said that it would be okay because it was my Busch car. I watched him a couple of races when he ran his Busch North car before he drove for us. There wasn't a whole lot to see. But after he got in our car and the way he drove and how he attacked the situation..nothing about the situation really intimidated him or overwhelmed him.not the Dale Earnhardt part and obviously not the history of our cars being successful in the Busch Series - none of that intimidated him. That was really cool."