Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, visited with the media after the morning test segment. HOW HAS THE SESSION BEEN GOING SO FAR? "We ran all day yesterday. We brought two cars. One is a new car and the other is a car...
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, visited with the media after the morning test segment.
HOW HAS THE SESSION BEEN GOING SO FAR? "We ran all day yesterday. We brought two cars. One is a new car and the other is a car we've run the last two or three years at all the plate tracks. It's always been a good car. We've won with it at Talladega - I think three of those races - and we've run good with it here at the (Daytona) 500 with it. It's still good. We haven't really run it a whole lot. I'd like to concentrate on it more because it's probably the car I'm going to run in the 500. But Tony (Eury Jr.) wants to really work on the other car so we'll have two or three new cars when we come back instead of just one. They're both about the same now. We had some trouble getting the second car up to speed. We gained about four tenths on it this morning. Yesterday we gained about two tenths on it. So we really worked to get that car quick. Hopefully tomorrow we'll get to do a lot of drafting and that will be more exciting then."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DAYTONA 500 "This is a real important race. It's one of the top two goals of my career. We put a lot of emphasis on winning this race. We probably spend 25 percent of our company revenue or income on plate stuff. I think a lot of teams spend a good chunk -- maybe 15 percent or something like that. That's just a guess. A lot goes into this. It's pretty important to all of us."
ON POSSIBLY CHANGING THE POINTS SYSTEM "I don't really want them to change it. I like the point system we have. It rewards the driver with the best average finish. I don't think Matt Kenseth ever rode around intentionally just gaining points. We all try to stay out of trouble. None of us want to do anything that is going to get you in a crash and then lose a lot of points. That's just being smart. It just came under such criticism this year. NASCAR does make a lot of their decisions based on popular opinion. Unfortunately it looks like they're going to change it. But they're definitely going to make it more exciting. Whatever they do - if they do the last 10 race "dash" or whatever they do, it'll be exciting for the fans."
HOW WOULD A NEW SYSTEM COMPARE TO THE WAY YOUR FATHER WON HIS 7 TITLES? "I don't think you can (compare it). What you guys (the media) will do is go back at the end of next year and tell everybody who would have won if it had stayed the same. And then everybody will either hate that or like that and NASCAR will be influenced one way or the other. It's just a big roller coaster ride that we're all on.
"If I win the championship, I'll feel like a champion no matter what the point system is. I don't think it really takes away or adds to it. However they set it up, if you knock 'em all down, you win. That's how it is."
ON THE PROPOSED 10-RACE CHANGE TO THE POINTS SYSTEM "I think the change is a little aggressive. According to the fans on the NASCAR.com pole, they would just add some points to the guy that won the race. But I think the winner should just get more points - maybe just five extra points added to his total. The guys who gets the pole should be allowed a point or two because we put a lot into that just to start up front and then all that changes after a pit stop or two. And from 25th on back, make it all the same and stop taking points away from the guys who finish 26 or worse. That way, instead of throwing out your worst five races, if you have a terrible day you can still recover from it. That way you don't have the 100-point swings from one week to the next when the single place guy points finishes last and the points leader finishes first. It would be a smaller advantage, yet still an advantage.
"I just really don't like the idea of the 10-race shootout. And I'm not trying to boast or anything, but odds are I'd be in that top 10 if we had an average year. I still don't like it. There are so many reasons why. It takes the edge off the rest of the year. That's just my opinion. There are a lot of things I'd love to change about the sport. The point system isn't at the top of the list. I just think you should give the guy who wins a few more points and don 't make running 40th such a disaster. They just have to narrow it up a little bit and not change the whole thing."
CAN YOU HANDICAP THE FIELD FOR '04? "Well, it's probably all the same as last year. It's hard to say because the season hasn't started yet. Judging by the end of last year, you've got to look at Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. They had a good head of steam by the end of the season last year. Me and Matt (Kenseth) were doing pretty well. I just feel like those two teams (Kenseth and Newman) were pretty tough."
ON JOE GIBBS DECISION TO COACH THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS "I'm pretty excited about all that news. We're football fans. I know Matt Kenseth is a big Green Bay fan and I'm a big
Redskins fan. We talk football all the time and I haven't had a whole lot to talk about lately. It's been pretty rough. I'm serious into being a Redskins fan. It's been hard to watch games and I've been to games over the last couple of years. I went to the Dallas game and I swore I'd never go back. It was so disappointing. There was just no hustle at all. Those guys were just out there trotting around. We just got killed. I was real glad to see Spurrier go there because I was a fan of his when he was at Florida and he signed a bunch of footballs for me and sent them to me when he was there. He is just a super guy. I thought that was going to be a good deal for us but unfortunately it just didn't work out. Hopefully he goes to Carolina - if I can get a plug in. But, anyway, I think that Joe can turn it around. Everywhere he goes he knows what he needs and he gets what he wants and he puts the right people in the right places. I think he can make things happen over there."
ON VICTORY BURNOUTS "They're a lot of fun. I do them when I win. Sometimes if there is some grass around, you just do them in the grass and that way you don't tear the car up too bad. I don't see anything wrong with them."
WHO IS THE KING? "When the rear tires catch on fire, that's the king in my book. I've seen a few of those."
ON THE TEAM "We had a great year last year and I was really proud of my team. There were some areas where we improved more than I expected. To finish the way we did at Infineon and Watkins Glen made me happy. I had a car I could drive at Rockingham. We finished 13th, which wasn't a great finish but it was better than I'd ever finished there before. We need to keep building on those things and keep improving. We're getting better and better every year. We're getting closer. We'll take a shot at the title and see how close we get to the bulls eye. And we'll try again the year after that and the year after that.
"We have a good team. We had a lot of things happen in our company during the off-season. Some were disappointing moves but moves we had to make as a company and as a business. It's been a good test to how much everybody has in their hearts as far as doing what they have to do to win championships. All our employees are really showing their dedication.
"I want to win a championship. To win one, and consider myself among all the other champions would be a great addition to my career. I want to win the Daytona 500. There are all kinds of goals. I'm having a good time driving and I've had a bad time driving. I'll take the good days over the bad days. Having fun is what's important to me and also having success at the same time."
ON MATT KENSETH BEING THE NEW CHAMPION AND THE DEMANDS ON HIS TIME "It's good to see more demands on his time. He used to pick on me all that time about all the things I had to do. So now I get to pick on him. Our friendship is pretty strong. It's the same it's always been. We've actually had more time to talk and hang out over the last six months, believe it or not."
DID YOU HAVE A BUSY OFF-SEASON? "I had to do a lot of things I didn't want to do. I had about two weeks there with Christmas right in the middle. I got some days here and there to get some chilling out done. But we've got to stay focused to be prepared for February. We're running the 24-hr race. We've got to concentrate on doing well there and then on getting ready for the 500. It's going to be a busy season. I was thinking about doing some racing on my off weeks but we'll see how it goes. It's going to be a busy year for me."
ON THE TEST ROR THE ROLEX 24 "The first day the car was really all over the place. I thought if I had to drive that thing with three drivers in a 24-hour race I was definitely going to do some damage to it. But we got it driving a lot better. It's a new car. I'm driving with Tony Stewart and Andy Wallace in the Crawford entry. They haven't quite figured out what the car needs set-up wise, but we got a lot closer the second day. They're going to test it at Virginia and they do a lot of in-house testing which will probably improve the car a whole lot. It's a weird feeling when you get inside to drive somebody else's car. I've always driven my own stuff. I don't know what the Crawfords would say if I tore their car up so I was pretty nervous when I was driving it."
ON THE OFF-SEASON CRUISE? "It just didn't turn out like I expected it to. That's not something I look forward to doing again. For me, as a human being, it was entirely a whole lot more responsibility than I anticipated. I tried to accommodate as many people as I could. We did the things we advertised doing. It was just hard to get 1300 people in one place at one time. Some people got to see me and some people didn't and I understand that some people weren't very happy with it. I thought it was going to be something else and it really didn't turn out like that. We're definitely going to have to take a rain check on the next one."
Richard Childress, Owner of Richard Childress Racing, visited media to discuss his recent trip to IRAQ during the holiday season:
HOW WAS THE TRIP, HOW LONG WERE YOU THERE, WHAT DID YOU DO, AND WHO DID YOU MEET? "We were there about five or six days. We met a lot of the troops and spent a lot of time visiting the bases and places they had set up for the troops. We went into some really unique places. The morale the troops still have is really unbelievable. To see what they're doing for us to give us the opportunity to do what we do, was a great feeling. Probably one of the neatest things we did was fly one of the Blackhawk helicopters right over the city of Baghdad. We went into one place where they were overtaking an electrical plant. They had gone out that night on a mission and captured 36 terrorists and still came out for autographs at 10:00 the next morning. That just let us know how strong they felt about NASCAR and how glad they were to get to see us. We were the first civilians to ever go into this particular camp area. It was a unique trip.
"We have an opportunity to change the world. If we don't do it now, we could be in some serious trouble in the days to come. I'm proud of what they're doing and of the support we should be giving our troops. If we don't, we could be in some serious trouble as a country some day. I'm not a politician, but I know (this) by just looking at these people. They're not living in hotels. These are young men and women. The best bathroom they've had has been a port-a-potty for the past six months or eight months. They didn't even have that for a while. You'd have to go there and be in the city and see the danger. We were right there. When they handed us a flack jacket and a helmet, you knew it was serious.
"I was really proud of all the guys from NASCAR that went. The ESGR, which is the employee's support for the Reserve and Guard, put this program together. Jack Roush and I have always had our differences before, but for him to be there was really neat. Ron Hornaday & Johnny Sauter were the drivers that went along with me and it was a real eye-opener to see what's happening in the world besides NASCAR. These guys didn't have to go over there and I'm really proud of all the NASCAR people that went. They didn't have to go."
COMPARE THIS TRIP TO LAST YEAR'S TRIP TO BOSNIA "Last year we went to Bosnia and we went into Germany and Spain and Italy. It was a different trip. This year we went right into where all the action is taking place today. Reality set in on all of us that night when they put two coffins on the airplane and we carried them back to Kuwait City with us. We knew this thing was for real. These young men and women are putting their lives at risk every minute of the day. For any one not to respect what they're doing gets me a little upset."
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH JACK ROUSH ON THE TRIP "It wasn't planned and I didn't know he was going. I think he actually ended up going at the last minute. We just talked about a lot of different things. We talked a little about racing, but mostly about what we were seeing and where we were and the conditions. I told him I want to apologize before we got started. The only thing we slept in over there was in sleeping bags and on cots. We slept in sleeping bags three out of six nights. I apologized for snoring and he said that I did (snore)."
DID YOU SEE ANY WILDLIFE THERE? "Every minute was wild, but I didn't see any there."
ARE ANY OF YOUR EMPLOYEES OVER THERE? "Yeah, one of our pilots is there in a helicopter. We have two or three of our employees over there or in the military at this time."
HOW HARD DID THIS HIT YOU? "Well, it hits all of us. I don't know if you realize that about 48 percent of our military are in the Reserves. Our country couldn't afford to pay 100 percent full time for all of our soldiers and military support."
ON THE PROPOSED POINTS REVISION "Anytime you make change you're going to have some resistance. People are going to question it and we're going to have some problems if they make change. But if you look at the whole picture, I think maybe it's time for change. NASCAR has reached another level. Maybe we do need a playoff. The way it was explained to me made me understand it a lot better. If they do it, sure there will be some questions and some hiccups to it. At the end of the day, NASCAR has made a lot of right decisions along the way."
ON THE CURRENT RESTRICTOR PLATE RULES "With the restrictor plate and spoiler and spring combination that we have now is going to balance the field. You can tell just by watching here and watching the race at Talladega. You're going to see Ford and Dodge right in the middle of it. I think this restrictor plate really worked good for them and I don't see where anybody is going to have a great advantage. DEI is going to be good. They always are at restrictor plate races."
WHAT'S YOUR REACTION TO JOE GIBBS GOING TO THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS? "I think it's great for him to go back to a career like that. He came here and did a tremendous amount in our sport. He's got his son set up to carry the team and he'll keep giving a lot of support to the sport. He's not leaving us. If anything it can help us with the notoriety of him going back and being a football coach and still being associated with the sport. But I'm not going into coaching, I'm going into the wine business."
ON THE CURRENT STATE OF THE NO. 29 TEAM OF KEVIN HARVICK "For once, we've kept this team together through the year without a change. I don't think we lost anybody on the team. We made one adjustment and I think one position. They should be a championship contender. Kevin just gets better and better every race with restrictor plate racing."
ON THE OVERALL FIELD IN '04 "I think you'll see Jeff Gordon, Dale Jr., Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and hopefully Kevin Harvick in there. I'd love to see Robby Gordon in thee and I don't know what a rookie like Johnny Sauter can do. But I think it's going to be an interesting year. There are five or six rookies out there. There are established teams. You've got some that have moved around a bit. I'm excited about it. It doesn't even seem like we've been off but I'm anxious to get started back again."
WILL THE NEW ADDITIONAL TESTS BE EXPENSIVE FOR THE OWNERS? "Most definitely. I was not for that and I expressed my opinion. We had five tests and then we had the option of going to Greenville or Kentucky or wherever we wanted to go to test. Usually when we did that, we'd send one team to test and to bring back all the information to share. Now, with seven single day optional tests, every one of the teams are going to want to go do it just because they can go to the track that they're going to go race on. So it's going to be a big expense on all the car owners?)