DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVY MONTE CARLO (winner, sixth W.C. win in 84 races; first win for Chevrolet in 2002, ninth to fifth in points, won here last October, led 133 laps, led most laps for the second time this season, and has...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVY MONTE CARLO (winner, sixth W.C. win in 84 races; first win for Chevrolet in 2002, ninth to fifth in points, won here last October, led 133 laps, led most laps for the second time this season, and has led the most laps in the last two races in Talladega):
"We definitely had a real good car today, especially being able to lead all the laps that we led. We started out practice for qualifying and kind of struggled a little bit. We were about ninth or eighth on the chart and what we ran wouldn't really have done us too well. Tony (Eury) Jr. went back to some old notes, we qualified really well and then we did the same thing in practice. We were pretty good in practice but not really happy with the car at the end. We weren't as fast or as good as we had been here in the past. Granted, the car has a brand new body on it but from getting torn up at Daytona, so we were a little unsure whether we had done as well on the body this time, but Tony Jr. again went to some old notes to where we ran with a similar aero package to this and it seemed to help. The car ran pretty much effortlessly led all day long. Guys would come up beside us and stuff but we always seem like we had somebody good too behind us, somebody helping us like Michael. Michael was there at the end again. We've seen this before when Michael and me work together; we're pretty hard to beat."
TONY EURY SR.: "We were kind of unsure about this car. We didn't have time to get it to the wind tunnel. The wind tunnel has been tied up pretty much lately. We brought this car after we tore it up at Daytona. Didn't know how good it was going to be. We have a lot of templates we build them cars off of. We knew it was close, but we didn't really know until you get it on the race track or in the tunnel. We were kind of scared we didn't have it back like it was and today it proved that the fab shop, the engine shop did their jobs, the crew guys got us out first every time today. The whole team put it all together and we came back here and did the same thing again."
WITH THE SUCCESS THAT THEY'VE HAD WINNING 3 OF THE 4 RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES IN THE PAST TWO YEARS, THE CHANGES THAT THEY MADE COMING INTO LAST YEAR, WHERE THEY NOT AS BIG CHANGES AS BELIEVED?
EARNHARDT: "From the driver's standpoint I think there's a big change in how the cars drive. The cars aren't driving as good because it seems like with the roof fin, not so much the wicker bill-but with the roof fin the cars have a lot more downforce and they were easier to drive and they didn't move around as much. Today my car would push up the track only when people were on the inside of me, it was very affected by the other cars around it, more so than the old package. It's harder to pass the leader, as we saw in Daytona and all the speedweeks; it's harder to pass the leader. It was very good to be up front all day as far as from third on back you can basically get the same kind of run on people and work the draft, but it's a little more difficult to pass than it was with the old package, but the old package the fact that you could pass so easily the guys would run three or four feet away from each other even when we were three wide it would still give us a lot of room, but this package now you can't afford to, you got to run right next to the guy beside you and that's why we have the wrecks that we had today and we had in Daytona. This package is a bit more dangerous in my opinion as far as that goes.'
EURY: "This same car that we ran the other package on ..we had this car originally with this style of rules in 2000. We really weren't happy with it. We cut the body off and redid the body and changed it and whatever they went to, the wing on the roof and the wicker bill. We learned a lot when we went to that. We did a lot of wind tunnel time testing to figure out what that needed. Whenever they took all that off and we went back to these rules. There's a lot of stuff that we had to do that really didn't work. The two packages were completely different. So we just went back to our old notes on our old cars and went back to the wind tunnel, worked real hard, spent a lot of money and a lot of time to get these DEI speedway cars as good as they are. We put a lot of effort into our speedway racing. Big E was always good at it, and Dale Jr. is good at it, so we put a lot of effort into it. We feel these are the four race tracks we got a good chance to win the race at, and we worked real hard to do it."
PRE-RACE, THE GOVERNOR DECLARED APRIL 20 DALE EARNHARDT DAY; DID THAT MAKE TODAY A LITTLE MORE SPECIAL? "Yes, I wanted to make sure everybody was clear on the fact that the 29th of April, which is his birthday, the Monday after the California race, is Dale Earnhardt day in Alabama. I was really surprised by that. We all kind of have a better idea of what Dale meant to the sport and what he meant beyond the sport. But I never expected I guess what would be called a holiday in his name in the state of Alabama. He's raced down here but there are other places that he's done equally as much and has been equally as successful, but Alabama definitely stepped up to the plate here. I was really surprised and very honored and very happy about it. It didn't really put anymore pressure on me. That was personally for me on a more personal note that was enough; I could have gone home after that and not raced at all, but no matter what happened in the race it was pretty cool to have that happen. But it definitely didn't make me think or drive any differently, feeling like I had to win because of it."
LEADING ALL THOSE LAPS, DID YOU FEEL THIS WAS A RACE YOU COULD WIN IF YOU STAYED OUT OF TROUBLE? "I think, what you really have to understand while you're in this press box watching races is anywhere on the race track, in the pits or in the grandstands, is that it's a different race that you're seeing than what I'm seeing. I never at one time, even though we led so much, I was questioning whether anybody even wanted to lead. Everybody seemed happy to run in line, especially when we ran around the top for so many laps and it seemed to single-file the whole field. I thought everybody was just fine where they were and they weren't really showing me anything that they had or what they might possibly show me at the end. Sitting on the back straightaway, Tony and them guys I kind of get frustrated when they ask me what I think about a change they made on the car at these tracks. It's so hard to tell and I have to really go by what they see from where they're standing and watching as to how good the car is and how much better the car was. What I mean, I guess, I never really understood -- I never felt like we were just that dominant, I just felt like we were good enough to lead, one of the fast cars. I think the 12 car could have done the same thing. The 48 car could have done the same thing. But being rookies nobody wanted to work with them. I didn't want to work with them, either. If I had the chance to pass them,, I did too. The 15 was good enough, when he was in front of me he was good enough to stay there. His car is a little better in the tunnel. His (g.a.-??) is one or more horsepower than me on the dyno and his car shows that in qualifying and on the race track because we have basically the same setup. Sitting on the back straightaway I was real nervous because we had led a lot of races here before and not won because everybody gangs up on you at the end. At the end it just gets crazy out there and people just start doing anything and everything to try to get to the front, but they don't do it in the beginning of the race because they don't want to be in a wreck. I was really nervous and definitely was preparing myself mentally to run second or anywhere in the top five because it's such a -- Tony Jr. was joking with the guys in the pits. He told Jade (Gurss, p.r.) that he wished we were fourth on that restart and Jade asked him why and he said because it's easier to lose when you're starting fourth on a restart, but if we lose the race from first it's gone. It would take a lot more to get over."
DID IT MAKE A BIG DEAL WHO THE CAR WAS BEHIND YOU? DID YOU HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THE HEAT? "It does make a difference. The 48 behind Michael was doing about anything he could to try to get by Michael. To have Michael behind me is everything at these plate races. Me and him have both helped each other win the Daytona 500 and the 400 last year. It's paying off for us to have each other behind us. I think Michael was in the picture when we won the million dollars too. Definitely having us together is better than us having to fight it on our own. But as far as the heat, I was joking with the guys, we were trying a new uniform and it's quite a bit thicker than the one we used in the past and sitting over there on that red flag, and the car is 140 degrees in there. And you really don't notice it when you're going around the track because the wind is blowing in the car and plus you've got things keeping your mind occupied. It's 140 degrees, whether you like it or not, when you're on the red flag. I assume that nobody would really enjoy that. I was just joking with Tony and the guys how hot it was trying to get them to talk to me, so we could get my mind off of it."
ON THE LAST LAP WAS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT MICHAEL COULD PASS YOU? "There definitely was that concern. That was definitely there. In the past I hadn't had that concern. In the 400 I knew Michael was there to help me. I felt like he was there and wouldn't have done anything to try to pass me in the 400 last year and that's the way I felt with him in the 500 when he won. But today being that this race is sponsored by Aaron's and he's got a long relationship with them on his Busch team, he needed to win so badly I wouldn't have (been) a bit surprised, I don't think, if he would have tried to race me nor would I have not expected it or be upset about it. He has to do what he needs to do. I told him midway through the race -- I could tell he was back there just beating people off as they were trying to come up to pass and he asked me, not directly, but through our spotters, how I like driving up front when I didn't have to do anything but sit there and he's back there beting everybody off. And I told my spotter, you tell him he can go by anytime he wants. He said, he's just playing around, joking. I got to run second to him for awhile. He did have his hands full. It's tough running second and trying to beat them people off when you're trying to help your teammate win."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SPEAK TO MICHAEL? "I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but we will definitely have that conversation. I told Tony I really don't have to tell Tony -- but you have to remind these other boys on the team ever once in awhile. As we were coming around after we got the checker that Michael was every bit the reason why we won that race. We had a good car, all the credit for why the car ran as good as it does goes to Tony and the guys at the shop, but having a teammate means a lot and it's won three of the last four races for us. A lot of credit goes to Michael."
WITH ALL OF THE PEOPLE WAITING FOR YOU OUTSIDE, HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR PERSPECTIVE? "I think that if I didn't act accordingly and act right I don't know if Tony and the guys would have anything to do with me. It does seem a lot comes from constantly working with Tony and being around those guys. I get out of hand once in awhile. And they remind me that they're the ones working seven days a week and I'm the guy sitting at home on Mondays and Tuesdays. They keep me in check. A lot of credit goes to Tony and Tony Jr. and the guys for keeping me well grounded. A lot of the people that we work with at DEI keep that under control because it definitely can become a hazard. The last thing we want to do is do so much that we suffer on the race track. I appreciate the fans; and that's my goal. As much as we work to keep momentum going on the race track, we're doing the exact same thing off the race track with the fans; trying to gain as many fans as we can; trying to get as many people as we can to cheer for that red Budweiser No. 8. That's what important to me, but there are limitations to the things you want to do because we all got to work together in the end and if we can't stand to be around each other It ain't going to work out."
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL KINSHIP WITH THIS TRACK? "This track is definitely different and special. The weekends when we come here and race are really special because there is not a lot of pressure it seems like you have at other tracks. We're not really struggling with loose or tight or how to get the car to turn in the corner and stuff like that. We're not banging our heads together constantly as you would in Atlanta or Texas or other tracks like Martinsville that we go to. So this is definitely a week off mentally for us, for Tony and the guys, they definitely work hard. We don't have to beat our brains in trying to figure out how to get the car to handle. It seems like if you got a good plate program, you got a good fabrication and good motors and a great team to put it all together, you're going to run good; you're going to run good off the trailer. And so I like coming here. Tony and the guys were able to stay at the track this week and kind of be close and enjoy themselves, have a little time off as far as not having to get up as early in the morning. So this is definitely a place to come enjoy yourself even if you are driving in the race."
WERE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE KENNY WALLACE UP FRONT? "I wasn't surprised. I was really happy to see him there. Kind of surprised, I guess, but I know the car was good enough. And he's real good on this track, especially, and he finally got it up to the front. He was there to help us too. He lent a hand on several occasions for us to keep the lead and stay out front. I was hoping me and him and Michael would team up and pretty much be unstoppable. But Kenny wasn't anywhere to be found at the end of the race. I think he was battling them boys in the back. It's a good run for him. He really come in and lend us a great helping hand when we needed him when Steve was injured and we're just trying to do what we can for him to help him careerwise and to give him oportunities to continue to showcase himself for any opportunities he may have in the future."
-team monte carlo-