Texas II: Earnhardt Jr Friday wake-up call

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS WAS THE NEXTEL CUP WAKE-UP CALL GUEST ON TERRY LABONTE AND HIS RETIREMENT THIS WEEKEND "Terry raced with my dad for a long time. He is one of the more respected drivers in the sport. He has...

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS WAS THE NEXTEL CUP WAKE-UP CALL GUEST

ON TERRY LABONTE AND HIS RETIREMENT THIS WEEKEND "Terry raced with my dad for a long time. He is one of the more respected drivers in the sport. He has never really caused any trouble. He just did his job. It was an honor to be on the race track with him when I first started out in the Busch Series. He was running Busch races and it was pretty cool to share the race track with him as I went into Cup."

Note: IN HIS SEVEN STARTS AT TMS, EARNHARDT JR. HAS SIX TOP-10 FINISHES - MORE THAN ANY NEXTEL CUP DRIVER.

YOU'VE HAD YOUR TWO FIRST MILESTONE CAREER WINS AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, IN THE BUSCH SERIES IN '98 AND THEN IN THE CUP SERIES IN 2000, TELL US THE IMPORTANCE OF TMS BEING IN THE CHASE It doesn't really matter which 10 tracks are in the Chase. You go out there and try to do the best you can with the schedule they give you. Texas is a fun race track. We've had a lot of success here. I'm glad it's in there (the schedule). It's starting to age a little bit. And it's starting to move the grooves up a little bit so you can race side-by-side through the corners a little bit, so it's really starting to come into it's own."

FOLLOWING THE LATE RACE CONTACT YOU HAD WITH KASEY KAHNE AT MARTINSVILLE, YOU REFERENCED THE 2004 INCIDENT WITH CARL EDWARDS IN ATLANTA. YOU ALSO MENTIONED YOU NEEDED SOMEONE TO PREACH PATIENCE TO YOU ON THE RADIO. ARE YOU CONFIDENT THAT YOU KNOW WHEN TO MAKE A LATE RACE CHARGE VERSUS THE BIG PICTURE RACING? Yeah, I think so. I think I've been around the sport long enough to get an idea of what you need to do to win championships. We race hard and we lay it all out there every lap. Sometimes you're going to make mistakes."

YOU ARE 84 POINTS BACK NOW AFTER ATLANTA. DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF IN BETTER SHAPE FOR THIS CHASE THAN YOU WERE AFTER ATLANTA IN THE FIRST CHASE? I feel pretty good as far as our opportunity to win the championship. We're sitting in a pretty decent spot. I'd like to be a little closer."

EVEN THOUGH YOU LIKE TMS, DO YOU THINK THE BUMP ON THE TRACK OVER THE TUNNEL WILL PLAY A FACTOR IN THIS RACE? The asphalt or the dirt underneath the asphalt has settled over the tunnel, which it does at every race track that they build. But it seems to be more pronounced here. That will hold this place back for years to come until they repair that as far as being able to run two and three wide through that corner. It will hold it back a little bit."

WHY DID YOU WAIT UNTIL NOW TO EXPRESS YOUR CONCERN ABOUT THE BUMP OR DIP IN THE TRACK INSTEAD OF MENTIONING IT TO THE TMS MANAGEMENT AFTER THE APRIL RACE? THE MANAGEMENT IS A LITTLE UPSET ABOUT THAT. Whatever. I was asked a question and I gave my answer."

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO EDDIE GOSSAGE ABOUT THE BUMP AND WHAT HE NEEDED TO DO OR NOT DO? Well, I think you can just take the asphalt and dig it up and pave over it, sort of like what they did when they put the tunnel in at Martinsville. You just take that little chunk of race track up. It ain't going to be but about maybe 20 feet wide. I don't know if you have to do it from the top of the wall to the apron, but maybe you might as well."

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE PENALTY IMPOSED FOR THE ROLLCAGE PADDING INCIDENT AT ATLANTA LAST WEEK? Well that's something that's gone on before and happened before. I don't know if there is a driver in the garage that hasn't done that. So I don't think it's something that deserves a real steep penalty. I don't even know what the penalty was to Robby (Gordon), but it ain't something that you obviously want to condone, so I think it's a good thing that they (NASCAR) penalized him and set an example for the rest of us. It's something that's happened a lot over the years."

FOR ROBBY GORDON, THE PENALTY WAS 50 OWNER POINTS, 50 DRIVER POINTS, AND $15,000. DO YOU THINK THAT'S TO HEAVY OR IS IT ABOUT RIGHT? The points are a lot. That's a lot of points. The money is never really going to make a big dent. The money is never going to get your attention, I don't think, unless they start in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range. But I think the points are a good way to get everybody's attention. That's something that's pretty precious to you - especially at this time in the season."

ARE YOU FEELING OKAY? YOU DON'T SOUND AS GOOD AS YOU NORMALLY DO. Yeah, I've got a really bad sore throat. I feel a lot better than I did yesterday, but I've got a real bad sore throat. Sorry."

DID YOU GO TO THE INFIELD CARE CENTER? No. I just took some Tylenol."

DO YOU HAVE A BETTER MINDSET THAN SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS WHO MAY JUST HAVE SOME SORT OF BUILT IN CONCERNS ABOUT THE RACE TRACK? I don't notice anything odd or unique about the place as far as corner transitions and whatnot. There are a lot of tracks on the circuit that are really similar in banking and transitions entering the corners and whatnot. The exit off of Turn 2, you lose a lot of banking real bad there and you get real, real tight. That's just part of it and you adjust for that. The track, like I said, has grown a lot and is starting to get to where it's widening up in the grooves and stuff so we're able to race on the top and race in the middle a little bit. That's really good. It's a great race track and it's a great market. I don't really see the point that the other drivers have as far as not getting comfortable here yet."

EVERYONE LOVES THE COMMERCIAL YOU DID WITH ESPN THAT JUST CAME OUT THIS WEEK. CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO MAKE THESE THINGS? AND IS THERE NO PAYMENT INVOLVED? DO YOU GUYS DO THEM FOR NOTHING? Yeah, that's pretty much it. That's one of those deals in live where you do it for free. And it's a lot of fun and it's pretty cool to be a part of the long list of celebrities that have done those commercials. It's just like when they ask you to be on (Jay) Leno and things like that just so you did it and so you can tell your grandkids."

GOING INTO THE LAST RACE AT HOMESTEAD, HOW MANY POINTS BEHIND THE LEADER CAN YOU BE AND STILL HAVE A SHOT AT WINNING THE RACE? Yeah, I'm thinking 20 points."

DO YOU FEEL YOU'RE AT A DISADVANTAGE BY NOT COMPETING IN AS MANY BUSCH SERIES RACES AS SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS IN THE CHASE? Well, not really. If I wanted to run in the Busch Series more often, I think I could plead my case and get it done. But it makes for such a hard schedule. I really don't understand how (Kevin) Harvick and Denny (Hamlin) and them guys do it. It's just a tremendous amount of travel and a lot of late nights trying to get back to the race track and whatnot for Sunday. But sure, there's an advantage to be gained by running the race. How much? I really don't know. If that's what your goal is and that's what you set out to accomplish by being in the Busch Series, maybe you learn something. But a lot of times when I'm in the Busch race, I just go out there and wheel on it and really don't learn anything. But I think by having Paul (Menard) in the race and having my Navy car in the race, I can sit on the pit box and kind of learn. I can throw an adjustment in that car know if it worked or not for the next day."

DO YOU THINK THE 2006 ROOKIE CLASS HAS LIVED UP TO THEIR BILLING AND HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THEM AS A WHOLE? I was pretty happy with this class. We've got some pretty good drivers in there. Most rookie classes have one or two guys that you think really stick out and have a great career. And in this one, you've got three or four. It's been a really strong class this year. And it's been fun to see them learn and run well."

JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID EARLIER THAT HE HAD A DREAM THAT HE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP. HAVE YOU EVER HAD DREAMS LIKE THAT? No, I haven't had any dreams."

HOW DO YOU COMPARE TRYING TO WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP VERSUS WINNING DAYTONA A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO? I've had dreams about winning the 500 and we talked about that. The Daytona 500 is a single event over one day. It's just like winning The Winston or any other race. It's a different kind of happiness and joy when you win. I haven't won a Cup championship so I don't have much to compare to. But winning the Busch Series championship was a relief more so than just elation like we just won the Daytona 500."

DO YOU THINK IT HELPS THE BUSCH SERIES WHEN A LOT OF CUP DRIVERS ARE RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? We could spend a lot of time talking about this, but I think you're already seeing the effect of the Cup drivers running in the series for that long of a time because the guys who are, quote, Busch Series regulars. When I was racing in the Busch Series, I had great cars. There were other guys in the series that had no Cup resources whatsoever that had great cars and would compete and win. But now you don't have that. You've really, really got to work hard to be able to compete. It starts with being able to hire people and being able to hire the right personnel. I've got a one-car team. Some guys look at my team and then look at RCR or somebody like that and they'd rather go to work for RCR. There is a lot of promotion and whatnot to go up through the company, where mine is definitely going to have a ceiling on it. We can't guarantee anybody we're going to have three Cup teams in six years over at JR Motorsports. We just have to go with the flow and see what happens. But I think you're seeing effects of how that's being negative on the series already. I don't know what you're supposed to do about it. I kind of have to applaud them for running the full schedule because of how tough it is to run both. And how do you tell a guy he can't do it, that he can't race in that series. It's tough."

ON NEW DRIVERS AND ROOKIE DRIVERS, HOW DO YOU RATE SHANE HUFFMAN THAT YOU BROUGHT ON BOARD HALF WAY THROUGH THE SEASON? He does pretty good. He's got a lot of confidence when he goes to places like Memphis and he runs well because he feels like he's at a short track. But when he comes here and goes to Charlotte and places like that, he's still got a lot to learn about the cars and how to qualify and how much effort to put into each lap. He's wrecked a few cars when he shouldn't have. It's easier to pull the reigns than it is to push them. I'm encouraged by his tenacity and how he goes after it. But he's just got to learn that he can't be going after it 110 percent in practice because they don't really pay anything."

YOU'VE BEEN ON BOTH SIDES OF THE CHASE. YOU MISSED IT LAST YEAR, BUT MADE IT TWO YEARS AGO. NOW YOU'RE IN IT AGAIN. IS IT EXCITING TO BE IN IT OR IS IT JUST RACING AS USUAL? It's exciting. I was really critical about having the Chase and bringing in that point system. But it's done what it's intended to do. It's made the season really exciting from start to finish. It's fun to be battling for the championship with 10 guys and just feels more prestigious to me as far as the way it all rolls out throughout the season and how we crown a champion with this system. It feels more exciting to me."

YOU HAVE MATURED AS A PERSON IN THE LIMELIGHT ON TV SHOWS LIKE WINDTUNNEL AND OTHER PROGRAMS. HAS THAT MATURITY MOVED INTO THE DRIVING SIDE TOO? Well the older you get, the better you try to handle yourself and the more you try to have respect for things and treat things with respect. I've always evolved as a race car driver and I continue to evolve and to learn and do things better and differently and with better results. I just think that's just part of being around for years and years. You just get a little better idea of how to put it together."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Teams JR Motorsports