DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO.8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO ON TODAY'S WIN AND HIS REBOUND FROM A POOR PERFORMANCE AT LAS VEGAS LAST WEEK: "We just had a terrible race in Vegas. We walked out of there with our heads down and we lost a ton of ...
DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO.8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
ON TODAY'S WIN AND HIS REBOUND FROM A POOR PERFORMANCE AT LAS VEGAS LAST WEEK:
"We just had a terrible race in Vegas. We walked out of there with our heads down and we lost a ton of confidence. So we got up off the ground and went testing at Bristol and learned a little bit and tested at Kentucky until the sun went down. We flew right here about 10:00 that night. We worked on the car. The car was pretty good in qualifying and practice.
"When the race started, we were okay. We were about 13th and kind of struggling. We were just average. With every stop, Tony Jr. made an adjustment on the car that helped the car. We made more and more adjustments. I told him to creep up on it and not go too crazy with the adjustments. We dialed it in better and better. At the end of the race, I wasn't too happy with a few things the car was doing but it was good enough (for the win).
"I credit the team for making great pit stops, and Tony Jr. and all those guys for the adjustments they made. They really helped the car a lot from where it was at the beginning of the race to the end. It was just a different race car. I don't' want to talk bad about Tony Jr., but his batting average hasn't always been that high as far as his adjustments during the race. He was great today."
IF THIS WERE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, DO YOU AGREE THAT THIS IS A REBOUND THAT YOUR TEAM MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO COME BACK FROM?
"Yeah, I would agree. In the middle of that Las Vegas race last week, either I would have gotten fed up and quit and parked it and walked to the bus, or Tony Jr and I would have had a cussing match. But we would be at each other's throats. He would have wanted to punch me in the face. That's his first line of defense. It would have just been nasty.
"But I knew the first lap I was in a ticking time bomb and that it was going to be awful all day. We were four laps down and Tony Jr., said, 'Get on up there on the inside on the restart and get some of those laps back'. All I could do was laugh. But they don't give up. They don't quit. Even when they're six feet under in their graves they'll still be trying to calling out. That's why we came back and ran here like we did. They just keep trying. I'm just real proud.
"Yeah, you're right. Two years ago - maybe even early last year - we would have self-destructed into a dreary first-half of the year and probably wouldn't have come out of that for quite some time."
GIVEN THE CHANGES IN THE POINT SYSTEM AND YOUR FINISH IN LAS VEGAS, HOW IMPORTANT WAS A GOOD FINISH TODAY?
"I really wanted the race in Atlanta to start Monday morning if it could have. I just wanted to get so far away from that finish. It was so hard to go home and face your friends. I came back to the race track and my team was complaining about how many people were asking what was wrong with that race car. I said I'd been hearing it all week. You just can't get away from it. It's horrible. We've run in the top five a lot here, so I was hoping we'd come here and it wouldn't be another disaster.
"We started the race and fell back a little bit. I was just waiting on the car to come to me a little bit. I was getting a little frustrated. This was a top five team at this race track. We run good here. And there we were running 13th. We almost got lapped one time. But we dialed it in and that just tells me never to give up on my team or on Tony Jr..You're out there running laps. There's nothing you can do. You can't come in and fix it."
WHAT DOES THIS ABILITY TO BOUNCE BACK SHOW YOU ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR TEAM AND BEING ABLE TO ADJUST AT THE END OF THE RACE?
"We haven't done anything different. You just show up and you're better. I'm going to be straight-up and honest with you. This is not a reference as to what we are as a team for the rest of the season. We've got a lot of things we've got to work on. We could just as easily start again next week and have a disaster. We're going to test at Texas Tuesday and Wednesday. I wish and hope that we can test as much as we can because I don't want any more failures like we had. It's too hard mentally. It's too much of a bummer to run like that and too hard to get up off the ground after something like that. We're going to test and run and practice and do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn't happen again."
TWO OF YOUR LAST THREE WINS HAVE BEEN ON NON-RESTRICTOR PLATES. ARE YOU NOW A NON-RESTRICTOR PLATE SPECIALIST?
"I don't know that I've ever been a specialist at anything. But I feel pretty good about the runs like we had at Phoenix and then to finally get a win here. I've walked into this place and seen Daddy tow four or five 'Ski Nautique' out of here. I thought I just couldn't wait to come here and get me a 'Ski Nautique'. But they don't give them away anymore."
WAS IT EMBARASSING WHEN NASCAR SAID YOU WEREN'T AT MINIMUM SPEED LAST WEEK? DID YOU HEAR THAT?
"Oh, yeah, I heard it the minute they said something. They told Tony Jr. we had to pick it up. The only thing I could tell them was that if I went in the corner any harder I'd be in the wall. There's nothing you can do about it. That's one thing they teach you at an early age. If you've got a vibration or you've got a problem, it isn't going to fix itself. You can't drive through it. You either end up in the fence or you're going to tear up a race car one way or another. All I could do was drive until the thing was just about to crash and then back it off a notch and run that speed. But NASCAR's got a job to do. Somebody asked me this week about the slower cars coming in here and qualifying and whether I thought it was right. Well, they've got just as much right to qualifying as anybody else because I was one of them last week."
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST ADJUSTMENT YOU MADE ON THE LAST PIT STOP TO HELP YOU TAKE OVER THE LEAD?
"We adjusted on the car all day. Tony Jr. took rounds out on both sides for some reason, which shouldn't adjust the handling on the car. It shouldn't adjust the bite on the car which is normally what you're going when you're adjusting a screw jack in the back. But it just gave the car a different attitude and gave me some more grip across the back of the car in (turns) three and four. I was great all day in (turns) one and two. I was fast through there."
WHEN YOU PUT JEREMY MAYFIELD IN YOUR REAR VIEW MIRROR, DID YOU PUT A BIG SMILE ON YOUR FACE AFTER THAT?
"The whole time you're just nervous that somebody else might be coming. Kasey (Kahne) has been great the past couple of weeks and he's just due for a win. Matt (Kenseth) was just creeping up there. I was just watching to see who was coming up through there and who was fast and who wasn't. Once you get about two seconds behind you, they all look the same and you can't tell which car is which. So I didn't know if it was a lapped car I just passed or what. So you don't really get a smile on your face until you cross the finish line. When I saw it, I knew I could coast across for the win. It was a great feeling. I've just always wanted to win here. It just really means a lot to me personally. It's just great to put your name on the list of guys who have won The Winston or the Daytona 500 and be in that fraternity. But this is a personal victory for me today."
ON THE CONTACT HE HAD ON THE FRONT STRETCH WITH TONY STEWART
"We were coming around (turns) three and four and I got up under Tony. He had given a few spots up because his car was ill-handling. I was just trying to fall in line there and be one of those guys to pass him. We came up off of (turn) four and the No. 12 (Ryan Newman) got up underneath of me and made it three-wide, which is perfectly normal here. No problem. Giving the No. 12 as much room as I did, I squeezed Tony up a little bit and I don't think he was ready to just give up the position. I didn't know I hit him. I thought the right front tire went flat because it was turning toward the wall like it was going to drive into the fence. I lifted off the gas and it wasn't stopping. Apparently he was still hooked to me a little bit. And so I went off into the corner and didn't know who hit who. But then I knew I'd probably damaged his fender and I felt bad about that because it is so precious here to have a good left front fender on the car. He was not happy about his car at that point. He was frustrated. I hated I had to get into him. But he's my buddy so I'm sure he isn't too mad at me."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF FROM LAS VEGAS TO NOW?
"I was a rookie in the Winston Cup Series and I was in Rockingham. We took a provisional to start the race. I was really down in the dumps. My daddy
and I sat down in his bus and he looked at me and he said, 'You'll have days like this and tomorrow you might win the race. Don't ever let it get you down because the next day can be the greatest day you'll ever have.' I always liked it when he'd tell me things like that because he didn't really ever tell you those things too often. But I knew when he said it he wanted me to remember it. So I've always remembered it. I don't really get too bent out of shape over stuff like that. Tony Jr. and Tony Sr. do. The hardest part is really going back and facing them. They take it so personally when they don't get it right. They want to lash out. You've got to really tiptoe around those guys. But I just felt so bad for them. They've never driven a Cup car. They have no idea how bad that car was. I can't explain to them how hard it was to drive it. It was tough."
HOW BAD WAS YOUR CAR WHEN TONY STEWART WAS CREEPING UP ON YOU TO LAP YOU BEFORE THAT CAUTION FOR DEBRIS ON LAP 127?
"We had just pitted for tires. I knew Tony was about a corner back. For a long time I held him at about that distance on old tires. I figured he'd be a little quicker than me on new tires. We had just all pitted. I was just holding on to my car and waiting until he got close enough to get me and then I'd try to step on it to see if I could at least keep him bound up on the bottom or something. But it's never a good feeling when you see the leader behind you. But we got lucky and the caution came out. Those are the breaks that give you the opportunity to win the race."
ON THE TIRES
"I struggled with the tire personally. I'm not going to tell you I don't like the tire. Goodyear makes them and they know a lot more about tires than I do. But my car was either really good or terrible. Luckily it was pretty good most of the day. A lot of guys seem to be struggling with the tire and it's hard to explain. In practice, we ran real long runs and the right rear tire would crown. I asked Michael Waltrip today about that and he said that was something they were trying to gain to take traction away from us to make us have to drive the cars harder. And I just disagree with the method here as far as what we're trying to accomplish. But that's just one man's opinion. But that's not to say if I was running the show, that's what I'd do. I just disagree with how they're going about trying to get this racing better. We've got the technology and ability to build great race tires - tires that'll last an entire run. Why do we want to make tires that wear out? Why? Why don't we make tires that last and get everybody's cars running good and have a good fast race? But they want us out there swatting flies after 20 laps and that's just how it works out. That's the business I'm in and if I want to race, I've got to join them."
WERE THE CHANGES YOU MADE AT THE END OF THE RACE TODAY THINGS THAT YOU LEARNED DURING YOUR TESTS THIS WEEK?
"No, we did everything we could during practice, as far as what helped our car in the test at Kentucky. After the last practice yesterday, we felt we had a good car. And we really had that car all day long. We just fixed little stuff here and there. I told Tony Jr. that the tire was tough for me to get comfortable with. Casey Mears, for example, likes it. Even when his car is loose and tight, he still can drive through it. Kasey Kahne is the same way. And then there are guys like me who, even when the car is right, it's hard for me to feel which is sliding first, the back or the front. Or, which is sliding more? Or am I crashing or not crashing? So I've got a lot to learn, personally. It's thrown me, personally, a curve ball. I'm not down on Goodyear, it's just a curve ball for me personally and maybe not for every many out there. But we won today, so we're gaining on it. Hopefully with a couple days of testing at Texas, we'll even have a better race car for the rest of the year at tracks like this."
AT LAS VEGAS WHEN YOU WERE GOING IN AND OUT OF THE GARAGE, DID YOU EVER WONDER WHAT'S THE POINT?
"No, I knew what the point was. This was a bad deal. So let's learn. It's kind of like we were testing if you will. It was kind of fun. This or that wasn't working. We learned. It was frustrating but it was cool. I'd go out on the race track and have new tires and everybody else had old ones. That was fun."
SINCE LAS VEGAS, HAS THE TEAM ADDED SPEICIFIC TEST DATES AT NON-CUP TRACKS?
"No, we haven't. We have a plan of testing that we want to do. We also want to save test dates for the last 10 races. We're opting that we'll be in the top 10 when the time comes. We'll go to Kentucky at the drop of a hat, no problem. Anytime we want to go we can suit up and be there in a couple of hours. That's a pretty decent track. But that's the only track we've got that NASCAR doesn't count. Ray Evernham had Hank Parker Jr. over there just about every week and now look at them. They're fast."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SERVE AS A BEST MAN IN A WEDDING YESTERDAY?
"I was hanging out in this bar and they guy was standing next to me with his girlfriend and he'd just asked her right there to marry him. That was pretty crazy. He wanted to know where the race was this weekend and I told him Atlanta. He asked me if I was going to get married at the track and I told him Victory Lane. Everybody does it there.
"He was really serious. I thought all I had to do was walk out of my bus. And he was going to drive all the way from Orlando. I thought it was the least I could do. I learned a lot. That's a one-time deal. I think I've been asked to be the best man once or twice. But I will only do the best man part. I won't do the second best man or the third best man. But don't be calling my sister or Jade (Gurss) or JR Rhodes or DEI or anybody about being in their wedding. It isn't going to happen (laughs).
WHAT DOES THIS REBOUND MEAN ABOUT YOUR TEAM AND YOUR ABILITY TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?
"After Rockingham, Matt (Kenseth) said wasn't it cool that he'd won a race and I'd won a race. This is cool as heck. And then he won at Vegas and that's not like the Busch days. I'm glad to get another win and put ourselves back on that path as far as winning the championship. Vegas was a huge blow we dealt ourselves. It's going to be tough to overcome it. But we'll just have to stay focused. It's a long season. Hopefully we're more beneficial to other guys in that top 10. If we're not, we've still got a shot at it."
CAN YOU WIN AT DARLINGTON NEXT WEEK?
"We can win anywhere, we've just got to get the right set-up under the car. I've run in the top five at Darlington. It's a good track. It's a track I like. I think the soft walls are going to change a lot because that's 30 inches of track we're giving up and we need every foot of it there. It's going to be quite different."
DID YOU MAKE A COMMENT ABOUT THE HANS DEVICE IN A POST RACE INTERVIEW TODAY?
"I wasn't directly related to the HANS device, definitely not. But the way I was sitting in the seat, the HANS device and my shoulder straps had to be pulled down and the ribs had me pushed up so this shoulder was all out of whack the whole race. And plus, I was tight and loose so much today that I had to wheel the car real hard and it just wore my arm out."