Bristol: Earnhardt Jr - GM top ten interview

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS - Currently 7th in points ON THE SEASON SO FAR: "I don't really have much to say. The year has been pretty good. If there's anything that sticks out, I'd like to have my speed penalty back from...

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS - Currently 7th in points

ON THE SEASON SO FAR: "I don't really have much to say. The year has been pretty good. If there's anything that sticks out, I'd like to have my speed penalty back from Vegas because we had a top 15 going there. If we had been able to get that top finish, I'd think we'd be sitting really good right now. I'm really happy with how things are going. That was probably the big negative that sticks out right now. The car has been handling great. It's been driving great every week. California and Vegas we had the cars driving better than they had there in the past. Obviously we'd like to be up in the top five races. It looked like we were racing for the win. I think we still made some great improvements from the past there. (It was the) typical Budweiser Chevrolet in Atlanta. It was fast all day. We had a lot of setbacks that never gave us an opportunity to race for the lead. We had a great car. We ended up getting a great finish. I'm just real proud of my team. Here we are at Bristol. Pretty much you can have the best car out there but you still got to be very careful. It's a very difficult place. It can be like road course racing where at any corner, any lap you can make a mistake or someone else will make a mistake that can cost you a good finish. I've just been preaching patience to myself all week along about the race this weekend."

ON BEING UNDER THE RADAR BUT SITTING IN THE TOP 10 AND WHERE HE STANDS THIS YEAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR: "We're definitely better than we were last year. I feel like I'm a pretty good judge of character. I think we're better than we were in '04. The competition is different and better. But my cars are better and the way they're better is to me there's a lot more confidence going in to building them. We're putting cars together now with a lot more confidence in the shop. That just shows in craftsman ship and how good they look when they roll off the trailer. There's a lot of confidence in what Tony Jr. (Eury, crew chief) is doing to the cars. The calls he makes from the pit box - there's a lot more confidence in his mannerisms and how he goes about the race weekend. There's a few things that are noticeably better or different in a good way from '04 when we had our good season and won six races. I feel a lot more excited about each weekend, each race, about the rest of the season. I'm just looking forward to getting in the cars every weekend. The big difference in how they drove the last several weeks compared to the first four to five races of '04. I'm not really using last year much as a comparison. A lot of times when I ask myself questions about the team, it's always compare to '04. I think we're definitely better then when me and Tony Jr. were together. We sort of have a better package overall with personality concerns. We're making some good strides in the engine department. Unfortunately I'll be the last one to get the goods. They'll obviously go to the 15. They'll test all the stuff with the 15 like they've been doing for a while. Then Martin (Truex Jr.) and those guys will run it for a while before they put it in my car. That's the decisions they make. Things are just a hair better than they were in '04. We had a great season then. I think we can win races. We're going to have to get the breaks that we need to win races. We had a winning car last week. I know there was more than one winning car in the field but we had a winning car and we didn't get the brakes we needed together to win. There was definitely an opportunity missed last week. But we still have to happy to get the points that we got. I think that we can put those type of runs together more consistently, consistently enough to be in the Chase so I'm really excited."

ARE YOU REALLY MORE LOW-KEY THIS YEAR? "It's considerably more low-key that it has been in the past. The first four years in the series was pretty wide open. Last year sort of took a lot of spotlight off us and put it on some other drivers that were coming into the series. In a sense, it's kind of fine with me. At the same time you want to be as successful as you can in the sport. We definitely want to get back to our form on the race track. I think everything else will take care of itself."

HOW MUCH DOES YOUR FAITH IN TONY EURY JR. AFFECT YOUR PERFORMANCE AFTER BEING BACK WITH SOMEONE YOU BELIEVE IN? "That's a real touchy subject. Not between me and him. It's just you want to be careful about whose feelings you're walking around there. He had a driver last year that he really enjoyed working with in Mike (Waltrip). They had a lot of bad brakes and also some great finishes. If they could have gotten those great finishes, I don't think they would have called their season such a disappointment. He's excited to be back with me and me back with him. I was looking forward to it with 15 to 20 races left last year after we started talking about it. It's really a great feeling. To have sort of put that nasty stuff that had come between us aside and really not see that anywhere around us now. You can kind of tell when you work with people if that's still going to be a problem. I don't have that feeling at all. I've changed and he's changed. It's really, really a good feeling to get in these race cars. I've always felt that his race cars were great cars. It's great to be able to get in there and drive it like we did last week and like we had this year. For him to get out and say that was an improvement or that was one of the better races I've seen you drive and to go out there and perform and make him appreciate what he sees. He puts so much into it. There's people in the sport that obviously are more dedicated than others. He's one of those guys and probably in the top percent that spend every day of their life thinking how to make things better. If they're not thinking, they're actually doing it. He expects the same thing when he puts me in that race car. When I go on track he expects me to give it everything I got. I've been able to do that this year and he's appreciated it. It's been a great reunion. We started at the end of last year and got to work with each other a little bit. It's kind of like an All Star race every week. There was really no big deal about points and no big pressure on where we finished. It was all about how we ran, what kind of lap times we put together, how the car drove, how it felt. We had some set-ups I hadn't ran on before. We got to work out all that stuff. The mental part of it is very important between me and him. Between any crew chief you've got to have that comfort and that belief in them and them believing in you. We've really got that."

HOW OFTEN DO YOU GO TO DALE JARRETT? WHAT KIND OF THINGS DO YOU TALK ABOUT? WHY IS HE A GOOD PERSON TO TALK FOR YOUR GENERATION? "When I won the race at Daytona in 2001 in July, I was standing in the bus lot and there were a bunch of people standing around talking. Me and Michael Waltrip were talking about the race and how cool that was and how it hadn't sunk it. It was just friends of mine and Michael's camp and I looked to my right and Dale Jarrett was standing there right next to me sitting there with a cool beer listening to everything we were saying. I was like 'What are doing here?' and he goes 'Man, I wouldn't miss this for the world.' He said that was the neatest thing I ever saw. We hadn't really talked much before that that I can recall. We just spent a lot of time over the next coupling of months talking to me about my dad, what he thought about me, what I was doing, what I could be doing better, what he appreciated about me, those type of things. We just got to have a great friendship. Every time I see him, it's sort of the same I used to do with my dad. When I see him I start running through my head everything I got going on. Is there anything to ask him or anything I need help with real quick while he's here. I like to talk to Bobby Labonte a lot because he has a real square head on his shoulders. He has his priorities in order in my opinion. He's a good guy to get information like that from if it's personal or business or whatever is going on in your life. (Dale) Jarrett has always been genuine and always cared about helping me make the right decision."

ON HIS TEAMMATE, MARTIN TRUEX JR. AND TRANSITIONING TO THE CUP SERIES: "He knows exactly how tough this series is. Obviously he's run a couple of (Cup) races last year. It's different when you get in a Cup car. It seems like everything happens faster over a longer period of time. There's just a lot of endurance that does into it. The drivers are qualifying every lap during the race. He sees that. He's definitely capable of handling that change. His team struggled a lit bit getting the car driving good throughout the race. I'm too worried about because I've seen the bright spots being that close to it. I've seen when they've gotten it right."

"I think it'll just take for them to understand what they're doing with the cars where Martin can drive fast all day long. He had a couple of times where he was progressively moving forward in the race in Atlanta and then they dialed him right out with a couple of decisions they shouldn't have made. They know what they did."

WHAT'S THE ART OF RACING BRISTOL? "In your gut it feels like a crap shoot. It's very tough racing to run and stay out of trouble. There's always a lot of action going on. When I say action, it doesn't have to be a guy getting backwards or spun into the wall. You can be getting side-by-side with somebody and knock the tow out. Nobody (watching) television will see it. Nobody will notice it but there you are with the tow knocked out or knocked in and the car ain't driving right for the rest of the race. It can be just a small little incident like that that can really ruin it for you. I've had some great cars here over the last couple of years. You can never really be too careful. I choose the line that I like to run. I choose the speed that I like to run it. I just consistently do that lap after lap after lap. I'm not really focused on the guy in front of me and catching him. I'm just staying focused on putting together consistent laps every time. A lot of guys race off the back bumper with the car in front of them and just trying whatever they can to get there to get under that guy or around him. They continuously make mistakes. If you try to be consistent, it's easier on your tires. Your tires will last longer. Your car will be driving better 60, 70, 80 laps into a run. That's how you start to get by people. It's so hard to pass here the first 20, 30 laps into the run unless you've got a superb car. It's best to maintain your track position for a while and be easy on the tires and hopefully you've got a better long run set-up than most of the other guys."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE MATURED AS A DRIVER? "You get smarter. I've always drove as hard as I could drive. I may not have always made the smartest choices on the race track. Not that those mistakes are behind me. You just get a little bit smarter. Every year you season as a driver. When you first come in you run as hard as you can and bounce off a lot of stuff. Hopefully as you get more races under your belt, you bounce off less stuff. I pride myself in not being bad on my equipment. I pride myself in finishing a race where all they really got to do is pressure wash the car for the next one. It's important to me that when the race is over it was evident to them (my team) that I drove as hard as I could ever lap. That's it."

ON HAVING A DOMINANT WEEKEND HERE IN AUG. 2004 AND WHERE THAT RANKS IN HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN HIS CAREER: "It's way up there. Obviously not many people have swept races here. It's not the impossible or nothing like that. I'm not really putting up there like the Daytona 500 or anything. What's cool about winning here is the history of the track. I remember when I came in here in either '84 or '87. I can't really remember how it happened. But I remember Daddy spun out on the front straightway and all his tires were flat and he got lapped. It just drove me to tears because it's such a hard track and he was so fast and it's a hard race to win. I came here year after year after year wanting to victory lane at Bristol as a kid because it was a track he won his first race at. He had such dominant cars so many times and something would happen or I'd be at school and not be here when he did win. It's just an awesome track. There's tracks on the circuit that are important to me - the Daytonas, the Atlantas, the Charlottes, the Bristols and the ones that have been there years and years and the ones that have continued to grow with the sport. As the sport has gotten bigger the tracks have gotten bigger as far as seating capacity, press boxes. It's maintained with the sport but it's still Bristol. It's still that high-bank half-mile short track where anything can happen. When you've won a race you feel like you've successfully navigated a mine field. It's half elation and excitement and the other half is relief. To have swept that weekend was just amazing to me."

HOW HAS LAST SEASON AFFECTED YOUR LEVEL OF DESIRE? "I was pretty happy with last year as far as the effort I put in. I was able to finish the season and not really go home and tear myself up about it because I put forth the best effort I possibly could. I was happy with the people that were around me and the effort that they were giving me. When there's 43 guys on the race and everybody is doing all they can. There's only one winner. We didn't put it together like we wanted to. We didn't get the finishes and runs we wanted to. But I learned a lot about myself personally and I learned a lot about my relationships with the guys I was working with. I never really had been in that situation before or had a season like that where we finished poorly time and time again. It definitely sort of brings you back to reality and how the other half lives. I was really excited going into this season. I wanted to get it back to victory lane as soon as I could. My goal was to come right out swinging as hard as I could to try to get in to victory lane and win races and make the Chase. I guess my determination and my willpower and my imitative is hard to gauge. There's a lot of people that question my determination. This is all I've ever wanted to do. Just because I don't look like I've got the killer don't mean that when I'm on the race track I don't drive like it."

"I found there's a lot more inside of me as a driver than I knew about. There were times last year where I had to dig a little deeper. It was there when I didn't know. There was more to me than I knew about personally. I come here with a lot more confidence as a driver and I'm definitely determined to get back to where I need to be."

ON HIS BUSCH TEAM AND HOW HE'S BEEN AS AN OWNER: "It's been an experience. The schedule is very difficult on the team. That's probably been the hardest part. We're in a small shop. That shop that I'm working in now is Jimmy Horton's old shop. That was their original shop. It's the same size as it was then. I'm in the middle of looking at a building that I can buy that's a little bit more money or add on to the one I've got that's old, for about the same amount of money. We're thinking about moving but it's been tough. The hard part about it is it's a small shop, everybody is together around each other. I've got my uncles who have been doing it this way a hundred years and then you got this 21 year-old and 18 year-old here and this 30 year-old right there on top of each other. Most race teams have everything sectioned off where all the personnel do their own things and don't have but heads with any other department. With this Busch team it's been difficult to keep the peace amongst the shop. There's a lot of mistakes that are made. That's granted. I'm making mistakes. Everybody is trying to do what they can do since this uncharted territory for all of us. I'm really happy with the performance. We maybe should have run better but to be where we are in the points this early in the season with a team that basically came out of the ground over the last three to four months - the cars, the people, the shop, everything. I'm real proud of it. I hope that it does great things. I think it will be a lot fun doing it with the people that I have if we can succeed."

ON THE CHANGES AT DEI AND IF HE AND TONY EURY JR. ARE GETTING WHAT THEY NEED TO CATCH UP TO A TEAM LIKE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS: "There's not a team in the garage who wouldn't have loved to have crawled underneath that car last week. There were times in the race where we had the field by a half of a second for an entire run. On four or five occasions Tony Jr. told me I had three tenths if I needed it. Then there's races where we'd like to go crawl under Greg Biffle's car. You have to give Jack Roush a lot of credit for what he's been able to do over the last several years to position himself to where he is now and having cars competing consistently every week in the top five. That's truly phenomenal. I think him and his entire organization should be commended for how they've been able to get so competitive. There are Chevrolet teams that as a whole are right now consistently stronger. There's two types of mechanics. There's innovators and there's duplicators. There's guys that come up with the cool stuff and guys that see cool stuff happening and start doing it. Tony Jr. is definitely an innovator. Not that he does things he shouldn't, but he's definitely a Chad Knaus and a type of crew chief that continues to bring the new technology into the sport. Chad and a could of other guys were the first ones to really get the rear springs and get the front springs and all the things that are happening right now that you would have shook your hood at three or four years ago. Tony Jr. is that type of guy. That's the kind I want to be with. In my mind, he's one of the best and will be recognized as one of the best. When you got people like that you'll be in good shape. We've got a couple of other guys on the team that are also innovators and definitely come up with some new stuff all the time. Those are teams that are strong. The teams that struggle are the ones that wait for this technology to come to them six months down the road once it's been out there a while. We're definitely not that type of team. In my opinion DEI is getting stronger. I think it's progressing. We've made some commitments to build, add some space, hire people. That is going to make us a better company. Where we stand, it's hard for me to say. We're definitely getting better. That's all I can ask is to continuously work to get better. I'm really happy with the current situation right now."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Greg Biffle , Jack Roush , Chad Knaus