This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured the 2004 Daytona 500 and Hershey's Kisses 300 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drives the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The 500 victory was the 10th of his Cup career and the...
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured the 2004 Daytona 500 and Hershey's Kisses 300 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who drives the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
The 500 victory was the 10th of his Cup career and the 300 win was his 19th career win in the Busch Series. Atop the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series top 10 for the first time, Dale Jr. will look to improve his career best 13th place finish last fall at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR:
WITH ALL THAT'S OCCURRED IN THE LAST 72 HOURS FOR YOU, HOW HAVE YOU AND THE NO. 8 BUD TEAM EVEN BEEN ABLE TO PREPARE FOR THE ROCKINGHAM RACE? "Well, it's still a couple of days away. I'll be able to go home and get a couple of days rest and relax. I think Tony Stewart is going to give me a ride in the helicopter, so I'll get part of Thursday off too."
HAVE YOU AND TONY STEWART BECOME CLOSER FRIENDS BECAUSE OF BEING TEAMMATES AT THE 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA? "Yeah. We got to be real good friends over the last year or so. When he was catching all that stuff in the press about being crazy and wild, I just knew that wasn't the truth. I tried to stick up for him a couple of time. He appreciated that. We just got to be good friends and began hanging out a little bit."
AS A FOLLOW UP ON THAT, WHEN DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TONY STEWART BEGIN? "I'm not real sure. I was trying to think back. We ran into each other in the Busch Series a couple of times. We had some pretty colorful arguments. At Pikes Peak, we got to beating and banging on each other. And I ran into him about six or seven times trying to get by him. He sent me into the fence on the restart. We ended up in the Busch hauler trying to get at each other and hollering and cussing and carrying on. And then the next week, we were in Milwaukee. He walked up to me and said he just wanted thing to be cool with each other. He said, 'I think you're cool and your dad is a good man and he's raised you well. I do have a lot of respect for you and I just want you to know that if you want to be friend, we can be friends'. I just thought that was cool. That's kind of when it started. That was back in '98 or '99. Ever since then, we've just gotten to be better friends year after year."
DO YOU HAVE TO DO WELL AT ROCKINGHAM TO PROVE YOU'RE A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDING TEAM? "I don't know if anything we do at Rockingham will prove that. The season is so dang long. But I'd like to go in there and get a top 10 finish if we could. That would be great. I feel like we're definitely geared up for that and can make it happen. We had a top five car last time we were there and ended up 13th. We got a lap down due to something that happened on pit road. But I feel pretty good about going there."
ON DALE EARNHARDT LEARNING A LOT ABOUT RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING FROM RICHARD CHILDRESS, AND HIS ABILITY TO PICK THE RIGHT PEOPLE FOR THE RIGHT JOB AT DEI "It isn't any secret about Richie Gilmore's success at Daytona. He's won five Daytona 500's now with different people. He's just always been able to go to Daytona and make a good motor. He builds good motors everywhere, but Daytona is really where he shines. That was important to Dad and so that was his number one choice. Richie agreed to come on. We got into that RAD program with Richard Childress years ago that was a big beneficiary to DEI because we gained instant knowledge that Richard and his team had developed for years. We incorporated so many fabricators into our program. One year we'd have five fabricators. The next year we'd have 10. And now they have their own department. It's just a madhouse over there. It just keeps growing. Every year you need more fabricators. You can't just plug anybody into that department. They have to have knowledge and understanding. Every guy's has got to know that every piece that he makes is critical and how to make it the best you can. Tony Sr. and Tony Jr. have always built fast speedway cars. Tony won five in a row with Dad in the Busch Series at Daytona. They learned as they went and applied what they learned every chance they got. That car we built when we were rookies and went down there (Daytona) really wasn't that great. But Michael took that same car and won with it last year at Talladega. It just takes time to build on something and improve it and keep working on it. Eventually, when you have all the right people, you'll figure it out."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO DEVELOP A LITTLE CHEMISTRY WITH YOUR SPOTTER AT DAYTONA? "They're all a little bit different. You've just got to take what you get when it comes to a spotter. I haven't really had to tell Stevie to do too many things different at all. There was one thing. When I was clear, he could continue to tell me I was clear. Clear. Clear. All clear. And then when a car would get there, he would just say, 'Clear, clear, car low. Now you're clear, you're clear.' I'm not particularly listening to every word he's saying. Basically it all runs together and I don't understand that there's a difference or that anything has changed. So I told him what he could do for me when there is something different - being clear from traffic vs. having a car around me - that maybe he could not say it louder, but pick the pace up. Maybe just say it more quickly so I would know and recognize to pick-up on what he's saying. Normally you're concentrating so hard, you're really not listening to every word your spotter is saying. But if he changes his tone or how quickly he's saying something, you start paying attention to that. That's really all we had to adjust on. One of the things I'm enjoying the most is having him up there with his racing background. It's almost like it's a disadvantage to those guys who haven't driven race cars who are spotting. It's like I've got a little edge."
CAN YOU PUT INTO WORDS THE EMOTIONS OF WINNING THIS PAST WEEKEND? "It was pretty crazy. Those last five laps, I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat under a rocking chair. And then finally when you cross the finish line and know you've got the win, it's kind of a relief. I wanted to pull down there and enjoy the fans and get to see my team and just thank everybody. It's so much work. I want everybody to enjoy it. It's not just something I did. There is a lot of motivation from my fans and a lot of work done behind the scenes by a lot of guys who never get the credit. They'd done great pit stops all day long and they're just as much a part of it as I was. Ever since then, it's been pretty much of a blur. I got in the Busch car and finished it up and winning it too. It's just kind of been one thing after another."
WHEN YOU WERE ON TV THIS MORNING WITH REGIS AND KELLY, THE GUYS FROM 'QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY' WERE ON. HOW STRANGE WAS THAT? "How strange was it? I don't know. They're just normal people. I met a couple of them and they seemed pretty nice. One of them has a brother who races and he was telling me that he'd been to something like 10 Daytona 500's. They didn't give me any advice to try and hook me up with any girls, which I could've used. I should have thought about it when we were there. I'd have liked to have heard what they would have told me that I could do better. But anyway, they were cool. They seemed like nice people."
AFTER RACING BOTH THE CUP AND BUSCH AERO PACKAGES AT DAYTONA, WHAT DO YOU THINK WOULD BE THE BEST PACKAGE FOR NASCAR TO ADOPT FOR THE UPCOMING APRIL RACE AT TALLADEGA? "I like the package that's under the Cup car right now. The blade is a little tall. I'd like it if they would take a little bit of it off. I don't know. It's just so tough. If they took the blade off, the cars might turn a little bit better at Talladega. I don't know if it would even matter because it is such a bit track. But I really liked the racing at Daytona and how the pack stretched out across the track like it did. I know everybody wants to see us running nose to tail, but it really showed you who had the best car. It showed whose car were good and whose cars were okay, and whose cars weren't running good at all. I don't know if you'll ever get that at Talladega no matter what you do unless you just totally took the plates off and let the drivers drive the cars hard enough that they had to lift. That's what we were doing at Daytona.
"As far as the Busch cars go, they need to get that package off those cars as fast as they can before somebody gets hurt. With those blades on the roof and on the spoilers, it keeps us all three-wide. There were times that you'd be driving your car and be comfortable, and the next lap you'd go in the corner and you'd be about to spin out. It was just because there was so much air being moved around by those blades. A lot of those guys go in there - basically mortgaging their entire career and house and family on making that race - and they go down there and tear everything up they've got because they get involved in some crash because we're just out there running into each other. But that package is just terrible. I think they need to really seriously take what I'm telling them and make a change."
CAN YOU TELL IS WHAT YOUR SCHEDULE HAS BEEN SINCE WINNING THE RACE, AND DO YOU LIKE THE MEDIA OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE HAD ENOUGH EXPOSURE? "I've always been pretty satisfied with the exposure I've gotten. And yeah, maybe there is a point where there's too much and we're overdoing it. But I did win the Daytona 500. I know people want to hear what I think about that. So I'm cool with it all the things we're doing.
"This morning we got up at 6:45 am to do the Today Show. After that we did Regis and Kelly. And they we did two deals with CNN. Now we're at the teleconference with you guys. After this, we're going to have a quick lunch and maybe take a couple hour nap and do the Late Show with David Letterman from 5:30 pm on and then we can head to the house about eight o'clock tonight. We had a satellite news conference two hours long yesterday after the Busch race. Before the Busch race we were in Daytona 500. It's been pretty busy. I haven't had a whole lot of sleep. That's probably been the main thing. If I had been a little bit more aware of how much rest I would have needed, I probably would have taken a little more care in getting it. But it's been fun."
NOW THAT YOU'VE SWEPT THE CUP RACE AND BUSCH RACE AT DAYTONA, ARE YOU GOING FOR THE CRAFTSMAN TRUCK RACE NEXT YEAR? "My friend Shane Hmiel told me that it something I need to look at (laughs). They're kind of wild looking out there. You have to ask yourself it it's worth it or not every time you do anything that's extra-curricular outside of the Cup car, if anything. Right now, I kind of like having a little time off during Speedweeks. And so I'm not sure if I just want to tackle every single thing I can tackle. But I would like to drive a truck sometime before I retire."
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOUR FANS WHO ARE NOW HEARING THE SAME THING THEY DID AFTER YOU WON THE PEPSI 400 IN 2001, THAT THE RACE WAS FIXED? "My fans? I think they know better. I think it's a shame that people don't have anything better to do. But I guess you'll have that with anything anytime somebody succeeds with anything. There are going to be some doubters and some people that criticize it no matter what. Some people just can't leave well enough alone and enjoy their own life. They've got to try to mess and screw with somebody else's. I get upset about it, but there isn't much I can do about it except to keep on winning and keep on enjoying my own life."