NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference May 24, 2004 This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Earnhardt Jr. discussed his season to date as the series moves to...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
May 24, 2004
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Earnhardt Jr. discussed his season to date as the series moves to Lowe's Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 this weekend.
Earnhardt Jr. is the current NEXTEL Cup Series point leader with a 40-point lead over second place driver, Jimmie Johnson. He has won the Daytona 500 along with races in Atlanta and Richmond; and has eight top-10 finishes so far this year.
Q&A's with DALE EARNHARDT JR:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHT S AND EXPECTATIONS GOING INTO THE COCA-COLA 600 THIS WEEKEND?
"It (Lowe's Motor Speedway) is considered by a lot of teams and drivers and families to be a home track. We'll have a lot of people in attendance that are family members that normally don't get to go to most of the races if any. It's one of the first race tracks that I was able to go to as a young kid to see my dad race. I've seen a lot of races and history there. Before I ever even started driving it was a pretty important race track for me. I've had that on my list of race tracks where I wanted to win. I consider it to be one of the biggest races of the season."
HOW SPECIAL WOULD IT BE TO WIN THE COCA-COLA 600?
"It would really be special. That's the longest race of the season. At every big event - whether it be at Daytona or Charlotte - seems to have it's own little twist and piece of history. The 600 is more of the more historic races that sort of lined up next to the Southern 500 if you will in the history of the sport. So it means a lot to me and to a lot of the drivers. A lot of veterans really understand the importance of that race. It's a big deal. It's hard to win. It's hard to get a good competitive car to be strong for such a long period of time all night long. We've run good in the race but haven't been able to put it together in the end, so hopefully we've got what it takes this year."
LAST WEEK YOU COMMENTED ONTEST DRIVING THE CORVETTE YOU'LL BE DRIVING AT INFINEON AND THE CARBON BRAKES. DO YOU SEE A FUTURE IN USING MATERIAL LIKE THAT IN NASCAR OR WOULD IT BE TOO EXPENSIVE?
"I couldn't really speak intelligently about costs from one to the other. We spend quite a bit of money on the brakes we use now. At most races, you'll throw a set of rotors and pads on the car and that'll be the only time you'll use them. You rarely use that set of rotors the next time you use that car. All that stuff usually comes off and goes in the trash. I don't know if that would be an argument.
"But the carbon brakes were amazing as far as stop power. At the road course I was running it had 300, 200, 100 markers that you normally see at all these road courses. With the Cup car, I'd be lifting at 300 or so and braking soon after that. With the carbon brakes, I could go all the way to the 50-mark and brake and just be at a dead stop. I was stopping at the 300 when I first went out there and I'd be sitting still at the 200-mark and not even be at the corner yet. That's what was the biggest learning curve for me. I'd never run carbon brakes before, but after several laps I just fell in love with them. They, of course, stop really good and you don't have to worry about them getting too hot because they really like the heat. I'd like to run them but if that were a possibility, I don't know."
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH ROAD COURSE ACE, RON FELLOWS
"Yeah, whether he's driving for DEI or not, you can learn from that guy. He's going to be a competitor of mine at road courses coming up this season in the road courses - and so will Boris Said - and between those two guys, I've learned just about everything I know about road courses. Whenever I've had a question or a problem, both of them go deep into the answer. They don't just scratch the surface. They really are willing to help. That's hard to find in another competitor in any sport. They're like that with all the drivers, not just me. It's just awesome to have people like that around the sport who are genuine enough and want to assist people like myself."
EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE LEADING IN POINTS, WHAT DOES THE TEAM NEED TO WORK ON?
"Well, it's obvious to me that we are struggling at the 1.5-mile tracks. We did get a win at Atlanta. I don't know what the difference is between Atlanta and Kansas and Homestead and tracks like that. We can run good at Atlanta and go to Texas and we're just off a little bit there and we seem to be able to get a top five even though we're struggling a little bit. But we'll go to Kansas or Homestead or Vegas or California and we're just not hooked up. The car is just not competitive at all. And we're trying our hardest to remedy that and to learn and to get the car tuned back in. We've been to Kentucky, which is a similar track, and tested as much as we can. If we've got a weak spot, and obviously no team is perfect, then that's ours. There are other thing I'd like to see improve. There are some things, whether it be me or the team, that can always be better."
HAS MARTIN TRUEX JR. SURPRISED YOU?
"Yeah, he really did this past weekend. Martin will agree to this, I believe. There are a lot of guys out there with a lot of talent. There are others who will never see the light of day in this sport. But if you put those guys in the good equipment, you're going to see a lot of guys succeed. Martin was in a situation this weekend where he had to rely on his intuition. He had to use his brain more than just his sheer raw talent. And so that's when you find out whether a guy can take it to the next level. In my opinion, you can get in a great handling race car and put a straightaway on the field and if you don't make any mistakes, you end up winning the race. But he had to really decide what to do at a certain point. There was a split-second decision to be made there. I would have probably made a different one and I don't know if the outcome would have been the same. It's just amazing that he was down in that corner and he knew he had to get that car turned on the bottom to be able to get off that corner better than Bobby Jr. (Hamilton). Now whether Bobby Jr. goes down in the corner too far or not, that might not happen every time. But Martin put himself in the best situation he could to get by him and that was just really a surprise to me. When a guy makes a move like that, he's up in the top percentage of his class."
WE ARE SEEING THE NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES MOVE INTO DIFFERENT AREAS. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS PART OF THE CHANGING FACE AND MAYBE AS A PIONEER IN THAT AREA?
"I really don't see myself as making that big of a difference. The sport is going where it's going without Dale Earnhardt Jr. I don't think I'm the lead locomotive here, and never have. But there are a lot of drivers and personalities that make up the sport. What powers the sport and fuels the sport are the media, the press, the networks, the coverage, and all the free advertisement we get from racing every weekend. People are tuning in and latching on to the sport for the first time. That's going to happen no matter who is driving in the sport. I feel pretty fortunate that I came along when I did. I'd have liked to have been around back in the seventies and to have known what it was like to race back then when it was a lot simpler. But the way the sport is now and how exciting it is, it's really awesome to be a part of it at this time, too. The sport really has a lot of the same things it has now but it just wasn't quite publicized."
DOES IT SURPRISE OR EVEN EMBARRASS YOU THAT PEOPLE WOULD SAY YOU ARE THE PIONEER CHANGING THE FACE OF THE SPORT?
"It's overwhelming. It's kind of an embarrassing form of flattery, if you will, to be considered that. When I was 18 years old that definitely wasn't what I was aiming for. I didn't even have the vision or foresight to see that and target that. But things have fallen into place one after another. Circumstances have evolved and here we are. There are a lot of people to credit for that aside from myself. It's not just me sitting here and pulling a bunch of strings. My publicists, JR and Jade, have both worked pretty hard - Jade especially - to provide the media with a lot of information and that's helped out."
MARTIN TRUEX JR GIVES A LOT OF GOOD FEEDBACK TO HIS CREW CHIEF, KEVIN "BONO" MANION. HAVE YOU REACHED THE POINT IN YOUR CAREER TO BE ABLE TO DO THE SAME THING WITH TONY EURY JR?
"Martin made the comment just the other week to Tony that setting up a Busch car and setting up a Cup car are two different things. A Cup car is a fine line and normally you're stepping back and forth over it and not really standing on it. And with a Busch car, there is a wider threshold of when the car is handling well. That was pretty evident for me when I was racing the Busch Series. We would go to a track and dial it right in. We would be fast enough to win the race. We would get the car better or even worse and still be the dominant car all day. So it's a little different in either series. That's good for "Bono" and Martin. It's a little easier to set a car up in the Busch Series or to get it more competitive. I don't know if that's due to the shorter wheelbase or what but that helps them a little bit and shortens their learning curve. I think "Bono" has got to be credited with how good the cars are when they come off the trailer. He has a good idea of where he needs to be and where the set-ups are going in this sport right now because they seem to change and turn around and go different directions every year due to whatever changes have been made by NASCAR. So it takes a really smart crew chief these days to stay on top of the changes in the sport and what direction everybody is going to get their cars working."
HAS YOUR ORGANIZATION DISCUSSED WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO MAINTAIN A STRONG POSITION IN THE POINTS AS THE SERIES APPROACHES THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I know what I need to do. You've just got to finish the best you can every week. That's all there is to it. You've just got to really dig deep sometimes when the car isn't working good. When your car is working good, you just get around there and you get a top 10 finish every week, you're going to be there. That's obvious. When the car is not good, you've got to dig deep and make up a few spots from the drivers seat. That's one of the things that was tough for me to do a couple of years ago. I understand how to make that happen now without backing it into the fence or doing something foolish. When you have a 25th place car and you get a top 20 finish with it, that's what wins you the championships. If you're a good team, you're not going to have that happen too often. But it does come across now and then."
DOES THAT REMIND YOU OF ANYBODY?
"That reminds me of a lot of people. But my dad was the same way. Richard Childress had great race cars but he didn't get credit for them all the time because everybody liked to say that dad could take a 15th place car and run fifth with it. I don't want to sit here and tell you Richard didn't have great race cars. But Dad dug deep several times to help those guys win championships."
ON HONORING FALLEN WAR HEROES AT CHARLOTTE AND DOVER AND WHAT THAT MEANS TO NASCAR DRIVERS
"Any time we get an opportunity to honor the military, it's great. It's obviously a big part of what's going on today. But NASCAR has always made an extra effort to show their support - regardless of what might be happening in the world and if we're fighting overseas or whatever - we've always made and effort to make sure they knew how special they were to us and what they've meant to us. Ever since I can remember, we've had military people introduced at every drivers meeting I've ever been to. They've always been in one form of sponsorship with the sport. There has always been a great link between us and the military."
ON GOING FROM CHARLOTTE TO DOVER?
"Charlotte is a long ways. It takes everything you've got to run that race. There are tougher race tracks but that's a tough race to run due to the extra 100 miles. Dover is a workout in itself because the track is concrete and dusty and slick and you've got to chase both ends of the car through the corner. When the tires build up in air pressure, they seem to bounce like basketballs around the race track due to the concrete surface. It's a challenge to get the car to hook up. Sometimes you'll hit on something that gives you a little extra grip and that's the difference in running in the top five there."
DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION ABOUT THE NEW POINT SYSTEM NOW THAT YOU'RE IN THE LEAD AND GOING THROUGH IT?
"Well, I've thought about every scenario before the season started because we got a lot of questions about whether we liked it or thought we wouldn't like it. I thought about that scenario where if you're in the lead and you could lose 400 points to everybody. It kind of aggravated you to think about it like that. If you were Matt Kenseth last year and had that great lead and then had to lose it all at the end of 26 races for the shootout, that would be frustrating, obviously. But if it happens, it happens. It's going to be frustrating for whoever is in the lead. But the more I think about it, I look at it more like elimination rounds in a way. You've got 10 races and you really can't have a poor finish in any of them. Somebody in that group of drivers is going to put together 10 consistently good weeks. And that's going to win the championship. You've got to be ready for that. I'm a huge Washington Redskins fan. And say they won every regular season game and then lost in the first round of the playoff. That's what I would compare it to."
LAST WEEKEND, YOU WERE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE HEAT AND YOUR UNIFORM DURING THE RACE. WHAT HAPPENED AND DID YOU GET IT SORTED OUT?
"For the last three weeks it's just been brutal inside the car. Normally, it's not too big of a problem. There is a huge difference between the last three weeks and what I'm normally used to. I thought the texture of the uniforms was a lot different. I think what happened was that my uniforms got sent to one of those dry cleaners that claim to be a dry cleaner but actually just machine washes your stuff. That happens to everybody, I think, but you just don't know it. Our driver's uniform has a certain feel with the NOMEX (flame resistant fiber by DuPont) when it's brand new and still in good condition. Once you actually machine wash a uniform, the layers that are fused together come apart and the suit becomes a lot more like cotton instead of NOMEX. It brings down the ability of the safety fibers prevent you from being burned. Also the uniform shrinks up too. I'm a little disappointed but hopefully I can get me a couple of new uniforms here. DEI is just having to dig in their back pocket and get me some more uniforms.
ON THE ALL-STAR RACE
"We had a great car when the race started. We had some ideas about things we wanted to do to the car to make it faster. I'm disappointed that what we tried didn't work out for us. I'm disappointed for the team. But we made a commitment before we ran the race that we wanted the win and nothing else."
ON BEING A BUSCH TEAM OWNER AND ATTRACTING SPONSORS FOR THE TEAM
"There have been a few personnel changes and some extra people brought in that are going to make a big difference at DEI alone that are going to assure that things are in working order. We are entertaining some new ideas and some opportunities for the Busch team for next year already. Martin's success is making it a lot easier on us than it was to sell everybody on this year. So I feel pretty confident that we're going to have a great program next year. My commitment to the Busch Series as an owner is going to be something long term. I like driving in the Busch Series and I plan on driving in the Busch Series for a long time. I don't know if I'll run anything more than the three races I'm running right now. I just like running every now and then. It's a great series with a lot of energy coming up and trying to make it into the Cup Series. And you've got a lot of veterans there too. You have just a lighter attitude there. It's kind of easy-going if you will. It's a change of pace."
ON THE SAFER BARRIERS AND HOW THEY ARE WORKING FOR THE DRIVERS
"At one track, I can't remember which one, but we were going into Turn 3 and the Safer Barrier should have been installed a little further down the track than where they began. But at 95 percent of the tracks where they've been installed, I've liked them. I think they've done a great job. You have to kind of merge them into the corner and off the corner where it really doesn't make an abrupt change from the original concrete fence to the barrier. But I like them. I like them a lot. They're installing them at a quicker pace than I anticipated."
HOW MUCH ARE YOU SCHOOLING MARTIN TRUEX JR? DOES THAT HELP YOU WHEN YOU GET BEHIND THE WHEEL?
"If you're really smart, you'll try to learn from everything no matter what it is. I've always been open-minded enough to realize the opportunity to learn from a guy like Martin or a team like I had in the Busch Series. I try to learn from him what I can when he talks about what his car did or what he did in a race or when something happened. Everything he can tell me is good. I try real hard to relay important things to him. Before he went out to qualify at Nazareth, I told him my only advice to him was to not wreck. You can take that how you want, but it's a mindset to win championships no matter how your car is. You've got to be on the race track making points. There are a lot of good teams who are capable of winning races that don't finish races. That's how they lose championships. That championship in the Busch Series is there for the taking. All you've got to do is finish every race. It's up to Martin. When I tell him that, he thinks I'm just joking around but I'm serious."
WHO IS YOUR MENTOR NOW?
"It can be anybody. I can go to just about all the guys who raced with my daddy. I can go to Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte and even Rusty Wallace. If I've got a genuine question and they can see it in my eyes that I really care to know what they have to say, they're going to tell you. What it comes down to is respect. If you've got respect for those people and realize seniority and where you fit on the ladder, people will treat you accordingly. I don't know that I've ever disrespected any of the veterans in the sport and so I can pretty much get a fair shake with just about all of them."
WHICH DRIVER WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SQUARE OFF WITH IN A CRUNCH-TIME SITUATION?
"Right now it's probably Matt (Kenseth). We love to race each other and we love to beat each other on the race track. We actually used to race back and forth quite a lot in the Busch Series and it was a blast. Maybe that's because I came up on the winning end of it most of the time. But today in the NEXTEL Cup Series, he's quite a bit more competitive - whether it's because of the equipment or the experience or whatever - but he's hard to beat. We have a good friendship off the track and we realize that when we are racing each other on the race track that we're both really enjoying it. I just like him. When you pick a guy in a sport, that when you know you've outrun him that you really did you work for the day, that's the guy for me. I know when I beat Matt that I've had a good day. >From a different era, it would probably be David Pearson. I don't know. That's kind of tough. There was a whole group of guys. I would definitely have liked to race with Cale Yarborough. I never got to even imagine what it would be like to race against him. He was pretty tough. I liked his style. My dad came along when Cale's career was starting to become more of a limited schedule. But Cale was pretty tough."