DALE EARNHARDT, JR., DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed racing the COT for the first time in the 600, his first street car, being a villain in NASCAR and...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed racing the COT for the first time in the 600, his first street car, being a villain in NASCAR and much more.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALIFYING. "Qualifying is pretty important. Get a good draw and get a good pit stall. Having a pit stall that you like can be an advantage the whole race. It's a long race, we're gonna have a lot of stops and from what we saw so far with the COT leading the race and being in clean air is real important. It really doesn't matter as far as you got plenty of time to get to the front if you had a bad qualifying effort but pit selection is probably the most important part about it."
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT YOU ARE THIRD IN POINTS AND THE TOP HENDRICK DRIVER IN POINTS? "I guess I'm a little surprised about how well we've done this year. I should be. We're to the point now where we're trying to capitalize on it, trying to improve on it but I can't complain one bit about the equipment I've got, the motors I've got, the team I've got and how great of an opportunity I've been given. It's been pretty overwhelming really."
THE FIRST 600 IN THE CAR OF TOMORROW, WHAT'S IT GONNA BE LIKE? "I don't know man. We'll have to see. It's going to be a 600-mile race at Charlotte. You know, the best handling car is important but I think you're gonna have to have a little bit of luck, be smart. The cars got real slick and hard to drive in the All-Star race, but just a 25-lap run. I can't imagine what a full fuel run is going to be like in the Coca-Cola 600."
WHAT KIND OF INTERACTION HAVE YOU HAD WITH MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM? I HEARD YOU MIGHT HAVE HOPPED ON AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER OR SOMETHING. "Yeah, the Navy takes me to a lot of cool places. Got to land on an aircraft carrier and take off on one. See some other planes land and take off. Got to really travel and look around the whole thing and talked to a lot of the guys that work on it. Really neat, a lot of fun."
WHAT'S THAT KIND OF SPEED LIKE, WHEN YOU'RE VAULTING OFF THE AIRCRAFT THERE? "It wasn't as big of a jolt as I expected. So, they got to try harder."
JOEY LAGANO TURNS 18 ON SATURDAY, A LOT OF CUP GUYS HAVE SAID A LOT OF GOOD THINGS ABOUT HIM. DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT JOEY? "I haven't really talked to Joey. I'd like to see what kind of personality he's got. He seems to have a great amount of talent. He's got great potential to have a good career in this sport. It will be interesting to see the type of guy he is."
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS TOO MANY EXPECTATIONS FOR SOMEONE? "Yeah, probably. He's gonna have too many. He just has to not worry about the pressure. Just concentrate on his job, do your job. Be blue-collar about it and you'll be fine. If you go out there and you try to impress and try too hard you get into making more mistakes than you probably should. Still probably turn out okay in the end but if you just go in there and do your job and concentrate on what your craft is and try to block everything else and he'll be fine."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE POLE? "I don't know. They give away pecan pie in Victory Lane when you get the pole and Tony, Jr. says you want some pecan pie. That's probably the coolest thing about it. Tony Jr. gets his Pecan Pie."
HOW DO YOU ADJUST TO MAKING THE RUN UP TO THE CHASE? "I don't know. I just try to do my best. I hope I don't have to adjust too much of anything. Hopefully what we're doing is good. We need to win some races and get some victories. That's surely going to help us toward winning the championship. We go out there and we test hard and we got Pocono coming up and a couple of other things. You go out there and you work hard and you try to find speed in your car, maybe a new trick or two but you really just try to stick to the basics and get right and get fast. Show up to the race track and be smart."
ON THE LENGTH OF THE SEASON "The toughest thing I always ran into was just burning out. When I was a rookie and a couple of other seasons but mainly when I was a rookie with about seven races to go I was ready for the year to be over with. I can only imagine that being in the title chase would only make that more difficult because there's a lot of media every week. We try not to schedule any sponsor appearances but what NASCAR asks from the drivers who are in the chase is quite a monumental task media wise. It's just real hard to stay focused on the race. It's a challenge to concentrate on the car running good. Don't get swept up in the hype of the situation just concentrate on the car doing right and not make mistakes every lap on the race track, finishing good, getting points. I think I know how to do that so I should be okay."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING PART OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "Yeah, I feel pretty blessed and humbled to be part of the team and doing well and have the opportunity that I have. It's a great opportunity. I hope that they feel glad that I'm there, they have me as a teammate and I hope that continues. It's awesome to come in right off the bat and make things great. I guess the best thing for me is to try to continue that over a long period of time. Over the entire length of the contract so they'll want to have me back."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST STREET CAR AND WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT IT AND HOW DID YOU GET IT? "My dad gave it to me for my 16th birthday. It was an '86 S-10 pickup truck, single-cab, short-bed, black and silver two-toned. Nothing trick about it at all. Stock wheels, tires, but I loved it. I loved that truck and when I graduated high school I got a full-size, extended-cab, short-bed truck that was two-tone brown with no carpet and I hated that truck and I missed my black and silver single-cab truck S10. Yeah I missed the hell out of that truck. I used to drive by the used car lot where it was parked and look at it."
DOES THAT MAKE IT A TOUGH RACE BEING SO LONG? "No, the COT is still such an unknown. We're getting them to drive better but in 25 laps my car went from really, really tight to way, way loose, I mean in 20 laps really. That's such a huge swing for a car to make. I thought it was bi-polar. We just got to figure out how to get the car to stay more consistent over a long period of time. 50 laps straight I need the car to drive pretty much the same. My car was very moody the other night."
IS THIS A FAVORITE TRACK FOR YOU, A FAVORITE RACE? ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO IT? "No, I look forward to it. Did I give you the impression that I didn't look forward to it? It's long, we run 500 miles and your body gets used to it and you think you wouldn't notice another 100 miles added but mentally you do. That last 100 miles is really tough mentally. Trying to stay focused, trying to stay monument to the task and trying to stay devoted to what you're doing because it's so easy just to kind of go, I'm tired. Physically it's not a problem but mentally your brain is just worked after it's over with. I like it, I love this race track, I love this area. I'm glad to be home these two weeks. I think it's awesome we run a 600-mile race at Charlotte. And its awesome the All-Star race is right before it."
WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT TO GET THE INCIDENT BETWEEN YOU AND JEFF (GORDON) AT TALLADEGA OUT OF THE WAY? "Because ya'll made such a big deal out of it. I mean me and him didn't think it was nothing until ya'll wrote about it and wrote about it and then we're going maybe it's a big deal. We're gonna get asked a bunch of questions so we better talk so we'll have an answer for ya'll next week. That was basically it. You guys kind of create those situations for everybody sometimes. Understand where I'm coming from? A lot of times the media creates that environment and creates the tension. If you really wanted to screw with somebody you obviously could. I don't think ya'll do that intentionally by any means. It wasn't that big of a deal, we probably wouldn't have even talked but I guess the media got wind of our conversation on the radio and how colorful he was about it on the radio and whatever. We squashed it, got over it. We don't have a problem with each other, never did. I want to be a great teammate to Jeff. I want him to be glad I'm there. I respect him; he respects me as drivers. It's gonna be a lot of fun when we get back to the next plate track and we can work on our drafting together and work on how we can help Hendrick Motorsports win together. That will probably be more monumental on my mind next time around just due to the fact that we missed that opportunity in Talladega."
WHAT HAS DARIAN GRUBB MEANT TO THIS TEAM AND THE TRANSITION? "He's a good guy. He's fun to have around. He's always up there engineering whatever that is but he sort of has a calming effect on the group. He's a very good voice of reason. Me and Tony, Jr. sort of are a little bit raw in our ethic in setting the car up. A lot of times we sort of stray from the norm and what not and he's just a great voice of reason about stuff, sort of keep us in the box and I'm glad that he's part of my program.
I'm really not sharp on his history, but I do know that Rick (Hendrick) thinks a lot about him and I know he's been a huge part of Hendrick for a while and a well-respected guy there. He's a great voice of reason and that's really comforting to me. Me and Tony, Jr. sit in that trailer up there and talk and talk and talk. We sometimes talk in circles and get off the path a little bit and he's great to sort of go hey guys you were right here and thinking that and maybe we shouldn't try what you're thinking there. Just very smart, very experienced, has a lot of knowledge and experience to lean on. Just a super guy, really works hard. Dedicated to the AMP and National Guard team and Hendrick as a whole obviously but very dedicated to helping me and helping me do good this year and I'm really glad for that."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A VILLAIN IN NASCAR? "You got to wreck people. You got to be mean. You got to work the crowd and get them mad. Do what villains do, kind of like wrestling. The bad guy comes in wearing black, flipping the crowd off and cheating doing things like that."
WHO DO YOU THINK HAS BEEN THE BEST VILLAIN IN NASCAR? "It changed. Everybody had their moments. There were times when dad was a pretty good villain. Jeff Bodine turned into a villain there for a while in my opinion when I was a little kid. '88 was a good year for that, him and daddy wrecking each other. Darrell (Waltrip) never was a villain, Darrell just whipped everybody. You know Kyle (Busch) whether he wants it or not has sort of become that. He could end up using that to his favor. There are people who will cheer for the villain. There are people who like that mentality and pull for the bad guy."
WHAT'S THE BEST PART OF BEING AT HENDRICK THIS YEAR/ "Just the relief from a lot of the stress I had and a lot of the worries I had. I sat at home last night and talked to a friend of mine and he's like man you're such a happier person and you're a whole lot nicer to everybody. You're different and it's better. You've got less things on your mind and I feel that. I go home and I don't have the worries I used to have. I know that when we show up to the race track I'm gonna have a great chance to run good. That used to worry me to death, like not knowing how we were going to be when we rolled off the trailer because you never knew we were so hot and cold. It's more miserable obviously to be cold all the time but to be hot and cold was pretty stressful too. The struggles at DEI were such a heavy burden and I feel a whole lot more calm and relaxed."
IS WINNING IN CHARLOTTE A BIG DEAL BECAUSE YOU ARE FROM HERE? "It's just big because you're from here and you live close by. The track itself, the event itself is in the top four or five events of the season. It's just a big race. It ranks as a large event. When you're speaking of events you think Daytona 500 and Brickyard. Well this is in that category."
HAVE YOU SEEN THE MUSEUM (HENDRICK)? "I haven't been in there." BECAUSE YOU'RE TUCKED IN THE BACK. "Am I? That's cool. They need to get them to walk all the way through it don't they (laughs)."
HAS DARIAN (GRUBB) EVER HAD TO STEP IN DURING A RACE AND CALM YOU AND TONY, JR.? "No. Have you listened to us, we've been pretty good this year. I read all that crap about everybody was wanting Tony, Jr. to get out of there and I needed to get another crew chief, he makes terrible pit calls so I stopped raising hell at him because I was sort of indivertibly leading the charge, you know what I mean. That's not what I want so I had to quit being so vocal on our radio. When you're out there on the race track and you think the radio is your private channel, it's not like that anymore. You forget that, you know what I mean. Gone with those days. Everybody can listen now and you forget about that. You think gosh it's just us two, here's what I think about that change you made. When I'm alone with my friends, I've got a terrible mouth and I say exactly what I feel so that's how I am on the radio, cuss word here, cuss word there but honesty. A lot of times people just think I'm being hard on Junior."
THOUGHT YOU WOULD HAVE LEARNED WHEN YOU DID THAT SPIN OUT IN BRISTOL AND WERE BRAGGING ABOUT IT. "Yeah. Well I guess it'll take a few more lessons but eventually maybe I will learn. Age is helping a lot too, just growing up a little bit."
-credit: gm racing