Charlotte Team Monte Carlo preview

DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Earnhardt Jr. led six times for 175 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May. Fresh off a dominating, lucrative ($516,410) victory the week before in The...

DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Earnhardt Jr. led six times for 175 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May. Fresh off a dominating, lucrative ($516,410) victory the week before in The Winston (and his second points win of the year on May 6 at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. started on the Coca-Cola 600 pole and ran out front for almost half the race. He led laps 317-362 of the 400-lap event at the 1.5-mile track, but fellow rookie Matt Kenseth led the final 26 laps en route to his first NASCAR Winston Cup triumph. Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth and hasn’t had a top-five finish since. He finished 10th the next week at Dover and hasn’t had a top-10 finish since then (15 races). Earnhardt Jr. will celebrate his 26th birthday on Oct. 10, and the Kannapolis, N.C., native would like to start the festivities a few days early by taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s 500-miler. “I like that place. We’ve been good there in the Busch car every time we’ve been there. Tony (crew chief Eury) just knows how to get around there. We got a bad set of tires on that last pit stop in the 600, and I guess we were really lucky. It could have been a lot worse than it ended up. Charlotte is fun. It’s big. I watched a lot of races there when I was a kid. I went there every year, and I’ve always liked it. Some of the races might be boring to watch, but it’s not boring inside the car. It’s a challenge for a driver. It’s pretty easy to bust your butt there. “Matt did a good job at Charlotte in the 600, and I was happy for him. I knew during that rain delay we had that he was coming up through there and he was going to be tough to beat. I don’t know what we did on that last set of tires, but we really struggled on ‘em. We weren’t the car we were prior to that, but Matt and those guys were consistent all night. They deserved it, especially after California. “I don’t think we dominated in the 600 as much as everybody might think we did. I was really having to hustle to keep the car under me a lot of the time, but it was a fun night. I had a good time racing with my dad. I got to do that quite a bit, and we ran fourth in a race we had a good chance to win. I think we might have been in pretty good shape with the lead we had before that last caution, but that’s the way it goes. “We’re taking the same car back we had in the 600. It’s the same car we won with at Texas, so we know it’s a good car. Maybe the track won’t change so much this time. We would have won the 600 if it had been a 500-mile race, so maybe we can be running out front at the end of 500 miles this time and get things turned around for these last few races. We’ve got some good tracks coming up that I really like. I think we’ll be good at Atlanta and we might surprise a few people at a couple of the others. It’s been a long season and the guys have been working hard. We really wanted to win the rookie deal, but we might have to win the rest of ‘em to do that now. We’ll just get ready for Charlotte and hopefully the car will be as good as it was there in May.”

TONY EURY (Crew chief No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) “I think the race track was tightening up on us toward the end of the 600. I think we figured that out from May until now. The last set of tires we got definitely weren’t as good as the set we had on before that, but the track changes a lot different for the Cup cars than it did for the Busch cars. Dale Jr. is the kind of driver who doesn’t like to adjust on his car during the race. If he’s got a good car, he doesn’t want you to touch it. “We’ve got a problem getting him to let us make adjustments. We know the race track is going to tighten up. That’s been our biggest problem we’ve been fighting. All the race tracks change a lot for the Cup cars. They just put down so much more rubber. The Busch cars don’t put down a lot of rubber. You can run two or three hundred miles with them and the race track won’t change a lot because of the horsepower deal. The track keeps changing constantly in Winston Cup, and we just haven’t got enough experience to know what to do and keep up with it. We’re still learning every week. “We’ve struggled ever since we left Charlotte really. We got on them flat race tracks and.... We went to Indianapolis and tested and took the car we ran with so good at Charlotte. It didn’t run good at all at Indy. We left it at home. It hasn’t been run since. We just haven’t hit on the flat race tracks for some reason. Everybody has gone to these wild setups, 300 and 400 pounds of split and springs and all that. We’ve just never been able to run stuff like that, and it’s been hard for us to adapt to it. Dale Jr. doesn’t like the feel of it. I think that’s been our biggest problem. We’ve got to get him where he likes the feel of the car. We’re going to have to work him into that kind of stuff. “I’m not going to say we’re not satisfied with the season. A lot of people in this garage would like to have won two point races and an all-star race. We might walk around and look disappointed, but there’s a bunch of hard-working guys here. We’ll figure out what our problem is and hopefully we’ll figure it out soon. We should have a good car for Charlotte. We’re still working on our Talladega piece. We’re going to the wind tunnel next week and try to work out some things there. “We didn’t test at Charlotte. It seems like everywhere we test we run bad, so we’re not going to test anymore. We’re going for it. A lot of teams are still testing at Greenville-Pickens and Milwaukee and places like that. We’re out of tests just like about everybody else, but we decided we’ll quit testing, work on what we’ve got and go to the race track and do the best we can. We’ve been to most of these race tracks one time already, so we should run good when we get back there. “We didn’t see a whole lot of difference what Steve and them (No. 1 Pennzoil team) ran in October and what they ran in May. Everybody had a lot of change in their cars from the 600, from daylight to night, but we really didn’t have that many changes in our car and we kept up with it pretty good. Hopefully there won’t be a whole lot of difference. “We’re having a good time. It’s a whole lot different than Busch racing. We’ve got a few Winston Cup guys, but the majority of our guys came from the Busch Series and they haven’t got used to working seven days a week. That’s about what it’s turned into. “I don’t know what we’re going to do next year (with 36 races on 2001 schedule). Everybody is going to have to have a lot of race cars and have a lot of help. It means expenses are going to go up. We’re going to have to have more help. There ain’t no way we can go 20 straight races with the people we’ve got. I don’t like to throw people at anything anyway. I always kept my people down. I guess I’m going to have to get out of that and hire some more people. Competition is causing it. It’s getting tougher and tougher and you’ve got to move with them. “Our engine program has gotten so much better over the season. I would have rated our motors a 4 when we started in February. I’m going to say our motors are 9s now. Richie Gilmore and all those guys at the shop have worked their guts out to get the engines better. We chassis dyno every week and it gets better every week. We don’t have to worry about that problem anymore. They’ve got some smart people in there and they’re getting better and better. We’ve just got to get our bodies better, and we’re learning on these bodies. The bodies are all new and every week we go back and cut something off and move it here or there. We’re just trying to get them better and figure out where everything needs to be. “Our motors go in rotation. If we run a motor one week, if it gets rebuilt, Steve gets it the next time. There’s no partiality there because of Dale Jr. or whatever. The motors go in a circle. There’s not one motor going to the 8 car and one motor going to the 1 car. That’s one problem we don’t need, somebody showing partiality. That’s the way we do that and it keeps everything equal. “Old Steve (Park) is a tough race car driver. We learned a lot of stuff when Steve came to drive our Busch car (1997). Steve brought a lot of talent with him. He worked on his own cars. They were modifieds, but a lot of the stuff he did we tried on the Busch cars. Some things worked and some didn’t. He definitely stepped our program up when he came, and that helped Dale Jr. when he got in the Busch car. When we went to the race track, we were pretty close. We had the same body style, the same motor program and everything. The tires weren’t changing a lot then. When we got to the race track, we were pretty close. We just tuned it to what Dale Jr. wanted, and that definitely helped us. I don’t put it past them (No. 1 car) to be somebody to beat at Charlotte. Steve runs real good there. “I’d say for both teams, Charlotte and Atlanta will be our two best tracks left. I would like to run good at Rockingham. I’ve won races there before with Dale (Earnhardt), but it seems like I’ve always missed it with my other drivers. I’ve never been able to win there, but it’d be cool to go there and win and run up front. It’s just a hard place to get a hold of. Hopefully, we can go there and run good. “If anybody can pull it out (beat Bobby Labonte for 2000 championship), he (Dale Earnhardt) can, that’s for sure. He hit a stump for a couple of weeks before Martinsville, and if he hadn’t done that, I would have said definitely he could. He’s got a lot of points to make up, and Bobby is tough every week. That whole Gibbs organization is a good deal. Both cars come out of the trailer ready to roll and they’re the ones to watch every week. It’s going to be hard to beat Bobby. “I hurt my right wrist about three months before Watkins Glen. I’ve never been one to run to the doctor when I hurt something. It was kind of sore and I just kept waiting on it to get better. I had torn a cartilage between the ligaments. It never got any better and just stayed sore. I could use it every day with no problem, but every once in awhile if I bent it back I’d feel a little pain in it. We got the backup car out at Watkins Glen, and I was under the car putting a gear in there, and when I picked the gear up it bent my hand backwards. It was already torn and there was nothing to hold it, so it ripped the ligament then. I was done then. I had to get something done. I went the week after Watkins Glen and they scoped it and saw the problem. They put me in a cast for six weeks. I’m going to get it taken off the Tuesday after Charlotte. It’s slowed me down a little bit. It’s hard to work with one arm. Especially when I had that full cast on. I couldn’t even get under a car because I couldn’t lay my arm down. I like to have my hands on stuff. I’m not one to sit in the office. Sometimes Dale doesn’t agree with that, but hopefully they won’t make me quit doing it. I like to get my hands in there and work. Maybe in a week or two I can get in there. “I like Charlotte. It’s a tough race track. You’ve got to have a tough driver. I don’t like race tracks where the car is all of it. When you put a race car on the race track and it’s all aerodynamics, who’s got their valence lowest to the ground, I don’t like that kind of racing. I think every race track ought to have at least a 20-degree bank and let the drivers go for it. It seems like the drivers don’t count anymore. It’s all aerodynamics and bodies and downforce. That’s taken all the fun out of it, and it makes for more expense. Charlotte is a place where a driver has to get up on that steering wheel. The track is rough and it’s got a nice bank on it. It’s just a tough place to race. At the end of the race, the tough guys are always up front. That’s where we want to be Sunday night.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte