DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his eighth career NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday. It's his fourth top 10 start and his best start. It's his third straight top 10 start. "This...
DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
NOTE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his eighth career NASCAR Winston Cup start on Sunday. It's his fourth top 10 start and his best start. It's his third straight top 10 start.
"This is one of the more enjoyable race tracks for me, so it's pretty exciting. Scott (Pruett) did a good job being a rookie and with the limited experience he has in these cars. He tested well, and I expected him to do well.
"Even though we had run here twice with the Busch car, I still needed that time on the race track in the Winston Cup car to learns the ins and outs and differences in the two. It paid off. We learned a lot of things. That was one of the setups we ran here and we were pretty comfortable with it. When we got here this morning we had a different setup in the car. We tried to make it work. We tried to be competitive with it, but we ended up going back.
"I'm not sure whether that evened up the playing field or not (running Busch car here). You'd like to think so. Any time last year or the year before in the Busch Series we'd go to a new track, I felt like I had a better opportunity here, maybe a more level field as far as against the veterans. I didn't know that was the case, that they had run only as many as us. That's kind of cool. Still, the fact that they drive those cars every year, week after week and this is our eighth or ninth race in a Winston Cup car might have us at a small disadvantage. I'm kind of adapting more and more, especially in qualifying. The cars have been real comfortable in qualifying. We qualified well every time, even last year. I'm still way behind on the race setup and the thing I'm having the most trouble with is the way the tires fall off and the way the cars fall off. I'm trying to protect my tires a little better.
"This track has such a better racing surface. It's so easy on the tires. It's not as difficult for the teams to get the cars to run long and competitive and consistent on tires throughout a tire run, 60 or 80 laps or whatever it is here. I feel like my chances of being able to hang in there with the guys in the top five or top 10 whatever it may be is better than it was at Rockingham. At Rockingham I feel like what happened at the start of that race, when we went to the back, was what I expected to happen. I just knew I wasn't going to be able to protect the tires like those other guys were doing. It took me awhile. By race end, I felt like I had gained a lot and improved a lot. If we can come out of the box and be competitive on the first run after the green flag, and if we're at the top 10 on the first pit stop, we should be able to stay there.
"There's a pattern, but I don't know it. It's going to take awhile to find the rhythm of week-to-week racing every Sunday for 400, 500 or 600 miles. I think one of the toughest tests would have been Rockingham, Darlington, Dover, one of those tracks where you're wheeling the car all day long. The tires fall off, they're just junk after 10 laps at Rockingham and you're just driving the crap out of it the rest of the way. To get out of the car after that race and felt the way I felt, I was pretty happy knowing I could have drove another 100 or 200 miles. This is one of the easier tracks to drive even when the car might not be handling as well. It's still relatively smooth and error free for the driver. There's really no tricky spots. It should be less difficult."
"I wasn't here and didn't pay a whole lot of attention last year with the Winston Cup cars. The weather may have had something to do with it. We had good cloud cover the majority of qualifying. Goodyear has improved the tires they ran this weekend compared to last year's. The cars are improved. I think it has a lot to do with the downforce the Fords and Pontiacs and Chevys are putting out this year, although the Pontiacs stayed relatively the same as they were last year there still have been improvements. It ties into that. To have that extra little bit of downforce allows you to drive further into the corner and pick it up that much quicker. A tenth here and a tenth there, there's your speed on the track.
"I think it's somewhat intimidating for me or Matt (Kenseth) to be able to compete as a rookie, not the age difference, but the experience difference. Scott has so much more experience in high pressure situations with all his experience in Trans Am and all the other things he did over the years, and the same with Dave Blaney. Those guys have been in and out of championship battles for wins and races and positions. They've got an outlook they take to every race. I would say before the start of the race, Scott and Dave and those guys are probably more comfortable and more prepared for what's getting ready to happen than me and a few of the younger guys are, just for the fact that they had that experience. They know what's going to happen. I'm sitting there with two Busch seasons under my belt and everything else I've watched on television. It's a little intimidating knowing they've got that advantage on you.
"Daytona was pretty interesting. He (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) was pretty happy with the way we were testing and practicing and I think that was team owner there, being proud of his car. When we got to racing he was protecting his position and his finishing and his bravado and his lifestyle. When we're battling for position and trading paint, then it's a father. Like I need to step out of the way or something, like I'm holding him up or slowing him down.
"At Rockingham, during practice and qualifying, it was car owner. How's it going? We need to get faster. We need to do this, we need to do that. Then when the race starts, one instance was pretty funny. With the in-car camera footage, I get these guys to give me the tape after the race. I take it home and watch it. There was one instance when we were going into turn three. I was on the inside of Jeff Gordon and got loose going into the corner. I almost spun out. When I turned and gathered the car up, Gordon was beside me and I slammed into the side of him. Dad was two cars back, so I was like, 'I'll just get the heck out of the way here because I'm getting ready to wreck everybody.' About a straightaway and a half later, dad went by and he was shaking his finger out the window at me. You don't see that on television. The fans don't get to see that part of it. I guess that was where the father was going, 'you'd better watch it. You'd better straighten up.'
"If I told anybody, him or anybody I was going to do something, I'd do it. Skinner and I worked together all day long at Daytona. We were trying to catch up and it was either do that or fall further behind. When the race got going, near the end, and we were running around dad, we hadn't been around him all day long. I couldn't say, 'all right Skinner. Here's dad. I've got to work with him.' It was like dad was just another racer out there. I had to continue working with Skinner like I had been doing all day long. If it comes down to the last lap at Talladega and dad has fallen out of the race or something and it's Mike Skinner up there, I want him to help me. If I ditch him in the Daytona 500, I couldn't count on him. If it was the last lap, everybody knows anything goes."
MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I think the biggest thing was I killed us coming to the flag. We haven't been good coming to the flag all along today and that's usually one of my strongest parts of qualifying. I'm really good at coming to the flag. Our car has just not had a lot of grip, late exit, coming to the flag. If the front end slides first, it pushes up to the wall. If the rear end slides first, it goes sideways. We just have not been able to get comfortable with the car coming to the flag. We lost two or three tenths there and you just can't give up two tenths in this garage. We were off half of a tenth in one corner and a tenth and a half to some real good cars in another corner. And a tenth would move us up about nine spots. Two tenths probably would have gotten us pretty solid in the top 10."
JERRY NADEAU (No. 25 Michael Holigan Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I was very surprised how fast Dale Earnhardt Jr. went. That was a killer lap. I didn't think anyone could beat it. Our guys did a great job. We picked up two tenths from practice. We just need to get a good starting spot for the race and get our luck changed around."
TED MUSGRAVE (No. 60 Power Team Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I wish it had been a little faster. I took it easy in three and four because I was a little off in one and two. Still, that was the best lap we've run. The guys worked hard, and now we'll get ready to race. I think we'll have a good car in the race."
RICK MAST (No. 41 Big Daddy's Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"We've worked on the car a lot, but we're still way, way off. It handled good through the corners, but I think we've missed the boat on some shocks and stuff. All the guys who tested out here have it working. I think that's hurt us."
MICHAEL WALTRIP (No. 7 NationsRent Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"I was pleased to run that lap. The car handled well, and the crew did a great job. We laid the gear to her and it turned a lot on the front straightaway. It might have hurt it a little, but it turned perfect on the back. We were just searching. We figured if we were going to be up front very far, we needed to roll the dice. We've got 7 on our car and we didn't know what to do, so we just rolled the dice. It's just like the Busch race. I was 36 and I didn't find in the book what you were supposed to do on 36. I didn't know if you were supposed to hit or stand, so I just stood and we got lucky. We held all those guys off and we got the car in that race. I'm looking forward to that. We're starting seventh in the Cup race, and we had a good race going last week. We didn't run well here last year. When we tested, we didn't make any qualifying runs. We totally did race runs. Hopefully that will be a smart decision."
JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo)
"We were fighting the same thing all day long, really pushing bad in the middle of one and two. It was better, but if we can get it to turn down there, we could get it to turn a good lap. The tire is pretty good and everybody's cars are better. I know that's why we're better. I've got something I can drive into the corners. Conditions are really good. I thought we were going to be better than we were. Some guys really picked up. I was really surprised. We didn't pick up as much as we'd like. I should have run that in practice, but I had a bad lap. The track is pretty easy to drive, but you've got to attack it so hard you've got to have everything right. My car pushed a little bit in turn one and two. That's why we weren't as fast as some of the other guys. It's tough everywhere now when you're battling these guys. It's so competitive out there."
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo)
"I was off a little bit in one and two. I should have got back in the throttle a lot sooner, but I hesitated. Three and four was off about a tenth, too, but I know I was off in one and two. I know the car will run faster than that. I wish we could have qualified 15th or so. The car is capable of doing that. I think we've got a good race car. I think we can race 'em and be competitive. I don't want to qualify that bad. I want to qualify better."
STEVE PARK (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo)
"We bottomed out a little bit. We didn't do that in practice. I think with the added speed of qualifying it made the car travel a little more than we expected. I thought we could pick it up a little bit in qualifying, but we made the field the first day and now we'll get ready to race."