No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'S interview on today's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featuring drivers eligible for The Winston No Bull 5-Million-Dollar Bonus in the EA Sports Thunder 500 at Talladega ...
No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.'S interview on today's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featuring drivers eligible for The Winston No Bull 5-Million-Dollar Bonus in the EA Sports Thunder 500 at Talladega Superspeedway On Oct. 6, 2002:
This will be Dale Jr.'s eighth Winston No Bull 5 attempt.
YOU WON THIS RACE LAST YEAR AND TOOK HOME THE MILLION DOLLARS AND YOUR DAD (DALE EARNHARDT) WON IT TWO YEARS AGO AND TOOK HOME THE MILLION DOLLARS. IT WOULD BE PRETTY COOL TO DO IT THREE IN A ROW FOR THE EARNHARDTS:
EARNHARDT JR.: "Yeah, it would. Man, I can't believe it's already eight attempts. It's a lot of fun to get a chance to win a million dollars, especially for the fan. It puts a little bit more pressure on the driver, I guess, but it gives that guy a chance. I think, going into Talladega, one of the tracks we do really well at, we got a pretty good shot at it. We're really going to have everything prepared the best we can."
WITH KERRY (EARNHARDT) RUNNING THIS WEEKEND AND ALL THE SUCCESS YOUR DAD HAD AT TALLADEGA, WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE LIKE RACING WITH KERRY IN THE FIELD AND KNOWING WHAT THE EARNHARDT FAMILY HAS ACCOMPLISHED IN TALLADEGA?
"Well, it's just another drafting partner, is the way I look at it. All the guys at DEI, we try to get all three cars running really competitive so we can kind of work together because it's really difficult to pass. The way they got the aero package structured at this point, it's kind of difficult to pass. To have an extra teammate out there is really going to benefit me, Michael (Waltrip) and Steve (Park). We'll just have Kerry dialed in as we can so we can get him up front, and working with us and hopefully he can learn a little bit about the draft and things like that for Winston Cup, for his future whenever he moves up."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED GOING THROUGH THIS SEASON AND HOW IT MIGHT HELP YOU THIS SEASON AND EVEN GOING INTO NEXT YEAR?
"Well, I don't know. We learn all kinds of things. It seems like every year the mechanics of getting the car handling and stuff is a little bit different. They change a little bit here and there on the tire and things like that, and the tracks kind of go through a little bit of a seasoning over the years. As far as what I've learned, I think, you kind of modify your approach a little bit each week to see what...kind of how your outlook on the race and how you approach each race, you kind of try to change that just a little bit to see if a different equation kind of works different for you as far as having a little more patience or trying to save your tires early on or whatever. We're learning a lot of things. During pit stops we change the spring rates of the tires because you never get the exact same spring rate for each tire, so you have to kind of go one way or the other as far as...if you've got a bunch of right front tires that vary in spring rates, you start with the stiffest and go to the softest or you start with the softest and go to the stiffest. So, we've been moving both things around and changing things like that trying to see what is better for us as the track gets tighter throughout the race, what helps the car turn better throughout the end of the race. One of the things that we tried to improve on is being strong at the finish. We'd go into a lot of races running really well in the beginning and...we can't seem to keep up with either the track or the car goes away. We're just trying to figure out what the situation is with that and how to fix it. As far as me, myself, we've had some pretty decent runs. We've been to a lot of places and been strong, which gives us good hope and good possibilities that we can be a championship team one day. We just have to have all the breaks and everything go our way."
IF YOU HAD GROWN UP AS THE SON OF A MILL WORKER IN MOORESVILLE (N.C.) INSTEAD OF THE SON OF DALE EARNHARDT, WHAT KIND OF A CAREER DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE AND HOW INVOLVED YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN IN RACING."
"I don't know what the outcome would've been. I don't think I would have been involved in racing if my dad hadn't been a race car driver. I'd probably ended up working for the cotton mill or something. I always kind of thought about that. I don't know. There's a lot of things that happened when I was younger that changed, I guess, my path, you might say. I think when my mother turned custody of me and my sister Kelly over to my father in 1981, that's when my life kind of changed. I really didn't know much about racing nor was I even interested in it up to that point. Of course, I was really young, but, still, I don't think I'd have been a race car driver if that hadn't had happened. 'Cause that put me around my father and in the environment of NASCAR. It's hard to say. I'd probably still be living in Kannapolis working in the Cotton Mill if it hadn't been for that."
THROUGH ALL THE TIMES YOUR DAD WON RACES IN TALLADEGA HE ALWAYS INSISTED THAT HE STILL DIDNN'T LIKE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING. YOU'RE COMPILING QUITE AN IMPRESSIVE RECORD yOURSELF. ARE YOU WARMING TO IT OR DO YOU LIKE IT, DISLIKE IT? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?
"I like it, because it gives everybody an opportunity to be competitive even if your car is just a little bit down on horsepower or your car doesn't quite draft as well as others. You can still be in the middle of the race and have some fun, no matter whether you're racing for first or 25th; you can still race and pass people and feel like you're doing something. A lot of race tracks, if you're not competitive, it can make for a long day and you really don't feel like you accomplished anything. I enjoy it, had a lot of success at it and I look forward to those races. It's intriguing to wonder what it would be like without them and how that would work out. The only way I would like to do that is if they just completely unrestricted the cars, motors and aero package...that would be fun to race and have to lift and stuff like that and get your cars to handle to go around the corner and things like that. I think that if they just took the plates off and then tried to slow the cars down with the bodies -- I don't know if that would be as much fun as what we've got now."
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE KICK YOU GET WHEN YOU FIRE THE ENGINE UP AT THE BEGINNING OF A RACE?
"Actually, I get really nervous probably right before that. As soon as I get in the car, you kind of get calmed down because it's such a spectacle before the race and you kind of get nervous with all them people standing around and wandering up and down pit road and stuff. I don't know. You're just really nervous. You'll be in the car and you'll fiddle around with the gear shift and the switches and stuff and just ready to fire up, getting kind of antsy about it. Once you crank it up, I don't know, you can't wait to...you're just really impatient. You can't wait for the pace car to move, you want to back up and pull forward and get your steering wheel on straight, make sure you've got all that going on. You're just ready to get off pit road as fast as you can. I don't know. I hate sitting still. When the motor's running I'm ready to go and get off pit road."
WITH THE RECENT CONCUSSION CONTROVERSY, WHAT IS THE THOUGHT PROCESS THAT MADE YOU THINK THAT YOU REALLY HAD TO GET OUT THERE EVEN THOUGH YOU WEREN'T FEELING 100 PERCENT? WAS IT PRESSURE FROM SPONSORS, EVEN IF IT WASN'T VERBAL FROM THEM, PERCEIVED PRESSURE, PRESSURE FROM THE TEAM OR JUST PRESSURE YOU PUT ON YOURSELF?
"I'm not really sure. I really didn't think...It never crossed my mind -- if you can kind of understand it -- it never crossed my mind to not race the next week. The situation kind of got blown out of proportion a little bit. It wasn't quite as serious,I guess, as it has come across as being. With that in mind, it never came to my mind to not drive the next week. I just felt..I just wanted to make sure that the way I was going to feel wasn't going to be the way I was going to feel the rest of my life. Two or three weeks later it started going away. I don't think it was really pressure or anything. I just didn't ever think about not driving. We'd cast our arms and legs if we broke them trying to drive the next week, not because of pressure or anything, just because we're supposed to be in there."
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE BUSCH TEAM?
"Right now, we're talking to three or four guys about driving it. I don't really want to say names; all these guys got to protect themselves. We're talking to a couple of young guys and one older guy about driving the car. We've got to really decide whether we want to go with a young guy or an older guy. What I'd like to do...I'm going to run three races next year, and that's all the plate races. That's really the only reason I started the team is just so I could run the plate races. So that answers your question about the restrictor plates...I started a Busch team so I could do some more of that. It kind of snowballed into 'well, we'll try to satisfy some of our current sponsors, with putting him in the car for some races', so we're going to put Steve Park in the car for about five or so races next year. And let him get some enjoyment out of it, because I'm sure the car is going to be real competitive everywhere we go. And then we're going to try to get another driver to bring in to run seven races or so and then the following year I'd like to go full-time with it. We've got a number of options. We could just run 20 races and a couple of Cup races in 2004. I don't see that team going to Winston Cup or becoming a Winston Cup (team) in the near future, but it's a good possibility down the road; it just depends. Right at this point it's just kind of start-up to bring in drivers and crew chiefs and crew members and try to work with people and improve them and move them up through the company and into the Winston Cup programs."
YOU HAD A SPECTACULAR RACE LAST WEEKEND, COMING INTO THE PITS IN THIRD, GETTING OUT IN 15TH OR 20TH. THE WAY YOU BATTLED BACK TO THE FRONT OF THE PACK EVERY OPPORTUNITY IS INCREDIBLE. DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM IN THE PITS? DO YOU PLAN TO MAKE ANY CHANGES?
"Everything that happened on pit road this weekend was my fault. There's a couple of times I got impatient. The left side guys would go over to the left side to finish the stop and I'd get impatient and go ahead and take my foot off the brake and get it on the clutch and the gas, ready to dump the clutch and get off pit road and they're still changing tires. When I let my foot off the brake and they're hitting lugs it'll start turning the wheel and they can't finish hitting lugs. I tried to cover it up, saying that the brakes were messed up or something, but they weren't. We've struggled before on pit road and we have made a change as far as...we're trying out some guys on the back of the car as far as tire changers and tire carriers and whatnot, to try to get more consistent. We're not really looking for 13-second stops. We're just wanting people that can do good 14-second stops every time. It would be nice to gain a few spots here and there on pit road, but if you just come out where you were, it's good enough. But our car was so good this past weekend. It wasn't as good as Jeff's (Gordon) maybe at the end, but it had been earlier in the race. It was so good that coming out last didn't bother me. It was almost more fun to be able to come back through there and pass all them people over and over."
A LOT OF THESE GUYS AT THE TOP OF THE STANDINGS ARE DREADING TALLADEGA. THEY TALK ABOUT TALLADEGA BEING A CRAPSHOOT WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT THAT THE CONTENDERS DON'T HAVE?
"...I'm not in the points race, so I'm not quite as nervous about it. So I can go up there and take some more chances. I won't be as patient about it; I can just go right to the front if my car will go there. I don't know. I just like running in races, and even if you do get crashed out in a big mess, that's just what happens. You can't do nothing about them big wrecks. You can't really avoid them. If I was in the points race and got up in there and got crashed out and got a 35th-place finish out of the deal I'd be pretty upset about it, but I would still look forward to the next plate race. As competitive as our cars are, who wouldn't, driving them cars? Our cars just go right to the front, me and Michael's. We've got to work on Steve's a little bit and get his more competitive. When you've got cars as good as that, that can do things our cars can do, you just love to go to them race tracks."
OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS YOU'VE EMERGED AS ONE OF THE SPORT'S POPULAR PEOPLE. YOU'RE ALSO ONE OF ITS MORE REFRESHING. YOU'RE ALWAYS WILLING TO TELL US HOW YOU'RE FEELING AND WHAT YOUR THOGUTHS ARE. WITH ALL THIS FLAP ABOUT YOUR CONCUSSION, IF YOU HAD TO GO BACK AND COULD CHANGE ONE THING, WHAT WOULD IT BE? WOULD IT BE TO NOT KEEP IT A SECRET IN THE BEGINNING OR TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT A OUPLE OF WEEKS AGO?
"I probably would have told...I definitely, definitely, not probably, would have told Mike Helton and a few of the officials so they could be aware of it. They would have probably helped me with a better way of handling it. I'm not so sure I would have told anybody in the press unless that was in NASCAR's favor. I kind of hurt the trust between me and Mike a little bit. He's always been a real good friend of my father's and he's always kind of looked after me a little bit. And I feel like between me, him and several people at NASCAR, I didn't really do them any favors. I would've done it a little bit different."
SO THE ANSWER IS MAYBE BOTH?
"I think I told the wrong people at the wrong time."
OTHER THAN (SISTER) KELLY, WHO DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN TRUST? WHO CAN YOU GO TO NOW AS A MENTOR, AS THAT PERSON YOU NEED TO GUIDE OR DIRECT YOU AT SUCH A PIVOTAL POINT IN YOUR CAREER?
"Well, I talk to Dale Jarrett. I can ask him a lot of things and he could tell me. Even though we're competitors he genuinely wants me to succeed. Anybody that's like that is somebody you go to because they're going to give you what they think will help you. So, Dale Jarrett. Mike Helton can be very helpful, especially in his position. He can help me with a lot of business sense, because he's kind of over the top of everything and can see down (on) what everybody is doing. I go to Tony (Eury, car chief) Jr. and Tony (Eury, crew chief) Sr. quite often. I respect Tony Sr.'s opinion on a lot of things. He has a very stern outlook on life and can give you a good, strong opinion, and put you in a good direct tone towards something or outlook towards something. There's several people out there that help me with different things. It just depends on what the situation is, and the circumstance."
-team monte carlo-