DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO ON DEI'S DOMINANCE IN THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS. ALSO, TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON IN PARTICULAR: "As far as our restrictor plate program, I think a lot of the credit for that -- to get it to...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
ON DEI'S DOMINANCE IN THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS. ALSO, TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON IN PARTICULAR:
"As far as our restrictor plate program, I think a lot of the credit for that -- to get it to where it is now -- probably goes to Tony Eury and Tony Jr. They spent a lot of time, both of them --especially Tony Jr. -- learning about the bodies on those cars. It [goes] back to them when Dale Earnhardt Inc. was just a Busch team, winning five of the Busch races in a row with my father. They had good cars and good engines back then. It was all in the preparation of the car and shaping the C pillar this way and shaping it that way and learning how all those things affect the aero on the car and how it helps it. I think that's kind of where it all kind of started and it's just kind of spread out as the company grew. It kind of spread out throughout the rest of the company as far as the motor program and with all the new fabricators and everything we started to get. And now we got our own fabrication department, but Tony Jr. still spends time in there with the body and what's being done here, and what's being done there. And he has more input in those cars than I think you typically see with other race teams. From what I gather -- I'm not for sure -- I don't think that other teams actually spend that much time I think like Tony Jr. does in the body department working on the speedway cars like he does. That's kind of where it stemmed from. If you look back, we always have had great restrictor plate cars, and when Dad was driving the Busch cars. It's always kind of been out strongpoint since the beginning. Still today we put a lot of the emphasis on these four races And because we always have been good at them, we always look forward to them, look forward to coming and running well at them. I mean Richie Gilmore and all the guys in the motor department are finding little pieces and bits of pieces of horsepower here and there that helps out a lot. Tony Jr. -- I can't say that he's taught all the fabricators everything they know; they come in there and teach him a lot of new things and stuff over the years; it just makes him even better. I think that's the core reason as far as how we ran over the last several years at the restrictor plate (races) because of those two guys.
"As far as the season goes, it has been a bit of a disappointment so far. We started off the season running real well at some race tracks that we normally didn't run well at like Darlington, and Martinsville and Bristol. I was joking. We were testing somewhere a couple of weeks, and we were joking that right around Martinsville when the inspectors started talking about traction control and all that stuff I guess we took ours off and everybody still got theirs. I think it all has [gone] downhill pretty good since the California race, where we got wrecked pretty hard there. It's surprising to me, and I've seen it with our team and other teams in the past what a race like that can do to you and how it can really take the wind out of your sails. It just seems like we haven't been able to rebound. We thought we'd go to Charlotte and be able to run well and maybe get back on track and we were kind of doing great in that race until we had some trouble with a lapped car. It could have been just as much my fault putting myself in that position. You have to be careful who you race and how you race with certain people. We didn't get a chance to take advantage of having a good race track like Charlotte. We ran good in The Winston, but that has no bearing, no effect. It builds no momentum , I think, like you would imagine for the rest of the season. It doesn't do what maybe winning the World 600 or something like that would do for you. We haven't been able to turn around. We had a couple of decent runs here and there. We were OK at Pocono and some other places, but nothing that really has been able to help us out and get us back on track. Coming in here we've got a great positive attitude, but with the luck we've had in the past we're pretty much expecting anything to happen. That's kind of been the season for us; we've been to tracks without a lot of high expectations and done well, and the tracks we go to where we feel like we can look forward to something good, we don't get that result. I know we'll be strong this weekend; I just hope that we can capitalize on that opportunity and finish well."
UNLIKE YOUR TEAMMATES, ARE YOU STILL GOING THROUGH THE RE-SIGNING PROCESS WITH DEI? WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER RESURRECTING THE NO. 3 AND HAVING YOURSELF DRIVE IT?
"I'm reading over my contract right now that DEI proposed about two weeks ago. I'm just kind of going through and making a few changes that I'd like to have. It should take me a couple more weeks. I'm a little slow about it, but I just want to make sure that it's cool. I've thought about driving for other teams, just always wondered what that would be like; I always drove for my father or in a roundabout way drove for him. And I've always kind of wondered what it would be like to drive for another race team or something like that. But there's probably advantages to that that I don't have now, but there's also disadvantages and securities and comforts that I'd probably be giving up to go do that, so it's kind of difficult sometimes to really see the vision that you need to see. I know what I need to do is stay with DEI and try to become a bigger part of that company and try to be a part of the success that it will have in the future. I'm just trying to sell the rest of myself on that. It's kind of difficult at times. I want to put myself in a position, if I haven't already, to win championships and to win races and that's what really matters to me. I just want to make sure that I'm with the right program. Some people may find that a little conceited, but I feel like I, like any other race car driver, has to think about those things and has to always check yourself and look around and see if you feel like you're in the right position. 'Cause there's nobody really looking out for even me, so you got to make sure you're doing the right things. I'm pretty happy with the team, the team's great. There really aren't any negatives right now. We've got areas, just like other race teams, that could use some polishing and stuff. I just can't figure out why we can't be competitive every week. I don't know what it is and how to get that. Hopefully, we will just grow and continue to get better. That's really the way it happens or it has happened to me in the past is you don't really change what you're doing you just show up one week and you're a winner. And you stay that way consistently. Our highs are so high and our lows are so low, so it kind of takes its toll on you after a while."
WHAT EXACTLY IS YOUR ROLE AT DEI OTHER THAN DRIVER?
"Well, I don't really have any kind of label or anything like that that I can put on myself, but I, just as well as many other people like Richie Gilmore, assist Ty Norris in some decisions that he may make; or he may ask for advice or I may give it to him from time to time. I like to feel like I have an influence on some of the decisions that are made. Aside from that, I'm somebody that talks to employees, somebody employees can talk to about what's happening, why we made this decision or is this the best thing to do or what do you think about this or what do you think about that. I don't think I will ever be able to fulfill a fraction of the role my dad played in the company. But he was that kind of guy that we don't have anymore that the employees could come up to and say, man, I really wanted to get these couple of days' vacation and what can I do to make it up or make it happen -- those little personal problems and personal issues and maybe questions about decisions we made at the race track and things like that too. I try to be that when and if I can. It's so early to tell right now. You want to snap your fingers and be the man, but I think the best thing for us as a future (is) we eventually have to bring somebody in that can be the president of the company that can make major decisions. Underneath that, I think we need some sort of a committee, some sort group of people such as myself and Ty Norris and Richie Gilmore to help make decisions over each certain department. We do plan on putting together a Busch program in the next year so that's going to be just another department, another faction to deal with."
STARTING IN RICHMOND, YOUR TEAMMATES' FUTURE WITH DEI WERE BEING CALLED INTO QUESTION. MICHAEL (WALTRIP) HAS PICKED UP THE PACE SINCE THAT TIME AND STEVE (PARK) HAS LEVELED OFF. WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THEM IN THE FUTURE? AND, HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY FIGHT OFF THE DOLDRUMS OF THIS 20-WEEK RUN?
"We're really happy with Michael. Any car owner would be happy with his performance. We feel pretty happy with him. His team's really happy with him. That's what's important. Michael's a good race car driver. He wouldn't be in this business for so many years if he didn't have a purpose and (was) an asset to a race team. What we had difficulty with, aside from the poor performance, was the morale of the team. He has to have people, just like any other race car driver, that are behind him one hundred percent. That's what we have now, and that's what we didn't have. Any race car driver knows no matter how good you are if your team doesn't believe in you and they're not going to back you in all situations you are out there by yourself. And you can't drive a race car like that. He's got that now and that's how his confidence level is increased dramatically and he's just a totally different person form what I've seen over the past six months. I've talked to several of the crew members personally, and they're all really, really satisfied with him and they would personally (like) the rumors about him and his future end so that they can carry on and try to build toward next year and making a run at the points championship. As far as Steve, he has leveled off, and that's not acceptable. He feels the same way. Hewants to get back to where they were before the injury to where they were running in the top five and placing themselves in the top10 in points. His opportunity of finishing well in the points is shot to hell, but he can still put himself in a position to do that next year and get the team back. They need to end this year on a good, confident note. We have a lot of little things to resolve with that team to get that team to where they can put the car back underneath him. And I think he has a lot of things to do personally to where he can get confidence in himself and his race cars to be able to finish better. We're waiting out the rest of the year and continuing to try to improve that and maybe we can get that in that direction by the end of the year.
"As far as the season, I think over the just past a couple of years I've learned a lot about the Winston Cup schedule and the responsibilities away from the race track and stuff like that. It's kind of tough sometimes. Sometimes you try to separate yourself from it so much that you really forget what your role in the whole thing is. The first year I really concentrated so hard on trying to come out there and do what I did in the Busch Series, and we were all so disappointed that we didn't win races and run better that we just got angry with ourselves and disappointed. We failed pretty miserably there the last half of the year. When you take those kind of things as personally, as I do and as Tony Jr. and Tony Sr. do, it shows on the whole team. You bring that attitude back to the company, you bring it back to your family, and it makes life difficult. Last year we just didn't take it so seriously, I guess for lack of a better term, but there were times when that can get you in trouble too. There's a happy medium in there somewhere where you can concentrate and drive your race car and take care of that primary job and make everybody else happy at the same time without working your fingers to the nub."
IT'S TOUGH DRIVING AND MAKING APPEARANCES:
"It is. I had a hard time seeing the whole picture and seeing the reasoning and the purpose behind a lot of things we do or have to do. Everybody's got their opinion."
TALK ABOUT YOU AND SAM HORNISH IN BUSCH:
"We are putting together a Busch team. Me and my stepmother Teresa are going to be partners in the project and I personally wanted to do it No. 1 because I wanted to run the July race in Daytona this year, but we couldn't get it put together quick enough. The other reason was I wanted to run the July race in Daytona next year and the 300 in February, and the Talladega race as well. I just like running those tracks so much, (they're) so much fun. I like drafting and those are the two best places to get that. It was something that I wanted to do actually solely on my own and Teresa and Ty (Norris) thought that it would be better if me and her went into it on a partnership where we could tie it in with DEI a little more as far as employees and how the program developed and how it would complement our Cup teams in the future. With that in mind I plan on running those races next year and bringing in possibly Sam and maybe someone else to run anywhere from six to 10 (races), maybe even more than that. It should be a lot of fun just doing that. I'm going to have hopefully a lot of input on the personnel that works within the team and how the cars are built and kind of down to the brass specifics of what goes on with the team and try to learn a little bit about what DEI is all about and try to -- without putting my driving career in trouble -- try to learn more about being a car owner and more of what those things [entail]."
WHAT WOULD BE THE NAME OF THE TEAM? "Well, we haven't decided yet. We're working on that."
YOU ARE ODDS ON FAVORITE HERE:
"I like it. There's not many times I ever came into a Winston Cup race feeling like a heavy favorite. It's a good feeling. I feel like a heavy favorite. We're definitely the guy to beat. That's a good feeling. It should be a lot of fun. Never, like I said, (I) never went into a race weekend where I was a heavy favorite. I've wanted to come in here with the attitude that they're going to have to take it from me if they want it. With the luck we've had, I'm looking over my shoulder."
LAST YEAR'S RACE. WHERE WILL THAT MOMENT OF EXHILARATION YOU SHARED WITH MICHAEL RANK IN YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS?
"My dad and Michael were really, really good friends and they shared quite an interesting relationship. Even though there was quite an age difference between the two of them they seemed to really enjoy spending a lot of time together just as if they were high-school friends. I always kind of envied that relationship that my father had with Michael because I thought that me and Michael was a little closer to my age, that me and him would have made pretty good friends. He had been in the sport for so long and he was such a good personality and it was always fun to have him around. I remember when I was hanging around the shop working on my Late Model Michael would come over with Buffy and stuff and they would ride horses with Dad and whatnot and just hang out. I feel like the son that's kinda hanging around, and aggravating them, but it was pretty neat to hang out with Michael and be around Michael. And then when they talked about him driving for us I was like, wow, that would be great, we'll be teammates. Well be just like buddies. I've always wanted that relationship with Michael to be friends and be able to hang out and do the things that him and Dad did together. So, it was pretty cool when we won that race together and how we've kind of teamed up over the past couple of restrictor-place races to get to victory. You see, as his performance gets better, his competitiveness comes out in him and we almost get to the point sometimes where we vie over who should've won, who should've followed who. But I feel like, no matter what the feeling is going into the race, when it comes down to it we got each other's back. If we don't do it for ourselves we do it for Daddy. What matters is to get a win for DEI and the Cup is definitely priority over any individual."
WE READ SOMEHWERE THAT YOU CAN'T WAIT TO HAVE A KID AND BRING HIM TO DAYTONA. WHAT DOES THE SPEEDWAY MEAN TO YOU?: DO YOU HAVE THE URGE TO SETTLE DOWN?
"There ain't no rush. I think every guy looks forward to fatherhood and having that chance to do some of the things you did with your dad. Losing my father may have accelerated that just a little bit, but, like I said, I ain't in no rush. I want to make sure that she's the right girl. This race track was something special to me since the first time I ever came here. I remember, this was one of the first races that my dad took me to when I went to live with him in 1981. He brought me and my sister out here for the July race and we would come every year after that and we would stay at the hotel and go down to the beach. It got to where Dad couldn't go down to the beach so we just hang out at the track and stuff, or rent a house at Spruce Creek or something like that. I've got a lot of memories of coming here. This was kind of our family vacation for so many years. To have been here so many times, to have done so many things here, have so many fond memories here, the amazing thing is that I never saw a Daytona 500 until I drove in my first one in the 2000 season. I was here for those couple of years on Saturday for the Busch race, but I'd always go home as soon as the Busch race was over with. It's a great place; I have always enjoyed coming here."
YOU'VE GOTTEN AN INORDINATE AMOUNT OF ATTENTION HERE. FROM YOUR OWN PERSPECTIVE. DO YOU EMBRACE THIS ATTENTION?
"Here recently I have heard and fielded a lot of questions about being that kind of person or one of the key people in the sport. They have this thing in the Charlotte Observer every year where they have the 25 most powerful people in motorsports, or in NASCAR. Me and Teresa shared No. 5. So I thought that was pretty cool. That was a big accomplishment. That probably meant more to me than winning any race or any championship. But, because we win championships to achieve power, to achieve authority. That's everybody's role in life, is to gain authority and to gain power and that's the main drive of anybody, I believe. So that was pretty interesting. I want to have that not just because of what I do on the race track. I think I've got a lot more things to offer than just winning a couple of races here and there and having a couple of cool articles in a few cool magazines and stuff like that. I think that personally there's a lot more to it than that. Hopefully, as I get several more years under my belt and a few more people will find me a little more credible, we'll find out."
YOU DON'T THINK YOU'RE CREDIBLE NOW?
"I'm only in my third season. I am the son of one of the greatest drivers. I'm not quite one of the greatest drivers yet. I'd like to be in the next 50 greatest drivers of NASCAR book that they put out. Maybe when they revise the thing, (they could) plug a few out, put me in there."
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING ON MONDAYS?
"I don't know. Normally, when I go home, I go to my office, my sister runs pretty much everything in my life personally and financially right now. I go in there and check with her. She's always got a whole stack of things for me to do. You tie up all your loose ends and then you go to the race track and you come back home and they're all untied again. It's a vicious cycle; it's a lot of fun, though."
ON THE YOUTH MOVEMENT IN NASCAR. THAT RACE YOU HAD IN THE WINSTON. WHAT DID YOU SAY TO RYAN NEWMAN AT THE END OF THAT?
"The youth movement is due to a lot of reasons. These are great race car drivers that are coming into the sport. Talent is talent. You can have talent; it doesn't choose age. Age is really not a factor as far as how much talent you have. There are guys that could be in the sport that aren't even old enough yet. The younger you are, there's a certain brashness that has to be polished and there's some aggression that isn't commonplace nor is it tolerated, I think, in the sport anymore. You could get away with it back in the day; they don't put up with it anymore. I think it's a lot of fun. These guys are with great race teams, proven race teams. They've got good cars and good equipment. I don't want to say anything that's going to take away from Jimmie Johnson or any of those guys because they definitely deserve to be here. I'm kind of surprised, definitely. I'm just as surprised as you all as how Jimmie's ran. It wasn't an impossibility. You know he's a good race car driver and he's had success pretty much everywhere he's been. He's smart. I don't know if any of you all had sat down and actually talked to him, but he's pretty intelligent. I think Ryan is the same way. Ryan is very calculating in his mind, even in the garage area if you stand there and watch him, the gears are always turning. Those guys aren't just going by the seat of their pants; I think that they know what they're doing and they're using their heads."