NOTE: Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt announced Wednesday afternoon that Michael Waltrip would drive a third DEI NASCAR Winston Cup Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 2001 with NAPA as the sponsor. Earnhardt talks about his ...
NOTE: Seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt announced Wednesday afternoon that Michael Waltrip would drive a third DEI NASCAR Winston Cup Chevrolet Monte Carlo in 2001 with NAPA as the sponsor. Earnhardt talks about his decision to field a third team, why he chose Waltrip to drive the car, testing one-inch restrictor plates at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on Tuesday, this week's race at New Hampshire and last week's race at Richmond.
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "This is going to be a great race team right here to go with these other two great race teams (Steve Park and Dale Earnhardt Jr.). I think we're going to be a winner before long, and that's our direction. That's what we're focused on with the Budweiser and the Pennzoil cars, and I'm sure we can do it with this NAPA car because we've done it in the Busch Series. There's no reason for it not to win here. "We talked with Ron Hornaday (Earnhardt's BGN driver) and a lot of opportunities have opened up for him. He's been asking me what's going on and which way he should go. A lot of good things are going to happen for him, too. I know he's got several opportunities, and it might even be something that I'm involved with. Some people are interested in starting a Busch team, and they may carry Ron right along with them. "I've been talking with Mike for quite awhile about Winston Cup racing. We just felt like with what we've talked about before and what we can put together here, we felt like what we decided to do was the best thing to do. "Mike and I had talked about a week or so ago that he hadn't had anything put together with his situation that was that solid or he felt that good about. When this all started happening, it sort of made good sense to go see what NAPA thought about it. We haven't got a crew chief or a lot of things to go with the team, but we've got a good base to start with. We've got a lot of cars to build. Our engines are in good shape. "Michael drove my Busch car several times in years past. I've watched him quite a bit. Why he hasn't won races, I don't know. He should have won races. He's that good of a racer. In the right situation I think he can win, and we're going to give him the right equipment. If we do our job, he's a shoo-in to win. Michael is a young man, and the experience he has will help the team as much as anything. Sometimes it's better to start out with a little more experience in the car. I think Michael is the guy to put in here and do the job. "It's a pretty big commitment to start a third race team. Before you do that, you've got to have your support by your main sponsor, NAPA, but also Chevrolet and a lot of associate people are involved. Of course we've got Pennzoil and Budweiser's blessing before we went forward. A lot has happened in a week. We had agreements with our sponsors that we wouldn't do this unless it was all approved and gone forward with. It's a unique situation, and it's happened pretty quick. We're excited about it. The more we talk about it, the more excited we get about it. We've got a lot of great people that want to come on board as associate sponsors and a lot of people who want to work on the team. "It's going to be interesting (at New Hampshire). The jury is still out as far as I'm concerned on what kind of race it will be. It's really disappointing to see the cars go back to slower speeds as they're going to be running in a Winston Cup class of racing. It's the elite class of racing to me. That's why I'm there. The way we were testing yesterday, the Late Model Stock two-barrels were outrunning us. I don't know if we want to stay in this division that long. "That race track (New Hampshire) is no more dangerous than Indianapolis or any other race track we race at. Those walls are there to protect the fans. We've got to do the best we can to protect ourselves in the cars with safety equipment or whatever else we can do. The safety brake device that Jack Roush has developed is a positive, but you've got to make more than six of them. That's all they had at Richmond. That could help. I think that would be a better solution than to blame a race track. We race on all kinds of tracks and they're all dangerous if you look at them right. The job we have is racing, and to me, racing is go as fast as you can go. To slow us down slower than Late Model Stock cars is not the right thing to do. It's going to be a new race. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. "New Hampshire is a good race track. There's nothing wrong with that race track. We race at tracks that are just as dangerous. Look at any track and it's dangerous if you go fast and hit the wall. It's hard to blame a race track for something that's happened like that. You've got to go back and look at yourself and look at your equipment and what can I do to make it safer in the car for me, whether it be my helmet or my shoulder straps, the padding around me. All the guys working on the car have to look at the throttle and all the things that can go wrong. Mistakes get people hurt and get people killed, and big mistakes happened up there. There's an element of danger in any form of motorsports. I take that risk. This is Winston Cup racing, an elite sport. It's not Late Model Stock racing. You're talking about going to Greenville-Pickens and testing at a half mile and running just about flat out and having to shift at a half mile. What are they going to do when you get to Loudon? I'm worried about how it's going to turn out and how it's going to look. "At Richmond, getting a little breather in some points and gaining on some points really helped us. Still, we're 150 some points behind and just a couple in front of the rest of the guys. The points race is important. We're getting more excited about it. We can race 'em. We can beat 'em. We can do it. We've just got to keep the pressure on and go into that last race with a chance. If it came down to neck and neck (in season finale at Atlanta) like it did in the spring, it would be all right with me if there was just five points difference. "I want to get close enough to play head games (with points race). Really, the pressure is on now. The pressure is on them not to make mistakes and break something like they had at Richmond. They had a power steering problem. They can't make mistakes like that, and I can't make mistakes to beat them. The pressure is on big time right now on both sides. The pressure is on. "That was a good, clean race Saturday night. Park raced me five laps. He did his job. That's the kind of driver I want. If he had given me a break, that would have been a break I got, but he was driving that 1 car for Pennzoil and trying to do the best he could for them. He was racing. It would have been great for him just to have moved over. Then I would have raced Gordon, but it was a good night for us. It was a good rebound. We're excited about that. I'm concerned about NASCAR's decision (on 24's engine at RIR). "There's really not a rule about what happened, but again, it's NASCAR decision to do what they do, and I'll abide by whatever they decide. It might have been better if they said, 'hey guys, we found something here that's not right. Let's correct it over the board.' Fining the guy and taking points away, you're saying he's wrong. There's nothing in the rule book about the material. It's not black and white. That's why I think I would have said, 'we're going to say no to this in the future but let this deal stand.' To say he's wrong and fine him, now they're saying he's wrong. Then maybe I should have got the win if he's wrong."
MICHAEL WALTRIP (DEI Chevrolet Monte Carlo driver in 2001) "My emotions haven't changed at all. I've been very mellow over the whole deal. I couldn't allow myself to get too excited until it was all officially done. It wasn't officially done in my mind until yesterday. It was good to know that it was over, but I couldn't tell anybody. Now that we've told the whole world, it's a great feeling. It's a great feeling to be associated with such a winning organization. One of the guys in the motor room said, 'that's great. We had Darrell, now we've got his son.' "I hadn't signed a contract and had to get out of it (with present team). There wasn't anything ugly about the conversation with Jimmy Smith and I. It was very cordial, very polite. It went really well. "If I don't do the job, he (Dale Earnhardt) isn't going to be very happy. We haven't talked about what if you don't. That ain't what it's all about. He didn't put me in this spot because we are friends. He put me here because he thought I could do the job and represent NAPA in a professional manner. We'll just go do the job and not worry if he gets mad at me or not. "When you can step up a level and have confidence that you can get the job done, then you ought to take that step, and that's something I desperately wanted to do. I don't want to say I've rededicated my efforts toward racing in the last three or four years, but I've certainly not left any rocks unturned. If this means going and running five miles every day, I do it. If I need to lift more weights, I do it. If I need to go to the shop and see what they're doing there and help them, I do it. I just want to win, and I want to put in all the effort necessary. I don't want to walk away and say 'if I had of done this or that.' I don't think that's going to be possible now. I'm going to walk away and know that I've had the best chance I've ever had."