DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVRLET MONTE CARLO - qualified 2nd: "We got here today and thanks to NASCAR, we had four sets of tires instead of three. We were able to do some race runs and get acclimated to the race track. We ran a lot...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVRLET MONTE CARLO - qualified 2nd:
"We got here today and thanks to NASCAR, we had four sets of tires instead of three. We were able to do some race runs and get acclimated to the race track. We ran a lot of laps. When we went into qualifying trim, I'd already had quite a few laps on the car and I felt comfortable. The car was real quick right away. Tony Jr. had put a great set-up under the car and I was able to drive the car around the track with relative comfort. That was good. It was nowhere near as fast as Kasey (Kahne) here. I was happy with how we continued to improve here at Darlington."
HAS YOUR ATTITUDE AND TEAM CONFIDENCE TURNED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?
"I feel pretty confident. We went to Texas and had a pretty decent test there. I look forward to those races more so than I did. A lot of the concern that I had leaving Vegas has left. We still need to test at tracks similar to Vegas - high entry-cornered tracks and I'm looking forward to that. This is just a qualifying effort and not really a reflection of how good or bad this team is. We've still got to keep working one day at a time and keep focusing on how the car handles and drives and not really be thinking about anything other than that."
ON THE FIRST FEW LAPS WITH THE CAR RIGHT OFF THE TRUCK
"That's really the true moment when you find out what kind of car you have for the weekend are those first few laps on the race track, even in qualifying trim. Rarely, if you've been way off in qualifying trim, have you put the car up front in the race. We've been able to do that just a few times. It sets the tone for the weekend. If your car is good and comfortable, you start off with that foundation to build on, it's relatively easy the rest of the weekend to continue to be that good and to work with the car and try to tweak on it and improve it. But if, after those first few laps, you've got a long way to go, you realize how far you are and it makes for a long weekend and a difficult week. We try to minimize those as much as we can by testing as often as possible."
ON THE SAFER BARRIERS
"I was as concerned as anybody else. I feel like there was a lot of concern as to how different the track was going to be. We came out here last night and rode around the track in the golf cart a little bit and it looks like they took a lot of race track away. But when you get out there in a car, it doesn't feel any different.
"I can't really tell one difference in driving the track if I'm not doing anything differently than I would be before except that I'm doing it 60 inches smaller than I was before. It doesn't drive any different. I'm not having to turn sharper or do anything strange that's uncomfortable or not normal to me. I'm pretty happy about that, actually. The track is in decent shape. There are a lot of patches that are rough and that make for a rough ride, but overall the car seems to stick to the track real good."
HOW IS THE RACE GOING TO BE ON SUNDAY WITH THE SAFER BARRIERS AND WHEN THE TIRES START TO WEAR?
"I think everybody here knows what my opinion of this place has been over the years. I feel like the racing tomorrow and Sunday won't be any different than it's been here in the past. We don't run side-by-side here any more than we have to. We weren't running through those corners side-by-side before. I don't think you'll see more or less of it. You go into Turn 3 with two choices: the top or the bottom. Turn 1 is still basically one choice. The track is not a whole lot different. That 30 inches of race track is noticeable, but it doesn't change anything."
ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT TIRE RUBBER UP NEAR THE TOP?
"Well, yeah. When you mention that, this is what comes to mind for me. It might not be what some of the other drivers are talking about. Where we run right up against the wall in Turns 1 and 2, we'll keep that clean (by) just running there. It shouldn't be a problem. Where it's going to be a problem is off of Turn 2 as we start to come back off the wall down across the bottom of the race track and then back up to the top. In that pocket there, if you well, that's where the particles will start to gather.
"With this new tire and this type of rubber, it seems to be more of a powder. When it wears off and flies up onto the hood it's more of a powder than actual marbles. When you run through that, it's really slick. So when a guy steps out of the groove, he's going to have to let up quite a bit and check up quite a bit. If he doesn't get run over and doesn't get into the wall, he'll be real lucky. But I think we'll keep it just as clean and race-able as we have in the past except for the dust/ash instead of the marbles we used to have."
IS THIS THE SAME TYPE OF POWDER YOU SAW IN LAS VEGAS?
"Yes. It's really funny. If you ever mess with radio-controlled cars and they have foam tires, if you balled it up it's more like foam than a hard marble. It's pretty interesting. That tells you there is a huge difference, maybe not in the compound or the hardness of the compound, but the type of rubber being used today on these new tires."
ON DERRICK COPE QUALIFYING WELL TODAY?
"I was surprised, just like everybody else. But I saw him run last week and he was competitive with a lot of people. When that team was being put together last year and during the off-season, people looked at that team as though they were a field filler. Last week was my initial noticing of him running competitively. They're really coming to the race track with a legitimate effort to run competitively. It's pretty cool. They are like an out-of-the-box team that's pretty competitive. It's a concrete team. Good job for those guys and good job for Derrick Cope in coming back into the sport and being competitive with all the things that have changed over the past few years."
ARE YOU SURPRISED WITH THE WAY KASEY KAHNE IS STARTING THE SEASON?
"No, not really. Kasey is a great race car driver. He compares to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. But that's kind of his background. Those drivers seem to come into this sport and do well right off the bat. Obviously, he's gotten into a great race car and a great race team and a great race team owner in Ray Evernham. He has a pretty good clean path cut for him as far as competitive equipment goes. That counts for a lot. If you put a guy in those cars who can get the job done, they're going to run up front. That's what they've done. Kasey is a good enough driver and they've got a great combination."