DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW/AMP ENERGY/ NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the RIR incident with Kyle Busch, the All-Star race, the new Darlington track surface, his new car paint scheme, what it would mean to win at...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW/AMP ENERGY/ NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the RIR incident with Kyle Busch, the All-Star race, the new Darlington track surface, his new car paint scheme, what it would mean to win at Darlington, and more.
YOUR BIGGEST FRUSTRATION AT RIR LAST WEEKEND THAT YOUR TEAM DIDN'T GET WHAT THEY DESERVED. WOULD YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY IF YOU HAD IT TO DO AGAIN? "I don't know. There are a bunch of different things you probably could have tried to do. But I don't think anything would have won the race for me. We were all kind of going down in the corner too hard. But I couldn't go in the corner any harder. The points were the toughest part of it because I want to be able to make the Chase and feel comfortable that I make the Chase with a couple of races before we go back to Richmond so we can get really mentally prepared and physically prepared for the 10 races at the end of the season.
"I feel like we've got a good shot at challenging for the championship the way we're running. I know we've got a long ways to go 'til the end, but we just can't give up anything because we don't know where we're going to be. Knowing the kind of success we can expect to have at Sonoma and Pocono and places like that where I'm hot and cold; I make a lot of mistakes at those two places so I'm trying to get as many points as I can at tracks where we always do run well."
WHY DO YOU REMAIN SO DIPLOMATIC WHEN OTHER GUYS MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN OUT OF THEIR CAR AND BEAT ON KYLE BUSCH? "Well, I don't really know. I think it's because we're so busy and there are so many things going on. There are things that I've got to do during the week and my schedule is so busy that I just ain't got time for it. I'm in a bad enough mood just with the grind of the season that I just don't let those kinds of things get to me and get under my skin. I don't want to make an issue worse for me. I don't want to give anybody ammunition for me. We've got a lot of critics out there and a lot of supporters too, and I know they would have rather me have been a little more vocal and a little more angry about it. But there are just a lot of different reasons. I've got better things, more important things to worry about and if I let that get under my skin, everything I do this week is going to be a pain in my butt so it makes for a long week."
HAVE YOU AND KYLE BUSCH TALKED SINCE RICHMOND? "No, we haven't. We probably will. It ain't no big deal. There ain't no big rush."
TALK ABOUT THE NEW PAVING JOB AT DARLINGTON "Oh, it's remarkable. The track's great. It's in good shape. It's pretty warm today and we're running in the corner really fast and the track surface is holding up really well.
"The speeds are pretty insane. The grip is good. It's going to be interesting to see, really, how the cars are on 40 and 50-lap runs. Everybody is out there running three and four laps and doing okay, but it's going to be interesting to see who falls off a lot and who don't and who can maintain that kind of a pace. I think it's possible for somebody to be able to maintain a really fast pace. It's going to be very physical just driving that hard and that fast. It's going to be very physical on your body. It's different. It's pretty neat though."
IS THIS DARLINGTON? "Well, it's where I was headed this morning. I hope it is Darlington (laughs)."
TELL US ABOUT HOW SPECIAL YOUR 2000 ALL-STAR WIN WAS AS A ROOKIE "People ask me about what my biggest win was in my career and of course you say the Daytona 500. But I thought about it the other day and I came up with a good thought that to win the Daytona, we could have had a great chance to win and expecting to run well and win the race.
"I went into the All-Star race thinking I had no chance to win and thinking that I was just happy to be there and just tickled to be there. I couldn't believe that I was going to run in the All-Star race because I kind of dreaded being in the Open and not having a week off. But being an All-Star race was really cool. And there we were. I was passing for the lead and at the same time I was doing what I was doing; I couldn't believe it. And I still feel like that was the biggest shock for me, personally. It was great to celebrate that win in victory lane with Dad too. He was very, very proud of that race and I was so glad to have won it. For him, as an owner, he was proud of that, man."
ON THE NEW NO. 88 MOUNTAIN DEW PAINT SCHEME "It's really cool. I went to the shop. The car looks good. I came here and got in the fence a little bit and put a little stripe on it and man, it looks really realistic now (laughs). And it's fast. It handles good. I'm really happy with the guys and the preparation and really, how great the car looks. And we're running good today so far."
WHAT WOULD A WIN AT DARLINGTON MEAN TO YOU? "I'd love to win here because the track has a lot of history. A lot of great names have been in victory lane here. It's so tough to win. It's such a tough race track. And when you've won here, you're considered one of the tougher guys in the sport when you can conquer this race and conquer what this track throws at you. It's going to be a new ballgame with the pavement, but you'd still take just as much pride in winning at Darlington."
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR DAD'S 1995 SILVER PAINT SCHEME? DO YOU REMEMBER THAT? "Yeah. I thought, why is he running that silver car? It's crazy. It wasn't very good looking, I didn't think. But just like everything else, he knew before anyone else. He was a pioneer off the race track in a lot of ways and that was one of them. A special paint scheme. And I'm sure there are guys who can claim having special paint schemes before that, but he was the one that laid it down for the merchandise market and really got that idea in everybody else's head."
MORE ON THE DARLINGTON NEW SURFACE "It's smooth, really smooth. It's like Talladega when they did it. It's very smooth. It's very fast and I think it will be really fun next year and the year after that when it gets weathered. It's pretty good right now. Once the track loses grip and you can make gains in the corner. It's a little difficult to really challenge people I think for position because it's just so fast. Once the track loses a little grip, I think that's sensible to understand, that once after two or three years it's going to get even better. But they did a great job. It's really smooth. Hopefully it can hold up and we don't get any bumps and stuff that start to create and that we have to patch up like the old surface did."
YOU'VE RUN WELL HERE AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS RUN WELL HERE. DOES THAT GIVE YOU MORE CONFIDENCE THIS WEEKEND? "I've got it every week. I mean, yeah. We've been great. The car has been good. I'm very confident."
ON THE RICHMOND INCIDENT WITH BUSCH, AT WHAT POINT DO YOU PUT THAT BEHIND YOU? "We had to go to work at Charlotte and test. We worked hard on that test. I had a really good car there that I was really happy with. Getting back in the car and getting back to racing and getting to work is the best way to get over that. You sit home and it's hard to get over it because you're thinking about it and what you should have done; could have done and how it could have played out differently. And there is no real answer for that."
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT IT WAS AS BIG A TOPIC AS IT HAS BEEN? "No. It was a big deal, you know. It was a big deal. Somebody was saying the other day that was a bad deal; that was a bad deal. But it was a bad deal for me and I was pretty frustrated by it. But it's exciting for the sport. And whether I want to deny it or not, there are people out there that enjoyed it (laughs). Kyle has got some fans, I'm sure. And there are a lot of people that might not be his fans, but just don't like me. But it wasn't good for us and that was disappointing. And I wanted to get a better finish than 15th."
DO YOU SEE A NICE LITTLE TIDY RIVALRY GEARING UP LIKE THE ONE YOUR DAD HAD WITH JEFF GORDON WHEN HE FIRST CAME ALONG -- THE VETERAN AGAINST THE YOUNG GUY? "Yeah, I mean, we sort of pinned ourselves in that situation with the changes that were made for me and for him this year. And in a lot of ways there is a competitive 'us versus them versus us sprit' between him and I and between maybe the teams I guess. Mentally, you handle your business and you don't let it become a distraction. If Kyle outruns me or beats me or wrecks me and wins the race I've got to go out next week and just concentrate on what I'm doing. If I start trying to outrun him and beat him in every practice just to prove a point, I'm going to start wadding up race cars. He's fast, you know. He's an amazing race car driver with a lot of talent. I think the way he handled the situation this week at Charlotte was the best I've ever handle a situation. It's good to have rivalries. And if he's going to be the guy to beat, which I think he is right now, everybody is going to be watching his lap times and watching how fast he runs and stuff. So, when you're doing so good, there's a bit of a bull's-eye on you when you're out there, but I think he knows that."
AFTER SEEING THE REPLAYS, DO YOU STILL FEEL IT WAS A RACING INCIDENT? "Yeah, it was hard racing and it's avoidable, but I went in the corner. I blew Turns 1 and 2 real bad, so I went and pushed way up the track and he saw that and he almost had me cleared off (Turn) 2 and I got back beside him down the back straightaway and had a pretty good run and I went in the corner, I didn't go in there as high as I had been running. I went about a half car-length lower and I think he was anticipating me going in where I had been running. I anticipated him going on the bottom because he'd been running real tight on the apron. We both sort of ran into each other. It don't make it any better watching the replay. I can see where a lot of people think it was intentional. I don't think it was. I'm pretty sure it wasn't."
ON TONY EURY JUNIOR THE TEAM GETTING CALMED DOWN QUICKLY "Yeah, that's the deal. 'Pidge' (Jack Man, Rick Pigeon) went over there and talked to him, but 'Pidge' had worked with him. A bunch of them guys had worked with him. I guess in that situation, 'Pidge' felt personable about it. But we had a lot of family watching at home. We didn't want to embarrass them. And we've got a lot of fans that appreciate how you handle yourself; how you conduct yourself properly. It was a bad deal. And there wasn't nothing I could do after the race if over with to change how bad a deal it is. And Tony (Eury) Junior made the comment for everybody to be cool. I was surprised. That was cool of him. Smart. And I think it saved us from making comments that we would most likely want to retract or starting a fight with the media jabbing back and forth. That ain't no fun. So we saved ourselves a lot of grief. We're going to just try to get to victory lane this weekend. If we keep running good, we will."
EARLY IN THE SEASON, MANY DRIVERS ARE NOW IN CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS AND UNCERTAIN ABOUT THE FUTURE. TAKE US BACK TO LAST YEAR, WHAT DOES THAT DO TO A TEAM? "It's tough. In this day and age, you don't know who to believe. So no matter what the drivers say or an owner says, the team doesn't know who is right or who is telling the truth. You look a guy in the eyes and you can tell whether he is telling you the truth or not and you can tell whether you need to believe him or not, but it's hard. It's tough. You've got to try hard as a driver to keep the team together and keep the team fighting. I tell you that, the No. 8 bunch couldn't have done a better job last year with the situation they were in, even after they knew I was leaving. That was very commendable and honorable the way they handled that. They still worked hard and gave me great race cars and I think that's the best thing you can do. It's sort of like, okay, well, if this is the deal, let's just start throwing bombs, you know. Let's go for it. And it was fun. They worked hard and we worked hard and tried to do the best we could in what could have been a real miserable situation and a miserable last 10 races. It was actually a lot of fun."
ON GOING TO MYRTLE BEACH TODAY "I went to Myrtle Beach today for an appearance. The old race track looked pretty lonely."
SOME PEOPLE WANT TO COMPARE KYLE BUSCH TO YOUR DAD BASED ON DRIVING STYLE AND ATTITUDE. WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT ON THAT? "On the race track, there may be some comparisons there. He's fast. He's running well. He's quick. He's aggressive. This is Dale Earnhardt in '89 and earlier. Daddy quit doing that stuff after a while, you know. But that's the way Dad raced and Kyle has that same style. He's very aggressive.
WHAT ABOUT THE ATTITUDE? "Personality-wise, they are polar opposites. Give me a break. You knew my dad better than that. Give my dad a little more credit than that."
-credit: gm racing