DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: "We've got basically the same set-up in the car we normally run here. I feel pretty good about it. We were really fast right off the bat. But it's real important to me and to our success...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
"We've got basically the same set-up in the car we normally run here. I feel pretty good about it. We were really fast right off the bat. But it's real important to me and to our success that we have long runs that are good. I've got to be real careful with the car and take it easy with the car when it's time to get out there and run. I've got to save the car and be real consistent. But I think we'll have a good car. It's felt pretty good the last couple of times."
DO YOU HAVE A TOP FIVE CAR, A WINNING CAR?
"Oh, yeah. You've just got to have the right things fall into place. It's one of those races - kind of like last week - where the winner sometimes emerges at the last minute with the last pit stop and who comes out in front ad all that kind of stuff. Hopefully we'll put ourselves in position."
DID YOU MAKE A LOT OF CHANGES TO THE CAR DURING HAPPY HOUR?
"We definitely made a lot of changes. We're trying to make the car better than it is. It's got a set-up that works good and that has run good here. We're just that much off from winning the race. We were a fifth or sixth place car the last couple of times we've been here. So we're just trying to improve on that. So we made a lot of different tries - a lot of different attempts on that."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
HOW WILL YOU DRIVE THIS RACE AND WILL THE WALL TELL THE STORY?
"I think it's already told the story of what it's going to be like tomorrow. We've seen more guys scrape the wall the last two days than I can remember in a long time here at Darlington. Tomorrow, it's going to be more important to race the race track more so than ever in the past just because the track is narrower than it's ever been and that wall is going to bite a lot of guys. It's our job to stay out of it. I think it's going to take a little bit away from the racing but I think it'll still make for an exciting race."
HOW WILL THE SAFER BARRIERS CHANGE THE SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING?
"I think it's just going to be that much tougher to get side-by-side. It's going to be that much tougher to get up to the guy. You can still pass, but you're going to see us trying to intimidate one another and force somebody to make a mistake more than have in the past instead of actually being able to race with the guy."
WILL YOU NEED TO HAVE MORE FOCUS THAN NORMALLY?
"I think so. Common sense and focus are going to be really important tomorrow."
WITH ALL THESE FACTORS, IS IT HARD TO ASSESS YOUR CHANCES FOR TOMORROW?
"I definitely think we have a top five car, but then I always do at Darlington. I just like Darlington. The track is different, but it's not that much different. It's still basically the same type of fundamentals that you would typically see at Darlington. The driver, car, crew chief, team, and set-up combination is what is going to make it happen."
HOW GOOD IS THE DEPTH PERCEPTION OF NASCAR DRIVERS TO ADAPT TO THIS NEW 30-INCH DIFFERENCE IN THE TRACK WIDTH?
"I do think depth perception is important as a driver, but I don't know if that wall being 30 inches closer means that much about depth perception. It's all about trial and error, really, more. You go out there and you know how hard you can drive into the corner based on how much the car slides up to the wall. The first couple of times you go out there, you take it a little easier than you have in the past and you learn where that wall is and how much speed you can carry. So it's still depth perception. It's all those things.
You just know how wide the cars are."
DO YOU HAVE TO TAP THE WALL TO KNOW HOW CLOSE IT IS?
"Yeah, I did that yesterday. So, I should know where it is now."
WITH THE RACING BEING SOMEWHAT BORING RECENTLY, SHOULD WE BE MORE PATIENT WITH THESE NEW SPOILER AND TIRE RULES?
"I think we need to have some more downforce taken out of these cars. That might help a little bit. We've still got a tremendous amount of downforce versus the tire that we have and I think that might help things a little bit."
SHOULD WE FIX THE TRACKS RATHER THAN FIXING THE CARS?
"That's not a bad idea. They fixed Homestead. If I could have them all, I'd love to have variable banking at every track we go to. That's more important, yeah, than fixing the cars. I agree with that."
ON FRIDAY'S PRACTICE SESSION:
"What we did yesterday was we put the car in race conditions. We opened up the grill and ran different springs and shocks. Robbie (Loomis, crew chief) talked about it earlier in the week. Once NASCAR gave us that extra set of tires, we didn't need to go out there and bonsai right from the beginning. We could go out there and run 10 or 15 laps to get a feel for how much that wall was moved in. I hit the wall on the 12th lap, came in on the 13th lap, and we put new tires on it (laughs)."
SHOULD THESE GUYS EVEN BOTHER TO FIX THE QUARTER PANEL DAMAGE?
"We didn't put new decals on it. We'll but them on now because we didn't put any on and I never touched the wall today. I'm hoping that's the same case tomorrow."
IF YOU DIDN'T TOUCH THE WALL TODAY, THEN YOU HAVE IT FIGURED OUT FROM YESTERDAY, RIGHT?
"No, not necessarily."
ON THE TIRES AND THE POWDERY RESIDUE:
"When you change the sidewall and the compound, the cars move around a lot more. They just give you a different feel and a different sensation. Depending on the compound is how it comes off the tires. All in all, I'm feeling pretty happy with the tire. I don't have any complaints. I just think the cars still have an awful lot of downforce."
ON KASEY KAHNE:
"I think he's talented. I think he's got a head on his shoulders. I like that. But that car ran awful strong at the end of last year. They figured some things out at the end of last year that have transferred over to this year. He's aggressive. He's smart. Those are great combinations."
IS HE THE NEXT JEFF GORDON?
"I don't know. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
DID YOU TEST AT BRISTOL OR TEXAS?
"I did not. We're saving our tests, man. There are only 10 races that count. Those are the last 10 and we are fifth in the points right now. We've been consistent. We're waiting to test at certain places. We'll probably test at Kentucky in a couple of weeks."
ON THE INCIDENT REGARDING TROUBLE WITH HIS AIRPLANE AND AN ENCOUNTER WITH A CINCINNATI TV STATION:
"It was an unfortunate situation. I hate that it happened. I was very frustrated, not only with what was going on with my airplane, but....
"The story has been very misconstrued. They have all the facts wrong and that's unfortunate too. But there's nothing more I can say other than I was frustrated, and at the time I certainly said some things I shouldn't have said. Somebody sort of egged me on and it is what it is. I can't take it back. You just learn from it - just like I do from everything else that's happened in my life."
WAS YOUR SAFETY THREATENED WITH THE PLANE AND WAS IT SCARY?
"It was scary. We were actually leaving Kentucky. We took off and had a light that came on on the dash that showed that there was a problem with the left engine. They shut the engine down and pulled the fire extinguisher because it said there was a fire in there. But there really never was a fire that we know of. But we turned around and came back and landed. We had to wait for a plane to come pick us up. I still don't know exactly what happened. I'm waiting to hear back right now."