Darlington II: Dale Earnhardt Jr - GM interview

DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: "We hit the wall during practice and had to go to a backup car, but it's actually a little faster than the first car. It's a car we haven't run this year. We ran it last year and had...

DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:

"We hit the wall during practice and had to go to a backup car, but it's actually a little faster than the first car. It's a car we haven't run this year. We ran it last year and had lots of success with it. It drives really good. I don't really know what happened. I was coming around Turns 1 and 2 and got a little bit up out of the groove and got into the fence. It happens. I wasn't too worried about it. We always carry good race cars to the race track and anytime we tear up our primary car, I feel pretty confident about what we've got in the trailer. If there is a consolation to it, it happened early. We did get a couple of laps in today so if we get rained out tomorrow we have an idea of what to put under the car for the race."

IS THIS RAINOUT A DOUBLE BREAK FOR YOU?

"We didn't get any qualifying runs in practice. We had our car in race trim the whole time. It would have been nice to get a lap or two in. But I wasn't too concerned. I didn't have a lot of high expectations going into qualifying here regardless. It's awesome to get a good starting spot in clean air and to get going. But your car has got to be good. But yeah, it's a break to start up front."

DID YOU GO TO A BACKUP CAR BECAUSE IT BENT THE ROLLCAGE?

"Due to the fact that you hit the wall here a lot in the race, the guys put a four-by-four square piece of lumber down on the right side about mid-way up the door. It welds into place into the roll cage, the main hoop bar, and in the front and when it hit the wall - it hit hard and knocked the breath out of me - and when it moved that lumber it pushed that mound into the hoop bar and bent the bar. So it pretty much knocked the cage out of the car. Tony Jr. said he doesn't know if he can fix it. We might have to make a showcar out of this one."

ON ONE THROUGH 10 IN THE CHASE STARTING IN THAT ORDER ON SUNDAY

"It's such a long race. Everybody will be somewhere else in 40 or 50 laps. It's probably good for all the Chase guys to get such great starting spots - especially this late in the Chase with only two races left. We'd like to keep that track position all day long.

"Track position is really important here. It's easy to pass if you've got a good enough car that runs good on old tires, but it's difficult to pass here. There's not a lot of grip. Other than that, it's great exposure for the top 10 and the press."

HAS THIS TRACK GROWN ON YOU OVER THE YEARS?

"Actually, I've had a lot more fun in the Busch car here. I've had some pretty good runs. The competition level in the Busch Series at that time was such that you could get in there and get a top 10 even if you didn't know what you were doing. And I really didn't. But I've tried and tried to learn this place and get better at it. It kind of boggles you how a guy like Kurt can come in here and it matches his personality and style or whatever. It doesn't necessarily have a lot of characteristics that I tune into like other tracks. I try to keep an open mind. It's a tough track.

We've had a couple of good cars here. We've led a lot of laps here. We're just not very good here on old tires. We're good for about 40 or 50 laps and we start to drop off quicker than a lot of guys do. But we're tying to work on it. We're always a better team. That's one thing I appreciate with my guys. We just get better each week and each year. It's been six months since we've been here last time and I'm excited to see how much better a team we are now. Hopefully it's enough. This track and Homestead aren't necessarily our strong points, so we have to step up."

ON HIS TEST SESSION AT HOMESTEAD

"We tested pretty good there. There were some guys who were better. We were having a tough time getting the car to keep turning. It just tightens up so quickly there. Martin got in the car and ran some fast laps in it. He's got a lot of talent. He and Tony Jr. work really good together. He just got in the car for five minutes and we worked on some things with him. He ran some pretty good laps late in the day. The track is fast in the morning and late in the day. You try not to think you're better than you are. I was pretty happy with the test. I think we can be a lot better. We learned a lot of things we didn't get to try right there at the end. I think we'll be better when we go back."

WITH SUCH A GRINDING SCHEDULE FOR THE PAST 8 WEEKS, WILL YOU BE RELIEVED WHEN THE CHASE IS OVER?

"I feel really good. It's been busy. And we have been running a hard pace. Comparing it to last year and other years that I've been in the Cup Series, it's been really hectic. We've been really busy and traveling a lot. Having the Chase at the end of the season and we obviously saved a lot of tests so we're testing a lot now. You get down a month or so before the last race and the sponsors see there are a couple of appearances left and they try to cram them all in. We're knocking out a lot of appearances. We had a lot of stuff postponed because of the recovery time after the fire in July. We had a lot of make-up stuff to do. Me and my buddies like to go out as often as we can, but I haven't been out for about six weeks. That's probably a personal record. It's probably for the best because you get in a mode and just keep turning it out. For some reason that works for me because I feel refreshed. It doesn't feel like the end of the year to me. I'm guarding my off time like a pit bull. Hopefully we can keep December and January cleared up. We've got a lot of people wanting commercials shot and stuff like that. Hopefully we can have some fun with my family during New Year's. But I feel great.

"But I like kind of like the Chase. That's one thing about it. It keeps you turning it out week after week and keeps you busy. We've got two wins in the last few races and a lot of good finishes and stuff to be proud about."

IN PAST RACES AT DARLINGTON, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'RE MISSING THAT ONE ELEMENT. WILL LIMITED PRACTICE PLAY INTO THAT?

"Some guys just come in here from the beginning and they get it. They figure it out. Guys like myself just have to continue to work at it and work at it. I don't know whether this will be the weekend or not. I just want to get in here and have a solid run. Hopefully at some point in the race this car is doing what I want it to do. That's actually what I call success at Darlington. If you do figure the race car out, it gives you a positive outlook for the rest of the race. Today, we ran a couple of fast laps. We were consistent. We stayed in the lower second bracket for a while longer than most guys did on race trim. I think I've got a good long-run car this time."

WITH SUCH A LARGE FAN BASE, DO YOU FEEL ADDED PRESSURE TO SATISFY THEM?

"My fan base doesn't give me a lot of pressure. It's all welcome. They know how racing is. We're up and down. It seems to me that everybody is missing the point that there's another year and many more years to race. Everybody puts a lot of pressure for some reason that this is the championship to win. We're going at it as hard as we can. We've had some stumbles at Atlanta and Martinsville. So we're going to have to come from behind. We're trying as hard as we can. But, no, my fans have been really great. One of the things that you worry about the most - or I did when I was younger - is that when you lose you're going to watch all the guys change shirts in the grandstand. But they don't do that. Fans are really loyal. They're diehards. I've had the same email address for about 10 years and it's gotten out. I get emails from fans when I don't run good about keeping my head up. That's some of the best medicine when you have a bad weekend."

IT'S BEEN 10 YEARS SINCE YOU FATHER WON HIS LAST CHAMPIONSHIP. DO YOU FEEL PRESSURE THERE ALSO?

"I really hadn't thought about it. But it would be awesome to win the championship due to that statistic, I suppose."

ON MARTUN TRUEX JR'S SUCCESS IN THE BUSH SERIES, HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SPEND SOME TIME WITH HIM?

"They have had an awesome season. They've done a great job. After the races there have been a couple of situations where it got a little heated on the race track. I've tried to talk to him about keeping his head on his shoulders and not making a fool out of himself on national TV. The things he says carry a lot of weight. The first impression means everything and that's what this first year has been to everyone. He's handling himself really good and remaining calm. But when things went the way they did for him at Kansas and they could have lost a lot of points, that's the scare for a team that's used to running really well. They've got to come back next week and block all that out. They've faced that well. I really believe in that team. They need to spend another year in the Busch Series before making the move into NEXTEL Cup Series. They realize that too."

WHAT'S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TONY JR AND TONY SR. MORE FAMILY OR BUSINESS?

"It's a lot more family, I think, than professional - which I like. We're always going to have our disagreements. We're so used to it and it's so common to us that we don't probably do as good a job as we can to hide it from everybody else because we know that five minutes later everything is hunky-dory. So we got in a little bit of an argument - not really an argument - at Phoenix about whether to pit or not to pit and it was made into a big deal on an MSN news-flash that Earnhardt and crew chief argued - whatever. I thought it was really funny. I don't even remember what was said but that's normal conversation for me and him.

"One of the things that Tony, Jr. did that I thought was really cool was after Atlanta he came and met me at the bus before he left and said that he wasn't mad at me because I felt personally that I had made the mistake and cost us a lot of points and opportunity. That was the first time he had ever come to me and said, don't worry about us, we are cool and we are behind you. That is one of the things that is really cool about us and we both are doing better is because we have both grown up a lot. We both had gotten pretty down on each other and hard on each other at one point and both of us were thinking about what it would be like to work with someone else and maybe that would be better for both of us but I think in the last year and a half, we have made a pact with each other to be together throughout both of our careers whether we run first or last, we still would rather be together than work with anyone else. There are times when I eat those words but for the most part I think that he is such fun to be around, such a good guy, such a good car chief-we don't even have labels any more for him and Tony Sr. because they kind of work as one.

"Tony Sr. understands his position and understands he can't cap his son from moving up, and kind of move aside a little bit at a time and allow Tony Jr. to take on the responsibility he is able to handle. It is working really well too. The only thing is whether DEI is willing to pay two guys the same salary, that is the hard part about it. As far as I am concerned I hope they both keep coming to the racetrack with me for a long time. We have talked about all kinds of situations where there be a day that Tony Sr. doesn't come to the racetrack with us but I hope it isn't anytime soon.

ON THE CHANGES IN THE PROVISIONAL SYSTEM IN CUP

"There are obviously pros and cons it won't be good obviously for guys not in the top 35 in points. It is something that they are going to have to do and learn to see if there are any repercussions from it and understand it. I don't think we can sit here and make assumptions about what might become reality. We are just going to have to see how it works. There will be some stuff that affects something negatively that might have to be fixed but I kinda think personality that it should a free for all and everyone gets the same opportunity no matter who you are because there are going to be new teams that come in to the sport and will find it difficult to make it because of those kind of limitations and restrictions. I think everybody should get the same opportunity, everybody gets the same chance to make the field and no one is cut out because of that."

WITH TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS ON THE LINE, HOW DO YOU SWITCH BETWEEN BEING DRIVER AND OWNER?

"I really have missed out on a lot of cool stuff this year with the Chance 2 program due to the Cup schedule, how we have ran this year, how much attention I have had to pay to the Cup car, I haven't really been able to be at the shop and with the guys as much as I want to. I haven't had the chance to connect with that Busch program as much as I used to. Last year when we were running with Hank, I was there every day, I knew everything that was happening and we were all on the same page. But now with the way this year has gone, there has been a lot of responsibility put on Richie's shoulders to do the right thing. Bono gathered a lot more responsibility and it is all working great and they are handling it great. I am missing out on a lot of cool stuff but it is easy to be a car owner when the car is running good. They have done a great job this year. Martin is easy to work with. We have a lot of similarities and common interests in stuff. He has really handled himself very well. I thought there might be a lot of time where he would do something or say something and I would think 'Man I should have been there to help him with that. I should have told him about that or warned him about that or helped him with that.' But he hasn't done that, I haven't had to worry that I didn't get a chance to give him a tip on how to handle certain situations.

"He has handled everything pretty much the same way I would have done it and what I would have expected of him. He has made it really easy for me. I look forward to the race this weekend. We have a really really really really really cool paint scheme on his car that was all my doing. This is one of the only things I can take full credit for. We did the Wrangler deal and they have this new generation and they were wanting to stick with that theme but I asked them 'Man, one of the main reasons I did this promotion was to be able to run one paint scheme of my choice and this race is it.' So I am really excited about this weekend. I really told him I would like him to wrap up the championship in the Wrangler car if he could. No offense to our Bass Pro Shop relationship but that is just such a cool car. We have a chance to wrap up the owner's deal this weekend so that is awesome and I feel like I had a lot to do with that since I won the race in Daytona with the No. 8 and kinda looked like we knew what we were doing now but really were really up in the air as to who should run what number. It has been good and really easy for me with the people we have in place it makes it easy for me to concentrate on my Cup car and I don't even have to look that direction because I know it is all being handled right."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt