NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Daytona 500 - Feb. 20, 2005 Daytona International Speedway Daytona Beach, Fla. An interview with: DALE EARNHARDT, JR. THE MODERATOR: We are joined with our third place finisher Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You had a pretty...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Daytona 500 - Feb. 20, 2005
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
An interview with:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined with our third place finisher Dale Earnhardt, Jr. You had a pretty good run there at the end for the win.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, the car we struggled all day with the car, trying to get the handle, it wouldn't turn. Pushed real bad there at one point, I mean, we were terrible. I don't know how you lose the draft and get lapped.
We got to go in there that last time we come in put the tires on, and I got the car handling good. We just drove right on up through there the best we could. I was able to pass and get in position. I got a lot of help from Greg Biffle to get up in the Top 10. Then me and Gordon worked together to get on the outside to get into position, into the lead. I wanted to help Tony, but we couldn't really get in the same line. Plus, I mean, he was in the lead. Had a run. I wanted to try to win the race, too. We got to racing. I got the lead, then Jeff got a run around the outside and got by me. I couldn't stop him, he was going too fast.
Q: You communicated via radio with your team about passing Tony and not being able to get on the outside, yet that's how you ended up passing him.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: We had a restart and the 24 got a run, went to the inside of Tony, then a caution come out, put them back in second. I said to Tony, under the caution, to not let the 24 on the inside because if he goes to the inside, I'm going to the inside, push on through, get into second. If he goes to the outside, if you can get to the line, he'll go to the outside, I'll push behind him. If you watched the race, Jeff went to the outside and I jumped down in there and pushed right into second behind Tony, got Tony out back into the lead, then we got our run and I tried to race Tony on the outside. I was able to get around him.
But I didn't want to have to on a restart, if the 24 goes inside and I can stick with Tony on the outside, we're just going to get trained by the rest of the field behind me. The best position for him to be on the restart is underneath Gordon. So if he wants to jump, let him jump to the outside.
Q: Considering how tough the race was for you, how pleased are you to come up to finish third?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: I was real, real happy. I was jumping all over the radio when we got into that position with about 15 to go. I was really surprised because, I'm telling you, man, the car was way, way off at one point. We were running pretty good there, just kind of beating and banging around in there in the middle about 10th. It was hard. There were guys going three wide a lot. My car was really good, if I could get up against the wall, and I could really make runs off the corner. But every time I did that, the guy behind me would try to go to the middle and screw it all up.
We just kept doing that all day long, I wasn't getting anywhere. I couldn't never get to the front. I wasn't even close to the front. I don't know, that last stop, we put on a set of tires in the middle of the race and then the car just drove like it had a big hole in the nose. It wouldn't turn. Pushed real bad. I was having to lift way, way early getting down in the corner and it just pushed to the wall, I'd have to run about half throttle. We barely hung onto the draft there at the end during that whole deal.
We had two more cautions, two more pit stops. I told him, Man, you got to do a lot of stuff to get this thing freed up. They did. They did exactly what I needed them to. That was one of the best cars out there at the end of that race, thought. I just wasn't up there all day. A lot of the guys I was racing with at the end hadn't seen me all day, didn't know what kind of car I had, didn't know whether pushing me was the right thing to do or trying to pass me and get me out of the way. Most of the time, when you got a guy up there that ain't been up there all day or he's not that fast, you don't want to draft with him, you're going to try to get around him.
Q: Would you say you made the most of a bad situation, got the most out of a bad day?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: That's an understatement. Absolutely.
Q: About 23 to go, there seemed to be a lot of good racing, got pretty wild out there.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah. It was wild. But it was good, safe. I mean, when you got, like Jeff, he was bump drafting a little bit in three and four, but he knows how to do it without getting you out of control. So, I mean, the things that were going on looked wild, but they were actually totally cool with everybody, I think, pretty much. I mean, at the end of the race, you want everybody that can to push you and hit you and push you and try to get you faster and make your car go faster and send you out front. If they can, I mean, if they know how to do it, I don't mind people pushing me through the corner even doing that.
Jeff, he got on the bumper there one time and just barely laid on the bumper around three and four. He probably was about seven eighths throttle. If he would have been full throttle, he probably would have got me loose and spun me out. He knows how to do it just right. There are a couple other guys that can do that. It was wild looking, but it really wasn't that wild inside the cars.
Q: (No mic.)
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: He committed to me last year, a two car race. That was an easy commitment.
Q: Did you feel you should help push Tony to victory instead of go out and win yourself since he seemed to help you a little at the end of last year's race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, I was going to push him. I told him at the caution I was going to push him the best I could. But once I got my run, you know, it was time for me to think about winning the race. I had a chance to be back to back Daytona 500 champ. That would have been awesome.
But I don't think I mean, Tony didn't seem like you know, when me and him talk about things like that, it's really kind of, Look, I'll work with you if we get the opportunity. We had the opportunity, but I wasn't going to sit on his bumper till the checkered fell. You know, that wouldn't have been a whole lot of fun.
But, I mean, last year, there really wasn't I mean, you know, it's not like he pushed me to the win in front of a 15 car pack. I mean, it was just me and him there. To be honest, I was pretty much by myself in that deal, if you recall, looking back at the footage. So I felt pretty good about what I did. I felt like Tony can appreciate somebody trying to win the race.
Q: Was it tough to see your teammate finish?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, it was a surprise. I didn't expect to have the troubles they had. I think Martin and Michael both had motor troubles. So I was a little worried about my car and my motor lasting till the end. I thought Michael was going to win the race. I think he had the car that could win the race.
Q: Will you go over again how Gordon passed you the last time?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Him and Tony were side by side. I knew that the top line was coming. That was I told my guys, the last couple restarts, the top was going to win the race. I saw Gordon kind of getting a run, so I pulled up in front of him as best I could. We went down into turn one, I went to the bottom. He kind of stayed to the outside. He was still getting a push from Jimmie. I couldn't tell whether I had him perfectly cleared or not. I didn't move up in front of him. I didn't want to get up in front of him and have him jack me up or anything like that. I still thought by the exit of the corner I might be able to have him still cleared and be able to put myself in position, position my car in front of him then. But that's how we got off the corner, he was on the outside of me. He had such a run, I was by myself. I mean, it was basically the same pass Michael put on me there at the 150 qualifier. He was going by so fast, I couldn't even draft off the side of his car, slow him down. He was gone. I was just fortunate. I was feeling real lucky just to be in second at that point because I could have lost a couple more spots there.
Q: Will you talk about how you feel about having Pete now that you guys have been through testing, you've had a race, you're comfortable with him, the relationship you guys have?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, I think they did great today. One of the things that I really liked, their pit stops are all fast. You know, they didn't have one bad stop today. And that was a big plus for us because we needed a lot of track position throughout the race. There was a lot of times that we came in in the rear of the field and we would gain a lot of spots. We came in 14th there one time, went out 8th. When you do that, man, you can't complain.
So as far as Pete, I thought he did a great job. He made the adjustments there at the end. I didn't really follow the adjustments all day long. I pretty much left it up to him. One of the things I don't want to get in the habit of doing is him asking me what I think or if this is okay. I really want him to feel right in his mind that he's making a choice, the right choice, the choice that needs to be made. So I didn't really I think for a while, I really won't follow exactly what's going on unless we just get so far out that I need to and maybe be another voice of opinion at that point.
But today, it was really good. He made a lot of changes on the car. I just discussed with him how it was handling, how it changed over the last stop and stuff like that. So it was pretty good. I mean, it's really just a super relaxed, you know, deal we got going. Not a lot of pressure. I can get up there and race. I don't feel like I'm being pressured to do everything, you know, be No. 1 all the time. I just get up there and race as hard as I can. They're pretty happy with the result.
Q: Should we be surprised how well Martin ran, even though you guys do have good cars?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah. I was a little surprised. I mean, about midways through the race, you know, you get under caution, you kind of get to check out and see where everybody's at. I was real surprised. He was able to run up there pretty good. There was a couple times where all of us left him out to dry, you know. He ain't running enough races for me to dive down behind him and help him too much yet. If he's running a full season, we might work together.
But it was a good experience for him. You know, he needs to see each side of the spectrum. And I think today he got to run up front with some of them guys, he got to run in the back, in the middle. He was really everywhere. He's a great race car driver. I expected, I guess, him to be good. But I was really impressed by I guess when he gets up there, he shows some confidence. You can see people's body language in their driving style, how the cars are driving, how they're driving it. He has a lot of confidence when he's out there. He really don't look intimidated by everybody around him, which a lot of guys when they're rookies, they get out there and they look intimidated when they're out there. You can really tell they're kind of chickening out a little bit here and there, and he never really did.
Q: You know how hard it is to come back and race after a tragedy. Do you feel for the Hendrick organization?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, I don't know if I don't know if you'd be human and not feel something. You know, I just you know, it was a tough deal. I don't know if I could comprehend, you know, the loss of so many people at one time that had so many connections to Rick.
But, you know, we all everybody has their own way of dealing with things. When I see or know somebody in the same situation that I might have been through, I treat them the way I would have wanted to have been treated at that time. So I've kind of just been on the outside, on the sideline. If Rick wants to talk to me, he comes up and talks to me. He has a couple times. You know, that's been pretty much it.
Q: The pass that Jeff took, is that just knowing the draft?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah. I mean, that was he had a run going. And we're going into turn one, and he's got a run coming. I was in front of him for that short chute trying to get the push that he had, he was going to give me, trying to get a push from him. We went down into turn one, he stayed to the outside. He knows if he gets behind me, he just pushes me like a beach ball between the cars. So he stayed to the outside, didn't push me. Kept building up momentum with Jimmie behind him. I knew them two got bumper to bumper behind me, I've been on the other side of that fence, and I know how it is. So he pushed him on around outside of me. It was the same pass Michael made on me in the 150. It's real easy to make if you have a strong car, and they both had strong cars.
Q: With the race coming down to the last few laps, did it have the feel of one of the Chase races? Did this race sort of have, with it coming down to the last few laps, did it have like a playoff type of field like last year with the Chase?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Not really. You know, it was just kind of another race, with the green, white, checkered at the end. It was a good Daytona 500. I think this was a real exciting race today. And last year was maybe pretty boring for a lot of people unless you were a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or Tony Stewart fan.
Today, it was an exciting race. I mean, I saw a lot of it out the front of my windshield. It looked like a lot of fun. And I had fun there at the end. We got to driving up through there.
Q: This is the first time in four years you haven't won something at Speedweeks. Can you summarize your feelings? Are you disappointed? How do you feel coming out of it?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: I hadn't really even thought about that. I guess, if you want to bring it up, it's a little disappointing. Thanks (laughter)! You guys are good at that.
I'm not too disappointed. I got a third place. Did I finish third yesterday? What did I finish, third, in the Busch race? So I got two thirds, man, that's pretty good, and a second.
I know I can't win 'em all, which I'd like to. But I like to keep my average pretty high. And I think I should get some credit for that.
Q: Did you see anything or any contact between the 48 and 20 at the end?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: I saw it in my mirror. I expected them to be crashing because when you beat and bang that hard... What I saw was coming to the checkered. I didn't see what happened in one and two till just now on the monitor when I walked in here.
I'm glad if Tony was mad at all about me racing him there with four to go, I'm sure that's not on his mind any more, which I guess I can thank Jimmie for that (laughter).
Tony is a hard racer. He's not somebody that I would want to be beating on his race car at the end of the race. You know, I know guys I've known guys like him, and they don't like that too well. I'm sure Jimmie was doing what he felt was right to stand up for himself. You know, I didn't see anything really going on there at the end of the race. I just saw it coming to the checkered. They were beating around a little bit. I thought they was going to wreck pretty big there.
Q: At the end there it looked like it was going to come down between you and Gordon, then Kurt Busch came in and broke that up.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR: Yeah, Kurt got a run. I can't remember exactly when it happened. I think it was close to the restart. But he got a push coming. You know, he don't want to finish third or second. He made a try for the win. It was a good job. I thought for a second he might was going to get the outside of Gordon there going into three. It was kind of close. But he didn't. So, you know, he had room to get down there in front of me.
I was staying on the bottom. It was a good race. I mean, the last couple laps, I mean, Kurt, them guys had been up there all day, I hadn't been there at all. So I felt pretty fortunate to be in the position that I was in. You know, like I said, I had the lead there with a couple laps to go. So, you know, a few moves maybe that I could have made different, I might have won the race. But I was pretty excited, you know, just to have a chance, just to be competitive.