DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET Spoke with media after the first practice session: ON THE TIRES "The tires are wearing out pretty fast. Everybody has the same tires so everybody is dealing with the same problem." HOW DO YOU...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET
Spoke with media after the first practice session:
ON THE TIRES "The tires are wearing out pretty fast. Everybody has the same tires so everybody is dealing with the same problem."
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF BEING THE FAVORITE AT THIS RACE TRACK? "I just hang out. There's not much to it. But I don't know if I'm the favorite. I think Michael (Waltrip) is the favorite. He's won two out of the last three years."
ARE YOU AND JOHN ANDRETTI WORKING TOGETHER? "We were just out there drafting together. He's a good teammate. Some guys have their own agenda. But when you put him in the car, he knows how good a race car drive he it. He doesn't have anything to prove. If you give him a good car, he's going to run good. He's out there to help us and we're going to help him."
WHAT'S YOUR STRATEGY FOR THE 125 QUALIFYING RACES? "You don't know that until the last lap. You just try not to crash and try to be toward the front. There are a hundred different ways. You don't know what the plan is until it's all laid out in front of you. If the cautions come out, you're going to come down and get tires more often. So we'll be pitting more often. Other than that, I don't know what else we have to worry about."
CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE THE SAME TEAMWORK BETWEEN YOU AND MICHAEL WALTRIP? "I don't know. I haven't really worked with Michael in the draft since we've been down here. If we end up toward the front, we'll definitely be helping each other. You've got to help your teammate before you help anybody else. So if he's up there and I'm up there, there is a good possibility we'll be drafting."
ARE YOU CHEVY GUYS AT ALL CONCERNED WITH THE HORSEPOWER THE ROUSH/YATES CAN POSSIBLY MAKE BY POOLING THEIR RESOURCES? "No, not really. I don't think either one knew more than the other. You definitely like putting all your eggs in one basket and that's going to be more organization and a smoother organization. Their program will be more powerful company-wise, but I don't know if they can actually build motors better than anybody else. Everybody knows about the same stuff."
DO YOU THINK THIS WAS A MOVE AIMED AT YOU GUYS - ESPECIALLY ON THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS WHERE YOU HAVE DOMINATED? "I don't think so. I think they did it because Roush motors don't really run good anywhere. Maybe he just wanted somebody to build his motors for him."
DO YOU LIKE THE NEW CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I like it I guess. I don't have a choice whether I like it or don't like it. I didn't think it was something that was necessary to change, but it's pretty exciting how it sounds. It'll be neat to see how the season plays out.
"It's un-chartered territory. I don't know what we can expect. It's a tough sport for a driver going week in and week out and having to continue to mold himself and adjust himself to the pace of it. And now we've got to really realign everything with this new system. How do we race? What's the plan? What's the mentality going in now? We don't know."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GIVE PRESIDENT BUSH SOME POLITICAL ADVICE WHEN HE COMES TO THE DAYTONA 500? "Well, I like being around him. He's a cool guy. He's pretty fun to hang out with. I don't know if he's going to indulge me with any kind of one-on-one time. But it would be great to sit down with him and talk."
HAVE YOU SPENT MUCH TIME WITH HIM? "We've been around each other before. We really haven't had a bull---- session, if you will. But, he's the kind of guy you could have one with, I'm sure."
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES TO GET USED TO SO FAR AT THE START OF THE SEASON? "All the NEXTEL signs around here. It's really cool and it's real classy looking with that black, yellow, and white on all the trailers and all. When the officials walk by, it's hard to point them out nowadays because they're not in their usual attire. So you've got to watch what you do and say because you're not necessarily looking for a yellow and black uniform standing around."
ON THE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR SPOTTER "It's really important that you're on the same page. It's like any other relationship - like a driver and a crew chief or one mechanic to another. You have t have a good working relationship. I've worked with Stevie (Reeves, spotter) in the past. I really enjoyed when he had to fill in for us in the past. It was awesome and he did a good job. We used to pick on Ty (Norris) a little bit about who was better. But Ty was a great spotter, too. He didn't even really like doing it. He just did it because I asked him to. I'm real happy that Stevie is doing it. Having a background where you've been behind the wheel and you know what's going on out there and know what the driver is thinking makes a big difference. And just because he has that (experience), I trust him already without even working with him that much. So I trust him and believe what he says. There are things that I like that he doesn't know yet, but I'm not going to sit there and scream at him about every little thing that I want different. It'll just evolve and we'll get to know each other more and more. You've just got to have patience just like you do anything else."
WHAT WAS THE POINT YOU WANTED TO MAKE WITH JAMIE MCMURRAY AFTER PRACTICE? "Larry Foyt was just pulling out on the track. I went to the inside of (Jeff) Gordon going into (turns) three and four and Gordon came back under me. So we were three wide at that point. With all this shuffling around and carrying on, Jamie had a heck of a run and went to the outside of me going into the tri-oval. So it was four cars, four-wide in the tri-oval with Larry Foyt controlling the inside lane. And Larry probably had no idea what was going on around him because it all happened so fast. I don't even think Jeff knew what Larry was doing. And McMurray didn't know Larry was down there. So I think I might have been the only one that knew everything. Three out of the four wasn't quite sure about the whole package that was going on there. I just lifted and it was just in time because I was running out of room there.
"I just told Jamie - just like his crew chief or spotter would have told him or might have already told him, that you can expect that on any lap during a race. Racing is a different story. You can run me all over the race track in the race and that's okay. But in practice - especially when you don't know how good your piece is off the trailer (back-up car) - you don't want to pull it out if you don't have to and we don't have to. Why? So I was kind of upset because it was so foolish. I'm sure I've made a few people scream around here too in the past."
HOW'S YOUR CAR RIGHT NOW? "I've got a car that can win the race. I'm in a group of about 10 guys right now that I feel have race-winning race cars right now. I think over the next couple of days, that's definitely going to grow to 20 - 25 cars. We're real good. This car has always run good. It's the one we've run so many times and won with. It's good everywhere we run."
ON ALL THREE DEI CARS BEING IN THE SAME 125 QUALIFYING RACE "That's awesome. Normally, you'd rather be in the easy one". (WHY?) "Just because it's easy. I like being around a good group of guys. I like racing (Dale) Jarrett and Bobby Labonte and my teammates. I can't complain about the company."
DO YOU LEARN MORE BY RACING AGAINST THOSE GUYS IN TERMS OF SET-UP FOR THE RACE INSTEAD OF JUST RUNNING AWAY FROM AN EASY FIELD? "I don't think I'd run away from an easy field. You want to race around people you know and trust - especially here and at Talladega. That's the difference."
DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM FINDING SOMEBODY WHO WANTS TO RUN WITH YOU HERE AT DAYTONA? "Yeah, we've been having some trouble. There have been a couple of guys here with good race cars and they're out there trying to get to the front. We haven't made a whole lot of friends at plate tracks over the last couple of years. There comes a time when everybody's got to pay for that and maybe we're paying for it a little bit by having won so many races at Talladega and being so strong down here. When you target a guy, that's the guy everybody wants to beat. If you tell me that Jeff Gordon is going to win the Daytona 500, then that's the guy I want to beat."
BOBBY LABONTE, NO. 18 INTERSTATE CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE LESS OF AN ADVANTAGE BEING IN A CHEVROLET THIS YEAR THAN YOU DID LAST YEAR? "No, I don't feel any different. When we were racing Pontiacs, I thought we didn't have the downforce that some of the other guys had, but everybody said we had a bigger spoiler. But our body was way different. We really didn't have as much. Won a race at Rockingham against Earnhardt and we had 100 lbs less downforce. I don't remember the exact number. And yet, they took the spoiler off our car. So if it's fair from A to Z, it really doesn't matter. But if it gets off one time, than that's where it gets more frustrating between the manufacturers and the car owners. "
WHAT'S YOUR OPINION ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? DOES IT CHANGE THE WAY YOU APPROACH THE SEASON? "I'm going to get me a helmet and some shoulder pads, and I'm going to go after it (laughs). I have no idea, really. It's in its infancy. There could be so many things between now and then - and when it was announced - that we don't even know yet. And we're going to be trying so many things. I really don't think we know what we're going to get ourselves into after race 26 yet. We can think about all the scenarios, and that's okay, but I think after race 26 we'll know a whole lot more."
ROBBY GORDON, NO. 31 CINGULAR WIRELESS CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP "To be honest, I don't care. They tell us the rules and we race by them. That's pretty obvious in NASCAR. They've done a pretty good job of building this sport to what it is. To second-guess every thing they do, we probably wouldn't be where we are today. They've made decisions to make the sport more exciting at the end of the season. All the drivers have to be optimistic and look at it and try it before we say it's bad or it's wrong. The key is that normally a guy who isn't inside of the top 10 doesn't win the championship anyway. That'll just make it more exciting for everybody."
ON THE SOFT WALLS BEING INSTALLED FOR THE PEPSI 400 "We'd all like to snap our fingers and have this happen overnight. NASCAR does a lot of research before they make decisions on safety things. Obviously with Indianapolis having them now - on a high-speed race track - I think they need to stick them in here. They make methodical decisions when they make them. They look at all the pros and cons."
DO THE SOFT WALLS MAKE YOU FEEL SAFER? "I put the carbon-fiber seat in my car. We take every safety precaution possible to make sure we can race. If I'm not racing, I'm not making a living. If I'm hurt, I'm not racing. So we're going to do everything that I know to make it safe. My owner, Richard Childress, is going to do the same thing. We've got Hans devices, full-faced helmets, carbon-fiber seats - all the things we feel are the best."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Was fastest in third practice session
WHAT DO YOU WORK ON BETWEEN NOW AND SUNDAY'S DAYTONA 500? "The first thing was just to see where the speed was lost and if we could find it and make sure that this car has the speed that it had at one time and it does. We changed a lot of things, but we still don't know exactly happened on Sunday. All I know is that I have a fast race car and I'm having fun with it now. We're just working on handling now. The tires definitely go away fast. Getting the car to work well in the draft and the handling of it is going to be important."
DID YOU FIND THE SPEED IN THIS LAST PRACTICE? DID SOMETHING BREAK? "We were fast in the first practice. You can't pay attention to any speed charts during drafting. We didn't do a single thing to it. In one practice we're 37th and in the next practice we're first. Being first on the board didn't mean any more or less. It just depends on the draft that you're in. The car has been fine all day - just like it was prior to qualifying. So I'm really not sure what happened."
ARE YOU WORKING ON JUST GETTING THE HANDLING DIALED IN BETWEEN NOW AND SUNDAY? "Yeah, because it's now not just necessarily just a speed thing anymore. With the tires we've had the last couple of years, it's really just been all about speed. Now there's a lot more strategy that goes into the handling of the car and making sure that you've got a car that you can run wide-open with and run in front with.
" A lot of guys - probably most of them -- are not going to be able to run wide-open. You're going to have to lift after about 15 or 18 laps. And that's a good thing because we normally have really good handling cars here and the driver comes back into play. It's not just all about horsepower and drag."
ON WHERE HE IS IN HIS CAREER "I'm definitely very comfortable with where I am right now. I like being 32. I'll be 33 this year. I like our race team. I like the chances we have for a championship. When you're at Hendrick Motorsports, and you have all the resources that we have, you go into every year thinking that you've got a shot at the championship and I feel very confident and good about that."
IS THE BIG ONE - CRASH AT DAYTONA - ANY DIFFERENT NOW? "It's probably worse now. With the tires the way they are, it's easier to make mistakes and easier for your car to slip and slide around and get into other cars out there. It's definitely going to happen. It's just when and where. Hopefully it's something minor. We saw the other day in the Bud Shootout more wrecks than we've seen in a long time in a short race like that."
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? "You do have to have a lot of things on your side. You've got to have a fast race car, a good driver, a heck of a pit crew, great communications, staying cool all day, and having some good luck on your side. You have to have one of those days where - I don't want to say perfect, because I think you can come back from small things - but it's going to be the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins."