February 5, 2004: Highlights of Driver Q&A Sessions with the Media at Daytona International Speedway. DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO ON THE CHANGES IN NASCAR FOR '04 "They sure did change a lot but there isn't much...
February 5, 2004: Highlights of Driver Q&A Sessions with the Media at Daytona International Speedway.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. , NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO
ON THE CHANGES IN NASCAR FOR '04 "They sure did change a lot but there isn't much you can do about it. That's something you learn as a driver early. When any official - no matter where he is on the ladder - makes a call, it stays. They don't go back on it. You can argue the point up until the decision is made. And then you go with it. That's what we're doing."
"I hope that 10-race package doesn't cater to one team or to one driver. Unfortunately the (last 10) tracks (on the schedule) aren't as diverse as you'd like them to be. You'd like to have a Watkins Glen in there and maybe a couple of short tracks. But it's not possible I guess."
ON THE CHALLENGES OF THE DAYTONA 500 "Daytona is not a real challenging race track. The handling aspect comes into play here more than it does in Talladega, but hopefully not a whole lot. I've been in races here where we've been real tight and had to lift in the corners. And I've been in races where you never had to worry about that. It just depends on what the weather is like and what the track's conditions are like. When I was here for the test session, we did a little bit of drafting. I was extremely loose getting into the corner. Hopefully you don't have to deal with that too much. That's a pretty scary feeling going off into Turn 1 and the car feels like it's going to back into the wall. It's a little worse when you're on the inside of somebody, which is going to happen a lot in the race. It can be challenging at times. It's one of those deals that sneaks up on you when you really don't expect it."
ON SPEEDWEEKS "Speedweeks is a happening. I wish I were in the Truck Race. I'm pretty restricted on what extra-curricular activities I can be involved in such as Busch races and whatnot due to sponsor commitments and so forth. I'm pretty appreciative of Budweiser to allow me to do the three Busch races I did last year. We're going to stick to that theme. My loyalty lies with them. Speedweeks is different than any other race we run. There are a lot of things going on. But it's good to be on the race track as much as you can."
HAS YOUR PASSION FOR RACING GROWN? "I don't feel like it's grown a whole lot. I've felt like it's been maxed out pretty much all the time. I get a little more comfortable with my position in the sport. Maybe that's what you see as far as my commitment increases a little bit. But that's just due to being a little more comfortable. It's pretty difficult to get involved in -- whether you're the son of a seven-time champion or whether you came into it on your own - it's a difficult sport to adjust to. That's just what's happened to me. I just get a little more used to it every year.
"As a driver, you're always learning and you're always thrust into certain situations. It's all about pacing yourself on and off the track. When I first came into the sport, I overdrove the car and I over-ran myself out of the car. It's all about pacing yourself and saving a little bit for the end. You can't really wear yourself out. You've got to really want it all the way to the end. But if you run too hard you lose interest or you lose focus and you've had enough before it's over. You've got to pace yourself so that the entire season is just as important from the start to the finish."
ON NEXTEL AS THE NEW SPONSOR "I'm getting used to it pretty quick. I really think NEXTEL has stepped up to the plate. I'm a loyal fan. That's probably going to be tough for them at the start. They're going to get a lot of critics and back-seat drivers telling them what they should be doing and what they shouldn't be doing. They're a pretty tough company. I've met a lot of the guys within the organization. They run their business how they run it - regardless of opinion - and I think that's how they'll manage this. I'm looking forward to it. I think they'll be pretty tough and they're going to be able to handle the job well."
WHAT ABOUT THE CHANGES AT DEI? "We'll, we're always making changes it seems. I was sad to see Ty Norris go, but things happen. I learned real early in my driving career that people are going to come and go. You've got to adjust to it and work with it and make it positive. Moving Richie Gilmore into the position (Director of Motorsports) is good. He's a racer. He's been around a long time. He's got a lot of experience. He's a straight shooter. You can get an honest answer from him. No matter what it is you need to be done, he's going to get it done when you ask him to do it. So I'm looking forward to that. But I hated to see Ty go. He did a great job for us. I had a great relationship with him."
ARE YOU A FAN OF RESTRICTOR PLATE RACING? "I guess I'm a fan. I'd like to try it without the plates just one time to see what that's like. We'd go real fast."
WITH ALL THE POINTS CHANGES NASCAR IS MAKING, WHY NOT MAKE THE DAYTONA 500 THE LAST RACE OF THE SEASON? "That's a good idea. I would not move the Daytona 500 from where it is now, but maybe we should start and finish here. Maybe we should have another 500-mile race here as the season-finale. It's probably an idea in somebody's head right now. Maybe it's just a matter of time. I think that's where we're headed. You see NASCAR making all these changes and I think they're trying to complete the total package. They understand we need a finale. We're probably going to get it soon."
HOW MUCH WILL YOU MISS TY NORRIS SPOTTING FOR YOU ON SUNDAYS? "I don't know if I'll miss Ty a lot on Sundays. He did a great job on spotting for me. That's kind of the basis on our relationship. That's how we got to be good friends. But we're being Stevie Reeves on board and I'm pretty excited about that. He did a good job spotting for me a couple of times last year. He's a driver. When it comes to spotting, if a guy has some experience behind the wheel it makes it all that much better. So I'm not really worried. Whatever Ty does or goes, he's going to be an asset for somebody. I'm going to miss him at the shop. But things change and people come and go. That's the nature of the sport."
WERE YOU SURPRISED WHEN IT CAME DOWN LIKE IT DID? "No, not really. Every year, you sit back and look at all the mistakes you made and you look at areas you need to improve and change. And you've got to change them. As ridiculous as it sounds, you've got to leave your feelings at the gate. We're in the business to win, not to make buddies with everybody. You want to race and you want to win. Every year you've got to make changes. We had to make some and unfortunately that was one of them."
WHAT PUTS THE MOST PRESSURE ON YOU TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? IS IT YOURSELF OR THE EXPECTATIONS OF EVERYBODY ELSE? "I don't feel a whole lot of responsibility to prove anything to anybody. I feel like I'm just enjoying driving race cars and enjoying what I'm doing. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do it. I couldn't just be sitting around here and riding on my name without any talent whatsoever. So I feel pretty lucky to have the success that I've had and run like I do. I used to worry about those things. But I don't really worry about them anymore. I guess you just get a little older and a little bit smarter."
ON HIS SUCCESS AT RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS BUT NOT AT WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 "I'm already into my fourth season and I haven't won it yet (laughs). I hope I'm not sitting here 20 years from now and still haven't won the race. But I'm not too worried about it. I feel if I'm due to win the Daytona 500, I'll win it. If I'm not, that's the way it goes."
IS THE BUD SHOOTOUT A GOOD SHAKEOUT FOR THE WHOLE SPEEDWEEKS AND IS IT FUN? "What's cool about the Shootout is that you get to start drafting immediately. Most of what we do all through the month of January is run by ourselves (testing). You're ready to race somebody. You get some racing in your system before we start qualifying runs and practicing for the Daytona 500. I think everybody looks forward to. It's a pretty good introduction into what to look forward to as far as the handling package."
MORE ON RICHIE GILMORE "I've known Richie Gilmore since I was a little kid. I have a great relationship with him. He cares. He cares about my dad. He cares about keeping the same motives that my dad had with the company. He's going to do a great job just because of what it's worth to him. I really couldn't be happier about him being in that position. It means a lot to me personally. He's a good man for the job."
IS ALL OF THIS AS MUCH FUN AS YOU THOUGHT IT WOULD BE WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP? AND WHAT'S THE DOWNSIDE, IF ANY? "I could never have anticipated what's happening now as far as where I am in the sport and all that I went through. Everything has drawbacks to it. But the positives certainly outweigh the negatives here. The schedule itself is probably the biggest downfall with all the travel we do. There are so many people that need your time and you have a certain obligation to it. Giving up your time is probably the toughest part."
DO YOU FEEL A SENSE OF URGENCY ABOUT WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "You know me. I'm all about making it fun and trying to enjoy it. So I don't get too impatient about winning championships. I want to and that's always in the back of your mind. I felt like we were on schedule last year to possibly win. But when you don't win, you're disappointed and all. To finish a solid third (place) is pretty good. If you had done something different, maybe you would have won it. I run it all back through my head and see what I might have done different. But I don't want to make myself miserable. I want to enjoy it. If I win championships, so be it."