NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Daytona 500 February 15, 2004 An interview with: DALE EARNHARDT, JR. TONY EURY, SR. THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tony Eury Sr. will be here in a minute. Your eighth victory at Daytona ...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
February 15, 2004
An interview with:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
TONY EURY, SR.
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Tony Eury Sr. will be here in a minute.
Your eighth victory at Daytona International Speedway, but this is the big cash one. Your perspective on winning the Daytona 500, big piece on your mantle and talk about the pass you made on Tony.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Oh, yeah, well, you know, we had a great car this week, comparing myself to everybody in practice all week I thought I had the best car out of anybody, especially when I got out front, I really didn't have any challenges during practice and stuff. So I felt like I had the best car all week, and maybe -- there were times, the couple practices prior to and after the 125 race where I thought I might have had the best car I ever had down here.
I don't know. You know, the race started out. Biffle had some problems with the engine. He had to go to the back, so we got the inside lane, took off. Talked to Elliott Sadler. I told him, if the outside line goes, just haul, just go on. I figured I had to get up there somehow or another. If it don't, you know, don't.
So we took off at the start of the race. Me and him went and ran a couple laps side to side, then got the lead. Tony Stewart was right behind me. Tony told me all week his car wasn't running good. Right before the race, he said, "Well, we've improved my car a little bit, and I think I can help you." He'd been down, his car had been pretty decent all week. I felt his was a pretty good car to run with.
We run that first car for a long time, me leading, him running second. What was really the biggest surprise to me, which I bet you guys all were pretty surprised about, too, was how the field separated out. I mean, that was the strangest thing ever because normally you know, the package ain't a whole lot different than what we've run here in the past, but yet, I mean, we took off in little packs there.
After our pit stop, there would be cars all over the racetrack. We come down for the first pit stop, I was leading, and Tony went to the outside of me and passed me coming on pit lane, which I was coming in way, way too slow. But you're a guinea pig at that point because you ain't pitted yet. That's what Michael did a year ago so I kind of expected that. That's a lesson you never really learn, coming on pit road, the first guy to pit there in the 500-mile race is kind of the one everybody judges off of.
Tony said, "You're going slow, just shot on by me." Believe it or not, that was like a pass for the lead, basically for the rest of the race between me and him because he come off pit road in front of me every time. I give up quite a bit there. I was a little disappointed in myself.
We come off pit road every stop, Tony would be in front. We'd take off and draft till it was time to get tires and gas again. I was real glad the race didn't have any cautions, as many as it did, was glad to hear that Michael was okay after his crash. That was a nasty looking car once the crash was over with. It was good to know he was okay.
He's pretty big. I imagine he was, you know, potentially could have get injured pretty easy in a flip like that.
Then at the end of the rase, we come off pit road, and the 22 done a great stop. He was way out front. Me and Tony, the 97, was a lap down, was running second and third. I caught the 97, went to the outside of him, pointed to him to let me on in front of him since I was a lap down. He either di or just I passed him clean one way or another. So I was behind Tony. We tractioned it up on the 22, and we passed him. Tony got up under him with a good move, and we passed him. I was sitting there thinking, you know, what to do about trying to pass Tony.
I was kind of backing up a little bit to the 97, trying to pack the 97 behind me to try to get a run on Tony. The 97 would push me back to Tony, but wouldn't push me past him. Then my spotter told me that Kurt had been told or warned not to be a deciding figure in the finish one way or the other. He was not to help one nor the other in a pass for the win, at least that's what I was told by my spotter, that he was not to be involved in me and Tony's race for the win.
I really didn't know whether I would get by Tony at all by myself. I kept on backing up, kept on backing up, trying runs, trying runs, trying runs. Finally I got a great run through three and four, knew I was going to be able to go to one side of Tony one way or the other. Tony was going to block the bottom so I went to the top. He shot up in front of me at the top and I went across the back bumper of his car to the inside, had about a foot on him on his quarter panel. Once he realized I was down there, he give me the lane. We went through the tri-oval side to side into turn one. Went into the corner, the 97 went to the top with him, kind of back pushed him almost back by me. We come off of two, he was clear of me, Tony was, and the fact that he didn't pull down in front of me was what saved me from giving up a chance of winning again.
So Tony is clear of me at that point. I had a head of steam, eased up to him again, drafted off the side of his car, dove down into turn three. The run I had and the bend of that corner, me being on the shorter side of the racetrack, cleared me of him in the middle of that corner. After that, I just started counting down the laps one at a time.
It's the longest 15 laps, whatever. But we had an awesome car, like I said, all week. We had been able to make passes like that in practice over and over, and I knew I was one of just a few cars, if not anybody else, that could make those types of moves, make those kinds of passes.
I'm just real excited to have won this race. It's really hard to win it. Some of our greatest competitors come in and out of this sport without taking this trophy home. I'm glad I can say I'm accomplished it and I can put the ongoing strive to win it behind me, you know, because we really wanted to win it so bad.
THE MODERATOR: Tony Sr., what does this mean to the team? The team is such a big part of detail's victory tonight.
TONY EURY SR: We worked real hard to win this 500 for four years now. We just keep coming up short every year, you know. We worked real hard, just leave here disappointed. Even when we ran, you know, behind Michael, and Michael won it, we still went home, felt like we'd been beat.
We worked real hard this winter. We tested a couple times. We learned a little bit of stuff. We built a new car and thought it would be better, tested it. Dale Jr. kept saying, "You can't beat the other car. You can't beat the other car." That was actually the car we ran in the shootout. We didn't think it was that good in the shootout.
You know, we worked the guys real hard. Probably for six weeks we worked 14 hours a day, for six days a week, then we went on seven days a week trying to get ready to come down here. Everybody was burned out when we got here.
That's how much that race meant to us. We worked as hard as we could to get here and pull this thing off, and we did it. We'll get a weekend off after Rockingham and we'll rest then (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q: Dale Jr., obviously the question is, you said something in Victory Lane about your father being in the passenger seat with you. This track has always been very special to you. Can you talk about going down turn four, talk about the emotions of that, your father, all the stuff that has gone on here for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, the things that have happened here affected so many people who are real close to me, myself, Tony, Tony Jr., the entire team. Every time we come to Daytona, we just feel -- we all feel it, you know, whatever it is. We just feel real strong about being here.
You know, in a way it feels like you're closer to dad, but at the same time it feels like it's a reminder of losing him all over again. So I wanted to come down here and win.
(Receiving telephone call from President Bush.)
!DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: (Into telephone) Yeah, it was the most exciting ride of my life. Yes, sir, I was glad to see you today. Thank you very much, take it easy. I will, thank you. Bye-bye.
THE MODERATOR: Just to clarify, that was the President on the phone.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I tried to look, tried to memorize that number (smiling). Take it easy, man.
But, I mean, you know, maybe all those things that happened in the past is what made us work harder, try to win this race more than any other. I'll be honest with you, this is more important to me than anything, any other race I run all year. I ain't ashamed to say that I put a lot of emphasis on coming down here and winning this race just because of what I've been through down here.
You see dad run second, blow tires out, flip over on the back straightaway, this, that and the other year after year after year after year and there was not many things, if nothing at all, that ate that man's insides out, but losing this race over and over, you could see that on his face. That's one of the things I think anybody could tell bothered him. He didn't show too much of that.
Inside of me, back then, just a little bit of wanting to win this race started up. You know, it's been building ever since. I came down here and pushed Michael to the win, pushed Michael to the win in the 400 here and I pushed Michael to win at Talladega races. We've run in the top five, Top 10 a couple times. Every time, I can just see the look of disappointment on Tony Sr. and Tony Jr.'s face, when we don't pull out the win, when they know we had the best car. I can say we brought one of the best cars every time we've been here, except when I was a rookie, we all agreed that one wasn't too good.
We just tried so hard, and it just means a lot to me that I was able to get out of that car and hug Tony Sr. and Tony Jr.'s neck first instead of going right to Victory Lane. That was the one thing I wanted to do as soon as -- that's why I pulled down there. I just wanted to see them two before I did anything else.
Yeah, it's awesome. It's just the greatest race. It's the greatest day of my life. And it's not -- you know, it's just -- can't really describe it. I don't know if I ever will be able to tell this story to anybody and really get it right. You know what I'm saying?
Q: Your spotter gets an atta'boy for getting the lap traffic up high.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, he was awesome all day. We read together, me and him talked about how we'd been hearing people -- didn't know whether we was going to be able to work together.
A spotter is a very important key to the team and whatnot. And we changed spotters and all. Seemed like everybody was pretty concerned about that. I was glad that me and him worked so good together.
You know, he would accidentally, I remember one time, he came over the radio, screaming and hollering, but didn't mean to, but he was screaming at the guy next to him. Scared the hell out of me. We was running side by side with somebody. He was keying the mic to clear me. The guy who spotted it was behind me and he was hollering at him telling him to go with me, go with me. I'm was like, "Wow, man, that's intense. He wants it as bad as we want it." That pumped my ass right up. I think that might have turned it on right then. It was a pretty big deal.
But Steve is a racer, you know. He's drove. He knows what it feels like to succeed and have success. He knows what's at stake. You know, that's hard to find in a spotter because spotters aren't quite as connected, I guess, to the entire team that's down there in the pits. You got to find a guy that really knows what's at stake, what's important that day, right then.
Q: Your dad once said during the frustration, "I've lost this race just about every way anyone could work it." Were you thinking about tires or birds going into turn three? Were you worried about anything?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, not really, I wasn't thinking of none of that at all. You know, I think seeing it lost that way so many times, me and Tony come out here, we done went through a hell of a heartbreak losing the 24-hour race the way we did. In a sense, you couldn't beat that sore hard enough to make it hurt anymore. You know what I mean? I done been through it enough.
I mean, I don't know if anybody in this room can explain it, but if my tire would have blew out on the last lap, I don't think it would have bothered me one damn bit. You know what I mean? We just had to come back again and again and again and again.
Q: Did you ever allow yourself to imagine what it would be like to win this race, how you would celebrate, and why no burnout today?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I just -- well, the plate cars don't do good burnouts, for one, because they're geared so differently. Plus I didn't want to do anything that might be detrimental to my car as far as the post race inspection, spinning around doing doughnuts, tearing the tires up for something.
I just really wanted to chill, you know, because I don't want to sound like -- make this a rant at all, but the Victory Lane program is kind of difficult especially when this is the biggest race of my car, most important win of my career and I just wanted to stand there with my team for a second and enjoy it with just them for a minute, and the fans. Because when we go into that Victory Lane over there, you just basically shut the door on everything else outside.
So I just wanted to shout at the fans, wave at them, hear what they had to say. Then I wanted to see my team and hug all their necks, just shout at each other a little bit, with nobody else hollering about, "Put this hat on or stand here for this picture, hold this trophy," none of that. Just wanted to have just a minute for me to let it come in, you know, let it sink in before we got to get to work in Victory Lane there.
Q: You've kind of answered some of this. Explain what it was like for years and years on Monday, when it kind of sinks in, it becomes a dull pain, the way you or your father had lost this race.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, as far as me, every time we'd come down here, it was hard to go back into the shop on Monday and face everybody because you didn't have the look of motivation on your face, and you didn't want them to see how disappointed you were because you wanted -- the one thing you wanted to do was to try to pump everybody up for the next week, the season. You know, forget about what happened, let's go try to race at Rockingham, do good there.
But you can't. You know, you just can't. So it's hard to go in there because you didn't want them to see how disappointed you were, because it just kind of adds to their disappointment. Everybody feeds off each other.
But as far as my dad, you know, just a bunch of, God almighty, that was hard as hell. I mean, there was times he'd run out of the house screaming. There's times when you just didn't know what to do with yourself. I mean, because I don't know, when we all wanted him to win it so bad, he lost it in the third turn with that flat tire, that was probably the hardest one because he just dominated that race. He had a 22-second lead at one point. To see him get spun off out off of two a couple times, racing for second, you know, wasn't no fun either. You know, just didn't have a good enough car that day.
I don't know, it was tough on all of us. I remember coming into the Busch shop, seeing it on Tony's face. He was Dad's friend at that time. They probably won the Busch race two days before that. Still to be disappointed two days later. It was not a whole lot of fun back then.
Q: Tony said this was the best race he had been in, I don't know if he said best, but there was driving, racing. How would you respond to that, talk about that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we finally had a great -- we had a good handling car all day. We started off a little tight. Tony Jr. made adjustments throughout the day and freed the car up till I said stop. Keep tuning, keep tuning. "Whoa, right there, that's far enough."
It reminded me a lot of like turn three or four at Atlanta. You'd go into turn three or turn one real, real loose, come off the throttle a little bit, ease back down on the throttle, try to get the nose to slide up a little bit in front of you, then you'd just be -- catching the front, catching the back all over the off the corner, just kind of lifting down a little bit, lifting down a little bit. There was a lot of lifting, not because you was going to run in the back of somebody, but because you was going to spin out or hit something.
There was times when we just were in the wrong place at the wrong time, should have wrecked. It was interesting, especially at the end, everybody had freed their cars up so much because everybody was like, "Look, only way of really running good here is be sideways."
I was behind Tony. You'd see him go off in a corner just turning right. It was an incredible sight to see. You know, we were all just driving as hard as we could drive. I just never imagined we'd all be in such control of our own little destiny there. Instead of just pushing each other around, we got underneath the 22, hell, he was doing all he could not to spin it, back it into the fence. He was sideways at that point.
There were times when I come off of two, you'd watch Tony just chasing his car all over the place, you know. I mean, I think we were all like that most of the day, you know, because it was getting pretty hot and heavy up there towards the front. We were all driving as hard as we could drive.
Q: When you came down here as a kid to watch your dad, where would you normally watch the race from? Specifically, in '90 when he blew the tire, do you remember where you were watching that race, specifically when that happened?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The first Daytona 500 I saw was from the fourth row when I was a rookie. I watched all of them at home because of either school or a concussion I had when I ran the -- flipped the Busch car down the back straightaway. So I went on home. He won that one. Just probably would have been here if I hadn't flipped down the back straightaway.
Every race I seen at Daytona up till I was old enough to get into the garage, I watched at that old score stand down in turn one that used to be there. All the wives and kids would be down there.
Q: You said you never seen a 500.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I never seen a 500 from here till I started driving.
Q: The other races were?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The Firecracker 400.
Q: I wondered what it was like for you to hear so many of your competitors, the guys that want to beat you all day, so happy for you to win this race? It seems to have stirred a lot of emotion. Guys were saying, "I'm so happy he won."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I wish I could have heard it all (smiling). That's part of the reward, you know. You know, I don't know, I guess I just chalk it up to having a good working friendship with everybody that I race against. There's only a few drivers that I don't talk to by choice. Most of them I really get along with good.
I guess most of those guys had a good day today. I don't know, you know, it was just -- you know, I raced with them, we're all friends. I'm happy to see them win. They're happy to see me win.
Q: With winning and being able to match your father with Daytona 500 wins, does that put you closer, on the same pedestal in your eyes? What does that mean to you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, there's days when I feel like I'm as good as he was. But, you know, then you're reminded by something that reminds you of what he did that you will never be able to do. And that doesn't have to be a race he won.
But, you know, there's times on the racetrack where I get real confident and feel like I -- he couldn't have done it no better than that right there. But it ain't long before I figure I was wrong, you know. I mean, he was pretty tough. Even if you thought you were better than him, he just had a way of proving you wrong at anything. I don't know.
But it's just been so long since I raced against him or watched him race or watched him drive, I guess you kind of forget just how good he was. You have to watch some of those old tape, things that he did on the racetrack to remind you how slick he was and how determined he was.
He always kind of figured it out, you know.
I'm fortunate. I mean, I don't have near as much common sense as he had. And he banked on that just about all day, every day of his life. Tony Sr., Tony Jr., several of the other people, my sister, JR, Jade, they all are my catch net for some of the foolish things that I do or some of the stupid mistakes I make, where they kind of make up for it a little bit, make me not look so bad.
But, you know, yeah, I couldn't have -- you know, there's just times where they can tell when I need to be told something to keep me going in the right direction. There's a lot of people that should get credit.
Q: Did you feel like you were better than your Dad at any point during the race today?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No. I never sat there in the seat today and thought I was better than my Dad. I wouldn't even think to do that.
Q: With all the tension on the new championship system, how good does it feel to come out of here with the lead on this thing?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm leading the points the first time in my career, so that's pretty cool. I don't know. I just get real excited to look forward to reading all the papers tomorrow, reading the Winston Cup Scene when it comes out, seeing all the pictures, seeing how everybody else tells this story. Y'all are the professionals, you can tell it a hell of a lot better than I do. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Are you going to run the Busch race tomorrow? What will your frame of mind be tomorrow?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm going to run the Busch race tomorrow. I don't know, might have to put a whip to me. I mean, I'm going to be pretty laid back. I'll probably still be enjoying this part, this here, this win. I might have to get reminded about getting back in Victory Lane tomorrow.
Q: As much as this race meant to your father, as many years as it took him to win it, do you think if you won it sooner, you wouldn't sit here with the same kind of appreciation?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think the fact that I witnessed how he went about winning it, good and bad, and everything else that has happened here, the races I've been in here. It means a lot more to me than if all that hadn't happened. I mean, that's pretty obvious, I feel like, to me.
Q: If this one obviously meant so much to you, you have this one put away, is the championship the next really big goal for you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think the championship's the big goal. A tougher goal would be trying to win at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. I mean, I remember what a hell of a surprise it was to win that race at Watkins Glen in the Busch Series. It was like, "Man, I'm going out there trying to stay on the blacktop." Next thing I know, I'm in Victory Lane. I'm like, "What the hell happened?" We all was shocked as hell.
Winning the race at one of them damn tracks would be pretty cool. But, of course, I mean, yeah, it's good. I mean, I don't know how that sounds, but it's good to get this out of the way and put this aside so, yeah, championship time. Now we can just focus. You know, we focused so hard on one thing, we always seemed to let a little something slide by. We focused so hard on our road course stuff, our short track stuff, flat track stuff, the tracks we weren't good at last year, we kind of didn't do so well.
Personally, that's always been a fault of mine, is I get on one thing and stay on it so hard that maybe winning this race, I can concentrate more so on winning the championship.
Q: Earlier in the race, about lap 44 to 45, you ran into Kurt Busch, you both touched. Obviously we saw how it affected his car. How did it affect yours?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I didn't even know we hit, you know, till after the race. Tony was telling me that we'd flattened his fender and he didn't want to help us in the draft. So I don't know, you know. I didn't even know that we'd had contact because somebody was telling me about it. I hadn't even realized it.
I remember one point we were going down into turn one, seeing him in the mirror. I didn't know he was up on the inside of me. We normally run one of the tiny mirrors off the left side window so I can kind of see what's on the inside. But we didn't put it on there today. I probably could have used it.
Q: You were critical of tires after your win in Thursday's Gatorade 125. How do you feel about it now?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we didn't tear any tires up. I expected to have problems with them. I think the 10 car blew a right front tire. A couple of guys throwed the tires off their cars in practice. That just made me nervous.
We ourselves chucked tires out and were having a lot of problems with the right front tire in practice. We tore up probably eight tires probably off the right front of our car, right front only, all week.
I had a right to say what I said. I still feel pretty strongly about it.
Had today been 75, 80 degrees, we would all be singing a little different tune, I believe.
Q: The style of racing was a lot different today than in recent years at Daytona. Did it improve?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: "Improve"? I mean, I don't know what you want to call improvement. But I was damn glad I wasn't in a pack of race cars all day long. It was kind of fun and felt -- I felt like I had backed up 10 years because we was all spread out all over the track, and guys were losing the draft. I mean, damn, when is the last time somebody lost a draft that was running 10th?
It was cool, because you would run along 20 laps, the guys that were handling good would stay there, the guys that were handling bad would start getting smaller and smaller in the mirror.
I thought it was awesome. It probably wasn't much fun to watch, but it was an interesting race myself.
THE MODERATOR: Dale, congratulations.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you very much.