DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS AND CREW CHIEF TONY EURY, JR. - winning team in the first 150-mile Gatorade Duel Qualifying Race at Daytona: KERRY THARP: We'll roll into the winner of today's first Gatorade Duel...
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS AND CREW CHIEF TONY EURY, JR. - winning team in the first 150-mile Gatorade Duel Qualifying Race at Daytona:
KERRY THARP: We'll roll into the winner of today's first Gatorade Duel and his crew chief - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy Drink/National Guard Chevrolet, his crew chief Tony Eury, Jr. Congratulations, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Talk about your victory out there this afternoon.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You know, first off I got to thank the engine guys, because we had a little problem yesterday and they worked overnight to really get us the package that was durable and also competitive, and it was good enough to win the race. Can't thank those guys enough.
The team worked hard to get that motor changed, to get the car set up right. The setup was good. Started to race a little loose. Blistered right rear tire, so (Eury) Junior told me 'Just tried to keep the lead.' We was up there on top sliding around a little bit. The cars are pretty much a handful after about 25 laps, but that makes for good TV, I think.
I just, you know, got the next set of tires. We made some adjustments. We got a little bit too far on adjustment, but the car was better. I don't know really, I can't remember everything that was going on at the end. So many position changes we were having to make, being forced to make (laughter).
We got to the bottom trying to take the lead, got shuffled back to about eighth, got to the top, got back to third. Tried to lay back a little bit, get a run. Got a run put together that made it happen. We got underneath the 12. I don't know if I forced him into lifting or whether we just cleared him or not, but we were able to get by him, try to keep the lead for the rest of the race.
It was fun though. Real proud of my team. Just proud of the effort. That was a good work ethic right there. Just a good day.
KERRY THARP: Tony, your thoughts?
TONY EURY, JR.: I mean, it was a pretty awesome deal. We was kind of worried yesterday. But like he said, the guys done a really good job of preparing the car last night. Kind of worried about how the car was going to get, if it was going to get too tight or whatever. We freed it up a little this morning. Had him too free at the start of the race. He could still handle it.
When he told me we had that tire problem, he told me he felt a vibration, so we stopped early and got that handled, just tightened him up a little bit. It was all Dale Jr. at the end. He put a move together that basically won us the race. The team couldn't be prouder. We got to build good cars, but you also have to have a great driver to be able to do that.
Q: Do you dare consider yourselves the favorite for the 500?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Dare? Hmm, that's funny (laughter). I feel like we got a great shot, you know what I mean? Nobody's boastful enough, I don't think, personality-wise to come in here and claim that. I wouldn't expect anybody to do that.
But I thought we got a great shot. We've won some races down here, so we got to be in the group if there's a group of them.
Q: Long almost two-year drought that you had, now you come out two for two. Obviously you had high expectations coming to Hendrick. Did you think you'd be this good right out of the box?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we got to remember we're at Daytona, too. We've had a lot of wins here. We can't really, you know, sing a whole lot of praise right just yet. We got a lot of racing left to do, a lot of tracks to go to, a lot of work in front of us.
We just got to, you know, think now. We got to think right now, 'What do we got to do to win the 500?' We got to keep the same attitude, keep the same work ethic, take everything one at a time. We should be fine. I'm real proud and happy to have the talent that I've got on my team. The depth that I've got in the whole organization over at Hendrick is a pleasure.
Sure has to make a driver's job a lot easier. I'm just looking forward to enjoying that and being involved in that all season. We'll see what happens. We're going to work hard. We're going to keep working hard. If we're lucky and the good Lord thinks we're deserving, we should have some success.
Q: Dale, a few years ago you came through here and just won everything: Shootout, Duel, even the Nationwide race. With each win you almost dreaded it more in the sense of you hated what was going to come up for the 500, everything is going to go against you. You're starting to put together a streak like that now. How does it feel and compare to a few years ago? Seems different.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, it seems different. I don't know why. I'd have to think about that one. When we were down here a couple years ago winning a lot, you could look at each other and see that me and the team were sort of like, Okay, what's going to happen? When is something going to happen that keeps us from winning the next one?
I don't know what happened. We done that a couple times. We've come down here and won a couple things, felt like the favorite, and either finished well in the 500, top five, or had blown tires and stuff like that happen to us, too. But the 500, I don't feel like that this time. As I win, as I do more winning, you guys do more writing, and there's a lot of attention and pressure comes with that attention, when people are watching, people are knowing and up to date on everything, and you're at the front, you carry a lot of attention into the next event, into the next time you perform.
But the Daytona 500 is a long, long race, and so many things happen in that race to every team, good and bad. You overcome things. You get through things. You work through things. You have more happen. You work through it. And you just have to take it best you can and hope that nothing's gonna take you out of the race.
You can think about a 70-lap race and go, Hey, man, this is what we need to do. This is the strategy. This is the pit stop, where we're going to stop. This is how quickly you need to be in front. You can do things to have a better shot at winning.
But the 500, you just got to run all day long. You're going to get passed. You're going to pass people. And you just got to be there at the end. It's just very hard to do. So many variables.
So I don't feel pressure as we continue to have success this week. I don't feel that pressure mounting 'cause I know how tough it is to win that race, and I just have to go in there when the race starts and do what we need to do and hopefully we have good luck.
Q: Junior, when people talk about a race car being racy, I guess they mean you can pass at will and go two and three-wide. Would you call this car that, "racy", yet?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, that car in the Shootout was. It was cool. We had grip. At lap 25 or 30 on the tires today, I got very loose and I got very slick and the track was very slick and we were all having difficulty. I had Ryan kind of pinned on the bottom one time as he was challenging to take the position. He got loose or lost grip and almost come up inside of me. I had to make a little bit of a move up the racetrack that upset my car and we all come off the corner sideways.
After a while, the cars are just sliding everywhere. You can't gain overall grip. There's nothing I can ask Tony, Jr. to do that's going to give me overall grip. I think we've got everything we can maximized at this point. We can move the car from too loose to too tight and back and forth and find that happy medium, but I don't think I can gain grip.
It's kind of fun, I think. It's kind of fun to have the car moving around, sliding around. But that wouldn't be my opinion if I was running 20th in a 43-car field. That would not be fun. Hopefully we don't have ourselves in that situation on Sunday.
Q: Short of winning the pole, I think things couldn't have gone any better for you to start the deal here with Hendrick. Going into Sunday, is it hard not to think, Everybody has to beat us? Or knowing what you just said about the race, do you try to downplay the fact you look like the overwhelming favorite going into the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't feel like our car looks to me or appears to be strong enough to have that kind of confidence going into the race. It's a good car, and we won today. We seem to have a great package.
But I would have to be a little bit stronger personally and then I would have that type of confidence that, you know, it's my race to lose.
I'm talking Dale Jarrett, Bill Elliott dominance, you know, where you're just fast, nobody can pass you, you lead every lap. We don't have that, not with these cars, not with the ability these guys have to make slingshot moves and runs and get runs on you.
I made a bad move in the middle of that race. Luckily, we were only in about a 20-car oh, at that point it was about an eight-car pack. That move might have cost me 20 positions on Sunday where I only lost eight today.
You know, it's a totally different race. I got to do everything right. Team's got to have good stops. A lot of variables.
Q: Junior, have you ever had a car that felt like that, where you felt you could pass any time you wanted here? Secondly, Tony, Jr. said a move you made won the race. Explain that move, please.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Tony, Jr.?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He's going to leave if you don't have any more questions for him.
Q: My question is for you. I was next in line.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Competition out here. Whoa! Competitive. Eight-person field here. Y'all run a hard race all day long, don't you (laughter)? That's fun to see. Let's see some more.
Are y'all going to release Tony, Jr. 'cause he's got work to do?
KERRY THARP: A couple people have questions for him.
Q: Today was a pretty cool day. The forecast is for pretty warm weather Sunday, close to 80 degrees. Tire concerns? Not making a full fuel run now. Hair pulling over the next couple days, concerns? Also from a driver standpoint, Dale?
TONY EURY, JR.: It's definitely in my eyeballs. You know, we looked at the temperature today. That's why we kind of run pretty close to our Shootout setup. It worked out good. We freed the car up just a little bit. It was a little bit freer.
But you're right, you're probably looking at 10 degrees hotter on Sunday, which is going to be totally a lot less grip. So I might have to tighten the car up quite a bit. But I can't overtighten the car because if I do I'm going to blister a right front.
So it's like he said, you got to find that balance. That's all we're going to be working on Friday afternoon, Saturday afternoon, we're going to work on the balance of the car, try to get a little bit more grip in it. We can do a few things.
You can put all the grip in the world, but your car is going to slow down. You have to find that happy medium and figure that out. We know that's coming and it's going to be a totally different race from what you had today when it comes Sunday.
Q: How was Sea World?
TONY EURY, JR.: Sea World was great. I am telling ya, t was the first time I ever been down there. There was a lot of stuff going on down there. It was awesome.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He don't never go nowhere. I was calling him, What's up, man? Now you're having fun. I'm proud of him.
TONY EURY, JR.: Never been down to anything like that. I'm either at home are at work. The wife was happy, so I'll be good for a couple more weeks.
KERRY THARP: Tony Eury, Jr., thank you. We'll release you.
Q: How important was it to bring Eury with you over to Hendrick? I assume some of the success you're experiencing this week was a result of being able to bring him with you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We have a really good, close, strong relationship that goes beyond the racetrack. As we get older and understand how important that is, we take better care of it and we want it to last. You know, we have family and aunts and moms and stuff like that that are important to us. Mine and his relationship is, you know, it's important that we keep it, and it's strong.
I like Tony, Jr. a lot. I like to be a part of his life and do things that he does and help him do things, help him acquire things.
Q: You were talking about having a car like Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott had back in the day, could pass anybody. Have you ever had that car here? Secondly, Tony, Jr. said a move you made won that race. Could you explain that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I don't think I've ever had that car down here. We had a real good one when we won it. I had another car that I thought would have won the race hands down when it got rained out. Michael won. We had a battery issue. We were making laps up. I thought we were going to go right by the field no problem, win that race.
The move that we made was the one I was talking about how it was like 12 to go or something, coming 10 to go maybe. 12 was leading, 41 was second. I run about four laps behind them, wasn't going to make any gains or runs on them that way, so I moved back a little bit and tried to get some people packed up behind me. I had Casey (Mears) back there. Don't know who was behind him. We really couldn't get packed up behind each other, get to pushing each other. There was about 20 laps on our tires at that point. They were starting to get slick.
So he couldn't really give me a great shove like I was hoping to make happen. But I got it backed up there pretty good, come off of two and let it rip. Lifted often the brake, just let the car do whatever. I just wanted to see what it would do. I didn't think it was going to be a pass. I didn't think it was going to try to make a pass because I didn't think I'd get that good of a run.
We got down into three. We'd been running at the top. So everybody drove into the top of the racetrack. I had a pretty good run. I just made that mistake about 10 laps before that of going to the bottom and ended up by myself down there, lost a lot of spots. I just almost didn't do it. But I wanted to try to win. Thought maybe, I don't know, I drove down there. I didn't think I was going to clear him. I looked up in the middle of the corner. I didn't think I was going to clear him, but I did.
Q: No driver has ever pulled off the trifecta here by winning the Shootout, the Duel and 500. What would it mean for you to be able to do that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It would mean we have a good race car. It would mean that we have some awesome stuff down here. I'm just going to try to do whatever I can to win that race. It's going to be hard to win it, but it's going to be hard for everybody.
Q: Do you feel like your new teammates are envious at all, you coming in and doing well right away?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I haven't talked to them. I don't think so. You're envious of people that win. That's common. Human nature. I would be envious. I wouldn't be jealous. I'd be proud and happy knowing that I had the same opportunity and was given the same opportunity.
Envy is fine. I think that's human nature and not necessarily a bad thing in the right situation.
Q: They haven't expressed that to you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Jeff and those guys, I would be envious if Jimmie or Jeff were winning all the races. I would be happy, too, you know, because it's my team. I drive for them. That's my job. Some way, somehow, even if you don't drive for the car that goes to Victory Lane, you have some indirect effect on getting it there.
So still you take a little pride and a little joy any time a teammate of yours wins a race.
Q: Are you now comfortable with the engines? The problems have passed, you're confident going in?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I am now. I was surprised at the way they went back and responded to that. We had a problem in the test. They responded like it was some kind of emergency. They were all over the motors. Did the same thing down here. We had a problem, they got all over the engines, found out what the problem was. Within two hours they were already working on the remedies, fixing what we needed to fix so it wouldn't happen again.
I feel bad for them because they don't anticipate having those problems. To have to deal with it, it was really a four-alarm fire there for a second. I'm glad they got through it for their sake. Happy for them that we were able to give them some success today, give them some good confidence on what they did going into the 500. I don't want them guys sweating bullets. When the race starts, I want them to enjoy it. Hopefully we can get up front and stay there.
Q: The "mistake" that you were referring to earlier had to be when you got hung down low and the seven cars were up above you. Typically at this race they blow by you. You hung by yourself down there with that pack for quite a while. That's got to make you feel pretty good about what's underneath you right now.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, it does. It's not fun, though, having to stay there and look in the mirror and see nothing's going to come to change the situation and what's happening to you.
But, yeah, I'm glad that I've got a car that can maintain, if anything, sit there, sit there, aggravate those guys as long as I can until someone comes. But at that point the tires were so used and worn, everybody was going to stay at the top. That's the smart thing to do.
Jimmie did the same thing. He got down there and ended up getting trained by all of us. You could see it in this race here, too, the top is the way to go. After the tires get used up, you can't make any moves on the bottom. It's too slick.
Q: How important is it to be flexible at this racetrack? Seems more than any other place, you have to go with what's either behind you, in front of you, below you? Is it more true here than any other racetrack?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The big part of having decent success here is the talent of your spotter. I tell T.J., who is my spotter, that he needs to tell me what's happening behind me as if he had just gotten home Monday and was telling his girlfriend how the race unfolded. This guy's doing this, then this guy did that, then this guy lined behind him, then this guy did that. That's how I want him to explain it to me so I don't have to look in the mirror. I don't have to focus so much in the mirror because he's telling me the race, how everything's going. He's painting that picture for me as best he can paint it.
It helps me know before they get the run, whichever lane, if it's outside or inside, it helps me know which lane's going to come before it gets there. And if he says, The 41 is a car length off the 12, the guy behind him is pushing the 41, then I know in a matter of another straightaway and a half the 41 will get to the 12 and push him, so the 12's going to have a run probably in three-quarter of a lap. I can kind of plan out what I'm going to be doing at that point to fix that and stop it and counter it.
But T.J. is learning a lot. He's drove cars before. That also helps. That's why you see a lot of drivers, ex-drivers, that are spotters because they know what you want to hear. When you're up there spotting, as a driver, you know what you want to hear as a driver. It's real easy for those guys to do well at that job.
That's really important. That sort of helps me understand how the race is playing out behind me so I know what to do.
Q: During practice weeks, even when you weren't driving, you were smiling a lot. Now you're smiling a lot. Does the mood have something to do with the performance or with your team?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I think everybody knows if you go into something with a poor attitude, you typically have poor results or you have a miserable time anyways.
That ain't saying that I go to all these tracks with a smile on my face. But I do enjoy being in Daytona. I have enjoyed this relationship. Up to this point, it's been great, more than we ever could have dreamed of as far as the success we're having. I'm proud. I'm just happy that we're able to have this and thankful for it.
But, yeah, good attitude's important. I try to make sure, more importantly than my attitude, I try to make sure my team has one. I try to keep my guys pumped up because they're the ones putting that car underneath me. That matters probably more, their attitude, their anticipation and how they look forward to the event.
Q: It was mentioned earlier that the track was really beat up and tough running on. How do you feel about the track, the condition of it?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The bumps aren't so severe right now that I would ask for it to be fixed. I mean, it can be improved or it can be fixed, but it's not so extreme bump-wise. The surface is worn and the tires are taking a beating and you're blistering tires. But that will go away. We always see that at the beginning of the week.
But as we rubber the track up with the Nationwide race and Truck race, the track seems to do a better job of taking care of the tires in the 500.
I would say that this car makes it a little bit more challenging. After 20 laps, it was definitely more challenging to drive the car, even running out front and up high. You're correcting the car, sliding the right rear into the corner, backing into the fence, into the entrance of every corner. It gets a little loose off, too.
It's way easier to do that when you're leading than when you're running second or third. I was behind Newman as our tires started to fade. Good Lord, it's tough. I know what those guys are going through when they're behind me now. It makes me feel better about that, about being able to hold my position as I'm leading the race, knowing how difficult it is running second or third. I can't imagine running 20th with still 20 more cars behind you, pushing you down in the corner, you got no air on the car because of the field in front of you. It's going to be a challenge.
The track itself is all right. It's hard to pave a place like this. I wouldn't anticipate them doing it for another five or so years.
KERRY THARP: Dale Jr., congratulations. Appreciate your time.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you.