BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS: WHO WILL BE COMPETIVE HERE THIS WEEKEND? "A lot of them teams are really, really strong. The 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 48 (Jimmie Johnson) work really good together and...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:
WHO WILL BE COMPETIVE HERE THIS WEEKEND? "A lot of them teams are really, really strong. The 24 (Jeff Gordon) and 48 (Jimmie Johnson) work really good together and seem to run real well up front but the 11 (Greg Biffle), 20 (Tony Stewart) and 38 (Elliott Sadler) and maybe a couple of other guys there too (look good).
ON DRIVERS SAYING THEY'RE GOING TO GIVE UP A LITTLE BIT OF SPEED HERE TO HAVE A GOOD HANDLING RACE CAR. HOW IS YOUR CAR? "It's pretty good. It ain't handling down the straightaways as good as some of the other ones but we're working on that. It don't really matter. I'd rather run good and pitch in places like that with the power down the straightaway. We've learned a lot there and that's what I want them to keep working on. We might miss out on some gains by working on some of this other stuff but we have good handling cars. We'll just have to see happens and see where we're at when it comes down to it. I just hope our car is handling really good."
HOW MUCH DIFFERENT IS THIS RACE FROM THE DAYTONA 500? "Not quite as long you know. We spent a long part of that race (the Daytona 500) just waiting until the end not really doing anything. This race you've got to race and stay toward the front all night long because you never know when you're racing for the win. Each pit stop could be the race off pit road for the win. It just depends. The 500 is a lot longer race and very boring in the center. This race is a little bit more of a sprint and very exciting and under the lights and all that just adds to it."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE TO RETURN TO CHICAGO AS THE DEFENDING CHAMPION? HOW MUCH MORE CONFIDENCE DO YOU HAVE AT THAT TRACK? "We didn't think we'd be saying that. It's pretty exciting, a pretty good feeling. I hope that (crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr. talks to (interim crew chief) Steve Hmiel.
We really learned a lot. Me and Steve had a great setup there last year and I hope we go with something sort of similar to that because me and Steve really had a great handling car and had it really dialed in. Hopefully Tony Jr. can just enhance that package a little bit and we'll be great."
ON COMING HERE FIVE YEARS AGO AND WINNING HIS FIRST CUP RACE: "I won the (Budweiser) Shootout and the qualifier, that was sort of the weight off the shoulders, the very, very first win here. But I've won a bunch of Busch races (here). Anytime you can win at Daytona it's a great feeling but it's just a crapshoot now. We really had some dominant cars back a couple of years ago and now we've sort have fallen amongst the rest of the pack. It's a very, very tough challenge really to get the win now."
HOW MANY DRIVERS DO YOU AVOID DRAFTING WITH? "Seriously, there's a few of them out there. Over here in the Cup garage there's about a dozen. They just make you nervous, having no choice but to run beside them is not a whole of fun. But for the most part, there's a lot of guys you really enjoy (drafting with) and really have fun with it but then there's some guys where you just want to get clear either in front or behind and sometimes you have to let it go but it's always smart."
ARE THERE ANY TWEAKS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE TO THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT? "I haven't really thought about it. I'd really like things to stay the same. It gets confusing when you continue to change formats then tires, compounds and sidewalls on the tires. How you win points is very confusing. If it's confusing for me in the car imagine what it's like for those people sitting in the grandstands. Just in general no matter what you're dealing with whether you're trying to sell groceries off the shelves in the grocery store or you're running an operation like NASCAR, consistency and things that continue are a safe bet and a good thing and anytime you get confusion and inconsistency you lose interest with fans. It gets really confusing for the drivers as it is. Heck, we haven't gotten used to the first change. I think that it'd be very good and very smart to try to keep this package just for a little while longer and then maybe you'll have some even better ideas in two or three years that you'll never want to change. But I think to keep tweaking and keep twisting on it, it's finally going to wear thin on everybody's patience."
HOW HARD IS IT TO BREAK THE TYPECAST THAT YOU'RE A RINGER ON A CERTAIN CIRCUIT? JEFF GORDON GOT HIS FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON IN SONOMA BUT IT'S A TRACK HE IS TYPICALLY STRONG AT SO IS IT REALLY TRUE TO SAY THAT JEFF GORDON IS BACK? "Well I'm sure that Jeff Gordon feels the same way so I guess that's OK. When we'd go to Daytona and run third last year, I didn't feel like we were getting better because I was wanting to see results on tracks where we needed to run better. I think Jeff is feeling the same way. When he goes to Chicago and runs in the top five all day long, that will give him some comfort knowing that they have improved and that they're making some gains. But here and even last week for him I would say he feels the same way about that. You definitely can't take those finishes for face value because he's always been a ringer at that track and he's always run great here."
WHAT WAS THE DEFINING MOMENT FOR YOU WHEN YOU KNEW YOU WERE BACK TO PERFORMING? "Richmond. We've ran well there before but I really had control of that race and I really felt comfortable and felt like it was going to be really hard to beat me. (Kevin) Harvick had the race pretty much won but once we got in the position we were in I felt very strong and that's a good feeling. I had that kind confidence in my team at any race aside from here and Talladega. But I don't feel like we're a team beat at Talladega and Daytona anymore. I feel like when we go back to Michigan we should be able to run in the top five since we were able to do that. You've got that confidence. I've never been really able to say that about Michigan. Being able to say that really says to me that it's a sign that we're a better team. Going to Michigan last year, I'd have said 'Man, to run in the top 15 I'll be happy.' Not just satisfied (but) happy so we've come a ways."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEKEND'S RACE? "I just want to get in here and get a good handful of points."
THAT'S UNLIKE YOU TO SAY THAT: "I felt that way secretly for years. I just never really spoke about my strategy at this track or my opinion of finishes at this track because we've always been so dominant. But I've always come in here even when we had dominant cars, I've always come in here and said 'You got a car that can win just don't do something stupid and cost yourself a third-place finish by trying to win and wreck and finish 30th. If you can get the win, great. If you can be in that position, great. But if you're not in that position understand the situation and try to get the points because it's so important."
ON IMPROVEMENTS THEY'VE MADE: "I believe my motor guys are making great gains. In Michigan we were awesome man, awesome. I'm so happy about that. Here we still have a little bit to gain. We made some gains. There's some tough cars out there. We made some gains in the motor. That was where we were hurting the most before. We made some gains. We still have a ways to go but we made some great gains since February here, I see a difference. But the 20 (Tony Stewart) man, he's really strong."
WHAT SPECIFIC ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? "In the motor. I don't know exactly what part or what piece but when I hit the gas I want something that will go a little faster."
WHEN YOU WERE IN DRAFING PRACTICE TODAY (FRIDAY), HOW MUCH OF WHAT YOU'RE DOING IS SHOPPING AROUND FOR DRAFTING PARTNERS FOR SATURDAY NIGHT? "I don't know man. I'll be lucky if I get any help. It's been hard here lately trying to find help out there. To be honest with you, we really haven't had the kind of car you want to get behind here lately. I've got to get back out there and show these guys that we've got a car they need to work with or if you're working with (me) it will pay off for them."
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR GUYS TO HELP YOU? "That's what I'm saying. I got to get out there and run good so where they'll go 'Hey man, I need to get behind him. That's going to be an advantage for me.' Here lately we haven't had that kind of car so people are like 'Screw that, I'm not messing with that car.' That's really how it goes. I don't get behind people that ain't going to go. He might be the greatest guy in the world but if his car isn't fast you won't help him. You've got to get behind people that are going to take you to the front."
SO YOU'LL BEHIND TONY STEWART? "Well for a while. I don't want to push him into the lead because then I can't pass him. I got to push him up to about fifth and find my way around him before he gets to the lead. That's the way it works."
YOU'RE ONE OF THE DRIVERS THAT CRITICIZED JIMMIE JOHNSON LAST YEAR FOR HIS DRIVING AT RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES. HOW MUCH IMPROVEMENT HAVE YOU SEEN IN HIM? "Jimmie was really bad about blocking very aggressively. I think that he gets talked into those situations personally. I don't believe that that's his true personality. I believe he gets sort of talked into driving and making those split second decisions. I've listened to a lot of the radio conversations over the weeks after the races and he gets put in that situation of 'Look, you can't let them by no matter what.' When in reality it's OK. If a guy is coming at 10 miles an hour (faster) it's really a very reckless idea to try to pull in front of him so let the guy go on up there and try to get pushed back by in the next lap or two. You've got to make that choice when you see him coming in the mirror. You've got to say 'That guy is coming 10, 15 miles an hour faster. That's something I don't want to block. He's going to crash both of us. If he was coming real easy, sure block the heck out of him. There have been times where he made some moves that I felt caused us a lot of trouble and was a pain in the butt. How do I say this? He didn't take it the wrong way and we're still friends and I decided that if I had any opinions about how he drove that I'd tell him myself personally from now on."