Earhnahrdt, Skinner Talladega preview

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "NASCAR has made some changes on the rules and some of the spoiler things and the restrictor plates for Talladega, so everybody's got a new little twist on things and not ...

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "NASCAR has made some changes on the rules and some of the spoiler things and the restrictor plates for Talladega, so everybody's got a new little twist on things and not knowing really how it's all really going to come down to the end of the race with drafting and all. Which is the best place to be, in the front, second, third or whatever. Probably again, it'll probably be out front and trying to dodge and hold everybody off, but it's always been a good race track for me and a good race. I go there and have been able to win restrictor plate, no restrictor plate or whatever. I look forward to going there. I feel like one of my better shots to defend something or to win something would be there, so I am comfortable going there and being a part of the No Bull Five and having a chance to win the No Bull Five and also maybe gain some points on Bobby Labonte. That keeps coming up. That's a big factor right now. He's got to have some luck change. He's had awful good luck and we were running good Sunday and then had some bad luck. Talladega is the place to be and try to turn it all around. "Everybody else talks about me seeing the air (in the draft). I'm really not proposed to saying I can see the air, but I do understand the draft, and I do understand what the cars are doing in the air and that was another thing I was talking about earlier. The spoiler changes and the template changes on the top with the deflector and also the restrictor plate change will change that. To adjust to it and how quick you can adjust to it is going to be very important. Just experience of racing with restrictor plates and at Talladega watching guys win races and beat me in my earlier years, Buddy Baker and some guys, that I learned a lot from. It's the kind of race track and kind of thing I enjoy doing. "I think it's maybe an advantage for the guys who went and did the test in Daytona, more than anyone, but they've been some cars that tested there since then and we've been in the wind tunnel with our cars. We understands the cars a little bit. I think it's going to be a fairly even playing field. Hopefully one guy won't have the edge on us so bad that we can't race with him or keep up with him or whatever, but I think it's going to be a situation where we're all racing each other and racing pretty tight. "It (confidence) also turned around at the end of last season. Kevin and I were really getting in tune with each other, but this has been a good year. I still feel like we have some deficit with some aerodynamic things with the Monte Carlo we have to work around and work with that could be better, but again, it's a situation where we've had a good year. The thing that's made a difference I think is the confidence level the team has in itself and that we have together. Danny Lawrence and Kevin Hamlin and Mike Moore and all the guys on the team just work hard together. Ron Otto, everybody. We've got a good group of guys that do a good job and I feel good about when I get in the car. The confidence level in the car with the car, with the crew that we're going to get it right. Charlotte is a great example. We were really out to lunch qualifying and it was the same car I ran there in the spring, same package and same tire and all this kind of stuff. We just missed it. We just didn't run good qualifying, but we kept working through things in practice and dadgum, the car hit on it pretty good. We came to the front and raced 'em Sunday. We had something go a little wrong with the spring or something and the car gained a lot of wedge. We got too tight at the end and just lost our advantage, but still that confidence to be able to sit there and have a bad week and turn it around on race day is just tremendous and that's what's been happening to us. We've not qualified well. We've had some problems, but to turn it around and still run good and finish good with some bad starts, bad starting positions to come back and run good and finish good. I'd like to won more races this year. That's been a bit of a disappointment to us because we felt like we should have won more races. We've been close a lot of times and just didn't capitalize on it. We were running good at Watkins Glen and I spun the car out and got into the wall. It was just bad races, things that shouldn't have happened to us. We were leading the race at Bristol and got into a wreck. A lot of things happened to us this year that we feel like we should have won more races. "We'll have more throttle response. I think the cars, from what we saw in the test, will be able to draft up and draft along and draft beside each other and create closer racing. Some of the guys were nervous and worried about getting into each other and guys getting into the back of us or will they be able to control the cars. That's what we've been wanting is being able to draft up and race these guys. I think the things they've done and changes they've made will make a difference. I think you'll see a better race, a closer race. Hopefully everybody will mind their manners and not get into each other and cause wrecks for no reason. The wrecks that have happened at Talladega could have been avoided. "The problem we all have and Darrell (Waltrip) is working with that now, is we all are competitive at heart and nature, especially if you drove these race cars enough and long enough. It's really hard to quit something you really enjoy and feel comfortable doing and excited about doing. It's tough to see Darrell running the way he is and not being competitive. I think the day that I can't run to the front or be competitive that's when I'm going to have to look at getting out of the car. (Richard) Childress and I have got a pretty good handle on things. We talk about it. We talk with each other, and I think it's going to be a situation where I step out of the car before I get to that point. I don't want to be around and be in the way. I want to be competitive and racing. If I'm driving the car, I want to be up front. "I think the fans like to see exciting rivalries and good races. Darrell Waltrip and I had some and him and Cale (Yarborough) and Rusty and I have. NASCAR had done a good job racing and making things competitive, but again, the rivalries haven't been there. We've worked at trying to race each other cleaner, which we should, but again, that rivalry of neck and neck and bumper to bumper and side by side racing is not as intense as it used to be. You see guys racing now and it just doesn't seem to be that side by side racing as much as it used to be. Just barely beating guys out and have cars racing down to the wire like we had in the past. It's more, and I hate to say this, of a single-file racing. I think one of the most fun races I was in was in Atlanta in the spring when Bobby (Labonte) and I were side by side there on the last couple of laps racing each other for that start-finish line. That's exciting racing, to see it come down to that. "He (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) gets beat up a little bit, but he's a big boy. He felt good about Charlotte. They had problem with a lugnut. Dale Jr. was running good at Charlotte, and he felt they got back on track. Him and the guys were really excited about the way they ran Sunday. They had a lugnut problem in the pits, and that caused them to lose those laps, but he made those laps up. He felt good about it. He felt good about his day, and he feels good about going from here on to the end of the season. Matt (Kenseth) was really on in May, and then the fall race here (Charlotte) he missed it some way or another, sort of like I did in qualifying. "I'm looking forward to going to Talladega with the rule changes and trying to make a better race out of it and a more competitive race and give the driver some throttle response back. NASCAR has really worked hard all year long to try to do a good job with the cars and the teams trying to get us all competitive. I do want to say that we don't need to race restrictor plates any more than we have to. We did at Loudon, and NASCAR did a good job with making the rule change to help us out with trying to cure some problems with people worried about safety, but I still say there's not any race track that's any unsafer than any other. The race tracks we take that risk, we go race and have a good time."

KEVIN HAMLIN (Crew chief No. 3 GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo) "We're pretty excited about the new rules. We were part of the test at Daytona when they were trying to come up with something different. From what we saw down there when we got in a big pack drafting and all, it seems like it's going to make it a pretty exciting race. We may put some of the passing back into this thing that everybody likes to see. It's not going to put the slingshot moves back in like we saw in the 70s and 80s, but it's going to put a lot of racing back into the race. "He (Earnhardt) can see the air. I think he just has the sense, he knows how to work the cars. He knows how the air comes off a lot of these other cars and what it does to his car. He just has a good sense about where and how to pull up and pass. It's kind of amazing to me still to tell the truth. I've watched him for years when I wasn't working with him going, 'How does he do that?' Now that I'm working with him, I'm still going, 'How does he do that?' "Last year at Talladega when we started in the back and he started blasti ng up through the middle of the pack, we were all sitting there shaking our heads going, 'you can't do that.' He did, but it just amazes all of us, I think. "We can say it was late because any time you don't come out of the box with your feet spinning and going forward you're in trouble, but we hit on some stuff in Charlotte in May (1999) that really got our program under way. I think from there, we still stumbled every once in awhile, but we came up with some better packages, spring and shock combinations, and our aero package kept getting better with the aero program we have in place with Richard (Childress) and Andy (Petree) and Dale what we call our RAD program. Up until Charlotte, we thought we were already going to get the new Monte Carlo body package last year, and we didn't really work on our stuff that much over the winter to improve it and make it better. When we finally realized that we weren't going to get a new body style, we went full speed ahead trying to make our cars better and make better packages out of what we had and finish the season up. We kind of got caught behind the eight ball at the beginning there, thinking we were going to get something that we didn't get. Our communication seems to get stronger and stronger the more we race together. Toward the end of the season we picked up stuff that we hoped was going to work coming into this year. We were already working on our new Monte Carlo bodies toward the end of last season and got some tests under way with them, then we went at the beginning of the season to Las Vegas to try to understand what we had going on with this new body. When we came out of the box this year, we came out fairly strong and had an idea which direction we wanted to head and it's helped us out quite a bit this year. "I don't look for any tire situations at Talladega. We've raced on that tire and been real successful a number of times. I don't think we necessarily had any tire problems at Charlotte. We're still, as Goodyear is, learning about these tires and the technology that we have. Our cars are racing so much faster and we have so much better aerodynamics and chassis packages that we just keep upping the bar going faster and faster and faster. That keeps them a little bit behind to tell you the truth. They try to anticipate how much better we're going to keep making things, but we keep making them faster and better than even we can imagine. I think some of it is self-inflicting. Sometimes we put more camber in the car than we should, and we're still learning an awful lot about that ourselves. Then every once in awhile, you're just going to get a set of tires... Nobody can just imagine how complicated this has got, even myself. When we deal with air pressure and tire rates and there's just so much that's involved with the thing now it's unreal. Goodyear does a terrific job of doing what they do. I don't see how they can keep up and build us as good of a tire as they do really build us. We all put a set of tires on the car and say, 'doggone it's a bad set of tires,' but it's really like we've got something mismatched with that set that's not appropriate with our setup at the time and it just happens to work out bad for us. The first thing we say is that we have a bad set of tires, and I think the public doesn't quite understand. When we say a bad set of tires, we don't mean as in terrible. We just mean we just have mismatched for our particular setup at the time. "We might have had a tire that had an air bubble or something in it and we might have had a little more camber than we should have had. Unfortunately, that's what we have for the day, and tirewise everybody is in the same situation that we are. Whether that means he has to slow his pace down out on the track, change his driving style, that's part of it. I have to assure him that we're doing everything we can where we won't have a tire situation and blow one out. If we have to change our air pressures and still make the car work as good as we can, we did a pretty good job of that up to a point where the track kept getting more and more rubber on it and kept getting tighter and tighter. I guess we just didn't keep up with that as fast as we should. Looking back at it, I think we might have put a set of tires on there that might have been mismatched for where we were at the time. I guess we just never caught up with our adjustments quick enough after it was all said and done. We work around it. Sometimes you're locked in with your camber for the most part, unless you want to spend a lot of time to try to readjust that. As the race goes on, the more rubber that gets on the track, it does lose a little bit of its grip. That's actually easier on the tires. As cold as it was Sunday, the track had a tremendous amount of grip in it, which is awful hard on the tires, especially until a good amount of rubber gets built up into the track. We work real hard at letting him understand that we're working as hard as we can in the pits on the problem and that he needs to adjust his driving style and take it easy. The right front tires takes an awful lot of punishment when you're entering the corner at close to 200 mph. If you can drive the car into the corner just a little bit easier and let it kind of float up the track a little bit, just not put a lot of pressure on it. We were good the whole race as far as not having any actual tire problems. We just didn't get adjusted good."

MIKE SKINNER (No. 31 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Skinner finished a career-best second in April's DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The 43-year-old Ontario, Calif., native finished .189 seconds behind winner Jeff Gordon as Chevrolets scored a 1-2-3-4 sweep at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. It was his first top-five finish of the season, and he hasn't scored another one since then. Skinner will be making his 140th career start on Sunday. The 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year stands 12th in the season-long standings, 13 points behind 11th-place Steve Park. "I think the rule changes will throw a different mix into everything. We hope that it's a pretty even playing field. I think NASCAR has done everything they can do to make it that way. We've just got to stay focused and be a little bit luck of the draw. At the point in time when we finished second there last time, we hadn't had a top five. We decided instead of gambling and finishing ninth, that we would just stay behind Gordon and finish second. I think if the same thing was to happen this late in the year without a win, I think that I probably would have tried a little more aggressive approach to it. I'd have jumped up on the outside of him and tried to get a draft by him or something. Doing that, you're taking a chance of finishing 10th when you can have second, but I think at this point in the game I don't need second. I need 10th or first. "I'd just as soon be leading on the last lap. I think I can make that car pretty wide. It's going to be a heck of a wreck. To win our first race, I'd really have to do a lot of gambling there, and there's a points race involved. We almost messed Bobby Labonte up at Martinsville. We turned him around. Fortunately, he got his car back in control. We don't want to have an effect on this points race. We've got to keep that in mind, but at the same time, we're not points racing. We're racing trying to win a race. We'd like to get a Chevrolet to victory lane and get the 31 car to victory lane before the season is over. "I'm thinking it's not going to be a whole lot different (passing at Talladega), but I think you'll be able to recover a little better if you have to run in there and let off the gas. I think you'll have a little better recovery. If we don't do anything else but make it more exciting for the fans, then NASCAR has done a good job with the rule change. "They've tried to do the wind tunnel test and keep the drag numbers as close as they can to the cars. That spoiler issue could be our best friend or worst enemy. We'll just have to wait and see when we get down there. If it gets really loose in a pack, it's going to be your worst enemy, but we have the option to raise it up some. We're adjustable, so I think we're going to be fine. "We've really struggled with the new Monte Carlo. It's had some downforce advantages in the back. I don't think we're balanced good with it yet. I think the Pontiac is pretty superior right now balance wise, maybe not total numbers, and the Taurus is a good race car. I know the Chevrolet folks won't sit here forever and let this happen. We're going to work on our cars and 'em the best we can make 'em. If we need to come up with something different, that's what it'll be. "What you need at restrictor-plate races is friends until you get to about 10 laps to go. Then you know nobody will be your friend. If we can work together as team cars and a couple of guys we've started to work a little bit better with on restrictor-plate races, you help somebody when you can. You can't always help 'em, and they can't always help you. You do what you can when you can. When it get down inside that 10 or 15 laps, I know that Kenny Irwin and I teamed up and worked to get ourselves up to second and third. We saw Earnhardt coming. Earnhardt wants to win, and he's racing for a championship, so I think the situation is a little different right now. These guys don't need to wreck. They need to finish these races, and we don't need to wreck them. We need to finish the races, but we need a win, so we're going to be more in a gambling mode than we've ever been in a restrictor-plate race down toward the end of the race. We're going to try to be really smart the whole race, but if we're fortunate to be up there in the top five and we can make a move, we might finish 15th, but we're going to make the move. "Both restrictor-plate tracks have been good tracks for me. I'm not sure which one I would call my favorite. I live in Daytona, so I guess that's more of a home track. Both of them have been good race tracks for us." LARRY McREYNOLDS (Crew chief No. 31 Lowe's Monte Carlo) "I think we're going to see a different race at Talladega, but more than likely by the end of the day the cream is still going to rise to the top. That's pretty much what happens in this sport. Whether they go to less spoiler, more valence or change the rules at Talladega and Daytona, that same bunch at that end of the garage area still shines. That seems to be what happens. "I think possibly cars may be able to pass one another. I think they're going to pull back to one another pretty fast, hopefully they won't pull back too fast because at the test it almost looked like you had to be on your toes to make sure you didn't run over a guy in front of you. I think something certainly needed to be done. I applaud NASCAR making a change to see if it can make a better show. They're playing with the waters some. I think before we head into this 2001 season, see if they can make a better show this year for it. "In the perfect world, they hope this Talladega race will be a good race and one make is not out to lunch versus the other two and we don't have follow the leader and they can leave the rules alone during the winter. I know that's what they'd like to do. Certainly, that's what the competitors would love to see. If we don't have a good show, you know for a fact they're going to make some changes for February at Daytona. We might end up having to go back to running what we ran in the first three restrictor-plate races this year. Like Mike Helton said, he put it as good as I've heard it put when we were down there for the test. He said, 'no matter what we do, we're not going to make everybody happy. Even if we do nothing, we're going to make people unhappy.' But he said the moves they've got to start making, and I probably have a better understanding of this today than I did six months ago, the people we've got to make happiest the most is the people who are buying these tickets and turning on their televisions on on Sunday. You'll never make these competitors happy. You may make one group happy for a few weeks. It's like a nursery almost. You get one to quit crying, getting that one laid down for a nap, and before you turn around, the other one is up and crying. It's like a nursery. "I think NASCAR is saying we'd love to make the competitors happy but we ain't. Let's make the fans happy. The competitors are going to be here every week, so that doesn't matter. We've got to make sure those fans are here every week. "I'm tickled to death. I might get down there and say it's a disaster and we were junk, but what we saw at the test and Mike (Skinner) and Dale (Earnhardt) both liked what they felt. They liked what they saw and were tickled to death that NASCAR acknowledges that the Chevrolet was a little bit behind at Daytona and Talladega by narrowing our spoiler up. It was behind with the old rules. If they had the same rules for everybody, it would have been behind with the new rules. Will giving us a two-inch narrower spoiler make us totally even? I'm not sure, but at least it's a step in the right direction. "The Chevrolet rear spoiler will be 57 inches, which is what we've always been at Daytona and Talladega, but so has everybody else. Now the Ford and Pontiac has to be 59 inches. I know the Chevrolets finished 1-4 at Talladega earlier this season, but I think those boys just got lined up and decided they were going to take what they had and stayed in the line. If either one of them had tried to break out and pass one another, it wouldn't have been even close to a 1-4 finish, I don't think. "Mike wanted to win the race, but he knew he couldn't so he just decided he might as well follow Gordon and finish second. The team needed a top five, so he just took second. It's an unknown going back because we're not going back in the same configuration. We had not even had a top five before Talladega last time, and we struggled at Daytona. We basically redid another car to go there, so it was a big shot in the arm for this race team to go down there and finish second. We're taking the same car back, and it's the same car we finished ninth with at Daytona Beach in July. "Mike does a good job on these big tracks and understands the draft well. We've just got to get in the right place at the right time and get with the right people. Who knows where the groove is going to be? The biggest thing that paid off for us at Talladega is with 30 laps to go we got kicked back to about 18th or 20th. I looked at David (Smith) and asked him how we screwed it up this bad. I finally came on the radio and told Mike to get on the bottom of the race track and not move. The bottom is your best friend. Don't come off the bottom. "He did, and as this guy tried to move high, he passed him. As this guy tried to move high, he'd get him. The next thing I know we're running second. That's how Gordon got up there and it's how Mike got up there. If he had moved up, we would probably have ended up 22nd. You had to run around the bottom. How you moved up, a guy decided he wanted to try to run the top or the middle. "I draw Mike a picture every morning before races at Daytona and Talladega. We have show and tell. Here we are. We're going through the corners with cars up high and cars down low. Then there's one in the middle. You know what that car is in the middle. That's a moron. Don't be a moron at Daytona and Talladega. Morons can't win. You can provoke it by trying to be a hero. Don't get in the middle by yourself. Most of the time we've ended up there, we've done it to ourselves. "My gut feeling is you might not want to be out front on the last lap now, but we won't know for sure until we practice. If Mike Skinner is running second on the last lap, the guy in front better have a bad day before they get back around. In other words, his day is not going to end good."

   
     
 

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Steve Park , Mike Skinner , Mike Helton , Kevin Hamlin , Buddy Baker