Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS was the guest on the NASCAR weekly teleconference to discuss the upcoming Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. He's currently 7th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points...
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS was the guest on the NASCAR weekly teleconference to discuss the upcoming Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. He's currently 7th in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series points standings. Dale is a five time Talladega winner and his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., won ten times at Talladega during his legendary career. The following is the transcript of the question and answer session.
Q: Dale, how optimistic are you about a sixth win at Talladega? I know it's a great track for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's a good racetrack. I'm looking forward to this weekend. Talladega, you just hold it wide open, pretty easy weekend for the drivers. But you know we'll get out there and see what kind of car we've got. We've got new front bumpers on the car, going to test them out and see what we got when we get out there and practice with them. I think we have a good car, Junior and the guys are trying to improve on the car we had at Daytona. We think we have a little better program than that, so hopefully we can go back and we can show it.
Q: Fans are still getting acclimated to NASCAR and some still think every track is the same. What I want to do is give the reader a sense of the uniqueness of each track. I was hoping you could give me in your words what makes Talladega different than other tracks or, know, if that's not the case, what makes it similar to other tracks and sort of like a behind the wheel vantage point?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, Talladega is unique in the sense that it's the only track that you can run wide open all the way around all day long. At Daytona, the only track that's even remotely close to Talladega, handling is a lot more of a factor, and the car will slide around a lot more and you have to use the throttle at little bit more at that track; even as big as it is, and a long gas run there, you have to use the throttle a little bit. Talladega, you have to hold it wipe open. Only thing you have got to look for is the guy in front of you. It's wide and you can run three wide which is -- you can run three wide for consecutive laps which you don't really do anywhere else and you can pass -- you might get a good draft to pass 10, 15, 20 cars in one lap or two or three laps and you might guess passed by that many cars in the next two or three laps. It's a lot of fun, because you're never really out of the picture. You're never really -- you're never really out of the shock of wind if you're in the lead draft all day long, you play cars right, put yourself in the position there at the end of the race, and anybody pretty much can have a shot to win.
Q: I see you have a special paint scheme this weekend in honor to your father. Wondering what you think of the car, and what this weekend means to you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I heard about it sort of through the grapevine like everybody else did. A friend of mine actually slipped it to me a couple months ago, and I was -- I was very excited when I saw the car. I think the car looks good, and I think it's a cool way to honor my dad. It's going to be a lot of fun to be behind the wheel of that car, and sort of see the reaction that, I don't know, I guess more or less the reaction it gets from the other drivers on the racetrack. Hopefully I can get a little by more help on draft than we've been getting in the last couple of races on the plate tracks. It's going to be neat. I think the fans will enjoy it. I hope the fans appreciate it. I hope, you know, everybody at NASCAR appreciates it because it's a pretty cool deal for DEI.
Q: I know earlier this year when it was the five year anniversary of his death and you were getting all of the questions about that, you sort of said some things, it was a little awkward to call it an anniversary. I'm wondering from all of these tributes and things ever get a little taxing for you.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, there's just, I don't know -- I think his birthday -- personally, to me, it's really just personal choice in what your opinion is personally. His birthday is something I do enjoy pointing out or celebrating or recognizing myself personally because that was always a lot of fun with him when he would get a little bit older we were always picking about what his real age was. But, I don't know, there were some things that come and go without a blink of the eye, but there are other things that come and go that you want to point out and you want to recognize and you do appreciate and you do miss or you do want to -- between me and my family or whatnot, and all of his fans, you do want to take a moment and remember. I think his birthday is a good one.
Q: Is it really his 55th birthday?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I believe it is.
Q: You were the voice about calm about bump draft and everybody else seemed to be screaming and you didn't seem to think it was that big a deal. If you look now at the softened up bumpers, how do you think that that might affect the race in that, okay, yeah, it takes away bump draft in the corners, but it sounds like it takes away bump drafting in the straightaways, too. How do you think it will affect the race and how does it affect you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, they are really not. They are softer to a sense, like sometimes you would get guys that would get a run on you and they would not lift; they would just hold. They would just run right into you with everything they had coming. And that was would sort of be a big startle to the guy that's betting the bump draft, and it really was not effective. It just sort of put both cars out of shape and it really didn't -- might not have sent the guy that far, anyways. The real effective way of bump draft is to once you get a run, right before you get to the guy, you sort of come off the gas and you get the bumpers and then you put the throttle back down, once you're in the slipstream of the draft you're able to actually push the guy along all the way down the straightaway. You just have to let go of him before either one of you start to arc the car into the corner. You'll still be able to bump each other in the corners, you'll still be able to bump in the straightaways and you'll see guys that will do it too hard and mess their cars up. You'll see people get penalized for bumping in the corner maybe, I don't know. I don't think it's really going to change a whole lot as far as how we race Daytona or how we've raced in the past.
Q: So for the guys that do it right, like you're talking about, the softer bumper should not have much effect and this should be a pretty good thing overall?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'd be surprised if you're not able to do it like you need to be doing it. With the tubing that I see that they are using and everything, I think you'll still be able to bump draft effective and it will still be an effective way to advance your position and the guy in front of you, as well. If you do it right, the person that's on the receiving end is appreciative of the help. People just don't like being knocked the fire out of all the time to where we're knocking the bumpers off. Because at the end of the race when the bumper is all the way mashed into the fuel cell, some guys won't push you because it just basically just lift the car up and spin you out, because all you're doing is getting into the bumper cover and there's nothing there. At least we'll have the bumpers on the back of the cars near the end of the race where you can still get some help when you need it.
Q: How much time did your father spend thinking about paint schemes, and in general, do you think about changes to the way your car looks and do you view your car as a reflection of yourself?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I do. You know, the paint scheme on my car has always been something I've been focused on. But we had it changed. I really enjoy a good, clean race car without a lot of different colors. Just, you know, if I had my choice, I'd be driving an all white car. I'd paint it sort of like the delivery trucks that Budweiser has. But, you know, I like the car I've got and I think it is a reflection of myself. I think it fits my personality as good as any. But, you know, my dad and Richard and the guys at Sports Image, which later became Action Performance, they always were thinking of unique ways or creative ways to incorporate another paint scheme or something else and certain races, you know, maybe honestly for the Winston and a couple other races, maybe the 500 and Shootout and stuff like that, they always were thinking of cool ways to do and ways to incorporate neat things that they like or enjoyed.
Q: After 2004 you said the parting ways with Tony Junior was a way to save the personal relationship. So now that you're back together and things are going well, is it a case of you guys just agreeing to disagree about certain things, or are there specific areas concern like car set up or race strategy where you're now on the same page and simply have a lot less to argue about?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, sort of both. You know when it comes to the setup of the race car, I think I believe what he's putting underneath there a lot more, I've got a lot more faith and confidence in what he's putting underneath my car. And I think that he believes or takes to heart everything I'm saying and tries to use that as information more so than we had in the past. You know, we're both just showing each other a lot more respect when it comes to the two things. When I'm talking about the car and when he's putting the setup under there or wanting to make a change, I'm going with it 100%. There's no doubt in my mind that it's not going to -- it's going to -- there's no doubt in my mind it's not going to work. We're going to, you know, we're going to try to maintain that respect because that's sort of the key to keeping each other keeping each other happy. You know, when we start to get frustrated with the car, sometimes the car sort of -- sort of is your worst enemy when it's not doing what you want it to do, or when you're driving it and you're not getting around a conner like you want to and when he puts a spring in the right front and it doesn't do what he wants it to; that could be a deciding factor on whether you're both kind of on the same page or you're both getting along that weekend. So a lot of times when that -- when we don't get results that we want in practice, or on a certain run in practice, one of us has got to get out and sort of pat the other on the back and put your nose back to the grindstone a little bit and try to get it back where it was.
Q: If it were a track where you guys used to disagree on something where now it's like, okay, we're now going to do it this way like California or Daytona or just someplace where you used to just not be on the same page and now it's like, okay, this is what we're going to do.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I can only speak for me personally about that. Like we would go to racetracks where I had not generally run well in the past. And with the pressure that can get mounted sometimes for myself and for the expectations of me, a lot of times, then I would sort of have a frame of mind of, well, whatever happens this weekend happens. If we run back again I'm not going to get all torn up about it. If we do run good, then that's out awesome, we'll be happy about it. So when I go out and run the car, we run typically -- we'd run sorrier or not as good or as bad as we always have, I with not really have any sort of --I'd just have sort of a blank expression. And I think that sort of spun Tony Junior out because he didn't know really how much of my heart was in it. So, you know, now I go to every racetrack with a lot of confidence. I think it shows my team has got a lot of confidence. That makes me confident when they are confident. You know, I go to every racetrack with more confidence, and I believe that this is going to be the time that we go there and run good like we should and you know we try to get those results, and I just try not to let I just try to keep my confidence all the time. That was pretty much what I needed to do on my end of the bargain, and my determination showed outwardly instead of just kind of keeping it all in.
Q: Last month at Bristol, Robby Gordon was held for what NASCAR said was verbally abusing one of their officials over a disputed call. A couple of years ago when one of your guys, Steve Hmiel, got tossed out of a track for, again, verbally abusing an official over his radio, as a driver, is it difficult to hold back saying something over your radio that you should not direct towards NASCAR especially going to a place like Talladega where so many judgment calls like going below the yellow line can come into play?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: That's just a person by person experience. I've been in that same position myself where I've gotten out of control on the radio and said things about NASCAR and how they ran their show, and I was pretty much put in my place after the whole deal was over with. I think once you go through that experience and you listen to their arguments, and how it's going to be, you're fixed. I don't think you're going to have that problem again, at least I wouldn't have that problem again. But we were -- I think that's just, you know, either you're the type of person that can handle that type of stuff, or you're the type of person that's going to lose it once and NASCAR is going to fix you. I don't think you'll see Robby, myself or anybody else been through that experience do it more than once.
Q: Sometimes a driver will say something to you that will strike you and you'll think about it. One of the things you told my, I was just kind of thinking about it every time we go to Talladega is that you like to control the pace of a race at a track like this, as a prize fighter would control a fight. Can you talk us through that just a bit? It just surprises me that you would think of it that way, and from the driver's seat, tell us about that.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, when you've got a really good race car that can run up front, run in the Top 3 and challenge for the lead, through the whole duration of the race, you're definitely -- you're definitely one of the guys up there pulling the switches and matching the buttons or everybody behind you. A lot of times, I mean, I've been on the other side of the fence, too, where I'm one of the guys trying to hang on, you know, and trying to get into the Top 10 and get into the Top 5, and it's just a real struggle to do that all day long. But when you've got a car that can run up front all the time, you just sort of control, you know, what's going on around you as far as the people that you're drafting with and who you want to help and who you don't want to help and who you're trying to get to the front and who you're not trying to get to the front. Obviously you can change your line a little bit and you can sort of through, you know, when you drive a race car and you see guys around you, you can see their body language in there. You can see their temperament and how they are driving their car, and it comes out about -- it comes out as their car goes around the track, you just sort of see what mood they are in and what their attitude is and that they are upset and having a bad day or just chilling or being patient.
So you sort of feed off of that and you just watch people around you and see what they are doing, and that's how you decide what you do. You know, if you see a guy that's fast but he's a little erratic and bouncing off people's sides and stuff, you're not going to be as inclined to go up there and really draft with him that much because you don't want to be the guy that pushed him into the wreck. But because I've been on that end of it, too. But you look for guys that are smooth, fast. I like to go to the front, so I want to be racing with somebody who is wanting to go to the front all the time like Tony or Elliott, guys like that, that are trying to get every position they can get within reason, and that's the guys you try to work with.
Continued in part 2