Continued from part 1 Q: Did you say earlier that you think not as many people have been going with you, and why do you think that that is, performance of your car or something else? DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think both. Over the last ...
Continued from part 1
Q: Did you say earlier that you think not as many people have been going with you, and why do you think that that is, performance of your car or something else?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think both. Over the last probably over the last four races, we've obviously not had the dominance that we've had in the past, not since '01 to '04, we were pretty strong. In the last several races, we have not been that good and I think it's starting -- when I was -- I always tell guys that have trouble finding drafting partners, a lot of the rookies especially, that if they have got a good car, they need to go out and practice and show it. You have to be respectful and not do anything ridiculous, especially if you're a rookie, but you need to go out there and show everybody how strong your car is because that's when people decide who they are looking for on Sunday. If I can go out there and take the lead and pass a lot of cars and just draft by people effortlessly, I'm going probably going to see a lot of help on Sunday. And if my car is not that strong, I can just try to pull out on the racetrack waiting on the draft to come by and practice and just try to get in the lead and hold it and maybe fool everybody into thinking I've got a really good car. Those are some of the tricks and the things that you've got to be thinking about when you're practicing to try to get yourself as much help as you can on Sunday.
Q: It's going to be hard now for anybody to do what your dad accomplished, winning seven championships and 75 races in today's NASCAR. Are the expectations that people have for you unrealistic?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't really know exactly, and I don't really know exactly what those expectations are. But I know that they are high. I know that people want us to win or expect us to win, expect me to be a contender, you know, week in, week out, and, you know, there's a lot of variables. There were a lot of variables in my dad's day. He had sort of up and down years earlier in his career trying to get with the right program, the right people and all of the sudden he got with RCR with a good group of guys, with Will Lynn and Kirk Shelmerdine and all those guys and they all clicked and it all worked out. Judging on the years before 1996, he wasn't the sole reason why those guys won all those championships. It came down to every one of them having some sort of a talent and some way to fit the pieces to the puzzle together. You know, that's sort of -- that sort of plays a lot into it, just like last year, we struggled. I felt like I had a great team, it was confusing and hard to figure out why we could not win races and run better than we did because I felt like the guys that I had were winning guys. I felt like every one of them had enough, if not more talent than we needed to win races. I just don't know why we couldn't put our car up there where we needed to be and why the car didn't drive like it should.
There's a lot of things that play into winning races and being successful year in and year out. I think Tony Junior is one of the best crew chiefs in the business. I think that will be recognized years down the road after his career is over with; that he was one of the good ones, and I guess just try to stick around and try to feed off of that as much as I can and win as many races as I can with him, and try to get that championship. Because, I mean, we all -- I feel like I can win a championship. I'm a good enough race car driver. So basically that's what we just focus on is go out and win races and win that championship.
Q: Your father being inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega Thursday night, with all of the success you've had at that track, how special an honor is that for you?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's pretty cool. I'm looking forward to being there and watching my family up on stage and see what they have got to say. It will be pretty fun. He would have been real happy about that. That would have been a big deal to him. I think that's a great shrine that they have over there and as a kid I would not wait to go to the racetrack so I could go through it every year. I think it's just a huge honor. It's one of the biggest honors in the sport. I'll be one of the first ones through the gate.
Q: Of all the things your father did, ten wins and coming from behind like he did in 2000, what's your greatest memory of what your father did there at Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, probably the one, the race where he passed like 18 or some cars there with three to go. Being in that race, and being right -- I was running second thinking I was in a position to try to get me a win, and I can see him and his line formed on the outside coming up, getting closer and closer. Every time I look in the mirror, he'd moved up a few more feet toward us and was come on. So everybody was sort of in a panic mode, everybody on the bottom line was sort of in panic mode as to, wait a minute now, this thing ain't playing out like we had in mind. That was pretty cool. That was fun because he was really proud that he was -- any time -- he sort of had a way of, you know, he would do all kinds of stuff like that, make big comebacks or big, great saves or just crazy passes. And everybody always said he could do a lot of things with a race car a lot of other people couldn't a lot of other drivers couldn't. He'd take pride in those things personally. Never would get out and jump up and down and brag about it. But, you know, when it was all said and done and over with and everybody went only home, he would take pride in doing those things. I think that comeback was one he really -- he really enjoyed.
Q: Could you have asked for a better mentor?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: My father? No, I don't think so. I think all those guys that he raced with, they were always trying to pick his brain and trying to get to the core of him and try to figure out some things that could help themselves. With you know one of the cool -- probably the coolest thing that any body could ever say about my dad is when it's from another driver, when it's from Bobby Labonte or Dale Jarrett or one of those guys says something that they thought he did was cool, something they remember, or a day they spent with him. Those are the things that I appreciate and cherish the most are hearing stories from other race car drivers and other people that worked with him.
Q: Do you have a favorite question that was asked or a favorite story that was told to you by anybody that sticks out in your mind?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was watching something where Bobby Labonte was talking about going riding around on a farm with Dad. And I know that was something Dad was real proud of, and any time one of his peers would come buy, he would jump at the opportunity to give them a ride down around the back and show them the farm. That was probably one of his favorite things to do. But he would not ask them to just come over. He would wait for some business they had to talk about or something like that where they would be around. But it was cool. I've got a lot of respect for Bobby and Dale Jarrett. Those two guys are probably near the top of my list and to hear them talk, either one of those guys talk about my dad, means a lot to me.
Q: Certainly it's been documented your team has gone through a lot in the last year and kind of building back up, but looking back to only have one victory in the last calendar year for you with the Chicago win, how challenging is that, and what needs to still happen for this team to win races like you say and to be a championship contender?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, right now, I feel like we're one rung low on the ladder as far as championship contender goes. We're right there. We've just got to get a little better footing. But I feel like we're right there. I made a real bad mistake getting into Kyle this past weekend. We didn't have a good car. We were going to have -- we were going to have a good enough car to finish somewhere around the Top 10, and that would have been a great salvage compared to where it did end up. So as a driver, that costs us a lot of points right there and cost Kyle a body on his race car. But just, when I'm in a position and I can't -- when you go there and expect to win, expect to run the Top 5, and it's not happening, you sort of have to take what you can get and that's what I didn't do. I sort of pressed the issue and put myself in a compromising position and wrecked Kyle and myself and a couple other people. So just made myself look foolish.
I've got to use my head and take what I can get in those situations. I think the cars and the team and everything is there for me; when I'm ready to match the gas, it's all there. I don't know, winning races is going to be -- always is going to be a challenge, especially as the competition level in this sport sort of increases across the board. Everybody that rolls up to the racetrack, 90 percent of the teams there have got an opportunity and got the equipment and the opportunity to win, and it gets harder every year. I don't know, it's going to be tough. But I think we can be there and I think we can make the Chase. I think we can be competitive in the Chase when the Chase comes. So I just can't make the mistakes that I make, and I've got to give my team an opportunity to improve my race car later in the race and try to get something out of it.
Q: Does it seem like it's been that long since the last win?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We've been so use busy -- you know, when you don't win -- I don't know. Aside from 2004, I only had two or three wins a year. So it wasn't like I got used to winning on an often pace or regular pace there. Yeah, so, I don't know, I haven't really thought about it being that long since I won. But I know that I wanted -- coming into the season, I wanted to get into Victory Lane as fast as I could and sort of get that little speed bump behind us and get over that fence to where we can start trying to click off some more and get that confidence.
It's all about the confidence, you know. You've got to get all that confidence built up, and once you get a full tank of confidence, man, you're hard to stop and it's hard to beat you. If we can get us a win, early, we can go into the rest of the season with a little bit more confidence to those Poconos and the Sonomas and those Michigans and those places where I haven't had a whole lot of success in the past. That's what we're going to need to go in there with, a lot of confidence, to be able to try to do better.
Q: Just to follow up a little bit on the earlier question about expectations, at Texas at the back of the truck, you said something that really didn't sink in to me until we kind of all walked away from there, but you said that you get called overrated all the time. I just got thinking about, where do you hear that or read that or whatever, is it like on Web sites you see it or do you hear it in the garage or e mails from fans, or how do you get that negative feedback or whatever it is?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you always -- regardless of the situation, you're never going to have you're always going to have some people that pretty much despise what you do and what you're about. I guess you just hear it from different angles, not necessarily -- I don't really get on Internet and read too much, unless I just won the day before. Yeah, like when I have a weekend like we did this past weekend, I probably don't even turn on the TV too much to see what's going on. You just sort of hear it because we had -- it was probably more so last year. You know, last year was every haters opportunities to really throw stones if they wanted to and a lot of them did. We were down and out and struggling, and, you know, it was probably -- I heard it more through the grapevine, like things that were said to my team. A lot of those guys had been working with Michael.
And I told them, when the season started I said: "Man, when you put that red shirt on, it's going to be a little different." And I don't think they really knew what I meant until they walked in and out of the garage, before or after a race and would hear some of the things that fans -- because there's an opportunity for all of the fans that didn't like Bill Junior or didn't like the Bud team to come out and got them and had an opportunity to be slang toward them, and they did. They were real hard on them boys and that was something they really didn't expect.
Q: Did that hurt doubly bad, or did it at all make you angry knowing how much your team was struggling? And also, do you think that's something that people, maybe we in the media and everybody don't realize, we go to Talladega, we see a sea of red in the grandstands and all, is there sort of an equal but opposite real vicious reaction that maybe we don't see as much?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Not necessarily. I mean, you know, I've got a big 'ol core group of fans and they more than -- they more -- they totally, you know, overshadow all of the things that you hear from people or hear somebody said about you or whatever. I mean, we're always going to -- you know, when I have a bad weekend, I get letters about how to keep my head up and keep digging and everybody is behind me. We don't really get -- I mean, the people that are not my fan, they are not going to write me and tell how happy they are that I didn't run good.
I read the letters that are positive and I listen to the fans after the race when I run in the Top 10 and they that I, "Man that, was a good run." Those are the things that are cool. Obviously when you win a race and everybody is happy; but when you put in a hard day's work and you run 5th or 8th or whatever and it was a good hard effort and the fans appreciate it, that's more of a compliment to me that they spent their money, came to the race and their driver ran well and they are happy.
You know, just every once in a while, like last year was a hard year for the team, hard year for myself, and there was a lot of things said to my team leaving a lot of racetracks that I heard about later that were hard for me to imagine. If I were there, it would have been tough for me to listen to and for them guys to walk back in the next week after all that meant a lot to me; that they didn't -- that they were still behind me and still getting after it, even after the things that they had to go through on some occasions.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thanks for everybody tuned in and I'll check the Internet the next couple of days and see what you guys put out there.