Earnhardt Jr. not taking points lead for granted

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/DIET MT. DEW CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Watkins Glen International and discussed being the points leader, his state of mind heading into The Glen, Hendrick Motorsports and other topics.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR EFFORTS SO FAR THIS SEASON, BEING OUR POINTS LEADER AND COMING INTO WATKINS GLEN THIS WEEKEND. “We went testing a couple of weeks ago to try to get better after we struggled at Sonoma. We struggled in our test earlier in the season too. So, we kept working at it and we made a lot of gains. We gained a lot of speed. I’m excited to see how that is going to pay off this weekend. I feel pretty confident we’ll be able to put up an effort we can be proud of. So, I’m kind of looking forward to it I guess.”

DID YOU WATCH THE REDSKINS LAST NIGHT AND WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT RG3? “Yeah, I got that NFL Pre-Season app on my iPad because it was blacked out on my satellite for some reason, so I was scrambling like everybody else trying to find a way to watch the game. It was great to see some football. Seems like it’s been forever since we’ve been able to watch any football. To watch my Redskins play was great. So, I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Hopefully everybody can stay healthy.”

IN OTHER SPORTS AS THE PLAYOFFS LOOM, TEAMS REST PLAYERS FOR FEAR OF INJURY AND WHAT NOT, BUT THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO WORK IN RACING. YOU GUYS JUST KEEP ON GOING AS HARD AS YOU CAN GO, WHY IS THAT? “I don’t know how you can rest. You want to win; you want to win the race. You want to do well. You can’t take the time off. The cars are safe and we are not in physical danger of injury. That kind of stuff may loom large in stick and ball sports, but in our sport really the only thing you’ve got to worry about is burning yourself out mentally. If you just prepare yourself for that, you can handle that. It’s a little bit different since we are driving racecars and we’ve got all the safety equipment that we have to keep us in one piece.”

WOULD IT MEAN SOMETHING MOMENTUM WISE TO BE THE POINTS LEADER GOING INTO THE CHASE ENOUGH THAT YOU WOULD STILL CONSIDER DOING SOME SORT OF POINTS RACING FOR THESE NEXT FIVE RACES, OR COULD YOU TAKE MORE GAMBLES? “We can take gambles, but it is real tight up front. We come into this race first place in points and we can walk out of here in fifth pretty easily if things were to go bad for us. I know that going in. I prepare myself mentally for all the things that can happen to us. If anything I think it would make us hungrier and try to work harder. Feeling like we haven’t quite made the statement we want to make this year. We want to win the championship and we want to battle for the championship. On the way to getting that done you want to win more races and we were really conservative all year long. We feel like that in the position we are in now, we can gamble a lot more. Not be foolish, but we could try to stretch the car on fuel mileage and places like that to try to win races like a lot of these guys do. We just kind of played it safe and made sure we were going to make the Chase. That’s the first thing. You don’t want to miss the Chase being foolish. Now we feel like we’ve got a good position to do that, these last few races we can kind of just throw it all out there. If we fall back in points because we made a few mistakes, and some gambles didn’t pay off it’s not a big deal. We know what kind of season we’ve had and we know we’ve got a lot to be proud of. I think mentally we can go into the Chase pretty excited about our chances. Hopefully we can make some of those gambles pay off though and things will work out in a positive way and we’ll win some races before the Chase starts.”

Victory lane: race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Victory lane: race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

JUAN MONTOYA WAS SAYING THIS MORNING THAT WATKINS GLEN IS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN SONOMA, WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART FOR YOU HERE AND WHAT DO YOU LEARN DURING A TEST, IS IT JUST SEAT TIME? “I guess he would know because he’s a professional at road courses. I really have to say that this place for me is easier than Sonoma. Sonoma is a technical track. There’s a lot of corners, one after the other and if you mess up the first corner it ruins the next 10. So, it kills the whole lap. Here, we’ve got long straightaways and then a 90 degree corner, then a straightaway and another corner. If you make a mistake in a corner, you can really kind of reset the car and get everything figured out and make something out of the rest of the lap. Even sometimes you can do well enough to make up for your mistake and still put down a good time. For me this place isn’t quite as tough mentally and technically. It is fast here. Sonoma is a lot of slow corners, a lot of left and rights and moving the car around trying to change directions. This car is 3400 pounds and it doesn’t change directions very well. But when you come here you just go down the straightaway and turn, go down another straightaway and turn, and just try to put the best lap you can together. The only tough, tricky part in the chicane and through the carousel. I don’t know if I go through that thing the same twice, but you try to go through it as fast as you can.”

IS IT SAFE TO SAY NOW THAT MICHIGAN IS QUICKLY BECOMING ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE TRACKS DUE TO YOUR RECENT SUCCESS? DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR TEAM LEARNED FROM THE RECENT TIRE TEST UP THERE? “I don’t know what they learned. I haven’t went over any of that information yet, but we will when we get a little closer. The track has always been fun for me. It’s really wide and up until they repaved it you really used the whole race track in the corner. That’s perfect, you can’t ask for any better situation than when cars go through the corner and everybody is sort of using a different line. That’s what you want. That’s the kind of race track you hope and pray to build. I think over time the surface will age and we’ll get back to widening up the surface quite a bit. It has the characteristics as far as the way the corners are banked and the way the corners are laid out to widen back out again and be the great race track it’s always been. So, I really enjoy it. Even had I not won any races there, it’s just a really fun track.”

KNOWING THAT YOU GUYS REALLY WANT TO GET ALL FOUR HENDRICK CARS IN THE CHASE, WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT WOULD THAT MAKE? HOW DANGEROUS WOULD JEFF GORDON BE IF HE GOT IN THE CHASE AS A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER? “It would be great for the Cup and a lot of good confidence building and everybody get a great feeling by being in the Chase, the whole company enjoying that experience together. I’ve felt like since the beginning of the year, right at the start of the year the No. 5 and the No. 24 were rocket fast. I thought they had the most speed that I saw in the garage when we would go to places like Phoenix. I mean right out of the gate early in the season. They’ve been that quick all year and Jeff has just had this terrible luck. When you really watch every practice lap like I do, like the driver’s and crew chiefs…everybody watches every single lap everybody runs. We’re all trying to figure out who has the best average in practice, and who has the best fall off or least amount of fall off. You do this every single week, and Jeff and the No. 5 car are always near the top of those lists as the best performing cars throughout practice and throughout the weekend. They just have really had tough luck. The No. 5 had some pretty bad luck at the start of the year, but Kasey (Kahne) has kind of turned that around with a great stretch here that’s got him with an opportunity to make the Chase. I always felt Jeff would find a way to get in because he just always has been able to accomplish whatever he wants. Both of them teams are contenders, but just because of their ability to be fast. Speed in number one on your list when you’re wanting to pick attributes for a strong race team. They definitely got it.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.shoes
Dale Earnhardt Jr.shoes

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

DO YOU FEEL A LOT LESS PRESSURE HERE AT THE GLEN AND FEEL THIS WILL BE A LOT MORE FUN CONSIDERING WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS? "Yes, absolutely. All these have been, even last week's. Ever since we have like 'Ok man, barring any catastrophe'. As long as we don't have the same thing that happened last week happen every week, we should find our way into the Chase. So that has been a big load off of my shoulders. We can just concentrate on the single event, and what's happening at that very moment; not really have to worry about anything too far out in the future that, and what we are doing today be detrimental to that. We can forget about the Chase for the moment. Concentrate on being fast. Concentrate on what we are doing this weekend, next weekend. Really look at the particulars, and try to find more speed. Yes, enjoy it. Try to have fun. You know, I've had fun all year. Every time your car is running good, you have a blast. Coming in here in 10th place, just trying to hang on to the spot in the Chase is really, really tough. Especially for someone like myself who is more cold than hot at this place. I'm really happy about being in a position where now we are able to come here...we had a good test. We're feeling positive about our chances of having a good run. We'll just be able to go out there and try to compete. There is really no pressure. So that's a good thing. That's a good feeling."

DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT GAME PLAN FOR EACH RACE? "I definitely do just a lot of soul searching and a lot of thinking about my opinion about specific events in the weeks leading up to them. People ask me when we go do these meet-and-greets with the fans; they ask me what my favorite track is. I used to have a list of tracks, or a track that I would tell them. I don't have a favorite anymore because I have figured out that if I had favorites, I had ones I didn't like, and when I would go to those ones I didn't like, I didn't run good because I would go in with a bad attitude about it. I wouldn't get a good result. I would go to Darlington being miserable about being there, and run miserable and have a miserable experience. Everybody around me was affected by that aura and that emotion. You are going to go to tracks that maybe aren't on the top of your list, or tracks that you have struggled at, or tracks that are difficult for you personally. You have to really do a lot of soul-searching on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday about trying to put yourself in a positive frame of mind about going there thinking this going is going to be the time where I put in the effort. Put in the work and make something happen. Maybe there is something I haven't tried to do, or maybe haven't tried hard enough. You do that before the season. You do that throughout the entire off season. The first couple of years in the Cup Series, I would get to about eight weeks left in the year and wish it was over because it just felt like it was so long. I felt like I was just burned out. I was just arguing and struggling, and pulling and pushing and shoving within my team. Or, with other drivers, or what-have-you. Or, just the sport. Just not agreeing. Just kind of struggling; frustrated. Even when things were going good.

“It took me a while to grow up; mature, and start to realize what was ahead of me and what the opportunities were. You have to mentally...I'm sure it is the same for everybody. Whether you are a driver; whether you are in the media, or whatever. Everybody that is on this, in this circus, that goes from week-to-week. We all have such a long commitment throughout the year. You have to think about it during the off-season, and kind of mentally gear your brain for what you are getting ready to do for all those months. You can't just go into it not really preparing yourself mentally. You gear up. Whatever you have got to do. Go somewhere and do something crazy at some vacation spot. Or party with your buddies. Or whatever you have got to do to get geared up, and get your mind ready for it. You definitely have to do some things to sort yourself, and get ready for the season and for individual weekends. Specifically the ones that have been tough in the past."

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview
Tags chevrolet, earnhardt, hendrick, the glen, watkins glen