DALE EARNHARDT JR. / DRIVER, ...
DALE EARNHARDT JR. / DRIVER, #8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET
California was a track you struggled at last year. What are your thoughts of returning?
"Actually, I'm looking forward to going back. I thought we had a pretty good test there, but it was hard to get a good read because it was so windy when we were out there. We struggled at Fontana and Las Vegas last year, so we've really focused on those two tracks during the off-season. I'm not worried about it. We've talked to Tony (Eury) Jr. a lot, and Pete's got a lot of input as well. He doesn't talk much, but he's really been paying attention a lot from last year. There's a lot more going on in his head than he let's on. I think we'll do OK. We might stumble every now and then, but all you can do is put the car together and go out to the race track every week and try your best. I'm doing all I can do, and the team is doing all it can do. Who knows, we may go out there this weekend and set the world on fire."
Now that Daytona Speedweeks is over, what is your evaluation of the new team?
"This team is laid back and super relaxed. The guys have been doing a great job. It's been good for me because I don't feel as much pressure. I just get up there and race as hard as I can, and they're pretty happy with the result. Pete did a great job on making adjustments to the car (in the Daytona 500). The car was extremely tight, and he made the adjustments there at the end. I didn't really follow the adjustments all day long. I pretty much left it up to him. One of the things I don't want to get in the habit of doing is having him ask me what I think is OK. I really want him to feel right in his mind that he's making a choice, the right choice, the choice that needs to be made. The pit stops were really good. I don't think we had one bad stop all day. That was a big plus for us, because we needed a lot of track position throughout the trace. There were times we came in the rear of the field and we would gain a lot of spots. We came in 14th there one time, went out eighth. When you do that, man, you can't complain."
What are your overall thoughts of California Speedway?
"It's not one of my favorites. I mean, it's a cool place, but our performances haven't been anything to write home about. For a while it seemed like we were really making strides. We had some pretty freaky crashes in the past, but the car always seemed to be fast. We had a brutal time there last year trying to figure out the new tire. The mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks were the ones that gave us the most trouble. Now we've got a new spoiler and less downforce. It will be interesting to see how it goes. Now that the restrictor-plates are off, this weekend will be a good indicator on which teams have adjusted the best to the new spoiler."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 8 Budweiser team finished third in Sunday's Daytona 500 and enter week two of the Nextel Cup season tied for second in the point standings. Dale Jr. has now been in the top-10 in points for 70 straight weeks, the longest streak of any driver.
BOGGED IN THE SMOG: California Speedway hasn't been particularly kind to Dale Jr., as he has one top-five and two top-10s in six starts. He has led only one lap at the two-mile oval (2001) and has an average finish of 18.3. His career-best finish of third at California Speedway is also his best on two-mile tracks.
CAR HISTORY: Chassis #027 has been used only once (Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway last March.) Michael Waltrip drove to a 23rd-place finish that day. The Budweiser team tested this car at California in early February with positive results. Should it perform well this weekend, the Bud team could potentially turn this car around and use it for the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 13.
LOOKING BACK: Dale Jr.'s career-best, third-place finish at California Speedway in 2001 was one to remember, or perhaps forget. Dale Jr. was forced to a backup car early in the weekend when he crashed the primary on Friday. On Saturday the motor blew up four laps into practice. On Sunday, he started 38th and motored all the way into the top-10, only to run out of fuel on the backstretch on lap 107. He fell a lap down, fought his way back, and turned a roller-coaster of a weekend into a hard-earned third-place finish.