Fontana: Earnhardt Jr - Friday media visit



WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING FOR THE PAST SIX HOURS? "Oh, just standing around hoping we'd get some laps in."

HAS THE JANUARY TEST BECOME MORE IMPORTANT NOW THAT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN ON THE TRACK YET TODAY? "It's good that we got the test. We have an idea where to start. That's good."

HOW DOES IT AFFECT THE DRIVERS TO JUST STAND AND SIT AROUND WAITING TO GET ON THE TRACK? "We just get a day off (laughs). I don't know. What are you going to do? Play some more video games?"

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAY TO THE NAVY OVERSEAS? "Well, we've got a great relationship. It's been very strong for the last several years. We hope to continue that. We're doing the best we can here with our race team to support the Navy. We appreciate what they do for us, and it gives us the ability to come out here and race."

YOU WON YOUR FIRST TWO RACES AT DAYTONA. DO YOU FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT HOW YOU ARE STARTING THE SEASON? "Yeah, we had a good start so I'm real proud of that. We're looking forward to the rest of the year just trying to keep that momentum going and continue to have a good, solid season."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO A GOOD START WITH THE NEW HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TEAM? "Yeah, a bad finish at Daytona, you can get over it. But it makes it difficult. It's definitely not an easy hill to climb, but it's doable. It's just good to come out of there with a decent finish."

WE ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT ENGINE DURABILITY HERE WITH THE OLD CAR. IS IT THE SAME THING WITH THE NEW CAR, OR ARE THINGS DIFFERENT? "I don't know. We'll just have to see. I've got pretty good confidence in everything we've got underneath the body is going to be durable. We should be fine. We just need to get some laps."

JIMMIE JOHNSON TALKED ABOUT BEING YOUR TEAMMATE AND HE SAID IT WAS MOTIVATING TO SEE JEFF GORDON AND YOU, DALE JUNIOR, ON HIS TEAM AND RACING HARD "Yeah, it's great to have teammates like those guys who are on top of their game and who are really talented. Friendly competition can be a really good positive to any team. What that is, is when you have a guy who makes everyone improve their game. We all hope that we can do that for each other. And it's really similar with the Nationwide to have the No. 5 and the No. 88 work together. They each kind of ante up every week and it improves the program as a whole. So I see that too in the teammates I have on the Cup side with Casey (Mears) and Jimmie and Jeff. We're all going to be able to help each other and be more competitive and stay up toward the front."

ON JIMMIE JOHNSON'S FANS "I haven't personally seen how fans treat Jimmie, but I think he's hard on himself. I think he's got more fans than he personally believes he has. But he doesn't do anything to lose fans and he's always had a good attitude and a good work ethic and always been pretty positive. I think that rubs off on a lot of people."

WHY ARE YOU APPEALING THE NASCAR PENALTY ON THE NATIONWIDE CAR? "Oh, just probably the suspension is the toughest part for us, financially, to bring in a guy of crew chief caliber in a short period of time is pretty expensive. We're going to see if we can get that part of it at least worked on a little bit. But I feel like the penalty itself is fair and the points and all that are pretty hard to swallow, but it's fair. It is what it is. We got caught cheating and that's the punishment we deserve. Personally I wish I would not have to lose my crew chief, but we're trying to get that car in the points in the first five races and doing things like that. So we have our own initiative to appeal. It's likely not to make any difference, but that's what the appeal process is for and so we'll see. We'll try to just occupy those guys for a day or so. Rick (Hendrick) is real good, though. Maybe if he goes with me I might get it turned around. He's got some kind of magic. Every time he goes down there, he tells me he's got a pretty good record. So maybe I'll send him or ask him to go in my spot."

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT RACING AT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY VERSUS DAYTONA? "Oh, it's way different. They are two different tracks on different sides of the country. Everything about it is different."

ON A DAY LIKE TODAY WHEN YOU'RE NOT ABLE TO PRACTICE, DO YOU REFER TO YOUR PREVIOUS RACES HERE? "We did come here and test and that's going to help us out a lot. So this is not a very big issue. We've still got tomorrow to get some time on the race track, so we should be fine.

"I don't know what the hold up is. I guess the track is seeping. It hasn't rained enough really; it should be ready at this point."

WHEN YOU WERE AT DEI BATTLING GUYS LIKE JIMMIE JOHNSON AND JEFF GORDON, DID YOU EVER THING YOU WOULD BE TEAMMATES WITH THEM? "No, I never did. If somebody would have said I was going to be in a situation and position I'm in now, I wouldn't have believed them a year ago. But fate played a big role in a lot of different things. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of different people. There was a lot of dedication by a lot of people who wanted this to happen. So, I feel real fortunate because I, myself, had no control really. I wasn't the one that really convinced Rick (Hendrick) or our sponsors that we have now that this was the best scenario. They really had to learn that and understand that themselves.

"I'm really fortunate. It's a unique situation and I'm going to enjoy it, I think. I'm going to have fun with it. It is unique and sort of unorthodox if you will. It may be uncomfortable for some people but I'm going to enjoy it. It's a good group of guys. They've all got great attitudes and they've got great intentions and I'm okay with that. I'm comfortable with that. They're taking great care of Tony (Eury) Jr. and he's happy. The things that matter right now are all in good shape."

YOU HAVE SUCH A LARGE FOLLOWING. WHAT DO YOU TELL YOUR FANS WHO HAVE ALWAYS FOLLOWED THE NO. 8 CAR AND THAT NOW FOLLOWS THE NO. 88 CAR? "It takes getting used to, even for me. I've watched the replay of the Nationwide race and it felt awkward to continue to have to remind yourself to look for the white & blue No. 5 car. It just seemed interesting and awkward. But it's going to take everyone time to adjust and be comfortable with it and come to terms with it, even for people within the circle."

MORE ON THE NASCAR PENALTY ON THE NATIONWIDE CAR "I think the penalty was fair. The suspension is tough for my crew chief. I need my crew chief to be working on his car and going to the race track. Everybody on that side of the garage is sort of pinching pennies at this point because of just how difficult it is to get sponsorship dollars over there. But we're just going to try to see if we can get them to reduce the suspension side of it for our sake.

"But that's not likely to happen but it's worth a shot. Otherwise, the points and everything were totally a fair penalty and we'll move forward with that. Maybe we can get them to move the suspension maybe something a little bit less."

"The key here is how (crew chief) Chad (Walter) responds in a situation like that. He has to show his ability to lead and his response and his actions will prove he's capable of doing that. I want to help him a little bit. I consoled him a little bit and told him that I knew he was just trying to give me the best car he could give me for the race and we are all out there taking chances in areas like that with the spoiler at those race tracks. We're all down there tweaking on those things all week long. So it's unfortunate we were the ones that got caught and we'll deal with the penalty because it's fair. But Chad's actions are what matter right now for that team and how he responds and whether those guys will respect him after he handles his business and how he returns after his suspension if the appeal goes against us. That could be a stain on his career or he could turn it into a positive in terms of how his attitude is."

IF HOLLYWOOD MADE A MOVIE ABOUT YOU, WHO WOULD PLAY YOU AND WHY? "I don't really know. I'd let my fans vote on it. I get asked that question a lot and I don't know. I don't watch enough TV I guess. I don't think it would be a tough job. Why couldn't I play myself? (laughter)

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup