<B>DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note: Highlights of Junior's Q&A session with the media after qualifying his Chevy in 5th place. (TAKE US THROUGH YOUR QUALIFYING LAP) "We were working on race trim in practice...
<B>DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note: Highlights of Junior's Q&A session with the media after qualifying his Chevy in 5th place.
(TAKE US THROUGH YOUR QUALIFYING LAP) "We were working on race trim in practice yesterday. We got a brand new chassis and we wanted to get as much race trim practice as we could so we forfeited learning about the car in qualifying trim. So I was real happy we were able to run such a good lap. That was a 1.75 seconds faster than yesterday. I was real happy. We made some changes on the car to make it faster. I thought the draw was worth at least a half a second being able to go out early in the morning. That was a big help too. It just worked out for us. The car is better and I drove it harder and we got a better lap. Obviously it's not the pole. We were excited to be on the pole for a little bit. But we're looking forward to being in the top 10 or 15 to start on Sunday."
(ANY REASON YOU DIDN'T RUN A SECOND LAP?) "Tony Eury Jr. called me off on the second lap. But I wasn't going to be able to beat the time anyway. The car was a little bit loose getting in the corner on the first lap, so the second lap was going to be a little slower."
(YOU SAID THE CAR WAS GOOD. IS THIS GOING TO BE THE CAR THAT YOU'LL FEEL THE MOST COMFORTABLE IN?) "I don't think I'd give it that much of a compliment yet. We have a lot to learn. It's a brand new chassis from a brand new chassis builder we haven't used before. Michael ran a car like this at Charlotte in The Winston and in the (Coca-Cola) 600 and at Chicago. And he's had pretty good success with it. I wouldn't say this is the reason we've turned our season around, but it's had a little bit to do with it. In an effort to put ourselves in a better position for the last 10 races, we wanted to try the car and see for ourselves whether it could help us. I like it a lot. I think it drives differently. It handles differently. You can take either one and win races with them, but there are just different characteristics about each car. We're working with it. I'm not totally sold on it but we're giving it a good shot this weekend. We didn't test it. We just brought it here.
"That's why we were in race trim for the most of the time yesterday trying to learn as much as we can for Sunday. Whatever we gave up on a pit stall or whatever, we just wanted to be good on Sunday.
"Our qualifying lap helps. We changed some things on the car and improved the speed. We'll pass those things over to our race trim package. That was kind of the comment Michael had with his car that it was loose in - especially during qualifying. But that's a good problem to have when you're in race trim, especially late in the race when the track tightens up and everything and you're having trouble passing cars and passing people."
(WILL YOU ADDRESS YOUR MEDICAL SITUATION AND IS THERE ANY REASON THAT WILL CAUSE YOU TO GET OUT OF THE CAR DURING THE RACE?) "I wish I had some pictures so I could just hand them out to everybody so everybody would have a good idea of what they (his burns) look like. They kind of look like a bad sinus infection right now. But there's one on the upper left thigh that's about four inches by two inches. There's one on the back of my leg above the knee that's about five inches by five inches. There's one on the back of my leg below the knee that's about the size of a silver dollar. My neck is just about all healed up. The right leg had two blisters on it that have scabbed over that are 80 - 90 percent healed up. They don't bother you anymore. It's something a little four year old could run around with no problem. But the ones on my left leg that I discussed first are still soft. They haven't developed scabs. They haven't turned the corner yet. I expected by this point that they would have. The doctors initially stated it would be a two-week recovery. I had two nurses come from Raleigh this week (burn center in Raleigh, NC) and we're trying some new dressings and stuff like that to try and accelerate the healing. All that has helped a lot. As you can see this week I'm able to put my heel down and walk around half normal. But it still hurts a little bit. When you stand up with an open wound on your leg and you stand up you can feel the pressure when all the blood rushes down there to it and you feel the pressure. So it just hurts in those areas real bad. Walking around to and from the car and the bus and the crew is the worst part.
"Sitting in the seat is not a problem. I just told Tony Jr. to put an extra large spring on the brake pedal so I wouldn't be dragging the brake. Sitting in the car and driving the car is....even last week I wasn't bothered by the heat. I don't normally even feel the burns.
"Even on that long straightaway at Pocono, you'd think it would bother you or come to your attention at least somewhere down that straightaway. But I really haven't had any problem with it. I think more than anything, I got out of the car last week out of frustration of how bad the car was and how far off we were from the start of the race. We were already a lap down. We had parts and pieces falling off the car even when John (Andretti) was in the car. We're not pointing fingers or anything; we've just got to get better.
"I was telling somebody yesterday that it's kind of tough and difficult right now because we have two problems. We have a driver that's trying to get right. And we have a team that's not right. And we've got to get our cars better. So we're working really hard. We talked. And we tried not to get crazy and move people and change things and make rash decisions because Teresa and I both believe you don't change partners in the middle of the dance. So we talked and we're really focused. We've had these slumps - we've always had them. If you look back in our Busch Series years or we've had something in the middle of the year where we had a span of eight or 10 weeks where we just couldn't do anything much. But in the Busch Series you could get behind and make it up. We started out our rookie season kind of the way we did this year winning races and then the rest of the year we floundered. But I feel like they'll feel it out. I'm confident with that. They get so frustrated that they find out someway, somehow to figure it out. It may not start this week, but being in a different car and knowing we're trying to do things to be better is maybe a little more positive."
(DO YOU SOMETIMES WISH YOU HAD A CREW CHIEF LIKE CHAD KNAUS OR MATT BORLAND?) "I don't really know what it would be like to go to the race track with anybody but Tony Jr. and Tony Sr. I don't know if I'd want to really. They're family. It's hard for a lot of people in this business to understand, but how much I care about them overrides even the worst season you can have. That's more important to me. It's more important to me that me and Tony Jr. and me and Tony Sr. have a good relationship. That's way more important than any championship. I've always felt like I would race with them forever. It's kind of how I feel. There's never a day that I look over at Jimmie's car (Johnson, No. 48) and wish I was driving it instead of my own. I wish I knew what he has underneath it. But as much as Chad is a great crew chief, but as long as I've been working with these guys, I don't know if could (switch to somebody else).
"You could put me with Chad, but you might not have the same results. Aside from that, my relationship with them is too important to go away over trying to win a championship."
(WERE YOU KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS DURING THE CORVETTE CRASH?) "No. But I was surprised too at my own reaction. Maybe 'disoriented' might be a good word for it. I went to Dr. Petty and everything checked out (neurological exam). I didn't have any headaches. That's really the first time I'd ever been through something like that. Everything was good. So I even assured myself if I had any questions or doubts if I'd been knocked out or stunned. One of the things that often happens when a driver wrecks a car is you find yourself being disappointed over the wreck. A lot of times in stock cars - maybe not so much in sports cars - we hit the wall and we don't move as fast as jumping out of the car and running across the grass as if we were on fire. So I didn't expect the car to burst into flames like it did. And so I was sitting there at that point, because that practice was just before the race, disappointed because I had just ruined the whole weekend for everybody. Boris (Said) and everybody who was enjoying themselves so much, I just flushed it all down the toilet. So I was disappointed and maybe pouting a little bit about that. When the car burst into flames, it was kind of a surreal moment. I couldn't believe I was sitting in a ball of fire. So there was about three seconds of, 'what the hell do I do now?' So I was kind of unfamiliar with my surroundings and disoriented with exactly where I was on the race track or how to exactly get out of the car. One of the unfortunate things about it was is that the car had a stock door handle on it and I don't drive a Corvette every day so it's not like I know how to reach for that. And the window net too was unfamiliar as far as the latching device that we have in these cars. So all of that was knocked out of the car. Luckily that was not in the way when I was trying to get out."
(ON QUALFIYING ON FLAT TRACKS LIKE THIS OR BEING ON THE ABSOLUTE EDGE LIKE TEXAS OR ATLANTA WHEN YOU HOLD YOUR BREATH THE WHOLE TIME) "Qualifying on the banked tracks is a lot more fun and enjoyable for me. When we qualify at the flatter tracks here, you just worry about grip getting into the corner and exiting the corner. So I was pretty nervous today about qualifying - especially being the first guy out - whether that was going to be good or bad for me. We hadn't had the best car. We only made two runs in qualifying trim and the car wasn't fast at all. The car wasn't comfortable. So I had a lot of concerns. It's not always that I'm going to qualify so I'm nervous.
"You have a lot of things that go into that as far as how the car was and what it drove like and what the problems were with the car and whether they're fixed and whether you can drive through that. The car was really loose getting into the corner yesterday. Basically you have to get it all in there and hope you don't spin out. I learned a lot yesterday too."
(WITH THE POINT SYSTEM AND YOUR INJURIES, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE IN THE DEFENSIVE MODE NOW AS FAR AS PROTECTING, OR DO YOU WANT TO TRY BEING AGGRESSIVE?) "I want to get aggressive. But it's really hard for me to get aggressive now being a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest (laughs). It's kind of tough to win those fights. We really had to rationalize about the situation. I told everybody that regardless of what anybody else's opinion was, that I wanted to get my leg right. I want to be able to get out of here and not do anything that's going to put myself in jeopardy or get it (burns) infected or have long-lasting issues with it later. So, whatever the cost, I want to get my leg right. That was the number one thing. I wanted everybody on the team and in the organization aware of that. I don't want to have any issues with this that would give me any problems. I don't know what that would be, but I don't want to have any problems with this in exchange for winning the championship. What the hell good is that? I think we're still in a good position. We've got a chance just like everybody else. We've got a shot. We'll just keep digging in the next two or three weeks. I feel like by the time the last 10 races start, I won't have any problem. I should be rid of this and hopefully it'll be all cleaned up and gone and I can really focus all my effort on that. But I've still got to stop whatever I'm doing in the middle of the day every day and unwrap and wrap these things up and lay in the bathtub for 45 minutes and do other various things that aren't my nature of what I've been doing in the past. So it's still in the back of your mind. Whether that has any affect on your performance - I don't believe it does - but until it's gone or until it's right, I don't feel like I'm 100 percent focused. I can get in the car and I can drive it just as fast every lap as I did six months ago. But focus is important. The level I need to be focusing is not quite there yet. I'm sitting out there before qualifying trying to get off my leg and sit down somewhere and keep comfortable instead of thinking about where I'm at in the car and the changes we made. I'm trying to do all those things and worry about it at the same time is kind of difficult."
Continued in part 2