Dale Earnhardt, Jr. press conference Indianapolis Motor Speedway Note: All practices were cancelled due to rain today at the Brickyard. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came into the media center to answer questions for the assembled journalists. WHAT...
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. press conference
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Note: All practices were cancelled due to rain today at the Brickyard. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. came into the media center to answer questions for the assembled journalists.
WHAT DOES THE DELAY IN TODAY'S CANCELLATION OF PRACTICE DO TO YOUR MINDSET?
Well, nothing really. We're going to get plenty of practice tomorrow. It just gives everyone a day to rest.
DID YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO PREPARE FOR INDY?
Well, we came here and tested. I'm pretty happy with my car, but we fell off in race runs. We started off really fast. I made a qualifying run and we were real fast, but we lost too much time, like I said, the more we ran. It was real tight and slowed down way too much. We went to Pocono and as the weekend went on, we kept changing stuff on the car and adding things on the car and improving the car. And that final right front spring we had on the second pit stop, the spring I had in there was real bad and it made the car hard to drive. We wanted to put the spring in before the race but with the impound rule we couldn't. And so we changed it, and I think that's going to be the difference that's going to be, for the problems that we were having here. Because it was real fast after that. And it's a real similar setup that you run and Pocono and Indianapolis.
YOUR DAD WON THE SECOND YEAR HERE. DID HE TELL YOU ABOUT ANY OF THAT?
Well, I remember when they came here and tested. They brought about 10 drivers or so. And that was really cool. That was kind of a unique deal, to get a free pass to go somewhere and trying something out. I remember how that was for the sport and how it made me feel, personally. When I came here as a driver, they already ran some races and already ran an IROC race here. It wasn't quite as significant I guess. But it's a special place. It's pretty impressive when you walk around here and look around when you're on the race track and looking around. You think about a lot of things, history and Indy races you might have watched on TV and stuff. You're constantly reminded of what this track means to the world of motorsports and what it means to us. In a sense, most of the time, NASCAR is at the front of all these cool things and we're the sport that's grown the most. And we obviously are obviously more successful in the market than Indy and the IRL at this point. They had raced here for so long, it was kind of like we were coming in and felt like the Busch Series, so, but it's still pretty cool to be here and to race here. To win here, I don't know what that would feel like. It would feel different from winning the Daytona 500 or 600 or something like that-a race that we've had forever that has a lot of history that you can fall back on. Winning here would mean more to you as an all-around driver.
WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOU AND JEFF TRYING TO GET BACK INTO THE TOP 10, IS THIS RACE GOING TO BE AS GOOD AS THE ENTIRE 10-RACE CHASE?
Well, it's pretty interesting. I think that it will hold and captivate the audience moreso than the old format. And there's a lot less pressure, you know, with this new format. With the old format, we wouldn't have a chance at finishing even in the top 10 much less getting a chance to race for the championship. So, with this format, it's a lot less pressure and you've still got an opportunity and chance to work for. Realisitcally, I think we have a great shot. We've got some points to make up but we've got enough time to do it. If everyting goes like I think it should, we'll be okay. We've got some short tracks coming up at the end where I've been pretty good at and if we're still behind I think there will be good opportunities for us to get it done there.
WOULD YOU LIKE SOME ADDITIONAL TIME OFF?
It's kind of a double-edged sword. When you get time off, you don't want it. When you don't get time off, you want it. You know, the worst part of the season for me mentally is around new years. You feel you've been out of the race car for a long time. And maybe as I get older and I have a lot more things going on on the side from my actual driving, I'd feel more productive. But, you feel a lack of productive activity. Really don't feel like you're getting anything done. It's really a tough part of the season. I like being in the race car, I like the season as it goes. I do like having a weekend off to go places-me and my buddies taking a weekend off to go places. You're ready to get back home and get back around it and get back to the race track halfway around the trip. Me and Martin and a couple of buddies of ours from back home went to Mexico and had fun. They've got the slide shows, I don't.
ARE THERE ANY DRIVERS THAT RACED HERE THAT YOU HAVE ADMIRATION FOR?
Yeah, AJ Foyt, obviously. I've got this really neat article where a guy who works for Playboy Magazine, who's a friend of mine, gave me. It was the issue that came out the month I was born, from October of 1974. And AJ's got an article in there that's pretty cool to read. He was kicking butt in them days. Him and I met Arie a couple of times and he's a good guy. The Unsers. Al Jr-I was a big fan of his. Him and Dad had a lot of respect for each other and I got to admire him a lot. Just to name a few.
RE: WEATHER, HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT TODAY?
EA Sports came out with NCAA 2006. Me and Martin's PR man, Josh, we grew up around each other and we play those games a lot. He'll be in his bus working on his Heisman chase and I'll be working on mine. It's pretty fun. That Madden comes out in five days. Ya'll know that, don't you?
DO YOU WORK WELL WITH THE PRESSURE TO GET INTO THE CHASE?
Well, I don't know. It's not pressure like...I get pressure different things. I really don't get pressure from the race track because I'm in control of that and if it doesn't work out, you've got your reason and if you can live with them, you're fine. The pressure for me is if we didn't have this Chase, and if I was sitting 14th in points and no opportunity for me to win the championship, then that would be pressure. Because you've got to think about your sponsors and your team and your guys. If you've got a good group of guys and you're 14th in points, you've got to look around and wonder who might be leaving at the end of the season. That's pressure. What happens in the race track, you're in control of that. If you feel that you're one of the best race car drivers out there, you can always put the blame on somebody else if you're not running good. This system is easier on the mind as far as what goes on on the race track.
ARE YOU PERSONALLY SURPRISED THAT YOU ARE WHERE YOU'RE AT IN THE POINTS RIGHT NOW?
Not really. We had this little slide going right before Sonoma and I felt we were going to keep sliding at that point. I didn't think we would still have a chance at this point. So, I'm pretty surprised that we still have the opportunity that we have. And, it wasn't very clear to me as far as how we were going to fix it and how we were going to improve. And luckily, you know, we got some help and the teams got to working really good together. The things that we are doing, we've got from Tony Jr. That right front spring came from him. These are all the things he's had with Michael's car that Michael's had some success with. And, when we put it in my car, it drove so much better. Obviously, we weren't on the lead lap, but we were running way better. So, those things make it easier to have an optimistic attitude coming into the last few races expecially with those short tracks in there, too. I like racing here at Indy and I feel that we had a good run last year-we were running about 5th with two to go and tire blew. And I think I can come in here and get a good run. My main concern is probably California to go in there and get a good finish is pretty important. You know, we can't have any problems. We changed the right front spring because we knew we didn't have a car to run in the top 15, we had to do it to try to get that better finish. It didn't quite work out for us so we can't give up anymore like that.
WOULDN'T YOU CONSIDER THESE TWO (INDY AND WATKINS GLEN) IMPORTANT?
Well, we ran in the top 5 at the Glen, I think, everytime I've been there in the last couple of races. So, I feel pretty good about that. Martin went up there and tested his Busch car and found a few more things. I just always like racing at the Glen. I'm concerned about this race about how we're going to finish and do well. I think it will be a really difficult, I mean really competive, race. With how people are setting their cars up to fit this track, I think some guys are going to be really good come Sunday. And it will be hard to pass, I believe. Track position will be really important. So, if your car is not working, you'll have to come in and make these extra stops to put yourself behind the 8-ball with the cars out there with the aero push and all that. You know, we've got a great car. If we start the race and come off the trailer in good shape, we usually have a good weekend. It's when we start the race and have to work on the car - it's hard to make that ground up once you start to lose position.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOCK THE LAST FOUR GUYS OUT OF THE CHASE FOR YOU TO GET IN?
That's the hard part about it. That's the unknown. I think I can put enough together in these last six races to make it. Obviously not all 15 of us can fit into 10 spots. Somebody is going to have to have some troubles or misfortunes. I don't think Jeff Gordon or (Jamie) McMurray or any of those guys are going to run so poor that they don't make it. You're going to have to beat guys that are blowing motors or losing a tire here and there and things that are going to bite people and cost them the opportunity to make the Chase.
DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT THE DRIVERS IN THE TOP TIER OF THE POINTS ARE JUST FINISHING RACES WHILE YOU'RE RACING HARD TO WIN?
I don't think so. We haven't had a great year. I certainly can't compare my record this year to anybody else. It's been pretty bad. When you're out there, you can see everybody's body language and how they drive. You can tell everybody is driving hard on the race track especially with the format everybody races up to the last minute. Every spot is competitive. If you're two laps down at Pocono, you're still wondering who you are racing and who you need to be in front of and what a potential three points might mean to you before it's all over with. Consistency still awards people in this points system obviously. They haven't changed drastically in the amount of points you win per race so consistency still pays off to make the Chase. When you got a car that is decent and you play smart and use your head, you'll get a good finish. Those guys that are in the top 10 obviously deserve to be there.
ON IF HE WOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE IF NASCAR CHANGED THE RULES FOR HIM TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR HIM TO GET INTO THE CHASE
I wouldn't feel comfortable with that at all. That's really hard to hear and understand. I think that probably 99 percent of the fan base and probably the media understand that that is ridiculous. If anything, maybe they should narrow it down to five spots. That could make it a little more exciting. If we're racing 26 races and then we're going to give 15 or 20 guys the opportunity to make the Chase, I can take a weekend off here and there. What's the point in running all them races? It's kind of crazy. Whether me and Jeff are in the Chase or not, I feel like there's personalities, teams and stories and there will be drama that will be more than satisfying for you guys (the media) and the fans. The fact that we didn't make the Chase would be forgotten up until the next season starts. Hopefully we won't have to worry about that and we'll be in the Chase.
It takes a lot away from the credibly of the sport if you're giving somebody a helping hand to make it more exciting. I just don't feel like it's fair to those drivers. I don't think it's fair to my team. In a sense, it takes a lot away from them. It wouldn't be cool if that happened. I wouldn't be too comfortable with it.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT GETTING IN AN INDY CAR HERE?
I have thought about it. Obviously you're going to wonder what ever car in the world drives like if you're into racing. I don't know if I ever will. It'd be hard to say. I don't have that connection. I'm sure there's somebody that will let me. I don't know who they are. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it unless I knew the guy's car or the person. I wouldn't want to do it unless it was a friend of mine or somebody I'd know a long time.
RE: HOW MUCH TONY EURY, JR. HELPED MICHAEL WALTRIP AND HIS THOUGHTS ON EURY JR. RETURNING AS HIS CREW CHIEF
Me and Tony Jr. obviously are really close. I have to go back to zero to explain it to you. He builds great race cars. They drive great. We won races last year and Michael (Waltrip) loves him to death. We didn't change the team because of a performance issue. We changed it because of an attitude issue between me and Tony Jr. We changed it, maybe not for the right reasons, but the change did what it was supposed to it. It fixed his attitude and it fixed my attitude. It's not always greener on the other side for either one of us. We both looked at each other and talked to each other today totally different. We have a lot more respect for each other. That's a good thing. I think that gives us that opportunity to work together in future that we wouldn't of had if we would have run ourselves totally apart. We were driving ourselves apart with our attitudes toward each other. Sometimes we act like children. Sometimes you need a lesson. We had to give it to ourselves I guess. On a performance issue, maybe we shouldn't have changed. Personally for me in the long run as a person, I'm better for it and I think Tony Jr. is too. What we want to do next year is at this point our personal business. We're still trying to get a third team going. We're trying to figure out who we're going to put in the 15. We got Martin ready to go. We don't quite know what we're going to do with the 15. I think once we have all four corners to the foundation, we'll know what we're going to do, whether me and Tony Jr. get back together or what. One thing I just want to be careful of is confusing the guys I'm working with now. I don't want them to worry about whether they have jobs next year. What happens is people go to worst case scenarios all the time. I've been asked more this year by my own co-workers whether I was going to stick around. I never even thought about leaving. When they're thinking that, you got to be pretty careful about anything else you might come up with. At this point, if me and Tony Jr. started talking about getting together, that might implode the rest of the season for me. We'll just have to see whatever Tony Jr. wants to so. We need to think about where Steve Hmeil is. Steve Hmeil is amazing as a crew chief. If I'd have started with him as a rookie, I think I would have had a lot of success as well. I'm not saying more. I'm just saying he's very talented and he's been around forever. The only thing is that he's over qualified for that position at this point in his career and the things that he was doing for us prior to when he stepped down to help me, those things are starting to suffer a little bit. The attention that he had towards the fabrication department, the wind tunnel stuff, don't get that attention anymore or as much. He still tries to have his arms in those things as well and run that team of mind. It's been hard for him. He walks around there (the shop) all the time just trying not to piss anybody off. We definitely have to make some changes at the end of the season to fix either what he was doing. It's not going to be like it is now. But I don't have the answer to what we're going to do. Tony Jr. is awesome. I always felt like he was going to be one of the best crew chiefs in the business. I do want to work with him again and I think we should. I think personally we're just both immature for our age and that's due to the fact that our fathers let us raise ourselves pretty much. I think the more mature we get, the easier it is for us to work together. This year we sped that up quite a bit being away from each other.
HAVE YOU REEVALUATED YOUR TESTING SCHEDULE?
I haven't really talked to Steve about it. He wants to go to Richmond the Monday after Bristol. I told him I'd be at the lake all day Sunday so I don't know if I'd be there that Monday but I'd show up Tuesday and Wednesday if he wanted to. I'm trying to get him to change that. We need to go test there. I didn't run well there. We've always have been good at Richmond. I've won several races there. We weren't successful the last time so we need to go fix that. I don't even know how many I have left to be able to fool around there in the last 10 if I need them.
HOW BIG OF A CHALLENGE OR OBSTACLE WILL JEFF GORDON BE TO YOU?
If I'm racing around him normally you're doing pretty good. I think me and Jeff both can make it. That means two guys that are there now won't. We'd have to beat those guys. It's pretty tight. I think it can be done. Hopefully it will be different as far as who's in there now and who ain't. I think it's going to switch around quite a bit. I'd be surprised more so if he (Jeff) doesn't make it than I will be if I don't.
IT APPEARS THAT THE FACE OF NEXTEL CUP IS CHANGING DRAMATICALLY. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE
No, I mean it's hard to imagine (Rusty and Mark) not being here and to be honest with you I didn't believe either one of them. And you hear Schraeder might be talking about next year might be his last. It's weird because you have to remember---you forget how those times pass and you remember when you are little and then you grow up and you race with them. And you forget that they've been there so long. When you look up to people, you don't watch them age. You think they can go forever. It's going to strange and I guess, one of the things is, when they first started talking about young drivers with no respect, I didn't really understand what they meant. Now I'm starting to think about that and how that must feel in the sport when you've been here a long time and all these young drivers come in and they come in from so many different angles now. Some of them might not have watched Rusty run so there might not be a lot of respect but that's going to be different. Before everybody came from the same place and you watched each other every weekend on TV or at the track or whatever. I was around it all the time. It's just going to be weird, I don't know. I'm kind of looking forward to being one of the older drivers in the sport and when they get someone for the #15 they're not older than me, because the old guys doesn't have to do all that testing-you send the young guy. It will be different. I don't know what to expect. And the sport changes and time goes by, it's going to be weird when the field keeps changing.