Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- driver, No. 8 Budweiser team: You're returning to Loudon under much better circumstances than you did at this time last year (following a fiery crash in a sports car). What are your thoughts? "Yeah, it's much better going...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- driver, No. 8 Budweiser team:
You're returning to Loudon under much better circumstances than you did at this time last year (following a fiery crash in a sports car). What are your thoughts?
"Yeah, it's much better going to Loudon after a win than after a crash. Feels better (laughing). I'm excited about this weekend.JWe're bringing a new car, one that Steve (Hmiel, crew chief) and the guys built in the last two weeks."
"We're feeling pretty good right now, but our mindset hasn't changed. I've been saying it over and over: we have to focus on running well before we worry about points or the Chase. We're just taking it one day at a time, trying to find the right set-ups for our cars, and moving forward. About a week or two ago -- right before Daytona -- I decided to quit worrying about making the Chase, and to not let all the criticism and opinions of everybody bother me. I kind of went back to old-school thinking, the way you do when you're a rookie and you're just trying to focus on every lap, every turn, every day.JIt keeps me motivated throughout the day and throughout the week. I have all the confidence in the world in my team and in Steve. Hopefully we can keep doing what we did at Chicago. If we can, maybe we'll make the Chase. I'm optimistic about it, and our opportunity to make it is still there, especially after (Sunday's) gain."
What was it like to go to Victory Lane with this group of guys?
"I don't know how to really describe it. Winning with this team that has been beat up so bad all year long by the critics is so cool. I got the easiest job in the whole company, and they got the hardest. When I don't win the race, they shoulder all that responsibility like they're not good, or they don't build good cars. And that's not the case. They've given a winning effort since day one, but we haven't been able to get wins. It's not always the guy behind the wheel, or the shock guy, or the suspension guy, or everybody that puts the car together. It takes more than that, and we're starting to figure it out. The satisfaction for Sunday's win is in the face of my team. I've won races, and I want to win a whole lot more. But to see what they felt Sunday, it means more to me than taking the trophy home and setting it on the mantle. It's awesome to give it to those guys, and I'm glad I'm a part of it."
2005 SEASON OVERVIEW: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team enter the New Hampshire race weekend after consecutive top-five finishes and a victory Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Dale Jr. has improved five spots in the point standings over the last two weeks and now sits 13th, 91 points out of the 400-point window for Chase eligibility and 115 points out of the top-10. On the season, Dale Jr. has five top-fives and seven top-10s in 18 races.
NEW HAMPSHIRE TIDBITS: The Brew Crew has four top-10s in 11 races at NHIS, most recently finishing third there last September. Dale Jr. has fared well on one-mile ovals, scoring top-10s in four of the last five races. Three of Junior's 16 career victories have come on one-mile tracks -- two at Phoenix and one at Dover.
CONQUERING CHICAGO: More notes on the Bud team's win at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday: -- Junior's victory, his 16th since joining the Nextel Cup Series in 1999, comes in his 201st career start. -- Dale Jr. has now won races in each of the last six seasons, or every year he has competed as a full-time Nextel Cup driver. -- Sunday's win was the latest Dale Jr. has scored his first win of the season (18th race of 2005 / Previous latest: 2001, race 17 at Daytona). -- Dale Jr. has won races at nine tracks: Talladega (5), Daytona (2), Richmond (2), Phoenix (2), Texas, Atlanta, Bristol, Dover and Chicago. -- The 11 laps led Sunday were the fewest in a Bud team victory, beating the previous mark of 31 laps led in the 2000 Richmond win. -- The 25th starting position on Sunday was the second-highest starting position in which Junior has won from. (The highest is 30th on Aug. 28, 2004 at Bristol.)
ALL-STAR Bound: Dale Jr. will be attending the on-field media day events today at Comerica Park in Detroit prior to the Home Run Derby for the Major League Baseball All-Star game. He will arrive in style at the ballpark: via the Budweiser Clydesdales.