BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK IN A PLAYOFF SPOT THIS YEAR? "It was real fun being in the thick of it trying to get in over the last six races leading into the Chase....
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE BACK IN A PLAYOFF SPOT THIS YEAR? "It was real fun being in the thick of it trying to get in over the last six races leading into the Chase. It was pretty exciting to be in that battle. That's fun for me having nail-biters, you know. Last year we weren't even close to being in it. Like Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) securing a spot and being pretty comfortable. That's all right. But it was pretty fun battling it out there at the end."
YOU HEARD THE CRITICS SAY YOU WERE OVER-RATED. HOW MUCH OF A MOTIVATION WAS THAT TO GET THINGS TURNED AROUND? "It wasn't so much a motivation. I knew getting back with (Tony Eury) Junior it was pretty much going to be expected amongst the entire NASCAR community that we would run well again. We just had to back up those expectations."
CAN YOU FEED OFF OF THAT RIGHT NOW? "I just feed off of my own motivation now and my motivation is to win the championship. We've won a lot of races and done a lot of cools stuff and been a lot of cool places. And I'd like to win the championship and I know Tony Jr. would too. We're going to have a lot of shots at it but we've got to take every one that we get and make the best of it. We're going to work really, really hard when we're in that race car to make that happen."
SIZING UP THE FAVORITES "Well, the No. 17 and the No. 48 are very strong, but there are not dark horses, that's for sure. There is no real sleeper. Everybody is very capable."
WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES? "Well, like I said, the No. 17 and the No. 48 are very good, but I think the rest of us are very even as far as the odd-makers go."
HOW HUNGRY ARE YOU TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I'm hungry as I need to be. I'm hungry. I'm going to give it everything I've got. And I don't get out of bed for much."
JEFF BURTON SAID HE FELT LIKE MAKING THE CHASE EARNED HIM SOME RESPECT. DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU DIDN'T GET AS MUCH RESPECT LAST YEAR BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T MAKE THE CHASE? "I don't know. If somebody doesn't want to give me respect, then hell with them. I never thought that about Jeff Burton. That's kind of surprising. I always looked up to him and still do. It's them kind of guys who are older than you and who have been here for a long time, that you can't ever imagine their pride or their confidence changing or wavering at all. My confidence got down about half way through the season last year. Steve Hmiel fixed that and turned me into a better race car driver and when I came here to work with Tony Junior this year and at the end of last year, we've been able to show we've both well improved over the last couple of years and hopefully it's going to be good enough. There are a lot of changeable things and variables that you can't control in a championship, and hopefully we're going to avoid all of that."
HOW MUCH OF A BURDON DOES IT BECOME FOR YOU EACH YEAR THAT PASSES AND YOU DON'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? DOES IT GET OVERBEARING? "Oh, no. Nah. I'm going to have fun no matter what. I'd like to win the championship and that's what my goal is, and that's what I'm going to shoot for. I've got a lot of years left. It's an accomplishment only made by a select few and I aim to be in that group one day."
IN YOUR APPROACH TO THE CHASE, DO YOU TRY TO WIN ROUND 1 OR JUST GET THROUGH ROUND 1? "Yeah, you're not going to knock anybody out. So you might as well try to win as many rounds as you can. Every race is an opportunity to separate yourself from the field. And you've got to take every opportunity you can. Hopefully when we need us some tricks, we've got 'em."
WHAT IS YOUR EMOTIONAL LEVEL NOW THAT THE CHASE IS ABOUT TO BEGIN? 'Well, when I come to the track and I just get in my car and I want the thing to run as fast as it can run and when I go into the corner and it don't handle right, you get frustrated and that's your main focus just trying to fix the car, fix the car, fix the car, make it faster, make it faster and one more chance, one more chance.that's all you're thinking all the time. When you're sitting in the bus, I'm carrying back with me it's loose off the corner and how am I going to fix that? I'd like to be a little more comfortable here and there are all kinds of little variables and things that the car does in the corner that are frustrating or satisfying. That's all you think about."
ARE YOU FRUSTRATED RIGHT NOW WITH THE CAR? "No, not really. I liked my lap, but fastest guys are faster than me in qualifying trim and that aggravates the heck out of me, honestly. But we're doing the best we can and Tony Junior is doing the best he can. We just have to come together and figure it out and either get over it or try to fix it.
"I can start in the back and still run good. But it's good for pit stall picking because last week we qualified bad and I was in between the No. 17 and the No. 48 - two really good cars you know. So when I was running good in the race, we were all kind of having a hard time getting in our boxes and getting it right and that costs you a second and a half when you get in your box tight and have to go around somebody or pull out around somebody and it costs you a little bit of time on pit road. We need to be pitting around guys who are going to be a lap down."
WHEN THE NFL ENTERS THEIR PLAYOFF SEASON, THE MENTALITY CHANGES FOR THE COACHES AND THE PLAYERS. HOW ABOUT YOU? "Well, definitely there is a lot more concentration and atmosphere around this team. Everybody is crossing their T's and dotting their I's as far as preparation goes. We've had a lot of little failures and things that have happened this year that shouldn't have happened, and so I think my team is spending a little extra time making sure all the bases are covered and in working order when we get to the track. And when we get there, it's real important - like if we're 20th on the sheet - not to be that frustrated about it and sort of relax. When you get frustrated, you don't progress throughout the rest of the weekend. We've got two practices tomorrow to really improve the car. You've got to have a good, positive mind to be able to work on the car and improve it. If you're frustrated with the car, you won't be successful in getting the car to drive better."
RECALLING HOW YOU FELT AT THIS TIME LAST YEAR, HOW DO YOU THINK TONY STEWART IS FEELING ABOUT NOT MAKING THE CHASE? "Well, honestly, Tony has won his championships and he's been in this situation of being in the Chase. I bet in the back of his mind, he makes himself feel better by sitting at home yesterday while we were all in New York (laughs) doing all them interviews. There are all kinds of ways you can talk yourself into feeling better and I'm sure that's what he's doing."
WAS THERE ANY UPSIDE TO NOT MAKING THE CHASE LAST YEAR? "I got to work with Tony Jr. a little bit last year. I was out of the spotlight for a little while so I could charge my batteries. I was able to take a little time for myself. I didn't have to go on all the press trips and promotion trips that all the drivers are going to do this year. There is an upside to everything but I'd rather be in the Chase. I'd rather have to do all that work and be in the Chase."
SO WHEN YOU CAME HERE AND THE REALITY SANK IN WHAT WAS IT LIKE? "It didn't have to sink in. It was there, you know what I mean? I knew weeks before I got here that I wasn't going to be in the Chase. But it was all right. I was still able to pay my bills."
IS THERE A TRACK IN THE LAST 10 WHERE YOU DON'T RUN WELL? "The last one. Homestead."
WHY? "I'd like to know. That would be awesome."
WHO IS THE TOUGHEST COMPETITOR IN THE CHASE? "Matt Kenseth. He's just real consistent."
DO YOU LIKE BEING COMPARED TO YOUR FATHER OR DO YOU JUST LIKE TO STAND ON YOUR OWN MERIT? "As far as if somebody says hey, you drive like him or you look like him or your sound like him, but I don't like to be compared to him that he won seven championship and you haven't won any. Those kind of comparisons aren't very pleasing. But he was great and I'm fortunate to follow in his footsteps a little bit to be in the position I'm in today."
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD MEAN TO YOUR FANS IF YOU CAN WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP? "I don't really know. I hope to make them really happy."
-credit: gm racing