BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS: HOW WAS THE CAR IN PRACTICE? "We're pretty happy with it. Spent most of the practice in race trim, but we're satisfied with where we're at." IN REGARDS TO TONY...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:
HOW WAS THE CAR IN PRACTICE?
"We're pretty happy with it. Spent most of the practice in race trim, but we're satisfied with where we're at."
IN REGARDS TO TONY STEWART COMPETING THIS WEEKEND, POCONO WAS ONE OF THE TRACKS YOU RAN WHEN YOU HAD YOUR BURNS (AFTER A SPORTS-CAR CRASH IN 2004). WHAT IS IT LIKE TO RUN THIS PLACE IN PAIN?
"It's not too bad. The straightaways are real long. I had a relief driver in John Andretti, but I got out more because my car was handling so bad. I was like, well, if it's going to drive this bad, I might as well get out (laughing). It didn't bother me that bad. I think if there's a race that Tony can stick it out if he wanted to, this would be one of those tracks. Or it might still be a wise choice for him to get a relief driver. It's up to him."
WHY WOULD THIS BE ONE OF THOSE TRACKS TO STICK IT OUT?
"Long straightaways. you can relax. At Dover you're always in the corner, and always on the G forces, and you always have a lot of pressure on that side. He'll have long straightaways here, so he can relax a little bit."
EVEN THOUGH HE'S NOT UP TO 100%, IS TONY ANY LESS COMPETITIVE?
"No, he's always competitive. Even at 80%, Tony is still better than half these guys out here."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SHIFTING/NO-SHIFTING HERE AT POCONO?
"Take it or leave it. Either way, I don't really care. Everybody's got to do it, so it's not better or worse for anybody."
YOUR TEAM HAS QUIETLY CREEPED UP IN THE POINTS. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?
"We're just trying to be consistent. When I've got a 10th-place car, I try to finish 10th. We're really just trying to be smooth, be consistent on the times and laps, and I try not to push the car real hard and put myself in bad positions. We've had a little luck on our side, a little convenience on our side, and a couple of other things too, but for the most part the cars drive good. I go out there and get what I can out of them, and it seems to add up pretty good."
DO YOU CONSIDER THE TUNNEL TURN HERE ONE OF THE TOUGHEST TURNS OF ALL THE TRACKS?
"No. I think every corner at Sonoma has it beat. Every corner at The Glen's got it beat. It's really not that hard of a corner. It's just real fast. You lift to go through there and get back on the gas real quick. It's not really that hard. I don't know if there is a right way. People say I never go through there right, I always go through there 100 different ways every time I go through it, and I never can seem to repeat myself. I don't know if that makes it hard. It's not hard, it's tricky."
IS IT POSSIBLE YOU CAN REMAIN UNDER THE RADAR JUST BY DRIVING CONSISTENTLY?
"We've wanted to have consistency our entire career. From the start of this season until now, we have been consistent. I'm real glad about that. We've got a win. We've got a lot of 11ths and top-10 finishes. That's what I wanted, so I'm real happy. Things couldn't be better."
ARE YOU HAVING MORE FUN THIS YEAR THAN YOU DID AT THIS TIME LAST YEAR?
"I always have fun. I don't really go without fun too long (laughing). It's good the racing side has gotten better. Obviously I enjoy it when we run better and get some wins and stuff like that. I'm having fun this year working with (Tony Eury) Junior, and still be able to have Steve Hmiel too. It's like icing on the cake. Sometimes when you get two guys, there are so many variables. Junior, Steve, the team, all those guys over there, the cars, it's hard to get just one of those things in your life, but to have it all is pretty cool. I'm very happy and very lucky and very fortunate that these guys can stand me enough to work on the car all year and be around me all year. They're just a great group, and I'm real fortunate to have an opportunity to drive for them again."
TWENTY YEARS AGO TIM RICHMOND WON BOTH RACES HERE. DID YOUR DAD TALK ABOUT HIM AT ALL AS A RACE CAR DRIVER?
"Daddy thought he was one of the best he'd raced against. I said it before, if Tim had lived and competed for many more years, Daddy wouldn't have seven championships, for sure. That's an obvious statement. He was just amazing to watch. Just a great race car driver. A lot of people said he didn't really have a lot of knowledge about set-ups, but when he had a great car, he got everything out of it. As raw talent goes, he was one of the best."
AFTER THE FRUSTRATIONS LAST YEAR, WHEN DID YOU GET A SENSE THAT THIS YEAR WAS GOING TO BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT?
"Probably in the off-season, we were going around the shop, checking in, talking to the guys, seeing the looks on everybody's faces, seeing how positive the attitudes were around the shop. it's just a good effort. We're all friends, and most of these guys - not all of them but most of them - have worked at DEI for awhile, so we all know each other really well. We just sort of found our place in the sport I believe. We've gotten over the initial bang of coming in, getting involved, and all the hype and expectations. I think as times change, people change, things come and go, and next year might be totally different. But this is probably the best group - as far as having an assembled group - this is the best I've had from top to bottom. The team being really strong and deep in talent, I think this is as good as I've ever had."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE MORE CONSISTENT AT TRACKS LIKE THIS WHERE YOU HAVEN'T MAYBE DONE WELL IN THE PAST?
"I've run pretty good here in the past. I ran second to Bobby Labonte. I ran third once. I mean, I haven't run that many races here. It's just hit and miss. This place is tough. We just try to get the best finish we can. I try to finish in the top-12 every week. A 12th-place average puts you in a pretty good position when you're trying to make the Chase. That 12th-place average would be great."
WAS IT HIT OR MISS TODAY IN PRACTICE TODAY?
"I was real happy with my car, real happy. Car drives easy. The car is better than I am right now. I need to get out there with the rest of the field for about 30 laps and get up to speed. This track is sort of like a road course, it takes awhile to really get acclimated. Every time you come back here, it takes about 15 or 20 laps to sort of get back in the rhythm and know how far you can push it all the time."
WITH SO MANY GOOD TEAMS AND DRIVERS - LIKE PENSKE, GANASSI, HENDRICK, ROUSH, YOU HAVE ONE WIN, STEWART'S GOT ONE WIN SINCE AUGUST - IS IT JUST THAT TOUGH OUT THERE?
"There's just a lot of talent and a lot of depth throughout the series as far as competitive teams. A lot of young drivers are coming in with good teams. There are a lot more capable people out there now, that's probably what is."