Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- driver, No. 8 Budweiser team: How different is the mentality heading to Pocono this weekend (after three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory) compared to a month ago? "I think with each top-10 and top-five, you...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- driver, No. 8 Budweiser team:
How different is the mentality heading to Pocono this weekend (after three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a victory) compared to a month ago? "I think with each top-10 and top-five, you gain a little more confidence. The last time we were at Pocono, we hadn't won a race. I think we were all wondering if that was even going to happen because we were struggling pretty good. But we got a win (at Chicago), and we're more confident now than we've been all year. A lot of credit goes to (crew chief) Steve Hmiel. A lot of credit goes to the guys on the team, and all the hard work they've put in it."
You mentioned after the New Hampshire race it would take more than just top-10s to climb back into the Chase for the Nextel Cup contention. Is that still your thinking, even though you're only 59 points out of 10th? "Top-10s are OK, but we're going to need -- at least I think we're going to need -- some top-fives to climb into the Chase. There are too many good teams in front of us to think we can just cruise in with top-10 finishes. That's not going to work, because you look at the guys in front of us -- Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Dale Jarrett, Elliott Sadler -- those guys are going to get top-fives. We've got a lot of work ahead of us. It's an uphill climb, especially because we've struggled at some of the upcoming tracks. Pocono is one of them. We've obviously made some gains with our cars recently, and it's one of those deals where we have momentum at the right time. It's like a team that's on a hot streak as they head into the playoffs or the big tournament. You want to continue to improve as the season nears the end, and we're picking up a lot of energy heading toward the Chase. We're bringing out another brand new race car this week. We're putting a lot of effort into it, and we're spending a lot of money to try and get there."
Last month at Pocono, you finished 33rd after two blown tires. Does the tire situation creep into your mind in your return? "How could it not? You blow that many tires in a day, it's pretty much etched in your head. I hope we all learned a lot from that day, and that we go back with better ideas on how to set the car up to not strain the tires as much, and that Goodyear brings a good tire. Lately it seems like sticker tires have really presented problems, at least for us. Not sure why that is, but we've got to figure it out."
2005 SEASON OVERVIEW: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the #8 Budweiser team enter the Pocono race weekend on the heels of their third consecutive top-10 finish, the longest top-10 string of the season. The Brew Crew scored a ninth-place finish Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway. It was the eighth top-10 this season for the Brew Crew, with five top-fives and one victory (Chicagoland Speedway on July 10).
"CHASE" WATCH: Dale Jr. enters the Pennsylvania 500 weekend 13th in the NASCAR Nextel Cup point standings. With seven races to go before the Chase for the Championship begins, the Bud driver is 59 points out of 10th and 77 points out of the 400-point window for Chase eligibility.
AT POCONO: Dale Jr. has three top-fives and four top-10s in 11 total starts at Pocono Raceway. He has finished sixth or better in three of the last five races at the 2.5-mile track. Dale Jr. has been running at the finish in all 11 of his races at Pocono Raceway, tying him with Matt Kenseth and Dave Blaney for the second-longest streak among active drivers at the track. Elliott Sadler leads with 13.
Pocono Raceway / Long Pond, Pa.
2.5-mile tri-oval / 200 laps / 500 miles
Sunday, July 24, 2005
TV: TNT, 1 p.m. ET (race coverage begins with "Countdown to Green" at 12:30 p.m. ET)
Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN), XM Radio Channel 144
Bud Pole Qualifying: TNT / Saturday, 1:30 p.m. (ET).