DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY / NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the tire issue at Indy, strategy leading into the Chase, the Nationwide schedule not returning to Mexico City, testing, and more. ON THE TIRE SITUATION...
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 AMP ENERGY / NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the tire issue at Indy, strategy leading into the Chase, the Nationwide schedule not returning to Mexico City, testing, and more.
ON THE TIRE SITUATION AT INDY "I really had fun racing in the race. The race was fun regardless of the pit stops and all the cautions. It just created a different atmosphere for me. So from behind the driver's seat, I wasn't too bothered or upset with it. There are a million different ways it could have been done. I don't think any of them were wrong. I think the way it was handled was the best way it could have possibly have been handled. I'm glad it was a safe race. We had some issues early with myself and some other drivers, but NASCAR was trying to do their best to try to get the race underway and get it more fan-friendly. And you can't blame them for that. So I was glad we were able to rebound. We had a better car than that, but we just didn't have track position at the end. I foiled our strategy a little bit with changing a call or two with the last couple of stops. All in all, I think it was a good lesson learned. But I'm ready to get on past it."
OTHER THAN RUNNING WELL, WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES IN THE NEXT SIX WEEKS? "I have a good concern for trying to get ourselves more 'top-five-style' weeks. We need to win races, but we need to be more competitive than we have. This part of the season is typically been a stretch where I haven't been productive in any of the seasons that I've been around. So I've been more productive this year I think, at the Poconos and Indys and (in) Hendrick's cars. He's given me the opportunity to do that, but we weren't able to capitalize, really. We've been able to maintain. But that part of the season is almost over. I'll get the opportunity to try again next year during the heat of the summer to try to do better at the Poconos and even the Michigan win, you know, we need to run more dominantly at those places.
"But we're going to start going back to tracks that I traditionally have had a lot of success at and do better at, and I'm really anticipating that and excited about it. So we need to look back on last year or on earlier season notes, and what we've learned and what we can apply to that stuff because you're going to go back to those tracks and everybody is going to be just a little bit better from what they've learned this year with this car. We're all learning so much with it over the span of the season. I can't expect to go back and be just as good as I was at Atlanta and places like that. We just have to hope that we've learned enough to step their game up enough."
IF YOU STRUGGLE AT CERTAIN TRACKS OR HAVE A LULL DURING THE SUMMER, IS THAT A PRODUCT OF MAYBE THE DRIVER NOT ADAPTING TO THE TRACK OR TO THE CARS? "Well, I'll take a little bit of the responsibility, sure. I'd have to be pretty stupid not to take some of the responsibility. I run good here. We've got some seconds and stuff. I don't know. There are a couple of tracks in there that we struggle at (like) Sonoma. I don't feel like I get it done during the summer like I do at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. I feel like that's just been the case. Working with Rick's cars and his people has given me the opportunity to change that. We did a little bit better this year than I thought I would. Maybe over the next couple of years I can erase all that. But yeah, the summer seems to be, if there is a part of the season where we have to buckle down to watch out for a slump, that would be it."
IS THERE A REASON WHY? "Its just tracks that aren't typically favorites of mine and a couple of road courses we have to go to that I really don't enjoy. Pocono is a challenge. Indy is a tough race track. There are just a lot of different tracks that we go to that are in that little span that aren't necessarily my cup of tea. I'm open-minded about it to get it right and get it going and go get some wins there in the summer. But we have always been stronger at the start of the year and the end of the year because of the tracks we're running on at that point."
YOU ARE SECOND IN POINTS, CAN YOU MAYBE GAMBLE A LITTLE MORE NOW THAN MAYBE A MONTH AGO? "We don't go for wins any harder than we always do. I don't think there is a driver that's ever driven in this series that ain't trying to win. When you're out there in the middle of the race and you know you ain't got the best car and the laps are winding down and winning the race is out of your control, do you know what I mean? It's not that you've settled not to win. But yeah, I get sick of that. I get sick of hearing about that, whether we try to go for wins harder, because we're always going for wins. We go for them as hard as we can all the time.
"Now if I'm leading the points by 10, or whatever, going into Homestead, I'm going to be cautious. But I can't sit there and let a win get away. But I don't believe in settling and taken a fifth when you could have had a third or second. And I don't think any other driver in the series or in this garage does that. I would hate to think that anyone, fans or media, would sit there and watch a race and think a guy was accepting or taking a fifth-place finish and padding a lead or whatever."
DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD RACE 1,000 MILES HERE IN SIX WEEKS? "I think the race is too long here. Yeah. I think that's obvious. I think NASCAR thinks it's too long, but I think the track owners could care less how long it is (laughs). But they don't have to be out there running. But the fans, I feel like, might consider it. The majority may feel it's too long. I'd like to see a poll on that. But ya'll should do that. It seems like NASCAR listens to the fans. I read a lot of polls on line, more so than I read articles, just to see what the fans really think. But the people that are in charge of that will not change it for whatever reason, just for spite maybe, I don't know (laughs), but it seems like it's too long of a race. It's a big, big race track. It's no different really, personally, than running at Indy, and that's 160 laps. I know it's a 400-mile race and that's probably what they should be."
AS A NATIONWIDE SERIES TEAM OWNER, WERE YOU PLEASED TO SEE THAT THEY'VE DECIDED NOT TO GO BACK TO MEXICO CITY? "Well, it's difficult logistically, to get there. And it's a challenge for the trucks and trailers to get down across the border and through the highway to the race track. Now, I can't say that I've ever had anything stolen out of my truck while it was parked in Mexico, but I can say that it happened at O'Reilly Raceway Park. So that was an unfortunate incident that our trailer got broke into. So, I can say that's never happened in Mexico."
DID THAT HAPPEN THIS YEAR? "Yeah, Brad's bag got stolen; all his uniforms, cell phone, everybody's wallets got went through, $500 here, $150 there. It was pretty ridiculous."
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK ABOUT BONUS POINTS NOW? HOW IMPORTANT IS WINNING NOW WITH SIX RACES LEFT? "Points are everything, man. Points are the difference between winning the championship and not winning it."
DO YOU GO FOR IT? DO YOU GAMBLE MORE NOW TO GET A WIN? "Yeah, I just hate the question, man (laughter). When are we not going for wins? Answer that, right now. Right now. Answer it. When are we not going for wins?
YOU GO FOR A WIN EVERY TIME. "Okay, so when am I not going for wins? When is any driver not going for wins? Is it more important to win in the Chase? Yeah, because that's when you're going to win the championship. Sure. Is it as important to win during the 26-race season? Yeah, because you get the bonus points. But don't ask me if I gamble more to win. I go hard, man, every week. Every driver here does.
"And maybe I'm taking your question wrong. But I guess I'm feeling that you're asking me if I work harder because it counts more. And that's a little bit of an insult if that's how it's coming across. I want to win every race. Every one. I put it on the line, man. It's really no different, regardless of the points and regardless of the time of the season. I don't think that really changes. At the end of the season when you're in a point's battle with guys, the only thing that's different is that you're harder racing. Do you know what I mean? It's the intensity of it. But you're going as hard every week."
SHOULD THE GOODYEAR TIRE TESTING BE CHANGED? WHAT SHOULD THEY DO? "I'll tell you this. Tony George said that they weren't changing the track and I don't blame them. It's expensive to pave the track. But diamond-grinding the race track with the grooves does directly have an affect on tire wear. Directly. And anyone who wants to say otherwise is just in denial. All right? So, with that said, obviously I wouldn't expect him to repave the race track even though they did diamond-grind it for no good reason. They just paved it. I wouldn't pave it either, or again. But what we're going to have to do, and I think that Indy is an isolated case, it's always this time of year that we see this. Whether we want to go or need to go or whatever, we're going to have to go down there and put two days of rubber on the race track one or two weeks prior to the race, just to fix that issue. I don't think changing the tire is going to help it. A harder tire might last 20 laps, but it didn't seem like the tire got better as the race got better. The tire wasn't putting rubber down; it was turning to dust and not laying on the race track and not merging with the asphalt. And you can't tell me that those grooves in the race track don't have a direct affect on tire wear. That's crazy. So, we need to go down there and run around the race track over and over and over and over with all the race teams and that'll just have to be the way it is if we want to keep going there and not having that problem. We'll have to put those two-days tests in at that race track with all the teams, whether it's necessary or not. The only reason it would be necessary is to ensure we don't have that issue again with no tire rubber being on the race track. I was surprised though, that we weren't able to get going mid-way through the race and be fine. That did surprise me. So, I don't think that's Goodyear's fault. The tire was a good tire, but under the circumstances with the track surface and the lack of testing and the lack of rubber prior to the race weekend, it was not able to handle it. The crew chiefs did vote on where to test. And the tracks that they picked to test under the limit of tests they were allowed to have are tracks that we needed to test, you know? It's not like we turned our back on Indy and just didn't want to go. We had some other things that were more important, other tracks that were more important that correlate with the new car and struggling with it. We didn't feel like if you get Phoenix down, you'll handle good at Indy and Pocono. So you've got to go to these other places. Pocono is a tough, tough race track to get a hold of, more so than Indy. That's why we picked it to test instead of Indianapolis. It's not that the teams didn't want to test there. There was more important places to go."
CONSIDERING WHAT KYLE BUSCH HAS DONE, BUT YET WHERE YOU STAND, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE FLYING A LITTLE UNDER THE RADAR AND MAYBE THAT'S A GOOD PLACE TO BE? "Well, I would trade my season with Kyle any day. He's had a great year and won a lot of races. He's a real amazing talent behind the wheel. He's got a lot of ability. I would like to have had the type of season he's had, regardless of where that put me on the radar (laughs). I would like to give my sponsors the best opportunity they can get and the most exposure they can get. Winning races is how you do it."
AS YOU GET CLOSER TO BEING LOCKED INTO THE CHASE, ARE YOU AND TONY EURY JR. TALKING ABOUT DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT STRATEGICALLY TO GO FOR WINS? "Good Lord. I think we'll go for wins every week (laughter). The one thing that we have learned that track position is much more crucial this year, and being able to minimize your time on pit road. The last couple of stops on the race track are real important. So you might see some guys taking some chances to win races and get those finishes up front with two tire stops and no tire stops at the Loudons and stuff. You've seen success there with that before. But with this car, it's so hard to pass with it even more so now, that's going to be happening on a lot of weekends."
WOULD THAT ALSO PUT A BIGGER PRIORITY ON QUALIFYING? DOES THAT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE? "Yeah, anytime you qualify well, you can use it to your advantage. But it's not the end of the weekend."
-credit: gm racing