Dale Earnhardt Jr. , 2004 Daytona 500 Winner and Driver Of The No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Q&A'S With Media: DESCRIBE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGES TO DAYTONA "All the changes are awesome. The garages are really nice. They put a ...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. , 2004 Daytona 500 Winner and Driver Of The No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo - Q&A'S With Media:
DESCRIBE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGES TO DAYTONA
"All the changes are awesome. The garages are really nice. They put a lot of money into it and it's money well spent. They talked about paving it next, I don't know. The entrance down into Turn 1 isn't that bad. When I came here and saw the hole they had dug I thought it would be hard getting out from there but they did a pretty good job getting that patched up over the tunnel. It's cool. It needed an update and it's pretty nice.
"As far as repeating the 500, we're not that fast right now. We've got a brand new car and one the cars they ran in the past with Michael. The new car was pretty decent and I was really happy with it. We finished practicing yesterday and shut the doors and went home. We jumped back and started and we lost about 4/10 somewhere. We'll figure it out. I'm not too worried about it. I think the cars draft well. If we have to start near the back we'll just cut up through the pack."
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO HAVE A NEW CREW CHIEF?
One of the things I like about Pete is that he gives me a lot of respect. When we talk we listen. He has a similar demeanor as I do in and around the car and at the shop and away from the track. It's been a really nice off-season. With the change we made it took a lot of stress away from me. It's kind of difficult to explain it. I don't want to give the opinion that I got more than I had before or that I got away from problems. The deal with me and Tony Eury Jr. is really enjoying himself now, too. He's getting it going on now. He's working with Michael and they're really clicking now. He's able to do things that maybe we couldn't do together before. We went out to eat last night as a company and I think everyone is pleased with where they're at and how things are. The transition between the two teams was a lot smoother than I anticipated. The work that I see the guys doing on the car with Pete (Rondeau, crew chief) is really satisfying to see. They keep their heads down and keep going after the car. There are a lot of things we haven't done to the car that we'll have on the car when we come back to race. We've just been going down the list of things we want to try to see what helps and what doesn't.
"I'm pretty happy. I anticipated that we might struggle a little bit in qualifying. I think we'll draft fine and race well. I don't know why but I thought that we might not qualify well, but we might. It's still a long way to go. We really don't have the car tied down or in the proper trim. We've got a lot of tape on the grille but that didn't seem to do much. When you tape the grille off, a lot of the air that you keep from going in the radiator goes over the roof and hit the blades so, you get slowed down by that air one way or another. I'm pretty happy. From the look of the cars we have together I'm happy. The craftsmanship is really good. I'll know what kind of team we have after we get done with this and then go to California and Las Vegas. It's hard to tell where we're at in the grand scheme from one end of the garage to the other."
PLEASE TALK ABOUT THE WINDOW ON YOUR NEW GARAGE?
"It's kind of tough when you're working and there are a bunch of people staring at you. You kind of feel like a monkey at the zoo. It's really nice, though. It's what it's supposed to be when you look at it. When we get back for Speedweeks that entire area around the garages is going to be crowded. You see those little drawings of what it's going to look like and you think it will never look that good, but it will. You've got the docks over there on the lake and all that area is cleaned up and looking nice. They're utilizing what's great about this place and they're making it what it needs to be. When they say Daytona International Speedway and call it the Super Bowl of this sport, now they're capturing that. I've always felt kind of uncomfortable with people watching me do anything, but I guess I'll have to get used to it."
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM SEASON LOOK LIKE?
"I get a really satisfying feeling from running in the top 10 or top 5. We had a stream there near the beginning of the Chase. If we could do things like that this year and get two or three wins would be good. I never expected in a million years to win 6 races in one season. I thought that was really incredible. Just to win races is fun. I want to contend for wins and be in the top 10. I want to be a competitor and consistently up front all day.
"Hopefully at tracks where we weren't at last year, like California and Las Vegas - I'm really looking forward to going to that test and see how the cars drive. I look forward to running well at Bristol and Atlanta. Pete and I talked to Tony Jr. about those setups and get Tony Jr.'s feedback. Talking to Tony Jr. about what he thinks makes me comfortable at those tracks is good so we have those setups. It's only the smart thing to do to emulate what we did last year. Tony Jr. is comfortable with that. But we'll go to other places and draw our own conclusion."
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO CHANGE CREW CHIEFS
"It's going to be tough. People are going to talk one way or another. If Tony Jr. and I had stayed together they would have said something anyway. When we'd get inconsistent last year people would talk and try to figure out who was at fault. It's tough when you're walking around in that red uniform. It was hard on Tony Jr. and Tony Sr. and that team because they just wanted to work and be in their little world. But when you're not in your own world, you can't be. It's going to be a different experience for them. Hopefully they'll handle it well. There is a lot of pressure but I can see that this will go either way. Eventually we'll do what it takes to do to get it right and win. If it starts out stumbling we'll just have to work hard to get it right. I'm prepared for that."
DO YOU THINK BORIS SAID FINALLY HAS A GOOD OPPORTUNITY?
"Boris is a great guy. We have a good friendship. He's a lot of fun to be around and he's really genuine. I really didn't know how much talent he had but when I started watching more of the American Le Mans Series and other types of racing, I watched him do so well. He told me stories about other cars he's driven overseas and he's the kind of guy that can get in just about anything and find the limit, constantly. When he drove in the Busch Series with Spencer's car and he was very over the top once in a while and I think he's worked that out. With the Cup cars being a lot heavier than what he's used to, when you overshoot the corner you can't just slow down and stop-these things are probably going to slide off the race track. Once he got that figured out, he started finishing races like he has over the past couple of years. We closed the gap, competition-wise, when we go to those (road racing) places.
"Boris and Ron (Fellows) really help us when we go to those road courses. He enjoyed himself last year when we went here. He got a few scares about ten laps in, but by the end he started to enjoy it and wished it wasn't over. I think he struggled at California and there are a lot of questions there as to why he struggled but I don't know much about his equipment. I think he has a lot of talent and could be competitive in this series. When you can drive it so many different types of cars and courses and be great, I don't see why he couldn't do it here after spending some time doing it. So, it's good to see him get the opportunity to get some time doing it. He's got that question in his mind and hopefully by the time he comes to the end of the 10 races, he'll know."
DO YOU AGREE WITH JEFF GORDON'S OPINION THAT THE CHASE FORMAT ALLOWS YOU TO WIN MORE CHAMPIONSHIPS?
"It gives guys like Jeff and Jimmie Johnson more opportunities. I'm not so sure we can throw ourselves in there. You know, when you have a guy that runs all year long. We run all year and when you get to that 26th race....When you look at Jimmie Johnson, they can put on a hot streak and get in a 200-point lead by that 26th race and you're racing. It gives a guy like Jeff Gordon to get an extra shot at you. You had a guy like Kurt come from 8th. It's fair enough for everyone in the top 10. I think Jeff has to feel a little more at ease than in the past. I don't think it's a big deal. If we had these Chase for all these years and they had done away with it, you're going to have an argument either way. You could say a team like Jeff's or Jimmie's is going to be able to put on a huge lead and walk away with it. You're going to have an argument either way."
ARE YOU SAYING YOUR TEAM CAN BE MORE OR LESS CONSISTENT?
"I think we can be in the top 10 but you've got to be good enough to take advantage of that when it comes up. Guys like Jeff or Jimmie can be that good it almost scares you. I pretty much kept Jeff at bay all year until we came to that 26th race. Jimmie would have been a long way ahead of us but you sit there and you think you've got one up on someone and then they're right at your back door at the end of the season. If that's Jeff Gordon, you've got to be worried about it.
"Say Jeff Gordon closes 200 points in one race because the Chase starts, you've got to worry about it more than if it was someone like Kurt or anybody else because Jeff's ability to run up front every week is pretty good."
PLEASE EXPLAIN HOW TOUGH IT WAS TO GO THROUGH THE CHASE
"Last year wasn't as difficult as years prior to that. As years go by you get a little more used to the schedule. It was all right. I did something just about every off weekend I had, whether it was traveling to some autograph session or running the Corvette C5-R. This year I'm not doing the 24 hours and I'm going to take all that time and chill with it. Last year I missed out on some good times with my friends and family. I finally shelled out for a plane (Lear 60) this year. That's something totally new so I can get to and from everything a little bit clearer. I'm going to try to keep those open weekends open. I started a Hooters Cup team and although the schedule doesn't match up for me to go to any of those races, they're going to run in some late model stuff and I'd like to go to some of those and hide out. I'm going to try to enjoy myself a little bit more. One thing I did understand about it was that I thought you could take more risks with this format the first 26 races. You can also enjoy yourself a little bit more away from the track. I'm going to try to take advantage of that opportunity until it's time to buckle down."
WHY DID YOU BUY A PLANE?
"Most of the time I'd ride with the team. It if was a place where they'd helicopter I'd hitch with Tony or Jarrett and they took good care of me, and that invitation is probably still open. I don't know. I just saved up enough money where I felt comfortable doing it. I've been trying to avoid getting a place because it's really expensive, but we got to looking at them and talking about it and it seemed like there was a couple of times where we got stuck and hung up at a few places. With your own plane you don't have to wait on the Napa team or all the guys to show up to take off. I gave Tony Jr. a ticket for every week so he's going to ride with me. And I can charge Jade (Gurss) trips back and forth and make some money back. I can pay everybody back that I hitched with before."
WHEN DID YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO CHANGE CREW CHIEFS?
"Tony Jr. and I have always been really competitive. The things that we enjoy and what we do and how we treat each other is totally different from what the media have seen during the year. The situation wasn't that bad where I said 'I have to get out of here.' But I wasn't necessarily the guy who spoke first. I came into the shop and as a group we looked at a few scenarios. I walked in one day and they had it all figured out and I said 'okay, I'm fine with that and we'll do this.' Like I said about Tony, Jr., the two of our kind of held each other up which maybe made it easier to do this. He had a lot of talent that wouldn't come to the surface because of our mentality and outlook towards each other. I think I have a lot of maturing to do as far as working with someone else that I was forced to respect. Whereas I could say anything to Tony J. because I knew the next day we were still cousins. . I put myself in this situation so I could be a better person and little more of a professional. I was a good race car driver but I wasn't necessarily a professional about how I was on the radio. That will be a good situation for me.
For him it's going to open up a lot of doors to try to be more of a people person. He's going to have to understand how to motivate people. He's going to have to learn now or never. It's good for him to learn those things now. He won't have that opportunity when he's older because he won't change then. It will benefit him. It was a difficult situation and I looked across there today and there are things I miss about him and I working together but working with Pete (Rondeau) is what I need to do. Working in that environment with those guys is what I need to turn that corner. I don't think anything I was doing in the past kept me from the championship but that's the kind of corner I need to turn to get there. Hopefully I'm right. I'm not always right but hopefully this is what I need to do to get there."
WHAT IS YOUR INFLUENCE AND POSITION AT DEI?
"There are a lot of things that will change with things moving around. I feel that I earned a more respectful role at the company. I feel that the things I say and what I say about the car or ask for, I feel carry a little more weight. Pete really knows that I'm his link between him and the steering wheel. With the company they see a little different in me and I get a different reaction."
HOW FRUSTRATING WAS IT TO NOT WIN THE CHASE IN 2004?
"It's frustrating that we kept right there with Kurt for a couple of race and then faltered at Martinsville and then got myself crashed out at Atlanta. Looking at the tape, though, it was both of our faults. It's frustrating that I could have avoided those situations. I think we could have run better at Martinsville. We did five races in a row in the Top 5 and then went there and acted like we'd never been there before. Those things could have gone a different way and we would have been a different position. We still wouldn't have won with the way we ran at Homestead; we ran terrible there. We had six wins, which was awesome. I did think back a couple times about those races. I wasn't disappointed. I did think back on those races we could have done different, but I was happy overall. It was kind of the final straw on the race track when Mark passed me because I couldn't do anything about it. I gave her all she's got. Other than that, it was good to get the year over with and get through December be with your family. When it came down to testing again I was looking forward to getting here. I look forward to being here with the Busch car. It's been a busy off-season but it wasn't that disappointing but it was pretty much over and done before we even got to Homestead."
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO GET DEEP IN A HOLE WHERE YOU STRUGGLE FOR A WHILE AND HOW DO YOU GET OUT OF IT?
"With our team, like I said, we might stumble every now and then. All you do is put the car together and go to the race track every week and try your hardest. I'm doing all I can do and they're doing all they can do. When you struggle, it's not like you can just look up the answer in a book. I think we'll do okay. I think Pete's got a lot. He doesn't talk much and it's hard to see how much depth he has, but he's really been paying attention a lot from last year There's a lot more going on in his head than he let's on."
ARE THERE ANY CARS THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO GIVE UP TO THE #15 TEAM?
"Not really. I couldn't tell one from the next to be honest with you. They've all got tags and numbers on them but I can't tell you the difference.
"That Phoenix car, whichever one that was, would be nice to have back but we can build them over and over just like that. We're going to test at Greenville Pickens and get a couple of short track cars broken in at the end of the month and get ourselves prepared for Martinsville a little bit better and see where we're at. I look forward to going at the tests at Vegas and California.
"Here it's all the same. I have a lot of the same comments. I might have gotten a little faster or a little slower, but it's not that changes make something looser or pin the nose down. You don't feel that here. Maybe it's a tenth of an inch. It's pretty hard for a driver to tell. He's pretty damn good if he can tell you that. I used to say that so I could to make myself look good, but I really can't."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON COMING BACK TO DAYTONA NOW THAT YOU'VE WON?
"Remember when I said it was awesome to get it out of the way? Well, it's pretty cool to come in here and not have to worry about it. It's one of the races you want to win so bad that once you win you can get that out of the way. It's a great track, great area and there are awesome restaurants. And I can take all that stuff in now. It would be awesome to win it again but that first one--it's almost a nag to try to win it and all the frustration that goes into it. When Ward won it that year, I thought I had a better can than him but we screwed it up. It's tough to lose it but to finally get it out of the way and be able to take it lap for lap is good. I don't have to get an ulcer over the first 499 miles and wait on that last lap. Now we can just race."