Weekly Top-10 Behind the Hauler Chat with Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS Richmond International Raceway BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS: HOW AWARE ARE YOU THAT IT'S THE 100TH...
Weekly Top-10 Behind the Hauler Chat with Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS
Richmond International Raceway
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS:
HOW AWARE ARE YOU THAT IT'S THE 100TH NEXTEL CUP RACE AT RICHMOND AND IF SO, IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU? "Well, it's pretty cool, I suppose. But one hundred is not really that many. It would be cool maybe when they get to 1,000."
WHAT IS SO MUCH FUN ABOUT RIR? "The great thing about this place is that there is more than one way to get around and move around and run different grooves. The top works pretty good if you need to try to get up around people and get a run on them -- especially when they repaved it a couple of years ago. Before that, it was really awesome. But obviously the surface was breaking up a little bit in some places and needed to be repaved. But it's a great race track. Moving up the race track as the night goes on is a lot of fun -- up in the corners running high and trying to get runs on people. It's fun to have a lot of different opportunities to pass people."
ON RIR BEING CLOSE TO NORFOLK AND THE MILITARY AND THE NAVY: "Yeah, my momma lived in Norfolk and Chesapeake Bay for 20 years so we used to go up there and go around the base every once in a while -- especially when I was real young -- because they worked right near it. But, yeah, it's pretty cool I was supposed to go spend the night on a carrier during the week, but the rain out on Sunday (at Talladega) sort of backed everything up and we had to cancel that. But sooner or later I'll get the opportunity to do that."
STRATEGY-WISE, WHAT DO YOU TELL YOURSELF AS THE NIGHT GOES ON DURING THE RACE AT RICHMOND? "The thing that you normally fight the most is forward bite up off the corner and tight in the center. So you're constantly trying to figure out subtle ways to improve the car without making one worse than the other, you know. You've got to get your car turning in the center so you've got to give up something. So hopefully when they do help you in the middle, they don't make it difficult to get up off the corners. So you sort of struggle with those two issues all night long. Today (during practice) we were really good in and off the corner and I felt like I was a little too tight in the center.
"But we could run real fast lap times -- faster than most people or anybody, really. But at that time of day, we need to be a little loose. So I was a little concerned (about) being tight."
DID YOU EVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR ENGINE LAST WEEK? "No. It broke a rod. Whatever broke, there were signs of stress fracturing or cracking something throughout the rest of the motor too. So I don't really know. You're going to blow motors every once in a while. I've got to give it to my engine department for trying all they can to give me as much power as they can. I'd rather blow up running out front than be conservative. It's really frustrating when you're trying to get in the gas and you don't get that much of a response. I'd rather have them be going for it trying to make me some power."
HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO RUN HERE AT RIR? "I expect to run well. I think my team is good. I think we'll run well this weekend, but you've got to have some luck. We've had a little bit of difficult luck over the last couple weeks. Starting out so far, it's pretty good."
WHERE IS THE EASIEST PLACE TO GET IN TROUBLE ON THIS TRACK? "Turn 2 is sort of a challenge. To get up out of that corner good is sort of a challenge. There are little nuances all the way around like Turn 1 at the end. If you go in that corner and a guy checks up sooner than you expect, it's really hard to get on the brakes without spinning yourself out. A lot of times a guy will not get on the brakes and run in and wreck the guy in front of him just to keep from wrecking himself. You see that a lot."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS BEING THE FIRST NASCAR CUP RACE TO BE SPONSORED BY A HARD LIQUOR COMPANY? "I didn't really know who the sponsor is. I don't pay much attention to sponsorships -- not unless I'm looking at a trophy afterward (laughter)."
DALE JARRETT SAID YOU AND YOUR DAD DROVE SO MUCH ALIKE THAT IF YOU WERE TO HAVE SWAPPED CARS, NOBODY WOULD KNOW. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? "That's a compliment, I supposed. He had to race against him more than I did. I don't think I'm quite as aggressive as Dad was early in his career. But maybe later in his career the sport changed more than he did. I think the tolerances in the sport changed everybody and he didn't necessarily change or cool off or calm down any. It's just that the etiquette on the race track was a lot different in '97 than it was in '87. So I think that yeah, we do drive a lot similar to each other if you take the last 40 percent of his career up against mine, I think we had a lot of the same nuances and attitude on the track and some of the same mannerisms."
CAN YOU GIVE US AN EXAMPLE? YOU DON'T EVER WAVE THE FINGER "I've waved it a few times. I was going to start marketing Web Loves to keep myself from flipping people off (laughter). But I don't really know, other than kind of like a quiet consistency inside the car -- not race after race, lap after lap -- do you know what I mean? It's just being in the car and running consistent and smooth -- like Mark Martin said a couple of weeks ago. We race hard. We don't cause a lot of trouble on the track. I really try not to instigate or initiate anything with any driver on the track unless I feel wronged or like I need to address that situation right then and there. I just race hard every lap. He really wasn't real loud. He got his point across without having to be real loud and obnoxious about it."
ON THE TEAM'S PROGRESS SO FAR THIS YEAR: "I'm pretty happy. The team is working real hard. The cars have been handling pretty good. We started out the season and I was really happy. The last couple of weeks we have not finished well and I've been disappointed. I made a mistake at Phoenix that cost us a good decent finish and last week it was unavoidable with the motor blowing. But we had an ill-handling car at Talladega. That was really a surprise to me. You really don't have to worry about handling too much (at Talladega), but my car was bouncing around and sliding around and it was loose. I spun out there once and then the motor blew. But you've got to take your lumps and try to keep coming back. We came out here for practice this morning real calm and with a lot of confidence and run off some good laps and got the car to react to some of the changes we made and was real happy with the way it was coming along today.
"Right now, I think we've got a top 5 or top 10 car. And if you just remain calm and try to do everything right and get what you can get, you should finish in the top 10 or top 5.
"The last couple of weeks I've been trying to force it too much maybe. Maybe I should just relax and calm down a little bit and be a little more consistent."
HOW MUCH DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO DARLINGTON NEXT WEEK? "Well, it's difficult to look forward to it. It's been a tough track for me. It's really hard to race on with the way it wears the tires out. But it's a good thing that they started running it at night. That's a little bit easier on the tires. And it does add a little more grip to the surface because that's what everybody is always in search of at that track. I haven't had a lot of success there. It would be great to get us a win there because any time you win at Darlington, you really put in a good hard day's work. We've had some pretty good cars there; not really any great finishes, but we've had some decent runs there. Every time I go back, I feel like I'm a little closer to that opportunity of winning there."
WHY ARE DRIVERS MORE INTERESTED IN BEING TEAM OWNERS NOW? "Well it's not that the expenses have gotten any better. I think it has a lot to do with the challenge. It's quite a challenge being an owner. It's very difficult to motivate people and get the right people together and get them all working together. It's as difficult as an owner as it is driving, for me, and in my experiences. But the challenge is the lure. To get in there and really try to forage things into how you want them. You have this idea of what you think a great race car driver is and what you think a good crew chief is and try to find that in people and get it to work together. It's a fun thing when it does -- running in the top 10 is a fun thing. But it's difficult. I think there is a lot of success to be had by people who are good at in the Cup Series. I'm not doing it to make a living -- yet anyways -- but it would be difficult to make a living at it in the Busch Series. But in the Cup Series, there is a lot of success to be had.
"Finding a sponsor is not very easy. Getting $15 or $20 million from anybody is not very easy. Knowing where to spend that money is not easy, you know, to make it successful. I had some help. I talked to people who own Busch teams just recently, like Kevin (Harvick) and a couple other guys. I just asked them if they could start over, what would they do different and what didn't they foresee happening. There were several ideas like how they ran their parts department and how they did things.
"So just talking to those guys helped me a lot and saved myself a little bit of headache down the road. You have to be a motivator. The hardest part for me probably was to get people to take me seriously when I started my Busch team. Even the people that work for me now, it was hard for them to take me seriously. They really didn't know what I was really after when I started that deal. That's difficult for any driver, I imagine. Everybody wonders what your motives are and why you're doing it in the first place."
DOES RACING AT PLACES LIKE RICHMOND AND BRISTOL AT NIGHT SUIT YOU BETTER? "I really enjoy running at night on Saturdays. Aside from the cooler temperatures and the more grip the track has, there are a lot of great plusses to it like having Sunday off and being able to plan something with your family and friends. You don't have that many chances throughout the season to do that. So we always try to make Sunday a big day back home. But I like the shorter weekend. It's easier on the teams and on the guys traveling -- especially through the stretches of the races we're running. The guys will have a chance to be around their families on Sundays. Mr. Helton said he likes the mix that we have and there is sort of a tradition of racing on Sundays, which I agree. It's nice to go on prime time on Saturday nights on television for the audience. I can imagine there is a different feeling when you're watching a race on Saturday night at home than there is on Sunday. Sunday is sort of a lazy day for everybody. Saturday night is sort of wound up. Everybody is having a good time in the middle of the weekend. That's the way the feeling is on the race track too."
BECAUSE OF YOUR STATUS IN THIS SPORT, DO YOU EXPECT MORE OF YOURSELF THAN OTHER DRIVERS DO? "Well, I know what I'm capable of and I know I haven't reached those capabilities over the last couple of years. So that's disappointing. These are good years for me and my career at this age. And to not be able to reach that potential and not be able to accomplish the goals is difficult and disappointing. You just try to remedy whatever you feel like the faults are and try to maintain a positive attitude. That's probably the most important thing is to stay positive around your team. Negative attitudes sort of spread through the team and spreads like a virus through the team and can really self-destruct the whole program."
ON NOT WINNING YET THIS SEASON: "I feel like it's still early in the season. I want to go to victory lane as soon as possible. Everybody does. But I have a lot to be excited about. I see some good things going on with my team and we've had some good cars and there is a lot of communication and there is determination and the work ethic is there. When my guys work as hard as they do, that's all I can ask of them. We're capable as a team. I'm a capable driver. And we should be running better right now than we are. Over the last four or five weeks it's been a little bit of a struggle. But we started the season off on pretty good finishes and I feel like we'll be all right. We've just been sort of struggling the last couple of weeks and I've made some mistakes and had engine failure and whatnot. But you've got to try to be cool if you don't really have the car you think you expect every week, you're got to really try to get what you can get. A lot of times I push the issue trying to get more than that and find myself in trouble. So I've just got to be a little more consistent."