Rockingham: GM - Earnhardt Jr interview

February 21, 2004 - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. visited with the media following his post-race media tour in New York as the winner of the 2004 Daytona 500 and also the Hershey's Kisses 300 Busch race. Highlights of the conference follow: DALE...

February 21, 2004 - Dale Earnhardt, Jr. visited with the media following his post-race media tour in New York as the winner of the 2004 Daytona 500 and also the Hershey's Kisses 300 Busch race. Highlights of the conference follow:


(ON HIS STORYBOOK WEEK IN DAYTONA) "It was a lot of fun actually. We just kept at it every day. We practiced and practiced. We had a real fast car down the straightaway. We had a lot of trouble getting the car comfortable in the corner and getting it to turn like I wanted it to. Right before the race in one of the last practices, Tony (Eury) Jr. put a set-up that we ran a couple of years ago in the car as far as the springs and the sway bar. That got the car turning real good. That's all we needed. It was just so fast down the straightaway. I just needed to get it freed up in the corners to take advantage of how good the car was.

"We had a good Busch car. It was kind of tough being down there with one team and two cars. We spread everybody pretty thin running those Busch cars through inspection and getting them out and ready to race. Unfortunately Martin (Truex, Jr.) got caught up in an accident but he had a lot of fun. He can't wait to go back. It was a good race for me, though. I just chilled out and missed all the wrecks and waited until the end to go. When I went, I had Johnny Sauter behind me helping me out and that was a big credit for winning that race. Johnny stuck with me.

"In the Cup race, the biggest hurdle was getting on and off pit road clean. It seemed like every time we pitted, we bridged a gap between ourselves and the rest of the field. I asked Tony (Stewart) how that happened because everybody was real close on pit stops. I think it was due to me and Tony pitting a couple of laps earlier and breaking the pack up. But we had a great car and Tony did too. That's how we got separated from everybody else. Our cars worked together real good. We were able to really push ourselves away from everybody else and still be fast enough to hold the distance that we had on the other draft during extra pit stops."

(ON WINNING HIS 125 QUALIFYING RACE) "I hated the way my car drove in the 125. It just really didn't turn at all. Even when I was out front, I was real tight. When you're leading, you should be real loose with all the air on the nose. I was worried and disappointed about my car. If, I happened to get shuffled back to third place or worst, It would jus start pushing so bad that I couldn't even run on the bottom. I just had guys hounding all over my back door trying to pass me. In the 125, Jeff Burton was behind me. His car was better than mine. I just told him to chill out and sit back there if he could because I was just so tight I couldn't even go anywhere.

"Getting off into the corner I had to lift off the throttle and couldn't get back on the gas in the center of the corner because it was pushing so bad. It wanted to push into the wall. I was really worried about the car after the 125 race."

(ON TODAY'S PRACTICE SESSION AT THE ROCK) "We ran pretty good here last year at the last race. I was real happy with the way the car was. In qualifying trim, my car is real uncomfortable, but it can run some fast laps. It's just real easy to make a mistake and not get that quick lap. I went out there this morning and ran that eighty (23.889), which I feel is real good for us here. But I can only do it about once out of every four tries. Maybe I'll get lucky and make it happen here in qualifying. The car is real uncomfortable, but it's quick."

(ON DOING DONUTS IN A CORVETTE ON THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW - DID YOU EVER TRY THAT WITH YOUR DAD?) "It's real tempting every time we come home from a race to pull out on the runway and take off doing donuts. Me and daddy did it a couple of times in his pickup truck and he tore the power steering off his truck. Yeah, I've been taught a lesson or two about that."

(DID YOU DO ANY DAMAGE TO THE CAR BY WINDING IT UP THAT MUCH?) "I suppose not. I think it would be all right. If you can't run a car like that, what's the use in having one?"

(ON HIS BUSY WEEK IN NEW YORK FOLLOWING DAYTONA) "Yeah, it's been a busy week. And I knew it. As soon as I won the race and looked in the eyes of J.R. Rhodes and Jade Gurss, I could tell I was in for hell week. They were already apologizing before I ever even said anything. I'm real hard on both of them. Everybody's opinion is that they just point and shoot and that I just go wherever they say, but I really get hard on them. I'm pretty strict about doing this and that and what I think I should be doing and what I shouldn't be doing and why I feel like is fair and not fair. We do a lot of arguing a lot. But at the end of the day, whatever we needed to do we get it done. And it turns out to be a good deal. So they new they were in for quite an earful. I did razz them a little bit but I did enjoy being in New York and all the attention that the Daytona 500 winner gets was pretty interesting to see and be a part of.

"The one difficult part was that everybody associated - and I understand it to a point but I'm not sure I want to be involved in the conversation every time - but every interview that I did they related my dad's death to the win and my win six years before that. It just seemed like I was answering the same question over and over. I'm just wondering when the day will come when I don't have to reflect back for every person that wants to do an interview. That kind of gets old. I don't know what's right and what's wrong because I want to honor my old man. I know what he meant to me and I know what he meant to a lot of other people. I don't want people to think I'm starting to lose appreciation or anything, but I don't want to bank on it either. I don't want to feel like I'm using it to my advantage. That's the last thing I want."

(WHAT WAS THE MOST FUN APPEARANCE YOU MADE IN NEW YORK?) "I think Letterman was fun. Actually, that was what I was the most nervous about. They wanted me to do donuts right there in the middle of the road. I thought, 'What if I don't do donuts right or screw up or look stupid.' So I thought maybe I should just sit down and have him (David Letterman) ask me questions like all his other guests. The nest thing I knew, they wanted me to parallel park. They thought that would be funny and I thought that would be the easiest. So we went with that. It turned out funny actually when I pushed that car out of the way. That wasn't really scripted or planned, but I felt the car back into it (another parked car) and so I just shoved it out of the way. I think I really represented my sport well with that.

"We went to doing the donuts. They asked me to rehearse it. It worked really good. The car (Chevrolet Corvette) worked really good and the car spun around and around and didn't hit anything. It ended up being pretty funny and I really liked it."

(HOW MUCH OF AN INDICATION WAS YOUR RUN IN DAYTONA ABOUT HOW GOOD YOUR TEAM WILL BE THIS YEAR, AND IS THE DAYTONA 500 A GOOD BAROMETER OF IN TERMS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP RUN?) "The Daytona 500 is not a good barometer to decide what the championship race might look like. I can honestly tell you that I wouldn't guess that would even tell you what our year beholds. I feel like we're as strong as we appeared to be last year. We, like everybody else, tried to improve on everything during the off-season. Every year we do that and it shows. I felt like we'd come out of the box this year and midway through the year we'll start seeing the improvements that we worked on during the off-season. In 2003 we wanted to run better at short tracks and road courses, and we did. But we struggled at Kansas and Homestead, and Texas for some reason. It seems that every time we focus on one area, we lose or start to fail at another. Hopefully this year we don't because we need to cover all the bases and that's what it's going to take.

(DID YOU TEST AT ROCKINGHAM?) "All I really need is just a good driving race car. Last year, we came here in the spring and didn't run good. We had one extra test left and I kept telling them to save it for the Rock all year long. Finally we still had it and we came down here and tested and we got a good set-up under the car. Then we were running up front in the race and got a lap down for some reason - I forget what it was. We ended up still running with the leaders all day. It was a top 10 car. It would be a huge deal for us."

(DID YOU LIKE THE STYLE OF RACING AT DAYTONA BEING BACK IN THE DRIVERS' HANDS?) 'The driving last week really reminded me of cornering at Atlanta or somewhere like that. You'd go in the corner and lift a little bit. You'd get back on the gas and the back end would step out. You were driving and steering and turning. I could look in the mirror of the car and see that the in-car camera was facing straight ahead and they were missing everything. If they'd just turn it to the left a little bit they'd see what all was going on in there. We were all really driving them hard. I was behind Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart there for a while. They'd go into a corner and just about spin out - just sideways. It was awesome to see. We were using the whole track.

"You couldn't have blocked the bottom lane if you had to. And that's what you need. You need the cars to be sliding around driving them up off the corner and using all the race track like we do everywhere else. It reminded me how racing used to be before they put the plates on. And I thought they'd never be able to obtain. I don't know if we'll ever see it again, but that was pretty interesting."

(ON THE DIFFERENT DAYTONA PACKAGES) "It's two different wins one way or the other. If you come across in front of a 42-car pack within a second and a half of each other, that's a different feeling than winning it the way we did. I feel like we went with the strongest car and the best handling car and I drove it the best I could and we get credit for that. To have led a 42-car pack across the line, we were just at the right place at the right time. I don't know whether that's as important as just having the best car and driving it right."

(HOW TIRESOME HAS THE WEEK BEEN FOR YOU?) "After a race, it's real hard for me - and for most other drivers I talk to - to get the Adrenalin rush down right away so you can go to sleep. So normally you don't get to bed right away. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep after that Cup race because I was so wired and excited about winning. The next morning when we went to Daytona UAS, I was just real tired. I ran that Busch race and I didn't even feel like getting in there (the car). And then we had to do a two-hour satellite media tour. That's one of the least fun things we do. And then we went to New York for a couple of days. We slimmed it down actually and cut a lot out and tried to trim it. We got it all done in a matter of a couple of days. That's pretty important.

"But I'm really happy that I won the race and I wanted to shout it out to everyone that I was happy and I was glad that I got the stage to do that in New York. But at the same time, I hadn't seen my family and my friends and hardly even my team. I wanted to go into the shop and see everybody and start working on Rockingham and get some rest so you could switch gears."

(DOES YOUR SUCCESS ON THE TRACK PUT YOU IN YOUR FATHER'S SHADOW?) "I don't mind really, the closeness of being compared to my dad and being associated with him at the track. I just hate having to talk about how's this has been since February 2001 and how it compares now. It's just frustrating. I can't talk about it all my life. It just gets boring talking about it over and over and over. Who else has to do that, anyway? But I don't really feel like I've got to get out from under his shadow. He was awesome. He was a great race car driver. If I'm half as good as he was or accomplishes half as much as he accomplished, I'd be real happy. I'm already satisfied with what I've been able to do. I didn't think I'd ever get one win. As a little kid you dream about coming in here and you don't know even know what you're going to accomplish or if you'll even do anything. I don't want to pick on anybody. But we've seen sons and relatives come into this sport before and struggle. Some do good and some don't. There's always that question. The biggest compliment you could tell me is that I remind you of my dad. That's a huge compliment. But I don't want to talk about what the effects his death had on me for the next 10 years. I'm just wondering when we're going to put that to bed because it's an old story."

(SINCE YOU HAD TO RUN THE BUSCH RACE THE NEXT DAY, YOU COULDN'T REALLY CELEBRATE YOUR DAYTONA 500 WIN) "Yeah, I really wanted to let loose and go run down to the strip there at Daytona and just go wild all night. It was frustrating. One good thing did happen. I've been grilling on my Foreman for about two years. I really like George Foreman and I don't want this to be bad press for him, but it's inevitable. It's been fine. I've been liking my steaks and everything. Then it rained real bad and my grill blew up. So I had to borrow Michael's grill. And it was so good. I was real excited that night that I found out I've been cooking the steaks wrong. I needed a new grill. So I got a new grill and I'm real pumped up about that. That's one thing good that happened that night. I found out that I don't need to be draining all the fat off my steaks like some people do. So I'm not going to cook on the Foreman anymore."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Johnny Sauter