Talladega II Earnhardt, Jr. "Breakfast Club" notes

Winston No Bull 5 Breakfast Club Talladega Superspeedway Team Monte Carlo's Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, has qualified for the final Winston No Bull 5 event of the year. Carrie Richter of Conneaut, Ohio is paired with...

Winston No Bull 5 Breakfast Club
Talladega Superspeedway

Team Monte Carlo's Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, has qualified for the final Winston No Bull 5 event of the year.

Carrie Richter of Conneaut, Ohio is paired with Earnhardt Jr.

The following are highlights of Q&A's with Earnhardt Jr. in the media center at Talladega on Saturday morning:

Dale Earnhardt Jr.:
After winning at Daytona in a strong car, how do you feel about this race? "I'm looking forward to it. I feel like we've got just as good a car as we did in Daytona, but they're two different tracks. You've got to handle good in the corners and the cars get tight. We had our car free enough where we could beat the guys through the corner, but here you won't beat anybody through the corner. And so, the guys can make runs on you getting in the corners more so than they can at Daytona. If we do have as good a car as we did have in Daytona, it might not be quite as evident as it was there but I think that if we have a fast car, we can probably stay up front. Where, in the spring here, we had a fast car but not fast enough to keep it up front. So we just kind of chilled out in the back until it was time to go. I'm going to see if it'll stay up front this time instead of riding around in the back waiting on the big hit."

What is the strategy here at Talladega? "It's whatever you want to do. In the spring, at the green flag, we were running around and me and Michael were running together up toward the front and then he dropped off and I wondered where he went. I slowed down and backed off the gas and went back there and I found him and Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte. So then you ride back there with them. That was kind of neat. You just look up to the front and if they're all three wide, you just sit there and watch. You watch the areas of concern and get ready to dodge something and when they maybe thin back out and you maybe want to go up there and race a little bit, you can.

"That's what I did here in the spring. It really worked well in Daytona because we started that race and everybody was just really going wide open and running three-wide. We just kind of fell back a little bit. When things thinned out at about 40 laps or so, everybody calms down. Then you go up there and race."

With this package, were you capable of winning this race in the spring? "No, we finished sixth. We got up to second, and we led Rusty (Wallace) for about 40 laps - it seemed like that anyway. We had a pretty good car and we were working the top of the racetrack. It seemed like if everybody from second to eighth would stay up in that top line that we could overcome the bottom lines that they would make. We had a pretty good car, but even if you have a better car than anybody, it doesn't show much as much here as it does at Daytona. It's hard to explain why, but you have to use all of the corner at Daytona when you're leading the pack. To keep your momentum and your speed up you have to use all the corner to keep your speed down the back straightaway. If you run around the bottom and bind the car up, the guys in second can make that run on you and pass you.

"But here, you just run right up against the line. It's sort of being like that for the past two or three years. We've all been hugging this line now that they've made a boundary. It really doesn't make any sense. It's kind of strange. We're not really going that much slower than we were five or six years ago when they would use all the racetrack up against the wall and everything. But it seems like we're going a lot slower."

Does this place make you nervous? "I'm only nervous for the first little bit. When the race starts, guys are really nervous. People are moving and jockeying around - making it three-wide and four-wide and doing things on the racetrack that they won't do all day long. Eventually they chill out and realize how long the race is actually going to be and figure they've got plenty of time. This isn't a sprint. I'm a little bit nervous about the first of the race, and definitely (nervous) about the last 50 laps. After that last pit stop when everybody knows they can go the rest of the way, it's pretty cutthroat."

When you look back on last October's race, did you make a mistake? "Yeah, if I could have done it different, I think we would have done something else besides what happened. But (Mike) Skinner was leading the race and my father was on the outside line making a run. I was not going to be run second to Mike Skinner and have my dad not win the race. There's just some combinations that you don't like, and that was one of them."

Just from the racing aspects of your season, have you attained what you were expecting? "Well, I'm really happy. We've run in the top five very often. You can look at the statistics on paper and it's a decent year for anybody. But I'm really happy with how often we've run up front. We had top five finishes at Atlanta and Kansas and blew tires. We were the fastest car in Rockingham in Happy Hour. Just to have gotten top 15 or 20 points there would have been nice. In the races that we have run good, we've gotten better at being consistent. Last week (Martinsville) we never were consistent. We never put two runs together in a row. I feel like we're a strong team. Aside from last week and since Daytona our average finish has been around eighth, and that's good enough for the championship."

Is everybody on the team more focused? "We all realize what we did wrong. That's the good thing about it. We know what affected our performance and our ability. I think we have such a different environment at DEI that you don't find at other teams, and everybody is able to really show their personalities. Tony (Eury, crew chief) demands respect from everybody, but he lets everybody be themselves. If a guy is a talker, he can talk. If he's a joker, he can joke. So we have a lot of good personalities, but everybody can be themselves. So we still have some clashes because of that, but I think that's good. I think the group we have is pretty good. There's been times when I've been upset with one or two of them, but I've never really wanted to let them go."

It has taken a NASCAR mandate for Tony Stewart to go to a head & neck restraint device. Is that what it's going to take for you to switch to a full-face helmet? "I used a full-face helmet in the Corvette race at Daytona. I liked it. The cars were really really hot, so that was the excuse for using it. My father didn't mind. He still wore an open-faced helmet in that race. And then I brought a closed-face helmet to Daytona for Speedweeks. I wore it in the first practice and I was actually thinking I might wear it at Bristol or Martinsville - some of the tracks where there's a lot more carbon monoxide in the air. I liked an open-face helmet on the speedways. It was nice and refreshing.

"But I wore it in the first practice at Daytona and my father asked me to put it up and not use it anymore. He was really adamant about that (using the open-faced helmet). He had his own reasons, I'm sure. We didn't get into it. He just thought it was better."

Was it because of visibility? "No, I think it was because of the weight of it. And concerning the deaths that we had prior to his, I think that he felt the maybe the full-faced helmet held a percentage of the responsibilities for the weight of the helmet versus an open-faced helmet."

Is it hard to balance what he taught you and what you're learning for yourself? "There are times where you wonder what he would think about me wearing the Hutchens device. The reason I chose the Hutchens is because Bobby Hutchens from RCR created the device. I feel like if Dad would have wanted me to wear one, that that would probably be the one. Of course you know every time I put it on I think about whether he would approve of it or not. He had different views about certain things - about his cockpit and what type of seat and stuff like that. He always thought his seat was better than my seat."

When do you ever think your own decisions might be smarter than your parents' decisions? "I don't think of it as that - like when will I be comfortable with my decisions and not question whether he had a better idea. Different people like different things. For example, I learned a couple years ago that when me and him would do something together, even though the way he might have done it was really impressive, the way that I wanted it and the way I was happy and comfortable with it, was different and better for me. I don't put that much pressure on myself. Every time I make a decision, it doesn't have to be okay with my father."

Do you think you'll go to a full-face helmet anytime soon? "I'd like to use one soon, but I just haven't yet."

Have you hit hard enough in a car that you've suffered a concussion? "Yeah, I had a couple of them when I was running Late Model cars. The last one I had was in the Busch car at Daytona when I flipped. That was the first Busch race, so it's been a while. It didn't knock me out, but I got a small concussion."

Do you like restrictor-plate racing? "Yeah, I like it. It's fun. I like racing on the speedways."

What are the benefits of the alliance between DEI, APR, and RCR? "I think that speaks for itself. It's paying big dividends for all of us. We have two or three head engineers plus all the body men from all the race teams and they go the wind tunnel three to four times a year to learn new things. Everything that they find and know, they share with all the teams. So instead of each team spending millions of dollars for the same amount of information, we cut the cost to a fraction to learn that information."

-GM Racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Mike Skinner