Team Monte Carlo Coca-Cola 600 Preview

DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Making his first start in NASCAR’s all-star race, the 25-year-old NASCAR Winston Cup rookie won the 16th running of The Winston last Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor ...

DALE EARNHARDT Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Making his first start in NASCAR’s all-star race, the 25-year-old NASCAR Winston Cup rookie won the 16th running of The Winston last Saturday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. The only repeat winner in 11 NASCAR Winston Cup point races this season, Earnhardt Jr. won $516,410 by taking a 1.295-second victory over defending series champion Dale Jarrett in The Winston. Earnhardt Jr. ranks 17th in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings. He’s 201 points behind 10th-place Terry Labonte and 445 points behind leader Bobby Labonte entering Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Earnhardt Jr. reflects on his rookie season and latest victory under the lights on Saturday night at the 1.5-mile track.

“I haven’t been doing nothing much since Saturday night,” Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday morning. “I’ve just been sitting around the house and hanging out at the shop aggravating everybody. They don’t let me work on the cars much now, but I can build them from scratch. I used to build Late Model cars for Kerry and Kelly (brother and sister), and they liked them a lot. “After getting through technical inspection Saturday night, I got home pretty late and I was tired. I think I slept until about noon Sunday. I didn’t have to pinch myself or anything when I woke up. I remembered what happened. The way it happened, and we had to come from the back a couple of times, I think it sunk in quicker. It was cool. We had a lot of cautions and you had time to think about the race. I was up to the moment pretty much all night. “Victory lane was cool, too. I think it was great having it silent for Adam Petty. I’d have victory lane out there at the start-finish line every year anyway. Fans can get close to the action, and it’s a pretty emotional deal. I knew Adam pretty well. Nobody has asked me to drive his Busch car, but I wanted to put the 45 on my car in The Winston. We just never worked it out. We used to play football in front of the condos at the track. Me and Jason Jarrett and Adam would get together and play here and there, and when Adam started driving in the Busch Series, I got to know him a little better. We weren’t best friends, but we were friends. “What happened to Adam puts everything in perspective. You never know when you’re going to be here or not. Plus that deal with the bridge outside the track. I’m standing there cheering and raising hell in victory lane and 11 or 12 people are outside the track fighting for their lives. It really shocked me when I heard about it. They told me about it when I went to the press box for the interview, but I really didn’t understand exactly what they were talking about. I walked out of the press box and looked through the holes in the wall, and it was pretty scary. That was severe stuff. “We’re going to bring a different Monte Carlo back for the 600. We tested both cars and they were just about identical. The car that won The Winston, we raced at Atlanta. The car we’re bringing back for the 600 is the car we won with at Texas. It’s rare that two cars are so identical, but that gives you a lot of confidence. I feel like we keep getting a better handle on the tracks. Our shocks and setups are really in tune. I think we’re coming around and getting more competitive each week. The car we had in The Winston was better on short runs, and we knew we wouldn’t have to make a run longer than 30 laps. It was a little quicker to start off. The car we’ve got for the 600 starts off pretty good and stays pretty good, so that’s how we decided which one to race in the 600. “Everything has worked out pretty cool so far this season. I didn’t know if I could win in Winston Cup at all as a rookie. To have two wins and a win in The Winston already really takes away a lot of pressure. It’s a relief really. Budweiser took a big risk by going with me and my dad’s company. It was an unproven company and had a lot of living up to do. I think I’ve got a job now for the rest of my life. I’m making a real good living, but all I wanted to do was be able to hold down a job. I look at my peers and see what they’ve accomplished and what I’ve accomplished, and I think I’ve done enough to stick around. “Success can easily spoil you, and I take advantage of the situation some. I’m shopping a little more than I used to in the past. I bought a 25-foot boat to use on Lake Norman, but it ain’t nothing special. You see a bunch of boats just like it on the lake. I bought a new truck and paid cash for it. That was cool. I bought it from my dad, and he gave me a pretty good deal on it, I think. “I haven’t talked to him much since Saturday night. He’s real careful what he says to me in a complimentary way. We’re getting closer and closer as it goes. We’ve both got strong teams, and we both want to run good. I guess it’s rare for a father and son to be racing each other, but we have the same ideals and same goals and go about our jobs almost identical. I really don’t know how it feels for him racing against me. I know he’s happy and proud when his son and his car win, but at the same time, if his son and car win, he doesn’t, so that’s got to be a little tricky. “I’m having a pretty good time with it all right now, but I always have a good time. I just need a little free time. If I get at least one free day a week, I can handle everything else. I need one day a week just to hang out and pay the bills. I guess I’ll get between 30 and 40 percent of what we won in The Winston, so that’s pretty good. That’ll pay a few bills. “I realize how money motivates some drivers, and I realize how motivational it can be for me. It’s a handy tool when you’ve got it, but it’s not everything. It’s damn sure not everything. “I’m 25, but I kind of can’t believe I’m already 25. It seems like I was starting out not too long ago. I was looking at some of Jeff Gordon’s stats, and I’m going to have to hustle if I’m going to catch him. I believe he was already winning championships when he was 26. We’re going to win some more races. We’re in The Winston for at least the next two years, and I’d sure like to win it again. It’s kind of aggravating that I’m not leading the rookie standings, but Matt (Kenseth) has been more consistent. If he hasn’t got a top 10 car, he finishes in the top 20. We’ve had some bad luck and wrecked and crashed some, but winning races is a lot more fun than leading the rookie standings. Still, you want to do both. “The 600 is a long race and a lot can happen. I guess we’re going for two in a row (after points win at Richmond), but I’d like to think of it as three in a row. If our car is as good as it was in The Winston, I’ll get it to victory lane somehow. Everybody on the team is confident, and I think we’re going to be hard to beat. I know you’ve got to stay out of trouble and have a little luck, and I know the track is going to change as the race goes on, but Tony (crew chief Eury Sr.) and the boys will be ready. I don’t know if Humpy (speedway vice president Wheeler) has predicted a winner for the 600. Maybe we’ll check with him, and see what he thinks.”

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Adam Petty , Jason Jarrett