Team Monte Carlo Indianapolis Friday notes

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "I think winning this race every year would be cool, plus some more Daytona 500s, but we're looking at the whole year, trying to put together a championship year. The...

DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "I think winning this race every year would be cool, plus some more Daytona 500s, but we're looking at the whole year, trying to put together a championship year. The Pocono race bit us a little bit with the cut tire. It put us back a little bit, sort of a setback like we had at Bristol. We don't want that to happen anymore. You can't miss a top 10 or a top five or you're not going to have a championship year. These races, like the Brickyard and the Daytona 500 and the 600 at Charlotte, those are the three that stand out in my mind as the biggies of the year. You focus on big races, but you need to focus on each race at hand. This is the most important one right now for us at least. "A lot of people talk about the track not being a passing track, but you've got to pass to advance. Starting eighth is a better position for us than 13th when we won. Strategy is sure a big part of the race, making sure you've got good pit stops. It's a whole team effort. It's not just the car and getting it around the race track. We keep working at that. Our guys have stepped up to the plate this year with pit stops and the way they work. I'm really comfortable with the team the way it is. I think we've got a team that's really focused on winning races and winning championships. They're working awful hard at it. I can't believe the turnaround we've had at Richard's organization. "Pocono was a little bit of the same way, but this place is even more so. With the aerodynamics of the cars everybody is pretty equal. It tends to push a little bit off the corner behind a car. You've really got to get your car working good. You've got to be a little on the loose side, more than the tight side. It's sort of like safety issues or competition issues or anything. If they leave it to the competitors, competitors will pretty much work things out and get to the point where everybody is the same. NASCAR has done a good job adjusting the cars. You don't hear a lot of argument about downforce and things like that at all the race tracks except maybe Talladega and Daytona, and that's just restrictor plate racing. That's a bad way to race. "Overall, you've got to listen to the car owners and drivers. We're having pretty good races, and we're really not hearing a lot of people getting out of the car and grumbling about a Ford or a Chevrolet or Pontiac. When Dodge comes in next year, we might have something to grumble about, but right now everybody feels fairly comfortable that they've got an equal chance. "I think it's going to be both (a driver's race and a crew chief's race). I think the driver is going to have to stay in position and stay competitive and get good pit stops and get good calls. What's important? Two, four or just gas or what? "I think everybody likes to see a good mix of the championship race, not just two young guys or two guys who just came up, but a mix of Rusty Wallace, Earnhardt, Jarrett, whoever, racing with Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte, a Burton, hopefully Earnhardt Jr. some day. A good mix. I like to see a championship run there's five, six or 10 guys that could win it at midseason and on down toward the end it weeds down to three or four or whatever. If two guys run away with it, it's not a good race. Everybody is focused on it and everybody else is racing. It's not really good. I think we've got a pretty good battle right now, and it could go either way for the top five or six guys right now. "It (winning eighth championship) would mean a lot. It's something no one else has done. It's our opportunity right now. We have that opportunity and we really want to focus in on it, not just getting this championship but racing for another one or two. We feel that good about things, Childress and I and the team. It's really a tough business. A tough business to stay competitive. A tough business in negotiations with sponsors and souvenirs and deals with car owners. The pressure you have on you to make the budget and make things work, to give the teams what they need. Me being a car owner, I've seen that more and more. It's not easy for a Richard Childress or a Rick Hendrick or a Roush or an Earnhardt to make things happen like they need to happen with the competitiveness of it. People are changing all the time, and prices of things are going up all the time. NASCAR and the tracks really need to focus and make sure the car owners are taken care of to be able to perform. "Any thing you can do for safety is great. We've had a switch in the car that you can turn off ever since I've been racing. Any thing you can do will help. If the speedway wants to step up to the plate and put some barriers in the corner that are Styrofoam or whatever, like Flemington short track did, that's great. Whether NASCAR would make it mandatory, it would be hard for them to do that. The switch we have now is on the steering wheel instead of on the dash. I can reach my switches on the dash. "That's the problem when you're confronted with a situation like when the throttle hangs. I went through the fence at Richmond several years ago with the throttle hung. The reaction time is very small. It's within hundredths of a second. For a driver to be able to react and do the right thing to save him or the car is really tough. Will the driver remember or will he just lock up and that's the response of a driver. It's like you guys going down the highway and somebody steps out in front of you, pulls out in front of you or whatever, it's your reaction. What do you do? Do you panic and lock the car up or do you stir clear? It's all in reaction time. It's all in drivers in that split second of making that decision. It's the same thing on the race track in racing. If you remember the things to do, you can probably save yourself from hitting that wall or hitting that wall hard. Dale Jr. did the same thing at Pocono in practice. The car pushed out and got on the edge and he locked the car up and hit the wall harder. If he had just drove it on through, he would have hit the wall with the right side and probably bruised the car more than you could race it, but it probably wouldn't have bruised him. "I'm comfortable with the helmet and safety equipment I have in the car. I've hit the wall pretty hard in several instances and gotten through it. I think the full face helmets are different. They put a different stress on the neck and the head. That's everybody's argument. It's to everybody's liking. I think if you run a full face helmet, that thing is probably going to work good for you. "I don't know if I saw it coming. I saw my slump coming. We were losing some key people at the race team, and it seemed like we were losing some focus on what was important on building race cars and the competitive side of it. Now, I think we have the people back, and I can see that turn, and I can see the opportunity to win the championship, and our chances are good to win the championship. "Coming here, my state of mind has always been pretty good. To winning the championship, it was not that good. You were just going to each race you hoped with a better piece to try to win the race. To be a contender and to race for the championship is fun. It's fun to do. It's part of what you race for. I live to race. I want to be here on Saturday and in that lineup and go after it. Thoughts of quitting are not a focus right now. Slowing down is not a focus. I'll guarantee you I won't slow down when it's time to quit. I'll quit. "It's tough for guys to get verbal that much with racing like it is today. I don't know whether the track lend it to it or what, but it just seems to be a lot closer racing, side by side door to door racing and the guys would get a little verbal after they got a little physical on the track. I haven't had a water bottle throwed at me lately. We get back to Bristol and maybe it'll get a little exciting again. "We have to this point and from this point on, we'll have to. Not only the team has got to work hard and go for it, you've got to work hard and go for it. I think everybody does to a point. You race with guys and you feel like you know how far to go with them or how far they'll go with you. Just like (Jeremy) Mayfield (at Pocono). I felt like we'd go in the corner and he would try to race under me and we'd race off that corner. Instead, he got into the back end of the car and pushed me out. It was just a little experience. I gained a little experience and I'll know how to race him next time. "I race him (Earnhardt Jr.) hard. He'll go door to door with you. Hopefully he wouldn't push his dad out. "The car changes a little bit per year, and that tends to change the complexion of the race a little bit, but it still comes down to the guys up front regularly and tune on their cars the best, get to the front. "It's great here. It's one of the greatest race tracks we come to. The experience of racing at Indy is a great experience. It's a great town to come to. We look forward to it every year. You don't make a lot of bad moves here. You've got to make all the right moves all day long to be in contention. Then you've got to make a great move or two to win. It's that kind of race track. You've got to be consistent, and you'll move forward. If you make mistakes or have some bad corners, you'll get behind quick. "You've got to have a good pit stop. Rusty had a miscue on his pit stop and had some traffic. That hurt him. You've got to have good, clean stops. As the race goes on, it'll tell you what to do, whether it's two or four (tires). I don't think it's smart to get two early if you run a long run. I think it's smart to go on and get four because you want to be in shape to get two later. "It's great to see the crowd, but the crowd doesn't play into racing with me. I've raced in front of a lot of great crowds. It's great to see the fans here and in the stands when you're on the introduction lap with the cars and all. When the race starts, the fans aren't a part of it until the race is over. If you're in victory lane, they're a part of it." "It's gotten more technical. The things we've brought into the cars and racing now. They've worked harder on aerodynamics. They've worked harder on downforce, on handling packages, on shock packages. It's really gotten real technical. I think the engineering side has gotten to be as important as anything in the sport. It would come anyway. Whether you call it engineering or not. It's happened over the years. The technology and things different guys bring to the sport. It's like Ray Evernham coming in. He brought a little something different and it put Gordon on the map. When everybody caught on to that, we've gained, and now it's sort of turned around. There's always somebody new coming into the sport and bringing something new. We've got guys back at the shop that looks at the wheel and tries to reengineer the wheel even though the wheel has been round all these years. How to turn it or how to push it or pull it a better way. "You race the race. It doesn't matter if it's two laps or 10 laps or 20 laps. It's the race. You know what you've got to do. You've got to be in the top five and be a contender to win every race. That's the important part. It's not the track. We tested at Watkins Glen already, and we feel pretty good about our chances there. We are a little off of where we want to be, but when we go back we feel like we can gain that. We tested here and came back even faster than we tested. "We've got to run in Mike Helton's box to so speak, and we can't get out of it now. You can't intimidate too bad. These guys are pretty competitive now, and it's hard to get rough with them anymore. They get rough right back with you pretty quick. We're excited about getting back here. I remember when we were talking about coming here, and everybody said you'd change the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here we are, we've made our own history and it's become a great race within itself. Now we're going to run a Formula One race here, and everybody is excited about that. Tony and Mr. France's and everybody's visions are coming true. "We had a great run yesterday and thought we had a shot at the pole. The sun got me a little bit. Still, it was a great effort. We're excited about running as fast as we did, and we still feel like we've got a good shot at winning the race. Richard and the team are doing well. It's Indy. It's an exciting time for us. We always look forward to getting here. I can't wait until the race gets going. "Jeff (Gordon) turns 29 today. He's finally become a man."

JEFF GORDON (No. 24 DuPont Automotive Finishes Monte Carlo) "This place is something I drove by just about every other day as a kid. I was just in awe of this facility and what happened here in the month of May. I'm thankful for this group here and others that made this event happen back in 1994. Ever since then it's been one of my favorite spots. We didn't qualify quite as well as we'd like to, but the team has been doing a great job and we've had some good finishes. We've turned things around for all the changes we've been through. It was pretty excited yesterday during qualifying to see some of those laps runs and certainly to see Ricky get the pole. To see D.W., what a run that was. I think we're all pretty excited about that. It looks to be another exciting Brickyard 400. I just hope the winner comes from outside the top 25. "I didn't ever really think I'd race at this facility. It's almost beyond grasp. When I went to NASCAR, I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to race at this facility. That's why I'm so thankful to Tony George and his family and the people at NASCAR. It's special to all of us, but it's very special to me and anybody like me who grew up in this area. "We only race here one time a year. The facility is unlike any other and the race track is unlike any other. There's no other track shaped like this. I doubt if there's another track as smooth as this race track. It's much more than that and the facility. Yeah, the facility is incredible, but I think it's more the prestige and the history behind what's happened here and the races that have been run and won here. The competitors that have raced at this track. I think all of that adds a whole new element to what it's about when you come here. I think you feel that, and I the fans feel that. There's a lot of excitement, and you recognize that as you're competing. "Qualifying here is one of the most intense and most stressful qualifying runs you'll ever have because it's a very difficult track to get around. We don't normally get crowds like we have here. I feel like a hometown thing going on here, so there's some added pressure. "I didn't really know what to expect in January. I was really excited. I knew Robbie (crew chief Loomis) was a great addition to our team. We get along real well, and he's also a pretty sharp guy. I just didn't know how long it would take things to gel and get on track with our race team. It took maybe a little longer than what we thought, but I really see it coming together the last couple of months. I've really seen the team supporting one another, going in the right direction. We're seeing the results because of it. "It goes in cycles. I think that the fans are funny. There are those fans that are loyal no matter what you're doing, and then there are fans that don't want to see not just me but anybody go out there and win 10, 12, 13 races in a single season and back-to-back championships. They want to see you work hard for it. They want to see new faces in there. When you kind of step back a little bit, it's almost like they like to see you back up there. They want to see certain battles, certain rivalries out there. We want what the fans want, and that's just a great race. "I think it's probably moreso on him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) than anybody else just because of his name and because he's not only has to live up to that name and what the expectations are, but he's been able to. I know that there was a lot of pressure on me, but I think there was more coming from myself than it was from other people. I feel like his is both. He wants to do really well, but he probably looks around him and sees other people that are expecting him to do certain things. "I think what you have here around this state and around this area is a lot of race fans. I don't think it matters necessarily what's going to be here. I've been hearing that the Formula One ticket sales have been going very well. They want to see racing and I think they want to see a great race. They know that the NASCAR Winston Cup Series puts on a great race. This series has really grown tremendously in the last five or six years. I think Indianapolis Motor Speedway and this Brickyard 400 has had something to do with it. "It seemed to be real loose. Every time I'd go through that corner (fourth) the car just seems to want to get sideways. Geoff Bodine spun out yesterday. I didn't want to spin out. I know I need to get more speed through there. I know if I carry more speed through there I'm going to run better, I'm going to qualify better. I just have not got that feeling that I need to get through there yet. "I think if you look at the cars we built for this year, Ray was there while we were building them. Ray wasn't a miracle. He was just something that really brought the team together. He was a really good leader. He was a smart individual. There was no magic there. What was magic was the way we worked together as a team and the way we respected one another. That's what we have to get to this season, where we all respect one another, where we all understand where we're headed and we're all headed there together. That's what I'm starting to see the last month or two. The team is really becoming a team, whereas at the beginning of the season maybe some of them weren't sure about the changes or weren't sure about the adjustments we were making on the car or whatever. I've really seen those things come together. I would really love for Ray to still be there. I knew he wasn't going to be my crew chief. He outgrew that. I don't want to say bored with it, but I think he wanted a new challenge. When we put together that Busch team, I think he found out what that new challenge was going to be. He wanted to own his own team. "I can just tell you you can't base life off of what you're doing on the race track. That's not life. That's my job. That's just what I do. I'd say in 1998, my job was a lot of fun. When you win that much... At the same time, right now, I like the challenges we're going through. I like being involved with more decision making with the race team. I like just driving the race car, too. When I get to the race track, I'm the driver. I don't run the team. Robbie runs the team. Rick Hendrick and John Hendrick run the team, but when we're back at home during the week, a lot of things that go on I know about and I'm involved with, as much as I want to be involved with. Right now, I like the role I'm playing. I think that my life away from the race track has been very good, and I've been very happy this year. I've had a great race, but on the race track, the performance has not quite been where it needs to be, and that's frustrating at times. "Dale and I get along well. He knows he can make jokes like that (about 29th birthday). He knows I'll get him back sometime. I'll be a kid forever as far as I'm concerned. I've got no problem with that." "It's very important. It's nice to get some rest and come back and get out there. Maybe we were just a little slow out of the gate to get back rolling into this weekend, but we're going to have it together by Saturday. I look for this team to make some big strides over this stretch. Things have gone well for us over the last month or two. The less you tear up, the more prepared you can get and the better you perform. The better you know what direction you need to go in with your race cars. All of that has been helping us out a lot. "Brooke has some plans for us for dinner tonight. That's all I know about anyway. She keeps things kind of secretive. We celebrated on Tuesday at home, but I guess they're inviting 300,000 or 400,000 people out here on Saturday. "Now I remember that his (Kenny Irwin's) birthday was the day after mine. We always celebrated around this time. It's ironic. Maybe in some way we're celebrating the way he'd like his birthday to be celebrated with a great race. I know how much he loved Indy. It was the biggest race he was involved with. "This is such a hard track to pass on. That's why it's so important to qualify up front. The race track itself is a very difficult race track to race on, because it's challenging for one thing. You do have long straightaways and fairly tight flat corners, which makes it challenging in itself. Then you throw in how tough it is to pass, especially in year that's so competitive, it's going to make things pretty interesting. "I think the guys that do their homework, that have a good aero and horsepower package with a driver and team that can get it done, they always seem to rise up to the top here. Typically, the best teams always get to the front somehow. There are some race tracks out there where the car and driver don't mean as much as they do here. "It's narrow. It's flat. I think we've got the aerodynamics so good, it's made things more difficult as far as passing is concerned. They showed an old Pocono race, '81 or '82, these big boxy cars that are five inches off the ground, they were passing left and right. I think there's a lot to that. That's kind of what NASCAR is looking to do at Daytona and Talladega with this test they have coming up. They're trying to make the cars less aerodynamic and punch a bigger hole to make the cars easier to maneuver and do that slingshot drafting. I believe it could work if they get the right balance. Right now, if you get up close to another car and you stop. It's like you've got to follow that car for a long time. "I've accomplished more than I ever dreamed I would. I've far exceeded my expectations and won more races and bigger races than I ever dreamed. Anything from here is just icing on the cake. "I was one of the people that suggested it (shutoff switch), but I don't think it's the solution. It's something that's quick, something that can happen right away without doing a bunch of testing. Right now if the throttle sticks and you hit that switch, you're still going to hit the wall. You might not hit it quite as hard as you would have before, but you're still going to hit it hard. To me, the solution is more in the walls than it is in a switch. We're looking at doing everything we can to protect the driver, but the impact is the issue."

TERRY LABONTE (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Labonte took four laps in the No. 5 Monte Carlo in Friday afternoon's final practice session. He's scheduled to start a NASCAR Winston Cup record 656th straight race on Saturday, but the two-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion says he'll wait until Saturday morning before making the decision whether he'll start or not. Todd Bodine finished up the practice session in the No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo and will make his services available to the team if needed for Saturday's Brickyard 400. "I felt pretty good in the car today. I felt a lot better than yesterday. I didn't feel very good yesterday. We'll see how I feel tomorrow. They (two doctors) couldn't find anything wrong with me. Everything checked out good, so we'll just have to go from there. I made a trip back to Charlotte yesterday and had some tests run. Everything checked out good. We'll see what happens tomorrow. I really haven't made a decision about what I'm going to do. "The streak isn't the biggest concern. We can still finish in the top 10 in points, and that's what we want to do. Back there where we are, you can make up a lot of ground. We can still finish in the top 10 in points, and that's our goal. We really felt like coming back the second half of the year we were going to be a lot better than the first half. Unfortunately, the first race of the second half we wrecked at Daytona and broke my leg. I'm still trying to get over that wreck. We're going to make every effort we can to finish in the top 10 in the points. We'll just have to decide tomorrow what we're going to do."

JERRY NADEAU (No. 25 Michael Chevrolet Monte Carlo) NOTE: Nadeau led the final practice session with a lap of 173.410 mph. "The lap was on new tires, but the car ran good. Even on long runs with old tires, the car seemed to run real good. It was really consistent. We feel like we've really got a good piece. The hard thing to swallow is we've got to start so far back. We were really good in practice and when we went to qualify the track got hot. This place is so tentative. Five degrees of track temperature means a lot here, and I think it was 25 degrees from practice to qualifying. Our car got way too loose, and I didn't want to wreck the car or push the issue. We got in the top 25. It's going to be tough Saturday. We're just going to have to do our best and try to get ourselves in a good position toward the end of the race so we can race hard and make our move. "Just because I'm the fastest in the last practice doesn't mean I have the fastest car here. Anybody can go out there and run the heck out of it, run it on the edge for one lap. But that's not what I was out there doing. We managed to get a good lap. We ran three or four laps on new tires, but we were comfortable doing it. If you're comfortable doing it, that means you've got a good race car. "This race isn't that quick. If there's no yellows it can go by fast, but here the biggest strategy is pit road. Two tires, four tires, fuel only. You may see a lot of crazy stuff so people can pick up track position. It's going to be hard to pass. I may say stuff on the radio, but when I say stuff, it costs me so I usually don't say anything. I feel great. I try not to think about it. The Good Lord has got a list up there. He knows who is going to win tomorrow. I don't. Hopefully I'm on that list."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Rusty Wallace , Todd Bodine , Ray Evernham , Tony George , Mike Helton , Michael Ho