Texas: Pole winner interview

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY IMPALA SS -- POLE WINNER We had a great advantage going so much later than Carl (Edwards) ran. But I've got to give my guys a lot of credit. I had a real good car for it to go out and be...

DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD/AMP ENERGY IMPALA SS -- POLE WINNER

We had a great advantage going so much later than Carl (Edwards) ran. But I've got to give my guys a lot of credit. I had a real good car for it to go out and be able to run as it did, I was just so happy for my guys. They work hard and they're just working so well together. They keep giving me good cars each week."

ON HIS TIME:

"I don't want to guess but that's just really speculation from here on out. It's definitely an advantage. I don't really know how much of an advantage it is. But for the most part it's just the luck of the draw and number one, I guess we're all real happy that Michael was able to get out of the car after the crash he had today. That was a scary incident. We all held our breath for a few seconds there because it looked pretty bad. We have pretty safe cars and that was good to see him get out and I had a pretty good amount of confidence that the track was in better condition once I got to it. I definitely, after seeing Michael's wreck, had no problem driving my car as hard as I could. And we just ran a good lap; a clean lap. In practice today, the car was handling really, really good and I was surprised. We ran some laps in race trim and it was really, really fast. And so I knew we had a good capable chance of getting a good lap in qualifying, but we kind of ran late with our race trim package and we only got about two runs on the qualifying stuff. We were hitting the ground the first run and it still wasn't quite dialed in. So I was a little concerned. I thought we could get a better qualifying run if we would have tried our qualifying package more often in practice today, but we didn't. So I was surprised by how good a lap that was. I've just got to thank my sponsors and all. But the supporting cast that I have is tremendous. When it comes to qualifying one lap, the car is doing a lot. The driver, you've got to be good and smart about what's going on, but the car is doing it a lot. The Hendrick organization, from my team all the way out the other side, it gets a lot of credit for what we were able to do today."

IS IT MORE IMPORTANT FOR YOU PERSONALLY TO GET THAT WIN THAT YOU HAVEN'T HAD FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS, OR TO JUST DO WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING WHICH IS GETTING THESE TOP 10'S AND A SECURE POSITION IN THE POINTS?

"Well, that's a great question. What' more important? I think the majority of the people are as hungry as I am to get a win. The thing that I'm trying not to look past or under appreciate is how much better I'm doing in my career and in this position I'm in this year and how much of a better situation I'm in and how much happier I am as a person and just what all good has come from this change that I made. So, I knew that Rick's (Hendrick) program and his company was awesome and that they continue to do things that are impressive and organized. And so I want to go out there and get a win and I want to get that out of the way and tack it onto my stats and all that good stuff. But just how much better everything is for me right now is overwhelming that, you know, in a sense. So I went out there. And I've always run good at Martinsville and had some good runs there and led laps there. I was disappointed a little bit about (finishing) sixth because we ran so good all day. Even when we don't run that good, I generally finish third, fourth or fifth. I was disappointed about how I feel off at the end of that race, but as a whole, to move up one spot in points and to be where I'm at in points right now, it's better for me. I'm more proud of being able to go out and get five top 10's in six races and things like that. So, I've never been that type of driver. I've never had those statistics. I felt like I was that type of guy, but I wasn't able to make it happen. I'm enjoying that so much and I'm humbled by it. So you might not think that I'm as hungry for the win in how I talk to you and how I am or act. It's in there. But I'm just so humbled by everything and how things have been going that right now I'm just trying to see the picture clearly and trying to make sure continue to do my job and do it good. You get so caught up in hype of the situation that it can turn you in the wrong direction. I'm just trying to make sure I keep doing good and go out and qualify like we can; like we should. And if it's a first place car, we'll try to win the race. If it's a fifth place car, try not to screw up and finish 10th. You know, that's the deal."

SOMETIMES POLE POSITIONS CAN BE FLUKY THINGS. BUT IN 7 PREVIOUS STARTS FROM THE POLE, YOU'VE ONLY FINISHED OUTSIDE THE TOP 10 ONCE. IS IT FAIR TO SAY WHEN YOU QUALIFY FIRST, YOU'VE PROBABLY GOT A CAR THAT'S GOING TO GO THE DISTANCE ON SUNDAY. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A WINNING CAR?

"I guess it's a little bit of an inside joke between me and Tony Jr. and anyone else who has worked with me. If I'm in the top 10 in practice, we normally know we've got a great, great car because I just for some reason don't run as well in practice as the car is capable of running. And we'll struggle on the sheet in practice and we'll go out and the car will be great in the race. Yeah, I think if we qualify well, we've got a great opportunity to run well in the race. Obviously it is for anybody. But I think for us, especially, because I don't consider myself a great qualifier. I can get the job done, but I don't consider myself a Ryan Newman-style qualifier. And I don't have the statistics to back that up either. Anytime we get a pole it's a great sign and gives me and anybody that's working with me great confidence."

HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS EVENT LAST YEAR WHEN YOU HOPPED IN THE NO. 5 CAR TOWARD THE END OF THE EVENT? AND DO YOU THINK A WIN THIS WEEKEND WOULD BRING THINGS FULL CIRCLE?

"I don't think about that day that much, if at all, since we did it. I tell you man, when that happened, I was daydreaming of the early '80's when it used to happen all the time. And I guess some people either weren't around or don't remember how that used to be, but it was pretty neat. You didn't have the manufacturer conflicts and the sponsor conflicts and guys would just go from car to car. The good old days. I don't think it brings that full circle. I don't know what a win would do for us. We'd be so happy about it we'd celebrate it and Monday is the time when you start thinking about the next week. But we've got a long year with a lot of things to do and things to try to do well. And we've just got to maintain that focus and try to stay on the path, man."

DO YOU GET OF YOUR FANS JUST BEATING TONY EURY JR. TO DEATH OVER EVERY CALL HE MAKES?

"I talked to him about that and I asked him, especially recently, about that situation. And actually it got me to thinking on something I'm going to do. I'm going to do a Q&A on my website once a month because I like what y'all do. And I want to try it (smiling). Tony Jr. is going to be like the first guy. And I asked him some questions about that, but that's really what brought that up. The fans are real hard on Tony Jr. He doesn't really have a voice. He doesn't get to come in here and get the chance of having that question asked so he can answer it and so y'all can print it and the fans can read it. He doesn't have that voice, you know? And I don't want to sit here and speak for him, because that normally gets me in trouble. And so I said in a roundabout way, why don't I do a Q&A with him? It's something I can start doing once a month. That would give me the opportunity to work that in. But he understands and he's experienced it before, but it's definitely magnified more so now, either due to the press we've gained from making our change and whatnot and how much everybody has focused in on what we're doing and how we're doing. Even though there are bigger stories throughout the year, people do keep an eye on us, speaking of you guys and whatnot, but the fans especially. But I asked him how he was handling it and he said, you know, Tony Jr. has got pretty thick skin. He knows the drill. He took the blunt of a lot of blows when we were wearing red uniforms. I feel bad for him because like you say, he's up there on top of that box and he's got to make the call and he knows either way that he's going to have some people that are going to be critical of his choice. But he's my crew chief and I need him to be clear-minded when he's up there making those calls. So my main concern is, is he clear-minded? And I asked him in my Q&A whether anything influenced him. But he was Tony Jr., you know. He said everything you'd expect him to say. So, whether he's thinking that or feeling that is another thing. I don't think he would share his true feelings, really, with anybody. But what it comes down to is, as long as it's my choice, he's my crew chief. That's my cousin. I enjoy racing with him and winning races and poles and getting top five's with him. I enjoy helping him be happier and get things he wants; material things in life, whether it's land, his house, tractors and bobcats; whatever he enjoys. I enjoy helping him accumulate those things. And I enjoy working with him on the weekends. We've gone too far to learn that and gain that with someone else. I don't think I would ever have that close relationship with someone else. So as long as it's up to me, that will be the way it is. I think we're a great team and I don't want to race against him, 'cause he'll whip you. He's good. I don't want him taking some other guy and running circles around me."

I'M PRETTY SURE YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN ABILITY AND HOW YOU ARE ABLE TO DRIVE A RACE CAR, BUT HAS BEING IN THESE CARS THIS YEAR TAUGHT YOU ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR ABILITY?

"Well it's basically like, it's sort of like a recipe when you add certain ingredients it makes it taste better and that's basically the way it is. Me and Tony (Eury) Jr. done good things in the past and won great races and big races and we've run well and finishing third in the championship I guess you can consider that contending for one. But when we went to Rick's (Hendrick) we had different ingredients but it made the result and our ability to get the right results easier and better. Obviously we're running good and there's no doubt, I mean it's right there on paper the difference and I'm not going to sit here and say that Hendrick is better than DEI or vice versa. I'll say I got put with a great team that's rallied around Tony Jr. and believes in him. I've got a smart crew chief that is utilizing new ideas, and new information and making it work and understanding it. He's been given new tools, new things to work with that are making our program better, making my cars drive better. I've got awesome power, awesome engines that make my job easier. So there's just different ingredients to the cake we're making these days."

YOU TALKED ABOUT EARLIER BEING IN A BETTER SITUATION, HOW HAS THAT CHANGED YOU THIS SEASON OR JUST IMPACTED YOU?

"It's humbling to be honest with you. The support that I got from my new teammates from their teams, I don't know whether I would be able to be that supportive of a new guy coming in you know what I mean. I may be well capable of it but I've been surprised I guess just by how much support I've gotten. Whether it be just in conversation or physically helping make the car better whatever, with the testing that they do and the lengths they'll go to learn about something. If there's an idea or something, a different way to do or build something on the car, the lengths they'll go to understand it or see the advantage it creates. Everything about it, I'm fortunate man, really fortunate to be around the program that I'm in and the people that work there. Everybody seems to get it and we all seem to get along pretty good and enjoy if not tolerate being around each other and working together and we haven't even won a race yet. If we can go out there and get a win or two, it's gonna make that all so much better. Like every year in this sport, if you win a race all the big problems are little ones and all the little problems are gone and it can make a big difference. And we haven't even won a race yet and I feel pretty good about where I'm at. I'm lucky and I got to thank the entire organization for giving me the chance that I got this year to be able to go out there and run like we run since the start, but it's just humbling to me."

TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY LIKES TO PLAY UP THE FACT THAT YOU WON YOUR FIRST NATIONWIDE RACE HERE AND YOUR FIRST CUP RACE HERE. DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH THIS PLACE IN THAT MANNER, AS A PLACE YOU PROVED THAT YOU COULD BE A WINNER IN THIS SERIES ON YOUR OWN, WITH YOUR OWN NAME?

"Yeah, it makes me a little uncomfortable I guess that -- you know that was eight, nine years ago when we won here. Ten years in the Nationwide Series. It was a while ago. There's other things that have happened here since then. Jeff Burton's won twice. I just don't want resentment from my competitors. The big thing about it is, when I came down here and won my first couple of races it put an impression on a lot of fans here. We already had a really good loyal fan base to start with, so Eddie (Gossage) is smart. He knows how to do business and knows exactly what he needs to do to get every seat sold so you got to understand that too. I'm not sure how I relate to this place. It will always be special to me in the way that Daytona is special to me. I won my first race here in both series, but we've struggled here too. It's a love-hate relationship. Just like anywhere else, you love the race track as long as your car is really fast when it goes around it. But it will always be special in the fact that the fans are great to me here, they're amazing on how much they support us here and how excited they get about us coming here and it's one of the better markets that we have in this series west of the Mississippi. So that gives me good hope for the sport as a whole to be successful nationwide where there's some areas where you could put up argument of that. Like I said, it's a good opportunity to get excited and look forward to a win or a chance at a win. People always say that when we come here, man you're going to Texas you got a shot at winning. We do feed off of that as a team I think as far as our motivation to come with a good chance to win."

WHAT KIND OF A RELIEF WAS IT TO KNOW THAT YOU HAD WON THAT FIRST RACE AND GOT THAT THE MONKEY IS OFF YOUR BACK? HERE WE ARE HOW MANY YEARS LATER ITS LIKE YOU PROBABLY WOULD GIVE IT ALL FOR THE SAME THING TO HAPPEN, YOU KNOW GET THAT ONE.

"I remember how cold it was that day and when he grabbed me, knocked my hat crooked and that was how I had my hat on that day in front of a national television audience, crooked. That was as unexpected as anything. When we won the Nationwide race, well we run second at Vegas we run good at a couple of other races, but that win right there just shocked me. I could hardly hold the gas pedal down the last 30 laps. My legs and my whole body was just shaking. I don't know if I could top that even winning again here, how that feeling is. I guess the feeling that I would get the next win that I have, there will be a lot of appreciation for the company that I drive for now, the team that I work with now for getting me there, for giving me that opportunity and giving me that chance. It's really cool of them to do that. I enjoy it, just like the pole and the good runs the first thing I want to do is shake my guys' hands and make sure they're satisfied and happy and everything's going like they want. Everything to go."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton