Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Dale Earnhardt and crew chief Kevin Hamlin. Chevrolet Racing DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo) "His (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) Busch racing has been a...
Tuesday, Aug. 10, 1999. Highlights of Winston Teleconference with Dale Earnhardt and crew chief Kevin Hamlin. Chevrolet Racing
DALE EARNHARDT (No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo)
"His (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) Busch racing has been a little bit haphazard here lately. A few cars have gotten tore up. As far as he himself, I think he's on track. He's eager to get into it. They're in Michigan testing, yesterday and today. He had a pretty good day testing yesterday. They're on track. We're in the process of building the building. It should be finished by late October. The team's moving in that shortly after. We want to be as competitive as we can in the races he has left in Winston Cup this year and do a good job with Budweiser. He had a terrible time at Loudon with a great qualifying effort and right off the bat with engine problems. I think the team has got a lot of improving to do. It's (mustache) is growing (back) as we speak.
"It was a pretty tough day (1996 at Watkins Glen). The car qualified on the pole, so it really pumped me up. The mental drive I had on race day was really overcoming most of the pain. Late in the race, the pain was pretty strong. I was a little duller as far as being as good as I was at the first of the race and I think that's why we finished sixth instead of maybe fourth or a little better. Our pit stops were pretty good, and we should have been on track with Terry Labonte because we had raced and led him most of the day and I think he finished a couple of positions ahead of us. You do those kind of things to stay on track, to keep up your end of the bargain or whatever you want to call it with the team. I probably slowed my healing process up somewhat, but looking back at it, I'd probably do the same thing again. We've all played hurt. Mark Martin is playing hurt right now. We've had problems through our career you just have to overcome and go on, whether it's a bad handling race car or a bruised up body. You just do the job and go ahead. That was a pretty neat weekend to sit on the pole and race as well as we did that way.
"I think everybody is in that race car to want to win. It's so competitive in Winston Cup Racing today. It's tougher to win than it's ever been. Look at me. We were on top for so long. We got sidelined with some things and it's taken some time to get back on the game. You can't put your finger on it. Why do you go out and race and not win and why all of a sudden do you win? I got in the IROC cars and won three out of four races. The last race at Indy, the car just didn't suit my driving style, undoubtedly. I just had a terrible day, but I was fortunate enough to win the championship. How do you judge if it's the car or the driver or the crew chief or the engine guy or components in between? I think that's why guys out there who haven't won, if they ever got with the right combination of car, engine guy, crew chief, owner, they'd be a winner.
"It's beyond me that Michael Waltrip hasn't won races by now. He won The Winston, but I'm saying competitive Winston Cup races. He's got a good race car, looks like. The team's jelling better and better, and I think Michael is a talented driver. You've got 'em all down the line. It's hard to say why this guy may never win or why he wins. You look at the mark. Rusty Wallace is not winning as regular as he used to. I'm not winning as regular as I used to, but Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett and these guys are all of a sudden on the game. Why? It's because everything is working for them. The team, engine guy, crew chief, everything is working for them. I think Richard Childress and our team is getting closer back to that mark. We've been in the top 10 and been competitive. If we can just get things to turn the corner a little better, I think we'll even be better.
"It does make a statement (600 consecutive starts on Sunday at Watkins Glen) that you've been around for awhile. I don't feel any older for sure. I'm excited about racing and feel good about racing. It's a pretty monumental thing to see 600 starts. Terry Labonte is the only other guy who's got that many. We're the next guy behind him, anyway. He's been pretty tough. I raced with him as a rookie. My problem was when I got hurt at Pocono, I was out for four races and that set us off. We'd probably be tied neck and neck for this deal, but that's a pretty awesome mark to set. Hopefully we can stay in there and keep doing it for several years. Richard and I are working on a contract.
"They paved the race track (Watkins Glen) to start with, which was a great deal. Then they messed up and put sealer on it and it didn't cure the asphalt and it tore up when the Busch cars went up there and tested and raced. To try to fix it, they put cement down, and they just put it down in certain places. That made more hazardous. Mike Skinner went up there and tested and bent up two race cars. He didn't tear them up totally, but he bent up two race cars. I'm going to go on record and say there will probably be more of them tore up in practice and qualifying and racing this time. I think it's going to be a tougher race and I think you'll be racing the track as much as you will be anybody else and trying to find the right combination to make your car work through those adverse conditions whether it's concrete-asphalt, slick concrete, slick asphalt.
"One day you're on top of the world and the next day you're not winning and somebody is ready to retire you. Richard Childress and I have had a great relationship, and there's not been any talk of retirement between us at all. Goodwrench and he and I are working all the details out for our agreement for three more years after the year 2000. We're going to keep racing and go forward. We still like we can win championships and win races. So that's where we're at. I'm sure people want to retire you if they see you have a bad day or a bad streak or whatever. We've been running pretty good. I think we've got a (six-race) streak of top 10s. We feel good about what we're doing and feel good about our chances to win races. We're trying to turn the corner and maybe get another championship in the book before we quit here.
"People say he's good at the speedways but he may not be as good at the road course or at Richmond or whatever. We'll prove that fact wrong. It's just circumstances, whether it's a bad day or something happens or a chassis or engine or whatever. It just hadn't happened as consistent as it needs to or it has in the past.
"We've been working on aerodynamics or balance. It's not something that you just go out and change. It's a balance I feel in the car, the chassis I feel in the car. When we hit that mark, it'll show up. Just like qualifying at Charlotte. We've qualified well, well decent since those races. We feel good about our cars and what we're doing. We're making progress. I understand the balance. We started the race at Indy, and even in the last practice, I told Kevin on Friday afternoon, I thought the car was going to go on the tight side and we should make some adjustments. We made a little bit, but we just didn't make enough. Then during the race, we made some adjustments and got better. Then I had a bum pit stop there at the end and knocked the left front fender in and it hurt us on our downforce. We should have finished in the top five or six. Turning the corner is when you can win a race every couple of weeks and you're a contender to win every week. That's where we were before and that's where we've got to get back to. I don't care what track it is or where you go or how you go. You've got to be a contender to win and be up front. Then I'll feel like we've made progress and we can go on and win another championship."
KEVIN HAMLIN (Crew chief No. 3 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo)
"Indy was a perfect example of how important aerodynamics were. Dale Jarrett was a good example of it at Michigan. When you get out front, you can
get a lot more downforce on your car and you set set sail. You can pretty much control your own destiny up there. It's hard for anybody to pass you or stay with you. We're looking at a lot of other areas besides aerodynamics. We're working real hard with our chassis program, trying to get our cars stiffer. I think we've come a long way in a year. We've got a lot further to go of course. It's like Dale said the other day. We've worked our way up. We've got track position. We came out of the pits sixth on our last stop. Unfortunately, leaving the pits we smashed our left front fender in and that's another example of how important aerodynamics were. You couldn't drive the car the last 15 laps after that. It was absolutely terrible. Misfortune struck again when we hit that tire leaving pit road or we would have maybe finished in the top half of the top 10. We've been in the top 10 for the past few races, but we feel like we're in the wrong half of the top 10. We'd like to be in the other half of the top 10 where you can be there within striking distance anyway for the win.
"We've built a brand new car (for Watkins Glen) since last year. We worked pretty hard on the total package, aerodynamics and the weight of the car. We're hoping it's going to be a good piece for us up there.
"We tried to come up with a gearing package than we had there last year. We felt like we were hurting with our gear package. We've adjusted that around a little bit, and hopefully that'll be a plus.
"Our teammate Mike Skinner got to go up there and test, and he got to relay some information to us about what he felt about the concrete and asphalt combination. He had positive things to say about it. It wasn't all negative. If they could have put more concrete down and made it actually where you could have put two cars side by side on the concrete, you possibly could see a whole lot better race. I don't know who didn't take this into consideration, but anyway, they didn't and thought they were doing the right thing by what they did. As usual at a road course, track conditions will mean everything.
"We're hoping it (2000 Monte Carlo) will be real competitive. We thought we were going to get to race it this year in May at Charlotte. We did one test with it last year. We played around with a lot of different things. We didn't have it in traffic. You can go out there and run by yourself and it'll feel great. Then when you get in traffic that's when it's really going to tell us what we have, and we haven't done that yet. We're not real sure what we have. There's a test scheduled for later this month and hopefully we'll have a little bit better idea of what we'll have going into next season then. We're not sure what they're going to allow the Pontiacs and (Fords) to change on their cars. I know the Taurus is changing a few things. I'm sure they're changing it for the better and not the worse. It's going to be an uphill battle no matter what. You'll get the same story from somebody campaigning any other make.
"We tested it at Homestead last fall. Earlier in the season when NASCAR wanted to take it to the Lockheed wind tunnel, we took it and tested it for them at Atlanta. It's been changed since then. We still feel pretty confident about it. We don't actually know how much better it is, nobody does, until we actually start running it and working with it. We're hoping it'll be a big plus.
"You can do all the ifs and whats and buts you want. Go back and look at two of our races at the beginning of the year, Atlanta and Rockingham, if we just had a handful of those points back right now, we'd be up there closer. Dale Jarrett has a pretty commanding jump on everybody, but there's a certain amount of luck involved in this deal. Jeff Gordon's not been as lucky as he's been in the past and performance wise, I believe the Monte Carlo is hurting a little bit. We're just doing everything we can in our power. We're doing everything we can in our power to have some positive race results. Like on Saturday on pit road when we hit that tire. That was a combination of luck deal and it was my fault as much as it was Dale's. I'm supposed to help talk him out of the pits. That cost us at least four spots the other day.
"I think with any team, to make it work right, if you really pay attention to what goes on. The crew chief probably has one idea and the driver probably has another idea. It's not always going to be the right decision like a two-tire or four-tire deal. I may want two tires and I ask Dale if the car will handle with two tires. He's going to make the best decision he can. Yes, two tires will be fine or no, I really think if I had four tires I could run this car that much harder and make up some track position. We have to work back and forth with each other to make the best decision possible. We're supposed to teach each other things. He comes back in and tells me things that I've never heard other drivers tell me. I had my own theories of it and made up the answers from past history. He made a statement to me this year and I said, 'that's exactly what I always thought, but no driver has actually got out of the car and ever told me that.' That was the first time I'd ever had anybody get out of the car and actually tell me what's going on. That was pretty cool. It had something to do with the air, it wasn't necessarily drafting, but it had something to do with the air.
"People don't realize that the 12-week stretch started in the first week at Daytona. You do get a day off here and there. When we have weekends off a lot of times, we actually spend them working. Guys at the shop are working all the time. If things go your way and you don't tear up cars, it's not so bad."