NASCAR Winston Cup Preview
Topics: Winston Cup
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
January 18, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
Q. This is Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2003 season testing at Daytona, changes you made in the crew, Dale, how does it look for the 2003 season? There appears to be lots of optimism.
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Yes, there is. I think that mentally and physically I'm as prepared as I have probably been in my career. I get a little better at this every year. The team, we made some adjustments, and I thought we had a really good team last year. I'm really proud of the team we had last year. The adjustments we made, we are going to improve and compliment that. We are really looking forward to it. We made some changes with the crew. We had a lot of races that we took ourselves out of the hunt for the win on pit road and we hopefully remedied that a little bit. Everybody is going to make mistakes but hopefully not quite as often as we did last year. Hopefully we get good breaks instead of the bad breaks we had last year.
Q. With DEI's success at the plate tracks do you feel it's not a matter if you win the Daytona, but when?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Well, I don't know about that. There was a time and a period at one point where Robert Yates had a strong hold on plate racing (inaudible) Daytona 500. I think there are eras or periods where teams are strong and soon, you know, anything can happen to bring another team to the table, as far as that goes and it could be just body changes or something like that could send us into, you know, a sub-par team as far as plate racing. I was real happy with our test. We didn't really pull out of the things that you would do to the car in preparation for the race. We just really got a good baseline on the car and just made a lot of changes and tried a lot of things with the body because that's one of the things that we are really uncertain about or unknowledgeable about. Michael was real fast when he tested. That gave me a little optimism. I was really concerned that we weren't going to be that quick at Daytona with the new body. I guess it remains to be seen for the racecars when we run the 125s and the shootout to see exactly what we got. I'm looking forward to it. I said before whether you are running first or last, as long as you have somebody to in the draft with you, those races are fun. I will still be having a good time even though we ain't dominating the field as we had in the past.
Q. Would this year be a success if your only win came at plate tracks?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Well, at short tracks last year we were the second best team with average wins. I don't think you get too disappointed about that being that we hadn't finished a race at Bristol or Martinsville without running over somebody. You start the season out, David, without even knowing whether you are going to win a race. We won that race at Talladega last year and it was getting down to the end of the season and you wonder when you are going to win the second race. When you get that taste of winning and you cannot crave it, and you -- even as the season winds down, it never just not enters your mind. You are all the time wondering whether this will be a week that we get another win. And you really don't care where it's at. Going into victory lane, any track is a great feeling. I understand what your point is or what you are going after there. We would like to win a race at Sears Point, we would feel like king of the world then. I will take them anywhere I could get them. Maybe those two wins sweeping the races at Talladega overshadowed some of the other ones we had like the top-5 at Martinsville and Bristol. I was really shocked about that and was surprising -- I was more proud of myself doing those things than winning at Talladega. But we are getting a little more well-rounded as a team. We are definitely not the total package. I'm definitely not the total package yet. I have a lot of work to do, a lot of improvements to make.
Q. You wonder sometimes what it would be like to drive for another team. Have any owners ever seriously talked to you about coming to work for them or do they figure there is no chance that will happen?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: I can't speak for anyone. I haven't been approached by anyone. I went and talked to other drivers and their owners about what there opinion was of my situation. A lot of times it's really the best advice comes from the other side of the fence sometimes, and it's really easy for me to tell somebody else what to do with their life when I can see the problem and they can't. So sometimes I like to talk to other drivers and other owners what there opinion is, people I trust, of course, what their opinion is with my relationship with my sponsor and my team or maybe how I should try to do something different or even better to improve a situation or a relationship. And that's helped me most of all. I think today where I am at and try to adjust what I do or how I am to improve the situation that I've got now. I learned a long time ago that you don't just go hire and fire people on a regular basis to improve your team. I think you, a lot of times, find out the best personnel for the job are just right under your nose. I never really considered driving for somebody else, seriously considered it, but it's always going to be a curiosity, I guess, of mine because I really got an idea of what it was like when I drove for Richard at Daytona last year. So you know, but I don't think that I would have that trust that I have -- I mean, I could trust another crew or a crew chief or another personnel or another owner, but I don't think I would have the same trust like I have in Tony Sr. and Tony Jr.. Tony Sr., he treats me like his own son sometimes and most of the time when we are at the track and around each other, he lets me do what I want to do on my own free time but when I am at the track and I am under the roof with the rest of the guys, you know, he treats me like he really expects a lot out of me like he expects the same out of Tony, Jr.. I don't think I would get that anywhere else, that's a good feeling. There is a lot of reasons. I can talk all day about this subject. I think sticking it out and working with these guys and getting over the tough times and stuff that we are going to have, and going to have in the future, I think is going to make the victories more sweeter when we do win the Winston Cup Championships and the races we are going to win.
Q. Can you challenge for that this year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: We are definitely a top-5 or top-3 team coming out of the box this season.
Q. Junior, let's switch hats for a minute and make you the team owner of JR Motorsports. What lies ahead in that whole thing, particularly I was interested in your choice of Steve Parneck, there is an old adage about location, location, location. Is this a situation where practice, practice, practice, will help Steve from his accident some time ago?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Well, I don't think that was the reason. He has a good relationship with some of the sponsors that we are interested in running with the car on some of those races. I have a good relationship with Steve and, of course, it simply just made sense, he was available to do it. He was excited about the team. The crew chief on the car Bono had come down to Steve when Steve moved down here. His name is Kevin Mech, his nickname is Bono. I thought having Steve behind the wheel more often would give them some opportunity to see, I guess, where he may be lacking in some areas and how he maybe can improve. This might give him an opportunity to tell whether there are some areas in the team of the Winston Cup car that he is driving that he needs to improve. If he is out there in that Busch car and gets him some top-5 wins that will boost his confidence. I wasn't really kind of like, all right, this is going to be part of the test or is make-it-or-break-it-season if he can't run good in this Busch car along with the Cup car. As far as that team goes -- I basically will tell you how that team came about that way all of you guys know the history of it - I wanted to run the Daytona races and that's all. I love racing at Daytona. It's a fun track. I thought I would run Busch races with Richard. I wanted to run the July race in Daytona with Richard and Teresa and Ty (Norris) came to me and said why don't we just start our own team; you can own it and you can just build a couple of cars and run Daytona. It will be a good opportunity for DEI to do some testing with the motors. I thought, sure, we will do it. And Teresa insisted she be half owner of the car. Originally I wanted to be sole owner of the car but she insisted on being half owner of the car. I didn't mind that, her spliting the bill a little bit and the plan was just for me to run three plate races, and then I had the -- since I was kind of pushing the program or had started the idea of the program, I was really the only one -- the most motivated person associated with it, I guess is the best way to put it. I wanted to run a few races with a young guy. We looked at a lot of different people and right now trying to get six races with Mark Truacts, Jr. Then we thought we had some sponsors that were interested in doing some more promotions and whatnot and getting a little more bang for their buck out of the relationships that we had with them so we put five races together. Then it come up to run two Winston Cup races, all of this isn't my plan, but the company's plan, but this is their 50%, I suppose, the plan was to run the three plate races. And try to get Martin in six races and that's really my main concern.
Q. Just to touch on what you talked about other teams, before your career was over, would you like to have an opportunity to run with Richard Childress?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: I don't really know if Richard would be the first choice. If DEI wasn't there one day, I don't know if Richard would be at the top of the list. He would definitely be a concern. There is one thing about Richard and there is still some people that worked over there when my dad drove for them. Those people really enjoyed the time we had together at Daytona and I really saw a lot of excitement and enjoyment just from being around those guys and working with me, they were really pumped up when they went there. It was just so easy. I mean, not winning the race, the whole weekend, just practice, qualifying, there was no pressure. There was no hey, we need to run this fast or this isn't fast enough. We worked some bugs out of the car but it wasn't, hey, we got a problem with the car. It was never a problem. Something fell off, it was like this fell off and put it back on. There was never -- we had a big problem with the car. Nothing to get worried about. There was none of that. They were just so excited that I was driving their car, and I was so excited that they were working on them. These were guys that my dad had worked with, Willie, and he was just crazy all day, all weekend. It was fun, and we had a good time. If I drove for Richard Childress, that would be the reason if certain people were in certain positions because those guys really cared about my Daddy and they equally cared as much about me because I had been around them forever. But you know, my Dad's vision for dealing with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated; what he wanted to do with that place, Tony Sr. did indicate to me, we would sit down face-to-face and talk about how much I cared for him and how much I loved him as a person because he has been around my Daddy for so long. He has kind of been -- he has as much credit for who I am as my father does. He was kind of a father figure a lot of times when Dad was out of town. Those are the guys that I want to be with, and Tony Sr. said no matter what it takes, he is going to make a racecar driver out of me. So hopefully we will get to that point one day.
Q. Dale, just a few short years you became one of the biggest fan favorites out there, the cars come out for you. Can you talk about the responsibility of being a fan favorite and being popular and are you comfortable with that responsibility?
DALE EARNHARDT JR: Well, there is some responsibility but they are not very heavy, you know, to carry. I think that -- it's really like when we were down there getting introduced to the crowd, it feels really, really good to get such a loud applause and so much excitement for people to be excited for you to be here. It really, really feels good. And you really try not to compare it to other drivers or compare your popularity to other people. You try not to do that. You keep in the back of your mind the fact that it's not always going to be that way. One thing you always do is really be careful about what you do or what you say, try not to put yourself in a position because you can lose it -- it takes years to gain such respect or such admiration and it takes one second to lose it which is amazing. You know, you just -- one thing that I have always done was just try to be honest, just try to be somebody that is easy to relate to, I guess. And I think that's what's really the most profitable for me when it comes to creating my fan base, no matter who you are, there's something that you can relate to. That makes it's easier for me, that when I'm around the crowd of race fans, I don't feel uneasy or out of place. I feel like I'm standing in the same crowd that I stood with when I was in the infield at the speedway watching Daddy run the track. I feel comfortable around the people. It's funny they might be excited or shaking or something, it's funny because I don't feel like there is a big difference between me or them. But they see something else. There is times, I guess, with the new changes they are hoping to make in the garage area, limiting the people in there I hope the fans really don't get the wrong idea and the sport doesn't get a bad rap for it. There was no anticipation of what we had over the last year in the garage area, some things had to be done about it. I have a lot of fun with the fans. I think even at this age I have an idea or a good appreciation for what they mean to me as a driver and the sport as well.
Q. One final question. Did the Shell sell? No. 8 Budweiser.
DALE EARNHARDT JR: I'm not sure. I bid on the nose and bought it.
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