NASCAR Media Conference
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
April 26, 2005
DANIEL PASSE: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Nextel teleconference. One housekeeping note as we head into Talladega. This week's NEXTEL Wake Up Call will take place on Friday, April 29th at 8:30 A.M. in the media center, of Talladega that is of course, and the guest will be Joe Nemechek. Also on April 29 is going to be Dale Earnhardt Day, which is a full day of activities for fans that is going to happen at DEI in honor of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. Today we're joined by Dale Earnhardt, Jr, driver of the #8 Budweiser DEI Chevrolet. After a rough start to the season, he's currently working his way up the points standings, and is currently in 12th place, in part because of his fourth place finish at this past weekend's Subway 500 in Phoenix. This coming weekend's events in Talladega bode well for Junior and the #8 team, as he has finished first or second in his past seven races at the big track. He's won five times, with a string of four consecutive victories from October 21, 2001, to April 6, 2003, and he won the most recent race at the track in October of 2004. Junior is hoping for his sixth win with chassis #031, the car he finished third with in the 2005 Daytona 500. Now, Junior, it looks like your team is shaping up for quite a battle this weekend. You've had some tough races so far, so how is your team coming together as you head to Talladega, where you've had such great runs?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're just real confident, obviously. Our plate program has been real good over the last several years, and it's still one of best ones out there I think. We battled some hailing problems in Daytona for most of the race, but were able to get the car right the last little run there and it went right up to the front. So if we are on our game, I feel like we can run real good this weekend, this is a great opportunity for us to get us a good finish and gain a whole lot more points. This is a track where we really expect to do good at, and hopefully we can break into the top ten after this weekend.
DANIEL PASSE: Before I open it up for questions, just wanted to say a note. Please limit your questions to one and then re-cue for a follow-up, as we only have about 25 minutes with Junior today. He is heading off to California as soon as he is finished with us. Now we'll open it up to questions from our callers.
Q. Was the transfer or the transition of the two teams, switching, more difficult than you thought it would be?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, not really. I expected it to be kind of tough for several reasons. You know, it has been -- it has been a struggle at times, and we've just fortunately, you know, we're able to keep positive and you know get a couple good runs here in the last couple of weeks. It's really, really boosted everybody's morale and boosted everybody's confidence in our ability to do well this season. We were getting a lot of questions about our -- are we still going to be able to get into the top ten; do we still think our season was going downhill. But I feel like over the last couple of weeks, we've been able to show everybody that we're still capable of making the chase this season. We just keep getting a little bit stronger each week. We keep getting a little bit more, you know, we're more able to adapt to each track with the cars. Basically every time we go to the racetrack, me and Pete, you know, it's kind of like starting from scratch. I mean, we've got a lot of help from Tony Jr. about talking to Pete about what kind of things I like to run at certain tracks and how I like the cars to handle. So he has a lot of people that he can do talk to; Dan Stillman, who was my shock specialist, or my McCarthy shock specialist (ph) when we were in the other shop with Tony Jr. So Pete has a lot of people he can go talk to about each race weekend, each car, each track and my characteristics and how I like the cars to handle. I think if we just utilize all of that information, it will make it a lot easier each weekend for Pete. And, you know, as we continue to learn each other, I think this past weekend was a good example of us getting more comfortable with each other. That was one of the races where Pete was able to improve the car substantially throughout the race, where we kind of struggled a little bit doing that earlier in the season. So I think that we're both getting a lot more comfortable. We've been real confident in each other, and, you know, it's just a matter of time. Things don't happen overnight. Wish they did. We would have love to have had success, but we knew it was going to take a little bit of time, so we're just being patient.
Q. I was hoping to ask you quickly about Richmond, if you don't mind looking ahead a little bit, or behind. I'm wondering if you can put into words what it takes for a driver to do well at that particular racetrack, and whether that has anything to do with the kind of experience and skills you developed on the late model circuit.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think absolutely. Any time you race at a short track, you fall back on that experience from the late models, at least I do. Short-track racing takes a certain type of mentality. Each time you go to the racetrack every weekend, you have a different approach, slightly different approach to determine by the track you're at. For example, Phoenix, I think Phoenix is a lot like Richmond, and I think that's why I have a little bit of success at both of those racetracks. And they both -- Phoenix even being a little bit larger has a short-track mentality to it and you race -- you race kind of urgently, but yet, you know, you've got to be careful even on the short tracks these days not to mess the aero up on the car by banging up the fenders. Richmond reminds me a lot of Myrtle Beach and that's where I spent about four weeks racing every year, the entrance on the track and the exits on the corners; it's all kind of similar in shape and how you drive the line. Obviously, the two surfaces are quite different, but I seem to really enjoy how at Richmond, they fill the track every year instead of paving it. Often they re-seal it, and as the race weekend goes on with the trucks and the Busch cars and the Cup cars practicing, you remove the sealer off the bottom line and the groove moves up the race tack. So by the first 150 miles or 200 miles into the Cup race, you're already moving up the racetrack and using a lot of the racetrack. It's, I think, one of the top three racetracks on the circuit as far as racing goes, side-by-side racing. There's a lot of different ways you can get around the corner and you're not just -- you're not limited to just one groove. So I really enjoy racing there. I think the racing for the fans is a lot of fun. They obviously have been on the circuit for a long time and been able to survive I think due in part to how the racing is, how exciting and competitive the racing is there.
Q. A little bit of a different topic, your dad was a guy who never was afraid to mix it up with different drivers and got into a lot of quote, unquote, feuds with a few guys, Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, whoever, but he didn't seem to mind being the bad guy. Is that something that NASCAR could use now, or is there just too many drivers out there who are competitive week-in, week-out?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I don't know, I think that when I look back and I remember, I remember when dad was into those feuds, and especially the one most memorable to me was with Geoff Bodine, and I always looked at it as, you know, he was either racing in the Cup races, Busch race at Charlotte, for example, and they would have both of them would have great race cars, and halfway through the races they are beating on each other and spinning each other out. I could just never get it out of my mind that it was -- it was kind of -- it kind of botched any opportunity at a win or a good finish because them two would get so occupied with each other and trying to knock each other out of the race. So I've always -- I mean, I've had problems with other drivers, whether it be in the late models of Busch or whatever or Cup even, but I try not to allow it to -- I try not to allow it to be a setback, and that way when I'm on the racetrack and I've got a problem with somebody, I try to just keep my cool. And if I get an opportunity to talk to them after the race or somehow get a message to them verbally, it's a lot better to do it that way than to be on each other at the racetrack. I think that there are villains out there. Every sport's got their villains. I don't know if I'm going to name any of them, but I think everybody's got their favorite and their least favorite as far as the fans goes. But I always thought that was kind of a waste of time and took you out of your -- kind of took you out of the race or took you out of the game while you were in their beating on somebody.
Q. Pete Rondeau on the radio at the end the race always thanks you and says, "We'll keep working our guts out," and he reminded you you had one of your worst weeks, and afterwards you talked about the hard work, what hard work this has been. And I'm wondering as you talked about that and overdriving, what you were referring to in that hard work, what was the hard work?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's basically taken a lot of commitment, okay, when you told both those teams and all of those guys working in the shop, and even the guys in the fab and the engine shop that we were going to make this change; everybody had to jump on board, you know, and everybody had to get committed to it. It was not something that was very easy to persuade everybody. It was not very easy to sell as to why we would do that. I mean, it's still, you know, still sort of a struggle for me leading up to the first race of the season as trying to make heads or tails, making sense of it and trying to commit my mind and myself in that direction. And once, you know, so you've got all of these guys in there in each shop and each department working at the same level and working really hard as they had been; yet knowing that we had maybe taken a step back to move forward, you know the old saying, a drop-back and punt. So we just needed everybody at DEI to -- well, my main concern was that everybody at DEI was not going to understand and not going to go along with what we decided to do. But it seems like, you know, they all were on board and everything seems to be heading in the direction that we had planned. So it was hard to, you know, keep everybody motivated, keep everybody positive. We had some terrible finishes early in the season. I never saw one guy, whether it be on the 18 team, 15 team or anywhere in the whole place, I never saw anybody take a break or ask any questions. Everybody just stayed with their head down to what their job was and kept working. We went and tested a little bit more. I really don't like to test at all, to be honest with you. I think it's just one of the most boring things we do is get out and run around by yourself somewhere in the middle of Kentucky, or anywhere for that matter; just by yourself it's really boring. But they drug me to a couple tests and get some things figured out and try to learn some things. It just takes a lot of dedication. If you're going to go to Kentucky, and spend a whole day working on aero, the driver has to have -- you have to sit there and pay attention to what they are doing. You can't just go out there and make laps and expect the engineer to read the computers and see how it has to be fixed. You have to have a lot of input and kind of help steer everything in a certain direction. Then when you get to the racetrack on the race weekend, I think Pete would agree and all of the guys would agree, that we have not got to the track and really had a dominant race car yet. We show up and seem to be missing just a half a tenth or a tenth to where we want to be or need to be, and we always find ourselves after the last practice sort of saying, well, we can -- we're competitive, yet we just need a little bit more. And so throughout the race, you're just driving every lap as hard as you can drive it trying to maintain track position, trying to -- you know, trying not to lose spots on the racetrack that my pit crew can gain on the pit road. I knew those guys are really, really good at pits stops, so we always gain a few spots and try to maintain that track position they give me and an opportunity to gain more on the next stop. You know, there's been some times where the car has been really fast and we've been able to gain on people and pass people. But for the most part, we've shown up every weekend and just really had to hustle to get what we've gotten and get the finishes we've gotten. We've had to hustle either behind the wheel or in the pits and it's been -- it's been frustrating, but rewarding, when you put that effort into it and you get that fourth-place finish. To come out of Martinsville out of beating and banging all day with a 13th place finish, I was really happy with that personally, with as much effort as I put into it to have got what I got I was really satisfied. Those are the type of feelings that I rarely got in the past. I think it's been four or five years since I've enjoyed the actual driving side of it as much. It's always been fun, but I'm starting to really, really get into it and enjoy it, you know. When I was working with Tony Jr. in the past, we had put so much -- there's still pressure. But we just put so much negative pressure on ourselves that you weren't -- even when, you know, you've got a decent finish, you still felt shorted or slighted. You know, you just wondered whether you could have done more or gotten more or if there's something you could have changed to have won instead of finishing second or third. Now I feel like even though we're not finishing second or third, I feel like I'm getting everything I can get every day out of that car. I think it motivates my team and they motivate me. When I work hard and they see it, they work harder. It just continues to motivate ourselves and hopefully by the end the season, we'll be finishing first and second and getting those finishes that we want.
Q. How has Pete been through this whole thing?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: How's Pete been?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He's been good. I mean, there's one thing that I really like about Pete is that he keeps everything -- he keeps everything calm and attitude wise the way it needs to be during the race. I have a real -- I don't know how the other drivers are, I've never really paid much attention, but I get really kind of wired up and hyper when I'm in the car during the race. And a lot of times I'll just be talking normally and I assume it sounds like I might be yelling across the speaker to those guys in their headsets, but that's just how -- I just get really in a frenzy there inside that car and get so pumped up. I always thought when I was younger that the crew chief or your spotter was like a cheerleader in a way, and that that was your -- that was sort of that extra motivation that you needed. As I became a driver and started driving myself, you never -- I never really -- I found out that that's not the case really. You've got to really be your own motivator and your own cheerleader. So, you know, you have to sort of pump yourself up throughout the race to get that extra adrenaline and to get that extra ten percent out of yourself that you didn't think you had. And so a lot of times I'll get pretty colorful on the radio and whatever, and Pete's been really good, where Tony Jr. and me, we would both kind of get wired up and bang off each other a little bit. Pete's been pretty good about staying calm. I don't know how long he can keep his cool, but I'm sure every once in awhile I might push him to the snapping point. But so far to the point he's been -- he has not -- he has not said a cross word or anything like that. It's always been real cool and calm on the radio and he's really good at that, and I think that's really key when it comes down to keeping the driver under -- keeping the driver cool and keeping him calm; yet at the same time, you know, keeping him positive and looking forward to the change they are going to make on the next stop. You know, when the driver starts to think that the crew chief or the team itself can't improve the car on the next stop, it's very difficult to stay -- to stay positive about the effort and the rest and the rest of the day. We were sitting there running about 15th through 18th in the race with the car struggling a little bit, yet Pete was able to keep me positive about improving the car; and it did, it did improve, and we got it a lot better to where we were able to get a good finish. You know, there was times, too, when I was getting so fired up, I was overdriving the car way too much and actually running slower. So once I calmed down a little bit and started rolling through the center of the corner a little better, I was able to be a lot faster and able to get the car around the corner the way I had been doing it the last two years there. But I think that, you know, he has a lot of things about him that I've talked and talked and talked about in the past as far as his attitude and his personality being real low-key, and that's been positive. That's been good. That's come in handy at times. There's other times where I wish that team and the guys in the shop and stuff were more animated, maybe expressed their opinions and feelings a little bit more. They are all -- they are all very quiet and they don't really say much about what they are thinking at the racetrack or in the garage when we are just standing around. And I'm trying to check everybody's temperature, see what I'm saying and see what the mood is, they are they are hard to read a little bit, but they were always that way. Even before I was driving their cars they were that way in the past ever since they have worked there at DEI. But there's times like when we finished in to the top ten at Bristol and this past weekend, you know, I just think that they should really enjoy those type of runs. At the same time, you know, you want to win, but fourth is good, fourth is a good effort and I think that, you know, sometimes they should take a second and pat themselves on the back a little bit.
Q. You were talking about you don't like to test. Do you just feel like there are things that are better suited to the conditions going on that weekend? Would you prefer to see perhaps eliminating testing all together and giving the guys an extra day, say maybe on Thursday to get accustomed or acclimated to the track better or more current and accurate to how the race is going to wind up?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm not sure. I think that -- I mean, for me to be totally honest, just this is merely my opinion, but testing is difficult because you good to the racetrack that doesn't have a lot of rubber down on it and run under conditions that won't -- that are out of season or out of characteristics weather-wise with what you'll see when you go back to that place. I mean, there's a lot -- a driver, if I don't like it, I can come up with enough reasons to convince myself and maybe some other people that it's not worth it. There are a lot of positives, too, to going, obviously. I think that what I would wish -- what I wish to see happen is I would like to -- I think that they should eliminate testing, which I don't know if that's possible to really know where people are at all of the time and that they are not sneaking off somewhere to get something done. But eliminate testing and eliminate the impound and allow us to have -- because basically we are spending about the same time at the racetrack. It was probably good for a lot of those guys that run Busch and Cup, for example, like Clint Moore (ph) this past weekend, it was probably very good for them to have the impound. It's a lot easier on those two teams and the crew chief and whatnot. Still spending the same amount of time at the track, and I do like getting that extra practice in while there's rubber on the track and the track is closer to what it will be like at race time. I do like getting that extra practice in to try to dial our stuff in.
Q. I'm really not making light of this, I was just wondering a couple races ago, you were on the radio saying, "Come on guys, talk to me, say something." What are you looking for, are you looking for jokes or cheerleading or what do you want?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I enjoy -- not really jokes. I just want everybody to be enjoying themselves. It's a serious business, but at the same time, all of us are doing this because we didn't want to work for a living. That's basically everybody at the racetrack is there because they didn't want a real job. I've always just done it because it was fun and it is fun and there's a lot at stake. I understand that there's a lot at stake, there's a lot of money involved, and so I can go and have this good time every weekend. And this team that I'm working with, they are all a bunch of really good guys. They should -- I think they should just be a little bit more animated, you know, is all. I think they know this. I think that they are all just kind of, I don't know whether they are just kind of all standing back and taking it all in or what, but, you know, this is -- this ain't a dress rehearsal. You get one life, so you might as well enjoy it while you can and when you do good, you know, enjoy it, pat each other on the back. But they have done good. They have told me when I've done a good job and I've been honest with them about my mistakes. But at times, you know, sometimes -- I do not like it when things get too serious. I do not like it when things get too quiet and people are either too nervous or too upset to talk about how things are going at that moment. I like things to kind of be upbeat and I like the conversation to be light. Yet I want to get the job done if that's even possible to have it all. I don't like it when things get too quiet and too serious. I like stuff to kind of -- you know, when you go out there and you work your hardest, if it didn't work out, it didn't work out. There's a guy right now in the garage area who finished sixth the past weekend, Bobby Labonte, I don't know many people that could have dealt with the luck he's been through, but he's been able to not change his pace, not do anything rash, fire his crew chief or change crews. He's kind of stuck with his game and, you know, I think that's an example for all of us, when you hit a rut, you know, you've just got to keep cool. You can't be -- you can't make things worse by kind of withdrawing yourself from the whole deal. That's all. I just think that, you know, we were -- sometimes I get a little loud on the radio, but I'm just trying to get everybody in there and get everybody pumped up and get everybody hyped up and ready to go. I want to see people -- I want to see sparks flying come in there for my pit stops I want to see guys going and things happening and everybody pumped up about it.
Q. It seems like your turnaround has coincided with tracks you've been good on in the past like Martinsville and Phoenix. Excluding Darlington, you've got Talladega and Richmond in a couple of weeks, has the schedule fallen perfectly for this comeback, knowing you'll be in a groove in terms of going to a racetrack you feel comfortable every week?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Absolutely. If you look back over, like you said, if you look back over the last couple years, we struggled at California, we struggled at Vegas. I wasn't really too bent out of shape when I didn't get the finishes I wanted there. It's not like I went to Phoenix and ran 36 just lousy. That would have been confusing because we've been so good there in the past. So, yeah, it is kind of good that the tracks we're coming up to -- I look at it as opportunities, you know, if we're still -- if we're still a little bit behind and we're still not quite up to par. Yet this is an opportunity now with these tracks coming up to maintain, if not move forward a little bit in the points standings in preparation for the tracks that we're going to come to and struggle at again. Question marks come up about Sonoma and Pocono, places that I still seem to have a little bit of a struggle with. We're kind of hit-and-miss with the Pocono. That's not been a track I've always -- that's not been a track I've really been comfortable at yet. Dover is another track where we're either on top or at the bottom. So, you know, we've got to be prepared and hopefully use these race weekends where we feel like we can go in and get a good run, use them, be smart and not make any mistakes and get the finish we need to get. So if we do struggle somewhere else, it's not detrimental to where we are in the points. It doesn't take us out of the race.
Q. At the Martinsville test session a month ago, you were critical of the entire DEI organization for not being able to adapt to the changes in the sport quickly enough. What have you done or what's been done to try to speed up that process?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I will say this. I mean, I will admit to being overly critical about how things are run at Dale Earnhardt Junior, Incorporated, and I can't pretend to understand what it must be like to be Richie Gilmore every day or any of the guys working in the Indy shop or the fab shop when they have to read a comment I make or hear a comment I make about our position in the sport or how we are competitive-wise to the rest of the teams. But I want things to be better. I want better stuff. I want better cars. If I feel like I'm behind here or behind there, I want it fixed. All I can say is when I asked -- when I said anything about us being behind on the bodies on the cars, and within two weeks, they had an answer, they had an improved body. They worked in that direction to see if they couldn't fix it and make it better, this is what we'll try to do to gain this or gain that. We went to Kentucky and ran around there for two days working on nothing but body stuff. It's been -- Tony Sr. has got in there and helped a lot as far as, you know, trying to learn and improve and be another facet with that deal, trying to get the bodies right on his cars. The fabrication department has stepped up and build another great car; Martin has drove one of them. We have a few cars that are revamped and improved that I like. I ran one of the first cars at Texas and it was -- I mean, it was night and day compared to how I could drive the car through the center of the corner as to what I drove at the very beginning of the season. And that's only -- I mean, they are telling me they are only halfway there, so, I mean, it's amazing if that's the case. As far as the engines on the car, I think that there's still some power to be gained, there's some things to be learned, understood, figured out. I don't claim to have any answers or know the answers. We pay good money for good people to come in and build those things, but I can tell you when it don't run and I can tell when you it does run, and that's my job and I've tried to do it.
DANIEL PASSE: Well, thank you very much. I apologize if you didn't get to ask your question. Unfortunately our time is very limited with Junior. And Junior, thank you so much for spending your time with us. Good luck in California this next couple of days and good luck in Talladega, and thank you everybody for your participation. We'll see you all next week.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|