NASCAR Media Conference
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
September 29, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. We're in advance of Sunday's race at Talladega Superspeedway, that's the AMP Energy 500, race four in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Today as our very special guest we have Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale is joining us from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
Dale comes into Talladega eighth in the series points with six races left in the season. He has five career victories at Talladega Superspeedway. Obviously a big weekend for the No. 88 team, as one of the team's primary sponsors is also the race sponsor. In addition the names of 73,000 Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans will be on the No. 88 this weekend as part of the Ride with Dale Jr. promotion.
Dale, very big weekend coming up. A lot going on and off the racetrack. Tell us about that to open up.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: This has been a good track for us. Always run good there. Got a lot of fans there. We're going to have a special paint scheme with all the fans that signed into the promotional deal with Amp. All their names will be on the car, about 70,000 names. We're pretty excited about that.
I don't know, it's just a good track. Look forward to it. It's always a lot of fun. It's a real easy weekend. It's more of a mental race than a physical race. It's not really who has the best car; it's the guy who makes the best moves and makes the right decisions there at the end of the race.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks, Dale. We'll go to the media now for questions for today's guest, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Q. This is a track where it seems like anybody can win. During the Chase, you don't see many non-Chase guys win. Can you imagine what it's like for a non-Chase guy to win a race this time of year?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, it's just like any other race, I guess, during the season, a win's a win. They're fun to celebrate. That's really what you show up for, is to be able to go to Victory Lane, get that feeling, celebrate with your team.
I think if you haven't made the Chase, that's sure vindication I guess for the season and beyond. Gives you a lot of momentum going into the off-season, too, if you can get a win.
Q. There's been a lot of gas lines, tough economy. Have you had to sit any gas lines and what is the economy like for your company?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I haven't had to fool with it. I don't drive too much when I'm home on the weekdays. It's been pretty bad in Moorseville. I think the average is five stations before you find gas. That's what I've been hearing.
Q. With TV shows debuting all over the place right now, I know you may have had a connection with the NBC show The Office, do you have a show you watch? Could you maybe compare your season to a show on TV right now?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know if I can compare my season to any show on TV. The only show I religiously watch is The Office. I don't have much time to really put down. I don't have the kind of schedule to where I can cut out those kind of half hours or hours in the evening. I have to TiVo it. I never miss a show. Fortunately, NBC runs them online and they're free to watch there, too, so I can go watch the episode there if I missed it on Thursday, because we travel on Thursday nights sometimes. A lot of times we're in the air when that show's going.
I don't know, I'd have to think pretty hard. I don't have the time today to compare my season to anything like that.
Q. Did you watch the premiere of The Office last week?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I don't miss it.
Q. A lot of drivers don't have the same attitude as you do going into Talladega. They actually kind of dread coming into this weekend. Jimmie Johnson said yesterday he's not excited about it. You seem to love it, think it's easy. How did you arrive at that mentality?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: My dad was a real good plate racer. So I loved going to the plate tracks to watch and to be a part of his success. You always knew going into Daytona or Talladega, if you were at the track or at home watching, that you were going to have a lot of fun because he always ran well, led laps, made a lot of incredible moves. It just made it a lot of fun to watch.
Talladega, too, I don't know, these tracks are really intimidating when you're young, when you go to them for the first time. They're just very intimidating. It's the biggest tracks on the circuit. So when you're a 15-year-old walking around in the garage area, you see all the preparation that goes into it, you see the speeds those cars are reaching, whatnot, you just get a big amount of respect for it early on.
Obviously winning races at the track yourself, you're going to get a great relationship with the racetrack and feel good about going back to it because you're having success there.
I mean, I probably left that racetrack just as angry as anybody else. I mean, it doesn't always give you what you want. But I think it's such a unique type of style of driving and style of racing, it's neat to switch it up a little bit. It's not so much about how the car handles or how really good your car is, it's about the guy who's making the right moves and teaming up with the right team.
It's pretty fun to be able to push a friend into the lead, get help from a buddy of yours to get to a lead, things like that going on throughout the day. It's pretty fun, it really is. I like being in the packs. I like being three- and four-wide, making the best of it. I don't know, it's a lot of fun for me.
Q. How much did you have to relearn when you changed from the older style car to the COT when it comes to restrictor plate racing?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, you continue to learn how the car drafts. It drafts a little bit differently. You can do things a little bit differently with the way the car's bumpers match up. You can draft a little bit harder with each other through the corner, all the way around the racetrack. Hopefully as long as NASCAR doesn't mind and get too nervous, we'll be pushing each other all the way around the racetrack this weekend, just like we were last time. You'll see guys jump out, two guys get out 25 car lengths in front of the pack. It's really worthless because the pack just runs you back down. But it's fun. Something new to do so we're all doing it.
The car drafts a little bit different. We're still kind of understanding the nuances of the car, how to make it work, what it likes the best.
Q. Obviously a lot of people talk about this race being your race. A lot of your fans put a lot of importance on this race. How do you treat it going into this weekend, like every other race or do you feel it is special, it is Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, to me it's special. I don't think everyone gets that sensation going into the race. But to me it's a pretty important place just 'cause my family's done so well there. And the way the fans treat us there make it exciting, make it a place you look forward to. I think that's probably the biggest key, the fans and how they've treated us at that track. It really gets you excited when it's coming up on the schedule.
I don't know. I think as far as our position now in the Chase, we just kind of got to go for broke, really throw it out there and take some chances, really take some risks. I don't know if we can take any more than we're taking now. We can only get what we can get out of the car each weekend. At Talladega you can make some pretty ridiculous moves, and some of them pay off, some of them don't. We'll just have to see what kind of position we're in on any given lap to be able to try to take advantage of some things happening around us.
Q. Right now there are only six drivers who are within one race worth of points to the championship leader. Do you think we're going to see less drivers or do you think this race could jumble everything up like people predict?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't know if it's a good prediction. It has potential to do that. I don't think it would be wise to predict it. Strategically, I mean, if you're looking at the guys in the top five, two or three of them are probably going to finish up in the top 10 of this race. They're good drivers. They're up there for a reason in the points, because they're smart. In all likelihood, they'll probably -- a handful of the top 10 guys, a good handful of them is going to finish in the top 10. It's going to be tough to gain on everyone in this race. It will be tough for it to really jumble up the points like you might want. But we'd all want that to happen. I'd love to come out of here with the top 10 within 50 points of each other, but it's not likely.
I think you just have to try to win the race. You just have to go out there and try to win it. The only way to really gain points on anybody right now, for anybody who's outside of the top five in points, is to be first when the checkered flag falls.
Q. Would you do a move like Carl Edwards made this past weekend to try to get that win or would you settle for second for the points?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I haven't seen what Carl did. I've had it described to me. All I can say is, you know, it takes a lot of guts to make a move like that. It really takes a lot. You can criticize the recklessness of the situation, but it really shows how hard of a racer Carl is, how determined, what he's willing to do. I haven't really seen it on TV. As long as it wasn't putting anybody else in jeopardy, I think it just shows what kind of true grit a guy like Carl has. I'm not sure there's a lot of drivers in the field that would have taken that chance, taken that risk. So it's kind of cool in a way.
Q. Of course you always run really well at Talladega. I figured you'd be a great driver to tell us, what are the keys to running well there? You want to handle well in the draft, have teammates to work in the draft, horsepower is key. What are the biggest keys to winning at Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, the most important thing is coming out of that last pit stop, you need to be in the lead. If not, you need to find yourself into the top two or three in that first lap after the restart. You're not going to pit for tires. You're not going to go to pit road any more the rest of the day. You normally see a little bit of a jumbling up in the first two or three laps after a restart, then guys kind of settle in and protect their position, especially the guys that are in the top five. They're not going to move around and take the chance of getting shuffled back. They're going to sit there in the top five, hoping that they can hold that position toward the end of the race, then make a move.
It becomes nearly impossible to breach into that top five that late in the race. So you need to be there coming off of pit road for that final restart. That's one of the most important things.
You don't realize what you do leading up to that throughout the entire race makes that happen, determines whether you're going to be there or not. Sometimes guys are racing really hard. Say I'm in the lead, running second, say we get three-wide or something, and I back out because it's too early in the race to take a risk like that. Well, that might have been that decision that cost me the opportunity to be toward the front of the pack when the race ends. It's hard not to get too protective of the situation. You've got to race really hard all day long 'cause when it comes down to that last stop, man, it's so hard to breach into that top five once everybody gets going, knowing nobody's got to pit any more, the top five are so protective of their position. You'd like to be one of those guys at that point.
Q. You talked about decision making being key this weekend. How hard is it late in the race to decide when to go or when to be patient and wait? How does that mindset go for you? If you're in the top five in the last few laps, when do you go or when do you wait for your line to make a move or something like that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: What determines when you go and when to make a move and whatnot is who's behind you. Is the guy behind you a teammate of the guy in front of you? If you pull out, he's going to go with the teammate. Is he a friend of yours that's been helping you all day? Has he either given you reason on the racetrack or through his spotter to let you know he's going to help you when you go? How good is the run? How fast is the run? If you're coming up on a guy, making a real strong run, yeah, you can pull out and probably get beside this guy, but where is the guy behind you? Is he tucked in behind you? Have you pulled away from him? If you pull out and you're by yourself, he just might close the gap 'cause he knows if he pulls out to help you, the next guy's going to fill the slot on the inside of him.
It's pretty tough really to know this is the right moment, this is the time I need to go. It's really hard to know exactly if it's correct or not. You just constantly put runs together, lap after lap after lap, and eventually one's gonna feel right to you. If you've got some trusty guys behind you, and they're tucked up on you hard when you're making that run, man, it's a good opportunity to pull out.
Also you watch for people on the outside. If you're on the inside lane, you're watching for the outside lane. If it begins to creep forward, it seems like it's gained a lot of steam, it's going to hold that steam, maintain it, it's got a strong group of guys up towards the front of that outside line, you can pull up in front of it and try to be the leader of that line automatically. Kind of frustrates the guys who are carrying that line up to that point. But a lot of times they'll end up pushing you into the lead eventually if they don't get too angry with you and try to make it three-wide.
Q. What you try to do at the end of the race, is that stuff you're learning throughout the race or are you picking up any of that in practice, in the drafting sessions? How does the thought process go for you during the weekend from the first time you're in the car till the last few laps of the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's impossible to simulate how the race conditions are going to be in practice. We're out there, and it looks the same if you're just watching it. Visually it looks the same. The only thing I'm paying attention to is -- in practice the only thing I'm watching is how well does my car pull up, how well does it push other people, and how well does it do out front getting pushed. You change the air intake, a lot of things to make the cars surge better, pull up on people, draft up on people, push people. You change things to make it lead better. That's all that matters. You can't really simulate the exact race conditions and how you're going to make passes in practice. The car, a lot of times, depending on the air quality, the temperature and stuff, it's going to be different anyways on Sunday.
But in the race, you just hope you got the best package with all those things you tried in practice. You're making those moves. It's rare where you're planning a move a half a lap or a lap ahead. A lot of times it's split second, Here we go.
Q. This week it's Talladega. Every single driver we've talked with, not only today, but I can remember saying it to your dad and Bill Elliott, what is it about Talladega, as soon as you mention the word, the driver said, Oh, boy, Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think when the track was first built, the controversy amongst the drivers, the speeds, the danger, put that track in the forefront and brought that track a lot of recognition immediately. Over the years we've seen a lot of amazing things happen there, a lot of drama and tragedy as well. It just has always remained toward the forefront of our sport. It's the biggest track and the longest track on the circuit. It's had a lot of facelifts. It's just always been very dramatic.
It really created the big one before Daytona did, the big wrecks that you guys like to talk about. I mean, it's the place where all that started. It's sort of always been in the shadow of Daytona. But to me, I don't know, it's just impressive, the size of the track, the speed, how close we run together. I mean, we're running 190 miles an hour in the draft, tight door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper. There's literally no room for any error whatsoever. It's just really, really exciting. It's an amazing adrenaline rush for four straight hours. You got that feeling constantly throughout the whole race.
Q. Could you talk about what a fan might not know about racing on repaved tracks, the effects of weather over time on new tracks, and how you and your team adjust to those surfaces like at Talladega?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, Talladega was well done. It's very smooth. The that track is difficult to compare because we're not going fast enough for my car to handle poorly one way or another. I'm not carrying enough speed around the racetrack for the car to handle poorly. So there's different springs you run to make it either -- to either slow it down or make it faster. You try to find the right combination. You never really have a car that's loose or tight. So you're not dealing with the handling so much at all.
But they did such a good job making that track smoother. It was really rough before. It was kind of fun. You slid up in the corner a little bit. You could run the top. There were a lot of strips and stuff on the racetrack, the track was really bumpy. Now it's really smooth, really easy to get around.
You know, at other tracks, whenever they repave it, it seems to, you know, make everybody, force everybody to run the bottom groove. It takes two or three or four years before the track ages enough before we start moving up the racetrack to find new lines and new grooves around the racetrack. I don't really understand how that works or why that happens. It just seems like when the track surface is brand-new, if you stepped outside of that bottom groove, you had no grip, you would spin out, there were marbles everywhere. I guess the newer asphalt's really taking a lot of rubber off the tires. The rest of that track is just filled with marbles and debris. But as the track gets older, it gets more abrasive, much like Atlanta and Rockingham always have been. You can find extra grip, carry more speed off the corner. You know, you run the top really just because you can use more throttle and you're not really gaining anything in the corner but the fact that you're on the throttle a whole lot sooner gains you 10 to 20 car lengths on the straightaway. That's what you're doing to run the top in the first place.
It takes the track about three or four years to really age enough to where you can start searching around and moving around.
HERB BRANHAM: First of all, thanks to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Best of luck this weekend, pal, on getting that sixth Talladega win. We'll see you at the track.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Appreciate it. I want to remind everybody about the auction on Monday, the charity auction for Make a Wish we're doing in Charlotte next to the Speedway, and our concert on Sunday night after the Charlotte race. Tom Petty is going to open up. I know y'all want to see that. I'm looking forward to that as much as Gary Allen playing later. Appreciate you having me on.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media who participated today. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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