NASCAR Media Conference
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
September 5, 2013
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're not locked in by no means, but we're in a comfortable enough position to be able to pay attention to the race we're running.
Q. Do you expect a team order thing, that if your teammates can help you or Jeff, they'll do that?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We haven't really talked about that. I know from my point of view it would be hard for me to understand exactly what I could do to help one of my teammates. The crew chiefs can see the picture a lot clearer than the driver can. I want to help my teammates. I want my teammates to be into the Chase. I want Rick to have as much opportunity to have a chance to win a championship as he can as an owner.
Q. You say you're comfortable enough. Have you been able to plan ahead or do anything looking at the final 10 given your situation?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: If we knew what to start planning, we probably would. You can only just run one race at a time. You show up at Richmond, and Richmond is an important race, a race we want to win. So we focus on that objective before we start thinking ahead.
Q. In terms of how competitive you could be when you get in, you don't want to go there yet?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I don't even know. I don't even know what the answer to that is. Who is going to win the Chase? Who is going to win the championship? Order the drivers are going to finish? I don't think anybody can predict that. You have to get in there and do your best. I think we're all capable of doing a good job and everybody's capable of winning the championship. Some guys are going to catch some breaks and some aren't.
Q. Something horrible would have to happen to you to not make the Chase. Is there anything you can do to prevent that or is it just a normal weekend?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's just a normal weekend to me. Fortunate enough we've had enough good runs over the last couple weeks to put ourselves in this situation, not have to be nervous or worried. It wasn't much fun over the last couple weeks having to make sure we didn't make any mistakes and give up too many points to the guys behind us.
Q. On Saturday, the only way you're going to make it in is to move somebody out of the way, is that something that you would do or is that not part of your makeup?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'd have to do whatever it took to make the Chase. I'd have to do whatever it took to give ourselves an opportunity to run for the championship.
You know, it just depends on the individual you're racing. Wins are hard to come by in this series. You work all year long for an opportunity to run in the Chase to be part of the championship. I don't know that anybody could blame you for not taking that opportunity and taking what's there, taking advantage of a situation. That's racing. That's why we got bumpers on these cars. Sometimes you got to use 'em.
Q. Everybody goes back to when your dad took out Terry Labonte. It's a fond memory. Now a lot of drivers talk about you wouldn't want to do that, because it doesn't take talent to drive through somebody. Why did that change or has it?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think some of society has shifted away from that. There's still personalities in the sport that would race like that with no guilt whatsoever, no remorse, no concern.
But I think as a whole society, we've kind of shifted in the other direction. We haven't gotten more aggressive, for sure. And I don't really know what plays a role in that, whether that's something that starts from the very beginning of your upbringing.
I think it changes to the drivers, the situations involved. You got guys out there that really don't like each other. When you can put them in the perfect storm where they're the two on the stage at that moment with a lap to go, you're going to get the fireworks that you want to see.
But when you put other individuals together that have a lot of respect for each other, have been somewhat friendly off the racetrack, they're more than likely not going to run over each other.
Again, you know, I don't know. I was driving in that race at Bristol. It was slick, it was real hard to get to people. As much as it looked from the viewpoint of the fan or anyone watching the race, it seemed like Kasey could just drive up there. He's right there, why didn't he just tap him? But it was so hard to get that extra inch, even to get another foot to a guy. You were on top of the racetrack, chasing the car.
I don't know how much he could have done even if he wanted to, even if he was the baddest SOB out there. I don't know if he could have moved him enough without wrecking himself or getting himself in enough trouble control‑wise to make a pass even.
You know, I don't know how Kasey feels, but I know when I am put in that situation and I don't take advantage of it, I do relive it with regret 'cause, like I said, wins are hard to come by. As much as you hate running through people, running over people, winning races is pretty damn important in this sport, really defines your career, defines the success the team's having, can make a big difference for a team. Sometimes you got to do everything it takes.
Q. Where do you rank the 88 as it stands now compared to other teams you've gone into the Chase with?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think this team's in the top percentile. I don't really know how to rank it specifically. Last year I thought we were really, really strong. I thought we were going to be in the top 3 battling to the championship at Homestead. I felt like we were that capable of a team.
We were in the conversation. The media had earmarked us as one of the teams. We were leading the points, still strong in the summer months. Even drivers themselves were earmarking us as contenders. I felt like last year we really had put ourselves in a great position.
This year the speed has been there, if not even better. Even though we're working with a new car, the speed has been really good with the car, but we've not finished all the races. Mistakes I've made, crashes I've gotten myself into, engine failures, things like that that have taken away from our ability to show how strong we are to get consistent finishes like we did last year.
Q. If you get in, do you think this could be your shot?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Every time you're in, you think this is your shot. Every time you're in, you got to go in with the most confidence that you're going to get it done. This is a great opportunity that I've got.
We'll have to see if we've got anything extra in the tank as a team. We're going to be up against tough competition. But I've raced all these guys for a long time and I feel like we belong in the Chase, feel like if we can put 10 races together, I think we can do it as good as anybody when it comes down to it. Hopefully we can make it happen.
Q. You talked about mechanical failures, crashes. If there's one race you could have back this year, which one would it be?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's hard to say. I think the first Michigan race where we was running so well, had the engine problem. That was a good car. We had good speed. Even the second Michigan race where we had the tire issue, I thought the car had good speed there, too.
We've had a lot of good runs, just not been able to capitalize like last year. We started the season off stronger than anybody in the sport in the first five races there. Just came unraveled a little bit at times. But the speed still has been there. That's been important. That's one thing we haven't had in years past, was just the pure speed. We've always been good enough to run 8th, 5th, whatever. We were able to do that without any problems, do it consistently. But that wasn't going to win championships.
This year we've gained a little speed, seem to be getting faster each year.
Q. (Question regarding controlling your own destiny.)
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: You control your destiny every week, whether it's a short track, mile‑and‑a‑half. We're all good enough drivers you're not in a whole lot of danger out there. You just have to drive a smart race, use your head, drive people with respect. You want to get run over, you can make a few wrong turns and tick some people off, get yourself put in the fence real quick.
There are guys in there that aren't going to make the Chase, aren't too happy about their situation, going to have some pretty short fuses out there. You don't want to rough up anybody. You want to take your time getting around some of these guys.
It's about that time where it's toward the end of the season, guys are kind of looking for payback from some situations before. You're going to start to see some of that stuff start to surface a little bit. You want to be there to capitalize and come out on the good end of most of that stuff.
Q. You talked about the stress of the last couple weeks, trying to make sure you stay in the Chase picture. Did that take any of the fun of what you do out of it? Is that something that just comes with the territory?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I definitely understood last year when we were set, locked in, that it was a much easier ride, much more enjoyable. The last couple weeks have been pretty stressful from a points standpoint. Difficult for you because you have to focus so much on those points, you have to focus on all those guys, that handful, half a dozen guys, that are around you in points, wonder what they're doing. You can't help it.
I think it makes perfect sense to want to know how they're doing in the race. As much as you try not to do that, at any other point in the season, when it comes down to it, it's one or two races to go, you're all tight on the points, you got to watch those guys. You're curious as to where they're at.
That's not much fun. You really like to concentrate on the balance of your car, working on your car with your crew chief, trying to give yourself a chance to win the race.
Q. How do you balance the ability about when to be aggressive or when not to be aggressive?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're always aggressive. Might not be apparent just watching the race from the point of view that you see it. But, you know, every lap we run, we run as hard as we can run it. We don't hold back any. We don't put anything in our pocket, leave anything on the table. We go out there and run as hard as we can every lap, try to win the race. It's that competitive in the sport to where I guess at times it looks like we're all kind of content.
I think that's one thing you have to keep in mind when you're watching every week, every guy on the track you're watching is running 10/10ths, as hard as he can go.
I think once you start to see potential for yourself as a winning car, you may get a little more aggressive, you may get a little more physical, but when it comes down to it, you know deep inside I think toward the end of the race just how capable your car is, how much potential you have that night to win.
If you start realizing you have that potential, you might get a little more physically aggressive, not really work harder, but fight a little bit harder for positions and stuff like that.
Q. You mentioned speed is the biggest thing that gives you confidence. What concerns you the most heading into the Chase?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: The only thing that really concerns me is gremlins like tire failure, engine failure, myself making a mistake, getting myself out of control and in a wreck, doing anything that's going to tear the car up, anybody making a mistake, us making a mistake on Saturday and getting the car out of the racetrack, not putting a good car on the starting grid, just struggling all day in the race.
You worry about those kind of things. To run well, you need to be able to put a good car on the grid every week that will be quick and fast. You need to be able to put together solid races and take care of that car and make sure it finishes as good as it can.
There will be sometimes when Steve is going to have to make some gut decisions that aren't going to be easy to make. But you just hope he makes the decision that goes the right way for you. We saw Brad Keselowski and those guys gamble, had a great mix of when to gamble, when to be smart, when to be clever, when to take risks. You're going to have a lot of that if you want to win that championship. You're going to have to be able to pull those strings at the right time.
Q. We heard the question earlier about moving people to get in the Chase. What type of race do you think we're going to see here Saturday night?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think it's going to be similar to what we always see. I really hate to harp on it over and over, but this racetrack has so much potential that's just not realized because of the way the surface of the racetrack has been utilized over the past several years.
We used to see multi‑groove racing here. They haven't sealed the racetrack in a really long time. Really, the only place to run is right on the bottom. You almost have to hook the left front on the apron a little bit all the way around the track. There's no second groove. It's there if they want it, if they want to seal the racetrack and create that kind of racing again. You don't have to pave the place or nothing, just throw some sealer down and everything. Be so much better.
But it's going to be right on the bottom. Everybody's going to be hunting for the bottom. Some guys aren't going to roll the center very well. Some guys will. The guys that get through the middle, can keep that left front working that line, are going to have good runs, going to have good cars. But otherwise if you get off the bottom, man, it's just so slick, you can't really make any ground up there.
Q. Last year Jeff Gordon's performance in this race, a desperate situation, he had to do what he ultimately did. This year again he's in a similar situation. People are doubting him. Can you talk about how amazing it was last year to pull it off and his chances on doing that again this year.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I think Jeff has great chances to make the Chase. He always seems to bring his A game when it's needed, when it's really vital that he has a good run. He always seems to find a way to get what he needs. He runs well here. This is a good track that I think he has a lot of confidence at.
I hope that we're all able to make the Chase. They have a very strong team with a lot of speed. I think if all four of us can be in the championship Chase, I think we all have really great opportunities of winning the championship.
I think against the competition, we'll be pretty tough.
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