NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Kobalt Tools 500
Topics: Kobalt Tools 500
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
March 9, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by our third-place finisher in today's Kobalt Tools 500. That is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He drives the No. 88 AMP Energy National Guard Chevrolet. I believe he's sixth in the points right now. Off to a good start this season, Dale. Your thoughts about your race out there this afternoon.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we started off awesome. The car was real fast. The tires, you know, have spring rates. We went softer and softer as the day went. That was the wrong thing to do. We had to keep adjusting on the car to tighten it up. The thing was just out of control after a few laps. I wasn't as bad as most of them, I don't reckon.
That was interesting today to be out there. I do say that. I'm glad that's over with.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take questions now for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Q. Dale, is the tire beyond drivable? Do you understand the predicament Goodyear is in or was it beyond drivable?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I'll say that Goodyear Tire Company makes good racing tires, they make a safe tire. You know, there's a lot of technology goes into making them tires and I give them a lot of credit. I mean, you know, it's a reputation risk just to be in this sport as a company like that. They can be the quarterback sometimes on Sunday as far as criticism goes.
But they do a good job. This was just a bad combination, this tire at this track. Just a poor combination. I know the tire we used to run would wear into the cords, but you could still run hard on it. It wasn't dangerous. You would run into the cords and run like that for 10 laps. That was a pretty good tire. Even though it was on a cord, you could still run it for a while, get to the next pit stop.
I'll tell you, I'm still seeing the center line in my tires, the mold line in my tire after 30 laps. So I went from running a tire that would wear to the cord to a tire that I still see the center cord after 30 laps. There's got to be several combinations in between that. I mean, Lord, that can't be the next step.
So great racing tire, it's safe and everything, but it's a poor choice for this track.
Q. We heard in your post-race comments a few minutes ago before you came in here talking about it sounded like you and Tony weren't on the same page during the race. Y'all have been obviously together for a long time. Was it a communication breakdown? Did you want to do something that he didn't?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: No, you know, the tires have spring rates. You sort of figure what your game plan is as far as you want to go stiffer on the right front or let the right front fall out from under it as the race goes. They don't make a tire that's exactly the same as every other tire, so you can't have the same exact set every set. They're going to change some.
So what the crew chiefs do is they put them in a sequence which they'll go a certain way until the driver complains, then they make them flip it around. But it's got to go one way or the other. We went the wrong way at the start of the race.
I just made it really hard on him. You know, just in his ear all the time about trying to get on his A game, help me out, help me out, because the car was just out of control. And you just don't like driving cars like that.
But he's my cousin. He's tough. That's why I guess more than anything, besides his talent, I guess that's why I got him, because he's the only one that would put up with me.
THE MODERATOR: Let's hear from Tony Stewart. He was second in today's race. He drives the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. Tony, your thoughts about how you ran out there today.
TONY STEWART: I'm really excited that I didn't crash. That was half the battle in itself. Been racing 28 years and been a part of a lot of different professional series and never seen a quality of racing tire like I've seen this weekend. It's a little bit like I caught Dale saying. I mean, you know, there's got to be something in between. And if Goodyear thinks that was their best effort today, I'm really disappointed because, you know, these teams spent so much money to come here and the competition is so close.
You know, to tell us a week before we come to Atlanta that all of a sudden we're going to have a new tire and give us the data a week before and expect everybody to figure it out in a week is pretty disappointing.
But, you know, I guess I can't say it's surprising because, I mean, they got run out of Formula One, they got run out of CART, the IRL, they got run out of World Outlaw Sprint cars, they got run out of USAC divisions because they couldn't keep up and make a quality enough product.
You know, this weekend shows their true colors and what they're about. You know, they've done some great things over the years. But, you know, as technology has gone on and as the technology of these cars has gone on, they can't keep up. That's what puts us in positions like we were in this weekend as drivers and teams. It makes for a miserable day out there.
Like Dale said, it's so hard. It's hard enough just to get the balance of your car from stop to stop making the changes, but then when you put tires on and don't know what they're going to do when you put them on, it makes it that much more disappointing. You know, it makes also days like today, when you get lucky enough to finish, you know, second and have your teammate win, it makes days like that great.
But, man, I mean, if the rest of the year, if that's what we got to look forward to, is weekends like this, there will be a lot of drivers going into retirement a lot earlier because nobody's going to want to keep doing this like this.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for both of these competitors.
Q. A situation where you have to race on a tire that's not raceable, will NASCAR pay attention, will Goodyear pay attention? Are you stuck with what you got?
TONY STEWART: There's drivers that get picked to do tire tests throughout the year and they pick a team from each manufacturer to go. We did the tire test for Las Vegas. About all that we can do as drivers is just do what we're supposed to do when we get there, and that's give them input from set to set on what the car felt like. They don't tell us necessarily before they put the set of tires on what's different about it. It's our job to give them feedback of what was different from that set from their baseline set.
But just like Vegas last year, we all tested one tire. They panicked, brought a harder tire. It was a disaster for everybody. It prompted this last-minute decision by them.
It's not up to us. It's up to Goodyear. The bad thing is they've got an exclusive deal. They have no reason to have to push and make their product better because they have no competition.
So I don't know what it's going to take to get them to give us a quality tire that this series and NASCAR deserves. But they obviously aren't capable of doing it right now.
Q. Junior, is it time for Mike Helton and Brian France and somebody to go to Goodyear and say, We got to do better than this? Is it to that point? You can bitch all you want to, but nothing seems to change. Is it time for NASCAR to step into this and do something?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: There's a big difference between complaining and stating the obvious. You know, it is what it is. It's not a complaint. It is what it is.
So I'm sure that Mike Helton or France, I'm sure they'll say what their opinion is. They probably wouldn't like this any more than the drivers did. I don't think for one the race was all that exciting. We couldn't run side by side. We'd wreck, you know. We had to let each other go by. Every time you got beside a guy, you were just like, Take it. I can't go in the corner side by side. No one else out there really could either.
But, you know, they said they'd give us the data earlier in the year, around Daytona or before. But no amount of time would have prepared you for that. You weren't going to hook that tire up. It was way too hard.
Q. Tony, you made reference in your radio interview that Goodyear doesn't have enough people. Do you feel like that would help solve the problem, if they upped their investment? Two, if you could both answer, is the new car perhaps causing some of this problem with them not being able to get a handle on the tire?
TONY STEWART: I mean, there's a possibility the new car's part of it. But still, I mean, it's not like Goodyear's just started building tires two or three years ago and they don't have an idea of what to do. I mean, they've been in this sport a long time. And if you haven't figured it out by now, you probably don't have the right group of guys figuring it out.
I wasn't saying that they don't have enough people. I don't know if they have enough quality people because the guys they've got obviously aren't getting it done right now. I mean, you know, this week's proof of it. It's like Junior said. The reason we're talking about it and the reason that we're bringing it to everybody's attention is because we don't want to have to race on tires like we raced on today every week. This wasn't fun today. There wasn't anything about today's race that was fun I don't think for anybody.
I mean, do something about this, make it better. It wasn't like we ran three or four green-flag lap runs. We had one green-flag pit stop in that whole deal. That's just how bad the field was. If your car was a little off, it was way off. I mean, you didn't have a choice. It wasn't like you could make the difference as a driver. All you could do is hold on and try to find a spot that was a little better on the track. But you couldn't go there and race guys. Like Junior said, if somebody got to you, got on the outside of you, you didn't have a choice of whether you wanted to let them go. You had to. It was either that or you were putting yourself in jeopardy of wrecking your race car. There were a lot of times you were by yourself you were putting yourself in jeopardy of wrecking your racecar.
It's not that we're just trying to beat 'em up. We want -- I don't know how else you plead with them or get their attention enough to bring something that's better than what it is. I mean, this isn't the first time that they've been to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I guess the big thing is, is don't do this as Darlington. That's the main thing. I think the COT is part of it. They're putting a lot of load on the right front tire with the bump stop. Puts a lot of load on the tires. So Goodyear thinks the tire is going to wear out worse, they're going to have more right front tire failures. Every time they have a tire failure, they think of it as their product is getting lambasted on national television, that it's bad news for them when the consumer sees it.
But everybody knows that watches the race, you know, there's a reason for a tire blowing. It's not 'cause it's a bad tire. We've never had a tire blow because it was defective. I mean, you know, they wear out and you wear them down to the air. But you just need to slow down if you're wearing tires out that bad.
But don't do this to us at Darlington 'cause that -- yeah, that will definitely be -- that might be able to top how horrible today was or how frustrating it was to run today if this is the case.
Q. Tony, you may want to answer this. NASCAR always seems to feel it's safety first. Is this to you, A No. 1, a safety issue more than anything else?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, nobody got hurt today luckily that I know of. You know, it's like Junior said. I mean, it's a PR game. That's the reason that Goodyear spends the money they spend in NASCAR to be the exclusive tire provider. It's good advertising for 'em.
But with that comes a responsibility. And, you know, it is, A, a responsibility of providing safe tires for us. But at the same time you got to provide a product that is competitive and is current and leads us to be able to do the things in the racecar that NASCAR expects us to be able to do as drivers during the course of a race.
You know, what it's gonna take to do that I don't know. I mean, we don't have the answers. I'm not any smarter than their engineers are. But, like we said, there's guys that have been in this business that have been here for a lot of years with that company and doesn't seem like that at this point they've got a very good handle on all those years of, you know, trial and error.
Q. The way that the tires are provided has changed in the last two seasons where there's the lease system, you don't buy the tires, you turn them back in. Do you think the change in the system creates less incentive to make production schedules? Do you think this whole system has anything to do with the tire situation getting worse?
TONY STEWART: I honestly don't know. But, you know, honestly that's not our responsibility as competitors. I mean, that's not at all anybody in NASCAR's responsibility. That's not the teams' responsibilities. That's not the drivers' responsibility. Goodyear signed a contract with NASCAR to provide these tires for the next five years. With that comes their responsibility. It doesn't matter how they do it. We don't care (loss of audio). I'll be honest, I don't want to take them home. I don't have anything I'd bolt them on (loss of audio).
Q. (No audio.)
TONY STEWART: That's the nature of the beast. It strictly was handling. If you could get your car to carry more momentum through the corner, you could be probably 10 horsepower down and run the same lap time as somebody that had 10 more horsepower if you just got your car driving good.
I was happy with what we had today. Obviously when we get back, we want more. But we're on stage, we're three or four races into the schedule. We're still trying to get the reliability. Knock on wood, we haven't had any motor failures, and that's because they're smart enough to know when to push that envelope and when to not. To have us run 1-2 today and to know we've still got more back at the shop, I would say we're in pretty shape in that category.
Q. Dale, first four races, third time you've been the top Hendrick driver. Coming off of last week's finish, too. What has it meant for you to get off to this type of start in your situation?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I'm desperate, you know, just to get in the top five and the top 10 every week when the car's capable of doing it. There's a real sense of desperation there the last half of the race not to mess it up. We had a good finish going. So I don't want to miss the Chase. The sky might fall.
We'll just keep working like we're working. Everything's good. Tony, Jr. is going good. Today again was frustrating for me and him. But we're past it, looking on to the future.
You know, everything seems to be working out really good. I just want to keep it going. You know what I mean? I'm just trying not to make any mistakes myself. They gave me great, great racecars. They're really good-looking cars. They do a good job building them. They're pretty confident in their ability, so hopefully I can do my end of the job.
Q. With a tire like this, how deep do you have to go into the adjustment playbook? You're trying anything you can find to make it better?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was just trying to get it to where I could put up with it. I was just trying to get it tolerable. There were a couple times in the race where I had it there, but we'd go -- we wouldn't really even make changes. A half pound of air pressure in the left rear just spun me right out.
It was really frustrating. I'm glad we're past it. Hopefully there was a good lesson learned. Hopefully, you know, Goodyear doesn't like to hear people bashing them tires, and I don't like doing it, but I ain't going to sit here and put up with this. I don't think any of the other drivers or anybody, you know, is going to do it.
So hopefully we can all get along and come up with something better than this. They got a tire test tomorrow at Darlington, and I'm going to go down there.
TONY STEWART: As a matter of fact, we invite all of you to go down there tomorrow, too, and give us a report.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'd just like to know how that process goes. I went to Texas and tire tested, but they didn't ask me much, what I thought. So I just sit there and, you know, they got these other guys doing the testing. But the times that I've done it, I didn't feel like my input was observed or looked over too well.
I'm going to go tomorrow and just kind of watch and see what drivers are saying and see what they're thinking.
Q. Was there a sense of relief at the end? I know you'd liked to have gotten the win, but you both finished in the top five, no one got hurt, the race was over.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was glad it was over. I was counting the laps.
Q. Kyle Busch led over 300 laps this weekend in the various divisions. A lot of them were sideways. Is he able to go faster just 'cause he's throwing caution to the wind and driving sideways?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I mean, he's a good talent. I think that everybody -- I never really worked with him as closely as Tony and my teammates that have now. But they all say he's an amazing talent. And he's just got great, you know, seat-of-the-pants feel for a car, and he can drive 'em pretty sideways.
We get sideways, too, but we just ain't never leading when we're doing it.
TONY STEWART: That and we've crashed a lot more, too. So we know what it's like if we make that mistake (laughter).
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We've hit harder. That will slow you down a little bit.
TONY STEWART: He is. He's amazing to me. You know, I'm proud to have him as a teammate. I think he's been a huge asset to Joe Gibbs Racing, obviously. It's fun to watch him. I mean, the nights that he runs the truck race and we're sitting in the bus, I mean, I normally don't pay as close attention (loss of audio). He's got everything that car is capable of. That's what you want out of a guy. You know, any time you try to fix one of those problems, you can make the problems worse. When it comes to making all the adjustments you want to make, you want to start (loss of audio).
Q. If this tire made it so hard to drive out there, why do you think there weren't more wrecks, more cautions? Could you expound on that a little bit, please?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I mean, just look at the lap times we were running. What were they, 34-second laps at the end of the tire run, 33.70s. That's why. We were all trying not to wreck.
TONY STEWART: That and you couldn't get close enough to each other. You never stayed around any one person for very long because you just couldn't. I mean, they became so aero dependent because you have mechanical grip, which is your tires, your shocks and your springs, then you've got your aero balance. If you take away that mechanical grip, making a hard tire took away mechanical grip, you're relying even that much more on the aero percentage. And that leads to not being closer to guys.
And when guys' cars are driving as bad -- when we lapped guys, we got a chance to see a lot of guys. We know how bad our cars drove and we finished in the top five. Can you imagine the guys running in 20th, 25th place, how bad their cars drove. Well, we got to see it. The reason they weren't crashing is they weren't willing to run it any harder than that.
When you're not around guys, you probably around -- you know, you're not going to push the issue as much as when you're racing somebody for position and you try that extra little bit and step over that line. You know, we just didn't have those situations today and I think that's why you didn't see any more cautions than you did and you didn't see any more wrecks than you did. It's because guys got separated. You were racing yourself. You really weren't racing anybody else. You were racing your car and how it was driving on the racetrack.
Q. Obviously a lot of advances have been made in driver safety. Is this tire going to end up costing somebody down the road? Is that why you're so outspoken, is due to the driver safety issue?
TONY STEWART: I don't think it's so much that as just, you know, nobody liked the way their cars drove. I mean, a series at this level, I mean, we expect our racecars to drive better than that and we expect a tire that's up to that level of competition that the teams build the cars. And that's not what we had. We had a tire that didn't meet the standards of the competition here obviously. You know, obviously if we crashed a bunch of cars today, then obviously that would have been a bigger concern.
But with no more crashes than we had, I don't think it's an issue of safety as much as it is just an issue of performance and comfort in the car and feeling comfortable driving your racecar. When you feel like you're holding your breath all day, I mean, when everybody in the field was tired when they got out of their cars today, that normally doesn't happen here like that. I mean, when you're that tired, it's 'cause you had to work even that much harder.
It's not that we're scared to work. There's none of us scared to work behind the wheel of a racecar. It's being put in that position that we don't like.
Q. When you guys say you don't want to work that hard, it will come across that way. Can you define how hard it is in the racecar as how hard it would be before and where the line is? I know people will tear that apart. I'm truthfully asking for you to define it, if you would.
TONY STEWART: That makes sense. Let's see if we can put it in a way that makes more sense.
Like Dale said, you know, we're accustomed to running two seconds faster here. We're still as drivers (loss of audio). It's just not as comfortable as doing it. When you go in a corner and you don't know if the thing is going to jump out from underneath you or if it's actually going to go straight when you get to the corner, that's a pretty big concern. That makes you hold your breath getting in. That makes you tense up. That's why we're more tired today than we would be on a day when we have a tire that does have grip.
We're still going to drive these cars to get better performance and speed out of them as we can. So are the teams. We made changes in the garage area during practice and it didn't make the car do anything any different. I mean, it didn't respond to it. When you make changes like that and the (loss of audio).
So don't confuse me saying that. You know, we'll still work just as hard. But we'll go two seconds faster doing it. But it's more comfortable doing it when you got a different tire.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I'll say that I think what Tony means is that we'd rather be working trying to accomplish other things, like changing my line to get more speed to gain on somebody, to be able to turn the wheel and drive the car.
Today you couldn't go, All right, let me run at the top a little bit, because I knew I would back into the fence. When I tried to catch Tony there at the end, it just slid in there like it was on marbles. You run to the bottom, you're just as helpless down there. (Loss of audio) trying to gain. So really, you're just working hard. Nothing's coming from it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.
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