DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Pocono Raceway and discussed coming back to Pocono, how it feels to have the points lead for the first time in a long time, the new car for the 2013 season and much more.
COMING BACK TO POCONO YOU HAD A GOOD RUN HERE A FEW WEEKS AGO, I KNOW YOU WOULD LIKE TO TACK ON ANOTHER WIN AS WE GET CLOSER AND CLOSER TO THE CHASE
“Yeah, we’re looking forward to today and getting on the track and practicing and seeing where our speed is at compared last time we were here. We were a pretty good car and I felt like we had a real fast car in the race a couple of months ago. I’m just ready to go try it out and see what we’ve got. It should be a good weekend.”
A FEW YEARS AGO PEOPLE WERE SAYING YOU WOULDN’T WIN ANOTHER RACE, DO YOU FEEL VINDICATED NOW AND DID THAT STUFF BOTHER YOU?
“It didn’t really bother me. I was worried about my own situation more than anything probably. What I needed to do to get it turned around. But, I do feel a little bit vindicated to the people that considered I wouldn’t ever be competitive again. Aside from winning a few more races I don’t know how much more of a statement I could have made then what we made this year. That’s really not even secondary though. That’s not quite as important to me as just trying to make the best of this year with the final result being more wins and a championship. The closer we get to the Chase, the more real the opportunity seems. So, all that stuff comes to the forefront. I know what I need to be focusing on and it’s not whether I got back at somebody or vindicated myself as much as just focusing on what we are trying to do today, this weekend, next weekend and so forth.”
JUST TALK ABOUT IF YOU GET TO VICTORY LANE ON SUNDAY HOW YOU WILL BE WINNING $100,000 FOR ONE LUCKY FAN HERE AT THE RACE TRACK.
“Yeah, I really don’t know much about it other than I guess the guy at the race track is going to pay someone some money if we win. That would be good for whoever gets the money and we’ll be enjoying the trophy in victory lane. Everybody wins I suppose.”
AT THIS TIME OF YEAR A LOT OF TIMES WHEN PEOPLE HAVE THE POINTS LEAD THEY ARE LIKE IT DOESN’T MATTER WE’VE GOT A LOT OF RACING LEFT. OBVIOUSLY AFTER INDY LAST WEEK IT MEANT A LOT TO YOU. WHY DOES IT MEAN SO MUCH TO YOU?
“I think a lot of people down play it. I think it means the same to those other drivers probably but they down play it obviously because the guys that are saying that may find themselves in the points lead or battling for it more often than I have been. It’s been a long time since I was in the points lead. It’s been forever, I can’t even recall when the last time we were in the conversation about the championship. So, these things are really validating the effort and the work we’ve done. We’ve worked really hard. We were in Road Atlanta Wednesday and it was just as miserable as it could be. It was about similar to the practice there in Kentucky where it just gassed the heck out of you. But, we worked hard and we found some speed. We’ve been having those types of deals all year long where we’re working hard and there’s some gains that are made. I’ve worked my tail off for most of my career with little gains and time no gains. This year it’s been awesome to go to a race track on a Wednesday or Tuesday and work with Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and come away really happy with what happened. I’m enjoying that. The points lead is sort of the symbolic piece to all that effort. The points lead recognizes all that hard work for me and I think for the team. I’ll say what everybody else says, it’s not the championship. Leading the points today isn’t as awesome as winning the championship and going to Vegas as the top dog, but it does feel good 20 races in the year to have put more points on the board than any other team.”
WHEN ESPN SHOWED THE STANDINGS OR DID YOU LOOK AT THE PAPER AND SEE YOURSELF AS THE LEADER, DID YOU TAKE A SECOND LOOK, OR DID IT RAISE ANY EMOTION IN YOU?
“No, not so much. We’ve felt pretty good about our year and the feeling in the shop feels the same. I was over there and like I said we went to the race track and worked a little bit this week. The feeling is pretty much similar to how it’s been all season. It’s been a good feeling and everybody is positive and waiting on the next track. We feel like we had a good enough car to win here last time so that’s what we’ve been thinking about most of the week. Fuel mileage and the fact that we would have made it last race here and we gave up an opportunity to race for the win by coming down pit road. That was the call at the time to make but knowing now what we know you don’t get to many opportunities to race for wins with a car like that. We had a really good car. Hopefully the car is just as good this time and we’ll get another crack at it. That’s really all I’ve been thinking about all week, whether we’ll be as good. Every time you go to a race track and you’re really fast, the next time you go back you wonder whether that’s going to be the case again. Eventually you are not the fastest guy when you go back. Somebody else is. I hope I get another opportunity like I had this past race at Pocono this weekend because we could win the race with that kind of car.”
IN ADDITION TO THE $100,000 THING TO THE FAN HERE AT POCONO, TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY ALSO DID A THING THIS WEEK IN HONOR OF YOU BEING THE POINTS LEADER THEY PUT TICKETS ON SALE FOR $88 ON THE FRONTSTRETCH. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT? DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THAT?
“Did the tickets go up or go down? (laughter) Eddie (Gossage, Texas Motor Speedway President) always has a lot of different strings he pulls and I think that’s a classy one. Anything to make the process easier or cheaper for the fans is a great move. I know they are always trying to work on things to make the experience better for the fans, but to slash the tickets prices is probably at the top of the fans list. I feel better about that than just handing one guy a $100,000 check. Nothing against the idea they had this weekend, but cutting ticket prices for everybody or the majority is a pretty cool thing. I thought it was a classy move.”
YOUR FOUNDATION HAS GIVEN A LOT OF MONEY TO SHEPHERD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL IN MOORESVILLE (N.C.) AND AFTER YOU TOOK THE POINTS LEAD THIS WEEK THEY PUT UP A BIG SIGN CONGRATULATING YOU ON DOING THAT. DO THINGS LIKE THAT KIND OF GIVE YOU A LITTLE EXTRA?
“Shepherd Elementary is just down the road form where I live and it’s a really small place. A friend of mine was playing football at that school, just little eight-year-old and 10-year-old kids. They didn’t have any helmets or uniforms, so that’s how I started helping the school. It meant a lot to me that they would do something like that. Really the fact that anybody would go out of their way to acknowledge what we did. I’ve been over there and visited the school. We’ve invested more in the school and supported the school more. I like to do things close to home as well as the other things we work with, with our charities. I like to do some things that I can visually see myself. It was just down the road and it felt like the right thing to do. It’s great for them to acknowledge the relationship. My sister texted me a picture of that acknowledgement that they made. It’s a great feeling.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING TO WATKINS GLEN, WHAT ARE YOUR CHANCES?
“With me and a road course, it’s a lottery. I’ve had some good runs there and had some fast cars there. When we went there in 2008 with Tony, Jr. (Eury) we rained out qualifying so we started up front and we led quite a good portion, the first 30 laps or so. We were really fast. I know I can go around there. That place is a lot easier than Sonoma. It’s just straightaway, turn, straightaway, turn and that’s really what I’ve been doing all my life. It’s a lot easier than Sonoma, a lot less technical. The gains that we made this week, they were literally gains that I could see on the stop watch and on the race track. I know I didn’t like the car when we tested at Road Atlanta earlier this year. When we went to Sonoma I had the same issues with the car, I didn’t like it. We fought a lot of similar problems. We showed up at the test this week with the same problems and the same disappointment with the car and then we made a lot of changes and a few of them changes in particular revolutionized the way the car drove and the way it felt. The stop watch was way faster so I’m excited. I’ve been real happy to go to all the race tracks this year. I particularly don’t look forward to going to Sonoma and Watkins Glen as much as I do the ovals, but I’m excited about Watkins Glen this trip. Hopefully we can go down there and be competitive.”
YOUR TEAM IS MORE COMPETITIVE, BUT HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THE WHOLE FEELILNG HAS CHANGED FOR YOU THAN A YEAR AGO WHEN YOU SAID ITS GREAT GETTING IN THE CHASE, BUT I JUST REALLY WANT MY TEAM TO BE COMPETITIVE?
“It’s 180 degrees really the way I feel and approached the sport and my job now When I wasn’t competitive that’s all you wanted to be, to run up front and run in the top five. Just have good runs. It didn’t make a difference to be in the Chase if you weren’t going to win the thing and didn’t feel like you could win the championship, you were just taking up a spot just like Tony (Stewart) felt last year when the Chase started. I felt the same way and I was more worried about being competitive and felt like we still had a lot to gain in that regard than individual accomplishments. In a broad spectrum our team just needed to be quite a bit better and faster. We’ve gained about what I would consider 70 percent of that. I think we’ve got a little bit more we can find. We’re running well, but we need to win more races. We need to show up and be the fastest car more often. We’ve been quick, but in my opinion we’ve only been the fastest guy probably once or twice this year and I don’t know if that is good enough. I’m gonna say it’s not good enough. I know our team would like to win more races. To be able to contend for the championship our team needs another 10 to 15 percent.”
WHEN NASCAR INTRODUCED THE C.O.T. IN 2007 AND 2008 SOME DRIVERS TOOK TO IT QUICKER THAN OTHERS, NOW THAT YOU’VE GOT THAT CAR PRETTY MUCH DIALED IN AND THEY’RE GOING TO THROW ANOTHER ONE AT YOU NEXT YEAR. IS THAT A SOURCE OF CONCERN FOR YOU, OR DO YOU LOOK AT IT MORE AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU AND STEVE TO PROGRESS?
“You know it’s a source of concern just because it’s a big change. The chassis is the same. I really like the look of the car. It’s a lot more exciting as far as race cars go to look at. I think fans will grasp it and appreciate it more. I’m with the best organization in the business and who better to be with to handle a big change like that. I feel confident that we’ll develop this car and understand it and progress with it quicker than most. I’ll be able to enjoy that through performance on the race track. That’s what I expect to happen. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s not going to be as big of a deal as far as the C.O.T. The C.O.T. was a complete revision from the chassis all the way up. This car has got the same chassis so the bridge isn’t quite as long.”
Transcript from Chevrolet
Earnhardt image in Main Rotator by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images