Team Chevy Racing News |
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, met with media at Pocono Raceway and discussed the new pavement at Pocono, the possibility of drafting, Hendrick Motorsports recent success and other topics.
QUESTION: On the Pocono paving and shortened race by 100 miles.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: “The track is in good shape. They’ve done a good job of repaving it. It’s real smooth. I think the tire is pretty decent; so far so good on that. We’re ready to get racing. It was a good idea to shorten the race up and maybe that will make it a little more exciting, I don’t know.”
Q: Regarding reference points, some of the drivers have said the change in the track makes it more difficult because everything looks different. Jimmie Johnson says he doesn't use the reference points, but others do. Do you?
DEJ: “Yeah, I don’t use reference points. I just kind of go until I don’t feel comfortable anymore. When I go to a new race track I’ve never been to before, I just kind of drive until I get to the edge of the grip and the car starts to become un-drivable and you just kind of stay at that limit. Just drive on the limit. I’ve never really used any kind of marks or anything like that.”
Q: With the way that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have run lately, how much of their momentum leaks over to the other Hendrick Motorsports teams?
DEJ: “It has a good impact. It has a positive impact on the company. We’re all running really well, so we’re all bringing things to the table as far as everybody’s got speed, so you kind of want to look at everybody’s progress and the changes they’ve made throughout the test. Typically, if a guy is not fast, you won’t spend as much time going over his notes as you would the guy who has the speed. So, we’re all sort of able to put something in the pot, so to speak, and feel like we’re an asset to the company.”
Q: How do you guys plan to pass here? Bump them or push them?
DEJ: “Yeah, it’s going to be hard to bump people out of the way because we’re going so fast. I think even the slightest bump would wreck a car. So, if the cars were going a little bit slower and the track was a little wider, and the groove was a little wider, you could probably move people around. I think one of the ways you’ll see the most passing is on a restart when somebody gets underneath somebody in (Turns) 1 and 2 and the guy on the outside is able to race him through that corner and they sort of get bottled up and slow off of Turn 2, you’re going to see a lot of guys taking advantage of people and making it three-wide, maybe four-wide heading into the Tunnel Turn. You’ll see a lot of that, I bet. But anytime a couple of guys get caught up racing each other or somebody has the slightest of runs of them, they’re going to try to go three-wide and force an issue into the next corner because general passing as we know it is going to be real challenging until the surface widens up and the track ages a little bit.”
Q: You said you thought it was a good idea to shorten the race. How do you think that will play out strategy wise? Is there going to be more of a sense of urgency with the 40 less laps to get things done a little quicker?
DEJ: “I don’t think so. 400 miles is still a really long time. This is a track that is very long and just lends itself to feeling like it takes forever to get around it. The race itself is going to still feel like a full event to me. I don’t think it is going to feel like a short event in no way to me personally. I think the race is actually probably going to play out the same way. We have a really good surface and a really good strong, durable tire that doesn’t slow down. Once you can get inside the fuel window you probably won’t come back to pit road. We are going to have what you guys would call a fuel mileage race. Where guys will pit right on the bubble or really push their luck and pit a lap early hoping for a caution or something to get them inside the window. A couple of guys at the end of the race will probably be coming to the checkered with questions about whether they can actually make it on fuel or not. That is just because the tire is so good. You don’t need to come for tires. You’ve just got to get the thing full of fuel somewhere close to making the rest of the race. That is probably what you will see a lot of.”
Q: Historically, it seems that whatever has come out of the Nos. 48 and 88 shop, or even when it was the Nos. 48 and 24 shop, those are the two best teams at Hendrick Motorsports. For whatever reason, it seems like the other shop has lagged behind a little bit. We are seeing that play out again this year. Is there something different that happens in that building as opposed to the Nos. 5 and 24 shop?
DEJ: “I don’t mean to offend, but I feel like that they are both equally as strong. I feel like this year especially the other shop has shown what they are capable of doing. Jeff’s (Gordon) has had some poor luck really. He’s had a fast car. Had the chance to win at Charlotte, with the speed he had last week at Dover he had good speed there. He’s had really fast cars, really, really fast. I think he had them covered at Dover if he hadn’t had the trouble. Kasey’s (Kahne) has been equally as quick. I think when it comes down to pure speed that the No. 5 and No. 24 have actually had more than the Nos. 48/88 group. Jimmie (Johnson) has a great team that has for years put together full events and full races and get to the checkered flag and win races. We are doing pretty well on our end with the No. 88 team. We just need to get a couple of wins to really kind of solidify what we are doing about our consistency and how well we are running to really put the icing on the cake. It would be nice to get a couple of wins. I think everybody is really running the same and their performance is really close. In years past you know there was a difference in performance in the two shops but Rick (Hendrick) and whoever else had involvement in the decisions to move people around, bring in Kasey (Kahne), bring in Kenny Francis, put Jeff (Gordon) with Alan (Gustafson) and put me in the shop. Those changes seem to be working out. They really have done a good thing as far as putting the right people in the right places to succeed. It seems to have helped making both shops equally as healthy.”
Q: Does the repave make this race at all a bit more of a crap shoot? Or should fans expect that Hendrick Motorsports has the fastest cars right now and you guys are still the guys to beat?
DEJ: “I think you could have looked at the testing yesterday and seen that there are a lot of guys with good speed. The No. 29 team was quick. The No. 22 has been quick over the last several weeks. The (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys look good. There are a lot of good teams, the Roush cars looked quick. There are some teams with some really good speed. I didn’t think that Hendrick cars dominated the sheet yesterday or dominated the test up through this point. We were all really competitive but there are a lot of players in there, a lot of competition in there that could be anybody’s race.”
Q: There is no doubt that the qualifying record is going to drop today. What do you anticipate that will be? Denny Hamlin also mentioned the possibility of drafting on the front stretch going into turn one. With the way that you talked about not wanting to get near someone's bumper because you are probably going to launch them, do you think there might be using the air more than actual drafting?
DEJ: “I think you could push in a straight line without any problem. That pretty much works everywhere. Just in the corners, I don’t want anybody running in the back of me in the tunnel trying to get by me. If they want to get by me that bad I will let them have it. We are going, I don’t even know how fast we are going, but it feels like through the middle of the corner, our corner speed in the middle of the corner are super quick. You are on the edge of adhesion on the tire; if someone were to get into the car it would be hard to recover it. There is a draft and we have always kind of used the draft a little bit here. I think you will definitely use it more somewhat, it won’t look really that similar to what we see at Daytona and Talladega but more like you see at the front straight-a-way at Michigan over the years. I think the qualifying, I don’t know. It’s possible you could possibly in the 49’s. It would have to get pretty cool and overcast to get to that speed, but maybe they will get there.”
Q: If there was drafting on Sunday, is that something you would be a proponent of? Is that something, given your prowess there, you would enjoy or would want to see in the race on Sunday?
DEJ: “Absolutely, the draft is effective at other race tracks other than Talladega and Daytona. It’s just really very slight. Recognizing the draft at a place like Michigan it’s minimal but you use it to get by people. Especially, coming off of four at Michigan, if you are on the bottom and you are going to get trained by guys on the outside because of the draft. It can be a bit frustrating at times if you are not in the right line or not doing the right thing or put yourself in a position to get passed by people using the draft. I think we will just have to see. The track is quick enough I think that it will definitely be something people will utilize to their advantage on the front straight-a-way, maybe even other parts of the race track but most definitely on the front straight-a-way.”